Please come back tomorrow and vote again
The History of the Panga
The panga was simple — no inside floor, no cockpit, no extraneous beauty marks — but it had superior handling and capacity.
Our trip to the sea lion colony at Los Islotes was scrapped, a casualty of the roaring northwest winds that frequently tear up Mexico’s Gulf of California in winter. As the driver pointed our boat’s nose beyond Isla Espíritu Santo’s somewhat sheltered embrace, the full force of the snotty weather hit.
The San Lorenzo Channel erupted with confused, steep, breaking seas. Vision blurred from the barrage of salt spray; I could no longer see the island nor the Pichilingue Peninsula ahead.
I could see our driver, lips set in a thin line, with one gnarled hand firmly grasping the wheel and the other on the throttle. The engine screamed as he alternately throttled up and dialed back, deftly maneuvering the boat across the menacing channel. Some of my companions screwed their eyes shut, knuckles white as they grasped whatever handhold was nearby.
But the boat could handle the angry sea. It was, after all, a panga.
It was easy to fall in love with this nimble yet tough little workhorse, especially since a colorful fleet of pangas adorns the working waterfront in La Paz, Baja California Sur’s nearly 500-year-old capital city. Strolling the malecon one evening, we watched fishermen rinse off their catch and wade ashore to load it into trucks. We also saw brightly painted signs advertising a whale-shark trip aboard this boat or a dive excursion aboard that one. Pangas are busy here, and there’s no question that the vessel is deeply woven into the culture. But did it originate here?
Back home, I did a little digging. My search yielded a surprisingly small collection of articles that made brief references to a World Bank-funded Yamaha project four decades ago. I also discovered a labyrinthine series of online forum discussions among hard-core panga fans, all debating the boat’s true origins. This was curious. Was the panga the result of a worldwide Japanese engineering effort, or was it a product of its own environment? In either case, how did it come to change the world?
To find out, I had to return to La Paz.