The China Voyage – a pacific quest by bamboo raft


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In the middle of the North Pacific, 3.000 kilometers far away from the next coastline, a lonely raft floats eastwards.


ZDF, Arte, 1996
Length: 43/53 minutes
Written and directed by: Eike Schmitz
Camera: Lars Barthel, Holger Rusch, Tim Severin, Rex Warner
Editor: Surati Seidler
Music: Torsten Sense
Commissioning editor: Hans-Christian Huf
German or English version

On it, five men risking their lives to follow a legend. In the year 210 B.C., the Emperor of China had sent an expedition to discover a mystical country beyond the ocean, where he expected to find the recipe for immortality. The fleet, under Admiral Schu Fu, never came back. Did it reach Japan, sink in a storm, or did it sail across the Pacific to America? Were the Chinese actually the first to discover America?

These questions inspired the British scientist and adventurer Tim Severin to undertake his, thus far, most challenging expedition. He had already crossed the Atlantic on the replica of a thousand-year-old leather boat; he sailed the Argonauts’ route from Greece to Kolchis on the Black Sea; and he followed Sinbad’ voyage from Arabia to China. However, never before had anyone in modern times tried to cross the Pacific by bamboo raft.

In a village on Vietnam’s coastline, Tim Severin finds fishermen, who, even today, go out to sea using rafts, as they did 2. 000 years ago. With their help, he constructs a raft, named after the legendary Chinese seafarer Schu Fu. The fishermen drag their rafts ashore every evening, and repair them frequently – will Severin’s raft remain intact over the four month period, sailing on the Pacific?

We become witnesses to one of the most exceptional adventures since Thor Heyerdahl’s journey with the Kon-Tiki – from the difficult launching in Vietnam to the near collision with a tanker off the Californian coast.

Tim Severin and his crew covered a distance of nearly 8.000 kilometers in only 102 days in the icy-cold waters of the North Pacific. Storms that were the heaviest in these latitudes within living memory blew them off course and their raft disintegrated shortly before they reached their goal. Yet Tim Severin’s voyage makes it seem likely, that, under somewhat more propitious conditions, the Chinese reached the American continent more than two thousenand years ago.