The Lepalepa
Bugis Outrigger Sailing Canoe of Sulawesi

The Bugis ethnic group of Sulawesi are famous for their maritime exploits. These exploits once included enough piracy to inspire our word "boogey-man" or "bogey-man". Today their huge fleet of wooden "Pinisi" ships carry freight all around the islands of S.E. Asia. Less known are their outrigger canoes. Here's one particularly cute example of the "Lepa-lepa". Syamsuryadi aka "Syamsu" built it in 1999 for fishing. It carries one person and is one of the fastest canoes in the village. "as fast as a motorboat". He keeps it on the beach across from his house in the village of Sapolohe on the outskirts of the shipbuilding village of Bontobahari, in Bulukumba district of Sulawesi, near Bira at the southern tip of the island. He kindly let me measure it and hopefully people all over the world will start building their own.

The main hull is 12ft 9in long from tip to tip
max hull beam at sheer including splash rails 22"
hull to outrigger distance 48" on centerlines.
The outrigger is bamboo 13ft long, 3.8" dia at rear beam, 3.4" diameter at front beam. It has a slight upward curve, has been smoothed with a plane, and is toed out from the centerline of the hull by 1.5 degrees.
The canoe weighs about 100?lbs and carries the 140lb Syamsu, his tackle, and a day's catch of fish.

Photos Click on any photo to see a bigger hi-res version.

tari or panambera		
panta perahu			
punaha layar			
ponoto somang		
tompa sankilang		
sompat layar			
ama or outrigger
aka or crossarms
bamboo fore-aft pole lashed across akas
mast thwart
carved tip of outrigger
upper rudder support- looks like horns
lower rudder support
sail rest

Rudder, Tiller and Sankilang

Syamsu demonstrates how the rudder is attached. The loop of blue cord is hung over a peg on the front of the top bracket. The white cord is wrapped around and the quickrelease stick in his hand is tucked under the top bracket(sankilang). For a surf landing this stick is released and the rudder is held in place by upward pressure on the tiller. That way the rudder won't break if it hits the ground. The tiller can be easily pulled out of the hole in the rudder for stowage. It's inserted sideways in this photo, Syamsu's little boy is helping and he's still learning. Sankilang is pronounced "song key long"

Sail Rig
mast head
mast and boom attachment
end of boom.
The spars are solid-core bamboo, apparently dendrocalamus strictus. They are slightly curved, possibly from use. More likely they were intentionally made this shape while green. These curves are very pronounced in Caroline islands canoes and it would be interesting to see wind tunnel tests. Mr. Marchaj, are you reading this?

The sail is made from polypropylene tarp. The sailcloth has become stretched (and stretchy) from use. It's impossible to tell what edge rounding was once cut into the luff and foot. The leech follows the threadline exactly, so it was once straight. Probably the sail has been re-hemmed and re-laced to remove excessive belly. The sail is approximately flat now. If you're cutting a new sail, make the leech straight, make the luff parallel to the mast, and cut an inch or so of extra cloth into the front half of the foot, just like the riwuit sail elsewhere on this site. The mast partner (aka socket) holds up the boom, producing a little bit more belly than is implied by the pictures of the sail stretched flat on the ground.
The sheet, shrouds, and anchor line are all 1/4" hard polypropylene 3-strand twisted cord. Probably in light wind no stays are used. One shroud is the forestay. The other stay may go to the overhanging end of the front aka, the outrigger side of the front aka, or the cord tied to the hole in the aft aka, depending on the point of sail.

This bench goes in front of the back beam. There are carved lugs projecting on the inside of the hull for it to rest on. The split-bamboo lattice is only attached at the front. It can be lifted to stow lunch and fish underneath, or keep a live crab or lobster from running away. The sticks are interlaced with monofilament to make them like a roll-top desk cover. There's also another little block-and-board bench to rest ontop this one so you can sit at gunwale height.

Taking the lines. The kids are having a good time. Their fingers indicate section shot 11. This technique is from the book "Clean Sweet Wind".
Syamsu, children and friends.

Boats Nearby

A similar canoe about 12 ft. long on the beach between Bira and Marumasa on the east side of the peninsula. There are several just like it in a row here as well as paddling canoes with the same hull. Very low freeboard and no splash rails. Note the sankilang (rudder support) Some are very elaborate. The bamboo cup will hold a hurricane lamp made from a plastic bottle for night fishing. This canoe is a one-piece dugout. Syamsu's is a seven-part canoe, with a dugout bottom, a wash strake on each side, bow pieces at each end and splash rails/gunwale caps running the length.

One of several one-legged paddling canoes on the beach at Marumasa. They also use them without the outrigger and stay upright by magic.
Smoothing a bamboo outrigger, Marumasa
Sulawesi double outrigger fishing canoes. Thousands line the beaches between Makassar and Tanaberu.

Tana Beru beach south of Bontobahari. Wooden ships being built as far as the eye can see. Third from right is "Nagasaki Dream" a Japanese man's floating hotel project. Stalled for lack of funds after spending about $60,000us according to my informant. Make an offer? Lots of worm proof ironwood in it, and those trees are all gone from Sulawesi and Borneo now. By the time you read this they'll be gone from Papua too and you'll be spending all your money on air to breathe. All because Americans bought too many futon couches made from tropical hardwood.

The Rhino 3.0 CAD files of the canoe are in this directory of drawings, along with the 2d drawings in various formats. Many more photos of the canoe are here.

c.Tim Anderson 2004