Business Business

13/12/2018 - 08:58

Building flood-crossing canoes

While the blind-alley boat-building job in Phu Binh Ward is thought to be at risk of oblivion, the “flood-crossing” canoe-building job comes into being when there is a rising demand for a means of transport during the flood season.

Nguyen Van Tuan is finishing the last stage of a canoe.

The “negotiation” between the owner of canoe-building facility, Nguyen Van Tuan of Group 8, Phu Binh Ward (Hue City) and a customer in Quang An Commune (Quang Dien District) took place animatedly, openly but promptly, just in a few minutes. Perhaps, the price has been consulted before by this customer, so when Tuan gave a price and of course, did not overcharge, the transaction quickly reached an agreement. The canoe was about 15 meters long, 1.5 meters wide and priced at VND 20 million. After being handed over to the customer, the canoe was taken down to the Perfume River wharf where a motorboat was waiting to take it to Quang An (Quang Dien District, Thua Thien Hue Province).

“To build a new canoe takes a long time, but to sell is in a jiffy! As you see, it can take a few days to launch a canoe after being built but only a few minutes to sell,” Tuan said confidently. While talking with us, Tuan together with his workers was trying to complete the final stages of a canoe to hand it over to the other customer waiting due to the forecast of the impending rain and floods.

The canoe-building work is irregularly done all year round but mostly in rain and flood season. This year, floods come late, so customers also hire the facility owners to build canoes quite late. At this time in the past years of continuous rains and floods, canoe-building facility owners and workers were often idle, but this year they are knee-deep in work.

The canoes are finished

“The canoe-building facility owners take advantage of sunny season to buy the timber for drying and ready-to-use materialsFrom this time, they begin to receive orders until the beginning of the rain and flood season. No sooner had the owners received orders than they have started to build canoes, so the canoes are soon handed over to the customers under the agreement. However, some customers subjectively place orders late, so they have to take boats when floods are imminent. In case of the urgent order at the time of impending rain and flood, the workers do their utmost to build even by night, the customers are willing to accept the slightly increased price of the canoe," Tuan said.

Depending on the size, each canoe is priced about VND 5 million at the least, about VND 20 million at most, and VND10-20 million on average. This canoe type usually 10-15m long, 1-1.5m wide can be connected to small power machines, which is safe and convenient for movement in flooded residential areas and roads. Depending on the time, the number of built canoes can be more or less, but according to the canoe-building facility owners at Phu Binh Ward, each facility usually builds and sells 10-15 units a month on average. After deducting material costs, workers’ wages, the owner makes a monthly profit of VND 30-45 million.

A “flood-crossing” canoe

When we mentioned that currently, the facility only builds canoes for travel in the rainy season, Phong and the canoe-building facility owner Nguyen Thanh Son of Group 8, Phu Binh Ward rejoiced with a little thoughtfulness. He rejoiced because the canoe-building job unexpectedly prospered, and he was thoughtful because his father’s former dragon-building job now seems to fall into oblivion. The artisans such as Nguyen Van Luu, Nguyen Van Lai or those devoted to the dragon boat-building job have not yet opportunely handed the "know-how" down to the next generation and passed away.

Mr. Nguyen Thanh Son said, “The artisans have not yet passed know-how down in a timely way, and the coming generations are not deeply involved with the dragon-building job because this is a painstaking, skilled job with unstable income. While the dragon-building job has been at a standstill, a new job - building “flood-crossing” canoes- was born on the basis of boatbuilding technique. Both building and repairing “flood-crossing” canoes, each worker earns an average of VND 6-7 million a month - a relatively stable source for him.

Mr. Son said that the stages of building “flood-crossing” canoes were far simpler than building dragon boats or fishing ones. While building the dragon boat requires meticulousness, sophistication, skills and so on, building canoes only needs beauty, sureness, and durability. Most of the dragon boat builders are highly-skilled, so their transference to building “flood-crossing” canoes is very easy and favorable. Building a canoe will be completed within 2-3 days only with 2-3 workers.

A “flood-crossing” canoe was once fully built of timber from its side to bottom. Builders also used the rattan strings to tighten the bores; the boards were grafted together with bamboo or wood wedge, so the canoe had low durability, cost a lot of effort and expenses. Much later on, upgraded, the canoe bottom was gradually replaced with aluminum. For three years now, the timber has been very high in price and scarce; most of the canoe bottom is made of aluminum with high durability and at a much lower price than timber, which is suitable for a section of the rural people in difficulty.

Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Tien, Head of Agriculture and Rural Development Division in Quang Dien District, said that in the large-scale heavy flooding conditions, motorized vehicles cannot move, a canoe is an important means for people in flooded zone. Every year, before the rain and flood season comes, the agriculture sector cooperates with the localities to propagate and involve the households in buying and equipping themselves with the canoes for movement and goods transportation during the rain and flood season. After the flood passes, the canoes also serve as a means of netting, fishing to improve livelihood and increase income for many households.

"What the owners of the canoe-building facilities rejoice is the rising need to build “flood-crossing” canoes and repair dragon boats not only in the province but also in neighboring provinces such as Quang Tri, Quang Binh and so on also ordering. Some tourist dragon boat owners in other provinces also come to our facilities for advice, or invite us for repair when the boat head (dragon section) is damaged," said Nguyen Van Tuan.

Story and photos: HOANG TRIEU