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Sunday August 25, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday August 25, 2013 MYT 3:24:02 PM
by vanes devindran
Piece de resistance: Raymondo with his winning jong, the Sri Astana.
IT has been said that the mastery of a craftsman knows no boundaries.
A spark of passion is all it takes to motivate the hands to work their magic and build intriguing masterpieces.
And 80-year-old Raymondo Allas proves this to be true even to this very day through his beautifully chiselled sail boats — or locally known as jongs — which he makes in his little woodwork shed at home.
From the smooth and polished curvature of the hull to the grand mast that holds the majestic sails in place, not only are his custom-made models a sight to behold, but they are also strong competitors in the annual Jong Regatta held at Tasik Biru in Bau, near Kuching.
Here, Raymondo talks to Sarawak Spotlight more about his interest in jong making and how he sees the regatta’s future in Sarawak.
Question: How did it all start?
Answer: I am actually a photographer by profession and I began my career with Sarawak’s very first Governor, Sir Charles Arden Clarke along with other prominent figures of the state. In fact, I was also the official photographer for the weddings of Head of State Tun Muhammad Salahuddin’s children.
My passion for jong making, however, was sparked when I went to the regatta back in the 1960s. It was there that I became fascinated by these little sail boats. Come to think of it, I have always had a passion for building little boats as a craft during my schooling years. So I guess the regatta re-ignited that fascination.
Did someone teach you how to make the jong?
No, I was self-taught. I started straight away building my first serious jong and I wanted to be able to compete with the rest in the regatta. My first boat, Bulwark, was named after a British carrier which was used to transport helicopters back in the old days.
It was simple in design but it sailed well. During the competition, Bulwark actually crossed the finish line first but somehow it was announced that I came in second, which was weird. I remember that it was very windy that day and many other boats capsized.
What happened after that?
Although there was nothing much that could be done, I went on to maintain the design of my boat because it had proven to be successful. Later on, I tweaked the design a little by studying the Cutty Sark, a famous sailing boat at that time. I incorporated this design into that of the Class A Skunar jong.
Since then, I continue to participate in every regatta and have constructed more than 16 jongs.
Can you walk us through the process of building a jong?
A: I used to carve these jongs out of the wood from the pelaie tree, which is said to be perfect for constructing the boats due to its light weight. However I have stopped using pelaie wood because a slight error in carving or chipping can result in an unstable jong. It is, after all, a delicate process that requires sharp accuracy. I have replaced pelaie with plywood, which is much easier to work with. Furthermore, it gives the jong better stability.
On the process, you need to build the frame first before working the plywood on it. A lot of maths and science goes into this (laughing).
Of course as a craftsman, I do have trade secrets that I cannot reveal. Each jong maker has his own style that determines how well the boat will sail. As a jong sails, there should be less dragging or friction to enable smooth sailing. The secret is in the building and also the finishing touches.
How long does it take to build a jong, and is there any ‘right’ time to build one?
Most people take six months to build a jong. It all depends on how skilled you are as well as the technique and equipment used. As for me, I can build a boat within two to three months because usually, I already have the picture of how I want it to look like in my mind before making it. There is also no “right” time to build a jong — any day can be the right time. If I want to build a jong today, I will go fetch my tools and start working on one. It is all about passion and interest.
I hear that your sons are very supportive of this passion of yours. Do they also help you with the designs?
Yes. My son Marcus, who works at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, uses his expertise to study wind patterns while my eldest, Arthur, works on the design of the boats with me. There have been times when I feel like skipping a regatta but Arthur would constantly encourage me against it. My youngest son, Norman, also gives me the support that I need.
Do you compete in every Jong Regatta?
Every year since I first entered it. It is the best platform to test my jongs to determine whether they have been built well and from there later, I would improve on the new ones. The regatta features the Skunar, Bandong, Barong, Kotak and Skuci categories which differ from each other by way of the shape and the number of mast the jongs have. These categories are further sub-divided into two groups namely A and B — the former is for jongs that measure four to six feet in length while the latter comprise those that are two to four feet long.
You see, there’s not much that you can change in terms of designs because you need to adhere to the specifications in order to race in the stated categories. What makes the difference is the angling of the sails in accordance with the wind direction.
I can’t compete in all the categories because I don’t have enough manpower to do so. A jong needs at least two person to handle it during a race.
What was your most memorable moment throughout your years of competing?
My speciality lies in the Skunar A category. I think I have won 13 times and even my counterpart in Bau, veteran jong maker Bojeng Lamat, concedes that I am top in this category.
I won the category using my Sri Astana. That boat is around 60 years old and I got her from a friend who initially wanted to throw it away. I took Sri Astana and did some improvement to her. Little did I know she would sail on to win me the Skunar A title 13 times in the regatta.
My sweetest memory would have to be when I won the “Best Decorated Kotak Jong”. I never expected it but that was my first major win. The name of that jong was Mas Gading.
Do you see the sport picking up in Sarawak?
It is hard to say. I personally think it’s a dying sport because of the simple reason that it is not experiencing any creative change. Most jong makers continue to stick to tradition and prefer to keep their designs just as it has always been. I remember Tasik Biru assemblyman Datuk Peter Nansian, who has been actively promoting the Jong Regatta all this while, calling on jong makers to be innovative in their designs and inject something new into the regatta to capture the interest of the younger generation. But they (jong makers) do not seem to heed this call. I guess they don’t see the need to change, which is really a shame for it is a very good sport for all to take up.
In other words, it is not sitting well with the younger generation?
Sad to say, not really. No doubt the regatta is growing in scale but we have yet to reach the level of sail boat tournaments in other countries like the one in Jakarta, Indonesia.
There must be more efforts to raise the bar of our regatta and promote the sport further.
If you were to sell your sail boats, how much would they fetch?
The going price will be at least bet-ween RM5,000 and RM6,000 apiece. My son, Norman, used to ask me if I ever felt like selling my creations.
I do not. As long as I continue to compete in the regatta, I will never sell any of my jongs because each has my special touches that makes it capable of competing with others.
They are all seaworthy.
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