Guo Chuan and His Trimaran the Qingdao China: the Legend Lives On
October 25, 2016 is a memorable day in the world’s sailing history.
On this day, Chinese sailor Guo Chuan went missing while sailing his trimaran the Qingdao China and trying to break his third world record. Since that day, there has been no news of his whereabouts.
Upon hearing the news of his disappearance, people in his hometown – Qingdao– could not help recalling the images three years prior when Guo returned to Qingdao after breaking the world record for how quickly one could sail around the world: after a 138 day voyage during which he was the sole crew member, Guo could not wait until the final docking of his ship. He dove into the sea, swam ashore to kneel in front of his wife, children, family and friends, and, with tears mixed with salty sea water dripping from his face, said “I am back, alive”. He then bowed his head and kissed the ground of his hometown.
However, this time, Guo’s friends and relatives sit in vigil waiting for his return. The sailor’s disappearance has touched the hearts of Chinese people around the world. Many who had never met Guo have participated in the rescue attempts. Every evening, people come to the pier at the Qingdao Olympic Sailing Center, where they light candles and continue to pray for his return.
Over the past few decades, Guo, sailing his boat, the Qingdao China, has created two world records, rewriting China’s sailing history.
Looking back at that history now, Guo and his boat have become spiritual symbols -- the passion that he felt for sailing, the courage to face the challenge, and the national spirit that drove the pursuit and realization of that dream.
2001: Qingdao sets off on the road that led to the city becoming the sailing capital of China
On November 21 of this year, the trimaran, the Qingdao China, without her captain Guo Chuan, docked at a pier in the Port of Honolulu in Hawaii after being taken there by the professional rescue team, ending her 27-day drift in the open sea. Quentin Monegier, a French member of the international crew that accompanied Guo when he set a new world record for non-stop sailing along the Northeast Passage in the Arctic Ocean, sadly said when collecting Guo’s belongings, “Guo is not only a top-notch sailor, but also a qualified captain. He was always rigorous yet modest. I will never forget the sailing experience when crossing the Arctic Ocean under his leadership.”
People familiar with Guo all agree that he never just settles for the status quo. He was born loving challenges and exploration. He was always going in new directions and setting new goals for himself.
Guo graduated from the First Middle School of Qingdao, then obtained a master’s degree in aircraft control after 7 years of study at Beijing-based Beihang University, China’s leading research facility for aviation and aeronautics. He was also among the first batch of MBA graduates at Guanghua School of Management, Peking University. At the year of 31, the young and promising Guo Chuan was promoted to an executive position working on commercial satellite launch projects at China Great Wall Industry Corporation, the main contractor for the Chinese space program. In his spare time, he enjoyed the challenge of several extreme sports, including gliding, skiing, diving and parachuting.
When, in 2001, Beijing won the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games, Qingdao obtained the right to host the Olympic sailing competition. It is from that moment on that the city of Qingdao became synonymous with the sport of sailing.
Yet, it was in 2001, after Guo had his first experience of being on a sailboat, that he fell in love with the sport. Sailing was still a sport with which China had limited awareness.
At the time, Guo was 36. Compared with professional sailors who had received years of top-notch training and navigators from around the world who grew up in families where sailing was a part of the environment and in countries with a long history of engagement with the sport, Guo got became interested in the sport at a relatively advanced age. Yet, with his strong ability at being able to grasp and master unfamiliar topics and his unwavering perseverance, he put his mind to it and, in short order, was able to acquire the necessary skills.
In October of 2004, the 14.26-meter long sailboat, the Qingdao, launched her maiden voyage. Guo was appointed captain leading a crew of three and embarked on the long journey from his home town to Shimonoseki in Japan. In November of 2005, at the helm of the same vessel, Guo sailed the length of the coast of China, a 2,300 nautical-mile journey, promoting the city of Qingdao at each port of call along the way.
The two voyages not only helped Guo accumulate experience, but also motivated him to raise the bar, and he started to think about sailing challenges in the open sea, to destinations much further afield.
In the Clipper Round the World 2005-06 Race, the long sailboat entered the sailing world’s global arena. At the beginning of 2006, Guo Chuan joined the race from Singapore to Qingdao, becoming the first Chinese boat to participate in the biennial event. Since then, nearly 50 Chinese sailors, most of whom hail from Qingdao, have participated in the Clipper Race on behalf of the Qingdao China.
