500 Sails acquires 50-year-old Chamorro canoe

A 41-FOOT Chamorro canoe, which beat all the yachts at the race to Mackinac in the 1970s, has been donated to 500 Sails, according to its board president Emma Perez.

The canoe named Roberta L arrived on Saipan on Sept. 25. It was built in the 1960s by steel workers in Chicago.

Perez said they learned that Roberta L was for sale on for $500. “So I contacted [the owner] and I asked them if they would consider donating her to 500 Sails. They gave us the canoe for free. We only had to pay for the shipping.”

Perez said the canoe was patterned after the Anson drawing made in 1742 on Tinian, which is also what 500 Sails uses to make its canoes.

“She [Roberta L] is old, about 50 years old. No major damage. But a marine surveyor inspected her and said she is in an excellent shape,” Perez said.

The canoe is interesting, she added. “Her mast is a lamp post and one of the parts of the sail is a flagpole. She was on a TV movie called ‘The Immigrants’ and I am trying to find it because you can see her sailing.”

Roberta L is made of fiberglass and plywood and needs some repairs. “We found a group of people that will work with us —Chamorro men from Guam. They are coming to Saipan to fix Roberta L in three weeks, so that when Okeanos Marianas arrives and makes her first trip to Pagan, Roberta L can go along…. We want a flotilla, a group of sailboats, to go to the island.” (See related story on page 3)

Roberta L will be part of the 500 Sails fleet and it will be used to train people in sailing, Perez said, adding that Neni, the first canoe built by 500 Sails, will also be used for their sailing program.

People who want to own their own canoe, Perez said, are encouraged to attend the sailing class conducted by 500 Sails. “We are setting it up right now. We are in conversations with Carolinian seafarers to help us teach.”

500 Sails is the third owner of Roberta L. Its last owner was Thomas Greg Ray who used to work as an animator for Warner Brothers, Hanna Barbera and MGM.

Ray bought Roberta L from Bruno Gasowoski, a former yacht captain of the Chicago Yacht Club.

In a letter, Ray said Gasowoski “wanted to beat all the yachts, [and] went to a library to research the history of sailing and found a picture of the Flying Proa and thought ‘this was the boat that could do it.’ Marine architect Borge Luchen drew up plans from the original 1742 Anson drawing.”

Gasawoski then gathered his friends and worked on building the canoe. “They worked for 9,000 hours or almost a year. The boat was ready to sail and just in time for Mackinac race.”

On the day of the race, Ray said, “everybody called the canoe the ‘watermelon boat’ because it looked like a slice of watermelon. When the gun was fired — signaling the start of the race — the fleet took off except for Roberta L, which was sitting at the starting line. Hours after the start, the crew pulled the anchor, the sail unfurled and boat started picking up speed. Within hours, she was passing the other boats one after the other. The boat eventually beat the other yachts by five hours.”

Years later, Gasawoski drove the boat to Venice, California where Ray first saw it.

Ray said he bought the boat from Gasawoski for $2,000. Over the years, Ray said he sailed the boat to San Pedro, Marine Del Ray and Malibu, then left it at free anchor in San Diego. He then hired help to move the boat to a storage yard in Carpenteria, California.

“Since then, it has been a series of moves from storage yard to another storage yard with the help of friends that wanted to support me in the vision of seeing the Proa in the water again. But as the years have passed, I have come to realize it is time to let it go to the right hands to see its restoration. My hope is to see it sail again with the magic it once knew,” Ray stated in a letter.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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