Monday, May 10, 2010

Sri Lankan Proas

Just arrived at beach
View showing leeboards
High and Dry
Fishing Fleet

My old web site contained hundreds of photos of sailing boats, including the ones shown here of Sri Lankan proas.

A few years ago my wife and I visited Negombo, which is not far from Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. We had a mixed bag of experiences. Some of them were enjoyable, but others were far from pleasant. Perhaps our most exciting experience was when we sailed on a local proa. This graceful craft was about 30 feet in length and she had a beam of approximately 25 feet. She only drew 1’ 6”, but instead of being hollowed out from a tree, as were most of the local boats, she was made from fibreglass. I cannot remember seeing any ballast aboard her to compensate for being lighter than her more traditional sisters. Like the others, she was equipped with three leeboards, which were all on her leeward side. Her outrigger was kept to windward, which meant she had to be shunted before moving off on a new tack. This was a very slow manoeuvre, because the entire sail had to be reversed, so that the luff was taken from one end of the boat to the other. Likewise her sheet had to be led from the opposite end. Her fore and aft leeboards were really pivoting rudders which were held in place with lashings. When they were being used as rudders, the helmsman attached a short tiller to the top of them. The crew moved the middle leeboard fore and aft until the boat was properly balanced.

The majority of these vessels were used for shrimping and for general fishing. When my wife and I stayed at Brown’s Beach Hotel three were kept on the foreshore. I was impressed with the skill of the sailors who managed these exceedingly fast boats and I was privileged to be allowed to take the helm on two occasions.

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