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What Is a Jangada?

A jangada is a traditional Brazilian sailing raft, ingeniously crafted from lightweight balsa wood, allowing fishermen to gracefully navigate the coastal waters. Its iconic triangular sail and sturdy platform embody a rich cultural heritage. Discover how this elegant vessel has withstood the test of time, and what secrets it holds within its time-honored design. Ready to set sail on this story?
Soo Owens
Soo Owens

A jangada is a water-borne vessel found in the easternmost region of Brazil. It is a wooden craft, handmade from buoyant lumber, and small in size, into which no more than three to five people will fit. Though the general design of the craft dates back centuries, the Brazilian-made jangada is unique to the region, where its secrets are kept by the artisans who reside there.

There is no one technique for constructing a jangada. The exact specifications vary with each artisan and the materials available in his region. The floor of the craft is made of a strong, low density lumber, such as Brazilian balsa, that is naturally buoyant. Builders use only natural, non-metal components. The baseboards are kept together by large wooden pins created from denser woods, and the ropes used on the craft are woven by hand.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Six separate timbers make up the base of the jangada and are divided into three sets. The innermost pair is called the meios and is attached with hard wood to the mimburas on each side. The outermost logs are called the bordos. The logs are assembled so that the base assumes a slightly parabolic form. Each of the logs is approximately 16.5 to 23 feet (5 to 7 meters) in length, though larger jangadas exist.

Two raised seats are affixed to the mimburas, one at the rear of the craft and one slightly front of center. The central seat is used to hold the mast, while the rear seat, called the master seat, is positioned for the sailor who steers the vessel. The boat is steered with a wooden oar that is situated between one of the mimburas and the meios. A centerboard is placed between the other of the two mimburas and the meios, to correct the ship’s direction and prevent it from veering.

The handmade sail is sewn onto the mast, an unusual technique to employ on a watercraft. Shaped like a triangle, it is called a latin, pronounced lateen, sail. The latin sail allows the craft to travel against the wind, a complicated process that requires constant vigilance from the sailor.

The crew consists of three to five fisherman, each one capable of piloting the jangada. Fishing voyages usually last no more than three days, covering about 30 miles (50 kilometers) over the course of the trip. Rarely, a voyage lasts up to a week and covers about 75 miles (120 km).

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