GSSR No. 14 – The Kids Come Home

Greetings all!

At the end of my last blog we were on the island of Miyako. We had never planned to go there, but were forced to stop by weather.

Our three boats tied to a wall (as usual) in Miyako

As it turned out it was a cool little island, and we enjoyed being there.

Miyako is surrounded by a huge reef

For us, the highlight of our visit to Miyako was that there were four other foreign boats at the port. We have seen virtually no foreign boats in over 2,500 nm of cruising Japan. In Yokohama we saw one Australian racing sailboat, and in Nagasaki we saw one French sailboat. Within minutes of tying up we hiked to the other side of the port to introduce ourselves. Two of the boats were from South Africa, one from the Netherlands and one from Australia. Like us, they were retired couples out cruising the world. As they were northbound we gave them what cruising tips we could, regarding Japan, and loaded them up with the paper charts we wouldn’t be using any more. The couple from the Netherlands mentioned that they had cruised over 80,000 nautical miles and were cruising the same route we had in reverse order, headed across the Bering Sea to Alaska and Seattle.

An excerpt from our dinner menu in Miyako. The biggest problem we’ve had with menus is that they are all in Japanese. Even translated, the menus can be scary!

From Miyako to Ishigaki is a 85 nm run, which takes us about 11 to 12 hours to complete. As we always like to arrive in daylight, we wanted to depart Miyako right at the first light. At 05:30am we were underway, and estimating a 16:30 (4pm) arrival time into Ishigaki.

Soon after leaving Miyako I realized that the engine room was running warmer than usual…

Sans Souci’s engine room generally runs around 115 degrees, but was suddenly running 135 degrees. The excess heat in the engine room triggered a couple of different alarms. The engines were running hot, as were the transmissions and shafts.

I quickly observed that the exhaust fan wasn’t running. Sans Souci’s engine room has two intake fans and one exhaust fan. At 135 degrees, the engine room would be fine, but I wanted to cool it down if at all possible.

Sans Souci has fancy controls for controlling the engine room fans: They allow me to set the fan speed based on the engine room temperature. My first thought was that someone had bumped the control and it wasn’t running. This began 20 minutes of fussing with the fan control, and a fair amount of child-inappropriate language. Nothing would get the fan to start.

My body reacts poorly to extended stays in high heat. The combination of heat and a rolling sea means sea sickness. 


So… seasick, and overheated, I took a few steps to try and cool the engine room. I killed the generator that was running in the engine room, and transferred the load onto the generator that is in the lazarette (the room behind the engine room). I also backed off on RPM, slowing the boat down, and started the air conditioning in the engine room. To give maximum cooling to the engine room, I shut off all air conditioning inside the boat.

Both the air temperature and water temperature around us are miserably hot. The water is 89.6 degrees, and the air temperature is over 100. I’m not sure what the humidity is, but it is hot, miserable and sticky. I always say that I am a warm water cruiser, so I’m not complaining, but warm water comes with a list of both pros and cons.

Diverting all air conditioning into the engine room had almost no effect on the engine room temperature (it gave about a 3 degree drop in temperature), but it had a tremendous impact on our comfort inside the boat. Because we were bouncing along, we needed to have the doors shut. By definition, boats are watertight. This meant we were stuffy, hot, sticky AND seasick inside Sans Souci. With 20/20 hindsight, my ‘brilliant idea’ to deploy the air conditioning to the engine room wasn’t quite so bright.

And, also with 20/20 hindsight, it isn’t clear why I installed the variable speed fan controls. On a boat, simpler is better. There are very few instances where having total control over fan speed is better than a simple on/off switch.

Our arrival at Ishigaki was a bit messy…

Prior to arrival our agent had worked with a local agent to find us a place to tie up our boats. We had a diagram showing where we were to put our boats. The diagram showed that we would be tied up to a dock normally used for cruise ships and freighters, which under normal circumstances might have given us cause for concern, but we know better than to expect anything resembling a marina these days.

Ishigaki is a Hawaii-style resort island primarily for Japanese tourists. As we approached the harbor we were passed by a constant stream of jet tour boats, each with a giant rooster tail of water protruding from the back. This triggered a radio debate over whether the rooster tails are functional, or strictly show-biz. We could not agree, although I remain convinced that the rooster tailed plumes of water are strictly for show.

As we approached the wall where we were to tie up, I noticed that it was in the main channel, and that as boats would pass by, waves several feet tall would wash along the wall.

The local agent was standing at the top of the wall, smiling and waving for us to tie up. I took one look at the wall and called out on the radio, “GSSR. I believe we have a problem. There are waves washing along the wall. If we tie up we are going to get clobbered!” Steven and Braun (Seabird and Grey Pearl) took one look at the wall and said, “No way! We need to find something else.” The agent was still waving and smiling. I decided to go close to the wall, and explain the problem (which given the language barrier wasn’t easy). I pantomimed waves and a boat being slammed into the wall. I then pointed at a different place on the wall, where I thought there might be less wave action, and headed for it. Meanwhile, Seabird and Grey Pearl went in search of a friendlier piece of wall for us to tie to.


