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Chinese Junk to Retrace Marco Polo’s Voyage Home

October 24, 1987

HONG KONG (AP) _ Marco Polo would have recognized one sight in Hong Kong’s bustling waters Saturday: A 13th-century Chinese junk, preparing to retrace his two-year, 10,000-mile homeward voyage from imperial China to Venice.

Wayne Moran and wife Teresa Tomas, both 35-year-old British doctors, plan to follow the Venetian adventurer’s route in their 75-foot ″Cocachin,″ a near facsimile of the type of boat believed to have formed part of Polo’s fleet.

″It’s a detective story. It will be fascinating to discover what Polo really met, what he really saw,″ said Moran, leader of a 10-member crew including his three children, aged between 9 months and 8 years.

The expedition plans to investigate many of the exotic phenomena reported by Polo in ″A Description of the World,″ an account of his travels recorded by Rusticello of Pisa in a Genoa prison: Unicorns, huge spiders, shark charmers, witch doctors, gold dust in the sea and ″the best fish in the world.″

In addition, Moran will examine ancient Chinese methods of navigation, try to determine the exact location of places described by Polo and test the performance of the 75-ton Cocachin, one of the few existing junks built in close accordance with an ancient design.

″This is the pinnacle of Chinese junk design before the West arrived at the end of the 15th century,″ said Moran, a sailing enthusiast from Cardiff, Wales.

The Cocachin, still without its three masts, was launched Saturday from a small shipyard into a harbor filled with modern motorized junks. The craft was designed with the aid of computers but the curvature of its boards was determined by eye, the traditional Chinese method.

The expedition hopes to set sail during next year’s winter monsoon from the port of Chuanzhou in China’s southern Fujian Province, where Polo began his homeward journey in 1292.

The modern voyage is to pass through the Suez Canal and continue to London through Europe’s inland waterways, covering nearly 17,000 miles in two years, though Polo went overland to the Mediterranean and ended his journey in Venice.

Moran said weather would pose his greatest problem, as it did for Polo.

He said he was not worried about pirates, a major threat 700 years ago, but would cancel a planned trip into the Persian Gulf if maritime hostilities involving Iran and Iraq continue there.

The expedition plans to produce a documentary and at least one book.

The boat cost $205,000 and the expedition plans to spend another $1.3 million before journey’s end. Moran is paying for the junk, but said the voyage may be slowed down if he cannot find sponsors.

The Cocachin is named for the daughter of Chinese emperor Kublai Khan, who asked Polo to deliver the princess to the King of Persia during the voyage.

According to Polo’s account, his expedition set sail with about 2,600 people in 14 royal junks, arriving in Persia at the cost of over 600 lives.

Moran said his journey will be considerably less arduous, relying on modern navigational aids and a backup engine as well as amenities Polo would have appreciated, including microwave ovens and refrigerators.

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