Photograph courtesy of San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park
As an undergrad, John C. Muir came across 19th
century photos of Chinese junks sailing the San
Francisco Bay. Curious about what these foreign vessels were doing in California, Muir dove into maritime
research and was soon building a replica himself.
Muir learned that several immigrant Chinese
shrimping communities settled in the San Francisco
and San Pablo Bays between 1860 and 1910. Little
remains of these villages, but the well-preserved
remains of two redwood junks were discovered
during low tide in the mudflats of China Camp
State Park in Marin County.
Muir, now a curator of small craft at San Francisco
Maritime National Historical Park, decided to recreate
a traditional California-Chinese shrimp junk from the
ground up. With Park Service approval he snowshoed
through the mud to take photos and measurements,
and enlisted the help of third-generation China Camp
resident Frank Quan and a crew of mostly amateur
boat-builders, who called themselves “Junkies.”
To build the 42-foot replica, they used traditional
techniques Muir learned from trips to boatyards in the
Guangdong province of China. The Junkies bent the
redwood of the keel and planks over a fire, shaping
them around a fulcrum while clamping or weighing
the ends down with buckets of rocks, and constantly
spraying the lumber with water, to prevent burning.
“At first fire-bending seemed counterintuitive,” says
Junkie Inka Petersen, “but it works instantaneously.
Plus we got to have a bonfire on the beach every day.”
When it was time to piece the vessel together,
volunteer blacksmiths taught the Junkies to forge
headless iron nails based on samples Muir brought
from China. Headless nails are integral to the art of
edge-nailing, which joins the planks to each other
as well as to the main structure.
Six months later the junk was christened the
Grace Quan after Frank’s mother. The crew raised
the hand-sewn and tanbark-dyed cotton canvas sail,
perhaps the vessel’s most stunning feature, and the
Grace Quan set sail on San Francisco Bay.
>> Shrimp Junk Project: nps.gov/archive/safr/junk.html