I did succeed in tying to the wall, but we were being tossed about by each wave. The local agent continued to smile, but was looking worried. No sooner had I tied my lines than a group of Coast Guard people drove up in a car. They came over to the boat and looked at how we were being bounced off the wall, and said, “Must move. Very dangerous.” I couldn’t have agreed more.

While tied to the wall, Jeff Merrill, Nordhavn salesman extraordinaire, and his son, Jonn, jumped onto my boat. They had arrived in Ishigaki the previous day in order to join our group for the trip to Taiwan. Now they were on my boat, and we were floating, wondering what we were going to do now.

And, we knew we didn’t have much time, as it would be dark in an hour….

“Steven. Braun. Are you guys finding anything?” I shouted into the radio. The agent had gotten back into his car and driven away. I had no idea where he had gone, or how to contact him. What now?

“Ken, we aren’t finding anything, and have no depth information on our chart. You’ll need to direct us,” came the response. No depth information??? We had known that Seabird and Grey Pearl’s electronic charts were weak, but they were following me, so we knew it would be ok. However, now we were in unplanned territory with them out of sight, wandering through the large port, with no idea how deep the water was.

And, there were lots of shallow places…

Using the radio, and tracking their position via AIS, I was able to warn them about depths as they moved through the labyrinthian port. For instance, Braun would call and say, “Sans Souci. I am pointing directly at a wall. What is the depth along the wall?” I’d answer “Four feet,” and Braun would go in search of another wall.

Meanwhile, I was also exploring. Only someone who knows me could appreciate how stressed I was. It is not my style to go wandering through a strange port, with tight places, boats zooming all around me, and no idea where I’m going, with darkness falling. That is not Ken-style. It is also decidedly not my style to look for an empty place to tie up to.

Roberta and Jeff Merrill signaled to me to enter a small breakwater which appeared to have no room for anything. They insisted there might be a small place that we could tie up. I entered, turned a corner, and saw an opening between two boats, which just might maybe hold Sans Souci if I exactly side-stepped in. I precisely lined up the boat and went for it, with no idea whose place I was going into, or what the owner would say if they returned.

After tying the boat, I inquired on the radio what had become of Braun and Steven. They responded that they had found a wall to tie to. I then phoned our agent in Tokyo and asked him to help straighten out the mess.

Within 15 minutes, the local agent drove up. He had already secured approval for Seabird and Grey Pearl to remain where they were. But, to me he said, “You must move.” I passed on this message to Roberta who said simply, “No. Ask him to find out who owns this spot and offer them money to let us stay. I’m not moving.” I then radioed to Braun and Steven to ask if there was room for Sans Souci where they were. They said it was doubtful. There was a place behind them, but it had an anchor line going into the water where the center of my boat would go. They thought I’d be likely to wrap it around my prop trying to tie up.

And, it was starting to get dark…

The agent didn’t speak much English so I tried my best pigeon English, “Can’t move. Must stay. Will pay good money.” It took a while for this message to get through, but finally he took me to the harbormaster’s office. The harbormaster looked out the window at where we were and couldn’t believe it. We were twice as big as any other boat in our part of the harbor. After a few minutes of exchange in Japanese, the local agent turned to me and say, “No problem. Can stay.” I reached in my pocket for the wad of bills, and he said, “No money. No money.” I couldn’t believe my luck!

My first priority was to repair the broken exhaust fan. I wasn’t sure if the fan had failed, or if the problem was the control. A voltmeter quickly identified that power was getting to the control, but not finding its way to the fan. Perhaps it is because I come from a computer background, but I just couldn’t believe a computer-based control could fail. I kept re-reading the programming instructions for the control assuming I was somehow botching the operation. Finally, I just decided, “Why do I care about this control? I’m a warm water kind of guy. In warm water, why would I ever not want the fan running as fast as it can?” I grabbed the wire cutters, clipped the wires going to the control, hot-wired the fan, and it came to life immediately. The perfect fix.

Once installed on Ishigaki, it was time for some sight-seeing!…

Ishigaki is Japan’s southernmost island, and a major tourist destination. That said, it is a largely undiscovered paradise, and my perception was that it had been hard hit by the current economic recession. The hotels felt empty. The only serious activity we saw were the dive boats. Incredible. I don’t know how many dive boats go out each day, but I’ve never seen a resort destination with such an active diving community. I wanted to go out on one of the dive boats, but never had the opportunity.

The island is circled by a reef, which quickly discourages any idea of taking the boat to anchor in front of a sand beach. And, of course, all the bureaucracy required to take the boat to anchor makes it more trouble than it is worth.

Roberta and I decided to take a day and just ‘go to the beach.’ We figured we’d be typical tourists and go to a large beach resort and take our towels. Roberta googled to find the best beach on the island, ‘Sukuji.’ We found a taxi, and 45 minutes later were dropped off at a path leading to the beach. The cab driver (who of course spoke only Japanese) motioned to ask if we wanted him to wait. We sent him on his way, which would turn out to be a serious mistake.

