• The Raft and Greenhouse of the Third Stint

  • kaluadmin03/27/2013
  • Hi Reader,

    Welcome to my third post regarding my accomplishments in the Tres Brazos jungle area with my Kalu Yala team. In this article, I shall focus on my individual efforts on building rafts from jungle material (this project may be considered an outdoor recreation project, although I am on the biology team). I shall also mention the other achievements of my living systems division.

    The first raft that I had built this third stint (from Feb 14, 2013 until Feb 26, 2013) was essentially successful. The raft was able to support up to 140 pounds in the water and maintained tenacity, i.e. the bamboo components all stayed together. Yet, many improvements can now be made after experiencing firsthand the problems of this prototype. The ropes used were standard generic rope*, and therefore lacked the elasticity to hold the pontoons tightly together in real conditions such as when exposed to the Pacora River water. Further, the raft performed poorly while under the stress of actual people boarding it. For example, the raft would tilt upward on the opposing side of the craft and throw a boarding person back in the water (along the coronal axis from that person’s perspective).

    The outcome of using standard rope has been the undesirable loosening of the bamboo components in the prototype, to such a significant extent that the deck on top of the raft cannot be completely stood upon (only lain upon), because the deck itself slides around about half a foot along the perpendicular support beams. Notably, the prototype even has unpleasant moments in which each bamboo shaft that comprises the deck flips over, exposing sharp bamboo fragments (the deck bamboo was sliced lengthwise in half, and therefore small splinters abound on the underside of the deck). Another issue with the deck is that it has started to substantially decay in less than a week after being constantly exposed to the Pacora River. It is necessary to keep the bamboo whole, rather than split, to avoid rapid rotting.

    Upon boarding this raft, the 6’ x 5’ design fails to support the weight of an adult, such that the raft rapidly becomes tilted to either side. The obvious solution to this problem is twofold: first, the design must be considerably larger (about 10’ x 6’); and second, there must be many more pontoons equipped (the prototype has six pontoons, each 6’ long, but I estimate that about twelve to fifteen pontoons, each 8′ to 10’ long, is necessary for a skillfully designed raft). Another problem with the raft is that the deck itself sinks under the water level by about two inches when supporting my own body weight of 150 lbs. Hence, the greater number of pontoons would ascertain that a person would remain dry while aboard the next raft. Overall, a larger size will resolve rapid tilting and will improve dryness aboard the raft.

    Regarding the problems of standard rope, the best possible solution within practical means is to use parachute cord (paracord). The scientific advantage of paracord is a capacity to bear a 550 pound breaking force while still having elastic properties of up to 30% that enable tighter knots. Likewise, there will be less potential for the bamboo components to slide around and even flip within the knots. Although standard (polypropylene) rope has a capacity to bear up to 880 pounds, the elasticity is near 0% and has revealed itself to be ineffective for building the most professional raft possible. Likewise, professional manuals (such as the DK Wilderness Survival Guide, or even the Handy Dad: 25 Awesome Projects for Dads and Kids book) indicate the usefulness of paracord in the making of better rafts.

    First Raft Overhead
    Here is a closer image of how the knots were made to tie the raft together.

    Regarding my personal designing process for this raft, the original plan differed remarkably with the final prototype’s outcome. By my director’s strong advice, I in fact made an original blueprint at all, in which it called for a 6’ x 4’ raft, with no pontoons and all fifteen shafts (for the deck) to be split lengthwise to reduce the weight of the overall raft. Such a design as that would have been most foolhardy, as there would be no buoyancy to support the raft. As the technical construction began, this mistake became obvious, so a pontoon set was added under the deck, creating a 6’ by 5’ raft. The final outcome was two sets of three pontoons on the contours, with nine deck shafts in between the pontoon sets.

    My director gave much assistance in the technique of making knots that would support the raft well. The work under the heat of the Panamanian sun doing this nearly made her faint with illness. With great acknowledgment I record her guiding effort. Hopefully I have learned much and will be able to tie knots equally well with paracord for future rafts.

    Emily and First Raft
    My director who helped to skillfully tie the raft together takes a snapshot of the first raft.

    At the end of this third stint, it was possible for us to board the raft and enjoy a ride, albeit laying down on it rather than proudly standing up. Included below in this article is a fine picture of a Kalu Yala director enjoying a ride upon this prototype:

    Goff on First Raft
    An image of my first raft in actual use.

    Besides my efforts on the raft, our biology team was able to further advance the water system to be only within about 100 feet of our base. Likewise, much progress has been made by the agriculture team, as they were able to build an entire greenhouse during this third stint.

    Here is an image of our prototype greenhouse. Rather than glass, translucent plastic sheets were used to minimize costs.

    It shall be my hope to not only design but build a better second raft during the next fourth stint that will allow us to proudly stand on the raft. Also, I shall hope to complete the water system in its entirety then.
    Bibliographical Links
    *This is a link to the exact rope type used on my first raft:

    This is a link to a website that explains the strength of a standard rope (ours was 7/8 inches, so our first raft could theoretically safely support a load of 1440 lb.):

    This is a link to a website with details about paracord, and from this data our company hopes to invest in Type III 550 type cord:

    Here is a link to the book DK Wilderness Survival Guide:


    Here is a link to the book the Handy Dad: 25 Awesome Projects for Dads and Kids: