Dominique Gerardin, owner of the 65.2 metre phinisi superyacht Lamima, on how he achieved his dream of building a yacht in Indonesia.
For 20 years I was a boat captain and I became friendly with one of the clients who was interested in buying the yacht if I stayed on. I told him it was not possible as my wife wanted me to quit the business – and besides, my dream was to build a yacht in Indonesia, for which I needed an investor.
I was very lucky as he loved my design and gave me a big budget, so I built a beautiful yacht based on the traditional Indonesian phinisi from the 1920s – a mix between a Dutch schooner and the local phinisi, with big rigging. Lamima is 65.2 metre long and wide beamed. When we cruise, I like to be in the big net in front of the bowsprit. It makes you feel like you are on a boat from the spice trade 200 years ago.
These boats are built on the beach in Sulawesi. We travelled seven hours in a 4x4 on a tiny road to this virgin forest. It’s very pretty, not at all like a shipyard. It’s all palm trees, white sand and crystal clear water, and then you see these massive boats being built.
The workers are animists – they believe that all things have a soul, and they have many rituals that follow ancestral rules in yacht building. They work with their hands using basic tools, it’s incredible. They don’t sell vacuum cleaners and then become boat builders – they are boatbuilders for life. At 12 years old, the kids go to the site with their dads to carry the tools; at 16 they start to build, and by 20 they are experts.
After I saw that, I said, “Boy, I want to go for a big one!” The boats take nine months to build. The ironwood hull has to sit in seawater to get used to it. Everyone in the village comes out for the launching and they draw a drop of blood from a live rooster and smear it on the keel and the aft. They use the rooster to chase away bad luck. I towed the boat to a shipyard in Bangkok to complete the work. In all, it took three years.
My best memories are times spent with my crew; we are very close. All of our 20 crew are English-speaking Indonesians as we want our charter guests to feel like they are having a truly Indonesian experience. Guests often say they feel like family, and children cry when they leave the boat.
I once took a 10-day trip with a crew member to Raja Ampat to check out charter destinations. We hired two guides, good fishermen and a wooden outrigger. When night came and it was time to eat, we found we had rice but no fish. The guide looked at me. “Dominique, you like grouper?” I said yes and he started sniffing the water like a dog. We went 30 metres and he said, “here!” We dropped the line and caught grouper. Then he asked if I like red snapper. He can’t be lucky twice, I thought. We went about 300 metres, sniff, sniff, dropped the line and caught red snapper. It was like we were in a fish market! I tried it again with my friend from Papua... but it didn’t work.