Fully-loaded pinisi shortly before departure

Bau Bau

16 June 2014

Bau-Bau is a small seaside city on Buton island in East Sulawesi. A city like hundreds of others in the Indonesian archipelago. Everything that doesn’t come from farming such as rice, corn, sago, copra, tobacco, coffee or sugarcane, or from the forest or the sea, has to be shipped to Bau-Bau and to the over 6,000 other inhabited islands. Everything from nails to electronics, from locally unavailable fresh produce to motorcycles, from smartphones to dried milk.

Satisfying the ever-growing demand for products involves tremendous efforts and complicated logistics. The Bau-Bau port of Murhum is a bustling transhipment point for goods and passengers. Vessels of all shapes and sizes sail in and out of the harbour. Perahus . Speedboats with cafeteria and karaoke room. Liners for over a thousand passengers plying a regular service to Makassar, Surabaya, Kijang, Namlea, Ambon, Ternate, Balikpapan and Bitung. Passenger ships to smaller ports in Sulawesi. Commuter canoes. Fishing boats. Container ships. Supertankers bound for Surabaya and Semerang. Ferries for passengers and cars running every two hours to neighbouring islands like Waara, Dongkala, Kassipute, Raha or Kendari.

There is a teeny-tiny port between Murhum and the ferry terminal. Only five or six pinisis (traditional two-masted sailing ships), hardly 7 or 8 metres long, lay at anchor here. We want to catch a ride! We take a canoe over to one of the ships to inquire, but for once we’re out of luck: a pinisi jam-packed with sailors and canned food left last night bound for Ternate in the Moluccas, 550 nautical miles away. And the next one won’t be leaving for another ten days. We don’t want to wait that long, though, so we fall back on the liner.

[1]A swift sailboat with a triangular sail and single outrigger.