National Geographic : 1950 Mar
Trawling the China Seas 381 J. Charles Thompson Dipping Her Nose, the Junk Ming Lee Bobs on a Choppy Sea Off Hong Kong J. Charles Thompson, a former American resident of Hong Kong, devoted eight days to making this photo graphic survey of Chinese fishing methods. Refusing to take along any special comforts, Mr. Thompson slept on boards like the fishermen (page 392). He shared their simple food (page 393). Knowing little Cantonese, he carried on conversations in sign language. Mr. Thompson found navigation methods primitive. To determine the junk's position, the captain sampled the sea floor with the lead line; he read the muddy bottom like a map. Women aboard burned incense sticks to appease the sea gods. Here Ming Lee, a Hong Kong fisherman, is seen from Kwong Chau, her sister ship. On their last night at sea warning was received of a typhoon. Kwong Chau and Ming Lee raced home under full sail and power. They made a phenomenal run, covering 70 nautical miles in 62 hours. In a day when working sails have all but disappeared in the West, China's picturesque rigging survives as a charming and useful anachronism. Ming Lee's sails are of straw. Patches of black net serve as an identifying mark. Here the mainsail and foresail are shortened and the mizzen is furled. The high quarter-deck calls to mind the lofty poops of Spanish galleons. Among the world's surviving sailing ships, one of the most antique is the Chinese junk (believed to be derived from the Chinese chuan, "boat" or "ship"). For thousands of years its basic design has remained unchanged. Chinese were sailing junks when Vikings were still rowing open boats. They were the first to employ water tight bulkheads, a secret learned by the West only in recent times. Marco Polo described the junk as having "13 compartments . . . made of planking strongly framed . . . In case the ship should spring a leak . . . water cannot pass from one compartment to another." Thirteenth-century Venetians scoffed at the description as another of Marco's "tall stories." Junk design has stagnated because Chinese shipwrights decided long ago that they had achieved all improvements necessary. Only lately have a few progressive owners such as Ming Lee's installed Diesel engines and radio sets.