on 14 Oct 2021
Silolona Sojourns CEO and boat-builder Tresno Seery is turning his legendary mother's vision into reality with luxury charter phinisis Si Datu Bua and Silolona. That's good news for people who love the idea of exploring Indonesia's most beautiful marine locations in the way that the late Patti Seery pioneered
Patti Seery is one of the best-known names in Southeast Asian yachting. She built Silolona, a traditional Indonesian phinisi, for luxury charter in her beloved adopted home.¬†Silolona¬†set a new standard for luxury phinisis; handmade wooden boats with the rigging and look of Portuguese expedition boats of the 16th century.
Patti passed away in 2020, leaving her son, Tresno, to carry on her legacy. Tresno was already running the affairs of Silolona Sojourns, which manages both¬†Silolona¬†and her newer sister ship,¬†Si Datu Bua.
Tresno spoke with¬†Asia-Pacific Boating¬†about the challenges of keeping his company going in the time of Covid-19 and of expanding the business to create a fleet of luxury phinisis.
Tresno was born in West Java and says that boat building and design are in his blood. As a child, he was alongside his mother as¬†Silolona¬†came into being. “Travelling on various boats with her in my early years gave me wanderlust and a passion for all things nautical,” Seery says. He studied engineering and naval architecture in the US and then returned to Indonesia to build¬†Si Datu Bua, Silolona Sojourns’ second phinisi, alongside his illustrious mother.
He also founded Outborn Watercraft to build tenders for Silolona Sojourns and other luxury charter operators.
What made you decide to carry on Patti’s journey with¬†Silolona?
There was never any question that I would carry on the legacy my mother built. From an early age, I had a unique vantage point on all things¬†Silolona¬†from my mother, and I shared her vision on how Silolona Sojourns should grow and be operated.
As a child, I remember my sixth birthday in particular. My mother brought me a captain’s uniform for the party I was going to have. I wanted to be part of growing something spectacular involving boats. Before she retired, we were a very good match of skills, working closely together for a long time before she handed over the reins, which is little known to the outside world.
Our shared passion for Indonesia and phinisis and my design and build experience combined with my mother’s vision of growing and expanding the company.
All of Patti’s vision is still very much on the cards, including the building of bigger ships and new destinations. Before her retirement, we started to put in place some of the growth and expansion plans, and we will roll these out as soon as the time is right. Of course, with Covid-19, these have been put on pause, but they remain very much on the cards.
Can you give some idea of what it is like managing an operation like Silolona Sojourns?¬†
One of the unique aspects of Silolona Sojourns is that it is an “owner-operated” business. It’s very much a close-knit, extended family kind of business, which can be seen in our crew, many of whom have been with us since the very beginning.
As the CEO of Silolona Sojourns, I gain a unique opportunity to be fully immersed in all aspects of the business. Being a fluent Indonesian speaker definitely helps! But being involved in the company for so long, and so close to the design, I understand intimately the mechanical and engineering side of the phinisis. This lets me work with the crew in keeping the ships in the absolute best shape, both technically and aesthetically. Maintenance of¬†Silolona¬†and¬†Si Datu Bua¬†is something we take exceptional pride in.
Being able to work with our sales and marketing teams, yacht brokers, travel agents and crew in making life-changing trips happen is a very special thing for me and for those who trust in us as guests. Then we have the side of the business few people may see, such as recruiting and staff training, testing new menus, route planning, attending charity and gala functions, delivering media interviews. It’s definitely a role that keeps me very busy!
You built¬†Si Data Bua. What was that like? How was the experience similar to, and different from, building¬†Silolona?
It was totally different to the building of¬†Silolona. But having that prior experience enabled Patti and me to build something unique and better understand the challenges and needs of phinisi builds and our guests. For example, we knew the best positioning of the bedrooms and seating, and so we optimised this as we built¬†Si Datu Bua.
We used the same builders for both¬†Silolona¬†and¬†Si Datu Bua, but¬†Silolona¬†was built in Kalimantan in a big boat-building area. When we built¬†Si Datu Bua, everything had to be imported and brought in, as we were remote and cut off.¬†Si Datu Bua¬†was built six hours out of town, in a little village next to a WWII Japanese dock.
