YANGTZE RIVER HIGH-NET FISHING SAMPAN [COMPLETED BUILD]

Heinrich

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Imagine living a life at sea. Not in the romantic way of cruising from island to island aboard a Bayliner, but living aboard a home-made boat, constructed with the most basic of materials. Imagine being born on such a boat, growing up on it, spending years fishing from it to survive, watching your children be born on it, and then eventually dying on it, all without ever – or very rarely - setting foot on dry land. In the cold seas of Southeastern China (Guangdong, Fujian, Hainan and Hong Kong), the Tanka people, or “Sea Gypsies,” have lived like this for generations.

gypsies-of-the-sea_1622716245.jpeg
A Tanka floating city near Guangdong.

“Tank” is the Cantonese for “Boat”
“Ka” is the Cantonese for “Families” or “People”.
The literal meaning of the word “Tanka” is thus: “Boat Families” or “Boat People”.
Simplified Chinese: 疍 家

The Tanka people are unique: They have their own culture, their own economy, their own floating villages, and even their own language. While it originated from Mandarin, it sounds and reads completely differently (some say it sounds more American than Chinese). According to an ancient Chinese legend, thousands of years ago, they were born from a great sea serpent and brought here on a giant wave. The legend further states that Tanka people can survive in the water for three days without breathing air.

微信图片_20210707105340.png
An artistic interpretation of the giant wave that supposedly brought the Tanka people to China.

The second theory claims that they were once farmers who paid their taxes to the emperor in the form of eggs. One day when the tax collector came to collect the tax, the entire village was out at sea fishing. Angered by this, the emperor moved other people onto their farms, leaving the Tanka homeless and forbade them to ever set foot on land again. If this is true, then the Tanka might have lived their waterlogged existence for as long as written history (4 000 years).

All this mystery resulted in the mainland Chinese viewing the Tanka with great suspicion – very much a case of “fear of the unknown”. They consider the Tanka as anything from “odd people” to “sea demon monsters.” Until as late as 1949 (when the People’s Republic of China came into being), it was actually illegal for the Tanka to live on land, compete in literary examinations, or to marry mainland Chinese.

微信图片_20210707105217.png
The typical dress of a Tanka fisherman. Note the hat.

Because of this, the Tanka always had a special connection with foreigners. They would provide goods to foreigners and act as crew members on their ships. Unfortunately, some Tanka women also indulged in the “world’s oldest profession” and Tanka women subsequently earned a very poor reputation. It was so bad that the Chinese government at one stage, regarded all Tanka females as prostitutes! As a result of this and other superstitions, the Chinese mainland mostly refuse to acknowledge the Tanka as Chinese.

微信图片_20210707105430.png
The Tanka women were widely known for their exotic beauty. Unfortunately, this just added to the unwarranted reputation of Tanka women.

In fact, there are even those who didn’t even regard them as human. As early as 1729, they were described as “barbarians” and “animals”. Despite all of this, the Tanka still consider themselves proud Han Chinese, even refusing at one point in the 1950s to be granted status as an independent ethnic group. Even though the Chinese government today regard the Tanka people as officially part of the Han, the stigma still remains.

Given my historical background and love for all things maritime, I was hooked. The decision was made to build a Sampan – the boat of choice of the Tanka people. This was easier said than done, because kits, plans or drawings for the Tanka sampan simply do not exist. There are very good resources available on junks and sampans in general with G.R.G. Worcester’s “The Junks and Sampans of the Yangtze” the most definitive. Louis Audemard’s “Les Jonques Chinoises, Volumes 1-X” is also an invaluable source, while Maxwell Blake’s excellent drawings are well-known. However, none of these contain any information about the Tanka sampan.

41827-564x650.jpg
G.R.G. Worcester's work is acknowledged as the most definitive work on the sampans of the Yangtze.

