Blueprints are alien to traditional boat maker Haji Abdullah Muda but his sturdy vessels are much sought after by customers from around the world.
Story and pictures by SAGER AHMAD and ROSLIN MAT TAHIR
HAJI Abdullah Muda doesn’t look any different from the other old men in his kampung but the 68-year-old is a master craftsman of boats.
Not only that but he builds his boats without a blueprint. Better known as Haji Lah, he belongs to that rare breed of boat builders who builds the boats from visuals in his mind.
“As soon as a customer tells me the specifications, like the length and size, I would already have a picture of the boat in my head,” he said.
He specialises in boats made of cengal timber, a local hardwood that can literally weather any storm. He has lost count of the number of boats he has built and the closest he has to a record is a list of some 50 names scribbled on a tattered sheet of paper. His customers come from
He has no fancy workshop either, just a yard with a makeshift shed under which we found him making repairs to a big boat.
Boat building was very much in demand once on Pulau Duyung (
More than 100 years ago, Terengganu was a vassal state of Siam and every three years, had to send tribute in the form of Bunga Emas and Bunga Perak (gold and silver flowers) in beautifully-decorated boats to the Siamese court. According to Haji Lah, that might have contributed largely to the boat-making tradition of Terengganu.
“There used to be about 20 boat builders on Pulau Duyung but now there are only three left, partly because there are not many projects,” he said.
“Moreover, cengal is scarce and the price has gone up many times with supplies coming mainly from
The Terengganu payang, a traditional fishing boat, used to adorn the RM1 bank note that went out of circulation in the early 1980s. Today, you can still take a ride on a payang as 10 of them are being used to ferry tourists on sightseeing cruises around
All 10 were built by Haji Lah, a job that took him only 11 months. However, for a big luxury vessel, the job can take up to 24 months to complete.
Costing about RM1 million each, Haji Lah’s leisure boats are a bargain for foreigners as it would otherwise cost them about four times more in their own country. “My job is only to build the superstructure – which is 100 per cent cengal – while the wiring and instruments will be installed by the owner. Some rich owners even want the deck and furniture made from the hardy jati wood,” he said.
Meanwhile, the State Government hopes to set up a training centre on the island to help preserve traditional boat making skills.
Pulau Duyung was thrust into the limelight recently with the Monsoon Cup 2005, part of the Swedish Match Tour Series 4. Twelve teams in 12 sailing boats took part in the race, dubbed as the “F1 of sailing”. Australian Peter Gilmour emerged champion in a race under unpredictable and tricky wind conditions.
The event, held at the mouth of Sungai Terengganu (adjacent to Pulau Duyung) from Nov 27 to Dec 4 during the monsoon period, attracted locals and foreigners during what was traditionally a low season for tourists in the East Coast.
The Monsoon Cup was the initiative of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who wanted to put Terengganu on the world sailing and tourism map. The event was beamed via satellite to over 200 million homes in 175 countries worldwide.
Preparations for the Monsoon Cup included the building of a
The event also brought attention to a new property development project on Pulau Duyung, which had already attracted the rich and famous. Ferrari chief Jean Todt and fiancée Datuk Michelle Yeoh, Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan and World F1 champion driver Michael Schumacher will be building holiday homes at the
The success of the Monsoon Cup was what probably influenced the celebrities in their decisions. Also on the cards are plans to transform the island into a resort with six-star accommodation, a 300-berth marina and more strategic residential and leisure development.
While worried about how all this would affect their laidback lifestyle, the locals of Pulau Duyung generally welcomed the economic possibilities that the development would bring.
Boat makers are hoping that the presence of the international community will resurrect the industry. The likes of Haji Lah may no longer be around in years to come but with development, his legacy may survive the test of time.
Pulau Duyung is located at the mouth of Sungai Terengganu. It’s five minutes by boat from Shah Bandar Jetty in Kuala Terengganu. You can also go via an exit from the
Tourists can visit an old fort called Kota Lama Duyung that once belonged to a Datuk Biji Sura. A signboard in English, Malay, Chinese and Japanese, informs visitors that “
Made of bricks and intricately carved wooden panels, it boasts of nine roofs that cover several inter-connected parts of the building such as the kitchen, bathroom, veranda and a small bridge.
Intricate carvings on the veranda give the building the feel and look of several types of traditional Malay homes known as “Bujang Berepeleh”, “Lima Bungkus” and ‘Potong Belanda’.