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When I met Neu, he and his family lived in an old house, right on the beach. The advancing sea has forced Neu’s parents, along with some other beach front residents, to relocate further inland. Neu and his brothers now use one half of the old house to store their fishing gear in.

Neu's old house, far right

Neu’s old house, far right

Some time ago, the timber for two boat masts were given to Neu, they were put into the house and used as roof supports, partly as a way of storing them until they were needed.

Unfortunately, the house has recently been invaded by cupim (termites) which are doing what termites do so well, destroying all the timber in the house.

Cupim (termites)

Cupim (termites)

We were in a catch twenty-two situation. Neu didn’t want to lose the masts, the timber is old but of high quality and strength, added to that they are from a tree that is now protected, making them irreplaceable.  Yet in order to remove them, Neu would need to put other timber in their place, this would cost us money we don’t have and be fresh food for the termites. In reality the best thing would be to build a new store-room for the fishing gear, but again this would be an expense we can’t cover.

The cupim have invaded some of the timber that is supporting the roof, and the timbers that are inside a partition wall. The thick brown walk ways that they build to protect themselves, wind and run all over the place. Various suggestions have been put forward for dealing with the cupim, from chemicals to soaking all the timber in petrol, all expensive, dangerous to apply and not likely to get rid of the pests.

I favour taking out the masts, soaking the place in petrol and setting fire to it. When Neu told his father that this was an English solution to the problem, his father looked confused and said “but that would burn the house down.” Neu didn’t bother to explain that that was really the point.

Last week, one of Neu’s cousins said he would like to buy the smaller of the masts. He would pay for help in removing it, the cost of the timber to replace it and any roof tiles that got broken in the operation. We agreed it was better to try to get the masts out than see them get eaten. If the smaller one came out without any problems, we would have a bit of money and know if it was feasible to get out the mast that was in the apex of the roof,  the one Neu could use for his biggest boat.

A few days back the fun and games began. First there was the group meeting, all those involved in the removal process (about 7 men) put in their ideas for how to go about the work. The arguments went back and forth, with several men urging that it would be best to just get on with it. The internal space the men had to work in is about 5 metres by 4  with a partial partition dividing this area into two smaller rooms, these are crammed with fishing nets, baskets, lobster traps, coils of rope, spare timber, life jackets, lamps and other fishing paraphernalia.

While the plan (of sorts) was being formulated, more and more men arrived, each of these came into the house, making me think about the joke of how many people can you fit in an Austin Mini (I tried it once and managed five big male biker friends, with me driving, must have looked as funny to any one looking on, as it was to us, squeezing everyone in).

Let's have a look!

Let’s have a look!

Finally the work began in earnest. A hole was made in the end wall, next to the timber to be removed. The new timber was put in  the hole and pushed through by a guy standing on a plastic stool, without it he was too short to reach, all the right equipment for the job here!

Putting in the new support

Putting in the new support

Inside the house, holes were dug in the concrete floor and two new uprights were put in place to support the new roof beam. When the men reached a consensus  about the security of this new beam, the old timber had its support removed and was pushed, hammered and shoved out through the end wall, being received by two men standing on the back of a cart, attached to a patiently waiting mule. The other men came tumbling out of the house in a laughing mass as the disturbed cupim showered down on them from the roof timbers, lovely. It was clear that Neu was right to take the mast out, the cupim had begun to attack the timber but only superficially.


The next day the men got together to remove the mast from the roof apex. I couldn’t go down to watch this operation but Neu tells me that it was pretty much a repeat of the previous one. After soaking the mast in the sea to rid it of any cupim, it has now been cleaned up and planed into shape, it will be used on the boat in the coming regatta.

©Claire Pattison Valente 2008