A Very Interesting Phone Call

I cannot speak for the other GSSR boats, but I suspect that the conference call this afternoon was momentous for all of us.


We spoke with John Kennelly, of the Nordhavn 62 Walkabout. A couple of years ago, John ran the same route as we have planned, and is somewhat the “father” of our expedition. It was his crossing of the Pacific, via our same routing, that provided the inspiration for our journey. Our group wanted to speak with John, to ask about his trip, and to start thinking ahead to our path beyond Japan. John has ventured on to Korea, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, and is currently in Singapore, as he circumnavigates with his wife and three children (ages 14, 8 and 5).


We also spoke with Bill Harrington, a Kodiak-Alaska based commercial fisherman, who has decades of experience in the Aleutians, and has agreed to act as our “tour guide” for the run. To say that Bill has fished the Aleutians, or has run the Aleutians, is only a small part of the story. Add to that his passion for the islands, their history, and the history of the war that was fought there.


Being able to speak directly with these gentlemen about their adventures, really brought home the excitement of our upcoming trip, much more so than just reading about these places in a book, or seeing them on a chart. There’s a saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Well, I’ve seen pictures of these places, but the thousands of words tonight did much more to generate enthusiasm for the trip. After the meeting, I was jotting a quick note to a friend, and mentioned that I had just had a two and a half hour call, during which these guys described places, that are generally considered as “difficult”, as though they were the greatest destinations on earth. I’m from the generation that hoped to avoid going to Cambodia or Vietnam, and certainly never dreamed I’d be going to the Bering Sea, but by the end of the call, I was eager to get rolling.


Much of the discussion centered on specific ports and the logistics associated with various ports and countries.


Japan was a major topic. My research on Japan has indicated that there aren’t many large powerboats. I had serious doubts about our ability to find moorage for our boats. John quickly put me to ease. He said that only on one occasion did he have a hard time finding moorage. We asked about power, and John indicated that the marinas use 50 cycle current, and usually only 20 amp or 30 amp service is available. I joked, semi-seriously, that this meant I would have to pick between running one light bulb or two. 20 amps doesn’t accomplish much on my boat. John did confirm that there is a surplus of bureaucracy, and that each time we move the boat we would need to clear in and out, but also said that the Japanese are very helpful, language is rarely a barrier, and that the system is very efficient.


Bill relieved any anxiety any of us might have been feeling about the Aleutians and the Bering Sea. He did say that there were times when he had been caught in 100 knot winds, but described these as rare. Most of his discussion centered on describing the places we would visit, to sightsee, in Kodiak, Dutch Harbor and the Aleutians.


Here are a few random memories from the call, that stand out in my mind:


– John saying that when he took his boat into Shanghai he was told that his was only the 5th international boat in modern history to enter the port

– Asking Bill how long it would take to cross from Dutch Harbor to Kamchatka, and his clearly trying to think how to convince us to slow down and enjoy. I asked if it could be done in two weeks, and he responded that a month might not be long enough to see all that there is to see.

– John talking about the incredibly friendly people in Japan, and how they would bend over backwards to move boats, or whatever had to be done, to find space for him in marinas.

– Bill talking about Dutch Harbor being bombed during WWII, and his father serving in the Aleutians. I had no idea that Dutch Harbor had been bombed…

– John single handing his Nordhavn 62 from Yokohama to Nagasaki, into an approaching Typhoon, accompanied only by his dog.

– Bill offering to send all of us his Nobeltec tracks, so we’d see where all the good anchorages are, and saying he’d be working hard to see that we have a great time

– John talking about running his tender within 20 feet of bears, at Geographic Harbor

– Bill saying that we would be seeing islands that virtually no one in history has ever seen.

– Both Bill and John talking about the experience of visiting Adak, where there once were six thousand personnel living, but now the population is closer to 70. Everything was just left behind. Both spoke of driving through an empty city, and how creepy it was.

– John saying that VHF radios are not used in Japan. Cell phones are used to communicate with ports and the authorities. There is no way to communicate with other boats. His experience was that many freighters do not have AIS.

