TREASURE LOST:A TRIBUTE TO LOO-CHI HU
On the 16th of April 1955 a ship departed Keelung Harbour in northern Taiwan with a crew of six, and sailed six thousand miles into history. Its mission according to the Taiwanese government: “To break through isolation in pursuit of freedom in the international community”. Unofficially, however, the trip began the year before as the dream of Paul Chuan-chun Chou, a poor Taiwanese fisherman who longed to participate in a transatlantic international yacht race from Rhode Island to Sweden that was to be sponsored by the New York Yacht Club.
Built in Mawai, Fujian province China in 1890, The 25 meter Keelung was renamed the Free China for its historic trip. It was a typical Chinese junk of the Ming Dynasty style that had sailed Chinese waters for centuries; built by hand from teak logs it carried no electronic instrumentation and had no engine, relying only on sail. As if that wasn’t difficulty enough, however, not one of the crew of six had ever sailed a boat until the day they left Taiwan. They learned along the way, enduring typhoons, near mutiny, and several mishaps that almost brought their journey to an untimely end.
Finally, one hundred and fourteen days after leaving Keelung Harbour Captain Paul Chou and his crew of four mainland Chinese refugees; Reno Chia-lin Chen, Marco Yu-lin Chung, Benny Chia-cheng Hsu, Loo-chi Hu, and Calvin Mehlert, an American, sailed into the port of San Francisco having completed an historic journey; the only recorded sailing into San Francisco harbour by a Chinese wooden junk.
From The Old World To The New
In 1969 the fifteen meter ‘Ra’ with seven explorers aboard left the old Phoenician port of Safi, Morocco, and charted a course across the North Atlantic Ocean bound for Barbados. Their mission: to prove the theory proposed by explorer Thor Heyerdahl that ancient seafarers could have established a broad network of cultural and trade exchange between the west coast of North Africa and the east coast of the Americas. Sailing under the flag of the United Nations the ships contingent included an Italian, a Russian, a Mexican, an Egyptian, a Chadian, an American, and the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. Only the American, Norman Baker, and Heyerdahl had any previous sailing and navigation experience, Heyerdahl having twenty years earlier sailed the balsa raft ‘Kon-tiki’ across the Pacific from Peru to Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands.
Using ancient methods and assisted by traditional boat builders from Lake Chad, Heyerdahl constructed his new ship ‘Ra’ from twelve tons of papyrus reeds, a plant used for centuries by ancient Egyptians as a writing material and for mattresses, mats, rope, sandals, and baskets. He christened his ship "Ra" to symbolize the solar worship predominate in many ancient civilizations. Papyrus reed boats were the most common form of transport along the ancient Nile and the Eastern Mediterranean seaboard, with trading forays down the Red Sea.
Heyerdahl hoped to prove that such vessels were sturdy enough to withstand long voyages in the open sea. Conditions along the African coast were difficult but once at sea proper the ship proved exceptionally capable of handling the elements. After several weeks a decision to cut what proved to be a critical strut between the inward curving prow and the deck caused the stern of the ship to sink, and with a hurricane approaching the ‘Ra’ was frustratingly short of its goal. After 56 days at sea and less than a week from making landfall in Barbados the voyage was abandoned, and the crew had to be rescued. Undaunted Heyerdahl set of from Morocco again in the ‘Ra2’. This time the voyage proved successful, although in the last few days they became lost, fears were held for the crews’ safety, and the UN sent a ship on a rescue mission.
Linked By Fate
There are a number of similarities between these two real life adventures. Small boats; ancient craft; stormy seas; one American apiece; historic journeys with inexperienced crew undertaking sea voyages never before recorded; and a dearth of electronic equipment. But there is another more fascinating connection. Loo-Chi Hu, who had been a crew member aboard the ‘Free China’ on its historic voyage.
Loo-Chi Hu (better known as Huloo) had settled his family in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he worked as a consultant for the Marine Department. Huloo was employed designing and developing fishing gear, commercial equipment, and navigational aids for the New Zealand fishing industry when the UN called: “Find Thor Heyerdahl and ‘Ra2’”. And he did. “So United Nations asked me to go and help them;” Said Huloo. “There was nobody else. Looking for the boat lost on the ocean is very difficult. I know they came from Morocco so I know where they are from and where they end, and so I searched between them."
My Memories Of Huloo
I met Huloo in Christchurch in December of 1986, when he attended one of our Wing Chun workshops hosted by Sifu Beau. A Master mariner, Master net maker, inventor, and fisherman, Huloo was also a Master of the Chinese martial art T’ai Chi Chuan, commencing his studies under the guidance of Master Chen Wei-Ming of the Zhi Ruo Taijiquan Association in Shanghai while a teenager. I myself had an interest in T’ai Chi, having earlier studied and (informally) practised the works of Cheng Man-ch'ing (a classmate of Huloo’s teacher, Chen Wei-Ming) and Lee Ying-Arng, as well as practising Beijing 24 Form T’ai Chi.
Although my interest in T’ai Chi had waned over the years, for a time I attended Huloo’s 6am T’ai Chi classes in the grounds of the Phillipstown primary school where he would lead his followers through the formal movements. T’ai Chi is perhaps best known as a form of moving meditation for health and well-being, and less practised for its martial application. I never became a student of his and so I am not sure how deeply Huloo shared the practical applications to his students, or if he had the desire to do so. I do know that he was delighted with the fact that he had never been in a fight since he began training T’ai Chi.
However he had maintained a keen interest in the martial applications, having practised some shaolin kungfu before taking up T’ai Chi. He expressed to me his interest in the Chi Sau practise of Wing Chun, which bears a resemblance to the pushing hands exercise of T’ai Chi, and I spent a short time with him in an endeavour to impart some understanding of the differences in the two from my perspective.
Regarded by his students as a “Living Treasure”, Master Huloo Loo-Chi Hu, QSM, passed away on September 12th, 2013. But I can still see him to this day, seated next to me during our Wing Chun workshop, as he followed Sifu Beau’s arm manoeuvres as he (Beau) led a group of students through the Siu Nim Tao form.
Kevin Earle - From my personal memories of Huloo and with information compiled from the following sources;
Video: “Free China” arrives in San Francisco”: Sailing into San Francisco harbour at the end of its historic journey.
Video: Chinese Junk Construction “The watertight-bulkhead technology of Chinese junks”: This video shows some of the ancient building techniques used in the construction of a junk similar in size to the “Free China”.
Article: http://www.stuff.co.nz/461304/Tai-chi-master-a-living-treasure - About Huloo Loo-Chi Hu
Article: http://www.chiptaylor.com/ttlmnp5923-.cfm - Huloo: The Remarkable Life of Loo-Chi Hu
Article: http://www.chinesejunkpreservation.com/journey.php - some history of “Free China” and the crew who sailed her to San Francisco.
Article: http://www.taiwaninsights.com/2012/05/23/free-china-junk-returns-home-after-57-years/ From Taiwan Insights: “Free China” junk returns home after 57 years.
Article: http://www.nndb.com/people/752/000026674/ - Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian explorer.
Article: http://community.plu.edu/~ryandp/RAX.html - from the work of Donald P. Ryan, “THE RA EXPEDITIONS REVISITED”, Thor Heyerdahl.
Article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chen_Weiming_(scholar) – Wikipedia history of Huloo’s T’ai Chi teacher, Chen Wei-Ming.