Hong Kong's last authentic junk in troubled waters

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The Dukling is a tourist boat that takes visitors on scenic trips around its bays.Image source, The Dukling

Hong Kong's last authentic junk boat is struggling to stay afloat due to a lack of overseas tourists.

The Dukling normally takes foreign visitors on scenic trips around its bays but these have dried up due to travel restrictions.

Its owner says it is fighting to survive and having to focus on local citizens during the downturn.

Junk boats have a long history in the former British colony dating back to the Han Dynasty.

"The Dukling is the icon of Hong Kong, I am not only running a business on it, I am trying to maintain this treasurable piece of antique for Hong Kong," owner Hazen Tang told the BBC.

"We keep struggling to survive, and we will survive in this tough year," he added.

The Dukling is believed to be the last authentic junk boat left in Hong Kong's waters. Other junks exist but they are replicas.

Sea change

Its biggest market was overseas tourists but has now swapped its focus onto local Hong Kong citizens during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We treated it as a new opportunity for us to focus more on our local market. We always hope to have more local people to experience a ride on our antique junk," added Mr Tang.

New routes have been extended beyond cruising around Victoria Harbour to local residential areas. And the onboard commentary has also changed.

"Now we focus more on introducing the history of Hong Kong and the olden days when fishermen lived on the boats."

Mr Tang and his crew hope things will pick up in the first quarter of next year if they can survive until then.

"We humans should always learn from the boats. We cannot control the direction of the wind but we can adjust our sail."

Image source, The Dukling

Iconic boats

The image of a Chinese junk boat is a popular symbol of Hong Kong and recognised around the world. A junk boat with red sails is the symbol of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

The boats date back to the Han dynasty (202BC to 220AD) although some say they first appeared in the 10th century when China began using them for trading expeditions.

They were still very common on Victoria Harbour in the 1960s and 1970s. But they have gradually disappeared as people prefer faster modes of transport.

The Dukling was built in 1955 and got its name because the shape of the hull looks like a duck. The traditional three-mast Chinese wooden sailing boat weighs 50 tonnes and has a length of 18 metres

The term "junk" likely comes from the Dutch word jonk and Spanish word junco, which refers to any large to medium-sized ships, when they were used during the colonial period.

The current pandemic is The Dukling's worst crisis and it is battening down the hatches as it still needs to pay monthly expenses such as staff salaries.