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Hilton Hotel's-Wan-Fu-under sail

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Hilton Hotel's-Wan-Fu-under sail

Rarely picture under sail, the popular Wan Fu was operated by the Hilton Hotel until it closed. The vessel arrived in Hong Kong in November 1959 from Taiwan where it was built

Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Sunday, November 15, 1959


The reason photos of the Wan Fu under sail are rare seems to be that under Mardep regulations, once she'd become a tour boat, trundling around under sail was not allowed. It rattles the ice cubes in the G&Ts, makes the vessel lurch about at odd angles and is obviously wildly dangerous.

Someone asked me what I knew about the Wan Fu the other day, and I discovered that my HK built/operated yachts and launches database (still very much in its infancy) had rather a lot and thought the Gwulotes (or whatever the plural of the aficionados might be) might enjoy:

[Admin note: Please scroll down to read an updated account from Stephen.]

Stephen Any idea if this is the same boat: http://hongkongandmacaufilmstuff.blogspot.hk/2016/11/les-tribulations-du... Cheers, Phil

Thanks Phil - I think it is. I knew there was at least one other film but couldn't remember its title, year or anything. I also have a memory of (I think) Sophia Loren (or some equally famous female star) being in a film which starred the Wan Fu...and there's a niggling feeling that somewhere in the 1962 Hope & Crosby Road to Hong Kong it crops up.

Stephen D

I've found out a bit more about the design, which casts some light on the muddled origins of the 'Royal Navy anti-piracy brigantine' nonsense. I've also added the helpful extra film to the list of the films she starred in.

The Wan Fu (萬福 - “Ten Thousand Felicities”) was by origin a 110’ loa, 75’ length on deck, 20’ beam and 10’ draft, 150 ton displacement, Cummins powered, steel built pleasure yacht. With ‘help over the design’ from Bill Garden,[1] she was built as his personal yacht in Taiwan by Mr H.P. McLaughlin, MD of Ingalls Taiwan Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in 1959. She had a 6,000 mile range under power and carried 14 tons of fresh water. When she arrived here on 30 November 1959, after some local HK finishing touches she was intended to head to Honolulu and beyond with Mr McLaughlin and his family.

Detail from a short profile piece about the building venture in the US magazine Boating in 1960 reveals that the Wan Fu may originally have been called Mei Ling, presumably in homage to Madame Chiang Kai Shek.[2] Alternatively, since the profiled design of Mei Ling is of a 70’ length on deck vessel with a 19’ 9” beam, what we may have is an early example of what became a Taiwan yard favourite, the insertion of an extra frame to a design to create something ‘new’. So, may be the projected Bill Garden designed Mei Ling was never built, but the ‘adapted’, slightly larger Wan Fu was? The Boating piece unquestionably shows the profile of the Wan Fu. It also clears up what later became the muddled story about the design and the 19th century Royal Navy, on which more below. The design was evidently intended for production, the Boating piece showing a design logo of a trident on the mainsail. As noted below, at least one other example was built.

Ingalls, today part of Huntington Ingalls Industries, with a second large yard in Newport News, Virginia is still a significant specialist US yard still, claiming to have built 70% of the present US Navy surface fleet. Thirty-five of the present Arleigh Burke class destroyers have been built in its Pascagoula, Mississippi yard, all of new San Antonio class of amphibious transports and the lead ship of the new Pascagoula class of amphibious assault helicopter carriers. The yard also builds the new National Security Cutter for the US Coastguard.

Ingalls’ Taiwan subsidiary is said to have begun life in 1947 as an intended joint venture between Engineers Tankers Corporation of New York (a shadowy outfit!) and the Taiwan Shipbuilding Corporation (https://taiwantoday.tw/print.php?unit=8,8,29,32,32,45&post=14018), despite the latter not having been founded until 1948. The probability is that the deal began during the process of the Kuomintang Nationalist government taking over the Taiwan Dockyard Corporation (founded by the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Corporation in 1937) in the aftermath of Japan’s defeat in WW2.

For obvious reasons not much seems then to have happened. The story takes off again in 1957 when a newly formed Ingalls Taiwan Shipbuilding and Drydock Co rented the Taiwan Shipbuilding Corporation yard in Keelung. It was set up after two years of negotiation between the Taiwan government, Ingalls Shipbuilding of Birmingham, Alabama, the Gulf Oil Corp., and the Chinese Petroleum Corp. The idea was a technology transfer company to boost Taiwanese shipbuilding productivity (the Charles Maynard Cooke Papers at the Hoover Institution in California has details: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf2h4n98wj/dsc/?query=taiwan#hitNum23). The end for what was then Taiwan’s largest shipbuilder came in September 1962. Ingalls Taiwan is said to have failed to pay rent for the yard as agreed in the original deal, so the Ingalls’ operation was ‘temporarily’ taken over by the Taiwan government. It seems never to have resumed.

