Newsletter – March 2008

March 2008

Just returned from a month in China. I had hoped to send a newsletter ‘hot off the press’ so to speak whilst there, but couldn’t get it to work! Likewise, I couldn’t access my blog for some reason.

Three of my reasons for going were to visit Qing Dao and check out the sailing facilities for the Olympics, see the Nanhai 1 museum in Yangjiang port and visit the Nanjing museum and shipyard in memory of Zheng He, the great navigator who sailed his fleets of trading ships on seven voyages as far as India and Africa almost one hundred years before Columbus struggled
to the eastern shores of America. Qingdao didn’t work out and the Nanhai 1 museum is yet to be finished – it being a three hour flight from Beijing I decided to wait until another time.

I spent a full day at the Nanjing Museum and yards (separate locations)catching up on the amazing achievements of this remarkable navigator. Virtually unknown in the west this admiral commanded huge fleets(sometimes as many as 200-300 vessels with nearly 30,000 crew)and proceeded to open up trade routes right through southern Asia, to Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Ceylon, India and right accross to the west coast of Africa including Mozambique and down as far as the Cape.

It has even been suggested that as he sailed around the southern side of Indonesia, he may have touched on the north coast of Australia and even more amazingly sailed as far as America. There have been ancient Chinese porcelain relics found underwater in the Caribbean.

The full size replica in the shipyard is 60 metres in length with a beam of 10.5 metres – Zheng He’s flagship or treasure ships would have been 130mtrs(400ft) in length. Built of timber they incorporated separate water tight compartments similar to bamboo to prevent them from sinking. This was a clever idea and light years ahead of European shipbuilding at the time. His
fleets consisted of separate ships for water, horses, rice, troops, gardens and even a craft carrying concubines and emissiaries for the pleasure of entertaining various Kings and
Chiefs they visited along the way.

Visit my blog for images of the museum shipyard and ship.

Zheng He himself was a huge man standing well over two metres and in all probability a eunuch – eunuchs were very powerful in court then. He was a voyager, navigator, explorer, diplomat and ambassador all rolled into one.

He made seven epic voyages from 1405 and opened up all those trading routes which ultimately became known as the marine ‘Silk Road’. He went in peace, not war and returned to China with amazing treasures for those times – lions, bears, tigers and even a giraffe which was comfortably accommodated in a large treasure ship.

The new Emperor shut down these expeditions and his last voyage was in 1430, culminating in Zheng He’s death on board enroute to home and being buried at sea.

Strolling around the shipyard where two hundred of these ships were built over a two year period, one can only marvel at the intense activity and noise that must have been created by the thirty thousand artisans and shipbuilders that worked there. There is also a large statue of the Admiral, a compass replica and a massive iron grapnel type anchor weighing four tonnes.

Fortunately for us some relics escaped the Emperors commands to destroy everything, hence the knowledge we have that has been pieced together to what we know today of this rather remarkable man and period of marine history.

There are a number of websites you can check out by typing Zheng He into your favourite search engine.

You can read more about Zheng He’s exploits and navigating in my ebook ‘Voyage of the Little Ship ‘Tere Moana’ on my website



The Navy sometimes allowed women on board for lengthy voyages, but it was generally frowned upon. When, on any of these voyages, a child was born the mother was usually bedded down in the deck space between two cannons to allow a modicum of privacy and the birth take place there – hence the term ‘son of a gun’.

In addition, if a child was born and the identity of the father was dubious, the child was entered in the ships log as a ‘son of a gun’.

That’s all for this newsletter and remember to check out Zheng
He and much more on my blog at