Art Valdez rebuilds the ancient Balangay and sets it for voyage

Art Valdez at the front of the Balangay
Art Valdez at the front of the Balangay

I have always wondered what it’s like for our ancestors to travel through open waters. The ancient Filipinos are originally seafaring people and proof of this is the discovery of an age old Balangay sea vessel excavated in Butuan dating as far back as 320 AD. And when I heard that someone rebuilt a Balangay in Manila, crafted by the Bajaus of Sibutu and Sitangkay of Tawt-tawi using methods originally done during the 14th century, I just had to see this.

So even with the weather going haywire with burst of squalls and a couple of tornadoes (since when did we have tornado alerts here?) I went to the Harbor Side Parking lot besides Folk Arts Theater on an invitation sent yesterday from the movement of Kaya ng Pinoy to bloggers. Aside from seeing the Balangay I was also excited to talk to Mr Art Alvarez, the person behind building the boat and also the main man who organized the climb of the Philippine Everest Team. After reading John Krauker’s Everest Account in his book “Into Thin Air” I have high respect to people who have climbed or almost climbed the mountain.

A National Museum Sketch of the Balangay
A National Museum Sketch of the Balangay
Detail construction of the Balangay
Detail construction of the Balangay

It was an informal night of questions and answers with Mr Valdez regarding his new project Voyage of the Balangay. We were on the balangay, and can even claim to be the first ones to eat there. Measuring 15 meters long and 3 meters wide, the balangay is finally done after 40 days work by the Bajau Shipbuilders who came from Sibutu and Sitangkay Tawi-tawi. Their craftsmanship is amazing using native wood that also came from Tawi-tawi. On the 12th of June independence day, the Balangay would be released to the waters of Manila Bay and by June 24th 27th it will start its voyage from Manila to Tawi-tawi and soon across open waters of South East Asia, Micronesia, Madagascar, Atlantic and Back.

Here is the Domestic Sailing Route:

First Leg: Manila to Boracay – 248 Nautical Miles, 460 Kilometers
Second Leg: Boracay to Cebu City/ Mactan – 369 NM = 684 KM
Third Leg: Mactan to Cagayan de Oro – 374 NM = 693 KM
Fourth Leg: Cagayan de Oro to Zamboanga City – 299 NM = 554 KM
Fifth Leg: Zamboanga City to General Santos City – 380 NM = 705KM
Sixth Leg: General Santos City to Davao City – 158 NM = 293 KM
Seventh Leg: Davao City to Siluag, Tawi-Tawi – 280 NM = 519 KM

And the planned International Sailing Route:

2009    The Philippines
2010    Southeast Asia
2011    Micronesia and Madagascar
2012    Sail across the Pacific onward to the Atlantic, all the way around the world
2013    Back home to the Philippines

An informal evening of Q&A on board the Balangay at the Harbor Side
An informal evening of Q&A on board the Balangay at the Harbor Side
Art Valdez (2nd to the right beside me at front) with bloggers
Art Valdez (2nd to the right beside me at rightmost front) with bloggers

The Balangay boat will be manned by around a team of 20, consisting of Bajau Boatmen and the members of Philippines Team Everest (Leo Oracion, Erwin “Pastour” Emata, Noelle Wenceslao, Carina Dayondon, Janet Belarmino-Sardena, Dr. Ted Esguerra, Fred Jamili, Dr. Voltaire Velasco). They also plan to navigate using methods of early mariners like readings through the stars, sun, clouds, bird migration patterns and cloud formations. With this they have to contend with changing weather patterns at sea due to climate change which would prove to be a big challenge for them.

Asked why Mr Valdez is doing this? He said it’s to bring back the rich maritime culture of the Filipinos and also to show the world that the Filipino Can, in tagalog “Kaya ng Pinoy“. In these times where Filipinos are occupied with talks on politics and scandals, I’m glad to hear there is some news out there that can lift the Filipino spirit and values. We must remember that the word and social group model of our Barangay came from the Balangay. The Voyage of the Balangay is a history in the making, and I will be closely watching this.

The rebuilt Balangay may be viewed at the CCP Harbor side.

By Ferdz

Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.


  1. this is a very interesting project by the team. napaka-back din to the past kasi they will be relying on the navigation methods used by our ancestors. it would be interesting to follow them on their journey around the philippines and later on, around the world.

  2. wow!!!…super….I missed this.

    Nice and thanks for the info and additional knowledge about BALANGAY.

    ‘Til next time ferdz=)

  3. ito yung kinunkwento ng guide namin sa mt. apo. sa kwento nya eh magiging support crew sya dyan kaya andito sya ngayon sa manila. goodluck sa kanila! galing ng pinoy!

  4. i remember leo and janet talking about it when i met them at the travel expo. this will definitely be historical. as early as now i say kudos to mr valdez and the whole team. amazing to know that the badjaos made it.

  5. I don’t want to be pessimistic but I really don’t expect that boat to endure a travel around the world. How can it survive the shark infested waters of the Pacific, much less the hurricanes of the Atlantic?

  6. Yep Og! I’m also interested on how their journey would go through.

    Yup Eci! Next time 😀

    Ang galing Erick! Nakasama mo pala isa sa magiging crew.

    It’s been in talk since last December Dom, and now we’re close to them actually doing it. Something to look forward to.

