Posted: 21.09.2023 12:40:00

Lord of the Polesian lakes

We visited a unique craftsman who has been making boats using ancient technology for almost 40 years

A picturesque place in the Ivanovo District of the Brest Region is known as the capital of a major culinary festival Motol Treats (Motalskiya Prysmaki). But few people know that the only boat master in the country lives here. Pavel Raikevich is a fourth-generation artisan. From an early age, he adopted the experience of his father — now he passes on secrets to his sons and grandchildren. He admits that water for him is life itself. What else will the unique resident of Motol tell about?

The peasant house is open to kind people

The master works as a driver in one of Motol’s enterprises. But in his free time, he does what he loves — making boats.
Pavel Pavlovich (in the local language — simply Palych) invites us to his home, where he equipped a workshop right under the open sky. Raikevich’s house is immediately noticeable among the many well-kept wooden huts. It’s all about a beautiful shop with a visor and a map of the world in the most prominent place. Palych opens the gate, 
“My house is always open for kind people. My batko [father] left such a will for me. When the hut was completed, it was necessary to cut the lock. And he simply pin down everyone to facts: we will not have a castle, we are building a house for friends, there is no need to close the doors for them. These words are still in my memory today.”
I draw attention to the rose bushes along the bright yellow painted house. Nearby is a large carved figurine of a deer, a garden swing made of textured tree branches, an armchair that looks like the throne of the ruler of the Polesian lakes. 
“We make the house and the garden plot more beautiful together with our sons. Senior Sergei is a skilled lad, but unlike me, he went more along the artistic path — he makes stucco moulding. He does such a thing — that’s crazy. The younger Aleksandr can easily make a boat. The main thing is that there is a desire. Of course, if you want to eat, you will have to find a solution. So, my batko taught me: ‘If you learn how to hold an ax, you can do everything’. And so it happened. I laid stoves and built huts,” Palych says.
Pavel Raikevich is the seventh child in the family. Although everyone in the family was handy, only he mastered the boating skill of the four sons. One grandfather was a carpenter, the other a beekeeper. Mom Lidia Vasilievna skilfully baked wedding loaves. Father Pavel Dmitrievich not only made boats, but was also the foreman of the fishing brigade.

He met his destiny on the water

“Fishing was once real gold for Motol. That’s why people needed boats. It was believed: if you have a punt boat, then you can call yourself a real owner,” Pavel Pavlovich recalls.
Once everything was transported on boats: hay, firewood, children to school, and fellow villagers. A field for haymaking was allocated in the Sporov swamps from the farm, you had to take people there, then in three days you had to go to pick them up. Palych confesses: he met his bride in the boat. He took the girls to the neighbouring village along the Yaselda River to dance. Among them was his future wife.
The master made the first boat at the age of 22, when he built his own house, “Father was no longer alive. I just worked from memory, as he taught me. I did it. True, I was busy for two weeks. Later, when I mastered this craft, I began to make it in three days. One fisherman immediately liked my boat. He asked to make one for him. So the work began.”
The boat rescued the villagers during the flood. The master says: their street was always flooded so that in the spring it was neither possible to pass, nor drive. How many times the boatman helped the neighbours get out of the flood zone, brought bread, drinking water and medicine. 
Recently, Palych has not had so many orders for boats — two clients a year. Although it happens even five a month: now punt boats are in demand among the owners of farmsteads and fishermen. But, as the artisan admits, the main thing is to preserve the unique technology — to transfer the skill to the future generation. Maybe it’ll come in handy.

Wonderful modlo and local ohnal

We go to the workshop. Long boards lie on iron stands, and along the perimeter there are mountains of tools and all sorts of things. The boatman shares professional secrets, “See the three boards? This will be the bottom. I cut it at the right angle, sand it, then sew it. I use only nails, locally — ohnal. Then I roughly figure out what size the sides should be. I make boards from wood, maybe even aluminium.”
Palych thinks for a second, silently goes to the garage. He returns a few minutes later with a long, slightly curved wooden contraption, 
“This tricky thing in my arsenal is called modlo. The tool is very valuable, it was passed down by boatmen. By the way, it is also called in Italian. In the 16th century, Queen Bona Sforza resettled Italians in our area. Who knows, maybe the old technology that I use to make boats today dates back to those times?”
One boat can cost from Br380 to three thousand or more. It all depends on the material, “I’ve been collecting it for years. A tree can lie for five years, and more — wait for its turn. I see and feel with my heart: if not today, then tomorrow there will be beauty.”

Jewellery work

In order for the boat to walk well on the water, six ‘kosyns’ are made during its manufacture — this is a support structure that allows you to strengthen the hull of the boat, “I measure the width at 80 centimetres. If you miscalculate, the boat can give resistance, slow down. To avoid such a disadvantage and allows the use of modlo. That is why it is inherited.”
The fishing boat has a simple shape, but there is enough jewellery work. You need to think about how to protect the joints where the wood comes into contact with iron. There are some subtleties in the manufacture of oars. Palych makes them from ash — so that they are light. And most importantly, the master cuts the oars with an ax, otherwise they will not walk freely. 
You need to sweat over the ‘front’, then make ‘pukha’ — this is the front and back of the boat. And still process everything with sealant, paint. Ready! 15 years warranty. If the material is of high quality, then twice as much can last. 

Breath and energy of nature

Palych shows wooden gift baskets with unusual wooden handles. You can’t make such an amazing pattern even with the help of a tool. The boatman says the author of the masterpiece is nature itself, “Sometimes I get up early, wander along the shore. I will find some interesting piece with a ‘live’ pattern, bring it home, wash it, and it will lie down and dry. I have these wooden pieces, collected on the shores of local lakes and rivers, ten a penny. Some came in handy when I started making gift baskets.”

Our hero admits: having lived near the water for many years, he learned to anticipate its arrival at a distance and in a few days, “I feel that tomorrow the water will come to the very threshold, that it will not be possible to leave the hut, I will bring a boat, I will set it up. Neighbours, suspecting nothing, chuckle: why, they say, brought the boat to the house? I say: ‘You will see tomorrow’. It hasn’t happened yet that I was wrong with the forecast.”
Pavel Pavlovich also developed a fishing instinct — he always knows which lake to swim to in order to return home with full buckets.
We go with Palych to the shore of Motol Lake. Not so long ago, the fish god appeared to him. What a miracle It turns out that he found an old clumsy stump, dragged it home. His son Sasha removed the bark from it and was amazed: on the side of the stump, nature outlined the face of the old man. Who knows, maybe even a real lake deity. Now Palych is thinking how to bring this grandfather into people. He says that in the near future an exhibition or even a museum dedicated to fishing will appear in Motol.

… The master slowly tells stories from his life. He himself is surprised how completely unfamiliar people come to him from different regions, just to talk, shake hands, say a simple thank you, “They say that unusual energy comes from me. However, I don’t know what’s the secret. Many people ask: where do I get so much strength and when do I sleep at all. Well, how can I explain it to them? I can only nap an hour a day. My mood is always good. Why be sad? After all, I do what I love. If suddenly my heart is restless, I take a spinning rod and go to the lake. And then you forget about everything. I don’t hold a grudge against anyone. Spend two seconds in nature — and all insults are vanished as if by magic. Our lakes and beloved Motol give me inexhaustible energy. Wherever I am, wherever fate takes me, I always return home.”

By Marina Kuzmich

Photos by Yelizaveta Kobetskaya