Lining the path to the beach were a series of signs… 

The sign about the poisonous jelly fish was a definite mood killer.

As was the beach. The tide was low, and the beach wasn’t at all impressive.

So, we decided to head to the resort for lunch. When we arrived, we couldn’t find anyone in the lobby of the hotel. After a bit of looking around we found the desk clerk, who was very nice, but also very lonely. She explained (as best she could) that the restaurant was closed on Tuesdays. We said, “Can you call us a cab?” Which, she did, and after waiting 45 minutes for a cab, we gave up on the beach. 

We did find one impressive hotel on Ishigaki, the ANA Intercontinental. In the photo above you see Roberta and Carol looking at the spa menu. The female side of our group booked a spa day, which had them very happy. The resort had a golf course, and I came very close to booking a round, but the heat and humidity talked me out of it.

Ishigaki was our last port in Japan…

To depart Ishigaki, for Taiwan, we needed a few things….

  1. As Ishigaki was our final port in Japan we needed to clear out of the country. Typically there is some sort of exit document which says that we cleared out properly. This clearing document is sometimes asked for at your next country.
  2. We needed to take on fuel. This would be a bit complex, in that we had cleared into Japan as ‘domestic boats.’ As domestic Japan boats we had to pay taxes on the fuel we bought, but if we cleared out of Japan first, we would be able to buy fuel tax free. To give a sense of the difference, as international boats our price per gallon was $2.65, whereas as domestic boats we would need to pay closer to $4.25 per gallon. Multiply this savings by several thousand gallons of fuel and you see why it was important to clear out of Japan first and THEN buy fuel.
  3. We needed a two day clean weather window. Our passage to Taiwan from Japan would take us two full days. We are getting into typhoon season, and don’t want to take chances.
  4. I asked Jeff Sanson, of, in Seattle, to come to the boat to assist Roberta and I with the two day (two night) passage to Taiwan. Roberta and I could do the passage alone, but passages are MUCH easier with three people on board. Plus, I wanted Jeff to help me do some maintenance on the boat.

Once we started looking at the weather, we discovered that a storm was approaching, and that we either needed to leave immediately, or wait at least a week for another window. We had to wait for Jeff to arrive, but as soon as he was off the plane from the United States, we needed to move.

We knew we had a lot of logistics on departure day, which I wasn’t liking. We have a top priority goal, for all passages, to arrive in daylight. And, as we started detailed planning for our last day, I hit a snag. Customs in Ishigaki advised us that Sans Souci could not start the process of clearing out of the country until all crew were onboard. Jeff’s plane did not arrive until 1:30pm. In other words, Sans Souci had a lot to do, and we couldn’t even start on it until late in the day.

I sent this message to our agent, Furuno:

            Furuno san:

Perhaps we should do something like this:

Do the customs work for Grey Pearl and Seabird at 10:00 and let them start taking fuel. Then, start the process for Sans Souci.

There is an ugly storm coming. We need to depart as early as is possible.

If it helps get us moving, fuel me before the customs work and I’ll pay the extra for the taxes. I would prefer that to a multiple hour delay.

Thank you,
Ken Williams

I knew that my willingness to pay the extra price for fuel would send the clear message that we needed to push the process. And, I wasn’t kidding. A storm was coming, and we needed to get to Taiwan before the you-know-what started hitting the fan.

Also keeping us busy was ‘route planning.’ Usually, our route is fairly straight forward, but in this case, we wanted the most up-to-date weather information possible before making our decision. Taiwan is a huge island, roughly 200 nautical miles long. We were on the northeast corner, targeting a destination on the southwest side. We could ‘go around the top, and down the west side’ or ‘go around the bottom, and up the west side.’ To know what the right answer was, we needed to know where the weather was better for us.

There was also an issue with respect to the first few miles of our route. I am very conservative in route planning. There was a shortcut we could take, exiting Ishigaki, by taking a very narrow passage, that would save us 10 nautical miles, or about 90 minutes of cruising time. Spread over a two day run, this is irrelevant, and I wouldn’t normally consider the short cut. ‘Narrow little passages’ are not worth the effort. However, we were pushing like crazy to assure a daylight arrival in Taiwan, and the passage could be important. Thus, we asked a couple of ‘locals’ about the passage, and both said, ‘It’s easy. Ferries do it all the time.’ Based on this, I re-plotted the route, and planned us to go down the narrow route. If you look at it above, and try to imagine our boats, which require at least 8 feet of depth, navigating the passage, and trying to fit under the bridge, you will see why I was concerned.

Fueling the boats did not go as planned….

My boat was the first to take on fuel. I needed about 1,500 gallons, and it was delivered by truck. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from our agent asking what kind of fuel we wanted; MGO or MDO. I had no idea what the difference was, so I asked various friends, and readers of my blog. The final decision was for MGO.

