A national sailing program is being launched in Panama to bring the simple art of sailing and the sailing culture within reach of all Panamanians.
The sea knowledge in this program will benefit those who plan a maritime career - and - the very poor who go out in small pangas to earn a living. Fishermen through the centuries have gone out and got home under sail. It is a simple art that has been forgotten as the outboard took over.
It is an art that must be revived!
Fishing in pungas or cayucos along Latin America's Pacific and Atlantic coasts is hazardous. The poor go to sea to earn a living and eat. The survival of the Salvadoran fisherman Jose Alvarenga has brought into the spotlight the perilous and primitive fishing equipment and practices still used in Mexico, and the rest of Latin America.
Fishermen typically take to the sea in small open boats with no cover, no life jackets, primitive communications gear, with only a cloth wrapped around their heads for protection from the sun. For many fishermen, the only thing that stands between them and death on the high sea is an aging outboard motor, a wooden oar, a machete, a few plastic jugs of water and their faith.
"When one is at sea, one is in the hands of God," said Manuel de Jesus Diaz, 39, who has fished from Alvarenga's hometown of Garita Palmera for 25 years. "We go out almost without anything, our clothes to cover us from the sun and water for the voyage."
While fishermen often depend on God as much as safety equipment, they also rely on sea skills picked up over a lifetime. Relatives say Alvarenga was unusually strong and resilient, and an experienced sailor. However, not all are that strong and resiliant.
In Panama, a fishing panga set out to catch fish for Easter. The outboard failed and the boat drifted to Ecuador. There was only one survivor.
Though these fisherman are tough and canny, they would have a better chance of survival when their outboard dies if they knew how to use a sail and the currents to make their way back to land. Just a simple pole and sail would make the difference between life and death, when the outboard fails.
Learning to sail will give them an age old skill that will not only get them home. It will save fuel and reduce their dependence on the outboard notor.