Bedar (ship)

The term bedar, (in Terengganu spelled "bedor"), is applied to a wide variety of boats of the east coast of Malaysia that carry one or two junk sails and lack the typical transom stern of the perahu pinas. These junk rigged boats are usually built in the Terengganu area. The stern of the bedar is a classical "canu" or "pinky stern," being a typical "double ender", a bit like a modern ship's lifeboat, with a very full turn of the bilge and with markedly raked stem and stern. They came in small versions as fishing canoes - anak bedar (Malay to English: child)[1] and were built as big as 90 feet over deck (LOD). The majority of the bedars were usually 45 to 60 feet (13.7-18.3 m) over deck. The bedar, like all Terengganu boats, was built of Chengal wood by the Malays since the 19th century and roamed the South China Sea and adjacent oceans as a highly seaworthy traditional sailing vessel.


The Malay word bedar means an elongated and flattened beak, broadening towards the tip (i.e. like the bill of a platypus).[2]


The bedar is a sailing junk that is mainly built in the kuala (English: rivermouth)[3] of the Terengganu River. The largest bedars, up to 90 feet (27 m) long, were used to navigate to distant ports; they were also used to prey on Chinese cargo vessels traveling between Singapore or from China. Most bedars carried a platform over the sharp stern section called the "dandan" that carried a round cabin made of bamboo, rattan and tikal matting and served as living quarters for the crew and as shelter for the helmsmen. The bedars below 45 feet in length over deck carried a round cabin just aft of the main mast while the bigger ones had a flush deck with two loading hatches.

The smaller and medium-sized bedars often had a fine slanting projecting prow of various lengths and a short one at the similarly built stern. The bowsprit was resting on top of this forward projection which is called sudu (English: spoon/goose beak/duck's bill)[4]

The boats equipped with a sudu were referred to as bedar luang sudu (English: spare spoon)[5] or bedar sudu itek (English: duck's bill)[6] The conspicuous sheer (ship) of the bedar varied as well. The smaller ones with a long projection having more sheer and the bigger ones with a short sudu and short sheer. Bedars above 70 feet (21 m) rarely carried a long sudu but featured almost straight stem and stern posts, very much like the bedar Dapat.[7]

Like the pinas, the bedar over 45 feet/13.7 m (LOD), carried two masts, one in the bow, called "topan", slightly raked forward; The main mast, called "agung" was placed a bit forward of the center of the boat. The bedar had a very long bowsprit, slightly bent downwards by the bobstay.[7] Both masts carried a fully battened lug or "junk-sail" of typical Chinese design. These sails were not made of cloth but of a matting material called "tikal" that is also used for floor matting and other purposes. Like most junk sails the battens were made of bamboo, usually creating 6 individual panels to the sail. The halyard was attached almost in the middle of the sail, and since the luff, or edges, of the sail was nearly straight and only about half the length of the markedly convex leech, the yard, when hoisted, was sitting in an angle of about 15° - 20° with the vertical.[7]

The foresail was set on the port side of the topan and the mainsail on the starboard side of the agung. A relatively small jib was set on the bowsprit. All bedars, even those up to or more than 80 feet (24 m) were steered by a tiller with a pulley block system easing the strain on a conventional rudder hinged on the stern post. This tiller was operated from within the round cabin (cup) on the dandan platform over the stern. The hold stored cargo.[7]

These boats sailed best with the wind on the quarter or just aft of the beam. Since the sails are fully battened and may be set almost at a right angle to the boat, they were able to set the topan sail to windward, sailing wing to wing, as soon as the wind was well aft of the beam. Going to windward was not the strong point of those junk rigged vessels, since the junk rig performs less efficiently to windward as the modern Bermuda sail or the Gaff sail and the hulls of the cargo freighters were well rounded and offered little lateral resistance.

The hull of the bedar is influenced by the Arab dhow with their long raked stemposts and the dows often being double ended vessels.[7] These picturesque boats had been plying the South China Sea for centuries and the last few were still used as sailing freighters in the 1980s.