Once in Hong Kong and undergoing whatever titivation was needed, the Wan Fu had a couple of mishaps. In February 1960 when anchored off the Royal HK Yacht Club during a strong monsoon, she dragged her anchor and fouled a wire cable. After his Chinese deck-hand, Fung Che-ming had sawn the cable away, the Wan Fu drifted until rescued by two landing craft from the USS Renville, a WW2 vintage, Haskell class attack transport that later saw service in the Vietnam war. She was towed to a buoy in the naval anchorage and the screw was cleared the following morning before she headed back to the yacht club. The news story that recounted the event revealed that Mr McLaughlin had resigned from Ingalls Taiwan and now intended not to sail to Hawaii, but to Seattle via the Suez (and presumably Panama!) Canal in the summer of 1960.

That plan must have bitten the dust when the Wan Fu was heavily damaged during the passage of Typhoon Mary over HK between 3-12 June 1960. The typhoon, Hong Kong’s worst since 1937, killed 39 people, sank 123 fishing boats and some 30 pleasure vessels, and made 21,000 people homeless. The Wan Fu was driven ashore in Kowloon Bay and, after being refloated, was slipped at  Pacific Island Shipbuilding Co. in Ngau Tau Kok, run by fellow American J.H. Vaughan, for repairs.[3] Whether that’s where the Wan Fu had been having work done before the typhoon hit is not clear.

It is also not clear what happened next, the sole evidence that Mr McLaughlin’s plans were changing being a notice in the newspaper in 4 July 1960, that his wife, three daughters and son, who’d all crewed the Wan Fu down from Taiwan the previous November, had left for the USA the previous day. There’s no further news until eleven months later when on 1 June 1961, Hong Kong Brigantine Cruises, run by a Mr V.B. Carnahan, and owned by Carmack Co. Ltd of 50 Mirador Mansions, 2/f, Kowloon (which seems mainly to have been an importer of household electrical goods) advertised the Wan Fu’s inaugural commercial trip, one of three to be run each day, under an old boy of HMS Worcester, Capt Mike G. Morris, who had previously been in the Marine Police.

As far as H.P. McLaughlin is concerned, the next trace of him is as president of the Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Co., bought by the Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Co. Ltd. in 1959, and also of the nearby Leckenby Structural Steel Co., though which steel for ships was sourced. His name comes up in a Congressional hearing about overcharging on defence contracts in 1977. The story notes that he was not available to clarify an issue about which Lockheed and Chairman Goodwin Chase of the Renegotiation Board differed a very great deal because he was "living in South America (and) ...not available."[4]

Obviously the company had a bit of strife. It had been set up on 14 September 1961 and in October 1964 Brigantine Cruises became Carmac Traders (HK) Ltd., thereafter going through a few different names before being wound up in 1983. Whatever was going on with the original company, in October 1962 the Wan Fu was acquired by American Cruise Ltd, a subsid of the new Hong Kong American Hotel set up in September 1962 (and dissolved in October 1989) by the American company Wynncor Ltd., which had paid HK$14,250,000 for the site where the old Cheero Club had stood, on the north side of the old Murray Barracks parade ground. They expected to spend HK$60,000,000 on the hotel. The Hong Kong American Hotel changed its name at the end of January, when Wynncor Ltd. signed a twenty year management agreement with Hilton International.  So the Wan Fu became the Hilton’s waterborne attraction when the new building opened for biz as the new Hong Kong Hilton on 15 April 1963.

Interestingly, at around the same time (April 1963), the Ingalls Taiwan built sister ship of the Wan Fu, the Laura, arrived in HK. Her owner, Mr L.C. Craig, intended to use her in HK for a couple of years before heading out for the wide blue yonder.

So the Wan Fu’s working life in Hong Kong was as an up market tourist vessel. By the time she was the Hilton Hotel’s seahorse, she had acquired the ‘legend’ that she had been designed as a replica of supposed Royal Navy anti-piracy brigantines of the 1840s. It’s a testament to HK’s maritime historical obtuseness that five minutes’ research would have revealed that no such vessels ever existed! In fact as the piece in Boating cited above reveals, what Bill Garden had actually done was to try to have a “general motif of the little English training brigs of the 1850s.” Even that is a bit muddled since the design provenance of the training brigs was very varied, almost all being vessels originally designed for other purposes. Perhaps more to the point, they were all brigs – square sail on two masts – not brigantines. But training in the grey waters of the English Channel has less hoopla than piracy on the coast of China, no doubt. Curious how a fanciful luxury cruise vessel design by a well-known American designer like Bill Garden can gather a spurious history once the PR and marketing people shove their oars in.

A 1982 New York Times story by Steve Lohr gives a flavor of the Wan Fu in her pomp, he wrote:

“A longer glimpse of Hong Kong from the water is provided by the Wan Fu, a 110-foot reproduction of an 1840's British brigantine. The sightseeing craft, operated by the Hong Kong Hilton, takes daily cruises of a few hours each, with food and drinks served. The weekend trips are the longest, four hours, and the best. One of these starts next to the Star Ferry pier and heads east toward the New Territories, with terrain reminiscent of the Scottish hill country. At one point the boat drops anchor to allow guests to swim, dine and take in the sights. The four-hour trips, including unlimited food and drinks, cost a little more than $30 a person. Shorter trips cost about $20.”

