A few years ago, I decided to make a few sails for the ulus (dug out canoes) of two Guna men I knew. That idea quickly blossomed to making 10
sails for their village. Then I just decided to put x amount of $ into the project. The
end result grew to .... 30 main sails and 8 jibs, delivered a few months
after manufacture.You see, the sails common in this island nation were normally made from scraps of materials... some old sail cloth sailors had donated, bed sheets, political posters, fabric from almost anything that could 'catch the wind'. The sails usually could catch wind, but did not and could not perform well.
The project started simply, as I sat on the floor of a friends garage, but it got up to speed quickly with a table, my Sailrite sewing machine and often assistance from friends and family.
One of the men, Justino Galindo Martinez called me 4 or 5 times in the months following my first delivery and asked if I was coming back with more sails.. More Sails??
A few sentences later, I understood there was a demand for new sails sized to fit their ulus. I gave it some thought, then proceeded to prep for another stint at sail making.
The result was an order for 1100 yards of sail cloth and all the peripheral materials and equipment necessary to produce them, including a location.
I rented a building, set it up with electric, lighting and tables then began cutting material..
Long story made short.. more sails have been made than I can as yet deliver or distribute..
This is where the story takes an interesting and inspiring turn.
This past fall, several cruisers who had noticed the new sails on the horizon, began to contact me, asking questions and lending verbal support to the Ulu Sail Project. Then one couple, Frank and Gretchen really got behind the idea and began to promote it with emails, radio contact and personally within the sailing community of the San Blas Islands, and even got word over to a gent in Germany who did some promotion there. Now, they have a number of these Ulu Sails aboard and are offering them to the cruisers who wish to assist in this project in a direct way, by purchase.
Justino of Isla Gerti, with 2 new sails.
Friends of Frank and Gretchen, Tom and Julie of sailing vessel Gris-Gris, happened to be in the U.S. at the time but soon heading to the San Blas, offered to take a few sails south with them for distribution.. A small snowball effect, but things were building. The sails arrived a month later in the San Blas and with the word out, some cruisers began to purchase a sail or two, at cost ...to later on, be given away or bartered for molas of their choice.
Frank and Gretchen advertising the sails, aboard their yacht. They are Super Supporters!
It often takes a village, the saying goes...but it is wonderful to see it happening. Really, really nice.
...Today, in an email from Frank: