The History Of Phinisi

Blog Post, Indonesia – March 9, 2020

The modern Phinisi boat sailing in the sea

Thousands of years ago in Egypt, people discovered a means to travel in the sea with a vessel made of woods and sails that relies on wind current to steer. This idea later became the major influence in the world, as the concept of the vessel is now implemented worldwide to travel the seas. That is a short background on how the first ship was built, ever since then, there are so many variants of the ship based on each country’s crafting style. Indonesia, in this case, has the Phinisi.

Phinisi, A Traditional Ship from Sulawesi

The traditional design of Phinisi from Sulawesi

Phinisi boat originated from South Sulawesi in the 19th century, first made by the Konjo tribe who resides at the Bulukumba regency. The sailor from the tribe has the idea to combine their traditional rig with Western schooner rig and called it the pinisi rig. Pinisi name came from two words, “picuru” meaning “good example” and “binisi” meaning “a small and agile fish”. This name is given by their king at the time to honor the sailor’s invention.

The Konjo tribe made Phinisi boats as a transportation means and fishing purposes. Phinisi implemented a specific hull called palari that has enough room for large cargo. There’s only one cabin located in the stern for the captain, and the crews are sleeping in the cargo room or the deck. The sail that they used is called nade, which is also inspired by the western ships.

The Design of Phinisi

The original Phinisi ship has two masts with seven to eight sails. Unlike the western ship that has 3 masts, Phinisi only has 2. The foremast is slightly taller than the stern mast, and the sails are lined up in the center. Each mast is equipped with a large rectangular and a small triangle sails, with the large one being in the bottom. The other sails are tied from the foremast to the bowsprit and usually consists of 3 or 4 small triangle sails.    

A standard Phinisi ship is around 20-35 meters long, although there is a small variant of the ship that is only about 10 meters long that is used for fishing. The later model can reach up to 50 meters and can fit about 30 people. There’s only a few of this type of Phinisi, and mostly only used for a luxurious cruise trip.

Modern Evolution

Tiare, one of the modern Phinisi as a liveaboard

Throughout the years, the design of Phinisi is experiencing numerous changes to fit the current era. In around 1970, the boat function was also being used as a mass transport as well as cargo. They start implementing a different type of hull called lambo that can fit more rooms inside it for cabins. Shortly after, the invention of a motorized ship happened. The ships that are changed into motor versions are called PLM or Perahu Layar Motor.

With the use of a motor, although the sails were removed because it’s become redundant, some of the older Phinisi ships still carried over the masts for aesthetic purposes. It wasn’t until later on that plenty of new Phinisi ships started to include the masts back as well as the sails to make it look like the original design. This type of Phinisi is mostly for leisure cruises, to make the guests experience sailing with an authentic Phinisi boat.

Phinisi for Leisure Liveaboard

In 1990, some westerners that lived in Indonesia saw the potential to create a leisure cruise based on Phinisi design. At first, the ship is intended for private use by high-class people. But the ship has become so popular and as the demand just keeps increasing, the Phinisi leisure boat is started to build for general use.

To appeal to more people, the shipwrights create many unique and artistic designs for the ship. They even make the inside of the ship like a luxurious hotel. This kind of boat is later named liveaboard, which basically means you are living aboard the ship on your trip. Among many destinations in Indonesia, Komodo liveaboard is the one that becomes the most famous for both local and international tourists.