    Hi Yam! I share your pessimism here when it comes to the world journey. If only in the Philippines it would be possible but that crossing the pacific, that’s quite a feat. But let’s see what they have up their sleeves 😀

  7. There is a possible design error here. The design of the boat was based on the proposal of the National Museum which did not take into account that historically, Philippine boats have outriggers. There is no outrigger in this Balangay boat which makes it unstable and very dangerous to use.

    The team should install a pair and should not rely on the untested design of the Philippine National Museum.

  8. Hi Jaime! Thank you for your input. Could you site the source of your information? The Balangay was built based on the knowledge of Bajaus from Sibutu and Sitangkay Tawi-tawi, and that knowledge was passed to them from their forefathers dating back from 13th-14th century. I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t have outriggers much like the boats in Batanes since outriggers would easily break on rough, ripping waters on open oceans which would be a lot unsafer.

  9. Sa palagay ko tama ang obserbasyon ni Mr. Jaime Tiongson, bukod sa ito ay walang “outrigger” ay “open-type” pa ang Balangay boat, at ito’y napakadelikado sa malalaking alon. Sana ay subukan muna sa Manila Bay bago tuluyang maglayag sa malawak na karagatan.

  10. Hi Jake! Salamat sa obserbasyon mo. Sa tingin ko mas delikado ang me “outrigger” sa mga malakas na alon kasi mababali lang to at maaaring itumba yung banka. Obserbasyon ko lang to kasi karamihan ng banka sa Batanes mas lalo na yung malalaking banka nila na dumadaan sa kargatan kung san nagkikita ang South China Sea at Pacific Ocean ay walang outrigger para mas maka maneuver sila sa malalakas na alon.

  11. It’s great to see a reconstruction sketch of the balangay in the internet…

    Outriggers possibly not used because balangays were also used in sailing the rivers (like the masao river in butuan city closest river where balangays were excavated) and it would be easier without the outriggers considering they were seafeariers by nature,so whats the deal…

    If the balangay works as trade boats in pre-hispanic period then it’s possible to use it today specially with the presence of technology or advance knowledge of the present.

  12. Greetings, I am impressed by your project and wish you well.
    My ancestors were great ocean voyagers, explored much of the Pacific from South America over to what is now known as French Polynesia, down to Tuwhenu (New Zealand). Many of the Polynesians called our Navigator-Kings; Kon Tiki (The Sun King). These voyages of exploration were carried out many hundreds of years before Polynesian/Maori ever discovers New Zealand.
    My ancestors were familiar with ancient egyptian water craft which were also pegged together. The larger ones could sail right around Africa.My ancestors crossed the Atlantic, about the time of Christ’s birth, Travelled down mesa America to the Peru/Chile area and used what we know as Easter Island as a place of refuge when things got hot on the mainland.We do know their sea crafts were far superior to any Pacific Islander types when they met with them.
    Anyway the design for your craft has been around for a good 4,000 years and well-proven.
    Go in peace. James: Ieriki ieriki = Tuwhenu Moriori Tua imi Ihi

  13. thumbs up to Mr Valdez and the rest of the team for their courage and faith. Its good to see the initiative to revive the Filipino community using the excavated artifact. it will catch attention to filipinos worldwide and generate criticism, constructive or even destructive. From my point of view, if this artifact were tough enough to navigate the deep ocean, this technology should be alive, pass through generation and be seen in some port of the country. But the fact is not, the western design dominates our ports and does not necessarily mean that we dont like our own. It is because the design and engineering is capable to navigate and can cope up with the current of the ocean. I strongly disagree that this design and engineering based on artifact can survive the current of the ocean. I dont even think that balangay can cross the philippine sea from north to south without defined engineering. Anyway,this is a Filipino ingenuity, a never say die attitude, live on a fighting spirit. Still no worries Filipinos still dominating the ocean. We are manning the 70% of the ship across the globe. Why dont you spend the bucks to generate the jobs ,upgrade our sea transport system, or even build more balangay and keep it floating in Manila Bay for tourist attraction and destination?

  14. Greetings!

    Hello, I am a tawi-tawi news bureau chief of an online news website in Mindanao.

    I just wanna ask if you could share some photos of badjaos constructing the balangay. I just want to write a story about it and publish it in our website and our newspaper.

    Please do email me. Our newspaper also circulates in tawi-tawi.

    Thank you and more power!

  15. Hi Amilbahar! I forwarded your email handling the Balangay PR. You should hear from them soon. Thanks for the visit.

  16. Hi Ferdz!

    I’m Elsmer Estera from TrackPoint Technologies Inc. We are the Authorized distributor of SPOT (Satellite PersOnal Tracker) in the Philippines. We would like to participate in “The Voyage of the Balangay” by sponsoring this event.

    Kindly help us reach Mr. Valdez so we could personally offer our sponsorship..


  17. ang lupeeet! will somebody onboard document their experiences, and perhaps published articles or books about their daily experiences while aboard the boat?
    More power to all of you guys and gabayan nawa kayo ni Bathala!

  18. For Fedz, this may help you…
    The left Philippines last November 2008 and reached the Solomon Islands last March 2009.

    The Balangay project is not the first and won’t be the last. The Lapita Voyage used outriggers.

    For JK, you may be correct in pointing out that the Balangay that was excavated could have been used for Agusan River trade, similar to the one used in Pasig river during the Spanish and American colonial period. This is probably reason why it has no outriggers.

    Let’s wait for the group to cross the boarders of the Philippines. I hope I am wrong.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.