In the midst of the modern towers of Nanjing stands a wondrously beautiful boat 20 jans long and 9 jans wide. And her masts are so high that they touch the lower skies.
Masts to the skies
Great history is the foundation of a great nation. It’s nice to see great ancestors in your family. And if they are not, then you need to come up with. You can easily become heroes of sea voyages that ended 600 years ago.
If the state has a hand in restoring historical memory … The past promises to become even more interesting!
The year is 1405 on the calendar. From the mouth of the Yangtze comes the “golden fleet” under the command of Admiral Zheng He. Hundreds of ships. Decades of large-scale hikes in India, Asia and Africa. The Chinese era of the great geographical discoveries – a hundred years before Columbus!
What is left of them?
“Treasure Ship” (“Baochuan”) of the Ming Dynasty, XXI century. AD Source: kbismarck.org
Wooden Titanic from the Middle Ages
On such ships, the brave Admiral Zheng He made his seven voyages under the winds of the southern seas.
An impressive example of 15th century shipbuilding, miraculously survived in the cycle of eras.
It is a great success for archaeologists to find an antique trire or a half-decayed drakkar, of which a fragment of a keel and a pair of frames remained. A significant event was the discovery of the Bremen Cog, the skeleton of a small 15th century commercial launch. In Asia, medieval junks were found, in which it was even possible to distinguish the method of fastening the casing.
Time is merciless to wooden masterpieces. We see the remains of ships, but their true appearance is unknown. They disappeared into the past.
Zheng He’s “golden fleet” ship is the only one. Its beauty is timeless, and the graceful contours of the sides are made of noble reinforced concrete.
In 2008, on the eve of the Beijing Olympics, Chinese restorers recreated the life-size “treasury”. Of course, restorers did not dare to restore a replica of the real “baochuan”, which was 44 jans and 4 chi in length, while the body was 18 jans. If we translate Chinese measures of length into the metric system (1 jan ≈ 3 m, 1 chi ≈ 0.3 m), then strange results will follow. The lower displacement limit for such vessels is estimated at 19,000 tons. The upper displacement limits of Zheng He’s flagships lie within 30,000 tons.
The most gullible person, seeing “Baochuan” up close, would express doubts about the ability of the Chinese to build “wooden Titanics” in the late Middle Ages.
Restoration enthusiasts prefer not to focus on the extraordinary dimensions of Zheng He’s “treasures”, and for the most attentive viewers it is explained that they are looking at a medium-sized model.
The mid-size “baochuan” 63 meters long (≈21 jan) undoubtedly looks more realistic. Although it still raises questions.
Is there any other, more reliable evidence of the existence of the “golden fleet” of the Minsk empire? There is no such evidence. If found, all further questions would have been settled.
The Longjiang Shipyard Museum displays an 11-meter long wooden beam that protrudes from the rudder axis of a giant ship (the rudder itself, of course, has not survived). As you can imagine, this exhibit could well have had any other purpose.
There is nothing else. Only pictures and legends.
Data on Chinese “treasures” are taken from the Dynasty Chronicles of the Ming Empire (1368-1644) and a number of other documents presented by Chinese historians at the official level in the early 2000s. Among them is the illustrated work “The Legend of the Heavenly Virgin, who keeps the High in spirit at the behest of the Great Lord.” This is the only source that has come down to us, which contains at least some intelligible details about the appearance and construction of the ships of the “golden fleet”.
Treasury – “Frankenstein”
“Treasury” is a “Frankenstein”, which is molded from a European caravel and a traditional Asian junk with an unnatural ratio of parameters. According to the generally accepted opinion of specialists in the history of China, the architecture of large junks of a later period, with developed bow and stern superstructures (for example, the Qiying, 19th century), was gradually formed under the influence of European galleons, which the Chinese met in the 16th century.
All discovered Chinese ships of the XIV-XV centuries had a different look. They, in general, turned out to be different – both in size and design. But this is only the beginning of the story.
When creating a technical system, individual design solutions are of great importance. Each project contains elements of creativity, a unique author’s idea.
On the other hand, there is an objective reality that hinders development knowingly delusional and erroneous constructions.
Based on the presented appearance of the “treasuries”, they were built in violation of the well-known principles of shipbuilding, which the shipbuilders knew about from ancient times.
Thus, the length of the body of the “treasury” exceeded its width by less than two and a half times. An incredibly small ratio for a large ship (L / B = 2.4), supposedly intended for sailing on the high seas.
Baochuan is more of a designer’s imagination than an engineer. It would look great as a backdrop for a fantasy movie. But going to sea on such a ship is a risk on the verge of insanity.
This is evidenced by any example taken from the world shipbuilding. No one has ever built such ships. Even in the early days of the sailing fleet.
“Caracca” from the Columbus expedition had a hull elongation of 3.5.
Admiral Nelson’s flagship, the huge battleship Victory, had a value of 4.3.
The wreckage discovered in 1973 (dubbed “the ship at Quanzhou”) belongs to a 13th century Chinese junk with a 3.5 hull ratio (L / B = 3.5).
The three-masted Chinese junk “Qiying”, which sailed to America and Europe in the 19th century, had a hull with a typical ratio of 4 parameters (L / B = 4) for that time.
Returning to the wooden Ming Titanic, such a ship would not be able to keep on course under the influence of currents and winds. The situation was further aggravated by its flat-bottomed construction.
