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Historic boat returned to Taiwan after 57 years

2012/05/17 16:27:56

Taipei, May 17 (CNA) A historic sailing boat that left Taiwan 57 years ago on a cross- Pacific voyage was brought back Thursday to cheers by an excited crowd that included the boat captain's brother.

Teddy Chow, brother of the boat captain at the time Paul Chow, said he never thought the "Free China" would make it back to Taiwan after all these years.

The wooden sailing vessel was transported back to Taiwan on board a Yang Ming Marine cargo ship from Oakland, California.

"I really appreciate the help given by everyone" to bring the boat back to Taiwan, said Teddy Chow, 88, who made a last-minute decision to return from Chicago for the big moment.

A retired professor from the Beijing Film Academy, he also arranged for some of his former students to be at the port to shoot footage for a documentary about the boat's history.

The vessel, 23 meters long and 5 meters wide, departed from Keelung Port in 1955 on what was the first trans-Pacific voyage by a Chinese sailing boat, heading for San Francisco, California. It was carrying then-U.S. vice consul Calvin E. Mehlert and five Taiwanese fishermen, three of whom have since passed away.

The boat is believed to be one of the oldest existing Chinese sailing boats built by ancient methods and the only remaining one of its kind that has made a passage across the Pacific.

It will need extensive renovation after years of abandonment at a private shipyard, before it can be put on display at a marine science museum in Keelung, according to Stanley S. L. Wang, director of the Council for Cultural Affair's Headquarters Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Wang, who is in charge of the boat preservation project, appeared to be overcome by emotion as he watched the boat being lowered from the deck of the vessel that brought it back from Oakland.

He said he "felt like crying" when he touched the derelict sailing boat and thought of all the difficulties encountered over the past three years to get it home.

The voyage in 1955 represented the adventurous spirit of the Taiwanese people, Wang said.

The boat's return home "not only signifies its value, but also embodies the history, culture and spirit of Taiwan," he said.

The three surviving crew members and the relatives of the other two are expected to attend a grand welcoming ceremony July 11 in Keelung, according to Lwo Lwun-syin, director of a preservation evaluation program for the boat project.

(By Claudia Liu and Kendra Lin)
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