In direct comparison with the pinas it can be said that the bedar was the faster and more seaworthy boat with excellent abilities to lay hove to in heavy weather.

Building technique

The bedar boats of Terengganu are built using indigenous Malaysian techniques to build wooden boats. They build without plans, hull first, frames later. The planks are fire bent and joined edge on edge (carvel) using "basok" (wooden dowels) made from Penaga-ironwood (Mesua ferrea). Rather than the European style caulking hammered into a groove between the planks, a strip of kulit gelam (English: paperbarks skin)[8] of the Melaleuca species is placed over the dowels before the new plank is hammered home. This 1 – 2 mm layer of a natural material has remarkable sealing properties.[7] It is an ancient and unique building technique, the origins of which might date back to the Proto-Malay migrations that colonised the archipelago thousands of years ago.


The tradition of building wooden boats in modern Malaysia reaches far back in time, involving overseas trade, fishing, piracy, travelling up the many rivers. For each purpose they developed a special design.[9]

With Malacca becoming the main trading centre for the spices arriving from the Moluccas Islands (Indonesia), the Malay Peninsula turned into a melting pot of the seafaring, trading civilisations: Indians and Chinese, Arabs and Indonesians, Vietnamese and Thai, Burmese, Europeans and others, they all arrived in their distinctive craft, inspiring the Malay shipbuilding.[9]

The two “Perahu Besar”, (English: big boat)[10] of Terengganu, the pinas and the bedar are the result of this cultural interchange. Jib and bowsprit of the two are of western origin, with junks almost never carrying one.[7]

The desire for the ever faster and more manoeuverable vessel, combined the positive elements and created these junk hybrids.

The boatbuilders of Terengganu were rediscovered during the Second World War by the Japanese navy who had wooden minesweepers built there by the carpenters and fishing folks.[9]

Since that time the Malays have stopped building sailing boats for their own use; They kept manufacturing fishtrawlers and ferries using old techniques. Rising timber prices and lack of demand forced one after the other yard out of business, so today this tradition is on the brink of extinction, with very few able craftsmen still practicing this rare old building technique.

After the Second World War was over, Duyong Island boatbuilding was again enjoyed by traditional boat enthusiasts from western countries. There were 5 bedars built for westerners since 1945:[11]

Name of boat Builders (shipyard) LOD Year built Original owner Country
Foxy Lady Haji Nik 36 ft (11 m) 1949 Dominique France
Burong Bahri Che Man 32 ft (9.8 m) 1976 Jerry Williams New Zealand
Anak Duyong Che Man 36 ft (11 m) 1980 Steven Bisset Australia
Naga Pelangi Che Ali bin Ngah 45 ft (14 m) 1981 Christoph Swoboda Germany
Raja Laut Che Ali bin Ngah 45 ft (14 m) 1982 Uli Horenkohl Germany

See also


  1. "Google Translate Malay to English - anuk". Retrieved 2013-11-28.
  2. Smyth, H. Warrington (May 1902). "Boats and Boat Building in the Malay Peninsula". Journal of the Society of Arts. 50: 569–588 via JSTOR.
  3. "Google Translate Malay to English - kuala". Retrieved 2013-11-28.
  4. "Google Translate Malay to English - sudu". Retrieved 2013-11-28.
  5. "Google Translate Malay to English - sudu". Retrieved 2013-11-28.
  6. "Google Translate Malay to English - itek". Retrieved 2013-11-28.
  7. Cargo Boats of the East Coast of Malaya, Gibson-Hill, C.A. (1949), JMBRAS 22(3), p106-125
  8. "Google Translate Malay to English - kulit gelam". Retrieved 2013-11-28.
  9. Keeping the Tradition of Boatbuilding Alive, Keith Ingram, Magazine: Professional Skipper March/April 2007, p70
  10. "Google Translate Malay to English - Perahu Besar". Retrieved 2013-11-28.
  11. Boats, Boatbuilding and Fishing in Malaysia, The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, MBRAS 2009, p349/350
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