– Bill saying that although the Aleutians are volcanic, he has not had problems with losing ground tackle. He said he had never lost an anchor.


Overall, it was a good day for building confidence, and a milestone, in that it was the first time we really started thinking about “what comes next?”


And, on a completely different topic:


I mentioned in my last blog entry that I had been thinking about whether or not I needed to buy a dry suit. I decided to post the question on a scuba diving message board. Here’s the conversation:


I’m a certified, but relatively inexperienced diver. I Captain a boat that is crossing the Bering Sea this July. If I tangle a net on my prop, I need to be prepared to dive in and cut the net off.

I currently have a full body Henderson 5mm wetsuit, gloves and booties. For a fairly short (30 mins) shallow dive, in 45 degree water, if I buy a hood, am I ok? Or, do I need to buy a drysuit? My goal is to avoid hitting a fishing net, but it isn’t always possible. I’m not excited about buying a $2,000 dry suit I might never use. But, then again, freezing and drowning doesn’t sound that much fun either.

For more info: http://www.kensblog.com/aspx/blob2/blobpage.aspx?msgid=463430&beid=17303


-Ken W

PS I have a Zeagle BCD and an Atomic T2 regulator. Is there anything I should be thinking about with respect to the BCD, regulator, tank, filling the tank, etc?



Response by “divebri”


but first off, you will NOT be comfortable (and it might actually be a little dangerous, IMHO) to use a 5-mil for that water.
A drysuit would be best, no doubt about it, but let’s start this round with a few questions.
Will you be able to rest and heat yourself back up slowly after the dive?
Have you dove a five-mil before, and in what temps, and did you get cold then? compare it to 45 and an air temp of, well, cccoolllllllddddd.
My opinions:
A drysuit would be best, thermally, but it presents problems. First, training: You’ve got to be competent before you start working in it. Second, maintenance. A ripped seal which happens easily makes it a big bag of cold water, with you in it. Third, if you’re working, and you hit a sharp prop or something else and cut it, you’re all done. I’d prefer a wetsuit if I was working on something like that.
A 7-mil should be the minimum you should get, preferably a farmer john, and I’d wear a 5-mil hooded vest under it, with 5-mil gloves, 5 or 7-mil booties. All things considered, I think that’s your best option.
Don’t forget if you don’t have a buddy, to be COMPETENT as a diver and have at least a LOOKOUT who’s watching you. Preferably, being tethered might be a good idea.
It’s certainly doable, but if you’re a brand-new diver, and you’re trying to do work in cold-water, you’d better practice somewhere first, in the gear you’re going to wear.
As far as you gear, that’s fine, but don’t forget weights, and fins, etc. I presume you don’t have an on-board compressor and you’re bringing a tank or two – that’s what I’d do.
I would NOT want to be the one who has to do that in the Bering sea.

I do have a dive compressor onboard (Bauer Junior II). And, the good news is that I am the “backup diver.” One of my crew is a much better diver, although far from professional. The good news is that he has at least dived in a dry suit a couple times before. My plan is that I would be the backup diver, just hovering nearby in case assistance is required.

I like your idea of getting a thicker wetsuit. This might be a better solution for both he and I, and less expensive. Also, as you say, if we accidentally puncture the suit, the chances for disaster are lessened. Additionally, I know how to suit up and dive with a wetsuit, but would be confused trying a dry suit for the first time.

-Ken W


Response by “bobcat”


While the task might appear to be simple, It can be very dangerous. A few issues. Is this boat free floating or docked? What about currents, What type of nets? What about wave movement and the hull rocking and rolling slapping around the waves and your head? What are you going to cut the nets with? Taking nets off a prop might take 30 mins or more. In that temperature of water your hand movements will be very limited based on the gloves you’ll be wearing. Certainly a 5MM is not going to do it. I suggest you practice these skills and master the techniques and equipment you’ll be using before you attempt this in a real emergency situation. Being teathered to a boat can be very dangerous too as you can be easily entangled. What happens if you become entangled in the net you are cutting off? 

