Note: The first part of this blog entry is a bit redundant to the quick updates I sent out over the past couple of weeks…
In Taiwan, our boats were tied up at An Ping Fishing Harbor. It’s a small harbor, far out of town, with nothing around it. Nordhavn’s factory, Ta Shing, selected this location because it was a good place to work on the boats. The original plan had been that we’d park the boats and then shuffle off to a hotel while Ta Shing worked on our boats. However, while the others went to a hotel, Roberta and I were stuck on the boat. Shelby (our dog) was not able to clear into Taiwan, so she had to stay on the boat, which also meant we had to stay on the boat.
Karen from Asia Yacht Services
For our two day trip to Hong Kong I had asked Asia Yacht Services (www.asiayachtservices.com
), the company that would be looking after our boats in Hong Kong, if they had anyone I could hire as crew for the passage. Roberta and I are fine to do the passage alone, but overnight passages are much easier with extra crew on board. Also, I liked the idea of having someone on board who had been into the Hong Kong port before. They agreed to send two people, including their head of maintenance. First one of these people dropped out, and then the other canceled the night before departure, due to visa problems getting into Taiwan. Instead, they sent Karen, who had sailed extensively around Hong Kong. We were very happy to have her. Carol from Seabird working on clearing out of Taiwan. Note the smile. She would soon see these same people again, and the smile would be gone
Braun and Tina (Grey Pearl) gifted Sans Souci and Seabird a rubber stamp. I hadn’t been certain what I’d do with it, but it has been very handy in dealing with customs officials. They all expect me to have one, and insist I stamp it on all the official documents.
Only Seabird and Sans Souci would be departing for Hong Kong. Braun and Tina, from Grey Pearl, had decided to fly to mainland China for a three week tour. They would be joining us later in Hong Kong.
Seabird following Sans Souci as we departed the harbor in Taiwan
As we were departing, Roberta asked if she could take over and drive the boat. She wanted practice leaving the dock. She pulled us away from the dock perfectly, and I worked the lines. Before turning over control of the boat to her, I thought I noticed that the thrusters felt weak. I should have said something and gave them a full test. Not having done so would later turn out to be a serious error.
Our first hour out of port was tricky. There were a lot of fisherman, and fishing gear in the water. We had a hard time zigzagging through it. Once we hit open water, we relaxed and settled in for a two day passage. But, our good moods didn’t last too long…
Normally after departure our boats speak on the radio to discuss speed. It’s normally a short discussion, “How’s this speed feel?” And, the response, “Fine. Let’s give it a try.” However, this time, when I asked the question, Steven (Seabird) said, “My exhaust is hotter than I like. Let’s slow down a bit.” Half an hour later I radioed again to ask if the temperature had settled down. Carol said, “Steven’s in the engine room. He’s cleaning the air filter on the main engine.” This seemed very strange. A bit later Steven called back on the radio to say that he had cleaned the air filter and was hoping that it would solve the problem. This wasn’t something I would have thought of. Another half hour went by when I called Steven again, “How’s the heat?” He said it wasn’t improved and the boat was running the hottest it ever had. His entire drive train was significantly hotter than he had seen it before. “Should we be turning around?,” I asked. There was no answer for a bit, and then Steven said, “Yes. It is time to turn around.”
His response stunned me. I should have seen it coming, but didn’t. I assumed that the worst case was that we’d need to run slow. We discussed what might be happening and both agreed that it sounded like he had either collected growth on his bottom or possibly wrapped something around his prop. He needed to get back to shallow water, drop the anchor, and dive under the boat to see what was going on. He suggested that I continue, and then with a little luck he would be able to clean up whatever the problem was and then catch up with me.
A very sad look at Seabird on my chart plotter, as Seabird headed back
By a strange coincidence, I had just been doing a safety briefing for Karen, our new crew member…
I had been explaining where all the safety equipment was, including fire extinguishers, life jackets, life rafts, and survival suits. We were trying to decide whether if there were an emergency, would getting into survival suits made sense? I mentioned that it was an irrelevant issue, in that the beauty of traveling with two other boats was that if anything went wrong we’d be rescued within minutes of hitting the water.
However, this was no longer true. For the first time in over 7,000 nautical miles of cruising, we would be totally alone. I did think about whether or not I should also turn around…
Our GSSR group has always said that if one of us is stuck at sea, the others would not leave them behind. In this case, we were still close to port, and I’d be in radio contact with Seabird all the way to port. If I continued alone, I would be the one who was at risk, not Seabird. Steven felt there was a chance he’d be able to clean his bottom, and flip around to catch up with me. I wasn’t convinced this was possible, but thought there was a chance he could at least catch up enough to get into radio range. I had high hopes that this would be possible.
