Category: Sail Indonesia

The History of Indonesian Pinisi Boats

Indonesia Sumbawa boat builders

Elegantly curvaceous with a reclining aft deck, Indonesian Pinisi boats almost feel like they were made for sunny sailing holidays in Indonesia. However, they were originally designed as cargo vessels, and their history forms an interesting chapter in the ancient Ausroneasian tradition of maritime exploration.  Here, we uncover the fascinating history of pinisi boats, as well as highlighting the role of modern pinisi boats in Indonesia.

What is a Pinisi boat?

The word ‘pinisi’ describes a traditional gaff-ketch sailing rig used on ships originating from Sulawesi, the fourth-largest Indonesian island. It’s important to note here that ‘pinisi’ refers only technically to the rigging. The boat to which these rigs are attached are usually palari boats. Palari boats have distinctively shaped hulls and are built traditionally from ironwood, a common timber grown on Sulawesi. For clarity, we’ll refer to the entire structure including the hull as ‘pinisi boats’. This is conventional, despite the literal meaning being only to do with the mast and sails. 

Pinisi boats are easily recognisable by billowing sails spread over two masts and a bowsprit, plus a large, towering hull with accommodation at the stern. Pinsi rigged ships were – and still are – used for both fishing and transporting important cargo such as rice, sugar and spices. At between 50-70 feet long, their size means they are large enough to carry plenty of goods, but nimble enough to navigate through narrow ports and unpredictable waters. 


The history of Indonesian boatbuilding

The pinsi boat has relatively recent origins in contrast to Indonesian boat-building, a pioneering legacy stretching back millenia. Despite being built and launched by hand, the sail design is over a hundred years old. The first pinisi-rigged boat was built in 1906, with the earliest recorded use of the term ‘pinisi’ appearing in 1917. Sulawesian sailors took influence from a European rigging style – specifically Dutch schooners. But rather than using a halyard to hoist a movable spar as in the western tradition, the sails are pulled out from gaffs which are fixed at points along the mast. Soon the palari hull design was swapped in, as it was faster, longer and more suited to the ketch rig. 

The pinsi design was commercially successful – in the 1970s, the fleet was the largest of its kind in the world, with over 1000 ships in commission. Although that number has declined with the advent of modern shipping, there is still a thriving community in Sulawesi designing and building pinisi boats. In 2011, the largest pinisi boat ever to be built was launched in south Sulawesi – it’s over 50 metres long and can carry 500 tonnes of cargo. And like the majority of pinisi built after 1980, it’s also fitted with an engine, the only real change in design for the last century. Today, most pinisi have both sails and a motor, meaning the boats can deliver cargo upwind should the need arise. 

The standard or blueprint for the pinisi boat has only recently been codified. Before the 1990s, boat builders in Sulawesi used oral tradition to pass down knowledge of how to construct these ships. Originally they were built using only the local ironwood, without any form of metal used in the construction whatsoever. This traditional practice has been recognised by UNESCO, who state that “the construction and deployment of such vessels stand in the millennia-long tradition of Austronesian boatbuilding and navigation”, and therefore deserve a place on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. 

The continuation of the Sulwesian boatbuilding tradition is partially because pinisi boats are now being used in another sector alongside trade and fishing: maritime tourism. Their large holding capacity, powerful rig and relatively shallow drafts means that pinisi boats are easily converted into luxury sailing vessels. Pinisi boats hold a unique ability to explore every nook and cranny of these 17,000 islands, visiting destinations far from the tourist hotspots.

VentureSail is delighted to offer sailing holidays on Sister boats Katharina and Ombak Putih, both built in the traditional style in Sulawesi. You’ll get to experience the magnificent skill in Indonesian boatbuilding for yourself as you step aboard these beautiful ships and appreciate their heritage, which makes them so suited for a luxury sailing holiday in this stunning tropical archipelago. 

Low Carbon Luxury Travel

Aerial View of Petit St Vincent in the Caribbean

With the environment firmly pushed to the forefront of our consumer conscience, more and more of us are seeking sustainable holidays. At VentureSail Holidays we are proud that each of our sailing holidays offers low-impact travel. Combine this with our luxury sailing fleet, Chronos, Rhea, Kairos, and Stella Oceana all weave in high-end, stylish sophistication to holidays at sea.

Explore some of the world’s most beautiful destinations under sail without any compromise on comfort – welcome to low carbon luxury travel.

Zero-emission miles

The pure joy of being on deck of a beautiful ship with the wind in your hair and sun on your face is undeniable. This wonderful form of travel has the added benefit of being largely emission-free, with all our vessels operating under sail as much as possible. Our skippers are true mariners and avoid turning the ships engines on unless they really have to! Certain weather/tidal conditions can make it necessary, as well as safely entering some ports/harbours but otherwise, all ventures are predominantly under sail. In addition, the destinations and routes are chosen for their favourable sailing conditions allowing guests to drink in the fresh sea air far away from exhaust fumes emitted by larger vessels. The gentle swish of the wind in the sails is a far more comfortable experience than the constant chug of a diesel engine.

Sustainable, locally sourced produce

A day at sea is guaranteed to work up an appetite and all our guests enjoy fabulous food whilst sailing with us. As our vessels operate with small guest numbers, they are able to easily source local produce along the way having formed strong relationships with various suppliers over the years. Guests will regularly see the onboard chefs buying fish or lobster straight off the local fishing boats as they come alongside – from sea to boat to plate in less than a day.

