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Historic sailing boat to be put on display on Maritime Day

2012/04/27 19:05:26

Taipei, April 27 (CNA) An old wooden sailing boat that will soon return to Taiwan for the first time since it made a historic trans-Pacific journey to the U.S. 57 years ago will be revealed to the public on Taiwan's Maritime Day on July 11, officials said Friday.

The vessel "Free China," estimated to have been built around 1890, is scheduled to set sail from the Port of San Francisco at the end of April and arrive in Taiwan's Keelung Port late May.

"Upon arrival, the boat will be inspected for repair needs before being transported to the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology in Keelung," said Stanley S. L. Wang, director of the Council for Cultural Affair's Headquarters Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Wang said a welcoming ceremony will be held for the boat on July 11, along with the launch of a book about the boat that includes interviews with experts and the three living crew members.

A documentary about the boat will also be made, which will take at least a year to complete, Wang said.

The boat left Keelung Port in April 1955, carrying five Taiwanese commercial fishermen and Calvin E. Mehlert, then-U.S. vice consul to Taiwan, to take part in an international sailing competition from the United States to Sweden.

Although it failed to make it on time to the trans-Atlantic competition that began in June that year, it managed to arrive in San Francisco in August after 114 days of sailing.

The vessel was donated to an American museum after the journey, but later ended up in a private shipyard where it was found abandoned in 2009.

Since then, the Taiwanese government has sent a team to assess the boat's value as a cultural asset and has spent over NT$12 million (US$409,497) to repair and bring the vessel back, said Wang.

The boat, 23 meters long and 5 meters wide, is estimated to be one of the oldest existing Chinese sailing boats built according to ancient methods and one of the only existing Chinese wooden sailing boats to have made a passage across the Pacific.

A precious 220-page diary written by the six crew members and a documentary shot by Mehlert to record their voyage were displayed at the press conference in Taipei.

Mehlert and crew member Paul Chow, who are now based in the United States, also spoke with Culture Minister Lung Ying-tai through a video conference to share their experiences on the boat.

Lung said she is intrigued by the story of the boat and the motivation of the crew members to make the trip at a time of heightened tension across the Taiwan Strait, when it was hard for even government workers to leave the country.

She called on the international community to provide any information about the boat to the council so the history of the boat can be better preserved.

She also urged the private sector to raise funds for the upkeep and display of the boat to guarantee its preservation for years to come.

(By Christie Chen)