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What Is a Proa?

Paul Scott
Paul Scott

A proa is a narrow beam, multi-hull sailing vessel typically consisting of hulls of unequal lengths. The mast-equipped hull bears the crew and load, while the second hull acts as a stabilizer. The proa is believed to have originated in Micronesia around the first century and is still popular among local fisherman in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions in the 21st century. These sailing vessels are stable and known for their high-speed capabilities. In fact, the proa has captured the imagination of contemporary marine designers with several sophisticated modern variants based on the design.

The name proa is derived from the Indonesian perahu or Philippines prau, both being words meaning "boat." The design is thought to have originated in the West Pacific region of Micronesia in the mid-first century. Early examples of the proa have also been recorded from as far west as Sri Lanka and Madagascar, and the design is still very popular among fishing communities across the Indo-Pacific and South Pacific Ocean areas. The design is characterized by two very narrow hulls of unequal lengths. The larger of the two hulls is equipped with a single mast rigged with a gaff or crab-claw sail set-up, while the second is attached to the first by cross beams and serves as a stabilizer.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

In terms of size, the proa can range from the diminutive Kor-Kor at approximately 15 feet (4.6 m) to the impressive Walap, which can exceed 100 feet (33 m). The Tipnol is perhaps the most commonly encountered proa variety and is generally between 20 and 30 feet (6.1 and 9.1 m) in length. The torque exerted on the narrow craft by the sail is usually skillfully countered by the crew, who move out along the cross beams between the hulls while underway to balance the vessel. This causes the outboard stabilizer hull, or ama, to skim across the surface of the water rather than cut through it. The exercise can be quite a feat, as the proa is well-known for its speed, with modern high-tech proas having reached in excess of 50 knots (50 miles or 93 km per hour).

It is these new, sophisticated versions that bear out the success of the proa design in general. Built from modern composite materials and fitted with lightweight masts and sail sets, these variations on the original design are exhilaratingly fast and regularly used for racing. The vessel that set the 50-knot record came very close to breaking the all-out water speed record and some new prospects still in development are believed to be capable of exceeding 58 knots (67 miles or 107 km per hour).

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