The Voyage of the Sarimanok

A ripping good film from 1986 about a wooden ship and a band of iron men… and one woman. Damned good stuff all around. Enjoy.


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17 Responses to The Voyage of the Sarimanok

  1. leith says:

    5000 miles or thereabouts, isn’t it?

  2. F&L says:

    I’m up to minute 15 or so and will finish it later tomorrow. Did he manage to confirm his hypothesis? It’s believable to me simply on the basis of what I think I understand, however incompletely, about the Vikings. Also, based on knowing several Cherokees quite well and studying their photo collections I’m convinced that Europeans had been here interbreeding with Native Americans a very long time ago. I also knew some Seminoles in Florida in the early 70s. I couldn’t see any difference between them and many Europeans except perhaps in height, but there are many short Europeans especially from the Mediterranean countries. Why couldn’t the Carthaginians have beaten Columbus by two millenia or Leif Ericson by slightly less? Shamefully I am simply ignorant of the Pacific except for California, Washington and Oregon. Never been to Hawaii or Japan. I love swimming but the Pacific was too cold except near San Diego. Weird, I grew up on Lake Ontario, cold cold cold. I do have a naive layman’s illusion. based foolishly on travel brochure photos, that the Indian Ocean is in fact much calmer than the Atlantic, which can be very nasty. From the Russians I follow on Instagram who vacation on islands there, it looks idyllic. I guess you need to miss the typhoons. 10 miles a day for 500 days is 5000 miles. So that’s well over a year. 20 m /d is 250 days. Assuming straight path. Also seems tough to avoid monsoon season. I can’t believe over 20 miles per day. Am I wrong? Probably.

    • TTG says:


      The voyage of 5,000 miles or so took around 60 days. That wood and fiber ship must have been making 10 knots most of the time, quite a tribute to the craft design and the seamanship of the crew.

      • F&L says:

        Thanks. During a sleepless night I figured out how abysmally wrong I was. Didn’t look up anything out of stubbornness. I remembered, possibly innacurately that I used to take a college girlfriend from Rochester NY to Letchworth state park by canoe. The distance by car on Google is 54 miles. It seems we did this in one day, maybe 6 hours. Is that possible by canoe? I have no idea. Maybe it took two days and we camped out along the way, she was into camping. 9 mph average by canoe. (-?-) Distance by stream & canal may be less. Google says average canoe speed is 3 mph. Which would have required 18 hrs nonstop. Unlikely. 10 knots is superhuman but looking at those guys I believe it. Their boats are awesome. I had a collection once of recordings of the sacred songs of some South Pacific people which they sang to dedicate war canoes according to the liner notes. Trance inducing and hypnotic. Listened to it endlessly. Maybe that was a factor in some way – our college rowing teams make use of something similar but less magical.

    • Mark Logan says:


      As a comparative story the voyage of Capt Bligh was about 4,700 miles done in 47 days…in a grossly over-loaded 23ft boat. As they the math.

      Some guys kinda sorta tried to duplicate that, but had just a few men in the boat, no doubt a more sophisticated rig, and it took them 60 days. What those old-timers managed beggars the imagination.

      Worth mentioning the first Vikings to hit North America experienced about the same problem which might be the root cause for Capt. Cook’s puzzlement at finding the same languages scattered over nearly 6000 miles east-to-west: “How do we account for these people and culture (polynesian) being so wide spread??”

      The Vikings were going for Greenland and got blown south of the point in several days of storms. Longitude was impossible so the only COA they had was to get back to the proper latitude and hope they hadn’t already passed it…and circling around was deemed unwise. Not going to make much to weather in those seas and winds and would pound the boat to bits trying anyway, so just keep going in a straight line, making tracks and and praying to Odin. Old Samoan saying that translates, roughly, to “Let the wind point the canoe”.

      In both places everyone who failed to hit anything simply disappeared and are an untold tale. We only hear about the ones who made it and left a legacy…even if they were but the lucky 2%.

      • F&L says:

        Mark Logan:

        Captain Bligh totally slipped my mind. Too caught up in the dramas with Marlon Brando and the lovely Tahitian dancers. Never even knew he did that. I’m speechless. Thanks. I confused two lovely Peruvians for Hawaiians this morning at the corner provisioning and coffee outpost. Those Pueblo dwellers in Utah rumored to have no word for time may have been way ahead of us.

        I’m off to find out who Bligh knew back in Blighty, if anyone.

  3. Barbara Ann says:

    Awesome, thanks for sharing TTG. I’d not heard of this incredible voyage, absolutely mind blowing. It makes the Kon-Tiki expedition look positively high tech. Interesting that today’s ocean racing trimarans are essentially of the same basic shape as Sarimanok.

    I find it difficult enough to navigate by compass, never had to use a stick and the sun’s shadow. Keeping themselves and the vessel in more or less one piece and hitting their destination spot on is a testament to truly exceptional seamanship. My favorite part; dead reckoning sea miles by the number of buckets baled (16 buckets a day!).

    Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all – hell yeah. When are you going to get around to doing the Everglades Challenge?

    • TTG says:

      Barbara Ann,

      The navigation was uncanny in its accuracy. The navigator was using various hand and finger measurements with the sun in addition to that neanderthal navigation device. I was pretty good with a map and compass. Orienteering was big when I was in ROTC, but I’d love to learn about some of these navigation methods.

      I’m still yearning for the Everglades Challenge. SWMBO wants no part of it. She’s not into more daring adventures on my part. She’s tired of not knowing where I’ve gone for extended periods and has a better grasp on my mortality than I do. Maybe my younger son and I as a duo may assuage her fears. But there’s no way I’m going to declare I must go where the wild goose goes and do this without her blessing. I owe her that.

