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Boat History

History of Pinisi

Currently, the History books are being revisited in regard to these vessel's. New information highlighted within Gavin Menzies recent works 1421 and 1434, with corresponding reference material, indicates the Indonesian ports major involvement during the 1400's, when the enormous Chinese fleet's passed through the islands. Critical knowledge was gained during this era and is reflected in the earlier 'banana' shape of the vessel's, similar to the Chinese junks used for the major expeditions of that time.

The Evolution of the Indigenous Wooden Sailing Vessel in Indonesia has indeed taken some interesting turns over time. It has been studied by many, but perhaps the most comprehensive is by Michael Kasten, Kasten Marine. The following is a summary containing many extracts from this website.

Today the sailing 'Pinisi' hull form in many ways resembles a cross between two traditional American sailing vessel types, the Pinky Schooner and the Tancook Whaler, even though the 'Pinisi' hull type pre-dates those Western hull forms by centuries... In other words, in its original form the 'Pinisi' was a double ended hull type, having sharply raked stem and stern post. There was not a centerline rudder however, as with the American craft. Instead the local Indonesian craft have most often made use of twin rudders, one on each aft quarter. Used both as transport and as cargo vessels, the craft we are calling 'Pinisi' have traditionally been built on the beach, where the logs have come from the forests of Sulawesi (Celebes), Kalimantan (Borneo), Java (Jawa) and Irian Jaya, then transported to the boat building sites. Historically, several interesting rituals and ceremonies have been part of building such a vessel, beginning with choosing the right trees for critical parts of the structure. Just as with traditional wooden boat building in the West, various rituals continue throughout the building process to initiate and celebrate each stage, such as the all important laying of the keel.

The 'Pinisi' Tradition

A few clarifications of terminology are in order...

The Builders: Although the builders of these craft are commonly lumped under the category of Bugis peoples, there are four cultural sub-sets of boat builders to be separately distinguished in South Sulawesi (per the writings of Horst Liebner). The primary groups are the Konjo of the southern tip of South Sulawesi (from near the towns of Ara, Bira, and Tanah Biru), the Mandar of West Sulawesi to the north of Makassar, the Bugis from the region near Wajo on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Bone (the central gulf between the two halves of Sulawesi), and the Makassarese from the region around the city of Makassar. Among these groups, the Konjo of South Sulawesi appear to have had a primary and highly influential role as boat builders.

The Vessels: Technically, the term 'Pinisi' refers to the rig itself. In particular 'Pinisi' refers to the usual gaff-ketch type of rig. Locally this rig is referred to as a "seven sail schooner" even though the aft gaff sail is slightly smaller than the forward gaff sail, in fact making it a ketch rig. The correct term for the sharp-stern sailing craft is 'palari' or 'lamba' among the Konjo boat builders of South Sulawesi. When the stem and stern post are straight, and are set at a sharply raked angle to the keel, the hull form is the 'lamba' as opposed to the 'palari' which make use of curved timbers for both stem and stern post. Since the term 'Pinisi' has come to be commonly applied to the hull form as well, we will use the word 'Pinisi' here to refer to the sailing hull type for

The purposes of our discussion...

The 'Pinisi' have traditionally been built in a variety of sizes. Although in the past the craft tended to be smaller, it is not uncommon to find 30 to 40 meter vessels under construction, with an occasional Pinisi ranging up to around 50 meters (close to 165 feet) or larger. The widespread use of a sharply raked stem and stern post is simply the practical result of making efficient use of the timber lengths that can be conveniently brought down from the forest. In this way the vessel can be quite large and still have a relatively modest length of keel timber.

In many Indonesian boat building locations, good timber has become difficult to obtain, therefore costly. Many builders have begun using shorter and shorter timbers, resulting in a compromised hull structure, particularly in larger craft. With many of the ritual ceremonies becoming less and less common, some may suggest that this too has conspired against the longevity of the ships. One very significant improvement in the quality of available timber has been made possible by the Konjo builders themselves. . . The builders of larger vessels have actually re-located! Quite a number of the Konjo builders from Southwest Sulawesi have simply moved, in order to be close to larger supplies of good quality timber. In so doing, the builders of Southwest Sulawesi have literally carved a new building site and a new village out of the jungle in Southeast Kalimantan (Borneo). The new building site is located just south of the town of Batu Licin, Kalimantan Selatan, on the bank of a river.

