July 31st 2015

Red Sails

A ride on Hong Kong’s most iconic junk: The Duk Ling.

The Franco German

A friend of mine recently asked me about my time in Hong Kong: “What is the most memorable experience you have had over there?”

I paused for a moment. “Hmm, let me think.”

I quickly went through the catalogue of memories and impressions from my stay in the city of the “Fragrant Harbour” and one stood out: cruising on a traditional red sail sampan boat through Victoria Bay on a warm and sunny evening. As the golden hour – the time of the day when the elevation of the sun goes below that 6° angle – kicked in before transitioning into the blue hour and the city lights from both sides of the bay started illuminating the water, standing beneath the red sails of the Chinese junk Duk Ling felt like a trip from the past into modern times.

I was the only guest on board, sailing with a five man Cantonese crew who almost couldn’t believe I was actually able to book a ride. They explained to me that the junk, built in the 1950s in Macau and used as a fishing boat, sank to the bottom of the Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter in September 2014 and underwent a long and very costly renovation process. Acquired by the local yacht traders Yu Lik-hand and Cheng Ching-wah in a state of decay, months and months of intensive work were invested in order to breathe in new life into what is considered the last authentic Chinese sailing junk and a relic of Hong Kong’s past. The vessel was saved and started cruising again around Victoria Harbour mid of June 2015. Apparently, I was one of the very few who found out about it this quick.

“I was just looking in the right place at the right time” is what I tried to explain to them in one of those experiences à la lost in translation.

As the junk glided through the waters of Victoria Harbour, in that oasis of tranquility between the bustling city life on both sides of the bay, I understood why my father keeps telling me about how much he enjoyed, back in the early 80s, taking the ferry that connects Central to Tsim Sha Tsui: approaching a city from the sea is like starting the first chapter of an adventure. It’s exhilarating. I also took the ferry numerous times during my stay in Hong Kong and I noticed that during these 8 little minutes it takes to cross the bay, from all the people on board, the elderly almost always were the ones who seemed the most content. The wind was blowing into their faces, somehow uplifting them and maybe the thought of an adventure, even if only for a couple of minutes, made their hearts young again.

I replied:

“There is a traditional sampan boat that cruises around the harbour and sometimes goes all the way to Lamma Island and Po Toi. If you spend some time in Hong Kong, well, on a late afternoon before dusk starts to fall, try to book a ride on that one. It will channel your inner child and make you forget about financial markets for a moment. ”

And a week later, so he did.

A big thank you to the Duk Ling crew for the experience of a trip back into time.

Shot on Canon 5D Mark III with Canon 50mm 1.4, Canon 85mm 1.8 and Canon 16-35mm 4.0

This post is available in French and German.