On Tuesday, November 12th a new vessel was baptized into the Belizean waters. Sea’N Belize is assumed to be the largest glass bottom boat in Belize, and after nine months of construction it finally took to the water.
The construction of the boat was the vision of Roger and Linda Kurtis from Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA, who travelled to several countries in search of the perfect location to open a coffee shop. But after they fell in love with Belize on a trip to Placencia their plans changed and their dreams changed from owning a coffee shop to the construction of a glass bottom boat to provide tours for visitors. With a new business plan, the couple contacted local boat constructor, Norman Eiley and in February 2013, construction of the “Sea’N Belize” commenced.
The massive vessel is 30 feet long and 15 feet wide, and it was built completely of mahogany. The vessel has two glass panels on the bottom that have been placed at an angle to prevent reflection when taking pictures with a camera. A team of about seven men was necessary to transport the vessel from the construction site to the nearby lagoon.
According to Eiley, Kurtis contracted him to build the boat on a recommendation by his son Francisco Eiley who had been approached by the family after a trip out to sea. The Kurtis family quickly contacted Norman, who drafted out a design for the glass bottom boat and begun plans for construction. “When I sent the family the design they loved it, and after negotiations I began construction right away,” said Eiley. This is the biggest boat he has ever built, but to Eiley it wasn’t a challenge as much as it was a test of his skill. “By the time I finished building the boat, I was in love with it and didn’t want to hand it over. That is the passion of building a boat.” As to why the boat was made of only wood, Eiley says it gives the vessel more charm and is friendlier to the environment. “I only build boats out of wood because that is the original and classic form of boat building.”
Eiley has been building boats for 52 years and has built over 10 vessels. “I built my first boat when I was 13. It was a sail boat made of only wood,” said Eiley. Having learned from his father Oliver Eiley, boat builder himself, Norman is also a skilled, self-taught carpenter. His ultimate dream however, is to build a grand wooden sail boat to sail the Caribbean Sea.
Eiley encourages any youngsters willing and eager to learn the trade of boat building to contact him, as he is more than happy to teach anyone what he knows. “Building boats out of wood is a dying trade. I want to teach the young people this trade so that generations to come can marvel in the wonders of a wooden boat.”
The boat was captained to Placencia by the family. The San Pedro Sun wishes the Kurtis family the best of luck in their business endeavor, and we congratulate Norman Eiley on his latest beauty.
San Pedro Sun