Slowing down to wait for Seabird could be dangerous. We had been alerted that a typhoon was coming. We were scheduled to arrive 24 hours ahead of the typhoon, but I didn’t want to give up any of our margin for error.
The determining factor, in my decision to continue without Seabird, became our dog. Shelby had a tough time of it in Taiwan. She was stuck on the boat because we couldn’t clear her into Taiwan. Shelby is in good shape for a fourteen year old dog, but she’s starting to show her age. She seemed to be in serious depression and was just lying on the floor looking sad. We needed to get her off the boat. Also, we had spoken to animal quarantine in Hong Kong and they were considering Japan as our last port prior to Hong Kong. They knew we were stopping in Taiwan, but that Shelby wasn’t getting off the boat. If we turned around, and had to spend another week in Taiwan, at some point, Hong Kong would lose patience with us. Thus, we continued alone…
Unfortunately, we weren’t moving very fast, and I wasn’t certain why. We were averaging only about 7 knots. Our speed was bouncing between as little as 5.5 knots and no more than 7.5 knots. Was the problem crud on our bottom, or was it an adverse current? I had no idea. One idea was to make a 180 degree turn and look to see if we accelerated. However, I had asked Steven whether or not his speed picked up when he turned around, and he said that he did not pick up speed when he turned back.
When Seabird reached shallow water, just before the port, they dropped anchor and Steven dived under the boat. I was very curious to speak with him to find out if indeed our theory was correct, and his problem was growth on his bottom, and if he would be able to quickly wipe it off and rejoin me. I was also curious to find whether or not there was growth on my bottom, or if what I was experiencing was current.
Steven did not call back until we were nearly twenty miles apart. “I have good news and bad news” he said. “The good news is that the problem is that the prop and keel cooler have a inch thick layer of a white chalky substance on them. The bad news is that there is way too much of it for me to clean off. I have already spoken with Ta Shing and they have scheduled a diver to come tomorrow.” All hope was gone that Seabird would be turning around to join us. We would be making the passage alone, and apparently, our problem wasn’t current. We would be doing the rest of the passage at this horribly slow speed. It was now apparent that we would be arriving in Hong Kong after dark. I felt terrible leaving Seabird alone in Taiwan.
The distance from Taiwan to Hong Kong is 400 nautical miles. One very unusual aspect of the passage is that the majority of the trip is over shallow water, mostly only a couple of hundred feet deep. And, studying the chart, I could see a place that was under 50 feet deep. This seemed perfect as a place to drop anchor and inspect the bottom. I wanted to get out my scuba gear, and have everything teed up, so that we could drop anchor, I could dive, and be back in the boat within 30 minutes. However, when I shared my plan with Roberta, she talked me out of it. We were in 2-3 foot waves, and the bottom would be bouncing while I was underneath. If anything went wrong, with us 75 miles from shore, it would be a nasty situation. We were running fine, although slower than we’d like.
And, Roberta wasn’t convinced that our problem wasn’t current. The simplest way to find out if you are in a current or not is to simply turn around and see if you move faster. Doing this probably meant a 30 minute to one hour delay, and we were fighting the clock for daylight arrival. Plus, it really didn’t matter. Unless I was willing to go under the boat and clean the bottom, it was what it was. We either were in current, or we weren’t, but nothing was going to change it. I should segue for a minute to talk about how we did our shifts driving the boat….
With three people on the boat, we decided to slice the driving into three hour shifts. Roberta would drive for three hours, then Karen for three hours, and then me for three hours, and then we’d repeat it. This meant that everyone would have six hours to rest between driving.
Prior to this trip I had never met Karen in my life. She seemed competent, but you have to really trust someone to go to sleep on a long passage while they drive. I grilled Karen on her background, and mostly, she had done watches on sailboats, not powerboats. Sans Souci is complex, and was not running 100%. The gunk on the bottom and the adverse current were causing Sans Souci to run slowly, and warmer than usual. I knew that I had to sleep, or I’d be dangerous to have on the helm. I decided that the best answer was to do double shifts with Karen until I knew her better and had a sense of her watch skills. To my delight, she was an outstanding watch-stander. She took the initiative to step outside the pilot house every 30 minutes, to have a really good look for other boats, and paid very close attention to both radars. We had a good team, and sleep would be possible
Once Sans Souci arrived at the shallow water, something completely unexpected occurred. I had expected that the seas might get rougher due to the shallow water, but they stayed the same. What did change was that we started to speed up. In minutes, my speed jumped from 6.5 knots to 7.5 knots, then to 8.1 knots, and onward to 9.8 knots. Wow!!! Not exactly warp speed, but I was very happy with it. Our arrival time whiplashed from arriving at 10pm, to arriving at 4am. I know, for different rpms, how fast the boat should go, and we were getting at least a 1 knot push. This was weird, and not predicted on the current charts. After a couple of hours we slowed down a bit, to 8.5 knots, but then ran at that speed for another 12 hours. We were very pleased on Sans Souci.
