Boater sailed through COVID while in Kenya

Boater spared from fire but lost a tuna

Meet Boyd Corbin, 53, of Wilton Manors, a drinking water activist who works in vacation rentals. He owns Lauderdale Dream, a ngalawa — Swahili for a dugout sailing canoe, with two outriggers.

Corbin spent 16 months in Malindi, Kenya, during the pandemic, where he bought the traditional dugout sailboat and customized it so he could sail alone. The boat is currently in Kenya.

“My boat was found floating in the sea so I bought it from the guys who found it for $300. I ended up replacing most everything including the rudder, outriggers, sail, mast, etc.

“The hull is mango, a hard wood that lasts 10 or more years before becoming waterlogged. The outriggers were from msufi, a soft wood that is half the price, light and very buoyant but only lasts a couple years.

“It is completely held together by rope except for the rudder and some trim. Beef fat mixed with carbon from a couple D-sized batteries (to kill worms) should be applied every couple of months to keep the boat from getting waterlogged.

“My $10 per day carpenter increased the beam by a couple of feet. I added trampolines and had him double the width of the outriggers to sail alone.”

How did you get into boating?
I grew up in Easton, Md. and took Laser sailing classes for a couple summers. As a teenager I would sail a Laser all day on the Choptank River to Oxford.

How did COVID affect you in Kenya?
There was only a nighttime curfew and fewer tourists but nobody took Covid seriously in 2020. Few Kenyans died from Covid. Nairobi police would accept bribes if they caught you without a mask in 2021.

Tanzania is to the south of Kenya. No Covid restrictions thanks to the president who is said to have died from Covid.

Fleets of ngalawa sailboats go out every morning for fishing and diving while Kenya has advanced to open boats with 15 horsepower Yamahas. Tanzania is primitive in a good way.

What do you like best about your boat? Is there anything you wish you could change?
My boat was very simple. I can be under sail within five minutes from leaving my beachfront cottage. There was no boom so it didn’t tack. Every turn was a jibe since I had to bring the main sheet around the front of the mast. It was tough and forgiving even when I hit coral at full speed.

My next ngalawa will be 3 feet longer to accommodate three or four people and 8 inches taller to keep waves from splashing in. I’d like to upgrade the bailing system from a 5-gallon bucket to a small pump with a lithium battery and a small solar panel.

What do you like about sailing alone?
It allows me to sail when I want and for however long I want, which was usually five hours. I wasn’t really alone since there were other fishermen, lots of turtles, birds, jumping tuna and a kingfish that jumped 10 feet into the air two mornings in a row to check out my boat.

What do you most enjoy about being on the water?
I like the freedom and relaxation. I like to find out the limits of what is possible with my boat. Surfing waves in a 20-foot sailboat can be fun.

I’d like to take tourists out but getting a work permit is a lot of trouble so I just take out friends and neighbors.

Describe your favorite excursion?
A day before the winds changed direction for the season, I sailed from Malindi to Watamu with my Italian neighbor, which took 3 hours. We got swamped by a big wave a quarter mile before our destination, which set us back 20 minutes.

The boat can’t capsize and I figured out how to sail slowly while full of water until reaching land. I can bail it out in two minutes. I left the boat in front of Hemmingways [hotel] in Watamu for two nights and started to have lunch there the day I planned to sail back home.

After ordering my food, my anchor rope broke so I had to swim out and rescue my boat. When I returned to the table, my neighbor got a call that the 150-unit condo building a few feet from our cottages with a makuti (palm leaf) roof was on fire.

We drove back to find our 32-unit cottage complex, which also had a thatched roof, was fine but the cottages to the north of the fire burned down. If the fire had happened the day before, the southerly winds would have burned down our cottages.

The next day I sailed back home alone and caught a nice tuna that slipped out of my hands after I moored the boat.

What is your must-have item on board?
I always wear a good-sized hat, a long sleeve nylon shirt for protection from the sun and water shoes in case I have to push the boat if it gets stuck on sharp coral rocks.

What is your dream boat?
That would be a 40-foot catamaran that I can live on and either sail alone or with inexperienced crew.

Any advice to new boaters?
Start with a tiny boat either with an engine or a sail.