As the fuel truck was giving me fuel, after about 500 gallons had been put into my tank, the driver suddenly stopped pumping, looked upset, and started looking at paperwork. I had no idea what was going on. He then turned to me and said, “Wrong fuel. Going to get new fuel.” Actually, I’m paraphrasing. It took me 10 minutes to decipher that this was what he was trying to tell me. I asked many times what fuel was in the truck and he kept saying K-U. I wrote MGO and MDO on a piece of paper and he said K-U. I was very worried that he had just poured gasoline, or something that would destroy my engines, into my tanks, and called my agent. He spoke with the driver, and called me back, but this didn’t seem to clear up any of the confusion, so I sent this email:

              Furuno san:

I am very confused.

In the United States there are only two options at most fuel docks; gasoline or diesel. So, in the United States I order diesel for the boat.

Earlier, you asked whether I wanted MGO or MDO and I relayed this question to my experts in the United States. I received the response that I must get MGO and that MDO would be harmful to my engine.

I responded to you requesting MGO.

What has the truck put into my tank? If it is the wrong fuel it could harm my engine.

We have two issues:

1) What is in my tank now, and is it harmful? Do they need to take the fuel out that they put in?
2) My tank is only partially filled. What should they put in?

Thank you,
Ken Williams

Braun Jones, from Grey Pearl, is the GSSR’s fuel guru. Braun is exceptionally opinionated on fuel, and speaks the most Japanese amongst our group (which is not saying much). Incredibly, all of us stood in the hot sun, pouring sweat, for nearly three hours, trying to sort out whether or not I had taken bad fuel. Given how important it was to depart Ishigaki immediately, each minute that passed was painful.

Ultimately, we discovered that fuel on Ishigaki fits into two categories: K-U and A-Ju (I’m sure I have the spelling wrong on these, but the phonetics are close). We wanted K-U, which was what he had put in my tank. So, thankfully, there was no issue.

Our agent sent me this email once the fueling resumed, which busted me up …

           Hi Ken san

Pleased to hear all cleared now.

My heart restarted breath and pumping blood now.

Best Regards
Kazuo Furuno

Here is Braun taking fuel. His process is very interesting. Braun has some ‘gum’ which detects water. He put the gum on the end of a stick, and asked the fuel truck driver to dip it to the bottom of the fuel truck. If there is water in the fuel, the gum changes color. Braun also asks for some fuel in a clear jar, so that he can look at the clarity of the fuel.

Finally, we were all fueled, Jeff arrived at the boats, customs cleared us, and it was time to go. We were leaving later than we liked, but we were leaving. At roughly 16:00 (4pm) we left the dock.

And, then we hit another road block…

Our short cut was a disaster. The passage was narrow enough, and clearance under the bridge a close enough call, that we had to crawl our way along slowly. And, as we neared the final third of the narrow passage, we looked around, and all we could see were breaking waves. We were confident that the exit did exist, but we were going to need to push our way through waves, unable to alter course by more than a foot or two, for fear of going aground on the reef.

No way! If we had taken the time to scout the passage with our tenders we might have gone for it, but there was no way we were going to risk putting a boat on the rocks. And being the lead boat, I was the most likely candidate. We turned around, which in itself, in a passage barely wider than our boats, was a serious challenge. 

We were finally underway, but darkness had hit. We were sad to leave Japan behind, but thrilled to be back on the road.

The passage to Taiwan was uneventful. We had two days of smooth seas. The only negative was a pervasive adverse current that averaged two full knots against us. When we departed Ishigaki we computed our arrival time into Tainan, Taiwan as noon. Once in the current, we realized that arriving in daylight would be touch and go. And, the current never did give us a break. Most of the passage was made at 6.5 knots.

As we approached Tainan we got to play our usual game of ‘dodge the freighter.’

Koahshiung, Taiwan

All of our efforts to ‘push’ paid off, and despite several setbacks we arrived at 16:00 (4pm) with plenty of daylight.

Our goal in Taiwan was to visit Nordhavn’s factory, Ta Shing. The entrance to the harbor is not on our charts, so Ta Shing had arranged for a fishing boat to guide us into the harbor.

As we were meeting up with the guide boat, we were suddenly approached by TWO coast guard vessels. We’ve grown accustomed to being visited by the coast guard, but these seemed particularly aggressive, and I didn’t know if I should stop or not. One of them came very close to me, and seemed to be boxing me off from continued movement. I was caught between our guide boat and the coast guard. However, once they were close I could see they were smiling and waving.

I should explain a bit about Nordhavn and Taiwan, and why we are in Taiwan…

All three of our GSSR boats are made by the same company, Nordhavn.

