Understanding Phinisi or Pinisiq: Indonesian Traditional Sailboats Influenced by European Modern Design

indi's picture

I am sure some of you may have heard about the legacy of Phinisi as something Indonesians can be proud of but have you really found out what the word really means and what it refers to? In fact, the word Phinisi originated from the word pinisiq and probably after the word pinasse, which in the French and German of the time referred to a medium-sized sailing boat.

This article titled Traditional Boats by Horst Liebner will explain to you the research findings on pinisiq.

I learned the original design shown above was developed by a French or German who lives in Makassar at the request of the local ruler (Sultan Baginda Omar). He wanted a boat that would resemble the most modern western vessels during 1840s. And word pinisi or phinisi refers to the rig and sail design (not the hull) where seven to eight sails, consisting of three foresails on a long bowsprit, a mainsail and a mizzen on standing gaffs, two topsails and a staysail on the mizzen-mast’s forestay. Quite elegant I must say.

Some say that the current era master boat builders in Southern Suluwesi still make traditional pinisiq with wood. Unfortunately the timber is running out in Sulawesi and wooden boat builders have moved to southern Kalimantan. Even there, the timber is getting hard to get and wooden boat builders have had to move again to be closer to the sources of wood.

It can take up to a year to complete a thirty meter pinisiq boat. The master boat builder is a living treasure and hopefully his skills will be passed down and will not be lost.

During construction the keel is laid first and then the 8 cm planks are fitted edge to edge before the ribs are fitted to the hull. Today most of them are fitted with diesel inboard engines and these ships are always called Kapal Layar Mesin(Motor Sailing Ship).

Of course in the picture that you see below (taken during the 1930 era) is the product of decades of evolution, the Indonesian sailors and boat-builders adopted some of the features from the originally western schooner.

It's amazing that there is so much interaction in boat design between Asia and Europe even long before we have the current globalization era. It is natural therefore for us to keep exchanging ideas on how to improve sailing culture in the Archipelago. Shall we?

I am tempted to speak to these guys at Songline Cruises since they seem to have a fleet of pinisiqs running all over Archipelago.


For your info: There were no

For your info:
There were no sultan from Gowa (then the ruler of Makassar) named Baginda Omar. The article you referred mentioned him as Trengganu's sultan.

family name

I wonder if it's possible for the individuals who made these boats/ships to also have had the same last name. My family's last name is Phinisee (though it has had many different spellings). I am told that they family came from France or is French but then again others think its Irish, which I doubt. ....

What do you think?

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