Articles/The enduring craft of shipbuilding in the Kingdom

The enduring craft of shipbuilding in the Kingdom

سفن المملكة قديماً بناها أمهر القلافين لتجوب البحار والمحيطات

08 MAR 2020


Source: Abeer Al-Amoudi

One handicraft that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is famous for and which is perhaps not so well-known internationally is shipbuilding, also known as Kallaf or Jilf. Shipbuilders use tree bark to build vessels of varying sizes; the craft is still practiced today.

Shipbuilding in the Eastern Province

The Arabian Gulf region is responsible for producing the most skilled Kallaf craftsmen who built sturdy merchant ships that successfully crossed seas and oceans to countries like India and Pakistan without suffering any damage.

The manufacture of wooden ships requires a high level of experience and professionalism. The manufacturing process begins with preparing raw materials that vary according to the ship’s type and design. Completing the basic construction of the ship can take a long time; the front of the hull is manufactured first, then the back, and finally the side and interior panels. Once that process is finished, the deck of the ship is constructed.

After the ship is completed, sails are cut from special fabric and strengthened with thick ropes; all the edges of the sail are stitched using a large needle that ensures tautness. Before the ship hits the sea, it is painted with a varnish to protect it from damage and increase its brightness.

Ship types

Al-Jarwi: A one-deck ship divided into chambers to store provisions and designed for fishing away from the coast.

Al-Houry: A vessel made for fishing near the coast.

Sailing ships: Large ships consisting of two decks and specifically designed for travel. Jeddah is famous for making this type of vessel.

Ship sails 

The ship sails industry specializes in detailing and sewing traditional sails. A skilled person working in this industry is called a “sails detailer”, who calculates the dimensions of the sail with high accuracy and craftsmanship, in line with recognized industry standards.