Nordhavn boats are made to cross oceans, which is a very specialized niche. There aren’t a lot of Nordhavns out there. I’m not sure of the exact count, but I think it is around 500. Nordhavn boats tend not to sit still. Regular readers of my blog might think Roberta and I cover a lot of distance, but compared to many Nordhavn owners we are total slackers. Nordhavn attempts to keep track of the distance traveled by their boats, and with only some of the boats having turned in their stats Nordhavn has already logged over FOUR MILLION miles. That’s an amazing record. Nordhavn does have competitors, but essentially owns the market for world cruising power boats. And, even though not all Nordhavn owners will ever cross an ocean, all owners like the idea of knowing that they are on a boat which can stand up to heavy seas, should they ever get a nasty weather surprise. Roberta and I are typical owners in that when we bought our boat we never would have believed that we might someday cross an ocean. We had owned a succession of boats, and had close calls on more than one occasion. We wanted a boat that we could trust. I was asked recently by someone whether they needed a Nordhavn for running up and down the West Coast of the United States, and I responded that the West Coast of the US is more than capable of surprising you with bad weather. Before buying brand X, I asked them to think about what it would mean to be caught offshore in a boat they weren’t certain could handle the seas, and whether saving a few bucks was really worth it.

Anyway… enough of that…

Nordhavn , behind the scenes, is really three companies. There is the company which most of us think of, based in Dana Point, that designs, promotes, commissions, sells and markets the boats. But there are also two other companies; Ta Shing (, based in Taiwan, and South Coast, based in China, which build the boats. Some of Nordhavn’s models are built in Taiwan and some in China. All three of our GSSR boats were built in Taiwan, so we wanted to ‘come home’ to see our boats’ birthplace. Whereas this meant a lot to us, we hadn’t realized that it also meant a lot to the factory.

To our tremendous surprise, we are the very first boats in Ta Shing’s 34 year history to return to the factory. For Ta Shing, this is a very big deal, and they are incredibly excited. Our first sign of this was an email, where they said they would host a party in our honor.

Tim Yuan – Ta Shing CEO

The GSSR’s reputation must precede us. One party wasn’t enough. We had two!

Here’s a video showing our arrival:

If you don’t see the video above, try this link:

Within minutes of our arrival, Sans Souci’s air conditioning failed. In 100+ degree heat, horrible humidity and 90 degree water, it doesn’t take long without air conditioning before you need to DO something! I discovered the main a/c breakers had tripped. These are hidden back behind the steering gear, where I can barely fit. I reset the breakers, only to have them fail again a few minutes later. I reset them again, and they failed again an hour later. Ta Shing had brought in a generator to provide shore power to our boats,. Perhaps there was something strange about the power?  I tried swapping to our own generator, and it did seem more reliable, but still failed randomly. I was totally stumped. Sans Souci installed a new air conditioning system (new chillers) just prior to the trip. What in the heck was happening???

On our second day in Taiwan, the a/c system continued to fail, and I asked Ta Shing if they could give me a hand. Our first experiment was to swap the breakers. Perhaps the breakers had failed. I was fairly certain this wasn’t the issue because I have two chillers and both breakers were tripping. It didn’t make sense that both breakers would fail together. Swapping the breakers accomplished nothing.

We then put an amp meter onto the circuit and saw that the chillers were taking 30 amps, but I have 20 amp breakers. The chillers were supposed to only be taking 15 amps, so something wasn’t right. I made the call to try swapping to 30 amp breakers, to see what would happen. I thought this would be a quick easy project, but it meant swapping to thicker wires. Worse of all, it meant shutting off the air conditioning. The entire boat spent most of the day with zero air conditioning.

Roberta and I are stuck on Sans Souci, whereas the other GSSR owners are staying at a fancy hotel. All three boats are taking advantage of being at the factory, by getting some work done. Seabird is getting new headliners. I’m not sure what Grey Pearl is having done, but see lots of repair people on the boat. Roberta and I really hadn’t planned much for Ta Shing to do. Our list was simple; one fiberglass repair, a water leak (a/c condensate) in a hallway, and a broken swim step (a wave in the Bering Sea ate our swim step). Roberta and I couldn’t move to the hotel because of our dog; Shelby. We’re not importing her to Taiwan, so she can’t leave the boat. We don’t want to leave her on the boat alone.

With no air conditioning, this issue suddenly took on major new meaning. The boat was uninhabitable ALL DAY, and yet we couldn’t leave the boat. I have never sweated so much in my life. And, I can’t imagine what it was like for Ta Shing’s technician. He was stuck wedged into a tight place in my lazarette, trying to run new wires to my air conditioners, for most of the day.

At the same time as he was doing the rewiring, we also pursued one other strategy. I hadn’t realized it, but air conditioners are pressurized with refrigerant based on the water temperature that the boat will be run in. Our air conditioners were installed in Seattle, at a time when the boat was bound for Alaska and the Bering Sea. That’s a much different environment than the 90 degree water we were seeing in Taiwan. I spoke with the original company that installed the chillers and they suggested removing some of the refrigerant from the system. While the rewiring was going on, a refrigeration guy was working on tweaking the chillers.

Finally, after a very long, hot day, we turned on the chillers, and the current draw was down by a third! My guess is if we had just removed some of the refrigerant, we wouldn’t have needed to swap the breakers or upgrade the wiring. The good news is that Ta Shing took great care of us, and the system got fixed. I NEVER want to be in this climate without air conditioning again!

