By Sharon Chin

SUNNYVALE (CBS 5) – A South Bay woman’s long quest to save an historic Chinese fishing vessel threatened for destruction has resulted in a plan to save the boat, believed to be the oldest of its kind still in existence.

After four years of trying, Dione Chen of Sunnyvale said she’s finally found a way to save the  century-old Chinese junk, or ancient sailboat.

The Free China junk has sat abandoned in a Bethel Island boatyard for years. The boatyard owner threatened to chop it up for firewood, if a new owner didn’t step up.

Chen couldn’t bear to lose it. Her late father Reno sailed on the Free China, the first junk in a century to cross the Pacific, as part of a race.

In 1955, five inexperienced Taiwanese sailors and an American diplomat left Taiwan on the daring journey and beat the odds, reaching the Golden Gate Bridge 54 days later.

The 80-foot long fishing vessel was not built for long voyages, and the crew was wholly inexperienced. “They didn’t know how to sail,” said Chen. “They encountered typhoons, the broke all their tillers, their compasses went overboard.”

Decades later, like the “little junk that could,” Chen fought to find the vessel a new home.

She contacted hundreds of agencies and thousands of people in Asia and America, while the boatyard owner’s threat of destruction loomed.

“He kept giving me extensions and I kept on trying. It always seemed that hope was just around the corner but it would fall through,” recalled Chen.

A suggestion to email the President of Taiwan led to two years of discussions and finally, Taiwan’s decision this year to bring the junk home to a museum at the National Ocean University, which teaches maritime science.

Chen said it’s been her American dream to preserve the vessel that brought her father to his American dream. “I think that if he were here, though, he would feel very, very proud,” she said.

Recently, the junk was carefully wrapped and driven from a Bethel Island boatyard to Antioch for the first leg of its journey to a permanent home in Taiwan. It will be outfitted with a special cradle for protection during a long freighter journey at the end of the month.

There will be a farewell party in San Francisco on April 27th, and Taiwan is set to host a welcoming party for the Free China when it arrives in June.

For more information and to track the junk, log onto

It will be outfitted with a special cradle for protection during a long freighter journey to Taiwan at the end of the month.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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