Updated Mon, Jul 8, 2013 3:43 pm
A fisherman stood in his boat Saturday, watching intently as a canoe maneuvered around the boat launch at Dow Lake near Athens.
Normally not a sight worth noticing, but this was not your usual canoe — it was a hand-carved dugout with a large dragon head on one end.
It's a good bet that the fisherman also had never seen a blessing ceremony before a canoe was put into the water, but the builder of the dugout considers its creation a spiritual experience.
Local wood sculptor Mamerto Tindongan, with the help of family and friends, launched two dugout canoes he had crafted, offering rides to those who had gathered to watch the event.
"It has never been in the water, I don't know if it will float," Tindongan said as the smaller of the two boats was launched. But it did float, and his son, Torin, paddled it around the lake after taking a few moments to balance himself.
The larger dugout canoe was more stable, and soon Tindongan, 55, was on the lake — at one point almost bumping into a moored fishing boat.
"I don't know how to maneuver it!" Tindongan said to the laughter of those on shore watching. He later explained that he was raised in the mountains of the Philippines, not along the water.
Some friends and others who had gathered for the launch took turns riding in the canoes, but Tindongan suggested they find someone else to do the paddling.
"Whoever wants to go — I'm not a good driver. That is proven," he joked.
The larger of the two dugouts — which Tindongan estimated took 140 hours to make — was previously on display at the Dairy Barn Cultural Arts Center in Athens.
The two boats were crafted from cottonwood logs. Before launching the larger boat, Tindongan took a few minutes to chisel a hole so that a flag pole could be installed.
Noting that the hole could have been drilled in seconds with a power tool, Tindongan commented, "I do things the hard way."
After the smaller boat proved to be a bit unstable, it was taken out of the water and bamboo outriggers were added before it was put back in the lake.
Although he estimated it took 140 hours to craft the larger boat, and fewer hours to make the smaller one, Tindongan said he does not know for sure. When he carves, he goes into an almost meditative state and loses track of time, he said.
Although making the boats was an artistic endeavor, Tindongan also said it was a spiritual experience. Before the dugouts were launched, a friend, Patricia Minor, gave a blessing.
Tindongan said his family comes from a shaman background, and he and his son wore traditional shaman garments during the blessing ceremony.
Both dugouts have dragon heads carved on their back ends (to ward against danger from behind), and the dragon on the larger dugout had a "pearl of contentment" in his mouth.
Tindongan explained that in Taoist and Buddhist writings it is said that the pearl will keep the dragon calm, but without it the dragon becomes dangerous. Needing a large "pearl" for the dugout's dragon head, Tindongan used a basketball.
Tindongan said he was inspired to make the dugouts in part because he read an account of Teddy Roosevelt exploring the Amazon in dugouts. Also, a friend, Pete Hill, had made one.
"If he can make one at age 86, I thought I could make one too," Tindongan explained.
He said the boats represent his ride to his "spiritual destination," and also his journey from the Philippines to the U.S. and Athens, where he said he has felt welcomed.
"It is my way to give back your love, your giving attitude," he said.