Using basic tools, we procured the lumber from up the mountain daily, we hand-carved it to perfection. We had no access to the outside world for pretty much the entire build. But it was an amazing experience, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Those conditions also helped create the finished boat and made me the boat-builder I am today.
How have you managed to weather the storm that is Covid?¬†
We have been very lucky in many ways during this ongoing pandemic. Firstly, prior to Covid-19, we had already planned and allocated resources for¬†Silolona’s¬†refit in February 2020. So we had a three-month window blocked out while we managed this build, and the boat looks absolutely beautiful. She is in top shape, and I’m very pleased with how that went.
We also have very close and good relationships with our travel partners both internationally and locally, so we’ve seen a steady flow of domestic guests over this period.
In the short term, of course, how we operate has been amended to incorporate government-approved health and safety protocols. We ensured our crew and staff were fully vaccinated early on. Additionally, we have been very transparent with agents both locally and internationally regarding entry requirements to Indonesia.
We continue doing this, enabling a safe environment for guests to continue sailing with us. Long-term, the¬†Silolona¬†experience is not going to change. If anything, Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to see where we can continue to make improvements, such as planning new, exciting routes across Indonesia. We have also invested in food and beverage training for our crew.
Private charters enable enhanced privacy and safety, which is particularly apt in the current situation. We foresee continued growth in the private charter market and more people looking for unique travel styles that keep them safe and deliver a¬†wow¬†factor.
Patti once said she envisioned a fleet of phinisis sailing in the¬†Silolona¬†way around Southeast Asia. What are your thoughts on the future of Silolona Sojourns?¬†
Expansion and growth were two core aspects of Patti’s vision for¬†Silolona, and since she retired, we have continued to work towards this. We have plans for bigger phinisis and new destinations, but more than this, one key thing Patti wanted was to showcase Indonesian phinisi boat-building skills to the world.
We are continuing this through Outborn Watercraft, where we have built, and continue to build, exciting new phinisis as well as high powered rigid inflatable tenders. It’s a very exciting time to be part of Silolona Sojourns, Outborn Watercraft and the marine industry.
What are your thoughts on the future of marine tourism in Indonesia post-Covid?
I think the future is very bright. Even during Covid-19, we have seen across Asia Pacific growth and new revenue streams, when in other parts of the world, and indeed inside Asia Pacific, tourism has struggled. I think we will continue to see more growth from domestic markets, as people start to explore more of their own country differently from what they have been offered before, but also a way that holds onto their culture and heritage. The phinisis can do that.
I believe there will be two sides to marine tourism, which is extremely exciting. On the one hand, I think charter yachting will grow in more developed destinations like Komodo, but we will see growth for exploratory marine tourism, where people travel for longer, to more remote, off-the-beaten-track destinations away from mainstream sites. At Silolona Sojourns, we have already started to see this, making it very exciting for us as a charter operator.
Do you think that marine tourism in Indonesia will expand sustainably in terms of protecting cultures and ecosystems?¬†
Absolutely, but this will require a grassroots approach, within local communities and at the local government level, as much as a commitment by travel agents and operators. In places such as Komodo, a Unesco-protected destination, we have already seen issues such as over-tourism, pollution and damage to coral reefs.
It is vitally important that, as yacht charter operators, we play our part in protecting the destinations we sail in. Our smaller phinisi ships and our private charter status limit the number of people we bring into destinations at any one time, for example.
We go to great efforts not to use plastic on our ships or bring it into destinations, and we use our rigs as much as possible over engines when we sail, particularly the closer we are to shore. In addition, we work at a local level with communities and education establishments on various social, economic and sustainable tourism initiatives that provide long-term education and awareness of the need to preserve and protect the destinations we sail in.
We are committed to working together to promote both grassroots sustainability and onboard sustainability with our guests. We seek to encourage greater communication with agencies like the Indonesian tourism board, global agents, and Unesco in how sustainability can be achieved to make a long-term difference.
Are there new places and destinations that you want to “open up” via Silolona Sojourns, either in Indonesia or elsewhere?
Absolutely! We have had expansion plans for new destinations and routes for many years. During Covid-19, we have been able to spend a good amount of time researching new routes and destinations that we think stay true to our values. We are also discovering new places our guests will find interesting and where we can add value as a private charter yacht operator.