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TaiPing sets sail for Saipan


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POSTED: Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Princess TaiPing, designed along the lines of Chinese oceangoing vessels of centuries ago, left Honolulu for Saipan yesterday, edging closer to home and the end of its historic trans-Pacific voyage.

The TaiPing crew is making the crossing in part to quiet critics who have doubts about historical accounts of ancient Chinese vessels making long Pacific journeys.

The TaiPing, launched in January 2008 after six years of research and development, sailed from Taiwan to Okinawa and Japan, then crossed 5,100 miles of ocean to Northern California, sailing down to San Diego before coming to Hawaii.

It arrived in Honolulu on Dec. 22.

Six U.S. citizens, including two from Hawaii, have joined the TaiPing's 10-member crew to continue the journey, sailing west from Hawaii to Saipan.

Carlos Kuhn, 25, a boat builder originally from Molokai, said he felt honored to have been selected as part of the crew.

“;I still have a lot to learn,”; said Kuhn.

Jack Durham, 68, a retired lawyer who lives on Oahu, said he is looking forward to being able to use his master's degree in Chinese and participate in this historic journey.

“;We're making history here,”; he said. “;I feel very honored.”;

The ship is designed along the lines of what some Westerners refer to as a “;Chinese junk,”; from the Malayan word “;djong,”; meaning boat.

The Chinese refer to the vessel as a “;fuchuan,”; or sailboat.

The TaiPing, built in Xiamen, China, and made of Chinese cedar, is a warship in the fuchuan style, about 54 feet long, with a hull reinforced by partitioned, watertight bulkheads, and multiple masts, Chinese full-batten sails and a sternpost rudder.

Bamboo battens stiffen the sail and enable the quick lowering of the sails to reduce sail area in a strong wind.

Historical and archaeological accounts have described some traditional Chinese vessels as more than 150 feet long.

The vessel's design was based on information provided during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), part of the golden age of maritime exploration, when China pursued trade with nations as far away as Africa.

TaiPing crew member Angela Chao said the sail to Saipan is about 3,000 nautical miles and is expected to take about 30 days.

Chao said the TaiPing will be sailing from Saipan to Naha on Okinawa and then to Taiwan.

Chao said the TaiPing crew was grateful for the interest and support expressed by visitors during its two-month stay in Honolulu.

She said several thousand people, including schoolchildren and youths from the Boys & Girls Club of Honolulu, visited the TaiPing and that Chinese farmers originally from Vietnam and Laos donated produce.

“;Hawaii's a lovely place, and we really enjoyed the local people,”; she said.

Chao said she and some crew members were also grateful to the crew of the Hokule'a, who took them on a sail off the South Shore and shared their knowledge of navigation.

TaiPing skipper Nelson Liu said the Hokule'a helped to inspire him to build the TaiPing with the goal of promoting Chinese cultural pride and cultural exchange.

Liu said his primary goal is to promote friendship between the East and West, and he was happy to see how the TaiPing brought together groups of people in Hawaii.

“;We've built an even stronger friendship between us and Hawaii,”; he said.

Philip Wang, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Honolulu, said visits to the TaiPing brought the Chinese community together in a moment of pride. “;It's a very good event,”; Wang said.