CRAFTING RELATIONSHIPS © Duncan Graham 2005
A famous French TV journalist has launched Indonesian wooden boat-building skills into Europe with the commissioning of a 16.5 metre sailing craft based on a traditional archipelago design.
The keel of the unnamed 12-tonne boat coded K111 has been laid in the Mitra PAL shipyards in Tanjung Perak, Surabaya. The boat is expected to be ready for delivery early next year.
It will cost Paris-based reporter Gregoire Deniau about 100,000 Euros (Rp 1,220 million) and will be used on the Red Sea, mainly as a pleasure craft. The shipbuilders hope that the high profile of K111’s new owner will help promote the Surabaya shipyards overseas.
K111’s designer, marine architect Michael Johnson, said it would cost four to five times that amount to construct the boat in Europe though getting the timber outside Indonesia might prove impossible.
Commercial wooden boat building skills are now rare in Europe and North America as aluminium and fibreglass are widely used.
Although Indonesians seldom follow the Western system of naming boat types, this two or three-sail style of craft is generally known in Sulawesi as bago lambo, a general purpose fishing vessel using wind and diesel power.
It is being built of seasoned merbau timber from West Irian. The design is based on the traditional flat Indonesian pajala keel with a draft of 1.1 metres. This allows shallow in-shore operations. Lateral rudders provide stability. Maximum speed is expected to be nine knots.
The boat builders are handpicked shipwrights from Central Sulawesi who have worked on other projects with Mr Johnson in Surabaya. They use electrical drills and saws along with ancient hand tools like adzes.
Although the K111 design is based on traditional ideas, modern technology is also employed. To overcome the difficulty of obtaining naturally curved wood for the keel boomerang shapes are created by laminating selected planks.
Last year two wooden fisheries training vessels designed by Mr Johnson were built in Surabaya for the Bupati of Jembrana in Bali. After the tsunami hit Aceh 20 canoes were built for local fishermen to use inshore. These are now being assembled in Aceh by students from the Centre for Marine Studies at the Institute Technology Sepuluh Nopember Surabaya (ITS).
Almost Rp 2 billion to build the canoes was donated by Pt Terminal Petikemas Surabaya (TPS) the Indonesian-Australian company that runs Surabaya’s sea container terminal.
ITS Marine Studies director Dr Daniel Rosyid said the wooden boat project fulfilled a dream he’d held since 2002. In that year ITS sent 20 students and a 12 metre sailing boat they’d built to an international competition in the US.
The boat, a replica of craft used during the Napoleonic Era in France, was judged the most beautiful entry.
“At that time I envisaged a situation where Indonesian wooden boat-building skills might be commercially recognised in the West and now that’s happened,” Dr Daniel said. “I believe this project will help improve our international relationships. We need to build new friendships that have been so sadly damaged since the so-called War on Terror began.
“Here we have an Englishman working with Indonesians to build a boat for a Frenchman to be used in the Middle East.”
Mr Deniau’s discovery of ITS skills came about by chance. Two years ago he was in East Java on an unsuccessful attempt to interview the US consul about the invasion of Iraq. While in Surabaya he met the then French consul Olivier Debray who invited him to lunch.
Also at the table was Mr Johnson, an Englishman who normally lives in France but who was then working as a consultant marine architect to ITS. The conversation moved away from war zones, into boat building and eventually a firm contract.
Mr Deniau, an award-winning journalist who specialises in reporting from war zones, was not at the keel laying selamatan (blessing ceremony) because he was shooting a program in Somalia.
(Published in The Jakarta Post 2 July 2005)