Replica of 'balangay' embarks on epic voyage

Posted at 06/27/09 6:32 PM

MANILA - A group of Philippine adventurers on Saturday set sail on an ambitious four-year voyage aboard a replica of an ancient wooden boat they hope will carry them around Asia and on to Africa, officials said.

Measuring 15 metres (50 feet) long and three metres (10 feet) wide, the vessel, called a "balangay" in the local dialect, was a copy of an ancient wooden boat excavated in the south in the 1970s.

The ancient boat was carbon dated to 320 AD, and historians said it was among the oldest seafaring vessels ever found in the Philippines.

The vessel was apparently used by sea gypsies who once roamed Southeast Asian waters as well as the Pacific who also lived in the Philippines in ancient times, historians say.

The replica boat is made of carved planks held together using pins and dowels, and the crew will navigate with methods used by ancient sailors without the benefit of modern GPS systems, they said.

The vessel, christened "Ngandahig", will visit every major port in the Philippine archipelago for the year, covering a distance of about 2,108 nautical miles.

It will then cross over to Sabah on the Malaysian part of Borneo from the southern Philippines and to Micronesia and Madagascar by next year, organisers said. If the vessel survives the voyage, it is expected to return to Manila in 2013.

Emily Abrera, chair of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, said the "epoch-shaping journey will revive maritime consciousness in the country."

"The balangay is set to travel around the Philippines and neighbouring Asian countries before setting out to sail into the Pacific," she said.

She said the the boat will be manned by a core crew of 10 adventurers, including Nestor Emata and Leo Oracion, Filipino climbers who had previously scaled Mount Everest. They will be supported by members from the coast guard and navy as well.