Oval in shape and very similar to half a walnut shell, the Vietnamese coracle boat is made with a framework of interwoven bamboo and waterproofed by using resin and coconut oil. The structure has keel-less, flat bottom to evenly spread the weight of the boat and its load across the structure and to reduce the required depth of water — often to only a few inches, making it ideal for use on rivers, harbours or bays.
The coracle boat today can often be found in use in most fishing ports in Vietnam, particularly in the southern coastal areas of Ke Ga, Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Quy Nhon and Danang. They are typically used by fisherman to transport themselves and their catch from their boats to shore and are best seen in action in the very early morning when the fishing fleet returns.
The settings of a calm ocean, a blazing sunrise and the distant figure of a lone fisherman standing up rowing his coracle boat ashore is a sublime moment that is well worth the early rise to witness. Depending on the actual location, these fishermen come directly ashore at the site of local wholesale markets, which are a swarm of people haggling to buy the freshest of catch – a scene that practically disappears by 7.30am.
These boats may look simple to navigate and row, but do not let its basic structure fool you. For the uninitiated, moving a few meters will only end up, literally, in circles. A carefully orchestrated curl of the paddle is the secret to maintaining a straight path. It is with a sense of wonderment that local fisherman can put their strength into rowing these tiny vessels for vast distances so effortlessly and with a bare stroke of the arm.
There is also the question of how many people can you fit into a coracle boat? Judging by these last couple of images … plenty!