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Historic sailing boat to finally return home

2012/05/16 20:04:51

Taipei, May 16 (CNA) An old wooden sailing boat set to return to Taiwan for the first time since it made a historic trans-Pacific journey to the U.S. several decades ago will arrive later than scheduled, an official said Wednesday.

The "Free China," which is estimated to have been built around 1890, was scheduled to arrive at Keelung Port in northern Taiwan early Thursday instead of later Wednesday, according to a Council for Cultural Affairs official.

"Sea voyages are full of uncertainty, after all," the official pointed out.

The historic vessel will be towed to the National Museum of Maritime Science and Technology after it berths at the port, from where it embarked on its ocean crossing in 1955.

The ship is expected to be unveiled to the public on Taiwan's Maritime Day, July 11.

It will be displayed on a plaza in front of the soon-to-open museum, said Kehr Young-zehr, director of the museum's preparatory office.

The boat left Keelung 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 in time for the trans-Atlantic competition that began in June that year, it arrived in San Francisco in August after 114 days at sea.

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

The government later sent a team to assess the boat's value as a cultural asset and spent over NT$12 million (US$409,497) to repair the vessel and bring it home, said Stanley S. L. Wang, director of the Council for Cultural Affair's Headquarters Administration of Cultural Heritage.

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.

(By Claudia Liu and Kendra Lin)