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Sailing Pinisi vs. Motorized Pinisi (Kapal Layar Mesin)

Copyright 2007-2016 Michael Kasten


What's the difference between them? Can they Sail? What is their range under power? Are they seaworthy? How long will one last?

Although I have considerably more information about these craft, for the moment I'll try to stay within the scope of the above questions....

The following notes have to do with the traditional KLM types vs. the older traditional sailing Pinisi types, and then I have a few notes regarding vessel size, displacement, and hull materials... If sailing performance is important, the hull type and the hull materials have much to do with what is possible.

Sailing Phinisi Watercolor
Click for Larger Image


Hull Type: Historically the Pinisi sailing types would trade throughout the Indonesian islands by following the seasonal monsoon winds. Therefore, they traveled westward during one 6 month season, then eastward during the next 6 months... with South Sulawesi as a stop-over in the middle in each direction.

Thus these vessels did not need to sail fast, nor did they really need to sail to windward. Their purpose was essentially to move cargo, and the pace of life there is much different than what we are accustomed to in the West...!

Our 36 meter Silolona design is an excellent paradigm for the sailing style of Pinisi. The traditional sailing types are essentially double ended, i.e. having a pointed stern, in contrast to the more 'modern' KLM types, which are intended primarily for motoring and which have more of a square stern (more about that below).

As charter vessels, the sailing Pinisi for the most part function as motor vessels. The Silolona has a hull shape that is perfectly suited for sailing across, off the wind, or slightly to windward. If a second keel timber were to be added below the main keel timber, windward sailing would be improved.

Rig Size: The Silolona was given the largest amount of sail area that could possibly be squeezed onto at two-mast rig, using the biggest, longest spar timbers that the builders could obtain in Batulicin, Kalimantan. A two-mast rig was chosen in order to have a "typical" Pinisi sail rig. Thus, due to the length of available timbers, the Silolona can only spread a maximum of 5,876 square feet of sail, all up. As a result, sailing performance is sluggish at best in light breezes, but sailing is very possible in heavier winds.

In other words, the result of there being such a limited sail area is that there must be a relatively much greater amount of wind in order to provide a similar level of performance. Sailing is therefore mainly for fun and only when there is sufficient wind to bother.

Sailing Performance: Based on 'typical' sailing vessel requirements for a vessel of 350 metric tons (i.e. the 36 meter Silolona) there SHOULD be approximately 9,000 square feet or more of sail area. Had that been possible, the Silolona's sailing performance would be excellent in normal breezes of around 10 to 15 knots, and on a tradewind passage where 18 to 20 knots of wind is typical, sailing would be quite a viable means of propulsion.

Rig Design: If sailing were to be a top priority, design changes should therefore be introduced. With enough sail area, these ships will indeed sail well. Yes we can achieve more sail area, but in doing so we should be open to ideas that may not be entirely in keeping with a Pinisi's traditional rig. For example, three or four masts should not be ruled out. Or if only two masts are preferred, then alternate materials should be considered, such as the use of steel tube for the masts rather than wood. Naturally, these are questions to settle on the drawing board, based upon the stated priorities of the owner.

Given the mandate for good sailing performance, we have created Sailing Pinisi designs such as our 38m Sailing Pinisi and the 50m Sailing Pinisi designs, as well as capable sailing KLM types such as our 36m KLM Dunia Baru. For each of those designs, we have specified steel tube for the masts and other spars in order to overcome the limitations of using wood for the masts.

Range Under Power: Range under sail and power depends on how the winds favor during a specific voyage and whether there is even sufficient wind to make sailing useful, in other words the amount of wind will determine to what extent sailing can factor into lessening the use of the engine.

Under power alone with 18.7k liters of fuel aboard, with 15% reserved for generators and spare fuel, the Silolona's range at 8.5 knots under power alone is around 1,800 nautical miles, i.e. around a 9 day endurance under power. With a properly planned voyage or even a circumnavigation, that should be entirely adequate between fuel stops.

Speeding up of course uses more fuel... At 10 knots, the Silolona's range drops to approximately 1,000 NM and endurance to around 4.1 days. Making use of sail power whenever possible will increase all speed and range regimes.

