Colin Reedy’s Dispatch from Bali

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A Balinese Jukung (photos by Colin Reedy)

The following text and images are by my old friend Colin Reedy, who has been making an extended excursion by scooter throughout the countryside of western Bali. Colin is a Seattle-based designer and adventurer, who recently completed an expedition down the Mekong River by kayak. Thanks Colin!

Balinese Jukung by Colin Reedy

Living the past 18 years in the Pacific Northwest brought me familiarity with a wide range of watercraft: sailboats, kayaks, runabouts, tugs, and numerous types of fishing boats. Each vesselʼs lines and design details clearly communicate itʼs purpose. I feel like I understand the language of boats at a glance but always enjoy improving my fluency by discovering new parts and nautical systems with curious functions. Traveling through a different culture brings a flood of observations in everyday life, but I especially appreciate how a culture designs and builds its boats.

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No boat Iʼd seen around Seattle prepared me for my first glance at a Balinese “jukung”. Iʼm not sure which hit me first, the bright gaudy colors or the odd proportions of a narrow hull and spindly outriggers, called ʻamasʼ. Hundreds of these boats crouch on Baliʼs beaches like insects having just crawled out of the sea. And like just about everything else in Bali, the jukung boats are spiritual entities whose creation and use follow long established traditional practices.

On a recent scooter-powered road trip around western Bali, I took a spontaneous turn off the main road in search of a route to the black sand beaches not far in the distance. These little side wanders thru rural village alleys, rice fields, and even footpaths often lead to good discoveries and chance encounters. This wander didnʼt get me to the beach, but dead-ended at the bank of a shallow river where five men worked around the construction of a new jukung.

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My face must have lit up with interest and enthusiasm, because all five smiled and waved me over, each one holding up a tool or part of the work as a gesture of the pride they held in their craft. As a furniture builder myself, I appreciate the magnetism between fellow craftsmen to share their experiences. One man knelt over a long board scraping a wooden block plane across the surface, peeling off blond chips with each pass. Near the stern, a group of three sat on the ground test fitting the parts for the removable rudder. A fifth older man, the leader wearing a sarong, stood near the bow measuring and inspecting the interior of the hull.

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Despite lacking a common language, the visible details of construction and a few key words allowed me to understand the building process. They were three weeks along with another five or six to go before a launching ceremony. It began with selecting and blessing the proper tree, a native belalu, and felling it on the most spiritually favorable day according to their lunar calendar. Hand tools dig out the trunk for the hull, with additional pieces precisely fitted to increase its sides and pointed ends. Seats, rudder support, and bamboo outriggers attach with rope for flexibility on the sea.

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The Balinese give great concern to harmonizing between the spirit world and the physical world in everyday life. In this effort, the dimensions of a new jukung are derived from the physical dimensions of the owner, to balance and connect the forces of man and boat. Construction complete, a finished jukung gets an under coat of white paint followed by bright colors and often a set of bulging ʻeyesʼ at the bow to ward off evil spirits as well as provide guidance when sailing at night.

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No sails were in place at the jukung construction site, but Iʼd seen these boats move well across the water powered by wedge-shaped sails rigged in a manner called ʻlanteenʼ. A short stubby mast sticks up close to the bow and two long bamboo poles attach to it with rope. One pole braces inside the hull and juts upward as an extension of the mast, the other lays back like a boom with the sail spread between them. After beaching his jukung, I watched a Balinese fisherman simply untie the boom from the mast and roll up his sail in less than a minute. Such a beautifully elegant design.

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