It is here that they can obtain the size and quality of timbers necessary for building wooden vessels of up to 55 meters in length. Pinisi Hull StructureIn prior years, teak would have been the preferred wood for the structure. Since teak is no longer plentiful, other tropical hardwoods are now used. Presently, Ironwood is preferred for boat structures. Obtained from the low land forests of Kalimantan, Ironwood is locally called Kayu Ulin (eusideroxylon zwageri). One of the hardest woods in Indonesia, Ironwood has a specific gravity of 0.88 to 1.19...! Although quite heavy, it has excellent physical properties and is not vulnerable to termites or other tropical wood eating insects or fungus. Built in the same way as the Indonesian Perahu type of hull, Pinisi (variously spelled Pinissi, Pinisiq, or Phinisi) have always been assembled using wooden pegs to join the timbers. We would call the fasteners " trunnels" or tree nails. The sequence of assembly is different than we in the West would ordinarily assume.

First the keel is laid, then the stem and stern post are erected, as usual. Then however, rather than setting up the whole array of sawn frames or 'mold frames' these vessels are built by applying the planking first. . . First the planks next to the keel (the garboard planks) are fit and pegged to the keel. Then the next planks are pegged to the garboard planks using "blind" dowels along the edges of the planks. One by one, additional planks are added until there is the shape of a boat. With the planking nearly completed, frames are fitted into the hull shell. The frames are pegged to the planks, to the keel, and to each other where the frame segments are joined. The frame butt ends either lap across the keel, or are joined to a floor member, depending on the tradition from which the individual boat builders have come. This "planking first" approach may seem odd to our rigidly defined approach to shaping a ship, but this is as the builders among the Indonesian islands have done it since no one knows when. This is very much the most common method used throughout Indonesian, Malaysian, and other South and Southeast Asian waters, and the method has served the people very well.

Differing Boatbuilding Methods...

Clinker Built Boats: As built by Western boat builders, 'clinker built' boats have each plank's lower edge lapped over the plank below. The laps are fastened with clench nails that function somewhat like rivets all along the overlap. The clench nails go from outside inward, then are bent over slightly onto dome shaped washers called roves (pronounced 'rooves') on the inside. In the West in modern times, the fastenings are usually bronze. In prior times, both in the West and elsewhere, the lap would have either been sewn with sinew or other strong fibers, or would have been fastened with 'trunnels' (tree nails).With clinker built boats, the frames are applied afterward and are virtually always steam bent or laminated out of thinner strips, glued in place. In the West, clinker built boats are almost always built over mould frames, though if the frames are laminated, one can create the laminated frames first, attach them to the keel, then begin planking onto the frames.In the West, small clinker boats are often built upside down, bigger ones upright. The clinker style produces quite a light structure that is very rigid. Clinker style planking is usually reserved for smaller craft. There is no absolute boundary, but somewhere around 40 feet on deck is where these Clinker built types give way, and 'Carvel' planking begins to dominate.

Carvel Built Boats: Carvel planking refers to the method of planking where the planks are placed edge to edge onto frames, which are are placed first. By this method, the planks are fastened only to the frames.

The 'Pinisi' Method: In the areas surrounding the Indian Ocean, throughout Southeast Asia, and in some of the SW Pacific, the planking is done first, prior to the framing being placed. In order to do this, the planks are "blind edge fastened" to each other. In centuries past, edge fastening was accomplished by sewing the plank edges together. In current times on both larger and smaller craft, the plank edges are blind edge fastened using wooden dowels, locally called 'passak.' In these regions, mould frames are not used. Instead the boats are shaped "by eye" following the traditions of the local builders in each area. After the planks are in place, the frames are fitted into the emerging hull shape. Fastenings are then added to attach the frames to the planks.The planking on all 'Pinisi' is therefore what Westerners would refer to as "carvel" even though the planking is erected and fastened similarly to the "clinker" style of planking. Although historically the Pinisi builders used 'passak' (trunnels) exclusively for edge fastening the planks, iron drifts have now become commonplace, placed about every fourth 'passak.' These iron drifts and steel bolts have not replaced 'passak' altogether. 'Passak' are still used at the plank scarfs, for the majority of the plank edge dowels, and for fastening every other plank to the frames. Steel bolts are then used to fasten the remaining intermediate planks. The steel bolts extend all the way through to also fasten the 'Lepe Lepe' (ceiling stringers) inside the frames. Per the writings of Adrian Horridge, the introduction of metal fastenings took place after the motorization of these vessels. This system is very strong... it makes ultimate sense structurally.

