Sat, May 18, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Veteran constructs model warships from memory

By Liu Yu-ching and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Navy veteran and model ship builder Tsai Lai-fa on May 7 holds a cardboard model of a Yang-class destroyer at his home in Penghu County’s Magong City. During his service, Tsai helped repair the ships, which were originally named Gearing-class destroyers in the US.

Photo: Liu Yu-ching, Taipei Times

Nonagenarian navy veteran and model ship builder Tsai Lai-fa (蔡來發) said he spent his youth at sea and can make a scale model of almost any destroyer he encountered during his time in the service.

During his 32 years in the navy, he patched up ships that had been hit by torpedoes and retrieved the bodies of sailors who jumped overboard to escape a boiler room explosion, Tsai said.

He served as diver and engine mechanic at Penghu County’s Navy Depot No. 2.

Growing up in colonial Penghu, Tsai said that his life story was not atypical of Chenwun Borough (東文), where nearly every boy grew up to serve at the local naval depot.

After leaving the navy at 58, he worked at Magong Harbor for two years before retiring, Tsai said.

He now spends his time volunteering as a carpenter and restorer at Wunji Temple, and builds model fishing boats and warships, although the latter are easier and faster to make, he said.

In the navy, the fleet’s mainstay consisted of ships seized from the Imperial Japanese Navy, he said, adding that he could recall most pertinent details of each without consulting a reference book.

When his great-great grandson asked for a toy, he built a destroyer within a week using a hardwood base and hard cardboard, with fully articulated weaponry and equipment, he said.

Model building helps focus his mind and keeps away dementia, Tsai added.

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