The short and wide body guaranteed unsatisfactory speed performance. However, there was a more compelling reason for this – the insufficient sail area.
A couple of examples.
The large Hanseatic ship “Peter von Danzig” (1462) was propelled by 760 square meters of panels. With a displacement of about 800 tons.
The 3500-ton ship of the Victory line required 5428 sq. m. The height of its masts reached 67 meters. The mainmast was assembled from the trunks of seven pine trees, held together by steel hoops and ropes.
The construction of “Victory” (from the moment of laying its keel to launching) took the British six years. Without taking into account the ten-year process of harvesting and aging wood of elite varieties. And also the time spent on the design of the project, which used ready-made drawings from the predecessor Royal George. After launching the ship, work followed on retrofitting and rigging “Victory”, as well as correction of the roll to starboard (a defect during construction) and sea trials.
For the entire 18th century, only two dozen such giants were built in the world. Perhaps the most expensive and complex technical structures of the era.
The construction of a large wooden ship required special knowledge, which was accumulated by generations of shipbuilders. Be prepared for the inevitable distortion of the case and know how to deal with defects. Imagine – an open slipway and wooden parts as high as a five-story building. Cold morning, hot afternoon, damp and cool night. In the morning, the sun is on the right, and in the afternoon, on the left.
The British knew where to check and how to keep the deformation within the normal range by adding stiffeners in a specific order. And after launching, they compensated for the emerging roll with additional ballast. The Dutch in the 18th century preferred to launch ships with an unfinished side and assemble them afloat, making the necessary changes to the design.
Baochuan Ming era
The technology for creating the “baochuan” of the Minsk era is not known for certain. In China, with the wave of the emperor’s hand, wilted flowers bloomed, and trees with ripe peaches grew from seeds thrown on the ground. And everything on earth and in the sky obeyed the will of the Holy Sovereign, “the Lord of ten thousand years.”
Therefore, the Chinese did not have any problems to build sixty ships with a displacement of 19 thousand tons in a few years.
It is worth noting that the largest wooden sailboat ever built is the 137-meter schooner “Wyoming”, which had a displacement of 8,000 tons. The wood was not strong enough to withstand such loads. Through the deformed casing, water continuously penetrated into the hull, with which the bilge pumps could barely cope. On a stormy night in March 1924, the schooner disappeared without a trace with the entire crew.
Representative of the late Windjammer era, the barque “Kruzenshtern” has a displacement of over 6 thousand tons and sailing equipment with an area of 3553 square meters. m. (which are placed on four masts, reaching a height of 56 meters).
“Kruzenshtern” – an example from another reality (1926). The extreme length of the hull for a sailboat (114 meters) made it possible to achieve the optimal position of the masts and the greatest effective surface of the sails, allowing them not to shade each other. Fast and efficient control of the sail rig is provided by electric winches. With a fresh tailwind, the narrow hull of the barge (L / B = 8) rips the wave at a speed of 17 knots.
Incredible “windjammers” (literally – wind squeezers) became possible with the advent of inventions of the early twentieth century. Among them are auxiliary machines and an electric drive for rigging control.
Building such a narrow and long hull with a displacement of 6,400 tons out of wood would be a risky decision. “Kruzenshtern” is built entirely of steel.
The Chinese in the 15th century could not have any of the above.
A trough with a displacement of 19 thousand tons
Their task was simply to move a wide trough with a displacement of 19,000 tons. Even if we take seriously the revelations of Chinese historians that the speed of 2 … 2.5 knots was sufficient for transoceanic campaigns, the main question remains.
Baochuan needed 100 meters high masts.
A single tree trunk is insufficient to provide the longitudinal rigidity of such a high structure. It is necessary to fasten several logs at the base of the mast and extend it upwards. There is no evidence of the materials and technology available to build prefabricated mast structures of this height during the Ming Dynasty.
According to Chinese historical research, large “baochuan” carried nine relatively low masts, located not along, but diagonally, three rows from the centerline.
Skeptics, on the other hand, draw attention to the shading and uselessness of a large part of the sailing equipment with so many masts and sails. Also, the problem with the distribution of loads in case of a sudden change in the strength and direction of the wind has not been solved. According to skeptics, a wooden titanic with nine masts will immediately fall apart under the onslaught of the sea.
Despite all the implausibility of the legend, the story of Zheng He’s “golden fleet” is now presented as a well-known historical fact, testifying to the maritime superiority and great achievements of medieval China.
The legend is being replicated on popular resources. At the same time, its supporters do not even notice the scale of the absurdity. The Baochuan’s hull is wider than the Panamax supertanker.
Lack of physical evidence. Incredible construction time. Fantastic size and dubious design.
In addition to purely technical issues, questions of a socio-economic nature remain unanswered. For example, why did the emperors of the Minsk Empire need to spend colossal resources to create a “golden fleet”, when all the interests and main threats lay on the land borders of the empire.
Or – why the state, which possessed such superiority in technology, did not use them in any way to strengthen its role in the world.
Perhaps, the Western historian R. Finlay spoke about these events in the best way:
“The Minsk expeditions did not entail any changes: no colonies, no new routes, no monopolies, no cultural prosperity and no global unity … The history of China and world history probably would not have undergone any changes if Zheng He’s expeditions at all never took place. “
Treasure Ship and Portuguese Caravel. On the same scale.