Eventually, after I had searched every available sampan kit available on the Chinese market, I found the Yangtze River High-Net Fishing boat manufactured by Unicorn models which is relatively close to the real thing, but not quite. The biggest difference was that the Yangtze-river sampan was used exclusively on rivers, while the Tanka sampan – though predominantly a river boat - also ventured offshore. The Yangtze river sampan was also much bigger – 12 metres in length compared to the Tanka boat which seldom exceeded 7 metres.

Some of the more seasoned SOS members may recall that I started a build log of this model on SOS in January 2020 which then ground to an abrupt halt. Well, that build ended up in the garbage bin - that was how disgusted I was with my effort. And truth be told … that sampan has remained in the back of my mind as the one that I couldn’t build.

So here we are with attempt No 2 and all the lessons learnt from the first disaster, hopefully well and truly taken to heart.

Thank you all for looking in - I would like to invite you to join a journey which will be full of twists and turns and a few surprises along the way.

Warmest greetings - Heinrich
 

Heinrich

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So, with the introduction done, let us get to the actual build.

The word “sampan” is a derivative from the Chinese “San Ban” which literally means “three planks”. (“San” means “three” and “Ban” means “plank’).

Very solidly constructed from a variety of wood species (depending on where they were built), they feature a wide variety of designs, ranging from open to partly decked with a closely-woven shelter or cabin aft. In their sheltered configuration, they are often used as permanent habitation on inland waters.

Unicorn describes this version as a high-net fishing sampan with a load capacity of approximately 5 tons. It has a live fish tank, a canopy cabin with a canopy, storage space for ropes and other miscellaneous items – in all, it is regarded as a typical Chinese fishing boat. It is mainly used in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River where the multitude of rapids dictate a straight-bottomed hull with a slightly upswept bow and stern. As the fishing process requires maximum maneuverability, the boat can be operated from both ends to aid in flexibility.

The sampan is powered and steered by the “yuloh” (a single, long sculling-oar which doubles as a rudder) and two to four paddles, but it can be equipped with a single mast and single sail for long-distance sailing. As is typical of the sampan design, the draft is very shallow.

O1CN011UL2cdjLPOnSB0d_!!30912500 (1).jpg
Unicorn's official rendering of what the completed model looks like. This is the Swiss Pear Wood version.

The kit is manufactured in 1:20 scale and there are three available varieties of wood: Cherry, Black Walnut and Swiss Pear Wood. From my previous experience, I knew that the Pear Wood used by Unicorn is of a very high quality with a lovely hue, so Pear it was.

Scale 1/20
Length 640 mm
Width 100 mm
Height 450 mm

Unboxing 2.jpg

Looking at the kit contents, confirmed what I knew already - simply beautiful Pear Wood! The mast and spars are from cherry and there are the few "inevitable" pieces of plywood. In general, I was happy with the overall quality - the laser cutting was good, but not nearly as sharply defined or crisp as YuanQing's. The flipside though, was that the char was far easier to remove. This is obviously a case of what you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts.

O1CN011UL2ckMRY0k5tAc_!!30912500.jpg

The instructions though, were ... meh! The supplied booklet is only in Chinese (understandable), but the photographs which are supposed to act as a step-by-step guide, are of poor quality. Even though in color, they are small, grainy and certain crucial details are simply impossible to decipher. The drawings that come with the kit are in 1:50 scale, so every single dimension taken from it, has to be scaled up to 1:20. I suppose that it is not too big a deal, but it does leave the door open for errors.

So first up was the "construction" of the bulkheads. There are 14 of them of which 4 are made from plywood.

Supports.png

You will notice that on a number of bulkheads there are "supports" (yellow arrows) glued to the bottom (in some cases only on one side of the bulkhead, in others on both sides) These come in different configurations and are mounted at different heights - either to serve as supports for the decking or floor planking later. Also notice the "scoring" lines indicated by the red lines. These indicate the portions and tabs of the bulkheads that will be broken away after planking has been completed.

