Traditional Wooden Boat Building in Vietnam

There is not much information about traditional wooden boat building in Vietnam. This is quite bizarre given the historic and life-saving role played in the refugee crisis in Vietnam after the war by wooden boats that brought Vietnamese refugees out from the war-ravaged country. There is one group called the Vietnam Wooden Boat Foundation that is committed to preserving the traditional boat building skills of Vietnam. There is a book that has been translated from the French into English called “Sailboats of Indochina” by J. B. Pietri. This book was originally published in 1943 so you can imagine the wealth of historical detail that it must contain.

The Ghe Nang type of wooden sailing boat was built in the area around Danang in Vietnam. Reports are that it was the fastest sailing boat in Vietnam at the time. The Ghe Nang is double-ended with a slotted stem post at the bow which had a centerboard that could be removed and a special stern post for a removable rudder. These wooden boats were used mainly for driftnet fishing. The special method of boat building is interesting in that the Ghe Nang was built from woven bamboo put onto a wood frame on top.

Traditional Wooden boat builders in Vietnam also used the sewn plank method. In this method the plank shapes are drawn out. Then the planks are sawn, the plank edges are then bevelled. The planks are heated in order to bend them easier, then the planks are joined and holes drilled along the sides of the planks. Joints are sealed with soft bark that expands when it gets in the water. The side planks are held in place by twisted cables. Then the planks are sewn together with rattan strips. Strips of bamboo hold the soft bark caulking in place on the inside. The boat builder continues in this way plank by plank until the hull is completed. The vietnamese boat builders had no plans or drawings but the skills were passed down from father to son.

The places to go to in Vietnam to see wooden boat building in action is Hoi An, which is a popular tourist destination for the wooden boat builders in the old city. Also have a look at Hue, Hanoi, and Ha Long Bay.

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