The History and Culture of Sailboats

If there is a place in this world where people can feast their eyes upon beautiful ancient sailing boats, it would be the East Sea, and specifically the famous Halong – Lan Ha Bay, where sailboats of all colours can be seen.

To us, and to all Vietnamese people, the boats with brown sails stretching the wind and cleaving the waves symbolize happiness, human will and great desire of conquering the sea and success.

The sailing boat has been existing since ancient times. It has been proven that sailing boat is the first sea-faring vessel of mankind. Many valuable studies on world navigation show that long-distance sea travels by boats of ancient Vietnamese have been conducted since about 4,000-3,000 BC. A specific example is when analyzing the symbols on the Dong Son Drum, an invaluable historical physical document, researchers found that over 2,000 years ago, the Vietnamese were able to build sailing boats that could cross Pacific Ocean to America. At the same time, the East Asian sailing technique of ancient Vietnamese has strongly influenced the West, contrary to the popular misconceptions. This proves that the ancient Vietnamese were genius inventors.

 The symbol on Dong Son Drum (Source: Internet)

In about 1,000 years under the Northern domination, Vietnamese ancestors are proven to make the most voyages by sailboat. The Chinese history recognizes that in the 3rd century, the ships and boats in the North and North Central Vietnam were already very advanced, as it can carry up to 700 people and 260 tons of goods, with 4 sails placed very wisely to catch the winds from different directions.

Under the fierce oppression of the Northern feudal forces, many Vietnamese had to leave their homeland and migrate to Northeast Asia, America, Oceania and South Asia. However, after the country regained its official independence by the Battle of Bach Dang in 938, the Vietnamese did not have to immigrate anymore. This explains the discontinuity of Asian influence on native American culture since AD ​​1,000. Nevertheless, in terms of sea navigation and sailing history, 1,000 years is more than enough for popularizing and spreading the superior characteristics of Vietnamese’s techniques of building, using sailing ships and seafaring skills to the world.

The Battle of Bach Dang in 938. (Source: Internet)

By 19th century, when sailing ships reached their peak as a means of war and commerce at sea, it was the Westerners who had to marvel at the Vietnamese’s ability to use sailboats: They steered the boats in a very ingenious way to overcome the waves. Their talent is not inferior to any first-class crew in all of Europe. Particularly, the smooth operation in interaction with the sails was perfected by the Vietnamese many centuries ago, while in Europe it was much less known and implemented. With a great understanding of the complex wind directions and currents, wise manoeuvre to avoid hurricanes, Vietnamese ancestors steered small boats, none of which exceeded 50 tons, and rode out the fierce storms, which was something that no European dare to try.

The sailing boat in ancient times. (Source: Internet)

Over thousand years of history, the image of the sail has gone through many wars for national independence, becoming one of the specific cultural identities that impresses foreigners who come to Vietnam in decades. No matter how developed the technology is, how advanced and modern the ships are, the image of the sail still retains its inestimable historical value.

Halong Bay then…. (Source: Internet)

…and now.

With the motto “Honoring the traditions”, Pelican Group has designed boats with wide sails, as you are seeing now, to awaken and preserve the heritage of sailboats in the Gulf of Tonkin, for history always accompanies and harmonizes with modern day values. We truly hope that this culture will be inherited and continued with the spirit of creativity and the will to pave new ways by succeeding generations.