The Flying Karakoa

The Karakoa was a sleek Philippine warship that was smooth and swift in comparison to the Spanish galleons. The long streamline design of the hull made the vessel 3 times faster than any Spanish galleon.

The Spanish navigated around the islands in a Karakoa and father Combes, one of the first Spanish Fryars to document early Philippine history (1667-70) wrote this describing the ship:

"The care and technique with which they build them makes their ships sail like birds, while ours are like lead in comparison."

Obviously amazed at the skill and craftsmanship that went into building this vessel father Combes seemed to show a fascination for the people.

The Karakoa Sketch

When I first read the book Barangay by William Henry Scott I was fascinated with the sketch of the Karakoa in the middle of the book. Examining the details of the vessel with the long housing structure on the deck the structure looks like it could have been used for both lodging and storage. as well. The ship could have also been used for trade.

I imagined the ship builders as they were crafting this boat. Where did they get the knowledge and skills to build such a ship? What tools did they use? What were the materials? How was the sail made, what was the fabric made of? I realized how meticulous the building of this ship must have been. The craftsmanship was surely something to acknowledge that our ancestors were not as primitive as first led to believe. The one thing that surprised me the most is that they didn't use any nails.
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How the Karakoa Warship was Built

The sleek design was made for speed perfect in shallow waters around the coasts of the Philippines. On the other hand, the Spanish galleons were built for long journeys across oceans and could not match the speed and maneuverability of the Karakoa. As a matter of fact, the Spanish employed the use of the Karakoa to sail around and explore the rest of the Philippine Islands.

The hull of the Karakoa was hand carved into long curved planks called strakes out of a solid piece of wood fastened together with wooden dowels between planks and a system of hard wooden pegs and hemp bindings on the inside of the hull to keep the strake planks together. Impeccable attention to detail went into building the hull to make it seaworthy as the vessel measured more than 80 feet in length.

Notable features were 2 paddling decks on each side of the hull with 2 battle decks above the rowing decks. A housing structure was centered along the hull on a single deck possibly used for storing weapons or goods for trading. There was a tripod mast for stability of the large sail. This boat was built for short distance travel between islands.

This was a Visayan warship carrying warriors covered with tattoos yielding elaborate weapons ready to do battle.