The schooner America was launched in 1851, and is best known for winning- and giving her name- to the challenge we all know as The America’s Cup. It’s arguably among the most famous schooners ever built.
Pulling into Telaga Harbour, Malaysia, felt a little like entering a time warp. The craggy ridge covered in jungle greens soaring above the bay felt like nothing so much coming into the Marquesas in some distant past. Fuzz your eyes a little to blur the modern boats anchored in the bay, and among the dozen or so vessels scattered through, a beautiful schooner dwarfs the fleet. This boat, Coracle, turns out to be a 2:3 scale replica of the America.
That’s just the beginning of what makes this boat remarkable. Built from bamboo, her owner Dirk Schelling believes she’s the only bamboo-planked schooner in the world.
Coracle is the most recent boat he has built, and she’s the counterpoint to one prior- a 51’ modern cruising boat. He began building after extensive research and thinking about the right boat to comfortably hold his family of five and enable off-the-grid cruising. Being told over and over that “it can’t be done” only convinced him to find out how it could be done. Built upside down on frames, Coracle is strip planked with bamboo over eight structural bulkheads. The bamboo is isolated in a sandwich of fiberglass and epoxy, to prevent water incursion.
Why bamboo? While he’s not out to prove anything, Dirk appreciated the sustainable aspect of this readily renewable resource. In addition to the environmentally friendly aspect of bamboo, it was highly efficient compared to the ‘traditional material- western red cedar- not to mention, dramatically lighter.
Dirk, his wife Michele, and daughters Nicole, Simone, and Brie hail from South Africa. Since launching Coracle in 2011, they’ve been an open ended cruising itinerary. Nicole and Simone were my jogging companions, along with Kathy from Love Song, for many mornings in the harbor. These accomplished women are the “boat guys” in the harbor, with everything from on board skills, to bottom cleaning work, to, well, who doesn’t have a 100 ton captain’s license? (Oh, right, ALMOST ALL OF US).
What’s next for the Coracle crew? Who knows! Which way does the wind blow today? Dirk thinks the boat would make an excellent training vessel (I have to agree, and it definitely comes with the crew quarters to facilitate a team or students). As much as he loves Coracle, he feels the pang to build something else. Then again, there’s the cruising siren call to keep going: we traded notes on points farther east, and shared inforamtion to help them plan a possible move to Papua New Guinea.
I can’t wait to see what happens, and mostly hope it means a path that converges with ours again someday.
For additional information on Coracle’s back story, videos, and more: see their website, www.bambooschooner.com.