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An artist takes the helm

ARTIST and adventurer Zhai Mo, the first Chinese to sail solo around the world, now plans to command a fleet of six sailboats and 100 Chinese adventurers circumnavigating in an art and cultural exchange.

His China Global Sailing Campaign sets sail in the middle of next year. It was to embark this August, but was delayed for various reasons, including the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

More than 1,000 people applied and applications open again this August. The voyage is open to anyone who wants to spread Chinese culture or dreams of sailing around the world. (For details, see the official website,

He hopes to dock in 27 countries and showcase traditional Chinese art and culture, and also learn about other countries' arts and culture. Zhai also hopes the voyage will help popularize sailing and encourage more Chinese to set sail.

Zhai was recently at the Shanghai International Boat Show to present a photo exhibition of his two-year, 28,000-mile global feat between 2007 and 2009.

The 43-year-old Shandong Province native is an artist and painter, a student of Western art history and Pacific and African aboriginal art. He has lived in France and New Zealand and held numerous painting exhibitions around the world.

After graduating, Zhai moved to Beijing to take up painting. Before 1999, he had barely set foot on a sailboat. Then he moved to New Zealand and fell in love with sailing. He sailed along the entire coast to study Polynesian culture and undertook several "practice" solo voyages in the South Pacific and East China Sea. He then set off around the world in an 8-meter boat in January 2007, departing from his hometown Rizhao, in Shandong Province. He returned in February 2009 to Hainan Island, China.

Earlier this year he published "A Single Man's Sail Around the World," a book he considers an expression of gratitude to friends as well as strangers because so many people helped him overcome difficulties during his voyage.

"Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia showed great hospitality. Even though they didn't know me at all, they were very proud of what I was doing," he recalled. They took him to Chinese restaurants and introduced local specialties to him.

During his global voyage he found that people in many countries knew virtually nothing about China. Thus, he hopes his new voyage can serve as a window on China.

"My hope is to spread Chinese culture to a wider world and help more Chinese learn about sailing and take part in the exciting sport," he said.

After his circumnavigation, China Central Television named him one of the 10 most inspiring people for 2009. Zhai is also a goodwill ambassador for China's Oceanic Administration.

Now that he is better-known in China and overseas, it's much easier for him to find sponsors for his sailing projects.

More than 10 years ago he tried to find sponsors for his solo sailing in the East China Sea, but all companies refused, saying the adventure was too dangerous and would hurt their brand if his enterprise failed.

He is hoping that his new mission, the China Global Sailing Campaign 2011, will serve as a chance to let ordinary people to realize their sailing dreams and have more young people exposed to the sea culture.

"I hope this will become a platform for more and more Chinese people to take part in the sports activity and their adventurous spirits," Zhai said.


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