All of us have been excited about getting a factory tour…

I wish I had more pictures from the factory tour, but Ta Shing has a ‘no photos’ policy. So, even though I took both my camera and a video camera, I wasn’t able to get any pictures. Our tour guide snapped a few photos, and I was able to talk him out of a few for this blog.

We were able to see several partially completed Nordhavns. I was particularly pleased to see three Nordhavn 68s in production, including one that was nearly complete, one that was about half complete, and another that is freshly into the mold. I was also able to tour a Nordhavn Motorsailer, and a nearly complete Nordhavn 76. Very fun! I was a little surprised to see that all three of the N68s in production AND the N76 were single engine. I had thought that on the larger boats the majority of owners would opt for twin engines. Strange.


Probably the thing that most surprised our group is the extent to which the boats are hand-crafted. In the picture above we are standing in front of a pile of teak logs. All cabinetry is made at the factory by hand. Ta Shing’s history as a boat builder actually extends back over 50 years, and they are VERY proud of their woodwork. Our guide mentioned that they have over 30 employees who have been with Ta Shing for over 25 years!

Here’s me sitting in front of an N68 hull. I couldn’t resist asking whether or not they had ever heard of one of their hulls cracking. The good news was that our guide said, “No.” I also asked how many boats Ta Shing had built. The answer: Twelve Hundred. They are exclusively Nordhavn these days, but had a long history building fishing boats and sailboats (the Mason line of sail boats amongst other brands). Wow!

The fiberglass hull is formed of many layers of fiberglass and resin. Here we see one of Ta Shing’s staff hand cutting one of the MANY fiberglass sheets used in making a hull.

I was curious about fuel tanks and wanted to see what is inside one. All of Ta Shings tanks are fiberglass, with internal baffling which helps stop the fuel (or water in water tanks) from sloshing around as the boat is pounding through waves. In the pictures above you can see the structure inside the tank, as well as the holes in the baffles which allow someone to crawl through the tank for cleaning. Actually, these photos are a little misleading in that there are additional panels which go onto the baffles that need removed if someone is going to enter a tank.

Here’s a picture that will be very sad for some of you. As we were driving between Ta Shing’s two facilities, we passed the field in the picture above, and our driver said, in passing, “That’s where they store the mold to the Nordhavn 62.” We immediately begged the driver to stop so we could  see the Nordhavn 62 mold.

Roberta’s and my first Nordhavn was a 62, and both Seabird and Grey Pearl are Nordhavn 62s. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that deep down many of us believe it is the finest trawler ever built. Nordhavn announced that they were phasing out the Nordhavn 62 several years ago, and that the last boat had been built. However, orders keep coming in. There are now thirty-eight Nordhavn 62s that have been built. It’s a nearly 20 year old model, and has been replaced by newer models. Perhaps the last order has come in. I hope not.

My overall thought on touring the factory…

I have been to the factory before, but this visit has been completely different. My past visits were to take a quick look at my boat and then fly out of town. With this visit we’re spending a week almost literally living with the factory staff (they have been on my boat all day, every day, since we arrived).

Boats are built by people, not factories. I have never met a harder working group, who cared more about the product. They have been studying our boats to see what they can learn that might help them build boats better in the future. Their attention to detail, and the fine craftsmanship they exhibit is incredible.

I don’t know that I’ll ever build another boat, but if I do, I hope that it will be built by Ta Shing! I can’t thank the people I’ve met at Ta Shing enough! Thank you Tim, BK, Al, Kuli, George, Douglas, Rachel, Lillian and everyone who’s name I’ve forgotten (but, not all the great work they have done!).

And, here’s a few pictures that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else…

OK, I have to ask. What’s the argument for putting the toilet paper OUTSIDE the stall?

Jeff Merrill’s son Jonn, standing on the bulbous bow of Seabird

I didn’t clean up this picture at all. It was an amazing sunrise (or, was it a sunset? I forget)

Sans Souci in Taiwan

Roberta, putting out lines, as we approach Miyako (It’s raining!)

Despite the smiles, this picture is quite serious. Braun and Steven are pointing at a likely GSSR destination for 2011: Vietnam. Instead of also pointing, I was making the Japanese symbol for “No!” The GSSR group has become our family, and I can’t imagine us cruising without each other. But, that said, the group may temporarily split up next year. It’s an uncomfortable topic, but I really do not want to go anywhere where there even remotely could be pirates. Also, if we get too far off the beaten path, I won’t be able to put Sans Souci on a freighter, and there is no way I’m taking Sans Souci, on her own bottom, through Somalia. Don’t be surprised if Sans Souci arrives in the Med a year before Seabird and Grey Pearl.

And lastly…

Here’s a Nordhavn blog that you might find interesting.

It belongs to Rick and Debbie Heiniger who recently purchased a new Nordhavn 76. Their boat (Eliana) was just delivered to Dana Point, and I’ve been enjoying reading Rick’s tales of taking delivery, and the new boat commissioning process.