Response by “Crystal”


Wow… when I read this, my first thoughts were one of the “Lessons for Life”; I think there was one exactly about this kind of situation.

I can’t imagine a dive shop selling you a drysuit if you told them your plan — to do a first cold-water dive, with no instruction, no dive pro present, under these circumstances. At the very least, if you plan to do this, get drysuit certified, and get some training in search and recovery or some other sort of task-oriented skill.

Some people are ok diving in a wetsuit, in that temp, unbelievably to me. I wouldn’t do it but you may be able to. In Dec here, the water temp was 45 deg. and a woman I met on the beach was diving in a wetsuit.

I admit to being a complete thermal wimp but you won’t know your own reaction to the cold water until you do it. The first shock of face freeze can take you by surprise.

So, my suggestions if you plan to dive:

– get drysuit certified if you want to go that route. You can buy a used one (mine was $200, and I got the seals changed, total less than $400). You’ll also need proper undergarments, again can get used.
– get extra training
– get some cold water experience, even just one dive

Things can go wrong easily. A student here panicked recently (cold water getting into mask) and bolted to the surface from 40 ft, losing consciousness. Fortunately he was ok after some time in the chamber. You don’t want too many new variables when you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Out of curiosity, what do other boaters do, if their propeller gets tangled and there’s no diver on board? Do you have a compressor on board? Just wondering.

Response by “bobcat”


Its not up to the Dive shop to screen who they sell a Dry suit to. Its called responsibility, owner responsibility. Most dive classes stress the need for additional diving, experience and training. Is a new diver lacks common sense for their safety, that their business. I hope they are prepared for the situation and consequences. Pssst. In case no one told him. Diving can be deadly as can driving a boat or car. Accidents do and will happen especially to those who are unprepared. 

Response by “aceupmysleeve777”


At least a 7mm wetsuit, thick hooded vest, 6mm booties and the thickest glove that will still allow you to work with your hands!




Probably my favorite response came from Bill Harrington, who said that it was much ado about nothing. He has run the Aleutians for many years, and never tangled his (single) prop. I have two props, with line cutters on them. I’m leaning towards just equipping Kirt, and buying a 7mm full body wetsuit, and then hoping diving is never an issue.


Ken W




7 Responses

  1. In conjunction with Jon’s “off topic” posting….Nordhavn also posted an article about New Zealander’s flocking to see Nordhavns. In the pictures accompanying the article, the first picture shows Egret, an N46, alongside Southern Star, an N47. Even though difference in the overall length between the 2 boats is roughly 2 feet, you would never think that was the case, as the N47 looks absolutely huge next to the N46! You would think the N47 was 10′ longer, not 2′! Even the beam on the N47 is only 8″ wider. But the 2nd generation designs with their increased freeboard give the newer boats much more interior volume, making them a much “bigger” boat overall. Amazing!

    – John S.

  2. off topic: nordhavn just posted pictures of silva M on their site, absolutely gorgeous interior! hard to recognize its a nordhavn 76 at first. jon

  3. Ken: I’m a rescue-certified diver, but do not have a drysuit certification. That advice from the dive boards sounds right. You do not want to drysuit dive without a drysuit certification. In addition to providing insulation, drysuits are bouyancy devices, just like your BC. As such, how the suit is used affects, most critically, your ascent rate. As you know from your open water training, uncontrolled ascents are the most dangerous scenario in recreational diving. Because a drysuit can contain so much more air than a BC, the chances of buoyancy problems leading to uncontrolled ascent are higher. In addition, because air can move many different places in a drysuit, you can have rapid and unexpected buoyancy/attitude changes (think a big pocket of air in one leg) that can be very difficult for an inexperienced diver to recover from.

