October 21 â The sight of an 80-foot Chinese-flagged sailboat at Gloucester Marine Railways has many locals wondering how this vessel ended up here.
Local officials also had questions when they learned of the Zhai Mo sailboat, piloted by two Chinese nationals and a Russian who had no papers or visas.
But that was because the crew had no intention of stopping in the United States. The Zhai Mo struck an iceberg near the North Pole and Greenland on its journey around the Arctic Ocean. The strike, which did not cause a leak in the sailboat, sent it to shore in search of repairs around October 7.
However, communication was a challenge as the crew members do not speak English and translators for Chinese are not easily found in this part of the world.
Ultimately, the crew and ship were allowed to stay on a temporary visa.
Gloucester Harbor Master Thomas “TJ” Ciarametaro said he had seen many different ships coming and going in these waters, but seeing the sailboat sporting Chinese characters instead of the usual names of local fishing boats and pleasure craft was a first.
He said a foreign ship must go through customs before it can continue to the port, and that had not yet happened when the Chinese ship arrived.
âWhen you fly from China you need visas and if you come by boat from China to the United States you also need visas,â he said.
Ciarametaro and the Coast Guard were in communication regarding the status of the Zhai Mo when a Boston University student, a Chinese national, arrived at the Coast Guard station on behalf of the captain, Zhai Mo, in the honor of which the sailboat bears the name.
The Coast Guard escorted the Chinese sailboat to Boston to go through the customs process where it received clearance and a temporary visa waiver so that repairs could be made, Ciarametaro said. “Everything has been checked, but I was amazed to see this boat because I did not expect a Chinese flag ship to enter our port.”
The captain was greeted by a few locals during this unexpected stopover in the country’s oldest seaport. One of them was John Bell, who lives near the Gloucester Sea Railways where the boat was hoisted. Bell said he and another neighbor, Ken Hruby, had learned a few details of the trip, including the crew facing winds of 125 mph, which increased the need to work on the sailboat before it returned to China.
Zhai Mo and his crew were treated to a Chinese dinner by this informal Gloucester host group, as well as local seafood and Asian seafood dishes provided by Intershell and cooked and served at Horizon Restaurant on Rogers Street.
Contested media reports
The attempt of the Zhai Mo and her crew to conduct a non-stop sailing tour of the Arctic garnered media attention in China and generated different reports of what happened in the northern waters of China. Canada.
The solar-powered sailboat’s fourth-month trip is reportedly sponsored by a number of Chinese state-owned companies and government agencies, including China Mobile.
Beijing-based Chinese government-run media giant CGTN reported on September 16 that Canada illegally prevented the crew from circling the Arctic Ocean near Lancaster Sound, part of the Northern Passage. Where is.
The Nunatsiaq News, the leading newspaper for Nunavut and the Quebec territory of Nunavik, both located in the Arctic, reported a different story.
“Chinese state media report that the Canadian government arrested a Chinese sailor attempting to tour the Arctic Ocean last week, but Transport Canada says nothing like that happened,” David Lochead wrote. .
The CBC of Canada reported that the Northwest Passage has been banned for foreign pleasure craft since March 2020 “due to an interim order by the Canadian government to limit the risk of introducing COVID-19 to remote communities of the Arctic â.
Lochead further reported that an email from Transport Canada stated that Captain Zhai Mo had not entered Canadian Arctic waters and that Transport Canada had relayed information on the pandemic order temporarily banning boats from boating due to COVID-19.
The CGTN report also states that, according to the Pacific Society of China, “Zhai’s sailboat ‘Zhai Mo No. 1’ will return through the Panama Canal, cross the Pacific and return to China before the end of the year.” . declared.
But the crew took refuge in Cape Ann to put the boat to work before embarking on the return trip.
An artist at heart
Regardless of the divergent reports, one point remains unchallenged: 52-year-old captain Zhai Mo is driven by his love of art and his love of the ocean.
A Chinese media report in June described him as a “Chinese marine painter” and a patriot who loves his country. Part of his mission on this trip around the Arctic is to educate the world about the need to protect the ocean.
Born in China’s Shandong Province, an eastern Yellow Sea province, Zhai Mo was the first Chinese to sail around the world alone in a helpless boat, Chinese media noted, “after which some media began to call it ‘the Chinese Robinson Crusoe’, wrote Gong Zhe.
After graduating from college, he became a painter, creating works of the abstract or post-impressionist genre, and continued his interest in sailing, Zhe’s report continues.
âIt’s my way of life,â Zhai Mo later told the media. “I can navigate to places where other means of transportation can hardly go. In those places I can find works of art closer to the essence of art.”