Saveiros da Bahia

Saveiros da Bahia

Filipe Castro, Denise Gomes Dias, Rodrigo Torres, Samila Ferreira, Marcelo Bastos

Links: Academia: Saveiros da Baía


This project started in December of 2013, when one of the authors visited Valença – invited by Denise Gomes Dias – and interviewed a group of shipwrights in order to assess the vitality of this persisting tradition, and decide whether it was worth studying this community.

The amazing work of these shipwrights was published in the 1980s by John Patrick Sarsfield, in a series of tremendously important papers that detailed their methods and traditional knowledge.

In 2013, at Valença, we interviewed mestres Walter ‘Waltinho’ Assis de Santana, Francisco ‘Chico’ de Assis, Edir, Valmiro, Zuza, Tenório, and José ‘Zé Crente’ do Nascimento, and we paid a short visit to mestre Elpídio in Camamu, a nearby village.  What we saw was a rich cultural environment where construction methods are handled from one generation to the next, evolve in the light of new tastes, market trends, shortage of old materials and availability of new ones, and cross-pollinates between villages, islands or shipyards.

The use of graminhos (mezzelune) to obtain a fair shape of the ships’ bottoms is only one of the secrets of the trade, and we decided to return and study the similarities and differences between these methods, the transfer of knowledge process, and the ways in which innovation has occurred.

While in some places, such as Valença, shipwrights seem to be struggling, in other places their activity is thriving.  The business models in themselves were one object of our attention.  In some places the ships are built at the shipwrights’ expense and sold afterwards, in other places the buyer pays for the work and the timber, and in other places a contract is established based on a project.  Engineers are inevitable in the process of legalizing the larger vessels, but we were left with the idea that their role in the design and construction is not central.

The acquisition of suitable timber also appeared to be an interesting subject as the entire shipbuilding activity is rather unregulated, while the tragic destruction of the Atlantic forest of the last century generated a highly regulated timber market.  After our short visit we felt that all these subjects call for further research, and this paper is intended as an introduction to the subject.