Friday, September 4, 2009

Another Tub Boat, and Some Corrections

G.R.G. Worcester's monumental The Junks and Sampans of the Yangtze is full of some many fascinating boats, this blog could devote itself to that book for years and not run out of material. But since we've been on a jag about tub boats, we'll quote old GRG at length on the Wuhu Tub, drawings of which are shown above from the same source:

Floods, droughts, famines, civil wars, and other disasters carrying widespread poverty and distress in their train have brought begging to a fine art in certain parts of the Yangtze Valley.

Normally this is by no means a highly skilled profession, but at Wuhu its followers require to have a knowledge of nautical matters quite out of the ordinary. Here swarms of beggars in tubs cluster round ships made fast to the pontoons and occasionally venture to those at anchor some distance out.

This economical and ingenious custom originated as a practice with two old ladies some 30 or more years ago [i.e., around 1937]. Noting that sampanmen were often fortunate in begging from the passengers of ships making a call at the port, and not having the necessary capital to own or even to hire a sampan, they, nothing daunted, took to the water in the one available craft they did possess, a large wash-tub.

Instant success attended the introduction of this novel form of craft, a success dependent largely on human nature, for the idle passengers on deck are only too ready to be amused by the vociferous and heated competition between the rival crews as they scramble for coins or morsels of food, with all the attendant risks of colliding or capsizing.

As soon as one of the Yangtze passenger-steamers has made fast, several of these elliptical tubs, ranging from 3 to 4 feet across the major axis and sometimes as large as 8 by 6 feet, will appear as from nowhere off the outer side of the ship, varying from the "single seater" variety, paddled with the hands over the side, to one holding a complete family progressing in a style with home-made paddles.

The crew in this case usually consists of a woman who, with the inevitable child lashed to her back, acts as navigator and helmsman, and as many children as the craft will accommodate to paddle. There may be a supercargo in the shape of a baby in a cradle. All the children of an age to do so are trained to hold out their hands in whining supplication.

Does this sound a bit racist? Perhaps it is, and if so I sincerely apologize if it gives offense. It is, nonetheless, interesting from the point of view of our interest in indigenous boats -- in this case, a relatively modern creation (or adaptation) of a boat type outside the western tradition.

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Corrections: Doug Brooks, American builder of Japanese boats, helped correct a few errors of fact or interpretation in my two prior posts on Japanese boats and boatbuilding (this one and this one). Rather than itemize corrections here, I have revised the posts themselves, so if anyone plans to rely on information in either of those posts, please take another look. Of particular interest is that Doug has a new book in the works covering all four of his Japanese apprenticeships.

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