The modern style of Motor Fishing Vessel (MFV) is now widespread all along the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia. Up through the 1950’s, most working boats in the region were built as traditional sailing hulls, even if they had auxiliary engines added. In the mid 1950’s however, boats began to be built to make better use of engines. In fact, it is likely the first designs for pure motor boats came from Japan with the Japanese diesel engines that were being imported. In any event, the type quickly gained popularity and began to be built all along the coast, particularly in what was then South Viet Nam, where, besides the war effort, the American government was spending a great deal of effort to promote economic development and vigorously encouraged the change over from sail to power in the fishing fleet.
MFV Design Characteristics
The designs that emerged have a number of characteristics in common wherever they are found along the coast.
- They are built on a heavy keel timber, with sawn timbers or ribs crossing the keel. That is, floor timbers bolted to the keel and curved futtocks reaching up around the turn of the bilge to the deck edge.
- Their bows are usually straight, and though never quite plumb, nevertheless are quite boldly upright. They are usually quite fine-lined forward under water, but flare out rapidly, sometimes dramatically so, to have quite rounded bows above water.
- Although there are variations of the basic hull shape that are fairly box-like, by and large they are all round bottomed boats, with very few chines or corners in their planking.
- Structurally they are essentially similar to traditional Western or post-war Japanese boats, having in varying degree, longitudinal stringers (clamps or shelves) and in many cases extensive inner planking or ceiling. Their hatches and deck openings will be bounded by heavy coamings bolted through their deck beams, which will, in turn, have been well bolted to the frame tops of the hull.
- They have the pilothouse aft, built over the engine room, leaving a long foredeck for working fishing gear or cargo and a large hold amidships for ice, fish or whatever other cargo.
- They are generally built to be very good heavy carriers, with relatively broad beam, deep rounded hulls and high bows, with their beam carried well forward. In fact, seen from above they often look almost rectangular, with just a hint of roundness to the plump bows.
- Their steering gear is normally a heavy steel plate working at the end of a vertical steel rudder shaft passing through the keel right behind the propeller, though this is far from universal. The traditional boat style of wooden “Barn Door” rudder on its round wooden stock working through a slot in the stern and capable of being hoisted up out of the water when wanted is still popular in many of the smaller fishing boats, even on these modern models. On smaller vessels the rudder will be operated by a tiller directly at the rudder head. Larger vessels will have wheel steering gear, usually using chain or cable running from the wheel to the steering quadrant.
- They are usually brightly painted, and brilliantly trimmed out with contrasting colors. The most popular color these days seems to be a bright blue, but in the South of the country you will see a lot of beautiful red boats, and in any harbor you’ll see some variations, with an occasional gray, green or yellow boat.
- They will never have eyes or tail feathers painted on (as do the remaining traditional fishing boats), though their registration numbers may be lettered gorgeously, with elaborate fonts, drop shadows in contrasting colors and so forth.
Design Variations in MFV’s
The most successful designs (and sizes) of MFV are spread from one end of the country to the other. Very similar boats can be found in any port. Nonetheless, the variation amongst them, in construction details, ornamentation and equipment provide interesting insights into the local traditions and the evolution of the fisheries. The basic hull and house form may be modified, if necessary, to suit a particular fishery. The machinery used is most often a simple power capstan or a single drum winch mounted on the forward corners of the pilothouse and engine room. Many of them fish at night and carry large racks of reflectors and bulbs of one sort or another, banks of fluorescent lights or large incandescent globes. Most striking of these are the squid boats, which carry long booms rigged out on all sides of the vessel to spread their nets out below the surface of the water all around, waiting for the schools of squid to come to the glare of the lights. Most other sorts of fishermen will raft or dock together cheek by jowl, but the squidders must anchor out individually. Where most fishing vessels in the West can be identified by a quick glance at their deck gear, most Indochinese vessels rely on manpower to handle their gear and thus have very little machinery showing on deck. Trawlers will normally have some sort of winch to handle their two tow lines but it will often be powered by capstan bars and crewmen. Gill netters and seine boats simply ship a crew big enough to handle the net by hand. This can lead to crews of a dozen or more men on quite small seine boats.
These typical modern boats are built in sizes from less than thirty feet up to a hundred feet and more in length. Power in the smaller sizes comes from a typical Chinese made single cylinder diesel engine, which, even at low RPM and with a huge cast iron flywheel still shakes the boat from end to end and, when not muffled, deafens the crew and anyone else in the area. The larger vessels carry any sort of larger Japanese or Chinese diesel engine, often more than one, and usually mercifully well muffled. You can find fleets of similar vessels all over the western world, although these days the western version is likely to be steel or aluminum or fiberglass, not hand made from local wood as are the working boats of Indochina.