Restoring ocean pride


POSTED: Friday, January 02, 2009

WAILUKU » Like native Hawaiians before them, the Chinese are undergoing a rebirth of interest in ancient ocean-voyaging vessels.




Princess Taiping

        Length overall: 54 feet

Length of deck: 45 feet


Beam width: 15 feet


Registered weight: 35 tons


The traditional Chinese sailing vessel Princess TaiPing, a ship built along the design of oceangoing vessels centuries ago, is on a return leg to Taiwan after visiting the U.S. West Coast.

It arrived at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor in Honolulu on Dec. 22 and is scheduled to leave in early February.

TaiPing skipper Nelson Liu said the inspiration for building the vessel came in part from the 1976 voyage of the Hawaiian double-hulled voyaging canoe Hokule'a and its impact in instilling pride in native culture and good will in the Pacific.

“;I looked at this and said, 'Why can't we build if you people can? ... Maybe we can learn a little bit from you people,'”; Liu said in accented English.

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

Liu, 61, said the crossing from Japan to Eureka, Calif., took 69 days, with sea swells sometimes in excess of 15 feet and crew members sleeping in tiny crawl spaces covered by a row of hatches down the center of the boat.

He said the crew of eight people, including a woman and a U.S. citizen, had about 700 gallons of fresh water aboard and ate mainly rice and seafood caught during the voyage, including some of the 153 squids caught in a single day.

Liu said the main purpose of the privately funded project is to encourage international cultural exchange and preserve Chinese traditional shipbuilding.

“;We wish people would understand each other more to make the world more peaceful, and we reduce the conflicts. That's our goal.”;

The TaiPing was built in part to quiet some historians who were skeptical about maritime accounts of such a Chinese vessel traveling across vast oceans, supporters said.

The ship is designed along the lines of what some Westerners refer to as a “;Chinese junk,”; a slang for the Malayan word “;djong,”; meaning boat. The Chinese refer to the vessel as “;fuchuan,”; or sailboat.

One of the major features of the ganzeng vessel, a kind of warship in the fuchuan style, is a hull reinforced by partitioned, watertight bulkheads. It also has multiple masts, Chinese full-batten sails and a sternpost rudder.

Bamboo battens stiffen the sail and enable the crew to quickly lower and roll the sails to reduce sail area in a strong wind.

  Though the TaiPing is 54 feet long, historical and archaeological accounts have described some traditional Chinese vessels as more than 150 feet long.

Crew member Angela Chao said the vessel's design was based on information provided during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), part of the “;golden age of maritime exploration.”; An admiral named Zheng He conducted voyages and pursued trade with countries as far as Africa, she said.

The vessel, built in Xiamen, China, is made of Chinese cedar using 4-inch iron nails without glue, fiberglass or screws, and its cotton sails have been dipped in a preservative similar to one brewed 600 years ago, builders said.

It has a compass and modern GPS for navigational assistance.

The TaiPing is scheduled to sail from Hawaii to the Marshall Islands, then to Taiwan and Hong Kong.