Next up was the gluing of the keel "stringers" (for want of a better word). Great care has to be taken with the alignment as any existing kind of jig is utterly useless for this type of assembly. Each of the three keel stringers consists of four separate parts – resulting in a total of 12 parts that make up the keel assembly. These are NOT correctly numbered (the same problem that @Donnie had on his Druid - come on, Unicorn!) and a fair amount of head-scratching was required to make sure that each stringer matches the exact curvature of the other two. Once the three stringers had been assembled, it was time for dry fitting the bulkheads and making sure that everything was square. Now remember, each bulkhead has to align perfectly with three stringers. 14 x 3 means there were 42 slots that had to be aligned! Again, this required great care and gentle massaging with files and sandpaper. The keel stringers are thin and very fragile and so are the bulkheads. In fact, neither inspire much confidence. When all the bulkheads fitted properly, everything was glued together and left to dry.

Joints.png

20200114_132422.jpg
Ensuring that everything is kept square. Here you can see just how thin those stringers and bulkheads are!

20200114_152204.jpg
These "supports" at the feet of the bulkheads will be used later to glue the floor planking onto.

20200114_145811.jpg
The process continues. As you can see I made liberal use of glue here.

20200114_150656.jpg
Notice how low the scoring lines are on the plywood bulkheads. Once they are broken away, there will only be the stubs left at the bottom for the floor planking to go on.

20200114_150449.jpg

WeChat Image_20200116042525.jpg
And when all is said and done, you are finally left with something that looks like this - not much to look at, but it is what it is.

Thank you all for your friendliness, kind remarks and comments.

Stay safe, take care and enjoy your model building!

Warmest regards - Heinrich
 
Joined
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Messages
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So, with the introduction done, let us get to the actual build.

The word “sampan” is a derivative from the Chinese “San Ban” which literally means “three planks”. (“San” means “three” and “Ban” means “plank’).

Very solidly constructed from a variety of wood species (depending on where they were built), they feature a wide variety of designs, ranging from open to partly decked with a closely-woven shelter or cabin aft. In their sheltered configuration, they are often used as permanent habitation on inland waters.

Unicorn describes this version as a high-net fishing sampan with a load capacity of approximately 5 tons. It has a live fish tank, a canopy cabin with a canopy, storage space for ropes and other miscellaneous items – in all, it is regarded as a typical Chinese fishing boat. It is mainly used in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River where the multitude of rapids dictate a straight-bottomed hull with a slightly upswept bow and stern. As the fishing process requires maximum maneuverability, the boat can be operated from both ends to aid in flexibility.

The sampan is powered and steered by the “yuloh” (a single, long sculling-oar which doubles as a rudder) and two to four paddles, but it can be equipped with a single mast and single sail for long-distance sailing. As is typical of the sampan design, the draft is very shallow.

View attachment 242747
Unicorn's official rendering of what the completed model looks like. This is the Swiss Pear Wood version.

The kit is manufactured in 1:20 scale and there are three available varieties of wood: Cherry, Black Walnut and Swiss Pear Wood. From my previous experience, I knew that the Pear Wood used by Unicorn is of a very high quality with a lovely hue, so Pear it was.

Scale 1/20
Length 640 mm
Width 100 mm
Height 450 mm

View attachment 242748

Looking at the kit contents, confirmed what I knew already - simply beautiful Pear Wood! The mast and spars are from cherry and there are the few "inevitable" pieces of plywood. In general, I was happy with the overall quality - the laser cutting was good, but not nearly as sharply defined or crisp as YuanQing's. The flipside though, was that the char was far easier to remove. This is obviously a case of what you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts.

View attachment 242749

The instructions though, were ... meh! The supplied booklet is only in Chinese (understandable), but the photographs which are supposed to act as a step-by-step guide, are of poor quality. Even though in color, they are small, grainy and certain crucial details are simply impossible to decipher. The drawings that come with the kit are in 1:50 scale, so every single dimension taken from it, has to be scaled up to 1:20. I suppose that it is not too big a deal, but it does leave the door open for errors.