50 Meter KLM Phinisi - Indonesian Kapal Layar Mesin - Motor Sailor
50m KLM Prototype - Click for Larger Image


KLM Hull Type: These vessels are called KLM, which stands for Kapal Layar Mesin, literally 'Boat-Sail-Machine' or what we would call a "Motor Sailor." Taking the Indonesian KLM types as a paradigm, we quickly observe that they are a bit different than our pre-conceived notions of a motor sailor, and they are also a bit different than the traditional Indonesian sailing Pinisi of the past. These are the motorized cargo vessels that have been specialized for use throughout the Indonesian Archipelago. Since they are not used as sailing vessel, but rather as motor vessels, the hull form has evolved to suit that requirement.

Why bother then with sails...? Good question... but there are a couple of very practical answers: In Indonesia, there is a higher tax on pure motor vessels, therefore these boats have taken the expedient of still carrying a fore mast and sails so that they can be classed as sailing vessels in order to gain a tax advantage. Additionally, the fore mast primarily functions as the foundation for a large cargo boom arrangement, and the sails are available for use down wind if the engine quits working. Very practical indeed.

Despite the presence of the sails, the cargo KLM types have evolved to optimize their hull shape as a motor vessel. In so doing they have retained the entire forward half of the traditional sailing Pinisi, but the aft half of the KLM types is completely different.

With engines, there came the ability to build the deck house much larger - and also taller. In order to carry that height and extra weight, the stern of the KLM types is rather wide. The entire middle of these boats is an empty hold reserved for cargo.

When the KLM types are used as yachts, most owners prefer to use the hold area for guest cabins, and they usually want to maximize the size of the on-deck house structures. The size of the deck houses can quickly get out of hand... and there are many very unfortunate examples of that trend to be observed throughout Indonesia.

Sailing KLM...? The sails on many KLM charter boats are mostly to involve the 'concept' of sailing rather than to actually have good performance under sail. By contrast, our 36m KLM Dunia Baru design involves a sail rig that is actually sized correctly for good all around sailing, even though house structures conspire to reduce sail area somewhat.


Traditionally, the sailing Pinisi of old were not built much larger than around 20 meters. The two mast sailing rig that was used by those craft was ordinarily sufficient to provide adequate sail area. In other words, for smaller sailing Pinisi, say 20 to 30 meters and less in size, it seems the two mast schooner or ketch type of configuration is quite suitable.

Wooden Spar Limits: In our experience in Kalimantan and elsewhere, the longest available timbers are no more than approximately 18 meters in length, with 12 meters being much more common. This means that any sailing rig that uses wooden spars is limited to a maximum spar length of around 18 meters. This spar length limit imposes a limit on the amount of sail area that can be achieved using a two-mast rig, with the practical limit for two masts being roughly at around 30 meters of on-deck length.

Now however, charter operators have begun to build various types of Pinisi and KLM in much larger sizes. Often they have remained nostalgically attached to the traditional two mast rig. As a result, due to the limitations imposed by the available timber lengths on the achievable sail area, sailing performance is often not what it could be, and can be very poor indeed.

Naturally other tricks are available to the designer in order to extend the overall height of a rig for these larger vessels, such as using multiple “doublings” say with lower, top, and royal masts.

Multiple Masts: In general it would be considerably more practical to just multiply the number of masts rather than to place a royal above the lower and top masts. Using multiple masts, the rigging is much simpler, stresses are reduced, and sail area can still be made adequate.

At around 35 meters on deck length, a sailing Pinisi might begin to consider three masts as being optimum. At 45 meters, four masts start to look favorable.

Alternate Materials: On larger sailing Pinisi and sailing KLM - say beyond around 30 meters of on-deck length - if the owner wishes to limit the vessel to two masts, they could make excellent use of steel tube for the masts and other spars so that the individual spars are able to be longer.

What about on smaller sailing Pinisi...? On a sailing Pinisi of around 18 to 20 meters I think two masts would be ideal, rigged either as a ketch or schooner. Below 16 to 18 meters, a single mast should suffice...


As mentioned, a cargo carrying KLM will usually be arranged with a fore mast only, and although there is a sail present, its main purpose is to gain a 'sailing ship' tax advantage for the owner. The sail is also available as "get-home" propulsion in the event of engine failure, though obviously any destination under sail alone would be directly down wind...!

