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Historic boat 'Free China' to be welcomed home on Maritime Day

2012/07/10 15:04:42

Taipei, July 10 (CNA) A grand welcoming ceremony will be held on Maritime Day Wednesday for an old wooden sailboat that left Taiwan 57 years ago on a rare cross-Pacific voyage.

The vessel "Free China," believed to have been built around 1890, will be unveiled near the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology in Keelung on Taiwan's northern coast, from where it set off for the United States in April 1955.

Three of the men who embarked on the journey -- Calvin E. Mehlert, Paul Chow and Hu Loo-chi -- are still alive and will attend the ceremony, as will relatives of the three other crew members -- Benny Hsu, Reno Chen and Marco Chung -- who have since passed away.

Vice President Wu Den-yih will present certificates of appreciation to the three living crew members.

The boat is expected to be presented with its masts, said Lwo Lwun-syin, the head of the boat's preservation program, and large posters framing black and white photos of the boat when it arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in August 1955 will also be on display.

After spending over 50 years in the United States, the wooden sailboat was loaded on to a Yang Ming Marine cargo ship in Oakland, California at the end of April and arrived in Taiwan on May 17.

The boat, 23 meters long and 5 meters wide, is believed to be one of the oldest existing Chinese wooden sailboats built according to ancient methods and one of the only ones to have sailed across the Pacific.

The boat left Keelung in April 1955 carrying five Taiwanese commercial fishermen and Mehlert, then-U.S. vice consul to Taiwan. They hoped to get it to the United States in time for it to compete in an international race from America to Sweden in June.

Although the "Free China" failed to make it for the trans-Atlantic competition, it did arrive safely in San Francisco after a 114-day journey.

After Wednesday's ceremony, the boat will be displayed publicly at its current site while repair work on the ship continues.

The ship is not yet fully restored, but officials decided to unveil it early to coincide with Taiwan's Maritime Day, which falls on July 11.

Meanwhile, a model of the vessel and a 220-page diary written by the six crew members during their voyage is currently on exhibit at the National Museum of History in Taipei and will be displayed until Aug. 5.

(By Christie Chen)