    That said, for prop repair you will likely be very close to the surface (I see that your draft is about 6′), so the chances of harm from rapid ascent are probably pretty low as a practical matter. That’s where “divebri’s” comment about repair and maintenance become perhaps the dominant decision factor: drysuits have a lot of fiddly seals and things that can leak and break. Even a new suit may be easily torn at the fragile neck seal, etc., making it essentially useless. It seems to me you have enough details to worry about that trying to plan for drysuit repair is just one thing too many. I would also add that a drysuit requires reconfiguration of your regulator first stage (for its inflator hose), one more complication.

    So I second (or third) the opinion that a heavy farmer john suit with a vest and thick hood, booties, and gloves will be sufficient for 45 degree water. I have done a fair amount of diving in Monterey (temps range from 48-58 degrees) with a rig like that and while it’s not super comfortable, it’s certainly manageable for 30 minutes at a stretch, and I was generally deeper than you will be. In general I would buy the thickest suit you can find, but test out your gloves first to see if you have sufficient manual dexterity to use a line cutter, etc. Don’t forget that a heavy suit will make you much more buoyant than you are in warm water, so you will want to add extra weight to your weight belt rig.

    Finally, I didn’t see an answer to your question about the suitability of your regulator for cold water diving. Many second stages are not optimized for cold water and can breathe hard when used therein. Icing is probably not a problem in 45 degree water, but you should consider a cold-water second stage at the least and possibly a replacement for your first stage as well.


  4. Ken, like I mentioned before the pleasure boat facilities didn’t seem to exist other than for commercial passenger vessels. With that understanding it seems you have a couple of options. First, avoid boating in Vietnam entirely. I believe their are good marinas in Thailand where you could leave the boat for a couple of weeks while you fly to Vietnam and travel on land. When I went we flew in from Seattle to Hanoi, spent a couple of days touring the city, took a bus to Ha Long Bay (I recall it being about 3 hours), spent a couple of days on a boat there and drove back to Hanoi. We then flew to DaNang and took several days going bussing to Hue and HoiAn and back to DaNang before flying to Saigon for a few days and then back to Seattle. Ha Long Bay was a definite highlight of the trip, as was the Hue to DaNang to HoiAn drive. The road was spectacular, the beaches were beautiful, and the resorts and hotels were very nice and fairly inexpensive. And the people were universally friendly and language was not a problem. Personally I enjoyed being out of the cities more than in them. The rural areas were prettier, less polluted, and less crowded. I’d spend a day in Saigon and a day in Hanoi seeing some of the cultural places and war museums…they are both very interesting and sad at the same time.

    The other option would be to have paid crew along for parts of the trip. That way, someone you trust could stay with the boat while you go ashore and explore. Again, I’m not familiar with the Vietnamese requirements for pleasure boats and it is probably unlikely that many people would know since I don’t think its a very popular cruising spot. To me, that just adds to the appeal though!

    One last thing…I recall seeing a poster on thehulltruth.com (http://thehulltruth.com) from Vietnam. I’ll see if I can find any information on him and send it to you later, or you can check. Good luck with the trip!

  5. Sam: The pictures you sent me of Vietnam are amazing. I took the liberty of posting them on the site, at: http://www.kensblog.com/asp (http://www.kensblog.com/aspx/Blob2/BlobPage.aspx?msgid=501049)

    My notes are poor about Vietnam, but my recollection is that John said he had to anchor out, and pay a guard to watch his boat. He then left the boat and flew around the country exploring. My notes from the meeting say that he flew to Ankor Wat. Could that be right? I can’t imagine me leaving the boat unattended at anchor and flying away, so we’ll see what happens.

    Thank you!
    -Ken W

  6. Ken, I’d seriously consider spending some time in Vietnam. I don’t know where John cruised in Vietnam or how difficult it is to take a private boat there, but the coast is beautiful. Last spring a spent 11 days there and had a great time. The people are friendly, it’s cheap, and the big cities are fairly well developed. I spent a couple of days on Ha Long Bay which is spectacular. I made a note to return someday on my own boat, hoping that entry wouldn’t be too difficult. I never saw much in the way of infrastructure for pleasure boats, but that shouldn’t be too much of an obstacle since you have enough fuel to be self sufficient and can anchor out and make your own water easily.

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