Tribute to The Pompong

by Guest Blogger

November 1, 2007

The following posting is from Hayden who is at our Forest Defenders Camp. Learn more about the camp and threats to Indonesian forests.

I wanted to write a quick web log entry about our major means of transportation here in this corner of Sumatra: the pompong

The pompong is THE means of transport on the rivers here.  In fact, it’s the only type of boat that I’ve seen on the Cinaku and Indragiri rivers.

pompong The pompong is a custom made boat that is long and narrow, and comes in a variety of sizes.  What they all have in common is an old school inboard diesel engine that can be heard from over a mile away.  The engines have no electrics.  It is started with a crank, just like the old cars.  And being a diesel there are no spark plugs involved. The engine is then connected to a shaft that runs through the hull at a very shallow angle and sits just behind the middle of the boat.  This protects the prop from river debris, which is important since the rivers here are almost swamps.   It also allows the boat to go in very shallow waters, which is important for the work of the pompong.  They use these boats for transport, fishing, and shipping.

The steering system is very basic, like everything on the boat.  It uses two ropes that wrap around the steering column that then run back to the rudder.  While the potential for steering failure is high, any problems can be fixed while on the water.  I’ve been witness to this, as we lost steering through a narrow canal, but they merely retied the ropes and we were off again.

pompong On Cedar and JJ’s trip back to Rengat yesterday they actually lost the rudder.  Luckily they were close to the village of Kuala Cinaku.  The driver of the boat disembarked and disappeared in the bushes and reappeared about 30 minutes later with a new rudder.  Having a standardized vessel for the entire region makes finding spare parts easier.

The name of the boat is derived from the sound that they make: pompongpompongpompong…

They are so loud it sounds like a helicopter approaching, and I’m sure some of the pompong drivers have long term hearing loss, as the sound can be deafening.

And the last feature of the ponpong is that anything goes; anything can be towed, no lifejackets required, smoking is allowed, even if you’re sitting on the gas tank, and the capacity of the boat is as many people as can fit. This morning, on our way to the damming site, we fit about 15 people on the boat, and then towed two canoes full of people. We managed to get a crew of about 30 to the work site in one trip.

The pompong is what keeps things moving (incluging Greenpeace) here in Riau.

– Hayden 

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