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Chapala man clearing lake with aquatic chainsaw

July 24, 2012

Read the words “Mexico” and “chainsaw” in a news story and you might expect a gruesome account of narcos attempting to outdo each other in recreating the Texas chainsaw massacre. This is not one of those articles.

Using technical innovation and his knowledge of Mexico’s biggest inland expanse of water, Chapala native Francisco Javier Ochoa Gallileo has forged his own niche in the Lakeside boating industry.

Having invented a chainsaw that operates underwater, he is paid to clear Lake Chapala of dead but potentially hazardous trees that once grew from the bed of the lake. Two or three meters high, some of the trees stick out above the waterline, while others lie just below it, posing a danger to passing boats.

“We don’t want accidents. I’m the guy who removes the trees so if anything happens it’s a problem for me,” Ochoa explains.

Ochoa earns 100 to 150 pesos for each tree he removes from the the area around Chapala’s waterfront Montecarlo hotel.

Without the luxury of GPS, he uses natural and man-made landmarks around the lake to navigate and pinpoint locations. An experienced boatman, he has also worked recovering sunken vessels or downed planes from rivers and lakes.

Ochoa built his aquatic chainsaw five years ago, and after checking the competition online, he maintains there are “none better” out there. Powered by a hydraulic motor, the chainsaw is attached to a three-meter metal pole and a plastic tank full of air which can be used to adjust depth or even float the saw.

The motor sits in the hull of Ochoa’s small fishing-style boat. It is a simple craft without seats but laden with an impressive haul of timber. Ochoa finds the trees are often too heavy to lift by himself, so he hooks them to a winch adapted from his truck and now attached to a pontoon boat manned by his wife.

Ochoa is well aware of how polluted the water is, but his job requires him to put such concerns to one side. Suddenly, without even removing his shoes, he dives, fully clothed, into the lake.

After a careful process of locating and hooking up a tree that lies beneath the surface, Ochoa’s chainsaw roars into life. He cuts cleanly through the branches in three or four minutes, then dives again into the water, only to reemerge moments later, triumphantly grasping the severed wood.

Aside from cutting trees, Ochoa also has a deal with the University of Guadalajara – which is working to conserve the lake – to remove discarded fishing nets from the water. Once they are no longer of use, fishermen tend to abandon their old nets in the lake, he explains.

“The fish get caught up in them and die for nothing,” Ochoa says. As the nets are never recovered, the fish are left to decompose in the water, further contributing to the contamination that plagues the lake.

Ochoa is paid to remove the nets and prevent the unnecessary death of these fish. There is much work to be done; he says he regularly comes across three or four nets just by trawling an area of 50 meters.

As Ochoa begins to return to shore, the pull starter on his outboard motor snaps. Ever prepared, he takes it in his stride, picks up a large metal pole and paddles back to land. Another day’s work is done.

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