Village-Made boats in Borneo: Mabul Island

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by TerryKing, Feb 5, 2009.

  1. TerryKing
    Joined: Feb 2007
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    Location: Topsham, Vermont

    TerryKing On The Water SOON

    I recently had the opportunity to look in some detail at the boat designs and construction practices on a small island (Mabul) off the East coast of Borneo.

    I was very impressed with the workmanship and blend of traditional designs and materials such as tropical hardwoods, with some modern additions like epoxy adhesives, occasional plywood parts and modern paints.

    A series of photos is here:

    There are generally three locally-built boat types:
    1. Small paddled outrigger canoe type
    2. Small (12 foot or so) planing boats with a 12 HP or so inboard air-cooled motor
    3. Large (30 to 40 foot) narrow boats with 4 to 6 cyclinder inboards, most of which appear to be diesel car/truck conversions.

    Both type 2 and 3 commonly have variants that use outboards, almost 100% Yamaha.

    The pride in design and decoration/painting is so obvious. I was looking at a very small inboard boat just after dawn one morning, and these kids came running out to look at US, and pat their family boat affectionately.

    The larger boats are more like this:

    Anyway, the whole experience was wonderful... More on the "trip" is here:


    ? Has anyone seen the very long extended prop shafts like those on SOME of the small boats? WHY might this be done.? (These are not moveable like a "Thai Longtail")

    ?Would it be "legal" in USA to build a boat similar to the small ones here? (I was once told "A boat HAS to have a clutch").. BUT Those PWC Things just start and go, right?? Hmmm..

    ?Can anyone ID the manufacturer and probable horsepower of the small red engines shown?

    ?Can anyone point to other sources of details about these boats?

  2. duluthboats
    Joined: Mar 2002
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    Location: Minneapolis,MN, USA

    duluthboats Senior Dreamer

    Thanks for sharing this with us. Great pictures of boating at its basics!
  3. messabout
    Joined: Jan 2006
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    Location: Lakeland Fl USA

    messabout Senior Member

    Fascinating boats! There must be some talented craftsmen among the islands there. The boat shown full length, appears to be a long skinny displacement type. A wild guess is that they are 25 feet or more in length, maybe four feet in width. A boat of that type will go fairly quickly with small engines. At least small by US standards. A pair of 15HP engines would be more than adequate for such a boat. Not to say that that is what they are. The weight of the boat and its occupants will play into the speed potential. If the boat is lightly loaded I would expect a single 15 HP motor to push it at 10 MPH or more. Additional power might boost the speed a small amount but there is a limit to the practical speed of such a design. That is to say, a 60 HP engine will not be likely to make it go much faster. A boat of this sort could be very economical to operate in terms of fuel consumption. In the hands of an experienced skipper they could also withstand some moderately rough seas without great concern. I like them.

    Do you think that these boats were built from plans or do the locals simply start building by eye and instinct?

  4. TerryKing
    Joined: Feb 2007
    Posts: 595
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    Location: Topsham, Vermont

    TerryKing On The Water SOON


    I did not see any evidence of plans or even measuring devices other than straightedges. BUT I didn't speak any Malay, and they had little English. I expect someone has researched this, but I haven't found much.

    Yes, the long boats are definitely running hull speeds rather than planing like the little ones.. but they seems to be up at pretty good speeds... Those hulls have a lot of rocker. Lightly loaded, the bottom of the bow is out of the water!

    In both cases, engine efficiency seems a major factor, although there are some medium size planing boats with larger outboards.

    The commercial dive boats are typical 40 ft open GRP, with twin outboards (115 Yamahas are typical, some twin 150's). The boat I went on from the mainland at Semporna to Mabul island had twin 150's, about 15 passengers and gear, and ran 51 kph (about 30 MPH) at what seemed like full throttle.

    I liked the Wooden Boats so much more :)

    I'd love to build one of those little boats with my old 12 HP Briggs&Stratton...
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