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Brad Ives of Oak Bluffs Imports
Ships' Timbers from Suriname Jungles

Martha's Vineyard Times July 29, 1999

 

Avontuur, a Dutch-built, 150-foot sailing cargo vessel, tied up at R.M. Packer Co.’s dock in Vineyard Haven two weeks ago to deliver a load of lumber from Suriname, South America, to Brad Ives of Oak Bluffs, the sole proprietor of Deep Water Ventures, a supplier of ship timbers.

The cargo of tropical hardwood, with many boards well over 30 feet long, will be divided among a number of customers both on and off Island. In his lumber business, Mr. Ives oversees every step of the process from jungle to sawmill to freighter to delivery.

An average day of work for Mr. Ives may involve tramping about the forests of Suriname eyeing the massive trees, sizing them up for their potential as lumber for a curved and elegant yacht which may someday ply the waters of Vineyard Sound. Unlike the large Asian logging concerns doing business in Suriname, there is no clearcutting, no bulldozers with tracks that tear up the forest floor. Each tree harvested for Deep Water Ventures is chosen by Mr. Ives or his Surinamese contractors and cut, leaving adjacent trees standing—a process called selective harvesting.

Trees a Shipwright will Love
Though Deep Water Ventures is supportive of sustainable agriculture in Suriname, Mr. Ives stresses that that is not his central concern.

“I’m not there to promote sustainable forestry. I like to provide wood to boatbuilders,” says Mr. Ives, himself a shipwright: “When I see the tree being cut, I know how the boatbuilder is going to look at it. They will look at the whole tree and how it grew. It's like honoring the tree.”

Still, responsible forestry that does not drain Suriname of its resources is a priority for him. Because of its small population, Suriname has not experienced the crush that often leads to the clearing of land other parts of the developing world, and the rainforest has remained relatively intact, until recently. In the past few years, Malaysian and Indonesian companies have been greasing palms in the corrupt government of the former Dutch colony for the right to clearcut tremendous swathes of rainforest and export raw logs, thus robbing the local economy of the revenue from the milling process and their pristine forests.

“The basis of sustainable forestry in Suriname is the scale of the operations,” Mr. Ives says.

On-Site Management
Once a tree is chosen for harvest, Mr. Ives might oversee the felling and skidding operation. A skidder, like a giant ATV with over-sized wheels for gripping the forest floor or muddy logging roads, winches up and drags the log, which may be as long as 60 feet and up to five feet in diameter, to a waiting log truck. The truck carries the log to a barge, and the barge, loaded with cut timber, makes its way downriver to the mill.

When the logs arrive at one of the small, family-owned sawmills that Mr. Ives works with, he oversees the milling process, determining the best way to cut each log to produce high quality timbers for boatbuilding. This huge log of angelique may become the keel of a schooner, a board more than 30 feet long, two feet wide and a foot thick. That silverballi may form the hull of a new power boat—long, wide boards an inch and a half thick from which curved and beveled planks might be cut and planed by hand.

Some of the lumber that Mr. Ives supplies to his customers is fallen and cut in an Amerindian village using a portable “Alaska” chain-saw mill. These boards must be in shorter lengths of about eight feet because they must be carried out of the forest on the shoulders of the village men, a trek that, in the rainy season, may require miles of wading through murky, thigh-deep water.

The milled lumber is shipped north in containers or as bulk cargo in Avontuur, which is owned and operated by Mr. Ives’ longtime friend, Captain Paul Wahlen. Mr. Ives assists in clearing the cargo with U.S. customs and even operates the forklift to offload the lumber. The lumber’s journey from the jungles of Suriname to Mr. Ives’ lumber storage shed on the Vineyard may take months, and Mr. Ives may need to make several trips from his Oak Bluffs home to coax it along.

Thirty Years Of Shipboard Living, Carrying Cargo, And Trading
At the end of such a trip this week, Mr. Ives seemed to particularly enjoy, in his characteristically quiet way, a cool iced tea in a shady spot in the yard of his Oak Bluffs home. He is a tall, wiry man with a calm manner, and he relates the story of his truly remarkable life with a very matter-of-fact tone, as though everyone has traveled the world making a living on old sailing cargo vessels trading tropical hardwoods. Mr. Ives’ fiancé April Fountain, the East Coast Distributor for White Wave International, works from her office in their home and often travels for her work as well. They have traveled so much, both together and individually, that they have difficulty placing the dates of important events.

Mr. Ives began his career in international cargo and trading in the 1970s, while aboard the commune ship Sophia. The old Baltic trader was owned by 12 to 15 people at any given time, joined in a communal effort to sail around the world. Mr. Ives was with the ship from 1969 to 1978. They began to carry handicrafts from the exotic places they visited for trade along the way….

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