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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.
Meeting Mr. Panga
Today, Mac Shroyer owns and operates the bustling downtown Marina de La Paz with his wife and son. When the Shroyers first arrived in Baja California Sur in the 1960s, however, the marina business was not his first calling. Boats were.
“I pursued what interested me,” said Shroyer, who originally worked as a teacher in California. He and his family sailed the Sea of Cortez in a boat he built.
The Shroyers settled in La Paz, then a sleepy colonial city of just 35,000 people. When they arrived, fishermen along the coast were still plying local waters with plank-on-frame double-enders, introduced from the coastal town of Guaymas on the Mexican mainland in the 1950s, or little plywood variations of the boats, which had a transom and could carry a small outboard. The arrival of ferry service and construction of the 1,063-mile-long Transpeninsular Highway in remote Baja California Sur — which wasn’t even a Mexican state until 1978 — changed everything.
“All of a sudden there was a possibility that locally caught fish could be shipped on ice to the United States and mainland Mexico,” Shroyer said. The fishing cooperatives needed more substantial boats that could carry a 40 hp outboard.
Shroyer had been building small plywood sport-fishing boats near the La Paz waterfront, but he quickly shifted gears to fiberglass. When we met, he shuffled through myriad papers in his modest upstairs office, unearthing the piece he sought. It featured a 20-foot-4-inch boat with a beam of 6 feet 6 inches. Open, sleek and skinny, with a modified-V hull — innovative, yet bearing an unmistakable kinship with existing local craft, it had a slender shape, a notched transom and a rounded bottom.
“First I made a mold for a 22,” he said. “I put a couple of banco [plank] seats across and air chambers fore and aft. Then I cut it off so I could make it a 20-footer.”
He estimated that he drew the lines in 1968, with the first boat in production at his building business, Embarcaciones Bajacalifornianos, in 1969-70. And it was the right boat for the right time, particularly since U.S.-built fiberglass fishing boats didn’t suit local conditions.
The panga was simple — no inside floor, no cockpit, no extraneous beauty marks — but it was efficient and cost-effective, and it had superior handling and carrying capacity. A couple of guys with nets and longlines could go through the surf, travel 40 or 50 miles and bring back a sizable load in a boat that would handle properly. It’s stable, seakindly and very safe.
With the panga, fishermen on the Baja Peninsula’s west coast could even surf through the Pacific swells onto the beach, nose up. Then the men on shore could quickly pull the boat up onto the beach, preventing the next wave from hitting it.
This fiberglass panga, Shroyer said, was the first to be designed and built, and it was unique to the area. But was it?