I had got
wind of the fact that a social integration project called the Oficina Mar Vivo
was in the process of building a beautiful wooden canoe and it was going to be
displayed at a social fair in the centre of Loulé. I passed by and was
delighted to discover the fabulous vessel and, although I didn’t find the man
you might call ‘the captain of the enterprise’, Carlos Sonderblohm, I decided
it was just as well as it gave me an excuse to go down to the fishing port in
Quarteira where it was being constructed to find out more…
A week or
so later, I arrived at the port and walked past lots of old hard working
fishing boats, seagulls and cats until I caught sight of the canoe which I was
pleased to note had made it back to the workshop and was once again safe and
sound under its tarpaulin. Here I met ‘Captain Carlos’ and a lovely lady called
Catarina who were the only ones left that afternoon working away on their boat.
showed me around, I sat down with Carlos at a table (that they had just
finished building) for coffee, delicious almond and fig flower treats (made by
Catarina) - and a chat about how this all came to be.
from Venezuela. He came to Portugal in 2008 and studied fishery support and
aquaculture at the Universidade do Algarve and is a Natural Resource Management Expert. But he’s
also always enjoyed working with wood and being a surfer, he has built several
surfboards and has worked in a boat yard in Vilamoura, as well as a wood
workshop in São Brás de Alportel.
From what I
understood, he’s been busy recently helping Cabo Verde decide what kind of
fishing boats to build to be able to fish sustainably - but he still finds time
to come and teach at this project on Thursdays and Fridays.
Mar Vivo began in 2020 and is a 2-year pilot project by the Fundação António
Aleixo. It gives school kids and unemployed people in Quarteira the chance to
go down to the fishing port two days a week and try their hands at nautical
not all they can learn. The Oficina Mar Vivo also run workshops where they
enlist the help of people like the onsite master mechanic and welder who, since
the majority of young people these days go into the tourism sector, are sorely
in need of some eager apprentices.
you can learn a bit of everything here and the idea is to provide the
opportunity for people to try it out and see, well… whether it floats their
admitted that it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Indeed, the original plan was
to build 3 canoes. But alas, generally people only attend when they have to and
the process has been slow going.
have been some success stories. I met two of them. One was Filipe, who at just
21 years old attended one of their workshops on boat mechanics and showing
great promise and willingness to learn is now employed there and was in the
middle of fixing an engine.
other was Catarina who I had met when I arrived. A chef by profession, she has
a young son and finding herself unemployed she took her boat driving licence
and wanted to find out more about the nautical world and to use her free time constructively
- and how better than to get on board with building a canoe.
another reason it took so long to get the canoe underway is that they had to
build their workshop first. I was very impressed by the fact that they had made
everything themselves, including a barbeque to cook up the day's catch. Before
getting started, they also had to build the tarpaulin to keep the canoe safe
and dry, as well the moulds to give it its shape - and they had even made the
most beautiful paddles, as well.
explained, much to my amusement, that it made sense to make them now as when
the canoe is finished, they will be far too excited to get it in the water. But
it was also, he admitted, good practice and allowed any would-be nautical
carpenters to get a feel for what it's like to work with wood.
the maiden voyage
full of ideas and passionate about getting youngsters involved in various parts
of the local fishing industry that he says is in danger of drying up if there’s
nobody to take over.
an upstream journey, but he’s also very much enjoyed the experience and whether
the project gets renewed or not, he’s grateful for the community spirit they
have created down there - and happy to teach anybody who wants to learn.
wait for the day the canoe finally gets put in the water and if you don’t want
to miss their happy smiles when they climb aboard and row merrily down the
stream - then please, follow them on Facebook @Oficina