Pinisi Sailing Rig: According to most sources, Indonesian and Malaysian sailing craft of all sizes originally carried a triangular sailing rig of a type that is still in use by many of the smaller craft in Indonesia. With various Asian and Western influences in the last several centuries, some of the larger craft began to make use of rectangular sails similar to the Lateen or Lug rig, some of which are also still in use today. The 'Pinisi' have been among the largest of the surviving local sailing craft. During the last hundred years or so, the local sailing craft adopted the Western fore and aft gaff ketch rig. This rig ordinarily carries three jibs, two gaff sails, and two topsails above the gaffs. These boats are referred to as Pinisi' or alternately may be called "seven sail schooners" even though the after sail is usually smaller than the forward sail, officially making the rig a ketch.

Though it may have the look of a Western type of gaff rig, a few unusual features make the 'Pinisi' sail rig unique. First, the gaffs are left "standing." The sails are laced to the mast and to the gaff. In order to reef the sails, they are "brailed" to the spars. This is a very old method, but one that works well. Another difference is that on the Pinisi, the masts and the bowsprit are built as a tripod or bipod, depending on the local tradition. This makes practical use of conveniently available timber sizes. Aboard the 'Bulan Purnama', we have also made use of the the traditional "seven sail schooner" Pinisi rig, along with traditional rigging methods wherever possible. Significant refinements have been made to the standing rigging in order to comply with Lloyd's, including the use of longer lasting rigging wire and stainless steel chain plates to attach the rigging to the hull. The running rigging has also been upgraded. These refinements will improve safety and performance, make the rig easier to handle, and will increase the life span of the rig.

Introduction of the engine

Until the mid to late 1970's, the large fleet of cargo carrying Pinisi throughout Indonesia were strictly sailing vessels. Since around 1978, there has been a push to motorize the fleet of sailing Pinisi. The presence of an engine has changed these craft rather dramatically. Currently, the vast majority of the local cargo fleet have been given engines.

As a result, they are now referred to as 'KLM' for Kapal Layar Mesin, literally translated as "Boat-Sail-Machine" or "Motor Driven Sailing Vessel."Although the engines being used are always of a very small size in relation to the size of the vessel, per Horridge many of these engine installations seem to have resulted in the demise of the vessel itself. The presence of an engine allows the vessels to be used in ways that were not possible under sail alone. For example, the boats can now be driven against the sea and weather. The resulting stress on the structure seems to have conspired to shorten the life of these motorized vessels. As a result, the presence of an engine has encouraged a number of changes. One extremely visible change has been to alter the traditional "double ended" hull form which we have referred to as the 'Pinisi' type. The KLM (motorized craft) have preserved the forward half of the traditional 'Pinisi' type, complete with fore mast, gaff sail, tops'l, bowsprit and three jibs. The fore mast and gaff are used for loading and off loading cargo, as well as to hang sails as emergency propulsion in the event of engine failure. Gone is the aft mast and sails, and in its place is a large cabin structure containing the bridge. Although the bow remains virtually identical to the sailing Pinisi types, the KLM (motorized vessels) are given a wide overhanging stern. Additionally, the keel is extended farther aft in order to provide support for a rudder and to provide an aperture for the propeller. The presence of engines in this fleet of wooden vessels has forced changes to the structure as well.

In addition to the usual 'wooden peg' fastened plank and frame structure, iron drifts and bolts are now used throughout. A further refinement to this would naturally be the use of hot dip galvanized bolts throughout, which oddly is relatively rare, primarily due to its cost. Bulan Purnama has used stainless steel bolts throughout much of it's construction.

Throughout Indonesia, virtually all of the motorized Pinisi are under-powered. A KLM of some 35 to 40 meters in size will ordinarily be given an engine of somewhere around 200 hp. This is adequate for perhaps 5 knots in mild conditions. Many of these craft are given even less power in proportion to their size. They are consequently very slow, but quite economical in terms of fuel use. "Bulan Purnama" carries a 107 hp engine, it is around 25metres in length and has a cruising speed between 6-7knots.

Once again, thanks to Michael Kasten, Kasten Marine, for allowing us to reprint some of his material here. A

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