BOAT BUILDING: THE DHONI
The traditional dhoni modelled on the Arab dhow, has evolved and been adapted to local requirements by the Maldivians. Built in various shapes and sizes, the dhoni is used for all kinds of purposes – inter-atoll transport, family fishing boat, local ferry, tourist excursion boat, dive boat delivery truck and mini-fuel tanker.
There is a flourishing boat-building industry with skilled carpenters throughout the islands. The keel is usually from imported hardwood, while the hull planks are from local coconut trees. Some of the work is now done with power tools, but no written plans are used.
Traditionally there is a tall, curved prow, which stands up like a scimitar cutting through the sea breezes. This prow is held, for balance, by men in shallow waters on the look out for the reefs and channels. In modern days the prow has been made removable and it slots into the front of the boat but is lifted out for loading and unloading. The flat stern is purely functional – it is where the captain stands and steers. The stern platform is also a place for fishing.
Most inhabited islands usually have a dhoni or two under construction or repair. The best dhoni builders are said to come from Raa Atoll – they can be hired to make a new boat. It takes about 45 days for 12 workers, six on each side of the boat, to make a 14m hull.
BOAT BUILDING: VEDI
A vedi is a large dhoni with a big, square-shaped wooden superstructure, used for trading between Male and the outer atolls. Traditionally, sail-powered vedis made trading trips to Sri Lanka, India, Burma and Sumatra, but these days the vedis are diesel powered and used only for inter-atoll transport.
There is not much of a tradition of building small model boats in the islands although some pieces can be found in the tourist shops.