Reed ship bound for Down Un­der

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By XIN­HUA in La Paz, Bo­livia

Bo­li­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales on Thurs­day held an in­cense burner aloft, in an in­dige­nous rite of cleans­ing and bless­ing, launch­ing a ship built of cat­tail reeds, a com­mon wet­land plant.

“We have come to give strength and en­ergy to this del­e­ga­tion, wish­ing them much suc­cess,” Mo­rales said at the launch cer­e­mony for Vira­cocha III, which will ply the Pa­cific on its maiden voy­age to Aus­tralia early next year.

Mo­rales called on Mother Earth “to care for (the crew) on this ad­ven­ture”, ad­ding “if they ar­rive (in Aus­tralia), they will be hailed as great heroes”. III

The im­pres­sive ves­sel, which is 18 me­ters long and 4.5 me­ters wide, was built by Bo­livia’s in­dige­nous Ay­mara In­di­ans at Lake Tit­i­caca, us­ing 18 tons of reeds wo­ven and tied to­gether.

It will de­part from north­ern Chile’s Port of Arica be­cause land­locked Bo­livia has no sea ac­cess. In clas­sic sea­far­ing tra­di­tion, a dragon’s head adorns the bow to pro­tect the ship from harm­ful spir­its.

“This ship has Bo­li­vian iden­tity, be­cause the raw ma­te­rial is Bo­li­vian, and the work­force is also ours, so it car­ries the en­ergy, the strength of our peo­ple and our an­ces­tors,” ship­builder Erick Katari said.

A 11-man crew of Bo­li­vians and Chileans, led by US cap­tain and bi­ol­o­gist Phill Buck, 51, will nav­i­gate the ship more than 18,500 km to Sid­ney, Aus­tralia, a voy­age ex­pected to take six months.

The ex­pe­di­tion, which aims to high­light the nau­ti­cal know-how of the con­ti­nent’s pre-Columbian civ­i­liza­tions, will make stops at the Poly­ne­sian is­lands of Man­gareva, Tahiti and Fiji.

‘Great chal­lenge’

Bo­li­vian For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter David Cho­que­huanca said: “In these dif­fi­cult and com­pli­cated times of cri­sis, this ship car­ries the mes­sage of unity, of brother­hood, of har­mony of the in­te­gra- tion of our peo­ples.”

The voy­age will be a “great chal­lenge”, mainly due to storms, said Katari, whose fam­ily has worked in ship­build­ing for gen­er­a­tions.

The ship is the third such project headed by Buck to show South Amer­i­can voy­agers had the means to sail the oceans.

In 2000, Buck used the orig­i­nal Vira­cocha to travel 6,500 km from Arica to Easter Is­land in Poly­ne­sia.

An at­tempt to reach Aus­tralia in 2003 was in­ter­rupted by dam­age to Vira­cocha II.

“On this sec­ond try, I’m sure we’ ll reach all the way to Aus­tralia,” Buck said as he su­per­vised the con­struc­tion of Vira­cocha III in Oc­to­ber.

JORGE BER­NAL / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ar­ti­sans who built the 18-me­terVira­cocha take part in a cer­e­mony be­fore the ship’s de­par­ture from La Paz, Bo­livia, on Thurs­day.

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