View Full Version : Sailing on Dhows and Junks

10-24-2012, 10:19 PM
Completely unrelated to SWJ perhaps, but I will ask anyway because someone here may know the answer: does anyone know of any good accounts of life aboard Chinese or Arab trading ships pre-16th century or so? I ask because I have read a number of books and seen movies and so on about life on European sailing ships in the “age of exploration” and it was a hellishly tough life..the achievements of European sea-farers are amazing feats of human endurance and skill (Polynesians were responsible for some amazing feats too, sometimes given extra-credit for being “primitive”, but even their amazing voyages dont compare to the feats of European sailors). Arabs and Chinese were long distance sailors too, and on fairly large ships (in the case of Chinese junks of the Admiral He period, much bigger than European ships). We dont hear much about life on those ships (do the Chinese? I dont know. I know the Arabs dont know much more than I do about their sailors)

Was it equally tough? or was sailing the Indian ocean and the seas around China in dhows and junks somehow an easier job than the trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific feats of European explorers (including the above-mentioned Captain Cook)? Of course, we know that lots of Asians were press-ganged into service on European ships and did all that European sailors did (though evidently their captains and leaders did not do what European captains and leaders did, for whatever reason), so its not a question about the physical (and mental) skills needed to do job X on board ship. Job X was done by all sorts of races. I am just curious about the details of job Y. what was life like on junks and dhows.
I am interested in details.

10-25-2012, 04:45 AM
While I cannot help with any texts that describe life on a junk or dhow, I recently read a Saudi Aramco World article titled: Sailing Through Time: Jewel of Muscat, which detailed the hand-wrought construction of a ship built to replicate a 9th cent. ship that plied the maritime "silk road".

You can see an electronic copy of the magazine here: http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/pdf/2012/201203/index.html

As a shameless plug for Saudi Aramco World, I have requested free annual subscriptions for two years running, and have thoroughly enjoyed the articles I find within the pages.

10-25-2012, 10:28 AM
A few years ago a book was published about Chinese exploration, ostensibly challenging Columbus's discovery of The Americas; shortly afterwards much 'cold water" was poured on the book. I suggest you search Google using 1492 china discovered world and there maybe more there.

10-25-2012, 05:19 PM
David, that book (1421) is mostly junk. http://www.1421exposed.com/

IN any case I was looking for the sort of detailed account of shipboard life on European sailing ships that you can find in dozens of popular books and movies. e.g. this book about Captain Cook http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Latitudes-Boldly-Captain-Before/dp/0312422601

Or the movie "master and commander", to name an example that was on TV a few nights ago.

Steve Blair
10-25-2012, 09:13 PM
I've never seen anything like this, FWIW. Most of the accounts I've seen of the early Spanish and Portuguese exploration imply that the dhow trade was more coastal and lacked the range of Iberian efforts. That alone, I suspect, would have rendered it less nasty (possibly more like the trade in the Med and other places). But I haven't seen accounts specific to either dhow or junk sailing.

I also have a nagging recollection that the dhows were often unarmed, so they would have had smaller crews. That alone would have made things a touch more comfortable.