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Greensboro News & Record

Model Boat Builder Docks In Triad

May 24, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

After the tires blew out on the airliner that brought him to America in 1976, David Carmonda said adios forever to flying.

That meant, in essence, he was saying farewell, too, to his native Puerto Rico. The only way home is by boat, and he hasn't built one big enough yet.

It would take too many matches and Popsicle sticks.

The 64-year-old Carmonda is a vagabond. Except for stints in several cities, he has wandered America, sometimes renting an apartment or living in homeless shelters. He's now in residence at Weaver House shelter of Greensboro Urban Ministry.

When he isn't doing day labor, he makes detailed model boats with matches and Popsicle sticks, cardboard, string and Elmer's glue.

Two recent creations - sailing ships with bright red masts - are displayed in the Weaver House lobby.

"I learned from an Hispanic guy in Boston," he says of his model building. "I was making a lamp and the man said, 'I'll teach you to make a boat.' He teach me, and I learn."

If he has time, he can make five ships a week, although an extra- large vessel can take him three days to complete.

He has made about four models since he arrived at the Urban Ministry on April 8. He often works in an outdoor area next to the lobby. He isn't bothered if people look over his shoulder and ask questions as he cuts and shapes with his knife.

He has lived in Miami, Los Angeles, Louisville, Ky., Boston and Brooklyn, N.Y., among other places. In some cities, he sits on a downtown sidewalk and makes boats, bought by passers-by.

The wood matches he uses for hulls cost 50 cents for a box of 300 from dollar stores. He burns the end of some to produce a worn look in the hull. Popsicle sticks, which he carries wrapped with rubber bands, cost about the same. He uses them for deck flooring, for deck furniture and for ladders connecting decks.

Over the portholes and windows, he shapes clear plastic wrapping he saves from doughnut packages he buys in convenience stores.

For ships with masts, he likes red sails, which he makes with sturdy paper from If It's Paper.

He sells his creations to anyone making an offer. Prices are negotiable. They may range from $50 to $150 or higher. The most he's ever received was $900, from a high roller in Las Vegas.

Why didn't he stay in Vegas and make a boatload of money? He says authorities demanded he get a business license. He couldn't afford one, he says. But he leaves the impression he didn't want to be bothered with bureaucracy.

Everything he owns he wears - blue jeans, a shirt from a second- hand store and sneakers - or carries in a worn black backpack.

As to how he gets about, "Sometime hitchhike, sometime Greyhound," he says in simple, accented English.

This is his second stay in Greensboro. He spent time at Urban Ministry in 2000. He's not sure why he came. The bus stopped up the street, and he got off. Now, he's back. He'll eligible to stay at Weaver House through June 14. After that, he's not sure if he'll remain in Greensboro or hit the road again.

He has three grown daughters up North from a marriage that ended in divorce. He could go live with them, he says, but he prefers not. His lifestyle is one he chooses.

"I'm free like a bird," he says.

"He's a free spirit," says Manuel Matos, assistant director of the Urban Ministry and a native of the Virgin Islands, who speaks in Spanish with Carmonda.

When Carmonda was at Urban Ministry four years ago, Matos paid him $160 for a ship. Matos gave it away later, but recently bought another from him.

Matos says people who may want Carmonda to make them a ship should call the Urban Ministry at 271-5959, Ext. 347.

Carmonda makes all kinds of vessels, some as long as 31/2 feet. He has done Mississippi steam boats and ocean liners, including the Queen Mary. He has seen the real queen, which is moored permanently in Long Beach, Calif.

In all of his years of ship building, Carmonda has made only one for himself. That was during a stint living in Louisville.

"But," he says, "I sold it."

Caption: Photo; KIM WALKER News & Record\ David Carmonda, who is able to craft model boats from matches and construction paper, shows one his models at the Greensboro Urban Ministry.

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