  4. leith says:

    Why Bali as a starting point I said to myself? And why build her in the Philippines?

    2nd question I would guess is because that was the only place they could find skilled boatwrights making that type of craft?

    1st question still stumps me. Lots of Hindu influence in Bali. Could that have something to do with it? Indian trade routes are said to have gone from Gujarat to Alexandria in Pliny’s time. Stopping along the way in the Persian Gulf, Yemen, and East Africa. They traveled east also. Bali is testimony to that. Plus the Champa kingdoms in Viet-Nam. In Hoi An and elsewhere in Quang Nam and Quang Ngai and Thua Thien provinces on the central coast. There I saw lots of ancient abandoned temples reminiscent of Hindu architecture. China? They must have traded there for silk by sea routes in addition to or before(?) the Silk Road. But Malagasy DNA and languages appear to have large slices of Austronesian/Indonesian/Polynesian/Micronesian with very little if any Indian DNA in the mix. So I’ll accept Bali but some historians seem to think Borneo is a better fit for the first to settle in Madagascar. Dayaks? Were they sailors, I thought they were more of a slash-and-burn farming people?

    • F&L says:

      Ever see that famous Australian scary movie “The Last Wave” by Peter Weir, Starring Richard Chamberlain aka Doctor Kildaire? The aborigines have knowledge of a secret cave with bizarre inscriptions which were left by Aliens which predict the end of the world but they can’t quite decipher it. A witch doctor and master of dream time sees in a vision that somewhere in Sydney or another big Australian city, that a man has just disembarked from an airplane who has a special gift that will allow him to decipher the time of “The Last Wave” which the aborigines think is a tidal wave which will destroy all life on the planet but is actually nuclear war Armageddon. That man is portrayed by Richard Chamberlain as an American lawyer. Etc.

      I mention it because the Indian ocean boatsmen may have been in search of something like that – a secret cave left behind by aliens which they knew of through their own ancient lore.

    • Mark Logan says:


      Anyplace in Indonesian would serve. I suspect they chose Bali because of the proximity of a major airport to the water there. The crew came from all over the world.

      Notice they were going downwind the whole way, and the nature of their vessel compelled this course. It is easy to imagine a vessel being blown south by a storm finding itself in the re-established seasonal trade winds…with no way to beat back north. Compelled to follow those winds and hope they carry you into something before the food and water run out.

      It must have been a large enough group to have multiple females so there was a chance at a viable population on Madagascar. I can easily imagine the same fate falling upon multiple vessels over the span of centuries. Plausible one or two found themselves up the same creek with the same paddle and lucking out every century or so.

  5. English Outsider says:

    Epic, TTG. We watched and thought, not one for the children to see. Just in case they get ideas…

    Amazing, making such an accurate landfall. Also amazing getting there in one piece. I reckon the original sailors would have used a craft they’d already used on fishing trips or for shorter journeys, so they knew whether it would hold together well before they set off.

    The first to make the crossing must have got back, somehow, just to tell others it could be done. Else they’d be forever sending ships off into the blue and no idea whether there was any point to it. This argues, perhaps, for the roundabout coastal route instead of the direct route, at least for the first period of settlement. Doing a shorter stretch first and then, when that paid off and the route became established, some daring soul trying the next bit.

    And whichever route they took, they would maybe have sailed in a fleet rather than in single ships. Cut the risk if one founders and more of them to cope with hostile groups should they meet one.

    Those people in that video were mad. Stark staring mad. Cheering that there are such lunatics around – a man’s reach should exceed his grasp and all that – but hope they all of them try no more such ventures. Also hope the pretty nutritionist got to do some of the steering by the end.

  6. leith says:

    TTG –

    Off topic, but a former SpecOps guy & old small boat aficionado like you might be interested in Ukraine’s new combat kayak. Perfect for raids and/or ambushes. Two man, 480kg capacity, paddle or near-silent electric motor. The 40-mm automatic grenade launcher has a range of two km.

    May not operate on the Dnipro anytime soon. With those eskimo skirts it looks like it could also be seagoing in coastal waters. And there are plenty of rivers, streams, canals & estuaries leading into occupied areas: Tokmak/Melitopol or Berdiansk fronts come to mind, or further east on the Donetz & tributaries in the Donbas. Or use them on the Bug/Dnipro estuary and the Konka. Later they would be darn good night raiders on the shores of the shallow Syvash lagoons bordering the north & NE of Crimea.

    Sorry for the stream of conscientiousness i posted above at 10:52. Didn’t mean to take away from that awesome flic. I hope all that talking to myself is not a sign of early onset.

    • TTG says:


      I saw that kayak with the 40mm automatic grenade launcher. It looked top heavy to me. They’re going to need those paddles to stay upright, especially when they start shooting. Looks like a modern day version of a duck punt.

      My team did a training mission once with Klepper kayaks from Provincetown to Everett, MA. It was most of a day and night paddle to recon/hit the LNG terminal. No electric motors. Just paddles.

      • leith says:

        Surely they counterbalanced it? Or they will after field trials.

        There can be some rough water between P-town & Beantown.

        • TTG says:


          That’s 75 pounds plus sitting on the deck. There’s only so much counterbalancing you can do in a kayak, primarily the asses of the two Ukrainians sitting in the kayak along with their paddling skills.

          Yes that bay was rough, but doing it as a school of six boats was reassuring.

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