Presented with the request to create a workable sail rig for a large KLM of approximately 50 meters length on deck and to improve upon the sailing rig for the 'sailing Pinisi' types, since these vessels are rather heavy and need quite a lot of sail area if it is to be at all meaningful, we decided that the best arrangement would be to use multiple masts... Especially this is so since the locally available timbers are limited to approximately 18 to 20 meters in length.

The following images show what seemed to work best:

Four-mast Rig Forward View | Four-mast Rig Aft View

Using this strategy, all gaff sails and gaff tops'ls are identical, therefore interchangeable. Balance is easily achieved in any wind strength, all the way down to bare poles...!

In fact, the four mast rig would be ideally suited to 'sailing Pinisi' types in larger sizes, and for the same reasons, i.e. to give ample sail area; to keep spar length to a minimum; to provide myriad sail combinations for the best balance; to keep individual sail sizes to a minimum and thus make the entire rig much more easily handled; and... well I could go on for quite some time without running out of good points to favor this kind of rig.

Even though this strategy was pursued in order to get the most sail area on the smallest spar length in order to use local timbers, by far the best material for ALL the spars would be to make use of steel tube or pipe...! If designed correctly, once painted no-one knows they are not wood.


The 'sailing Pinisi types' can have superstructures that are nearly as tall as the same size of KLM however the house structures on the sailing types more usually are not nearly as large. Even so, the wooden house structures on these craft are quite impressive, therefore displacement must be sufficient to carry it all...!

On the KLM types, the house structures can be quite massive. In order to carry that added structure there needs to be still more displacement. The KLM hull shape is thus usually more full, beam will usually be increased, and the draft will usually be slightly greater. For this reason most KLM types will be beefier than a sailing type, especially if it is a yacht where the owners may have requested a much larger superstructure on deck. Consequently, they will require more sail area to propel this mass through the water.

One of the challenges / limitations as to size of these vessels is actually launching them...! They are built on the beach, usually in a spot where an extreme tide will help with the launch, and then a hole is dug to let the vessel down to the level of high water.

The larger Pinisi types (say above 35 meters) cannot be built in Tanah Biru (South Sulawesi) because of the relatively shallow water there that continues for some distance offshore. Most of the larger Pinisi are built on Kalimantan (Borneo), usually on a river estuary that is tidal. The new build location being established in Sangkulirang (Kalimantan Timur) is good for launching - and close to the timbers...

A bit of extra beam does help with all of this, allowing a hull to be slightly less deep. These Pinisi boats are incredibly heavy, thus displacement is quite extreme for their size.

The local KLM cargo vessels often have a fairly shallow deadrise to the bottom, a hard turn at the bilge, and relatively little flair to the topsides. They achieve a large displacement in this way without having to become very wide. They are able to carry quite a large cargo then as well, however they tend to roll heavily when they are not loaded.

Our assignment with these designs has been to mitigate that rolling tendency. We've achieved that by having more of a 'V' shape to the sections, slightly more flair in the topsides, and more beam. Given the relatively enormous weight of these craft, with the right hull shape an easy motion is assured.

In my opinion, the locally built wooden Pinisi and KLM should probably not be built any larger than around 50 to 55 meters. This is not because there is any absolute limit for wooden craft, but because local methods such as the launching process, timber length limits, and other factors mitigate against vessels of a larger size. Yes larger vessels have been built, but they have had a very short lifetime, and they are usually badly hogged even before launch..!


The sailing Pinisi and the KLM types of our design have excellent stability. They are fully compliant with IMO rules for the stability of motorized vessels, as well as USCG stability criteria for sailing passenger vessels. In fact, due to their nearly unbelievable weight, these vessels do not need ballast in order to achieve that stability...! They do use ballast however in order to achieve a level trim, since there is a concentration of structure aft which must be counterbalanced by weights placed forward.

Farther offshore, the seas are larger and for the most part they are considerably less steep, thus they are usually more gentle. Our designs have been created in order to have a comfortable motion in the sea.

With a properly planned route the winds will be far more dependable, steadier, and stronger. Thus, any passage by a sailing vessel will necessarily be planned in order to take best advantage of seasonal following winds, favorable currents, and to avoid the probability of heavy weather.

These matters are for the captain to plan properly, and then once the vessel is committed to a voyage, for the captain to assure the best progress combined with the best ship safety in terms of wind and weather. With those elements in place, these vessels will have no limitations in terms of world wide travel.


