October 29, 2014

It’s a Boat Thing



This morning we got an early visit. Two fishermen paddled up in a small fibreglass prau and said hello. After the greetings (what are our names, where are we from, where have we been and where are we going?) their eyes turned to our boat’s details. Evan did his best to explain how our boat was built and what materials were used. But most of their answers were found by studying the hull shape and looking at the joins

Perhaps it’s similar to the way an architect or builder approaches a building in a foreign place; looking for details that explain how the people adapted their structures to take into account weather, landscape and usage. Sailors and fisherman adapt our vessels in a similar way and we have a language of hull shapes and construction details all our own.

Over time we’ve made a game of it. When we get to a new place we check out the local boats to see what clues they offer about the sea and the people. The dugouts are obvious—they tend to be limited by the size of trees. But the boats that have evolved after the dugouts have all sorts of telling details.

working on a boat
 Long narrow hulls are expensive to keep in marinas (where you’re charged by the foot) but when you’re launching from a beach they cut through the swell nicely. They’re also fast through the water so it’s easy to push them along with a minimum of power and fuel—important when paying for fuel cuts into your fishing profits.

recaulking the bottom so it won't leak
A wider boat is more stable and can carry more cargo, but it’s much more expensive to run, especially if the fishing isn’t that lucrative. The low freeboard and high upswept bows of Indonesian boats (so different from the fishing boats at home) are ideal for choppy seas that don’t have big cold waves. They also let the fishermen work close to the water while offering some sun protection in the very stern.

When the fisherman finished looking over our boat—completing the exchange by trading bananas for a t-shirt—we headed in to see a boat that was being rebuilt on shore. The builder was using a machete the way we might use a chisel and a handsaw in place of power tools.

Like other boats we’ve seen being built here much of the construction is traditional—wooden dowels instead of nails, seams caulked with cotton and bamboo outriggers lashed to the hull. The surprise came when we saw the effort he was putting into decorative details. As boaters though—adornment makes sense. It’s hard not to add a little love to a boat, no matter what its purpose.

1 comment:

Kent Garner said...

These are apt observations. Normally, boat materials and size are restricted by what the place has to offer for prospective boat-builders. People have to adapt to what the environment can give to them, and they have done this pretty well. It's always great to see a new perspective on such things. Thanks for sharing!

Kent Garner @ White's Marine Center