By Rey Anthony Chiu, PIA-Bohol | 11:20 AM April 20, 2021
These carved wooden hulled outrigger boats belong to the bugsayan categories of the local boats in the seas of Bohol, most commonly in Maribojoc Bay, and the Mindanao sea.
Bigiws used to ply the rivers of Cortes until the estuary, the practice spread through Tagbilaran waters and on to southern Bohol, a sighting of one bigiw was in Albur in late 1980. Now, bigiw amakan are among Bohol’s vanishing boats.
Possibly common in Bohol, the bigiw outriggers are sleek carved wooden hulled boats double outriggers with ribs that allow for hull-extensions further increasing the loading capacity of the boat.
With the absence of marine plywood in olden days, boat builders use easily available materials as hull extension: woven bamboo, which has to be caulked with resin or tar, this lends to the bigiw a black interesting woven design that creates interesting patterns in the water.
Designed as a wave breaker, bigiws have long pointed bow (dung) where its prow called pamaong ends in fully wrapped 4 to 6 feet covered deck until the end piece where a rounded cleat allows better berthing.
The bigiw’s opening, relatively smaller, starts after the splashboard outrigger boom crossing (called platik) until about four feet where open hull allows for one or two seats (called langkapan) to the ulin (stern) when it is again a covered deck until the end piece where another cleat sits.
The bigiws also sport outriggers, for a better stable platform for fishermen in their sorties out in the sea.
The outriggers, made of bamboo tubes (katig) have natural ballast properties and connects to the boat hull by a bamboo pole (platik) and tied to it firmly to allow the boat hull to balance on its outriggers.
There were times when marine plywood were still unavailable that bigiws were commonly crafted in woven bamboo slatted strips (amakan), and fastened to the canoe hull by bamboo ribs topped by wooden gunwales.
But considering that bigiws afford much smaller storage spaces for a night fishing sortie, bigiws have been the fisher’s day fishing boat when one needs no thick jackets, a meal pack and an assortment of deep sea fishing implements.
In Bohol where the Amihan (easterly winds) and the Habagats (Monsoons) are notoriously fearsome, for people who go out to sea, a properly designed sleek boat that can ride the waves and cut through the surf spells the difference between getting easily capsized and losing the fish catch or the fishers life and paddling home safely.
The bigiws, owing to their relatively smaller open hulls and closed decks reduce the chances of getting in water. That, added by the recent skirting which fishermen use in foul weather, it makes the bigiws virtually an unsinkable empty ballast tank.
The string winds which makes boats veer off steering is a little match to the covered decks of the bigiw, as its sleek design catches very manageable wind making steering the boat easy, even in gale force winds.
The sleek wooden hulled boat also makes it easy to break off the surf and glide with the waves, making it a true wave surfer of sorts.
In Salvador Cortes, the surviving boat maker who has built and can build a bigiw is Alejandro Hubac (ANDOT), 68 years old, a carpenter.
It was when the family-owned pumpboat was bound for the junk when he started experimenting in a repair project that would make the boat smaller, lighter and sleeker.
After proving that he can restore and successfully launched the family fishing boat quite decently as a young carpenter, he was in no time, looking at sleek bigiws for an unmarried fishermen who needed a fast for the paddle boat, in the 1980s.
Having been enlisted by a rich neighbour into a mass-boat building shop, Alejandro easily slid into the groove and was soon testing his craftsmanship and faring well against the seasoned builders. In the shop, he also learned of the sakayan amakan technology in the 1980s.
Seeing his good boats, fishermen soon trooped to his house where he set-up a crude shop under the ancestral house, to have their boats built.
When his craft in bigiws spread, he had orders and was even commissioned by an entrepreneur, even as he moonlighted on projects in his crude shop.
Recently, he adopted the technology of steel epoxy and wood glue, graduating to fiberglass technology and yacht-building in small contracts in Dauis and Panglao.
He eventually retired and went back to his home-based shop in Cortes.
Bigiw amakan may be impractical this time, but to honor the skill, craftmanship and our forefathers’ deep understanding of maritime science, Andot may be our last hope. (rahchiu/PIA-7/Bohol)