Bound Feet Blues – Researching My Great Grandmother’s Journey from China to Malaya by Junk

I am now working on the second half of Bound Feet Blues. There is very little factual information or evidence in our family stories about my great grandmother. All we know is that at some point, as an adult, she left China and travelled to Malaya where she would meet the man who would become my great grandfather. We have no information about where she lived in China or which port she would have left from or arrived at.

I want to insert a line in Bound Feet Blues about how long the journey by sea would have taken her eg “It was a ….. days or …. weeks journey”.

For that single sentence, I looked at

Google Maps to see which port in Southern China she might have left from. I decided on Guagzhou which is inland from Hong Kong. I decided on Port Klang as the destination port in Malaya (as Malaysia then was).

But what do I know about sailing and how long a junk would have taken to cover that distance?

And then I remembered my old college friend Charlotte who owns Eclipse Sailing Greece and their blog post calculating the different times it would take to get a letter from the UK to Greece eg by carrier pigeon or if they sailed back to UK to pick it up and back again. See

What a bunch of geeks, I thought – and perfect for my question…!

Classic wooden sailing yacht Greece Eclipse Sailing

So I went on to their Facebook page and asked this question:

“I’m doing some research for Part 2 of Bound Feet Blues. I am trying to work out how long it would have taken my great grandmother to have sailed via junk from China to Malaya. How long do you reckon it would have taken to sail from say Guangzhou in Southern China to Port Klang in Malaya (ie round the tip of Singapore and up through the Straits of Malacca)? 1 or 2 weeks?”

Within minutes, I got this reply:

Eclipse Sailing Greece “This is quite technical, actually, because it depends on the size of the boat. Without going too deeply in the physics of it, the longer the boat, the faster it can go without getting stuck in the trough created by its own bow wave. (There is, therefore, an upper speed limit for every boat, as a factor of its length at the water line – unless they are able to aquaplane, as speed boats do) Our top speed is around 8.5 knots, and an engine will not improve on that. For a bigger boat it would be more, but of course wind speed varies and you only have to hit a bit of dead calm for your average to go plummeting down. Some of the junks I’ve seen praised for their speed appear to have been averaging about 6 knots over a long journey. So, the route you suggest is 1753 n miles – which puts her in at around 12 days, if they sailed non stop. So, I’d guess at 2 – 2.5 weeks”

Wow, I was amazed and impressed by the technical know how and the speed of response!

I now have the number of weeks to slot into that one sentence!

Thank you, Eclipse team.


To find out more about Bound Feet Blues, go to


Photo: from the Eclipse Sailing Greece website –

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