Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Calabash Carving

Painted calabash bowl Laura bought in Grenada and one of our calabash - ideas are brewing

So now we had two calabash, what to do with them?  Cut them in half and carve them of course.  Just like the locals do.  Ah-ha but how specifically?  Hum?
Inside the calabash - texture is porious like a sponge
Tom had to go ashore but before he left he got out his backsaw and a few other tools for Laura and I to use for cutting the calabash.  Jason stayed on their boat to do boat chores simply stating to Laura before she left for our boat something to the affect of "Don't cut yourselves!"   D-uh!

Okay.... "How should we do this?"  "I don't have a clue."  "Hum?"  Some calabash seem to have a natural line around the center.  "Let's try to follow that."  "Okay."  I held the calabash between my hand using my legs/knees as backup.  Laura sawed.  What could go wrong with that!  ha!  Don't tell OHSA.

The purple turns black and stains BADLY under your fingernails
Luckily nothing.  She took it slow, first scoring the calabash and then sawing a little bit at a time as I rotated the calabash.  The stem was tough but we got through it.  Actually, it was all tough.  These suckers are thick - I would say almost 1/8" thick.  Of course that is what makes them such great bowls and cups.  However, we perservered and broke through with the saw and I twisted it apart.  Voila!  Weird stuff inside.  It was white and spongy with seeds.  
After the inside as dried
We scooped out the inside stuff with spoons.  While the calabash is edible, no one eats it.  I read online that there are medicinal uses but we never heard of any, which is odd because bush medicine is still alive and well in the Caribbean.   Purple spots started showing up along the inside of the "skin".  We discovered later that this turns black and stains.  We got it under our fingernails as we scooped and NOTHING would get it off - no soap, not scrubbing with a nail brush, even daily swims/snorkels/dives...nope.  We had to wait for it to fade naturally over a week's time.  In the mean time, Laura and I had fingernails that made it appear as though we had been messing in the engine rooms on our boats.  Yuck!
My design
With the inside cleaned out, we could begin carving.  Laura brought over some dentals tools (they have teak decks) and I got out the other items Tom left - an awl, ice pick, various screw drivers and a box cutter.  Laura started on a starfish design.  I started on a Honey Ryder / James Bond theme.  Carving in our laps of course so we could hang on to them firmly.  What could go wrong?  Don't tell OHSA.  

007 James Bond

Did I mention the "skin" is thick and HARD?  Very hard!  It was not easy going.  We soon gained a big appreciation for the local craftsmen that carve these on a daily basis to sell to tourist.  I am sure they have tools and techniques but still.......it is tough.  Wow!  And one little slip up still gouges the skin and makes a mark.  We decided our little mistakes were proof ours were handmade by us......at least that what we told ourselves!  You will be happy to know we did NOT cut ourselves.    

We saved two halves for Tom and Jason to carve.  Jason did a bold Blue Blaze design.  Tom did his own Honey Ryder theme with a nice border.  Then we left them to dry/cure.  They slowly turned a light brown color over the weeks.  I sanded the inside vigirously to make it smooth.  Laura painted the inside of hers.  Don and Heather on sv Asseance suggested I not paint the inside.  "If you don't paint it, you can use it for food."  Like the Rastas do.  They went to a beach picnic once.  A friend had severval calabash bowls and they ate out of them.  When the meal was over, Don said they simply went down to the water and washed out the bowls using sand and sea water.  How kewl is that!  Of course the woman took them home and washed them with soap and water as well, but still kewl!

Update - Further Calabash Scrumping
So now we are on a calabash kick.  While in on a walk with Laura in Carriacou, we spotted a calabash tree.  It was on a fence line, the other side.  However, there were two calabash that were hanging on our side.....nearly.  Okay....true scrumping went on.  But it wasn't in someone yard.  It was in the field with their cows and everyone knows cows prefer plastic pails to carved calabash bowls!
Don't tell OHSA

Tom expertly got them down.  It may or may not have involved climbing on the fence and tree.  They were both small but that is ok.
See the natural dividing line

We got busy with boat and cruiser stuff and didn't get them cut open right away.  Sv Blue Blaze sailed over the horizon for Union Island.  When Tom and I finally did cut them open, the stuff inside had turned black and stinky.  Yuck!  However, this time we were smart enough to wear gloves so our hands would not get stained.  Some black juice did drop on the fiberglass in the cockpit and stained it.  However, rubbing compound wax should get it out but the magical boat cleaning fairies have not yet arrived this year so that stain is still there.  Lazy magical boat fairies!

Tom used the Garmin logo (triangle) as inspiration to carve a pattern around the top of his.  I copied Laura's idea and did my own starfish.
Cute right?  OMG - did I just say cute?  Ugh!

Tom's Garmin inspired pattern

Carving the small ones wasn't any easier.  It has really given us an appreciate for the locals that carve these.  Tom purchased the below carved calabash from a local guy on Martinique when we were visiting Riviere Alma.
Professionally done

Professionally sanded inside
Only $5 Euro - just $5.
Local artist

Below is Tom's first calabash after 6 weeks or so.
Can you hear the James Bond theme in your head?

Pattern around the side of Tom's

Update - Did I mentioned that we me have become obsessed with calabash.  I look for the tree everywhere now.  They are not easy to spot.  I think often times, they are away from the coastline, tucked up in the hills.  While we were in Carriacou I asked local Richard (of Lumbadive) if he knew of a tree.  "Go ask Diane (his partner).  She has tons of calabash."  Diane got a bunch of already dried ones from another local.  She save me two whole ones.  "Be careful how you cut them since they are dried.  They can crack while cutting."   Tom carefully scored the one and gradually cut it with a handheld hacksaw....holding it on his leg.  Don't tell OSHA!  The inside was completely dried up and black.  Most of it flaked out.  The rest came out with sanding.  I have sanded the outside and plan to paint these once I find some acrylic paints.  Tom drilled a hole in the top of the other one and used a chopstick to break up the black stuff and shake it out.  He plans to put seeds or dried beans inside and seal it back up as with a wine cork to make a musical shaker.  Pretty kewl huh?
Dried, whole calabash from Diane

Update Feb 14th -  While driving around Martinique last week with sv Inishnee, I spotted one calabash tree perfect for scrumping in St Pierre.  As that anchorage is on the NW of the island and we are currently anchored on the SE, it will have to wait.  However, I have high hopes for finding a tree or two here in le Marin or out in St Anne.  I will keep you posted.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! Be careful, though. I had to get five stitches after slicing my thumb trying to cut the stem off a pumpkin (getting ready to carve a jack-o-lantern) when I was 13, and damn...that smarted. Admittedly, I was young, but knives do slip. Hope you're up to date on your tetanus shots!