On our second day, we were running along the China coast. We never saw mainland china, but always knew it was about 12 miles out the window on the starboard side of the boat. For me, it was a very strange feeling. I NEVER would have thought I’d be driving a boat off the shore of China. What was I doing here?
The currents that were pushing us had accelerated our arrival to the point that we were on track to arrive early, perhaps even in the dark. We needed to slow down. However, we had a new problem…
Over the past couple of hours, a swell had started. The typhoon was still a long ways away from us, but it was stirring up the water in the Philippines, and some of the swell was working its way our direction. Or, so I thought. All I really knew was that during a two hour period, our relatively calm seas had risen to where a gentle eight foot swell had evolved. We were climbing up one side of the swell, then falling off the backside. It wasn’t at all a problem. As we’d come down the backside of the swell, we twisted around a bit, and were perhaps losing some speed. However, it was what I didn’t know that was worrying me. How much taller was the swell going to get? Eight feet was fine, but twenty feet wouldn’t be. Perhaps the typhoon was accelerating? Perhaps it was no big deal and I was over-reacting? Perhaps I hadn’t slept as much as I should, and was getting paranoid about the approaching typhoon.
I looked Karen in the eye and said, “Are you 100% sure you can guide us into Hong Kong in the dark?” She answered, “No problem.” And, I kicked up the throttle. It was time to move. By speeding up we would be arriving at the entrance to Hong Kong at 3am, in the complete dark. This would not be good, but Karen seemed confident, and I don’t like typhoons, plus, I liked the idea of being in port and getting some sleep.
Under normal circumstances, I can ‘put the pedal to the metal’ on Sans Souci, and all is well. But, with the water around us warmer than most showers, crud caked on the bottom of the boat, thru-hulls partially clogged and caked-over props, my drive train was complaining a bit. I dedicated one of our three monitors in the pilothouse just to monitoring the temperatures of the engines, transmissions and shafts. The engines were the most worrisome. I’m not a diesel mechanic, so I really don’t know at what temperature I should start worrying. I’m accustoming to seeing the engines run 176 degrees, but now they were running 192 degrees. The shafts, which normally run 83 degrees were running 106 degrees. The transmissions, that normally run 125 degrees were closing in on 150 degrees! I phoned friends, all of whom asked the water temperature, and everyone felt I was fine, so, I continued to worry, but kept the speed up.
The swell never rose any further, and actually fell a bit. As usual, I was being overly cautious. Generally speaking though, I’ve gotten in less trouble worrying too much, than when I’ve worried too little.
The final phase of approaching Hong Kong is to run through about 30 miles of islands. I plotted a course that took us alongside a special shipping lane set up for freighters. My intent was to run the right edge of the lane, but stay out of the freighters way.
As we approached my right turn, I had probably ten freighters within a mile of Sans Souci, plus several freighters outbound that were showing on the radar, and some smaller boats heading my way that I was going to need to zigzag through. Roberta had gone down to sleep, so it was just Karen and I at the helm. The freighters tend to move at anywhere from 12 knots of speed to 20 knots. Sans Souci moves only about 9 knots, and whereas I had assumed the current would die, it remained against us, and intensified. I now had at least a couple knots of current against me, and was being overtaken quickly, on both sides, by the freighters. Meanwhile, the first of the two smaller boats headed straight for me. I had planned to pass behind him, but he started shining his searchlight at me. I was close enough now to see that it was towing the boat behind. I stopped dead in the water, causing Roberta to come rushing up the stairs to ask what was happening. And, this was all in about the first hundred yards. The next 30 miles were going to be ‘interesting.’
Soon after turning the corner, I realized that the right side of the shipping lane was lined with fishing boats pulling nets. I would need to run inside the traffic lane, meaning I’d constantly being dodging freighters coming from behind. I didn’t have to wait long to be put to the test. A freighter approached from behind, and I tried to squeeze to the right, but one of the fishing boats was there, and it was well into the traffic lane. It had big poles poking out the side and was pulling a net. I was caught between the freighter and the fishing boat. Once again, I hit the brakes, and slowed to let the freighter pass. I looked at Karen and asked, “How in the heck do you do this in a sailboat at night?”
