A fire broke out early Monday morning at the canoe house near West Coast Restaurant (formerly Naked Fish Bar and Grill) in Susupe, severely damaging a 35-foot wooden boat and partially burning off a portion of the hut’s roof.
According to canoe house and boat project lead John Castro, the boat’s hull was one wooden plank away from being completed but the damage from yesterday’s blaze has caused it irreparable damage.
“We’re going to have to salvage what we can. …[According to] our master canoe builder and master navigator, Tony Piailug, about 5% is salvageable, so 95% is gone,” said Castro.
The incident, which was widely shared on social media yesterday, prompted many to condemn the incident and lament what many described as an attack on culture and traditions.
“I can’t believe it! This is so sad!” said one commenter. Another said, “Omygoodnress I have no words.”
As far as what he and his team will do next, all that Castro can do is keep his head up and start over.
“We’re all saddened, even the folks that just stopped by to see the progress. I know they’re upset. …We will continue, but start new again. This is the only way; we must keep our heads up and move on,” said Castro.
In solidarity with their fellow seafarers, 500 Sails co-founders Pete and Emma Perez mourn the loss of a vessel that took many hands and a lot of time to build. 500 Sails is a nonprofit organization that is seeking to revive the seafaring tradition of the CNMI.
“We are both very upset to see that this cultural treasure [was] lost like this. The canoe is more than a boat—in local culture, a canoe has a spirit. Anyone who has sailed one knows what this means. We all are deeply affected to see that this canoe burned,” said Pete Perez.
The canoe house and the canoe itself are part of the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs’ Seafaring Traditions Program.
The boat saw many challenges in its past as it was built over the course of a few years, with Castro’s team first having to overcome Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018 and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Castro said the boat was nearing its first voyage date, which he hoped to make happen within four to five months from now. The fire yesterday morning, however, inflicted irreparable damage.
There were many speculations about the fire’s origin and whether it was deliberately set or not, but the Department of Fire & Emergency Medical Services has yet to issue official details on the cause of the fire as of press time Monday.