and Japan





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The coolies are under the shelter of the high poop aft, and the rest of the vessel is generally crowded with passengers journeying up and down the river. A large single lug with a long fore-leech or luff is used when there is wind.

The Hong Kong cargo-boat is probably, as regards tonnage, construction, speed, and handiness, one of the finest sailing lighters in the world. The single, enormous batten lugsail of brown matting is one of the most picturesque features of that or any harbour. Occasionally a mizen is carried for convenience in staying. But the smoothness and precision with which this huge sail is worked and the vessel is maneuvered among the crowd of shipping is most remarkable. To this not only the large deep rudder, but a couple of vast sculling'oars, one upon each quarter, contribute. This form of propulsion is the usual one for big heavy craft in China. The long oar, usually in two pieces, is pivoted on the quarter or stern, the fore end being held in place by a strong lanyard to the deck. Any number of the crew can work on each oar, giving to it the motion known to seamen as sculling. A vessel of several hundred tons can be propelled in this way at from three to four knots. Its great advantage is that it is perfectly quiet, not exhausting, and the oar being in line with the boat, it is peculiarly applicable to crowded anchorages or narrow waterways. The motion is really that of the gondolier when his blade is brought aft to clear an obstruction.

A lofty triangle, in place of the ordinary pole-mast, is used for hoisting a single great sail in many of the craft working the rapids of the interior, in the Red River and elsewhere in the south, as was done by the Egyptian river boatmen in the time of the third and fourth dynasties eight thousand years ago, *1* and is still done in the Burmese rice-boats mentioned in Chapter IX.

But, as a rule, the inland and estuary craft follow the general lines already indicated. The general flat character of the land about the deltas of the great rivers of China, and the multiplicity of waterways, natural and artificial, favour transport in bulk in vessels of considerable tonnage for river craft.

*1* Figured in Holmes's  Ancient and Modern Ships.

Single masts prevail generally for inland navigation proper, and the hulls are always bright, as sailors say--that is, the natural colour of the wood not concealed by paint, but preserved and heightened by the use of dammar or other oil. The appearance of the Chinese boats is thus generally smart and serviceable, and for comfort and convenience in their deck arrangements they cannot be surpassed.


The smaller sampans are innumerable in their varied designs, differing as they do in each locality. In these smaller boats the standing lug of cotton, with a bamboo yard and boom, is often used, the steering being frequently done with the after oar.

Familiar to many Westerners will be the smart little two-masted sampans which ply in Hong Kong harbour for hire. There is a shelter for the passengers aft. The steersman, woman, or child sits abaft this, and of whatever age or sex generally handles the little craft with the ability which is bred of constant practice and utter fearlessness, whether of drowning or scraping other people's paint.


The Chinese sampan in one form or other is known to all travellers who have visited Rangun, Penang, or Singapore, Bangkok or Batavia, and is as ubiquitous in Eastern seas as the Chinaman himself. The best-known type is probably the gaily painted, two-tailed boats at the former ports. With their great beam, flat bottom, and deep rudder, they are good carriers and rapid sailers, but their best point of sailing is undoubtedly a 'soldier's wind.'


The largest class of boat of this build known to me is that used at Junkseylon, where the immigrant Chinese fishermen work a two-masted boat of about 30 feet in length and 8 feet beam, rigged with battened main and fore lugsails.


The masts are very raked, the mainmast aft and the foremast over the bows. They are fast and weatherly, and very stiff. The large Singapore cargo sampans approach these in size, but being only rigged with calico standing lugsails, are inferior sailers, and, as the rigging and spars are of the lightest, are unable to do more than run before the Sumatra squalls when they burst upon the harbour.


At such times all their spars may be seen bending like trout-rods, and giving as if to a fish in every jump of the sea. With centreboards or leeboards they would probably carry a lot of sail as the Junkseylon boats do, and would handle well, though their long praam bow would always make them inclined to slam in a head-sea. Any one taking the trouble to sail one of these boats for himself, a performance which the good-natured Chinese boatmen regard as a very huge joke, will be surprised at the little fuss and great speed with which they push through the water in a smooth sea and nice breeze.




In their use of mast and sail the Japanese present one of their customary surprises. From an island race of such valour, industry, and capacity, boasting a civilisation two thousand years old, whose history is filled with the records of fearless and strenuous enterprise, and which is so advantageously situated as is the Japanese, one would have expected remarkable developments in nautical architecture, and in maritime activity generally.

Yet in actual fact the national high-pooped junk of Japan, the largest sea-going vessel developed in the islands, was always of clumsy construction, and had neither the quality of speed nor that of ability to work to windward.

Although the Japanese have had considerable intercourse with China, Korea, and Formosa at various periods, it would appear that much of this was conducted in Chinese junks, and for the rest they were content to make slow voyages in their own archaic vessels, the form and rig of which have never altered in historic times.

It has been suggested that the deliberate policy of seclusion which was adopted by the rulers of Japan after the advent of the Portuguese at the end of the sixteenth century, had much to do with the small advance made by Japanese shipbuilders and seamen in the art of building and equipping sea-going vessels.

