MANILA, Philippines – Adventurers who conquered Mount Everest successfully launched a replica of an ancient Philippine boat Saturday that they will use to sail around Southeast Asia and possibly to Africa to promote Filipino pride and unity.
The replica of the balangay — a wooden-hulled boat used in the archipelago about 1,700 years ago — was built in 44 days by native Badjao boat-builders from the southernmost Philippine province of Tawi Tawi using traditional skills handed down through the generations.
About 300 spectators counted down to the launch, cheering and applauding as the bow hit the water in Manila Bay.
Jubail Muyong, a teacher who belongs to the Badjao seafaring tribe, said he and nine Badjao craftsmen were flown to Manila to construct the 50-foot (15-meter) boat according to ancient traditions. Not a single nail was used, he said.
Expedition leader Art Valdez said the boat was a symbol of what Filipinos can achieve.
"(Since) more than a thousand years ago, this is the first time that a boat of this kind appeared in these waters, built by our people," Valdez said. "The boat is a time capsule that carries the history of our people."
Valdez said the 20-member expedition includes five coast guard personnel who were the first Filipinos to reach Everest's summit.
The boat will leave Manila in mid-July after training at Sangley Point, a former U.S. naval base in Cavite province, he said.
The expedition is expected to make 75 port calls from the northern to southern Philippines in seven and a half months, covering a distance of more than 2,000 nautical miles (3,900 kilometers), he said.
The boat will then begin a year-long voyage to other Southeast Asian countries before the group decides whether to continue to Madagascar off the southeastern coast of Africa, Valdez said.
Dr. Ted Esguerra, the group's medical officer, said the expedition will conduct medical missions in poor coastal communities during its stops. The group will also teach disaster preparedness, help protect endangered coral reefs, and plant mangrove trees to protect fragile marine life.
Valdez said coast guard and navy vessels will monitor their trip and come to their assistance if needed.