This issue is very well addressed within our article on Pinisi History, in particular with regard to ocean travel and the presence of engines aboard. There is a very big difference in terms of structural integrity, longevity, and survivability between the traditionally built craft and one that is designed to meet the rigors of the GL rule.

We made quite a number of significant improvements to the traditional types in order to build the 36m Silolona. Having designed, helped build, and having subsequently sailed on the Silolona, there are several further improvements that I would advise. Some of those improvements would be aimed toward better performance under sail, and they would therefore involve changes to the traditional Indonesian approach to rigging.

I would not change any of our approach to structure. We used the 1964 Vorschriften fur Klassifikation und Bau von Holzernen Seeshiffen (Rules for Classification and Building of Wooden Seagoing Vessels), which is in German. The GL Rule is an excellent guide. In combination with the excellent local Bugis / Konjo traditions, the Silolona is a very stout ship.

During her design, we 'reverse engineered' the GL Rule for Wooden Seagoing Vessels in order to allow it to be applied to craft that are larger than the rule was designed to address. In other words, we created formulae that would predict the GL Rule for all sizes of craft, then used those formulae to extend the scope of the GL Rule itself. We conferred with GL about this, and they approve of our approach.


The following thoughts have also been expressed within our page on Pinisi Building, however they are sufficiently important to reiterate here...

Building an Indonesian wooden vessel is a unique sort of adventure. It is not unusual for someone to surf the web, see the Indonesian designs we have created, note their excellent qualities, print a few images off the web show the builders and ask them "can you build one like this…?" This has occurred several times and those events have been duly noted.

The next crazy step is for someone to order 'Study Plans' and attempt to do the same. I'd venture to say that the result will possibly be better than if they had made a drawing in the sand (as is also very common), but nowhere near the caliber of vessel that could have been.

We have consistently observed that due to the relatively low cost of building the wooden structure of these vessels, there always will be a steady supply of misguided Westerners who approach the Indonesian boat builders with the idea of turning one of their locally built craft into a yacht or charter boat at the lowest possible cost. Most often the result is extremely poor - mainly due to extremely inadequate planning and virtually non-existent project management.

These half hearted attempts to create a yacht inevitably result in an ill-conceived and / or poorly executed vessel, i.e. one that has not been 'designed' nor built to any standard, nor even effectively 'managed' during construction. Although the local builders are very capable of producing excellent results with their own local vessel types, having been developed for carrying cargo they are not ordinarily so well suited to being turned into yachts.

Even worse, when these indigenous vessels get arbitrarily modified by various misguided 'owner requests' during construction, the final product can be shockingly bad - even to the point of being unsafe. Of course there are exceptions, but they are not so common.

Most of the pre-existing charter vessels or private yachts that we have seen for sale in Indonesia are really not worth much. Yes there are exceptions, however it should be kept in mind that any cargo vessels built for knowledgeable local cargo skippers that are still in excellent shape... it is extremely unlikely to actually find one for sale while there is still some working life remaining.

The overall point is that whether new or old, there is a very big difference between those vessels and the likes of what I have outlined in these pages.

The essential differences...?

Having taken these steps, you can be assured that the resulting vessel will be a fine, safe, robust, and long lasting asset.


The answer to the question of how long these vessels will last depends entirely upon three factors: quality of materials, quality of construction, and upon the quality of ongoing maintenance. We have addressed the construction and materials quality very thoroughly within the design of each vessel, so it then becomes a question of maintenance.

The wood used for these craft is Kayu Ulin (eusideroxylon zwageri). It is impervious to rot, fungus, and ship worms. It is used for building foundations in the tropics and is the only wood specified for direct burial in soil without treatment. It has been used for boat building for many years and it does not seem to deteriorate as long as there is first quality wood used.

That is the catch really... i.e. the failure modes of the local craft are almost entirely due to the fact that the local economy is such that NOT ONE stick of wood that comes to the boat yard gets wasted. If a piece is not top quality, it must get used anyway - they can't afford not to!

As long as the build quality, the materials used, and the maintenance of these craft are top notch, they should last a lifetime and then some.

And... given that they are true classics, they will not go out of 'fashion' quickly, as will a Feadship, Azimut or Perini Navi...!


Steel is indeed worth considering. Heresy, you say...? Well, just keep reading...!

