They may have all the comforts, safety and technology of modern sea craft, but the story of our pinisi sailing boats started long ago on an island on the other side of the Java Sea from Bali.
The seafaring Bugis people settled Sulawesi island around 2500 BC — around the same time that Stonehenge was going up in England and Classical Greek civilization was still in its infancy. From early days they were skilled boatbuilders, sailors and navigators.
Sailing gaff-rigged ketches made from local timber, the Bugis came to dominate the trade of spices and other cargo in the thousands of islands that comprise the East Indies. And their boatbuilding prowess spread to other islands like Borneo and Java.
That modern incarnation of those ancient traditions is our own gaff-rigged ketches — the Ombak Putih and Katharina — handcrafted by highly skilled boat-builders in Borneo and Sulawesi using materials and construction methods passed down through the centuries from father to son.
While they may look similar at first glance to vessels fashioned a thousand years ago, under their “skin” they are both 21st century boats equipped with modern creature comforts and up-to-date safety and communication equipment.
On deck, there’s plenty of space to dine, drink, sun or gaze at the passing scenery. Our fully equipped, air-conditioned passenger cabins are located below deck and feature en-suite bathrooms with lots of natural light. We also carry modern tenders for shore landings and sea excursions. Or you can just jump overboard to play with kayaks, stand-up paddle-boards and snorkeling gear.
Launched in 1995, Katharina is 130 feet long and was originally built as a commercial freighter. When we first came across the boat, we loved how she sat low in the water with simple lines and sleek structure. We gave her an interior retrofit and today Katharina can comfortably accommodate 12 guests in six cabins (2 x double, 2 x triple, 2 x twin bunks) with salon and bar, two sun decks and an outdoor dining area. Operated by Captain Iwan and a crew of 12.
Her name means “White Wave” in English, a vessel born in 1997 and is 6.5 feet longer than her sister ship. Ombak Putih can accommodate 24 guests in 12 well-appointed cabins (6 x double, 2 x triple, 4 x twin bunks). And with more than 4,300 square feet of public space spread across two main decks — including a large salon — there’s plenty of room to lounge about. At the helm is Captain Feri and a crew of 14.
By no means are these the only pinisi you will see plying the waters of the Indonesian archipelago. These ships are still very much in use for inter-island trade, transporting timber from Kalimantan to Java, groceries from Java to more remote islands, and so on. They can still be spotted in many Indonesian ports including Sunda Kelapa in Old Jakarta and Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan.