Sometimes it takes a foreign hand to point out the gifts within. Bangladesh's wealth of rivers and varieties of water transport are not gifts that we give thanks for on a daily basis.
It is a foreigner who sees the richness of Bangladesh's navigation culture and has taken the initiative to improve the lot of the poor fishermen of Bangladesh. Yves Marre had sailed to Bangladesh in 1994 from France on an unwanted barge with a view to donate it.
Sixteen years on, he is still in Bangladesh involved in an NGO called Friendship and running a floating hospital called Lifebuoy Friendship Hospital with his wife Runa, while working tirelessly to promote the well-being of fishermen in Kuakata and the Bay of Bengal.
The star of the moment though, is his assistant from France, Corentin de Chatelperron. He joined Yves last year, and this past Saturday, set sail on a six-month voyage to France, alone on a vessel modelled on the fisherman's boats of Kuakata. You might call him crazy, but there's more to the story than meets the eye.
The main objective behind the excursion is to highlight the viability of jute as a raw material for building boats. The boat he has set sail on, called Tartari is made of 40 percent jute and the rest is made from fibreglass.
“It is mainly for the ecological aspect,” said a visibly excited Corentin two days before his departure. “Bangladesh is naturally endowed with Jute, and it will be a great help to the people if jute can be a major raw material for boat construction. This voyage is to prove that jute is viable, and also we hope to start a research centre here that will hopefully lead to boats that are completely made of jute.”
The boat is also a prototype for fishing boats that Marre wishes to distribute among the fishermen. "These boats are completely safe, almost unsinkable," said Marre, who is also an advisor at the Taratari Shipyard in Savar. "Even if the boat is capsized, its occupants can sit on its underside, and it's very easy to turn over onto the right side again. Also, while the boats currently in use among the fishermen require a lot of maintenance and are therefore very expensive, this one requires little or no maintenance and is guaranteed to last 20 years."
Corentin will set sail from the Bangshi river in Savar, and his route will take him to Barisal, then Kuakata, after which he will sail over international waters to Sri Lanka, where he will rest for a while. After that he will be at sea for a month on his way to Oman. From there his sailboat will be boarded on a ferry till they cross Jibouti on the East coast of Africa. This will be done because the waters between Oman and Jibouti are notorious for pirates. From there he will go through the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean. For the majority of the voyage he will travel alone; he may have a friend with him for the last two months of the journey.
Most of the materials used to make the boat are Bangladeshi; only the sails and the GPS are from France. The boat was designed by VPLP, a renowned boat-designing firm in France. For us, the prospect of close to six months alone on the open sea is a frightening one. For Corentin, who has been sailing since he was a child, the only thing that bothers him is the possibility of pirate attacks. Since he is doing this for us, we can only thank him and wish him Bon Voyage!
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed