The most remarkable thing about the way pinisi are built, is the order of construction. While in the Western world ships are constructed by first building a framework and then putting the hull over it in the form of planks, the Indonesian builders of the pinisi are doing it the other way around.
The Dutch worked in the same way in the 17th century for their Eastindia ships, and Northern Europeans did the same but much earlier, before the 6th century.
First the keel is laid, then the stem and stern post are erected, as in the West. Then however, rather than setting up the whole array of sawn frames or mold frames, the planking comes first. First planks are fit to the keel and pegged to it.
Then the next planks are pegged to these so called garboard planks using ,blind´ dowels along the edges of planks. One by one additional planks are added until there is the shape of a boat.
They need very sophisticated building patterns where each plank has a name and a proper place in the construction. Its a construction blueprint which has to accommodate for frames, dowels, stringers etc, and its all starting with the planks. When the planking is nearly completed, then frames are fitted in the hull shell.
Although this method of construction might seem strange to Westerners, is has been done for at least 2000 years for constructing big sailing ships, not only Indonesia but along Malaysian and South East Asian coasts as well.
In its original form the pinisi has a double ended hull type, having sharply raked stem and stern posts. However, this changed for almost all pinisi in use in Indonesia.
As a result of the introduction of the engine a number of changes appeared in the design of the pinisi. The traditional double ended hull form is gone. Gone is the aft mast and sails, and in its place is a large and sometime rather ugly cabin structure containing the bridge.
There is no centerline rudder, they often have made use of twin rudders, one on each aft quarter. Traditionally wooden pegs have been used to join the timbers together.
The most preffered type of wood is so called sappanwood, (Caesalpinia sappan), growing in the Sunda Islands. As it is nearly depleted, the builders went for ironwood (eusideroxylon zwageri) in the last two decades.
This too is one of the hardest woods in Indonesia and is not vulnerable to termites or other insects. Though a pinisi might have the look of a Western gaff rig ship, several unusual features make the pinisi sail rig unique.
The ,gafs´ are left ,standing´, as were Dutch and English gaffs on bigger vessels and even schooners in the early 19th century, or the gaff-mizzens on any big windjammer rigs.
The sails are laced to the mast and to the gaff. In order to reef the sails, they are ,brailed´ to the spars. Its one of the worlds oldest methods for handling sails.
,The charter people do not use proper masts´- building a pinisi
,,I sailed a proper jengki-rigged ‘pinisiq’ without an engine for a year criss-cross through Eastern Indonesia, on several long-haul voyages (like Alor – Manado, i.e., once from S to N of the Archipelago).
We made up to 14 knots. The average with east monsoon winds was around 6-7 knots. Average, that is including times without wind or under reefed sails. We could go very close into the wind. Going close to the wind depens on how well your sails are cut, not on the type of vessel.
An important thing is to have enough ballast. These are cargo vessels, and what was called ‘sailing in ballast’, that is without cargo, required at least 1/4 of the possible cargo in sand or stones. We had somewhat more than 1/3 of her cargo capacity in the hull in form of stones.
The charter people do not allow enough space for stones or iron ballast, as they need the space for their cabins, and they do not want to spend money on lead – thus they can’t use proper masts, and hence can’t really sail.
Besides, they don’t want to have big crews, so actually they would endanger themselves with big sails which you could only reef with lots of hands. Therefore their boats don’t sail well. But the sailing skills are still there: look at the Mandar fishermen, or Butonese lambo traders.´´