WAY FOONG | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong


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HSBC's launch at Kowloon City Pier, 1996.

Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Wednesday, June 5, 1996


I believe this lovely vessel (actually called Way Foong) is now the property of entertainment entrepreneur Allan Zeman. Incidentally, does anyone know what's happened to the somewhat similar Swire's craft, called Thistle, if I remember correctly ?

I have admired her for years; the last of the "proper" Hong Kong Launches; I think the Bank made a huge mistake in selling her. If you watch her waiting to pick up passengers off one of the piers you will notice that while the light draft motor junks are rolling around all over the place, spilling drinks and passengers, the WAY FOONG, being narrow and deep drafted, just sits there as steady as a rock.

I was told by a Bank employee that she was originally built to go round the Bank branches in the outlying islands as a sort of maritime security van, picking up and dropping off cash and negotiable instruments, and was only used for entertaining Bank guests as an afterthought.

This style of launch was once a common sight in Hong Kong - so much so that photographers of the Harbour and shipping seldom bothered with them. Any Hong with any pretensions to gentility had to have at least one such launch, and preferably a fleet of them, for getting people to and from ships anchored or lying at buoys in the Harbour and for maintaining communication with the outlying islands after 1898. They were originally steam driven, and the need to accomodate a Scotch boiler, a coal bunker and a triple expansion engine accounts for their deep draft and heavy displacement, whilst the low power and the need for speed accounts for their sleek shape.

The development of the infernal combustion engine gave rise to the motor sampan as we all know it - the proverbially onomatopoeic "walla-walla" which was much cheaper to run for everyday jobs, and the last few of the elegant harbour launches were re-engined with diesels and retained as a matter of style and for entertainment by the grandest Hongs, but in due course they were replaced by the modern gin palaces that can get to a seafood restaurant so much quicker. 

The THISTLE I am pretty sure belonged to Jardines, 怡和, and I believe that she was disposed of in 1984 when the Princely Hong had its annus horribilis and all the ships were sold to fend off Li KaShing. 

Swires equivalent launch was the TAIKOO and she went in an economy drive in the Seventies - another great mistake

Standard & Chartered had the Lady Jane until probably the mid 90s; also disposed of for a oversized white gin palace with (then the latest in tech) a laserdisc player and karaoke

Saffron Cruises has one of the Standard Chartered old launches; I don't know if it's different from the old Lady Jane due to the restoration but appears similar.  I'm sure old Stanchart hands will know. Saffron call it Lady Isabel and it's a mere HK$16,800 for day or night rent.



Thanks - yes of course, Thistle was the Jardine's boat, not Swire's.   I understand, incidentally, that Way Foong was requisitioned as a naval auxiliary in 1941, I wonder if the Japanese subsequently used her.

I remember that two rather elegant pre-war Marine Department launches, which had been used by the Imperial Japanese Navy during the occupation of Hong Kong, were still in service with MARDEP in the 1990s. One was subsequently purchased by a private owner in Saikung, I wonder if it is still active.

Another lovely vessel to look out for in HK waters is the pleasure craft Fortuna, formerly an RAF search and rescue craft, and police launch.

Surely this is taken from the vicinity of the old Queen's Pier. Kowloon is in the background with the Kwun Tong quarry area very visible

The old Jardines lauch, "Thistle" is now in the Philippines sailing under the name "Isla". You can see recent pictures and history on facebook, " Motoryacht Isla"

The Dodwells boat was called Teen Cheong, although not as pretty as WayFoong. I'll have a search and see if I still have any photos.

I am an owner of the former Jardine's motor launch "Thistle", now called motor yacht "Isla". She has been restored, and is still running on her original Gardner 8L3 main engine, and is based in Subic Bay, Philippines.

I would be quite pleased to connect with anyone who has any memories or other information about this classic vessel, which celebrated her 50th anniversary last month.

Rafael Ongpin


Do you know who owns the Fortuna today? I was a passenger in the 1970s, as a child, when relatives on both sides of my family had a partial share in ownership. I remember learning how to fish from the crew. Where might I find more history about this boat? Many thanks 

Does anyone have photos of the Fortuna or know where I might find out more about the Fortuna's current owner? With thanks. - Maureen   

Incidentally looks like Saffron have an old 1935 vessel they call Java http://www.saffron-cruises.com/Details/Java

This loks very like the pre- war Mardep patrol launch I mentioned in an earlier posting.

as far as I know private vessel owners can hire out their boats via Saffron (friend of mine does that) so the Mardep patrol launch could still be in same private owner's hands 

Looks similar-ish to this: http://www.chinarhyming.com/2009/09/17/patrolling-for-pirates/

I would love a copy of this wonderful old vessel, full of happy memories, anyone know how I can find a copy?

Regards Shirley Adcock

Please see point 3 at:


From perusal of Iain Ward's "Shui Ging" , it seems that the vessel pictured in the chinarhyming reference is a steam pinnace which served in the HK Water Police 1899-1922.  



Hello, the boat is now owned by the Ho family and they still use it, in fact I was on her recently and can report that she is well kept and sailing beautifully.



I have 12 images of Fortuna in our library. Further, a story about the vessel was published here : http://www.fragrantharbour.com/Flip%20PDF/59/mobile/index.html#p=20

Please reply to David Robinson if you would like to find out more.

Many thanks, I have a copy of this from 1990...

Way Foong featured on the cover of the October 1988 issue of Fragrant Harbour. http://www.fragrantharbour.com/Flip%20PDF/36/36.html#p=1

Inside, there was a two-page feature of the vessel while it was still a working craft in the harbour. There are some 31 images of Way Foong / Wayfoong in the FH Photo Library.

If I'm not mistaken the Way Foong was taken up the Pearl River at the outbreak of the WW2 fighting and scuppered so as to avoid it falling into Jap hands. After the war the skipper came to the Bank to ask for his job back and was told that if he could find it the job was his! He did find it and it was subsequently "deiseled" and yes it did do the cash runs out to Laama Island and Lantao, Silver Mine Bay etc.

It also was a much loved boat for staff recreations, evenings and weekend jaunts. Seeing the boat carving its way through the Tung Lung Channel on its way to Clear Water Bay, or back to Queen's Pier was amazing and with heavy weather the water came over the decks - "hang on to the glasses and kids, flip flops overboard!". The number of curries and bottles of San Mig consumed during those day were legendary. What a launch it was. Later it was joined by the Way Lee, the Way Hong and the top executive launch Wardley.