One thing that has greatly interested me during our cruising in Venezuela is the graceful Pinero boat. These open handmade wooden boats are seen everywhere and are beautiful to watch. Generally ranging between 19 and 30 feet, with some much larger, this foot boat or skiff has approximately a six foot beam and is made entirely from wood. The term “Pinero” was used historically for any small skiff other than dugout canoes. Today it usually refers to an open semi-dory type skiff and forms the backbone of small-scale fishing in Venezuela, as they have capacities ranging from one to five tons. Although originally used for this purpose, and built through the generations from memory, not printed designs, they are today also used as leisure craft.
Some Pineros are covered and have seats – these are used as local ferries or tourista boats and have been called Panga boats in other cultures. Pinero designs are flat-bottomed with a pointed bow and square stern. They usually hold either one person or many, depending on the event. During the Festival of the Virgin water parade there were Pineros everywhere and each seemed to be filled with entire families. Whatever their name or use, Pineros are a part of the Venezuelan boating experience.
What surprised me are the huge 40 to 75 hp and as much as 225 hp outboard motors on the transoms of these boats. As they have planing hulls that are capable of speeds in excess of 35 knots, sometimes with two motors, the Pineros can travel very fast. The hulls are made of strong bendable wood and are reinforced by heavy planking that is used in making the frame. The “panga panga wood” can be used although it is debatable if this is how the pinero/panga boat originally obtained its name. In the hands of an experienced operator they are considered extremely seaworthy. Most Pineros are expected to have a working life of between five to ten years if properly maintained.
It takes a little timing, balance, and coordination to board any boat that doesn’t use a gang plank and the Pinero requires that you to step onto the gunwale, the seat back board, or whatever foothold you can find. It’s a very deep vessel, so when you sink down to your seat, it’s a good ways down. A heavily loaded Pinero makes for an interesting ride; although the sides of a Pinero’s bow are raised to deflect the sea spray, it is no match for a ride through choppy waters.
In our travels, down the estuaries of Venezuela, we came across many wooden shelters for these boats. Every several miles you will see stilted shelters where Pinero owners and operators go to just lime and hang out, not so different from boaters worldwide. There are no other buildings or civilization, whatsoever, in these areas—they are totally secluded. Interestingly, in the small village of Mochima all of the Pineros are owned cooperatively, as is the town.
In areas where they cannot tie up, they are run up on the beaches by the crew and then are rolled up beyond the surf line on round palm tree logs. It must be a test of machismo to run at a beach full speed and lift the huge motor up just in time to have the pinero slide up out of the water and come to rest, often only a boat length up on the beach. The coast of Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela, is lined with them, especially in the barrio outside of the Bahia Redondo Marina, and it is a pleasure to see fishermen working on them.