THE HISTORY OF THE DONG NAI
by Hoot Gibson
The sturdy, fast and elegant Dong Nai class gaff-rigged sloop
was conceived in the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam and perfected
along the war-torn coast of Nicaragua. Developed for use by Third
World subsistence fishermen, this hybrid of Asian and Western
nautical design is now being built, sailed and raced on the Chesapeake
Dong Nai-class vessels in action in Nicaragua
the craft to starboard is powered by Diesel, rather than the regulation
Bob Means, a Southern
California native, is a lifelong, avid sailor. Bob also has an
avid interest in helping others. After combat service in Vietnam
as a United States Marine in 1967 and 1968, Bob
traveled to Central America under the auspices of his church to
build medical facilities and housing. There, he met Juliet, a
British nurse who became his wife.
Bob and Juliet formed "Vets With a Mission," dedicated
to helping the Vietnamese rebuild their country. Juliet and Bob
moved to a houseboat on the Dong Nai River in the Mekong Delta
in southern Viet Nam and, with other returned vets, worked with
the Vietnamese at building hospitals, homes and better lives for
those suffering the aftereffects of the bitter, destructive war.
Bob noticed that the local fishermen were severely limited by
their equipment -- sampan-style boats propelled
bicycle-style by pedals attached to paddles. Faster boats, able
to cover larger areas of water, would dramatically improve the
lot of the local fishermen, Bob felt. Working with a local sampan
craftsman, and using an illustration from the cover of the British
magazine Classic Boat as a guide to the sails and rigging, Means
went to work. After much trial and error, the Dong Nai prototype
Much to the surprise of the locals,
this first effort -- christened Gecko -- performed
beyond anyone's wildest expectations. It headed up to wind smartly
and held steady at all points of sail. It was also extremely fast,
easy and cheap to build and operate.
Bob and Juliet left Vietnam to return
Nicaragua to help rebuild after the Sandinista/Contra struggle. Bob saw that Nicaraguan fishermen, like their counterparts
in Vietnam, were in need of cheap, reliable boats. Bob launched
the Dong Nai Fishing Boat Project in Nicaragua and, with the help
of aid funds from many nations, outfitted local fishermen with
his design, enabling them to increase their range and productivity.
Bob and Juliet have since relocated to the hamlet of Remlik,
Virginia, near Urbanna,
on the Rappahannock river. There, at the Remlik Marina, Bob builds
and teaches other to build and sail the Dong Nai. The design is
proving to be as attractive to recreational sailors as it is to
the subsistence fishermen of Viet Nam and Nicaragua.
Heeled over in San Juan del Sur, on the
southern Pacific coast of Nicaragua.