Graham Nell and his father own a small fishing operation situated on the shores of Lake Kariba in a remote area of Zimbabwe. Needless to say their aluminum pontoon boats were not easy to maintain - the nearest service station was 400 kilometers away. Fixing cracks in the boats seams was not a problem - as long as they had a generator. Hear in Graham's own words how local authorized distributor Ron Cary of Graham Bates Services and Lincoln Electric helped two small business owners half way around the world to solve their welding needs and grow their business.
My father and myself started our small kapenta fishing operation on Lake Kariba in the early 90's at a place called Siamatalele, a remote area in Zimbabwe 400 kilometers from the second largest city in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo. "Kapenta" (or limdothrissa miodin), a small sardine, originally from Lake Tanganyika was introduced into Lake Kariba in 1967 and 1968 and has since become a staple part of the diet for the indigenous black Zimbabwean.
The Nells own a fleet of kapenta pontoons. "Kapenta," a small sardine, is a staple of indigenous Zimbabweans.
Kapenta is harvested at night from a pontoon with the use of a 7 meter circular net, suspended from a boom and lifted with a winch, driven off a stationary engine. Shoals of kapenta are located with the use of echo sounders just before sunset. 400-watt mercury vapor lights are used to attract the Kapenta as well as an underwater light suspended above the net which runs down the net cable. After a period of time, the overhead lights are switched off while the underwater light remains on. The net is then lifted hopefully loaded with silvery kapenta. Lifts occur approximately every hour until sunrise. The fish lifted out of the net are mixed with a coarse salt and left in the wire baskets to drain. When the kapenta rigs return to shore in the morning, the kapenta are spread out on drying racks and sun-dried. Once dried they are packed.
The boats used in this operation are 13 meters x 1.2 meters – twin pontoons with a deck area in between. This configuration of twin pontoons has proved the best for stability in the often stormy and rough waters experienced on the lake. They are driven by 40 HP outboard motors.
Originally we used steel pontoons fabricated in Bulawayo. These were then transported to our base on the lake some 400 kilometers away, and the rigs were then assembled right in the water. Although under normal conditions this may prove satisfactory at first, the repairs and maintenance to the steel structures of the pontoon are costly at hindsight, due to the incompatibility of salt, steel, and water, over a long period of time. Also, using steel pontoons becomes time-consuming as they have be taken out of the water for maintenance, either for repair, sandblasting, and repainting annually.
In view of the above difficulties, we made a decision to try aluminum pontoons in an effort to cut down on the maintenance. Sending damaged pontoons over to Bulawayo for repair was unpractical and out of the question.
We had our first set of experimental pontoons fabricated in Bulawayo. However, after a few months in operation, and although we had eliminated the problems of rust and corrosion, small cracks had appeared along some of the welded seams and gussets of the pontoon - possibly due to poor workmanship initially. Our workshop was in those days geared to steel pontoons and totally inadequate for repairs to aluminum.
Fortunately about this time my father recollected having seen Lincoln welding equipment being exhibited at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair held in Bulawayo. We decided to find the Lincoln distributor there and this was the beginning of a firm friendship with Ron Cary, General Manager of the Welding Division of Graham Bates Services.
We discussed our immediate problems and requirements with Ron, and due to the other problem with only having generated power, Ron recommended the Lincoln Ranger 8 fitted with a TIG module. His reasoning being that we would not only be able to repair the aluminum pontoons currently in service with TIG, but also because the Ranger 8 has a broad range of AC and DC welding capabilities in stick, MIG, and TIG welding modes, and also generator combined - we would be able to weld steel as well as use the generator for power tools. This, combined with the fact that the machine was fully portable, were sufficient reasons to purchase this Ranger 8 welding package.
Ron personally delivered the Ranger 8 to our workshops in Siamatalele where he commissioned and instructed us and our mechanics/welders on the use and correct welding techniques of the Ranger 8. However, a further problem arose when we had to cut aluminum plate for the repairs to our pontoons. Initial efforts with a hacksaw were time-consuming and ineffective, and while the use of steel cutting discs eventually did the job, it proved to be very costly in time and cutting discs. We decided to go back to Graham Bates Services to seek further advice from Ron once again.
Ron suggested that, because of our remote location, and the problems we were experiencing, we needed to become self-sufficient with a setup where we could do all our cutting and repairing on site. He suggested a plasma-cutting machine and recommended the Pro-Cut 60. We purchased this unit and were immediately given a full demonstration and detailed instruction on its use and capability.
We now have four (4) operational aluminum kapenta rigs with more under construction and one set of aluminum pontoons under repair. These pontoons are off a rig which was blown onto the rocks during a storm, and although badly damaged, the prospect of repairing them is not as daunting as it should be with the Lincoln welding equipment we now have at hand.
We were so impressed by the reliability and performance of our Lincoln equipment and the personal service and backup provided by Graham Bates Services that the purchase of another two machines followed naturally. We now have an Invertec® V250S welder which takes care of all my steel welding needs in the workshop, as well as a Lincoln SP140-I which is extremely useful for light-gauge welding - impossible with most other stick welders.
At the end of the day, Lincoln has provided our Company not only with versatility, mobility, backup service and expertise, but has also made me truly self-sufficient - not easy to achieve for a small company operating in such a remote part of the world!
Thank you Ron - and Thank you Lincoln Electric. Without you we would be sunk.