If built in steel, the hull weight will be vastly lighter than a traditionally built vessel in Kayu Ulin (Borneo Ironwood) which has approximately the same specific gravity as sea water...!

Of course steel itself is heavier, but because of its incredible strength, the overall weight of the structure would be possibly HALF that of the same size vessel in Ulin. Thus, steel structure will be favorable for its strength, for long term durability, for stability, for sailing ability, for range under power, and also for the amount of room taken up by structure within the boat.

I can wax poetic about the virtues of steel because it is an area of our specific design expertise. Suffice it to say that a steel vessel will be superior in every regard.

EXCEPT... on the basis of hull construction costs. The cost to build these hulls in wood using local labor is very low indeed, even when built to a high standard such as we have imposed upon them. If built in Indonesia in steel... possibly the hull will be some 10 times the cost in wood, but this will still be fairly inexpensive by comparison to building in a Western venue, and the cost to outfit the vessel would be the same as if built in wood.

A steel vessel will definitely not be built by the local Bugis / Konjo builders... instead it will be done in a ship yard, possibly in Surabaya or elsewhere.


In wood or in steel... the finesse factor should be THE SAME...! Now I should qualify such a statement by saying: For this to be the case a steel vessel must have that finesse conferred by design right from the start.

In other words, yes one can achieve a metal hull built to a very high degree of traditional elegance - and my design portfolio within these web pages has many fine examples of that fact. A metal vessel can also turn out very badly if strict attention is not paid to aesthetics during the design and planning of it. This does not imply that a traditionally styled steel vessel should in any way resemble a great white yacht, only that it must remain faithful to the traditional aesthetic sensitivities of its type.

That said, there is something insanely cool about 300 - 400 tons of Borneo Ironwood - it definitely gets your attention...! And there is no denying the romance involved in building, owning and sailing these wooden ships!

We have seen many very beautiful craft throughout Indonesia that have been built per local traditions and for a local purpose. If the builders are left to pursue their own traditional ways, most wooden vessels will turn out very nice aesthetically - provided that a client does not arbitrarily change their proportions for the sake of, say bigger deck houses!


Since the early days of sail, there has been a historic tie between Indonesia and Madagascar. On the walls of the huge Buddhist temple at Borobudur are a number of motifs showing these early sailing craft, many of which were designed specifically for the trade routes between Java and Madagascar and elsewhere in the Indian Ocean.

A recent replica was built to actually re-enact that voyage, which they did, and now that vessel is located in a huge museum next to Borobudur temple. During 2006 while I wasin Java to start construction on the 36m KLM 'Dunia Baru' I actually saw the Borobudur vessel in person. Very primitive, but very impressive!

There have also been historic ties between Indonesia and the boats of the Arabian Sea and India. It is by direct inspiration from the Arabian Dhow that the Pinisi have gotten their rakish shape.

Historically, there have also been influences from the Polynesian craft as well as the craft of Thailand and other parts of SE Asia.


An interesting article on our work with these vessels appeared in the New York Times, called The Traditional Pinisi - And Then Some.

For complete information about our work with these vessels please see the following links, or for more information please inquire.

Our articles about building an Indonesian Pinisi or KLM:
Pinisi History  |  Pinisi Building  |  The Ultimate Charter Pinisi
Sailing vs. KLM Types  |  A Cargo Pinisi as a Yacht...?

Pinisi and KLM designs that we have created or have planned:
30m Pinisi, DATU BUA  |  36m Pinisi, SILOLONA
38m Pinisi, AMANDIRA  |  50m Sailing Pinisi

27m DIVE Charter KLM  |  30m Charter KLM  |  33m Charter KLM
36m KLM, DUNIA BARU  |  40m Charter KLM  |  50m Charter KLM

Descriptions of our adventures with these boats:
Silolona "Homecoming"  |  Indonesia Boatbuilding Images

Five Schooners and Two Arabian Dhows Suited to Building in Indonesia
17m Flores Privateer  |  20m Sulawesi Privateer  |  31m Komodo Privateer
36m Tern Schooner  |  36m Lombok Privateer  |  45m Kalimantan Privateer

22m Arabian Baghala  |  36m Arabian Baghala

Two junk rigged KLM types for construction in steel:
25m Lady Destiny  |  55m Lady Destiny