Medallion from Sukhothai underglaze fish plate T-717.

Location & destination

Map of the monsoon winds in the South China Sea,  showing modern equivalents of the ports Turiang had visited, & probable heading.
Sailing routes in the South China Sea were guided by the monsoon winds. The north-easterly wind facilitated southbound voyages between late December and early March. Ships waited until July for a south-easterly wind to return northbound.

The Turiang sank in the southern part of the South China Sea, more than 100 nautical miles east of Peninsular Malaysia. Given the cargo, she was clearly sailing southwards. The monsoon winds necessary to undertake the voyage, together with prevailing ocean currents, preclude accidental drift to this location from the established coast-hugging sailing routes to Java and Sumatra. The ship was probably heading to Borneo and/or Sulawesi, both of which had established Chinese trade links. Moreover, the green-glazed ware in the cargo is known to have been popular in Borneo.¹

The ship must have sailed on the north-east monsoon. The ocean currents at this time follow the winds and can add 1.5-2 knots to a vessel's speed. At this location, waves average 2-3 metres in height, and reach 4-5m during squalls. If a rudder breaks in these conditions, the ship will broach, leaving her broadside to the direction of wind and waves - a dangerous situation, hard to overcome. If sails are not lowered immediately, even a modern sailing craft may founder. An alternative is that heavy seas could have strained the hull excessively, causing planking to break. Another reason why ships may be lost in the open sea is fire. It is impossible to determine the cause of sinking, as no timber from above the waterline has been found.

  1. By 1349, Wan Da-yuan visited many countries in Southeast Asia. He noted that Borneo and Jambi favoured green-glazed ceramics and large water storage jars over the other wares available, but that at Bintan island, on the same sailing route, Cizhou wares were preferred.

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Last modified:
27 Feb 2001