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The Gli Gli – Traditional Sailing and Island Exploration

By wpdev November 28, 2012

If you join Sail Caribbean for one of our summer teen adventure camps, you will become familiar with the sight of Gli Gli. This is the traditional canoe that sits at Aragorn’s Studio in Trellis Bay. But what is the story behind this beautiful boat?

“Gli Gli” is the Carib name for the sparrow hawk, a bird that was once revered by the ancient Carib warriors as a symbol of bravery.

Artists Jacob Frederick and Aragorn Dick-Read, first began to think about building a traditional canoe in 1994. Their aim was to build the canoe and sail it from Dominica to Guyana, reconnecting with the Carib way of life. The canoe is 35 feet long and 7 feet wide and powered by a twenty five square meter sail or eight oars. It was sailed by a crew of eleven and was accompanied on this voyage by the 120 foot Dominican schooner “Carmela”.

The voyage was taken mostly as a symbolic journey to reconnect the people of the Caribbean. It also allowed the crew the opportunity to research the surviving Carib groups and see how much of the traditional language, dance, medicine and canoe building was still being practiced. The voyage served to remind people that these canoes were once the means of traveling between the islands and to reconnect with that way of thinking.

Construction of Gli Gli began on a full moon in December 1995.This was no easy task however as the canoe was constructed in the traditional style and dug out of a Gommier tree. The work began in the rainforests of Dominica, where the trees were felled and carved. This took three weeks and then the boat was ready to be moved out of the rainforest. Carrying the 35 foot canoe to the village of Salybia took two days for forty people.

The next phase of the construction is called “opening” the canoe. Here the canoe sits weighed down by rocks and sitting in the heat of the sun. It is regularly soaked with water. The heat and the weight help the wood to warp giving the canoe it’s shape. To finish off the “opening” fires were lit on either side of Gli Gli causing her to spread out even more.

Next the ribs were screwed in and the canoe really began to take shape. Now the rails were four feet in height and Gli Gli had a beam of almost six feet. Now she was ready for her mast and rudder. These were fitted by canoe builders along with the oars and seat. All she needed now was her sail which was made based on a traditional Carib design in the USA.

Gli Gli was launched in November 1996 at Marigot, where a ceremony was held to bless and anoint her before she set sail for the first time. After all their hard work imagine how the builders felt to see the wind fill her sails.

Curious to do some sailing and island exploration of your own?  Check out our summer teen sailing programs!

The greatest challenge during the program was staying entertained during the quarantine period. Not being able to leave your boat and not having a phone, which was a crutch against boredom, it was difficult at first to stay entertained.