Ahoy, There, Friends From Chile!

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Ahoy, There, Friends From Chile!

BUSAN - As he stood on the bridge of the Chilean four-masted sailing ship Esmeralda on Thursday, Captain Gonzalo Lopez Perez could just make out the Korean Peninsula. The captain, who had been in Busan once before, in 1975, carefully wrote in his log: "My crew is going to meet a special kind of people and an interesting culture. The most important thing is to improve relations between Korea and Chile."

Several decks below the captain, at 6 a.m. last Friday, a whistle like the chirping of a bird woke navy Lieutenant j.g. Park Sang-gun. Park, one of 15 foreign officers on board, rolled out of his bunk on the third lower deck of the Esmeralda, a training ship for the Chilean navy.

In the darkness, Lieutenant Park could hear the rustling of his Chilean shipmates getting ready to see a new shore. "How do you say 'Hello' in Korean?" one sailor asked Lieutenant Park in excitement. After three months aboard the Esmeralda, Lieutentant Park was getting ready to return home to Korea. He had participated in the ocean journey to learn Spanish, Latin American culture and music, and eventually, help Korean relations with Latin American countries.

The crew got into uniform - black jacket, slacks and cap for the officers; white shirt, pants and shoes for the cadets - and walked up to the poop deck, where they could see Jodo, an island near Busan, and two Korean naval ships waiting to escort the Esmeralda.

The Korean navy set off a series of 21-gun salutes. At 8:30 a.m., the Esmeralda and her crew of 320 docked at pier eight in Busan, a port shared by the Korean army and navy. She will be leaving Korea on Tuesday.

"Korea has nothing like the Esmeralda," said Lieutenant Commander Han Bu-sik of the Korean navy, as he watched the 113-meter long ship rocking in the South Sea on Friday.

Koreans train for war on battleships while attending their country's naval academy. "But here," Lieutenant Park said, gesturing at the 29 sails, the sturdy masts, the Chilean flag fluttering on the stern, the old guns fitted to the deck, "during their free time, many crewmen spend their time sketching. They draw the sails, the figurehead of the condor, or the ropes." The sketching helps the crew become familiar with details on board. Esmeralda has plenty of details: It's the third largest ship of her kind in the world.

On Friday afternoon, after docking, the ship's executive officer, Zavala Ortiz, walked up the stairs to the bridge and blew a silver whistle. One hundred and fifty cadets rushed to formation and stood at attention in groups by their instructors. When the groups were ready, from all over the deck seamen held up their left hand toward the bridge, in the middle of the deck, and blew their whistles.

Ortiz called each group to maneuver the sails - the jibs, main, mizzen and jigger. Some sailors scurried up the foremast and dangled from ropes 45 meters above deck, unfurling sails. As that happened, the Esmeralda began to resemble a "White Lady," as Chileans affectionately call her.

The Esmeralda that Lieutenant Park sailed is the sixth Chilean navy ship to bear the name. The first was a Spanish frigate deployed by Peru in 1791 and captured in battle by Chile.

Every year since the 1950s, graduates of Chile's naval academy and its Seaman-Apprentice School live for six months aboard the Esmeralda. "It's exciting to give a group of recent graduates tools to help them develop their skills," the captain said. "After months together, I feel like the father of a big family. They are very good kids."

The Chilean sailors consider a trip on the Esmeralda a rite of passage necessary to develop the heart of a true sailor. Such a voyage imparts "patience, a quiet strength and the ability to read the sun and stars," said Lieutenant Park's instructor, Lieutenant Junior German Espinoza.

This year, the sailing course included Busan, the location of Chile's sole Asian naval attache, in a show of goodwill. The ship left Chile on July 15 for Peru, sailed to Acapulco and then out to sea to Honolulu. After a relaxing four days in Hawaii, during which many crew members went surfing, Esmeralda was set to depart for Tokyo on Sept. 11. But when the captain heard the news of the attack on the World Trade Center, he decided to leave port two hours early, fearing that the United States would close its ports. "It was a fast, fast departure," Mr. Perez said.

The worst weather that the Esmeralda has faced in recent years was in Asia's moody waters in 1997. A storm near China forced crewmen to tie themselves to their beds to sleep. To eat, the crew eschewed the swaying tables and put their dishes and cups on the groaning floor. But this year, the crewmen said, the weather was calm.

Late Friday in the officer's smoking room of the ship, Commander Ortiz told Lieutenant Park about Pablo Neruda, the Chilean Nobel Prize-winning poet and novelist. Neruda, said Commander Ortiz, wrote of seafarers: "Sailors kiss their women, and say goodbye." But between sailors, there is no such thing as goodbye. Instead, Ortiz said to the Korean officer, "We'll see you at sea."



Leaving Korea: Tuesday for Shanghai.

People on board: 320, including a priest, a dentist and a surgeon.

Average time it takes to raise the sails: 30 minutes.

Record sail-raising time: 13 minutes.

Most important meal: Thursday lunch, served in honor of Chile. A typical meal might be cazuela, or soup with potatoes, meat and rice, empanadas, or meat stuffed with olives, and mote con huesillos, or dried peaches cooked with wheat.

Unscheduled stops: occasionally to help other ships having difficulties, or to aid nearby countries. In 1999, the ship veered to Turkey to give aid when a big earthquake hit there.


by Joe Yong-hee

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