The Story of Hong Kong’s Iconic Aqua Luna Red-Sail Junk Boats

Caption | Courtesy of Aqua Luna Hong Kong.
Matthew Keegan

Much like Hong Kong’s iconic skyline and neon-lit streets, the red-sail Chinese junk boats, otherwise known as Aqua Luna, have become recognisable symbols of the city. They say that you haven’t really experienced Hong Kong unless you’ve sailed in one.

There are few better ways to see Hong Kong than from one of its red-sail Aqua Luna boats. Cruising around the harbour and taking in the sights is a wonderfully relaxing way to see the city. Fortunately, there are a variety of harbour tours and cruises that make it a worthwhile activity during the day or in the evenings when the city is illuminated.

Courtesy of Aqua Luna Hong Kong.

The modern Aqua Luna is based on ancient Chinese sailing ships, known as junks, that were first used as seagoing vessels during the Song Dynasty (960–1279). They soon evolved and were used throughout Asia for extensive ocean voyages. However, over the years, the number of junk boats in Chinese waters started to dwindle, and so the Aqua Luna was introduced in 2006 to try and preserve a dying art.

“Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour was once filled with glorious red sail Chinese junk boats, however over the years they have disappeared one by one,” says David Yeo, founder of Aqua Luna in a press release. “What better way to raise the spirits of the city than to recreate such a visually stunning and a quintessentially Hong Kong icon.”

Introduced in 2006, the Aqua Luna has become a Hong Kong icon

Under the supervision of a 73-year-old shipbuilder, it took a local craftsman 18 months to construct the Aqua Luna with traditional methods. In Hong Kong’s local Cantonese language, the ship is known as Cheung Po Tsai, and was named after a Hong Kong pirate from the 19th century. Today, the Aqua Luna is more popular than ever with locals and visitors. The boats are instantly identified by their striking red sails.

The Aqua Luna has two decks: an open-air deck with loungers upstairs, and a covered space with glass windows downstairs.

The Aqua Luna has two decks, including an open-air deck with loungers upstairs

The ship can accommodate up to 80 passengers in addition to the crew. It is 28 metres (92 ft) long and has three trademark red sails. However, these days, the sails are purely for decoration, as the boat is motorised.

A second version of the iconic sailboat, Aqua Luna II, was introduced in April 2017. In addition to being slightly bigger, the new rendition swaps the original’s red sails for blue-and-white sails that are beautifully adorned with Chinese imperial-style dragons.

The ornate blue and white sails of Aqua Luna II are adorned with Chinese imperial-style dragons

Aqua Luna II is mainly constructed from wood and bamboo and lacks even a single nail. Its construction was overseen by master craftsman Sifu Au, an 86-year-old shipwright who has built more wooden boats than anyone else in Hong Kong.

Few sights have become more quintessentially symbolic of Hong Kong than the Aqua Luna sailing up and down the harbour. If you’re visiting, be sure to check out the range of Aqua Luna harbour tours and cruises, which are among the best ways to see the city. Opt for the sunset cruise when the whole experience is very beautiful.

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