Sun, Jul 05, 2009 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE : Philippine group embarks on ambitious sea voyage


A group of Filipino adventurers is creating a stir across the Philippines, rekindling national pride as they embark on an expedition to circumnavigate the world aboard a replica of an ancient wooden sailboat.

Hundreds of Filipino outdoor enthusiasts cheered last week at a reclaimed area at Manila Bay where veteran mountaineer Art Valdez cut the rope that eased the replica vessel, named Balangay, into the sea.

“Since more than 2,000 years ago, this is the first time that a boat of this kind has appeared in these waters, built by our people,” he said. “The boat is a time capsule that carries the history of our people.”

Valdez will lead the group of Filipino adventurers in sailing around the world over a period of almost five years aboard the Balangay, christened the “Muse of the Philippine Race.”

The voyage of the Balangay will retrace the migration of Philippine ancestors across oceans using only the wooden vessel, the organizers said.

“Thousands of years ago, the ancestors of the Filipino people, the Austroneseans, traveled from the Asian mainland through land bridges across the continental shelf to the Southeast Asian archipelago,” a statement by the organizers said. “They then sailed onward to as far east as Polynesia and as far west as Madagascar.”

Valdez, a former transportation undersecretary and leader of the country’s first expedition to Mount Everest three years ago, said the epic sea voyage would highlight the Filipinos’ seafaring skills.

“The inspiration for this project comes from the maritime achievements of our ancestors,” he said at the launch. “Our people considered the sea as unifying rather than divisive.”

Valdez said that the initiative was also a tribute to hundreds of thousands of Filipino mariners who are currently working as crew members on more than two-thirds of all sea vessels around the world.

“Our voyage aims to reorient the psyche of our people that we are a maritime nation, and not land-based as our colonizers had led us to believe,” he said.

The Balangay, measuring 15m long and 3m wide with a depth of about 1m, was copied from an ancient boat excavated in 1977 in Butuan City, 810km south of Manila.

Archeologists carbon-dated the fair weather, round-bottomed sailboat to 320AD.

All materials used in building the replica of the Balangay were shipped from the southern island province of Tawi-Tawi, about 1,120km south of Manila.

Master craftsmen also from Tawi-Tawi built the vessel in 41 days, utilizing the ancient boat-building technique in which wooden planks are connected by pegs. Not a single nail was used.

The builders used natural resin from mangrove trees to make the vessel watertight.

Valdez said the expedition team would include the core members of the mountaineers who climbed Mount Everest, expert mariners and local tribesmen who will help in navigating the Balangay guided by the stars and other natural indicators.

He said that sailing the seas using ancient navigational guides such as the sun, stars, cloud formations, wind, birds and wave patterns would be one of the biggest challenges on the voyage.

Organizers said the voyage across the Philippine archipelago would be completed by the end of the year. The Balangay will sail to Southeast Asia next year, to Polynesia and Madagascar in 2011, across the Pacific and onward to the Atlantic in 2012 and back to the Philippines in 2013.

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