Hai Long Story
Hai Long started life as “Ho Hum”, a Chinese junk ship made in Hong Kong at Cheoy Lee Shipyards, in 1968. The die of her form and function was cast long before; the junk design of vessel dates back at least 200 AD and flourished during the Song and Ming dynasties as simple and often subtle changes were made to perfect the design for greater seaworthiness.
By the time the Ming Dynasty came to be, in the late 1300s, the junk ship and its derivatives had reached a zenith of design and innovation, no other ship in the world could hold its own against such a tried-and-proven design. An ambitious Emperor, eager to push China to the greatest heights as the de fact world power, succumbed to a daring aspiration, to build a fleet of Chinese-made ships and explore the known and unknown world. This succession of missions, ultimately seven in total, would present a peaceful, non-imperialistic China to the world outside, with a zeal for commerce, trade and world peace. A fleet of approximately 300 ships, the likes of which the world never saw again until 500 years later at the dawn of WW1, was built in Nanjing, which would carry about 30,000 crew members on each of the seven voyages between 1405 and 1435. The largest ships of the “Star Fleet”, the Treasure Ships, are believed to have been between 150 and 180 meters in length, although there is much debate on this topic since none have survived and most evidence is based on academic discussion and recorded accounts. The extent of their travels is also hotly contested, most recently in Gavin Menzie’s book “1421 – The Year China Discovered the World” and his follow-on “1434 – The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance”. However far they reached, or the true size of the ships, one thing is known for certain: this magnificent and peaceful fleet was commanded by a trustworthy Mongolian eunuch Muslim Admiral who is known today as Zheng He.
At one time, Hong Kong was the epicentre of wooden shipbuilding in China (perhaps the world) and Ho Hum took her place in a heavy production schedule. These wonderful boats were mostly built for indigenous consumption, often for live-aboard accommodation on the Yangtse, Yellow and Pearl Rivers and along the sheltered bays along the coast of China, but the place where the world saw the greatest proliferation and concentration of these wonderful vessels was in Hong Kong Harbour:
A person could literally walk right across the harbour stepping on nothing but wooden boats every inch of the way! The heyday was the mid-1960s… after that, the numbers started to dwindle due to cultural policies, disuse, abandonment and stricter government controls of the navigable waters. Most were simply destroyed or left to decay. But before all this, a few escaped to be put to recreational use in areas far from Asia… this is Hai Long’s story.
The earliest days of Hai Long are unknown, except that she was built in Hong Kong sometime between 1968 and 1969, while the world was undergoing profound change. Political unrest, civil rights protests, manned space flights to the moon, Woodstock creates a city of music and revelry in backwoods New York State and pop culture explodes, even Star Trek is born… a time of change and turbulence if ever there was, perhaps the most intense and exciting period of all time. As the world looked forward to a new age and social consciousness, a team of Asian craftsmen built a 6,000 kilogram piece of timeless floating artwork, borrowing from the past as much as the astronauts were borrowing from the future.
Hai Long’s is a story which will slowly emerge, with patience. Your hosts Luo Dan Ni and Montgomery Gisborne (aka “Shan Long”) were able to acquire “Ho Hum” from the previous long-term owners, who purchased the vessel in the early 1970s and loved and cherished the vessel as their own child. Ho Hum spent most of her years in private ownership in Chester, Nova Scotia, where she was used as a private recreational vessel and gingerly cared for. Upon acquiring the vessel in October 2016, the new owners registered the vessel as “Hai Long”, Mandarin for “Sea Dragon” and began the task of fitting the boat out for her new role as a charter vessel operating out of the Charlottetown Marina, beginning with a commercial haul across the Northumberland Strait separating the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island:
Despite her years, testament has been made to the excellent choice of teak structural wood as she has been preserved and remains virtually intact, little worse for wear. She is one of few authentic, original junk ships remaining anywhere, even Hong Kong Harbour has but one original operating junk left, Duk Ling, built in 1955:
We invite you aboard Hai Long, to experience life aboard this iconic vessel, to invoke a feeling of cultural celebration and to place yourself at a time when great people did great things to expand universal knowledge. Close your eyes and imagine yourself casting lines and heading into the Great Unknown… but beware of the pirates in the Strait of Malacca, they were as prevalent during the Ming Dynasty are they are today! Some things, like junk ships, never seem to change…