Taipei, Sept. 16 (CNA) A wooden boat carrying a statuette of Matsu, the Goddess of the Sea, joined a record number of swimmers in crossing Taiwan's largest fresh water lake Sunday in an annual mass swimming event.
The boat was escorted and pushed forward by 66 swimmers from Chiayi County on the 3,000-meter swim across the approximately 800-hectare Sun Moon Lake in Nantou County.
The number of total swimmers in this year's event rose to 28,390, from 27,138 last year, including 1,761 foreign participants from 33 countries and 268 disabled swimmers, according to the organizers.
The organizers -- the Nantou County government and the Masters Swimming Association of Taiwan -- said at first they declined to accept the registration of the Singang Fengtian Temple in Chiayi out of concern for the presence of a religious group in the event.
They eventually relented, however, after the temple administration showed its genuine enthusiasm and said the deity's participation would bless the event.
The boat made of cypress departed from one of the lake's four piers at 6:40 a.m., about 20 minutes before the rest of the swimmers began jumping into the water. It eventually completed the swim at around 9 a.m.
The swim, in its 30th year, also had 250 volunteers -- most of whom were dispatched by Taiwan's Red Cross Society -- to help rescue swimmers who felt sick as they worked their way across the lake.
(By Chen Ching-fang, Lin Heng-li and Kendra Lin)