The next tale is again one of typhoon induced mayhem. The newspapers say Typhoon Ruby in 1964 put the Wan Fu ashore on Stonecutters Island undamaged, though Mike Morris, still her skipper until he slung his hook in 1965 and went ashore to work in the hotel, says he managed to work her into the old Government Dockyard in Tsim Sha Tsui and with help, get her fast alongside. That was not the fate of her sister ship the Laura, which was a total loss, breaking up on Hei Ling Chau with the loss of the life of her chief engineer, who was killed by one of her masts when it crashed down.

The life of the Wan Fu with the Hilton Hotel kept her in an international spotlight, if a modest one. Stars and celebs trod her deck. Cocktail parties of self-appointedly important people were held aboard. And the Wan Fu features in the 1965 Jean-Paul Belmondo movie, “Les aventures d’un Chinois en Chine”, the 1967 movie “Kill a Dragon” (Jack Palance) on a typical tour through Aberdeen Harbour (when it still had sailing junks!) and the “Million eyes of Sumuru”, starring George Nader, of the same year.[5]

In 1978 she got her first woman captain, HK born Milan Jones, though I’m not sure how long she lasted.

The Wan Fu was still in biz for the Hilton in 1990 and staff for her are still in the Hilton’s staff list in 1994. The Hilton itself was pulled down in 1996, so that will have meant the sale of the vessel, but I can find no record of what happened to her or where she went. Wherever and whenever exactly that was, she had had the best part of 30 years in service.


[1] In the Bill Garden collection archived at Mystic Seaport Museum one finds: Design #383, MEI LING; 70 ft. auxiliary brigantine of c.1959, around the same date Design No. Unknown, UNIDENTIFIED; 75.5 ft. brigantine and c. 1960, Design #401A, UNIDENTIFIED; 106 ft. auxiliary brigantine

[2] Boating, Jan-Feb 1960, p.68.

[3] for Pacific Islands Shipbuilding Co., taken over by Henry Fok c.1962 and renamed see https://industrialhistoryhk.org/j-h-vaughan-an-american-shipbuilder-in-hong-kong-by-york-lo/.

[4] Washington Post, July 18 1977, Morton Mintz, "Lockheed overcharge estimate raised".

Thanks to the RHKYC's marine manager, Alan Reid, we now know where the Wan Fu is today, though not how she got there. She is now permanently ashore as a bar at the entrance to the very flashy Nansha Marina at Lat: 22°46'51" N Long: 113°35'50" E, on the west bank of the Pearl River north north west of HK. The Marina opened in 2011, so what happened to the Wan Fu between c.1996 and 2011 I have yet to learn.


Thanks for the update Stephen. here is a grab from Les Tribulations d'un Chinois en Chine from 1965.

Wan Fu
Wan Fu, by Philk

Information from a 1964 HK Hilton postcard.

The steel-hull vessel built in 1959 is 110 feet in length.

Departs Queen's Pier at 11 am and 6 pm. Cruises to Aberdeen. Seafood lunch or dinner at the Sea Palace Floating Restaurant. Returns at 3 pm and 10 pm.HK$ 70 (US$12) per person includes dinner and all drinks aboard. Tickets on sale at the lobby or on boad Wan Fu.

Someone was kind enough to point me to a Facebook post showing the Wan Fu as it is now. All I can say is it looks as though it should be freed and refloated, what a sad end.


Thanks Moddsey. The problem with length measurements of ships is that there are several and which one is being used is too seldom specified. The standard range from greatest to least is:

LOA = length overall = this is actually a variable since it may or may not include what are called 'movable appendages' like bowsprits and bumkins or stern davits (i.e. bits you can dismount)

LOD = length on deck =  the distance along the centreline of the deck from the peak (bit closest to the bow) of the forward deck to the top of the transom (bit closest to the stern) (with a ram bow this is less than LWL)

LWL = length along the centreline from where the stem cuts the water in standard trim (load) to where the stern exits the water (with a ram bow this is less than LOD)

LBP, p/p, p.p., pp, LPP, LBP or Length BPP = length between perpendiculars = the length of a ship along the waterline from the forward surface of the stem, or main bow perpendiculat/vertical member, to the after surface of the sternpost, or main stern perpendicular/vertical member.

The 110' is the Wan Fu's LOA including bowsprit, the 75/6' seems to be either LOA minus bowpsrit or LOD.


I remembered seeing her in the White Swan Hotel website some years ago.  Pictures of her in front of the White Swan Hotel still flows around the internet.  Maybe she stayed there after the HK Hilton closed and before she was permanantly grounded?


I checked in Google Earth Pro, with the co ordinates given in an earlier post and whilst it shows the Nansha Marina no sight of the Wan Fu even if looking at earlier years.

I also looked at the White Swan Hotel and the exterior photo looks very different to the one shown?

you can see it here, centre screen: https://earth.app.goo.gl/Lqs78k

or on GoogleEarth pro:  22°46'46.91"N 113°35'45.12"E

Thanks philk, so it looks like it was relocated there sometime between May 26, 2010 to Nov 11, 2010. I wonder how they did it.