Proa builders return from NZ

From left, Jerrold Calvo, Ray "Boss" Alvarez, Jay Igisaiar, Marc Dutilloy, Ron Acfalle (Ulitao, Guam) and Pete Perez. (Contributed Photo)

From left, Jerrold Calvo, Ray “Boss” Alvarez, Jay Igisaiar, Marc Dutilloy, Ron Acfalle (Ulitao, Guam) and Pete Perez. (Contributed Photo)

The 500 Sails staff who left for New Zealand on Jan. 19 are returning today, Feb. 17, as proa (sailing canoe) builders.

The five builders—Pete Perez, Ray “Boss” Alvarez, Jay Igisaiar, Jerrold Calvo, and Ron Acfalle from Guam—built a 26-foot Chamorro proa almost to completion in about three weeks.

The proa needs finishing touches that include painting, edging of the hull, and adding a platform to sit on. These finishing touches will be completed here on Saipan.

The resulting prototype allowed 500 Sails staff the opportunity to learn to use a variety of tools and work with state-of-the-art boat building materials under the guidance of two experienced builders, Derek Kelsall and Marc Dutilloy.

500 Sails, a non-profit organization committed to restoring the maritime traditions of both the Chamorros and the Carolinians, gets its name from a first-person account in 1565 by Legazpi aboard the San Pedro as it approached the Marianas: “We were no more than two leagues from [the island]…when a great number of these proas appeared about us…more than 400 or 500 around the ships…”

The goal is to have 500 proas, both Chamorro and Carolinian, in the waters of the Marianas by the year 2030. This proa makes five.

500 Sails hopes to make traditional proas accessible to the community by using traditional designs, but building with fiberglass.  This greatly reduces both the cost and the time needed to build an entire proa. 

The 47-foot Che’lu in Guam took over a year to build. 

In about three weeks, the 500 Sails builders in New Zealand got the proa to the point where it can go in the water. 

The decision was made to take the staff to New Zealand because health issues did not allow the master builder to come to Saipan as originally planned, and repairs to the canoe house (the old legislature building in Susupe) were delayed. 

Upon their return and after building the next prototype, applying everything they learned in New Zealand, the 500 Sails builders will begin sharing their knowledge by teaching interested individuals in the community how to build their own proas.

500 Sails is planning to build a total of 60 proas in the next three years. 

To obtain a proa at little to no cost, individuals need to participate in the building process and to complete the water safety program, which includes swimming and boating safety components. Dolphin Club Saipan is the swimming program of 500 Sails.  The cost of materials may be covered by grant funds.

500 Sails is grateful for the support of its board of directors and advisory board, the CNMI Department of Land and Natural Resources, Mariana Resort & Spa, the Northern Marianas Humanities Council, the Commonwealth Council for Arts & Culture, and the Social and Economic Development Strategies program of the Administration for Native Americans.

For more information, contact Perez, executive director, at or follow 500 Sails on Facebook.

Press Release
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