and Japan





Part 1 / 2 / 3


IN no region of Art and Crafts have the Chinese shown greater independence of thought than in ship and boat building. The striking originality which pervades their architecture, their painting, and their life on shore, is even more characteristically displayed by them afloat.

At the hands of Western travellers the Chinese junk has received little but mockery and thinly veiled contempt; the writer treats it with his smartest ridicule, the artist in glaring caricature. Yet, examined fairly, the only excuse for such treatment seems to lie in the wide gulf which separates the thoughts and ideas of the white and the yellow races, and makes it apparently almost impossible for the one to come to any true understanding of the other. As an engine for carrying man and his commerce upon the high and stormy seas, it is doubtful if any class of vessel is more suited or better adapted to its purpose; and it is certain that for flatness of sail and for handiness the Chinese rig is unsurpassed.


A most capable authority gives it as his unhesitating opinion that the smaller South China junks are 'the handiest vessels in the world.' 1

1 Captain C. C. P. FitzGerald R.N, in Boat Sailing and Racing.

Until the America visited this country, when modern flat-sail setting first asserted its superiority, the Chinese were undeniably far ahead of all other nations in their comprehension of the principles of scientific fore-and-aft sailing.

The centreboard and leeboard have been used in China, whether in the big Hainan junk or in the humble sampan, from times antedating the visits of the old Norse 'keeles' to these islands. When our forefathers paddled along shore in open boats, the Chinaman sailed to East Africa in five-masters.


We have seen the nineteenth-century yachtsmen develop the overhang, which has culminated in a Columbia : the Chinese have built fishing-boats on this principle for a thousand years. In windlasses and labour-saving appliances the Chinese appear to have been always far ahead of the standard reached by European nations until the last century.

Yet, curiously enough, while we have worked out a whole history of naval architecture, ranging from the coracle to the Celtic and the Shamrock, the hardy Chinese sailors, true to the conservatism of their race, have continued to weather the typhoons of the stormiest of Eastern seas in craft which, while they yield nothing in the matter of handiness or weatherly qualities to the finest modern sailing-craft developed by Western nations, have in all probability scarcely altered in a single detail during that period, or been improved by a single knot of speed.



In things nautical the Chinese are the Dutchmen of the East. Both peoples have a curious and distinctive love of bluff lines, of bright varnish, of deck-houses, and of pole-masts with long vanes above the truck. Both have an enormous percentage of their populations directly interested in water transport and trained to the handling of sailing-craft. Both know better than their neighbours the value of leeboards. If we were to continue the parallel, we might say that both races wear wide trousers, are expert gardeners, and are possessed of the most unlimited supplies of perseverance and industry known in their respective continents.

However fanciful the parallel may be, the yachting visitor in Holland who has had experience of the playfulness of his Chinese brother, may be most forcibly, if not pleasantly, reminded of old times in the East by the mud and stone-throwing propensities of the young Hollander sportsmen among the genial waterside population, this form of greeting being, as far as my experience goes, strictly limited to Holland and China.


It would require years of careful observation and study to give anything like a complete account of the infinite varieties of craft which arc used by the Chinese to meet the varying requirements of the vast floating population dwelling along their widespread coasts and enormous inland waterways. A few remarks may, however, suffice to show that the Chinese junk, instead of being, as seems to be commonly supposed, the most lubberly and cumbersome of craft, is in reality, like the line-of-battle ship of Nelson's later years, as perfect in its own way as it can well be.


The observer must not be carried away by the peculiarities of the superstructures usual in all the larger junks. They are embellishments which add very greatly to the comfort of life on board, but in no way affect the under-water lines of the ship. A little observation will show that the under-water body of the junk, especially in the south, is generally very 'sweet,' and by no means far removed from that of a corvette of eighty years ago. The frequent absence of keel in the junk is, however, against good work to windward. The deep rudder, which at sea is lowered down the trunk by windlasses, and extends well beneath the ship, and the forefoot or gripe,'which is often extended under the bows, help considerably to hold the vessel up to windward. A few hours spent watching the daily crowd of junks beating through the Lymun Pass out of Hong Kong harbour during the north-east monsoon, will persuade the greatest unbeliever that for speed and set of her sails the junk is not easily beaten; and a finer sea picture not the Thames in Sea Reach can show.


The Chinese sail is a balance-lug extended and stiffened by battens, generally of bamboo, with a more or less rounded leech. It is hoisted on a pole-mast often a very fine spar, the halyard passing through a large double block on the yard, and a treble block at the masthead. There is a hauling parrel to the yard, which keeps it to the mast, and helps to peak the sail when reefed. Each batten has its own parrel round the mast, and its own single part leading to the main sheet. There are various ways of leading these sheets, one or two of which are here illustrated, and they constitute the secret of the flatness of set of the China sail. Double topping-lifts on both sides of the sail form lazy lines, into which the sail falls on being lowered for stowing or for reefing. Reefing is thus simplicity itself; the halyard is let go, and the weight of the sail and battens brings the sail down into the topping-lifts; two or more battens are thus bunched together along the boom, and nothing further is necessary but to gather in the sheets. There is a gathering line from the masthead to the boom abreast the mast.






The luff of the sail is cut in various ways. In the big single masted boats of the inland waterways of the south and the neighbourhood of Canton, the luff is cut so as to stand out a long way before the mast as in the case of our Western dipping lugsail, thus making a true balance-lug, and bringing the centre of effort farther forward.


The moment the Chinaman goes to sea, however, in common with all other blue-water sailors, he appreciates the advantage of splitting up his sail area into component parts which are more easily handled, and are more convenient for bringing a vessel into stays and paying her off in tacking.

The mainsail is reduced, and then instead of the modern bowsprit and jib-headed staysails of the West, he plants a foremast right up in the eyes, with in most cases a considerable rake forward, reminding one of the old Mediterranean trinchetto, *1* and sets a large foresail upon it in the shape of another lug. The mainsail in this case is cut with its luff straight up and down the mast, while the foresail is generally so cut that quite a third of its area, and even more than a third of its length of boom, is before the mast.     >>Next Part

*1* The <-> of the log of St. Paul's shipwreck, and the artemon of the elder Seneca and others, which from coins of the second, third, and fourth centuries appears to have been raked over the bows, and to have been generally adopted for running, wearing, and increasing the general handiness of the old one-masted ships.




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