While history tells us that the Chinese were great sailors in the distant past, they have not figured much in sport or adventure sailing in the recent times. However, like a lot of other things in China, that is changing. Yacht Xiamen, crewed with eight Chinese sailors has just completed the first circumnavigation by a Chinese flagged modern yacht.
Xiamen - four of the eight crew
Xiamen returned triumphantly on Friday after more than 10 months' voyage of 23,000nm, making it a remarkable record for China's sailboat sport history.
The yacht, which set off on November 3, 2011, is named after 'Xiamen', a coastal city in Southeast China, also the start and finish point of the voyage. Local officials, yachtsmen and sports fans held a welcoming ceremony at the dock.
Xiamen - sailing
Xiamen is China's first yacht to pick up the prevailing westerly winds of the Southern Ocean and round Cape Horn. Crew member Liu Zuyang told news outlet Xinhua that the boat was driven by westerlies of the South Pacific Ocean for more than 30 days with the wind over 30knots every day. Waves as high as 6 or 7 metres were constant. Liu described how sailors couldn't sit or stand still until they 'banded' themselves in the cabin. He also said 'they couldn't decide when to eat or rest but the weather chose it for them.'
Chen Jian, another crew member, explained to Xinhua that the waters around the Cape Horn are particularly hazardous, owing to strong winds, large waves, low temperature, strong currents and icebergs; these dangers have made it notorious as sailors' graveyard.
Liu said that a few days before rounding Cape Horn the autopilot failed and it was necessary for all crew to take turns hand steering.
Li Jincheng, the youngest on boat, said they suffered a lot during the days of rounding Cape Horn. He 'could feel sense of fear while sometimes the dizziness and loneliness'. He wrote some notes on the wall of the cabin to encourage himself and his mates. The slogan said: 'Be Brave and Persistent'.
Wei Jun, the skipper, said his sailors are all well trained but to sail on the westerlies of the Southern Ocean is quite a difficult thing. They had to overcome tension caused by dozens of days' sailing without sighting land.
However, he added, the fun part of the global sailing 'was that they were always on the route home since they started. Additionally, rounding Cape Horn meant they had passed the half-way mark, both geographically and psychologically.
Xiamen sailboat with flag
It was not a trouble-free voyage. Wang Tienan, nicknamed as Ironman on the boat, was in charge of machinery operation. One of the most severe problems they faced was the shearing of the jackstay, threatening the integrity of the mast. The yacht changed jackstays at the port of Brisbane, Australia.
Later, the skipper was injured when thrown across the boat by a rogue wave, hit the companionway and broke his ribs. This necessitated a stop at Wellington Harbour, New Zealand, for local medical services.
Wei Jun said the coastal guard of New Zealand sent greetings and concerns by email and asked him if helicopter rescue was needed.
While arriving into Wellington for the skipper to receive medical attention they found a bolt was broken on the propeller.
'We did not notice this trouble until we tried to back the sails when entering the harbor of Wellington,' Li said, 'The trouble could have been hidden if we did not stop at New Zealand. So we joked that the captain's ribs saved us from the swirl of the deep ocean.'
Another crew member Su Fulun, a yachting fan who once served in the navy, believed this global sail reflected the Chinese people's infatuation with the 'Deep Blue' and great dreams of oceanic navigation.
Su reflected how ancient Chinese started oceanic navigation activities as early as Ming Dynasty. The international trade along the maritime Silk Road used to be very prosperous. Zheng He, a great navigator in ancient China, once traveled around Indian Ocean and western part of Pacific Ocean.
Skipper Wei Jun said he enjoyed the communication with the yachtsmen of different countries along the way. He told described how ocean sailing is a great leveller, nationalities not mattering once you were on the sea together. He added that he hoped that his experiences might help a younger generation of Chinese sailors.
Wei said, 'I want to help them to make their dreams come true and it is also to make the dreams pass through generations and generations, which will revive the whole nation's dream.'