Vietnamese coracle in South Wales

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01 May 2023

Martin Fowler

When Major David Goddard retired from the British Army, he travelled to many parts of the world collecting water craft and founded the Exeter Maritime Museum which opened in 1969 and ran until 1997.

In 1991 he arrived at the National Coracle Centre here in Cenarth on our official opening day and donated the guffa from Iraq, and this coracle from Vietnam - which he had brought back from Hong Kong.

Recently, I received correspondance from a former Hong Kong Maritime Police officer with some interesting information on this coracle's history

Dear Mr Fowler,

My name is Les Bird, and for many years I was a Marine Police officer in Hong Kong. Recently a former colleague drew my attention to the Vietnamese coracle that is part of your collection at the National Coracle Centre.

For much of my service in Hong Kong I was involved with patrolling the South China Sea, in search of refugees from Vietnam trying to make land. In the early 1980s I recall finding the coracle that you have in your museum when we intercepted a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the waters to the south of Hong Kong. On board were between 30 and 40 refugees and also on board was the coracle now on display in your museum. 

They may have been carrying it on board as a tender or last-ditch safety boat.

It was the normal procedure in Hong Kong at that time to destroy all such craft after the case of such people had been settled. These vessels had been arriving in their hundreds since the end of the war in Vietnam.

When we saw the coracle we realised there was an opportunity to save at least one Vietnamese craft. Provided we didn’t officially report finding it, it would not be taken away and destroyed.

We kept the coracle at Marine Headquarters for about a year.

One of my colleagues had a connection with the Exeter Maritime Museum in Britain and we arranged safe passage for the coracle on board a merchant ship bound for the U.K.  

Best wishes and good luck with the museum

Les Bird

Bernard Thomas and I tried the Vietnamese coracle out on the river in Cenarth many years ago... and nearly sank! 

The picture of myself with the coracle in the museum was sent to the Vietnam Heritage Museum in California, where it is now part of the exhibition.

Photo: Martin Fowler
Photo: Martin Fowler