A grandiose welcoming ceremony is to be held on Maritime Day today 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 in about 1890, will be unveiled close to the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology in Keelung, the place where it set sail for the US in April 1955.
Three of the men who embarked on the journey — Calvin Mehlert, Paul Chow (周傳基) and Hu Loo-chi (胡露奇) — are set to attend the ceremony, as will relatives of the three other crew members who have since passed away — Benny Hsu (徐家政), Reno Chen (陳家琳) and Marco Chung (種玉麟).
Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) will present certificates of appreciation to the three surviving crew members.
The boat is expected to be presented with its masts, said Lwo Lwun-syin (羅綸新), head of the boat’s preservation program. Large black-and-white photos of the boat arriving at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in August 1955 will also be on display.
After spending more than 50 years in the US, the wooden sailboat was loaded on to a Yang Ming Marine cargo ship in Oakland, California, at the end of April and it arrived in Taiwan on May 17.
The boat, 23m long and 5m 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 Ocean.
The boat left Keelung in April 1955 carrying five Taiwanese commercial fishermen and Mehlert, then-US vice consul to Taiwan. They hoped to get it to the US in time for it to compete in an international race from the US to Sweden in June of that year.
Although 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 put on public display 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.