Boatbuilding in Taiwan – Adaptation of industrial materials and traditional methods.
What happens when ancient methods of building boats suddenly find a whole new range of materials to use. Industrial materials.
In Taiwan, local boatbuilding went up to huge sizes using basic bamboo tech. Ocean going trawlers 60 70 80 ft long. Photos, explanation of materials used and so on below.
This goes back to my first visit to Taiwan around 2005.
Background in 2005 and then onto the boats:
I am a boat designer working in Australia.
A couple of years ago I went to Taiwan with some friends of mine from Adelaide. They are originally from the western side of the island at Changhua, a coastal town.
The old port section of the town is called Lugang and is picturesque with its narrow streets and many old temples. The name means “Deer-Port” as Deer were a major export during the 50 years of Japanese rule until the end of WW2. Lugang has a great deal of history with narrow winding streets a number of the oldest temples in Taiwan.
The first temple picture is one of the oldest active temples in the area and the second is of one not far away being rebuilt from a massive earthquake several years ago. All the ribbons are catalogue numbers of parts lying in racks at the side of the building.
Taiwanese temples often don’t have foundations but are freestanding structures – simply standing on areas paved with stone. I image that this allows them to absorb quite a few of the shocks of minor earthquakes as the temples are free to bounce around the general area.
In recent years Lugang has become an area for artisans and there are many high level craft traditions practiced including silversmithing, wood carving, lantern making, brush painters, potters as well as many others.
Changhua/Lugang also has many good restaurants and cafes including a number of excellent vegetarian eateries – a largish proportion of Taiwanese are vegetarian because of Buddhist or Taoist convictions.
So I was a guest in someone else’s country and was being treated like a king – people were taking me to places that I had an interest in – all of the above – plus areas representing the fine Taiwanese teamaking and tea-growing traditions. On one of my slack days I ended up being taken in charge by Iris, who had spent several years studying in Melbourne and we went to explore the waterfront areas of Lugang/Changhua a few days before the major Moon Festival when the Dragon Boats are raced.
So we headed down to the China Sea in Iris’s car.
The Luck of Discovery:
On reaching the water it was clear that there had been major reclamation projects with the building of levees in the sea and then either pumping the water out to claim the land or letting it dry naturally and harvesting the salt – so the coast was now considerably further west of its original position.
In amongst the concrete buttresses around the reclaimed areas we found a small harbour area still operating, but only a few people were present, though many boats were there in either better or worse condition surrounding a somewhat unstable floating wharf.
I was in my element.
One of the interesting things was how traditional bamboo raft building methods had been used to produce a wide range of craft for different purposes – but instead of being made of giant bamboo tied together with rope much larger craft had been built using industial polypropelene pipe and instead of rope using a heavy monofilament polyester strapping. Many of the craft of this construction were up around the 10 to 13 metre mark and later I found many up to 20 to 30 metres – so major vessels.
A second change was the shift to outboard motors – the rafts were expected to not only carry more but travel much faster. So there were adaptations to alter the rafts to reduce drag at these higher speeds – I’ll explain with pictures.
After having a bit of a wander over the wobbly wharf (much to the amusement of the three locals that were there) Iris and I went up to speak to a fellow who was actually building one of the boats on the bank of the river.
My first question was how long did it take to make one of these big craft. Expecting an answer of weeks I was astounded that working along he was able to produce one in six days from the delivery of materials. I was expecting a timetable of 2 or 3 weeks.
On delivery of the PVC tubes the builder would use the same method to bend the front ends up as with bamboo – heat. The ends were simply steamed until the plastic reached the point where it would yield and could be pushed up or weighed down to produce the up curvature at the bow.
Then they are lashed together with monofilament strapping – not unlike the stuff used to hold shipping cartons together – but really beefy.
Small sized pieces of timber were put across the assembly at intervals and the lashings passed over the top of them – the timber is there to prevent the raft from folding up – it also serves as a base for the working platform which are simply longitudinal boards nailed to the crosswise pieces of timber and then covered with a broad plastic mesh for comfortable footing.
The round form of the pipes – like the original bamboo is not a too
bad shape when travelling slowly, but under a modern outboard the boats are sluggish as well as having the problem of water shooting up through the cracks.
The solution is to use neoprene cut into a triangular shape – in fact two triangles joined at the apex – to fit between the tubes from the underside. This reduces wetted surface increasing the top speed considerably – see the detail view of the stern right
The many uses of this copy of bamboo boat construction. Some of these boats are HUGE.
The folllowing show some of the different setups of the boats.
All in all it was one of the best days of my visit – and that was saying something. A great place!
One of the bigger boats from travels further down south in Hualien on the East Coast.
Whatever superstructure is needed is built in place.
Boats waiting on the beach Hualien
Xiti Harbour where there were some really huge boats and very small oar powered ones.