Sail the High Seas on a Phinisi

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(Photo: Radhia Nitya)

IO – The Republic of Indonesia stretches across the broadest archipelago in the world, from Sabang to Merauke, connecting two large oceans, the Pacific and the Indian. Indonesia has 17,499 islands with a total area of 7.81 million square kilometers; about 3.25 million square kilometers of Indonesia’s territory is blue-water ocean, and an Exclusive Economic Zone of 2.55 million square kilometers.

Its vast seas make Indonesia’s maritime potential highly attractive, in terms of both tourism and fisheries. Besides, Indonesia has been long familiar in the maritime world the song “Nenek Moyangku Seorang Pelaut” (lit. “My Ancestor is a Sailor”) pictures well how the ocean has been seen as a source of livelihood, over the centuries.

As accomplished sailors, the people of Indonesia, especially those who live in the Eastern regions, are known as shipwrights, or Phinisi builders. The term “Phinisi” refers to a sailing system with a special configuration, connecting a structure of wooden poles and braided ropes, enabling the ship to withstand the high seas.

It is the specialty of the Konjo people, a Makassar sub-ethnic group who mostly live in Bulukumba Sulawesi, widely known as Bugis and Makassar. They are the Phinisi shipbuilders from generation to generation. Most of the Phinisi boats are used for inter-island transportation networks, cargo, fishing and until recently as a tourist attraction, such as liveaboard diving.

Interestingly, UNESCO nominated the art of crafting Phinisi boats as a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Human Heritage” at the 12th Session of the Unique Cultural Heritage Committee, on 7 December 2017.

Not so long ago, a Phinisi ship named Radhia Nitya, which usually serves tourism activities in eastern Indonesia, was berthed in Jakarta Bay. I thus had the opportunity to see what the real Phinisi ship was like, up close.

Having a deadweight of up to 221 tons with a length of 26.76 meters, the KLM Radhia Nitya was built in Bira, Bulukumba, and launched on April 5, 2018. The ship itself is equipped with a sophisticated and modern marine navigation system. It consists of five cabins for passengers, two of which are in the luxury category and are located near the sun deck.

As a ship that is also designed as a “home” for divers who like to explore the underwater world or live aboard for days, this ship has 15 diving stations, with 25 diving tanks and two small boats with a capacity of 10 people each for exploration in the middle of the sea.

The KLM R adhia Nitya has sailed to several dive points in eastern Indonesia, such as Komodo Island, Labuan Bajo, Takabonerate, Maumere, Banda Neira to the rising Wayag region in Raja Ampat, West Papua. On its stopover at Jakarta Bay, Radhia Nitya offers the sensation of enjoying the sunset in the area around the Thousand Islands such as Ayer Island and Bidadari Island.

We spoke to Jandi, from PT Biru Laut Sentosa, the firm which operates the Phinisi Radhia Nitya, and he revealed how amid the COVID-19 pandemic, tours exploring several Indonesian Islands took place privately, with strict health protocol rules.

“While diving around eastern Indonesia is quite popular, since the pandemic, local tourists have also chosen to fish or just enjoy the sunset, hiring a Phinisi boat in the middle of the sea as a relaxation option amidst strict regional quarantine rules,” said Jandi.

Taking a Phinisi around the islands near Jakarta or heading to the Sunda Strait and enjoying the magic of Mount Krakatau can be a separate option to spend the weekend, especially when the holiday season is near. Usually, in one trip, the cost of the trip includes a dock permit, sailing, logistics during sailing, and fuel.

Interestingly, the Radhia Nitya ship crew also hail from Bulukumba. Travelers who want to learn more about the philosophy and details related to the wooden Phinisi can interact directly with the crew. “From the time we were born we have been in the midst of the Phinisi shipbuilding community in Bulukumba; I know a lot about the process of building a Phinisi and the design of every detail, from sailing to hull curvature,” said Marsel, one of the crew members of Radhia Nitya, whom we met on the sidelines of a voyage in Jakarta Bay in mid-April.

The schedule for the Phinisi Radhia Nitya ship itself is fairly flexible and the options can also be seen at www.radhiacruise.com or through this ship’s social media account. Are you ready to go sailing as an option to spend the weekend? (Freddy Wally)