For Guo, there is a strong sense of mission. He wanted to prove to the world that Chinese sailors could take their rightful place in the maritime community. The mission motivated him to learn more about sailing and its role in establishing maritime power. What he learned drove him to choose France, where, sensing the gap between himself and international top sailors, he hired a coach and rented a sailboat at his own expense to advance his knowledge of navigation and to hone his skills
2008: A Turning Point for Guo Chuan and for Qingdao
In 2008, Qingdao successfully held a distinctive high-level Olympic sailing competition, which helped Qingdao gradually win a reputation in the international sailing industry.
The year was also a turning point in Guo’s navigation life. The Volvo Ocean Race, the world’s top sailing event, which only allows the world’s top professional sailors to participate, held its 2008-2009 Race in Spain. Fortunately, Guo was qualified enough to join the crew of the Green Dragon, a sailboat sponsored by a group of leading Chinese firms.
As a member of the media allowed to join the crew, Guo’s main role was that of a reporter and a chef, and was not able to participate in the operation of the vessel. Nevertheless, the experience of working together with top international sailors improved his sailing skills and give him a much better idea of what he needed to do next. More importantly, he tenaciously defeated his own personal “demon”: he had always suffered from claustrophobia and the thought of giving up had crossed his mind on numerous occasions. Despite these dark thoughts, he stuck it out to the end and completed the voyage. This experience proved to be a rebirth.
Guo’s manager, Liu Lingling, gave his take on an aspect of his boss’s personality, “Sailing tests primarily the mind of one person, then the skill. Guo Chuan’s mind has been tempered to be as hard as granite.”
Guo continued to build on his experience and, in 2013, he felt ready to mount his first challenge to the world record. In that year, the Qingdao circumnavigated the globe, creating a new world record for “a 40 feet yacht that sailed around the world non-stop and single-handed”, clocking in at 137 days 20 hours 2 minutes 28 seconds, less than half of the time that it took British sailor Robin Knox-Johnson 44 years earlier.
In 2015, Guo upgraded his boat to a trimaran and rechristened it the Qingdao China, one of the six existing trimarans in the world. Guo Chuan led an international crew team that successfully navigated the boat through the length of the dangerous Northeast Passage in the Arctic, creating his second world record. It was also the year that Guo turned 50.
With this feat, Guo Chuan won the annual achievement award granted by the authoritative international boating magazine Yachts & Yachting. Monaco’s reigning monarch, Prince Albert II,awarded him the Monaco Yacht Club’s Annual Breakthrough Award.
Guo Chuan and His Trimaran the Qingdao China: Spiritual Guidance
Qingdao not only took the necessary steps to assure China’s place in the world of sailing, but also gave birth to the sailing warrior Guo Chuan, who, in turn, inspired the city to pursue its dream.
Guo was honored with the title of Peace Ambassador by the World Peace and Sports Organization after his globe-circling voyage. The words “Peace and Sport” have always emblazoned the mainsail of his trimaran, accompanying the famous sailor as he variously navigated the path formerly followed by the ancient maritime Silk Road, through the South China Sea, to the Diaoyu Islands as well as when he crossed the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans.
Guo said, “I hope my round-the-world voyage can give the younger generation more encouragement, as well as spread the message of lasting peace throughout the world.”
Due to the successful hosting of the 2008 Olympic sailing competition and a series of major international sailing events, Qingdao became known as the Sailing Capital of China.
As a result of Qingdao becoming a sailing hub and with the encouragement of its number one sailor, Guo Chuan, an ever growing number of young Chinese have become involved in ocean navigation and are achieving extraordinary results.
There are three such rising stars in Qingdao alone. 31 year-old Song Kun participated in the entire journey of the Clipper Round the World Race in 2014, becoming the first Chinese woman to sail around the world. 22 year-old Liu Xue joined the Volvo 2014-2015 Ocean Race and contributed to the fleet’s coming in third. In 2015, 26 year-old Xu Jingkun, a man with only one arm, participated in the Mini Transat, a transatlantic yacht race, and became the second Chinese sailor following Guo in completing this international extreme navigation competition.
Today, any of the 400,000 inhabitants of Qingdao can choose to take a course in sailing and get some actual sailing experience through several initiatives to popularize the sport, such as “Sailing into the Campus” and “Welcome to Sailing”. The city is now home to more than 100 sailing schools, 30 sailing clubs, and 20 yacht makers.
Both Guo and his trimaran have built a reputation in the sailing industry, and now serve as a form of spiritual guidance for newcomers to the sport.
Although, no one knows what happened to Guo Chuan in those last fateful moments aboard the Qingdao China, his story and the tale of the vessel have becoming increasingly popular, inspiring more people to challenge themselves and to pursue their dreams.
(Authors: Zou Jihong, Zhang Yu, Sun Fei; Editor: Chris Chu)