But it must be remembered that this policy was only adopted at a comparatively recent date in the nation's history, and in no way affected the early maritime enterprise of the people. We have records which show that certainly so late as 1592, when contemplating an invasion of Korea, Hideyoshi entered into negotiations with the Jesuits with a view to obtaining the loan of some of the Portuguese armed vessels of the period, which, small as we know them to have been, were in every way superior to those of the Japanese. Nothing could give more conclusive evidence of the unsuitable character for long sea voyages of the Japanese vessel of the time immediately preceding the period of seclusion.

The junk of to-day remains practically identical with that of the sixteenth century, which in turn had altered nothing from the vessels in vogue ten centuries earlier.

This junk was a clumsy hut very strongly constructed vessel of great bulk. It had a heavy raked stem with low fo'c's'le, a high freeboard amidships, and a lofty poop with a heavy rudder which could be hoisted or lowered in a rudder trunk. Probably no vessel ever built was more durable in construction or more ingeniously or better finished as regards every detail. Owing to the great beam and draught, it had large carrying capacity, but the lack of length and sail-power made it slow.

The rig consisted of a single heavy mast setting one lofty but narrow squaresail, not remarkable either for its set or for its excellence of cut. The chief characteristic of hull, gear, and rigging was excessive strength and cumbersomeness.

With the growth of modern commerce in Japan there has come a great change over the face of the Japanese mercantile marine. Simultaneously with the formation of an efficient fleet of modern warships there has grown up with remarkable rapidity a great fleet of steam merchant ships, many of them of large tonnage and first-class equipment; and in the management and handling of these fleets the Japanese sailors have shown in a remarkable degree that capacity for learning, and for improving on what they learn, which has in other directions been so eminently characteristic of the nation. At the same time, on an indented coastline like that of Japan, presenting sheltered waters and safe harbours, it is inevitable that the sailing-vessel must be of ever increasing use for the economical transport of certain classes of cargo; and accordingly we find that in the last thirty years the sailing tonnage of Japan has steadily grown, as the water-borne commerce between the different portions of the empire has developed.

It was hardly to be expected that a nation with such keen faculties as the Japanese possess would, under the circumstances prevailing in the Pacific at the end of the nineteenth century, continue to pin their faith to so old and unsuitable a class of vessel as the square-rigged junk of their ancestors. Thus it has come about that the value of the fore-and-aft sail is now fully appreciated in Japan. Not only are large numbers of smart, handy little schooners now used in the coasting trade, but the assistance of the fore-and-aft sail has been invoked even on board the old-fashioned junks.

Of the crowd of vessels to be seen beating against a foul wind in any channel of the inland sea, the majority will probably be still the old class of junk with the square mainsail assisted by a fore-and-aft mizensail on the poop and a fore staysail, or possibly two, set before the mast. While formerly with main squaresail alone the junk captains never attempted to stay but were always compelled to wear ship, now, with the addition of the mizen to bring the vessel's head up and of the staysail to pay her off, they are able to stay round with comparative facility, the gripe of the stern, the shape of the underwater body, and the deep rudder all being of material assistance.

It is in the schooners, however, that modern Japan shows its fore-and-aft seamanship. These little vessels follow in most particulars the general features of the Pacific schooner, with which Japan has become familiar from the visits of Canadian and Yankee sealers. The two masts and main and fore sails are much of a size; there is a longish jib-boom, and two or three jibs are carried besides the fore staysail. The Japanese, how-ever, have not gone in for topmasts, and pole-masts are the rule; nor is the square topsail often seen. With a pretty fiddle-head cutwater, the bow and waist are kept fairly low, and the greatest freeboard is generally at the quarters and poop, thus retaining in some measure the main ideas of the old junk outline. In handling these vessels they display all the fearlessness and competence which are associated in the mind of Europe to-day with the Japanese nature.

The Chinese lugsail has in some cases been introduced in the schooner rig for the main and fore sails, with once more a great gain in the direction of flatness of set and general handiness over the old square-sail.

In many of the smaller boats the gaff mainsail is seen in combination with two fore staysails both set inside the stemhead, an arrangement which is probably peculiar to the Japanese islands.

The later developments in mast and sail seem in every way more suited to their surroundings than did the old junk. No more favourable conditions for the production of small craft exist than in the beautiful archipelago, which is second to none in the charm and variety of its scenery and the multitude of its natural havens. The old junk, with its clumsy bulk and ineffectual rigging, seemed strangely out of place in the midst of the ordered neatness of Japanese scenery, and aroused in one's mind a constant sense of disappointment and inappropriateness.

The clean schooner, modest and efficient, graceful and capable, lying peacefully in some quiet nook among the islets, or thrashing round a tree-crowned point, her modernness toned by the Eastern spell which hangs about her, seems to be totally in harmony with the whole atmosphere of her surroundings, and to form a notable instance of that power of the sailing-boat to adapt herself to man's ways and to take his character upon herself, in which she excels all inanimate things and approaches so nearly to the living.




Contents: Mast & Sail

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