This is the second of my recent purchases. It's only a small image, roughly 2 inches by 2 inches, but when I used my magnifying glass I could see it showed something I've written about, but hadn't yet seen a photo of.
What: Here's a closer look so you can see what caught my interest.
The man has put dried grass under the sampan's hull and set it alight. This is a process known as breaming, and used to be a regular task for anyone who owned a boat with a wooden hull.
Over time, barnacles and seaweed build up on a boat's hull, making it slower in the water. Breaming burns that away, restoring the boat's performance - think of it like taking a car in for a regular service to keep it running smoothly. Of course, lighting a fire next to a wooden hull can go very wrong, so the person doing the breaming has to pay close attention!
To get access to the hull, the boat needs to be beached, and leaned over onto one side. This is known as careening.
Careening wasn't just used for breaming, and it wasn't limited to small boats like the one in this photo. e.g. in the days when the Royal Navy's ships were made of wood, if the crew needed to work on some part of the ship that was usually under water, but they were somewhere that didn't have a dry dock, they'd have to careen the ship.
In the extract of Collinson's 1845 map shown below, you'll see that in Aberdeen Harbour (shown as Aberdeen Bay on the map) just north of Ap Lei Chau (Aberdeen Island), a small island is labelled as Careening Isld. This was important information for early visitors to Hong Kong, as Hong Kong wouldn't get its first dry dock until the end of the 1850s.
Who: The man in the photo is probably just the owner of the sampan, as it isn't large enough to need any specialised equipment or manpower to handle the job.
Where: There aren't any notes on the photo, or distinctive landmarks in the scene. So I can't guarantee this photo was taken in Hong Kong, though that is what the seller said. They may have taken the photo from an album of Hong Kong photos, which would have given them its location.
When: Again, I don't see any obvious clues in the photo, and we can't see the clues we'd get if we had the full album. If you spot anything, please let us know in the comments below.
Gwulo Photo ID: ET002
I read an interesting article, Copper-Bottoming the Royal Navy, while learning about careening and breaming. It explains that the Royal Navy was the first to cover their ships' hulls in copper sheeting. The copper reacts with seawater to produce a chemical film that is toxic to weed, keeping the hulls clean, making the ships faster, and avoiding the need for careening. Even more importantly, the copper kept shipworms at bay - those worms would feast on unprotected wood, and could cause major damage to a ship's hull. Copper-bottoming thus gave the Royal Navy important advantages over their rivals. You can read the article at the U.S. Naval Institute's website.
Closer to home, this photo has several links to photos in Volume 3 of my books:
- Photo 5 at Staunton Creek shows what looks like a drying rack for grass that would be used for breaming
- Photo 10 mentions the arms race between the world's navies
- Photos 13 and 14 show some of Hong Kong's dry docks, a much better solution than careening