Sunday, October 09, 2005

Man Restores Chinese Junk In His Front Yard

While it may seem like Sherman Avenue resident Mickey Saccoccio's Chinese junk, Mama Junk, has found a permanent home in his front yard, the barn red, 30-foot long sailing vessel is nearly complete and should see the water come next spring.
Mickey Saccoccio
Resting atop stilts and facing the Kickemuit River, the junk — a type of Asian sailing vessel — towers above Mr. Saccoccio's waterview cottage at the corner of Sherman and Everett avenues. For the last four years it has caught the attention of scores of passers-by and sailing enthusiasts alike. Since moving to Bristol several years ago with his girlfriend, Mary, Mr. Saccoccio has spent countless hours rebuilding the two ton ship, something he said he loves to do. "This isn't about me, it's about the boat," he emphasized, standing at the junk's helm at the rear of the boat. An avid sailor and boatwright, Mr. Saccoccio purchased the junk more than 20 years ago after he saw it advertised in a local newspaper. The boat is more than 45 years old and was originally built in China before it was shipped over to the states. Since he bought the boat, he has rebuilt it three times and has even sailed it up and down the East Coast, going as far south as Sarasota, Florida.
"I've got thousands of miles on it," he said. "They (junks) sail a lot better than people think." The junk, he said, is one of history's most impressive designs. Going back 3,000 years, the ships were first used by the Chinese as cargo boats, carrying people and goods along the Chinese coast in the Pacific Ocean and as far west as Africa. With its three large sails, it was the precursor to more modern sailing vessels, he said. "This is kind of like the evolution of the sailing ship." Since Mr. Saccoccio has owned the junk, it has taken on different designs. Its most recent rebuilding has dramatically altered the ship's original appearance to fit Mr. Saccoccio's own personal design. Because he has lived near the water his entire life, his experiences with boats has rendered him a decent shipwright. He has developed a knack for boatbuilding and carpentry. There's freedom, he said, to do whatever he desires. "I can get away with a lot of stuff with this boat," he said. "I'm free to invent my own methods." Chinese junk boats come in a variety of sizes and shapes. It's their flexibility, said Mr. Saccoccio, that has made them one of sailing's most efficient ships.
Mama Junk's design, however much it has changed, has nevertheless remained true to her origins, he said. "The basic design has stayed the same for over 3,000 years. This is my design now, and that's why it's so fun." Part of Mr. Saccoccio's fascination with junks stems from their odd appearance and design. More than just an eye-catcher, he said, they also sail like a dream. People continue to sail them "because they still work," he said. "They're so graceful and just so weird. They're also real handy." With a new four-cylinder diesel engine, deck, planking, handmade masts, and a new cabin and cockpit, the junk is nearly ready to set sail. Although he's said it before, Mama Junk should be ready for open waters come early next year, he said. "Me and Mary are going to do some exploring in it."

The Dirt On Junks
Chinese "Junk" boats date back to ancient China where they were used primarily as cargo ships. The term "junk" refers to any wooden sailing vessel with a high poop deck (a partial deck raised at the rear of the ship). Junk boats have both flat bottoms and keels and are usually steered with a long rudder. The boats normally have three large masts with four cornered sails braced by long strips of bamboo called battens. Most junks range from 30 to 70 feet in length and some can weigh as much as 100 tons. Today, junk boats are used for fishing, transportation, and sometimes living quarters. They are still a common fixture along the rivers and coast in China and Japan

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