"These boats have no rivals for roughness and toughness, unless it be their crews." - Worcester, 1954.

The Amoy Fisher

The Amoy Fisher was engaged chiefly in long-line fishing in the Formosa Strait, up to 100 miles offshore. Donnelly (1924) tells us that "This type of fishing junk has probably the worst weather on the China coast to contend with, so it is not surprising that the Amoy fisherman has managed to build an exceptionally fast and sturdy craft". The "deservedly celebrated Amoy Fisher" is described by Worcester (1966) as "probably the only all weather boat on the China coast...". He goes on to say that "Few craft in the world have to stand up to so much continuous bad weather as these fishing boats, which have as their beat the stormy Formosa Channel; and probably no other junk on the China coast is so well suited to face any storm that blows".

General description:

The Amoy Fisher (and the very similar Amoy Trader) is one of the archetypal junks of China, first brought to the attention of the West by Captain Waard, who sailed one (appropriately named Amoy, figures 1&2) across the Pacific Ocean from China to Vancouver in 91 days in 1922, arriving, according to Capt. Waard, "as dry as the day of her launching, with not a drop of water in her". (Van Tilburg, 2002). The Amoy was 70 feet in length, 45 feet on the water line, with a beam of 18 to 19 feet, a draught of 5 feet and displacement about 25 tons. Generally, the Amoy Fisher can be between 40 and 70 feet overall. The type has flush decks with no bulwarks, and considerable fore and aft sheer (see figures 1 & 2).

 

Worcester (1948) gives the following description:

Built: Amoy.

Typical dimensions: 40 to 70 feet in length, beam 17 to 20 feet.

Operating area: Amoy fishing grounds

Outstanding peculiarities: Three conspicuous wales. Brightly-coloured design. Short rail from bow to just forward of main mast on starboard side only.

Bow: Broadens slightly as it approaches the waterline. Narrowing until it reaches the keel.

Stern: Oval variety. Rudder narrow and long.

Masts: Foremast raked forward. Main & mizzen erect.

Sails: Foresail is sometimes made of mat. Main and mizzen of cloth, all on starboard side of mast.

General remarks: Eight or 10 rafts are carried by each junk. The craft illustrated is all purpose fishing boat, probably the only all weather boat on the

China coast, and fishes almost anywhere from a few miles out of Amoy to about 100 miles out from the coast.

Design:

"The bow is full enough to give lifting power in a seaway, broadening slightly, as it approaches the water-line, and then narrowing until it reaches a point at the keel, which rises to meet it ... one will come across this sturdy type of fishing craft in all kinds of weather and it is quite apparent that the builders knew their work. The long overhang only recently evolved by modern yacht constructors is another of those points which we can see from the build of the Amoy Fishing Junk was well understood by the Chinese shipbuilder from the very earliest days" (Donnelly, 1924) .

Worcester (1966) remarked that "Astonishing as it may seem, these little junks are extremely dry and in the roughest weather may be seen bobbing about like corks without shipping any water. Close observation of them at sea has led the writer to the conclusion that one of the secrets of their seaworthiness may be their length, which even at their maximum size always enables them to fit neatly in the trough of the sea between the two wave crests or else ride on the crest of one wave only". He adds, however, that "while these ships are probably the driest on the coast, they pitch to a degree which has to be experienced to be believed".

Sokoloff (1982), in his beautifully illustrated book (figure 3, below) also considers the match between the length of the vessel and the storm waves to explain its seaworthiness: "...the junk is remarkably dry and seaworthy, mostly because its curvature and the length of its hull match the trough between waves and in stormy weather it rides one wave crest only". It seems a little odd that Chinese shipwrights were predicting such a variable parameter as the length of storm waves in the design of their hull, but perhaps there is a characteristic storm wave length in the Formosa Channel, where typical monsoon winds blow either straight up (SW Monsoon) or straight down (NE Monsoon).

The rig:

The junk typically had two, or in the larger examples, three sails. The foremast is usually raked well forward, the main and mizzen (if present) upright. The mizzen would be stepped well aft on the starboard rail. Unusually in Chinese vessels, all three sails are on the starboard side of the mast.

The main and mizzen sails were typically canvas, but the foresail was often made of bamboo leaves pressed between two nets of rattan slivers. In earlier times, all three sails were of the typical northern China tall rectangular type, made from bamboo mat. Donnelly (1925) points out that the distinctive tall sail with straight leech and luff and 15 to 20 bamboo battens is unique to the Amoy Fisherman south of the Yangtsze cape. More recently, after the First World War according to Donnelly, the vessels seem to have adopted the 'intermediate' style of sail found between Shanghai and Fukien, made from canvas with a higher-peaked yard and more rounded leech (figure 6, below). The rectangular mat foresail seems to have survived this change, however.

Note: it may be seen in figures 1 & 2 that the Amoy's rig appears to be something of a hybrid: a tall, rectangular 'northern type', but with far fewer battens more reminiscent of rigs from around Guangdong.

Decoration:

Although robustly built, the Amoy vessels are graceful and colourfully-decorated. The bottom of the hull is painted white up to the sheer line; the mixture contains lime, which possesses anti-fouling properties. The transverse planks of the bow are painted black above and red below. There are usually a Yin and Yang in a circle on the upper part of the top portion and there is sometimes a chevron marking the border line between the black and red colourings. The bulwarks are painted red, green, yellow and blue acording to Worcester (1966); Donnelly (1924) describes the decoration similarly, but with the topside treated with a red varnish which serves as a protection from the elements.

Line plans & construction drawings:

The following line drawings are taken from the Atlas of Offshore Fishing Vessels published by the provincial authorities of Fujian.

References:

Donnelly, I. A. (1924) Chinese Junks and other Native Craft. First Published in 1924. Reprinted by Earnshaw Books, Hong Kong 2008.

Sokoloff, V.A. (1982) Ships of China. Published by Author, "Ships of China", San Bruno, CA., 1982.

Van Tilburg, H. (2002) Misunderstood Junks: The Western View of Chinese Maritime Technology. PhD Thesis, University of Hawai'i, May 2002.

Worcester, G.R.G. (1948) A Classification of the Principal Sea-Going Junks of China (South of the Yangtze Kiang). Statistical Department of the Inspectorate General of Customs, Shanghai, 1948

Worcester, G.R.G. (1954) The Amoy Fishing Boat. Mariner's Mirror, vol. 40, issue 4, December 1954.

Worcester, G.R.G. (1966) Sail and sweep in China. HMSO, London, 1966.