Soon afterwards, a little tiny boat crossed by bow at lightning speed, passing within 50 feet of my bow. Why? He could easily have passed behind, and not put himself at risk?
During the day this doesn’t look exciting, but at night it is a whole other experience.
Then I was passed by a couple of freighters so large that it was incomprehensible. There’s a special horn blast reserved for the danger sign; five short blasts. Trust me, it isn’t fun when you hear that sound from behind you, and look back to see a city-sized freighter on your tail.
There was one bright spot for the run, and I wish I had a picture to share. I put Navnet 3d into 3d mode, with radar overlay, and zoomed in to show about a 1 mile radius. It was beautiful! I could clearly see the traffic lane as well as all the boats around me. It also gave the ‘big picture’ of where all the islands were and what they looked like, and helped orient Karen and I.
Once I had Navnet 3d going, learned to stick to the center of the traffic lane, and started getting the hang of spotting the other ships, my mood brightened, and things didn’t seem quite so tense.
At 5:30am the sun started rising, and I could see.
Daylight arrived just as we were pulling into port; the Gold Coast Marina in Kowloon, Hong Kong.
I assume most people know Hong Kong’s history with the British, and the hand-off to China, but if not, check out this Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong
. Roberta and I were in Hong Kong for the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997. We have very fond memories of Hong Kong, and were curious to see it again.
Hong Kong is very unique in the world. The population density is higher than in Manhattan, and there is a lot of money running around. Great restaurants abound, and the British history means that English is not a problem.
Entering our marina was a very cool feeling. It was the first time I had seen a ‘real’ marina, with real-live floating docks, and recreational cruising boats, in many months.
There are ten or more restaurants at the top of the dock, an ATM machine, a wonderful grocery store, a 7-11 and even a McDonalds. We had shore power connected within minutes.
I felt a little guilty about Seabird, stuck behind in Taiwan, so I sent this email (CLICK HERE
) telling him what the marina was like. I wanted him to enjoy Taiwan and not be thinking about Hong Kong.
Soon after though, I decided to be a little more honest and sent this link to some snapshots I took around the marina. The beach is immediately adjacent to the marina. http://www.kensblog.com/aspx/m/Gold_Coast_Marina
Here’s one funny thing about the marina that we’re in. There are a lot of big boxy boats! Most are steel and look like floating shoeboxes. They are clearly boats, not houseboats, but if you look around the marina you’ll notice that a significant percentage of the boats have no radar, or domes of any sort, on top. I spoke with one owner who said that he was using his pseudo-boat as a condo, and it had 2,500 sq ft, but that he would soon be moving to a larger boat-condo of over 4,500 sq. ft., and that a similar waterfront condo would cost $6 to $8 million! Apparently there are rules about what constitutes a boat, and what constitutes a condo, and a boat must have an engine. So .. there are some boxy ‘boats’ around me in the marina, but I’ll bet they don’t have a lot of miles on their engines!
And, here’s something else strange about marinas in Hong Kong (not the one we are in!) I spoke with a local boat owner (a 60’ trawler) who mentioned that his marina had no docks whatsoever. His boat is just floating at a mooring buoy! I asked if he had to pay someone $5 to tender him to shore whenever he wanted on or off the boat, and he said, “Nope – it’s around 50 cents”. I thought for a minute, “What about shore power?” His response, “This is Hong Kong. Anything is possible. They ran a power cable out to me, under the water, that pokes up from a pipe.
And lastly, in my previous blog I mentioned that Roberta and I are making plans to move Sans Souci to the Med. I also mentioned that we might travel alone for a year without the other two GSSR boats.
This triggered a couple of questions on the NordhavnDreamers discussion group that I follow regularly (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nordhavndreamers
I am including here two answers I gave to questions about our plans. They should be self-explanatory.
John asked whether we chose the Med, because it is the ‘best place in the world.”
Them, Ron Rogers asked whether or not this means the end of the GSSR…
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— In NordhavnDreamers@yahoogroups.com, Can Osten <canosten@…> wrote:
> Ken has mentioned that they are thinking to move their boat to Med (even
though they spend 3 seasons there earlier). This decision makes me think: Is Med
better than any other place on earth?
> John O.
The Med has much to recommend it, and much to recommend against it.
