Ships of Yore Ply Ancient Trade Routes
Nicole Gaouette, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Through the shimmering heat, another century comes into focus.
Towering masts, the sweep of a sail, the regal curve of a schooner's prow, and, high above, lines that crisscross like lace against a milky blue sky.
The boats that line Jakarta's Sunda Kelapa port are Indonesian pinisi, modern craft modeled on Western schooners of the 1800s. Following routes set by their ancestors, pinisi crews navigate Indonesia's clustered islands, loading and unloading cargo on their short trips ashore. On a steamy morning, a long line of docked pinisi stretch into the distance as men working in pairs slowly haul planks of wood from their cargo holds. Few sounds disturb the still, hot air: the laughter of a woman selling rice at harbor side; a rhythmic creaking as the 200-ton schooners sway gently with the waves; the sudden clap of wood on wood echoing across the water. Pinisi design has evolved over time, incorporating advances like 10-cylinder Mercedes engines, which give the vessels an average speed of 8 to 12 knots. But the basics haven't changed. They are still made without plans and by hand, using traditional tools and handsaws. Instead of nails, 15-inch ironwood pegs are used to bind the hull below the waterline. There are about 150 pinisi, all made in the eastern island of Sulawesi. Only a few dozen line the pier at Sunda Kelapa today. The Jarah Agung Samudra is one of the many that lie heavily in the water, pregnant with cargo. …