Concerned about the fate of traditional boats, 55 year-old Chang Tsung-hui (張宗輝) has taken it upon himself to preserve what he views as a vital cultural characteristic of New Taipei City’s (新北市) Tamsui (淡水) and Bali (八里) districts.
Chang, who was born and raised in Tamsui, said he remembered seeing fishermen standing on rickety longboats reeling in their fishing nets on the beaches of Shalun (沙崙) where he lived, as he walked to school.
“It was a sight I will never forget, and the Tamsui River will always hold a special place in my heart,” Chang said.
Chang took up paragliding and hang gliding after finishing his compulsory military service, and he and some friends joined the Wild Horse Flight Club in Wanli District (萬里) overlooking Green Bay.
He was part of the club for more than a decade, became an instructor, and even made flights over the Sahara and the Silk Road, logging more than 5,000km in flight distance.
However, Chang said that flying requires intense concentration and stamina, both of which he was unable to sustain for so long as he got older, adding that he had started to shift his focus from the air to the sea.
While participating in sports such as rafting, canoeing and sail-boating, Chang developed an interest in shipbuilding.
At the time Taiwan only manufactured yachts and lacked craftsmen able to construct Western-style recreational boats, Chang said.
He scoured the Internet for information on how to make such boats, and even purchased blueprints from abroad.
A year ago, Chang began looking into how to construct the type of longboats he had seen in his childhood, but found that the boats currently sailing along the Tamsui River (淡水河) or around the Bali area were mostly made of fiberglass and lacked a certain “feeling” that used to characterize the area.
As a result he started buying boats from old fishermen and refurbishing them, a process which took two months per vessel, Chang said, adding that he also started classes at Tamsui Community College to teach students how to row and built boats.
“The class is an attempt to let my students — regardless of age — relearn the river culture that is characteristic of Tamsui,” he said.
Earlier this year, Chang and 10 of his students sailed a traditional longboat from Tamsui to Dadaocheng (大稻埕).
The students said they never thought they would be able to build and launch a boat, adding that they were very excited when their masterpiece hit the water.
For Chang, the longboat was a part of the culture that characterized and made Tamsui, and he hoped it was just the beginning of his own dreams to preserve that culture.
“We hope that more people may come to appreciate such local cultural characteristics,” Chang said, adding that one method the local government could use to promote the longboat is to advertise them in tourism brochures.