That’s all for today (perhaps even tooooo much),

Thank you!
Ken Williams
Sans Souci, Nordhavn 68
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8 Responses

  1. B asked, “I would like to ask you about your opinion about N68 compared to N62 in terms of seaworthiness and ability to handle rough seas comfortable. …Has Nordhavn managed to retain the “salty qualities” while moving upscale to yachts?…”

    That’s a very fun question, and one which different Nordhavn owners might answer differently. I’ll take my stab at it, but hope that someone with real knowledge will jump in with their answer.

    I’m not sure what defines “salty qualities,” so I’m going to slice the term into a few categories: seaworthiness, comfort in rough seas, sturdiness, construction quality and design.

    Seaworthiness – There is an entire science that defines seaworthiness, and it is called the ‘stability curve’. Simplistically stated, this is the amount by which a boat can be tipped and still come upright. I do not have the data, and am not qualified to interpret it, so I cannot give you an analytic answer to this question. Stability is not a simple topic, and has tons of variables. For instance, sailboats can be tipped virtually upside down and still right themselves, whereas power boats have much lower tip angles. This doesn’t necessarily mean that sailboats are more stable. You also need to look at the amount of effort required to tip a boat. Each wave contains some finite amount of energy, and the energy required to tip a 100 ton powerboat is higher than the energy required to tip a 10 ton sailboat. So, given that I cannot answer this question mathematically, I’ll give an opinion. It is my opinion (and, it’s only an opinion) that the N62 wins over the N68, on the stability test. But, I suspect that the difference is so close that it is irrelevant, and to a large extent, it is defined by the particular N68. An N68 with twin engines and an Atlas scores much higher than a single engine N68, because there is much more weight below the waterline. An N68 with full tanks scores higher than an N68 with empty tanks. If I were to guess at it, I’d say that in terms of stability (on a scale of 1 to 10), if a well made ocean-going sailboat is a 10, and a typical Bering Sea Fishing boat a 7, then a trawler would be a 5. On this same scale a typical planing hulled boat would probably be a 1 or a 2, and the semi-displacement boats (like Fleming) might be a 3. My guess is that we are talking a tenth of a point difference between the N62 and N68. The bottom line in my opinion is that Nordhavns are as good as it gets for a production trawler (excluding Dashew’s boats anyhow), but we shouldn’t kid ourselves and think we are ready for the Bering Sea in January.

    Comfort in rough seas – Comfort is correlated to weight, hull design, and most importantly: stabilizers. Good stabilizers can make any boat very comfortable. You asked me to specifically compare the N62 and N68, and having owned both I do have some basis for comparing them. The N68 wins this comparison. I suspect much of this is simply due to weight. It’s like comparing a sports car to a Cadillac. The N68 outweighs the N62 two to one. Also, my perception is that the ‘pivot point’ is farther back on the N62. The N62 bow pitches far more than the N68 bow in the same seas.

    Sturdiness – Boats get slammed in heavy seas. All of the stability in the world won’t help you if the refrigerator goes shooting across the room when you take the first wave, or the fuel pickup tube snaps. This is the area where Nordhavn’s really excel. Anti-chafing is part of their culture. The factory understands that the boats are going to be picked up and shaken repeatedly by waves. There are no statistics kept on sturdiness, so it doesn’t appear on product spec sheets, but it is the #1 reason to buy a Nordhavn. I had a conversation with another Nordhavn owner once who had an interesting way of looking at this topic (Scott Strickland). Scott said, “When someone tells me about the big seas they were in, I ask them ‘What broke?’ If they can’t tell me something that broke, it wasn’t really heavy seas.” Never underestimate the power of the sea. If you get into truly heavy seas, something is going to break. It might just be a chair that gets flung across the room, or it might be something more serious, but you are unlikely to come through completely unscathed. One way to look at a quantitative measure of sturdiness would be to take a 30 foot steep wave, and shoot different boats down it, and count how many things break. I suspect Nordhavns would rank at the top of the class. As to the N62 versus the N68, both are built in the same factory, by the same people, with the same culture. I doubt there is any difference, other than that the N68 might have more ‘stuff’ to break. My recommendation, whether or not you own a Nordhavn: Don’t go out in bad weather.

    Construction Quality – I’m defining this category as all of the little details which my wife cares about and I tend to overlook. We were at the Nordhavn factory recently, and stopped to watch a woodworking team laboring over the wood frame that cases in one window. It was a layered wood frame that was beautiful, handmade and being labored over by multiple people. I have no idea how many hours of work went into that one window frame, but I’d guess ‘days.’ It was a real work of art. I remember thinking, couldn’t they have just framed the window in steel and saved a lot of effort? So, I’m the wrong person to ask this question. All I can say is that those I know who care about this topic tend to ‘ooh and ahh’ when looking at the quality of the joinery and other polish details on Nordhavn boats.