Sometimes, local farms will deliver to the dockside dropping off eggs, milks and meats ready for our onboard chefs to whip up mouthwatering meals and tasty treats served by the maitre’d. Good food is something we pride ourselves on and there is little to no food waste either!

Working with local communities

Our boats pride themselves on ensuring they work closely with local communities wherever they sail. This is particularly true in Indonesia where our pinisi boats Katharina and Ombak Putih visit island communities far off the beaten track. The owners have spent many years forging good connections and relationships with local villages. Mindful not to arrive en-masse, all visits are planned ahead with the local villages so they can be ready to show small groups around without disturbing the environment – these guided tour fees are paid directly back to the community.

Small ships sailing with less than 20 passengers are always far less disrupting to both the local communities as well as the natural environment. Something which is particularly notable in destinations such as the Caribbean and Svalbard where even smaller cruise ships loom like skyscrapers with over 200 guests descending into a small remote location. 

Reef-safe products

Each boat uses sustainable products with all guests are also encouraged to bring reef-safe sunscreen and toiletries. Each skipper is a passionate advocate of the environment taking pure pleasure from talking with guests about any impactful changes they can make to their lives to continue their low-carbon mission back at home.

Impactful Changes

The magic of travelling under sail is captivating, enabling guests to switch off and feel at one with the world around them. This in itself automatically builds a connection with the natural environment and we see a positive shift in guests psyches. We love hearing how much the ventures have left guests being mindful about their life choices and effects on the environment.

We know that our ventures offer low-carbon luxury but don’t just take our word for it. We recently hosted Chris Haslam, the Chief Writer for The Sunday Times Travel having enticed him to experience the Caribbean under sail. As he concludes;
But we’ve travelled close to 200 zero-emission miles under sail, spent time and money in communities otherwise cut off from the mainstream tourist trade and swum off some awfully pretty, awfully empty beaches. So if you consider long-haul flights to be a sin, Captain van Middelkoop can offer absolution.

You can learn more and read his article here or select your low-carbon luxury holiday today >

Why sailing in Indonesia should be on your holiday bucket list!

Indonesia Komodo islands anchorage

If you’re looking for an unforgettable sailing holiday, look no further than Indonesia. With its vibrant culture, stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife, Indonesia is undoubtedly the perfect destination for a guided adventure holiday under sail.

From the stunning islands of Bali and Komodo to the vibrant archipelago of Raja Ampat, there’s something for everyone to discover both on land and from the water. Embark on traditional wooden Pinisi boats Katharina or Ombak Putih and make memories that will last a lifetime. Keep reading to discover why sailing in Indonesia should be at the top of your bucket list. 

A Sailing Paradise

With over 17,000 islands making up this tropical paradise, there are countless opportunities to explore some of the world’s most pristine waters under sail. Whether you want to spend your days exploring secluded lagoons, swimming with turtles or discovering Indonesian traditional boat techniques, Indonesia has it all. For those looking for a little more action, make use of the onboard water sports, with snorkelling, kayaking, and paddle-boarding all available too.

Cultural Delights

In addition to its breathtaking scenery, Indonesia is also home to many unique cultures and traditions. From vibrant local markets to ancient temples and mosques, Indonesia offers an abundance of cultural experiences that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Our local guides on board Ombak Putih and Katharina have spent many years building connections with local communities, arranging for guests to explore traditional villages and experience the incredible local traditions. There’s always something new to discover no matter where you go. Visit fishing villages with wooden houses sitting above the water on stilts where locals live off the land and sea. Sample delicious local delicacies like spicy sambal, or just sit back and watch traditional cultural performances put on by locals along the shoreline.

A world of wonderful wildlife

When it comes to wildlife in Indonesia, you’ll be spoilt for choice. On land, visit Komodo National Park, where ancient dragons wander amongst over 3,000 species of plants and animals. These majestic creatures are fascinating to watch. Spend a day on the island of Borneo, travelling up river to marvel at the infamous Borneo orangutans that have attracted nature lovers for centuries.

Underwater wildlife is where the treasure really awaits though. Snorkel, dive and swim amongst the finest marine wildlife and pristine coral reefs in the world. Marvel as you drift crystal clear waters alongside whale sharks, manta rays and sea turtles in their natural habitat. It’s easy to see why Indonesia is one of best places in the world for snorkelling attracting many the adventure traveller.

Sail on a traditional Pinisi Boat

Both Katharina and Ombak Putih are traditional Wooden Pinisi boats that have been around for centuries and are still used by locals to this day. They’re built on the beach from local hardwoods such as ironwood and teak, decorated with intricate carvings and launched with a traditional village ceremony.

Experience traditional life on board these vessels as part of your adventure sailing holiday in Indonesia. From fishing villages to uninhabited islands, you’ll get to see parts of Indonesia far away from the iconic tourist hotspots. Best of all, you don’t need any prior experience or knowledge as everything is taken care of by experienced crew members and a local guide. 

Ready to start your adventures?

A sailing holiday in Indonesia is sure to provide an unforgettable experience like no other – one that will stay with you long after your voyage has ended. Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, or both, sailing in Indonesia has something special waiting just around the corner. Read more about life on board Ombak Putih and Katharina.

View all sailing holidays to Indonesia here >