I had heard that a social integration project called the Oficina Mar Vivo was building a beautiful wooden canoe and it was going to be exhibited at a social fair in the center of Loulé. I popped in and was delighted to find the fabulous ship and although I couldn’t find the man you could call ‘the captain of the company’, Carlos Sonderblohm, I decided it was was as good as it gave me an excuse to go all the way to Quarteira fishing port where it was under construction to find out more…

Ahoy captain

About a week later I arrived at the harbor and passed many old fishing boats, seagulls and hard working cats until I saw the canoe which I was delighted to find he had returned to the workshop and was safe again. and sound under its cover. Here I met “Captain Carlos” and a lovely lady called Catarina, who were the only ones working that afternoon on their boat.

Before he showed me around, I sat with Carlos at a table (which they had just finished building) for coffee, delicious almond and fig blossom treats (made by Catarina) – and a conversation about how it all happened.

Carlos comes from Venezuela. He came to Portugal in 2008 and studied fisheries support and aquaculture at the Universidade do Algarve and is a Expert in natural resource management. But he also always loved working with wood and being a surfer, he built several surfboards and worked in a shipyard in Vilamoura, as well as in a carpentry workshop in São Brás de Alportel.

From what I understand, he recently helped Cabo Verde decide what kind of fishing boats to build to be able to fish sustainably – but he always finds time to come and teach this project on Thursdays and Fridays.

Show them the ropes

The Oficina Mar Vivo started in 2020 and is a 2-year pilot project of the Fundação António Aleixo. It allows school children and unemployed people from Quarteira to go down to the fishing port two days a week and try their hand at nautical carpentry.

But that’s not all they can learn. The Oficina Mar Vivo also runs workshops where they bring in people like the on-site master mechanic and welder who, since the majority of young people these days are heading into the tourism sector, are in dire need of enthusiastic apprentices.

Basically, you can learn a bit about everything here and the idea is to give people the chance to try it out and see, well…if it floats their boat.

Just row with

Carlos admitted that it was not all easy. Indeed, the initial plan was to build 3 canoes. But alas, usually people only attend when they have to and the process has been slow.

But there have been successes. I met two of them. One of them was Filipe, who at just 21 attended one of their boat mechanics workshops and shows great promise and a willingness to learn, is now employed there and was fixing an engine.

And the other was Catarina whom I had met when I arrived. A cook by profession, she has a young son and finding herself unemployed, she took her boat driving license and wanted to learn more about the nautical world and use her free time constructively – and what better way than to get into building a canoe.

Get ship shape

Of course, another reason it took so long to get the canoe up and running is that they had to build their workshop first. I was very impressed that they had prepared everything themselves, including a barbecue to prepare the catch of the day. Before they started, they also had to build the tarp to keep the canoe safe and dry, and the molds to give it its shape – and they had even made the most beautiful paddles.

Carlos explained to me, much to my amusement, that it made sense to make them now, because when the canoe is finished, they’ll be way too excited to put it in the water. But it was also, he admitted, good practice and gave all potential nautical carpenters a taste of what it’s like to work with wood.

Don’t miss the maiden voyage

Carlos is full of ideas and passionate about involving young people in various sectors of the local fishing industry which he says is in danger of drying up if there is no one to take over.

It’s been an uphill journey, but he’s also thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and whether the project is renewed or not, he’s grateful for the community spirit they’ve created there – and happy to teach anyone who wants to learn.

Can’t wait for the canoe to finally be launched and if you don’t want to miss their happy smiles as they board and happily descend the stream – then please follow them on Facebook @Oficina Mar Vivo