Leafs in the wind

Posted on Jun 11, 2012

Leafs in the wind

(This is an excerpt from a blog written by Reidar Solsvik during our 2010 expedition, where we sailed a Kabang up the southeastern norwegian coastline. More blogs on this topic to come. )

The Kabang carries one small sail made out of dried palm-leafs, only about 3 m by 3m. With is’s 11 meters of length and wheighing around one ton, this is quite a small sail area to power the Kabang around the coast. Despite this small sail the Kabang made between 5 and 6 nautical miles pr. Hour in a gentle breeze.

Dquring a short cruise at the Risør Wooden Boats Festival, where we showed off the sailing qualities of t3he Kabang to friends and interested spectators, the boat made a whoopping 7 to 8 nautical miles pr hour.

With this speed, using a Kabang-styled vessel, Norwegian Bronze Age mariners could make the crossing between southwest Norway and Denmark to buy bronze, in just one long day.

The only remaining argument against the effectiveness of a small plant-fiber sail is its durability.

A stone-age hill-billy boat amongst mahogny and varnish

Every year the small, beatiful and romantic town of Risør is hosting the Wooden Boats Festival in early August. It gathers hundred of beautiful restored woodqen boats of all classes and types in addition to thousands of jolly and interested boat people from all over Norway.

The Kabang from Surin Island in Thailand was an honoured participant in this year’s festival. It sailed into the harbour as part of the two-boat fotilja opening the festival at 4 o’clock on Friday afternoon. The Kabang was moored next to “Stjernen”, the small motor boat of King Olav the 5. of Norway, in the inner harbour.

We had some very busy days gving people a chance to see and experience the Kabang up close, and to tell them about the Moken culture.

Thanks for the interest shown Risør.

Leafs on the docks

The Kabang was transported from Thailand to Risavika Harbour in Stavanger fully equipped in a 40-feet container.

However, the days prior to closing the container in Kuraburi, Thailand, were hectic and not every aspects of the Kabang were fully finished. A newly made sail of palm-leafs was quickly rolled up and tucked away safely inside the boat, before it was sufficiently dried.

So when the container was opened in Risavika a few circular mould-spots could be seen on the sail, each about 20 cm in diameter. Runar, who is the son of a maritime conservator, repaired the sail during Tall Ships Races in Kristiansand.

Unfortunately, the mold-spots were already beyond a simple repair, so after three full days of sailing and getting wet, the sail needed more extensive repair. The structure of the palm-leafs had been destroyed by the mold and when the sail got wet it disintigrated in these spots.

Before we condemmed it to the trash-bin we decided to challenge TK (Trond Kristian), the motivating force behind Sollerudstranda Boat Building Yard. Could Norwegian maritime craftsmen find a way to repair this ancient-style leaf-sail? The Kabang 2010 challenge was readily accepted and the answer provided. Before long the workshop was busy with various craftsmen doing their bit.

The black-smith forged a needle for seewing the sail, while the carpenter started to chisel long and thin strips of wood. These strips would imitate the hardness and thickness of the damaged palm-leafs. These strips were then sewn on to the damaged spots on the sail.

Today we hoisted the sail once more, starting the leg from Risør to Oslo. We feel almost like a pirate ship when the sail is hoisted, since it’s a mosaic of ancient and modern techniques and of Moken and Norwegian craftsmen. It is exciting to see whether this sail will make it to Oslo, or we have to begin the search for a permanent replacement.

The missing tree

The Moken on Surin Island in Thailand is not allowed to fell trees for making new kabang boats anymore. The whole island is now a nature reserve.

We naturally got excited when archaeologist in West Agder Franz Arne Stylegaard told us about an old oak forest planted as a source for sailing-ship masts near Grimstad. It had been planted in the early 18th century and perhaps it had a tree big enough to sustain a new grat kabang.

With such an old oak tree we might be1 able to continue our project, constructing a kabang-style just as they might have done on the Norwegian coast during the Bronze Age. Then we could give this ship to the Moken on Surin.

We, of course, had to make an expedition. To Grimstad. To look whether a solitude big oak was still growing there. Upon arrival in Skiftenes Nature Reserve the Moken started to ask whether we were pulling their legs. They simply refused to belive that these “small” trees were 300 years old.

None of the oaks were big enough to be the stem of a new great kabang. The forest spirits in Skiftenes may face autumn and winter with peace.

Stone-age boat to the rescue

One of the first decisions taken after we booked the container that was going to carry the Kabang from Thailand to Stavanger was that we needed a boat sailing with us for safty.

This was a decision that now do not seem so wise. Today “kaffe-gumsan” as we call Josefin on the Azahara went down into the pantry to make coffe the water was slowly raising above the floor-boards. We needed to start the pumps. When these were not sufficient, we called in the experienced Tanit, Ngui and Hook from the Kabang, who soon came to our rescue. After half-an-hour with frantic bailing we fixed the problem. This time at least we did not have to sink.

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