Feb 2017 Fou Po and Fou Po II 1932-35
de Bisschop was the first in a line of 20th century French sailing
heroes. In the early 1930s, with his friend Joseph Tatibouet, he built a
40 ton, 60 ft. Ningpo junk some 1,000km up the Yangtze river. The two then sailed this junk, Fou Po (above),
around the Indonesian Archipelago, studying currents and investigating
the possibility (and his belief) that the South Pacific islands were
colonised from southeast Asia. After being shipwrecked on Formosa during
a typhoon in 1932, de Bisschop and Tatibouet immediately set about
building a replacement to continue their studies.
The replacement was Fou Po II (left), a smaller 44 ft. junk of 13 tons, and much better-suited to their needs. Fou Po II
was in fact a typical fishing junk of Amoy. De Bisschop expressed the
opinion "Such a ship embodies the science of all the ages; it is
extremely seaworthy, does not ship a drop of water, it is spacious, easy
to maneuver, and inexpensive to build".
In 1933 they
continued their travels around the Phillipines and what is now
Indonesia. In the Marshall Islands, in 1935, they were arrested as spies
by the Japanese occupiers and jailed. After somehow talking their way
out of prison, they continued their voyage and studies with a 2,500 mile
trip to Hawaii. During this voyage, they discovered their stock of food
was spoiled, having had the seals broken open during searches by their
Japanese captors. They barely reached Hawaii, close to death by
While they were recovering in hospital, Fou Po II was destroyed by a storm along with the results of all their
scientific studies. The shock nearly broke de Bisschop: "Three years of
study lost, everything is lost ... I cried like a beaten child ...". At
a time when few Westerners put to sea in small boats, they had
travelled over 10,000 miles in a native junk, mostly against prevailing
currents and winds.
On recovery the pair went to Honolulu and built a Polynesian sea-going double canoe Kaimiloa
(see JRA Magazine issue 45). In this craft, also junk rigged, they
sailed south through the Pacific, passed through the Torres Strait
between Australia and New Guinea, and into the Indian Ocean. They then
sailed on back to France via Cape Town to a hero's welcome. From Hawaii
they had sailed a further 19,000 miles in 14 months, crossed most of
three oceans, and demonstrated the total fitness of two different types
of native craft, both junk rigged, for the largest-scale ocean voyages.
Right: de Bisschop & Tatibouet aboard Fou Po II.
Les confessions de Tatibouet by Francois de Pierrefeu, Librairie Plon, Paris, 1939.
Kaimiloa by Eric de Bisschop, Librairie Plon, Paris, 1939.