One of the most majestic sailing ships you’ll ever spy is the Indonesian phinisi, with a rich history dating back some 700 years and brilliant builders who don’t need modern plans.
ONE SUPER COOL THING about our oceanic region is that you can usually recognize traditional boats by their place of origin. The UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage-listed Indonesian phinisi is one such example, hailing originally from Tanah Beru, on the southernmost tip of South Sulawesi. Even before you knew the name of this type of vessel, you might recognize the unique design: two-masted, with a hull that resembles a dhow but fore-and-aft rigging similar to western schooners. Rather than being lowered with the gaff, the sail is unfurled almost like a curtain.
Majestic phinisi date back to at least the 14th century and to this day, as ever, boatbuilders spend years making them by hand and from memory, rather than using plans. In Butta Panrita Lopi or ‘the land of the phinisi schooners,’ the tradition is awe-inspiring.
According to Wonderful Indonesia, “Along the shores of Tanah Beru, you will see tens of dry-docks where phinisi schooners are in various stages of construction. Here the skillful hands of the Bugis with amazing precision, carefully craft the Phinisi that has become the icon of Indonesian seafaring heritage. The Phinisi is built using traditional equipment following exact prescribed traditional techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation. Its construction does not only involve strength and technique but also – as the locals believe – supernatural powers, for which every stage requires strictly adhered rituals and ceremonies.”
Phinisi were trade ships back in the day, ferrying the bounty of the Spice Islands along routes that made what is present-day Indonesia one of the wealthiest regions on Earth, the Banda Islands more valuable than Manhattan. Today, many are purpose-built luxury liveaboards, ferrying intrepid travelers to the most remote, wondrous corners of this vast archipelago.
T+L was recently lucky enough to set sail on one of the newest, Vela. Watch the video here:
And read the article about our trip aboard this fantastic luxury phinisi cruise here.
Photographs by Tommaso Riva/Courtesy of Vela.