Boat Building and Classic Seamanship in Classic Philippine Society


by William Henry Scott


Planks from two ancient Philippine boats were discovered in Butuan in 1976-1977, excavated by the staff of the National Museum, and dated to the 14th century by radiocarbon-14 technology. The boats were edge-pegged and plank-built -- that is, their planks were hand-carved, fastened together by pegs in adjoining edges, and lashed to ribs by means of wooden lugs carved out of the planks themeselves. This is a style of boat building which once extended from the Scandinavia to teh South Pacific from the third century B.C. to the present time in a few remote islands.


By the 16th century, a highly refined plank-built warship had been developed in the Southeast Asia which was called a caracoa in the Philippines. It was a sleek, double-ended vessel 20-25 meters long, with low freeboard and light draft, quarter rudders and tripod masts with square sails, a raised fighting deck amidships, and double outriggers with accommodations for several banks of paddlers. In contrast to Spanish galleons or Chinese junks,the caracoa was especially adapted for carrying warriors at high speed before seasonal winds through reef-filled waters and dangerous currents. It was used mainly for interisland traderaids by harbor princelings with limited capital.


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