How can one class at BARN bring changes to people living on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua? Step into the Woodworking and Boatbuilding Studio this summer and you will see a beautiful canoe. In June of 2017, Jim Gordon became a BARN member and signed up for the Intro to Kayak Building class. A year later, he is using techniques he learned to create a canoe entirely from scrap wood. Soon he plans to share the skills and knowledge he gained at BARN with the Rama people in Nicaragua.

The Rama live on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Boats are a way of life for these indigenous people. In the Rama territory, roads do not exist. Instead, people navigate on creeks, rivers, and oceans. Boats transport families, food, and supplies.

Currently the Rama people create dugout canoes for their boats. This method requires trees that are large, heavy, and old-growth. Chain saws are also inefficient and require gasoline. Smaller trees that could be milled into strips would be more easily replaceable and sustainable.

Jim first visited the Rama people in 2007 and was among the first group of outsiders to stay for a week. He then started a nonprofit, Progress Tools, to help provide assistance to this community and others. In 2015, a Hud-son Company sawmill, given at cost, traveled from New York to the Nicaraguan coast via truck and boat in several 450-lb pieces. Progress Tools is devoted to helping the Rama people live in the modern world and retain as much of their identity as possible, despite racism and prejudice in their society. The nonprofit seeks to inspire people to start businesses and build local economies. Already the new sawmill has been used to make boards for houses, doors, and furniture including tables and beds.

This canoe fulfills Jim’s lifelong interest in boats and woodworking. Jim has wanted to learn wood strip techniques since he was a teenager. The 40-lb canoe in BARN’s Woodworking Studio is his first big woodworking project. With a full-time job, a nonprofit, and six kids, Jim has made progress often an hour at a time, stopping by the BARN Woodworking Studio on evenings and weekends. Along with the BARN community, Jim’s family has also participated in the canoe project. His dad, a retired engineer who had built a few boats, helped Jim glass the inside of the hull. His kids came to the BARN Woodworking Studio to watch their father. After finishing a few more details, Jim plans to take his family out on Blakely Harbor in the canoe before the end of the summer. Due to current unrest in the country, he is waiting to return to Nicaragua until January 2019.

If you’d like to connect with Jim and get involved in helping the Rama people, please contact him at or 206-488-8224.