    Design – I assume your topic of saltiness includes the overall ‘look and feel’ of the boat. On this competition, the N62 wins over the N68, in that it looks more like a traditional fishing boat. The N68 is beamier, and looks more megayacht-ish. That said, both look very different from any of the ‘normal’ boats out there. Both are salty looking. Anyone looking at my N68 is going to quickly see the life rafts, the beefy anchor, the monster davit, the thick stainless rails, the weight (that makes it solid in the water, while boats around me are bobbing like corks), the thick hawseholes, the cleats that mean business, and the overall functional appearance. The N68 may be comfortable, but no one’s going to mistake it for a typical ‘party boat.’

    Does this answer your question?

    Thank you!
    -Ken W

  2. Hi Ken,

    The question about whether rooster tails are just for show actually depends on the propulsion system used. Surface drives (for instance Arneson drives) will give you a rooster tail whether you like it or not. Jet propulsion, however, does not necessarily give you a rooster tail. A lot of smaller vessels like jet skies and small jet RIBs have a rooster tail, but that is probably just to help other boats see them. The Norwegian Navy has developed a 160 foot stealth missile fast patrol boat capable of 60 knots+ using Rolls Royce gas turbines and jet propulsion, and those boats certainly have no rooster tail;-) One of these boats are currently being tested by the US Navy.

    I would like to ask you about your opinion about N68 compared to N62 in terms of seaworthiness and ability to handle rough seas comfortable. Having been onboard your N68 in Dana Point a couple of weeks before commissioning was complete, I know the “yacht feeling” of your boat. The N62, however, is more similar to the fishing boats of my native Norway where both the Nordhavn name and hull shape originally came from. So what is your verdict; Has Nordhavn managed to retain the “salty qualities” while moving upscale to yachts?

    On a final note I would like to commend APE on its ability to consistently deliver high quality products from China and Taiwan. I was recently hired as President of a group of companies manufacturing the majority of its boats (RIBs) in mainland China. We had a lot of problems with quality caused by hiring “fisherman’s wives” and loosing them as soon as they were trained. A lot of the migrant workers were more committed to quality, but -as I was once explained by my local manager at the factory- it’s hard to make good boats when you have never seen the ocean…

    Keep up the good work of allowing all of us stuck on land to live through you and your blog;-)


  3. Hi Ken & Roberta,

    I too am an avid reader of your blog as I sit here in my office and toil away wishing I was “adventuring” along with the GSSR Group. Every experience including the Coast Guard mixups, weather reroutes & associated agent discussions, I would even take on the engine room at 135 degrees in rolling & pitching seas in exchange for my daily office grind. But I do have to say it sort of helps knowing that you also have difficulty and challenges and that not every day is peaches & cream. I learn a lot from your blogs and one day when I have saved enough and worked hard enough I will be out there too, but until that time I will just have to live vicariously through your blogs, so don’t change a thing. BTW thanks for the warning for next years “happy” Med blogs with pictures of beautiful beaches and bodies, I will prepare now to beat my head into the computer screen repeatedly.


  4. Ken,

    I would much rather be cramped down in a hot engine room working on the AC units and engines, than sitting in an office all day! So, I wish I was stuck in a hot engine room being able to see the world (well not at that moment) experiencing new and exciting things. You can say that you cruised through Japan now and mark that off the list, along with all the red tape that went with it.

    Thanks for taking us along for the ride,

    Chris Hallock

  5. Chuck:

    Always great to hear from you!

    Here’s a funny story from ‘behind the scenes.’

    Roberta has received a couple of emails saying, “It sounds like you aren’t having much fun.” She said that I should be more cheery on my blog. I said that it is an adventure story, not a travelogue, and she said that if it was always depressing to read my blog, people would stop reading. I said she was wrong, and as always, she disagreed. I then asked her how the Donner party books sold…

    Hopefully my blog hasn’t been depressing. We’re having fun, but it’s a different kind of fun. We’re exploring, and that comes with a certain amount of confusion and complexity.

    My goal next year is to get the boat to the Med, find a pretty beach, with a good pub, and perhaps a bikini or two (or, perhaps none), and drop the anchor. It will be a ‘funner’ boating experience, but I suspect it will make for a really dull blog.

    Oh well… it is what it is.

    -Ken W

  6. Ken,

    Thanks for an absolutely great post! Both entertaining and an education regarding the challenges of international cruising… it’s a pleasure reading them.

  7. Michael:

    I agree with your wife (that we need a dog sitter and a hotel).

    It’s not that easy though. We don’t like having a stranger on the boat overnight while we’re at a hotel. In addition to the normal worry about giving a stranger access to all our possessions, there’s the issue that boats are more complicated than homes. Power management is a part of life on a boat, and I don’t know how to train someone in all the things that I do automatically on a daily basis.

    In Hong Kong we’re flying a friend in, for a week, just to watch Shelby. I’m a little uncomfortable with leaving him with the boat, because of the potential technical issues .. but, think it will be fine. We’ll see.

    Thank you!

  8. Ken, my wife suggests a locally hired dog sitter to stay aboard paired with a nice hotel suite.

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