History : Jul-Aug 2018
BIG BOATS OF CHINA The customary image of the treasure ships, the largest vessels in Zheng He’s fleet, derives from a popular adventure novel by Luo Maodeng, The Three-Treasure Eunuch’s Travels to the Western Ocean (1597), in which the author writes that the ships had nine masts and measured 460 feet long and 180 feet wide. It is hard to believe that the ships would have been quite so vast. Sally K. Church, an emeritus fellow at the University of Cambridge and an authority on Zheng He’s maritime expeditions, has suggested that the vessels more likely had five or six masts and a length of 250 to 300 feet—impressive dimensions nonetheless. Cranes were used to load and unload the ship. Large anchors were made of iron, and measured about seven feet long. Sails were reinforced with bamboo battens.