Traditional Boats Still Sail Bali’s Seas0
We left the Lombok anchorage in the dead of night – to sail to Bali we had to take advantage of the strong north west going current that flowed up through the Lombok Strait that was timed by the passage of the moon. Calculations showed us that it would flow in the right direction only in the early morning. This was a double advantage as we could also use the southerly winds that only blow at night and in the early morning. By 5 a.m. we had a favourable, brisk twenty knots from the south and we were flying across the strait.
As dawn slowly put out golden tentacles of light towards the western sky a dramatic spectacle opened up. Hundreds of gaily painted small sailing boats – looking like gaudy spiders – were fanning out in all directions from the Bali shore. Mount Agung, the mountain of God, reared up behind this panorama, providing the perfect backdrop.
These little outrigger and lateen rigged boats were unique to the shores of Bali and Lombok and are obviously still in wide use today and are called jukung. They are the Balinese answer to the “Hobie” but are not just used for leisure.
The Balinese use the night wind to take them far offshore to the fishing grounds and then return as the wind slowly reverses to an onshore sea breeze. The fisherman / sailor who steers the jukung out to sea and back doesn’t waste time and usually tows a trolling line and lure in both directions, the speed of the boat normally giving a fair chance of catching a passing mackerel or tuna.
These little fishing boats have no need for an outboard, although larger craft built with the same basic design do carry engines elsewhere in Indonesia. They can only carry one or two people at the most and with a maximum length of about five meters can easily be dragged up on any of Bali’s volcanic, black sand beaches.
The Balinese do everything in life according to age old ritual and the way they build and use their jukung is no different. The wood that is favoured is the belalu or camplung tree and it can only be cut down on a special date that fits in with religious ritual according to the Balinese calendar. Another special date is reserved for the commencement of boat construction. The size of the boat that is built depends on the dimensions of the owner, so shorter men build smaller boats, although the actual work is often a communal effort.
The two outriggers or floats are attached in a way that symbolises the degree of symmetry which the boat builders feel is suitable, while the launching of the finished and painted boat is accompanied by offerings of flowers, fruit and rice to appease the gods. The bow is decorated with a fierce looking image of the mythical gajah minah or elephant fish, whose bulging eyes ensures good navigation in the dark and safe passage through rough seas.
These days, some Balinese fishermen are succumbing to the pressures and lure of the tourist rupiah and converting their boats into day pleasure boats for tourists off the beach and even building a glass bottom into some to help their customers view Bali’s offshore coral reefs.
As we closed the North Eastern shores of Bali’s vivid green and fertile land, we passed dozens of boats as they weaved expertly in and out around our trajectory. With one hand on the tiller and another holding a line, they grinned and waved – no doubt we both eyed each other up with curiosity and respect
Tags: Indonesia, Lombok Strait, Mount Agung, North Eastern, sailing