So first up was the "construction" of the bulkheads. There are 14 of them of which 4 are made from plywood.

View attachment 242750

You will notice that on a number of bulkheads there are "supports" (yellow arrows) glued to the bottom (in some cases only on one side of the bulkhead, in others on both sides) These come in different configurations and are mounted at different heights - either to serve as supports for the decking or floor planking later. Also notice the "scoring" lines indicated by the red lines. These indicate the portions and tabs of the bulkheads that will be broken away after planking has been completed.

Next up was the gluing of the keel "stringers" (for want of a better word). Great care has to be taken with the alignment as any existing kind of jig is utterly useless for this type of assembly. Each of the three keel stringers consists of four separate parts – resulting in a total of 12 parts that make up the keel assembly. These are NOT correctly numbered (the same problem that @Donnie had on his Druid - come on, Unicorn!) and a fair amount of head-scratching was required to make sure that each stringer matches the exact curvature of the other two. Once the three stringers had been assembled, it was time for dry fitting the bulkheads and making sure that everything was square. Now remember, each bulkhead has to align perfectly with three stringers. 14 x 3 means there were 42 slots that had to be aligned! Again, this required great care and gentle massaging with files and sandpaper. The keel stringers are thin and very fragile and so are the bulkheads. In fact, neither inspire much confidence. When all the bulkheads fitted properly, everything was glued together and left to dry.

View attachment 242751

View attachment 242752
Ensuring that everything is kept square. Here you can see just how thin those stringers and bulkheads are!

View attachment 242753
These "supports" at the feet of the bulkheads will be used later to glue the floor planking onto.

View attachment 242754
The process continues. As you can see I made liberal use of glue here.

View attachment 242756
Notice how low the scoring lines are on the plywood bulkheads. Once they are broken away, there will only be the stubs left at the bottom for the floor planking to go on.

View attachment 242757

View attachment 242758
And when all is said and done, you are finally left with something that looks like this - not much to look at, but it is what it is.

Thank you all for your friendliness, kind remarks and comments.

Stay safe, take care and enjoy your model building!

Warmest regards - Heinrich
To my eye, the "this is what it is" is the beginning of the patient planking. . . let the games begin! I like the lace beneath the forms as it restates the delicate sleigh like support of the finished Sampan. This is a fishing trip worth watching. Rich (PT-2)
 

Heinrich

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@PT-2 Thank you very much for the beautiful sentiments Rich! Thumbsup Your word choice of describing the keel stringers as lace and the construction as sleigh-like are beyond apt. And --- surprisingly --- for all its delicacies it is one of the sturdiest and hardiest watercraft known to man.
 

Heinrich

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@pianoforte Dear Adi - a very warm welcome to the hard life / roller-coaster ride aboard a Chinese sampan. It is wonderful to have someone of your expertise and experience present on the journey. Please feel free at all times to chip in, comment and critique as you see fit!
 

Heinrich

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@pianoforte The three planks refer to the bottom or underside of the hull and then to the two sides. When one takes into account that the bottom of the hull actually consists of six planks, the name is a bit of misnomer. Maybe the name more accurately refers to the origin of the sampan as it is believed to have been a direct evolvement of the log boat. In their later incarnations the log boat did no longer consist of a carved-out tree trunk, but actually of three pieces - the bottom and the two sides.

1.png
 
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HEINRICH, JUST A MARVOLOUS HISTORY LESSON, YOU GOT ME HOOKED, AND I AGREE WITH DANIEL, WHO MAKES THIS KIT. GOD BLESS STAY SAFE ALL DON

Don, Heinrich posted that Unicorn made the ship.

I would like to know where models like this one or other Chinese boat are being sell. ZHL Model do not have them. Neither I can find it on eBay.

Cheers
Daniel
 
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