In general, I think the negatives seem to outweigh the positives for many
American cruisers. It seems to me that most of the NAR boats left the Med fairly
quickly and I don’t think any of the second Atlantic Rally boats are still in
The biggest positive for the Med is that there are a great number of different
cultures and countries, all within a fairly small area, to explore. You can
cruise Greece, Turkey, Italy, Croatia, Spain, France, Bosnia, Sicily, Corsica,
Sardinia and more, all with their unique cultures and languages. The truly
adventurous (not me) only need to pop across the Med to add places like Morocco,
Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Israel and Syria to their world tour. Or, you
can head through the Straits of Gibralta and head for Portugal, the UK, Ireland
and more. There’s a lot of history and exploration to be had.
Generally speaking, there are no currents or tides in the Med. Good cruising
guides can be found. And in much of the Med, fishing boats and fishing gear in
the water are not a problem. Piracy is not a problem in the Med.
That said, there are enormous problems with language, electricity and wind.
Theoretically, english is the linga franca, and almost everyone speaks some
english. That said, communications can be difficult. If you have a bit of a
sense of humor, and plenty of patience, you will meet some great people, and can
make anything happen. If you get frustrated easily you’ll have a terrible time.
Roberta speaks fluent spanish, and I speak mediocre french, so this helps.
The electricity varies from country to country and even marina to marina. There
is never enough, and it is usually not the right adapter, and the person who has
the adapter is usually not in this week.
And, the wind! I have sat in port for two weeks or more, on several occasions,
as the wind blew 30 knots and higher, relentlessly. I just spent yesterday
studying the ‘wind roses’ for Greece, and shaking my head.
Lastly, at least for me, the season is short. The Europeans (in the parts of the
Med I have frequented) think in terms of summer being July and August. The
‘happening scene’ is July August, and then the Med turns off the lights. I’m
exaggerating, but not completely. You can walk the beach in St Tropez on August
31st, tripping over bodies everywhere, or visit again on September 1st, fire a
cannon, and not hit anyone. Of course for some cruisers, this is good news, and
the shoulder months with decent weather, and the anchorages to themselves, are
Were I to pick one place on earth as the best cruising grounds, I’d probably
have to pick the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, which is saying an incredible
amount, given that I don’t eat or catch fish, and don’t like cold water. It is
impossible to look at my own pictures from our time there and not get emotional.
It’s cruising as good as it gets.
As to why I want to head back to the Med… For me, the good days outweigh the
bad days, and the Pacific NW will still be there when I’m ready to sit still.
This is our time for ‘seeing the world’ and there is a lot of the Med we haven’t
explored. We’ve spent 99% of our time in Europe in France or Spain. We’ve barely
touched the surface, and want to ‘pick up’ the other countries, plus we have all
of our favorite places in France and Spain we want to go back to.
But, I wouldn’t say that Med cruising is perfect for everyone on this list…
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Ron asked me, “…Does this mean that your part in the GSSR is over?…”
Ron: I really have no idea. The GSSR will reunite in Hong Kong on Monday, and
sometime after all the hugging is done, we’ll sit down for some serious
discussion about where we cruise next year. Last year at this time we had no
idea where we were heading, and in fact, we really didn’t decide until a couple
weeks after we had all flown home.
We all know that we are headed towards the Med, but there are three different
couples with three different ideas on how to get there. None of us wants to go
past Somalia and deal with pirates. There is some discussion of ‘going for it’
using a heavily armed convoy. Those who know me know that this will never happen
(for me anyhow). I’m not a cowboy. There is also discussion of going somewhat
closer to where the pirates are, than where we are, such as Thailand, and ship
the boats to the Med from there. And, there is discussion of shipping the boats
to the Med from where we are now, in Hong Kong.
Polynesia and Australia have not been ruled out, and we may head that direction.
That said, Australia is distinctly dog-unfriendly, so I’m not sure how that
plays out. We might go there and leave Shelby (our dog) at home. I don’t know.
I sent an email to the others a couple weeks ago saying, “I’m ok with anywhere,
as long as there aren’t pirates.” And, they both wrote back saying essentially
the same thing.
I have one extra issue. I don’t want to go somewhere where I can’t ship my boat.
Longtime readers of my blog may remember that a few years back my boat got
caught for six months in Golfito, and I couldn’t get it shipped. We’re over 100
tons, and only a minority of freighters seem to be able to carry us. The whole
mess resulted in litigation with Yachtpath that is still dragging its way
through the courts (I won the case, but the appeals process is long and
expensive.) I need to make sure that wherever we go I can either ship the boat,
or I am willing to drive it, to wherever we go next. If I continue on to
Thailand, I need to know that I can ship the boat from there, or somewhere
Overall, we’re not burning a lot of brain cells worrying about it. There are
enormous benefits to cruising far-off places as part of a group. I don’t know
that any of us would venture as far off the grid, as we have, alone. In addition
to the practical reasons for cruising together, there is the fact that our group
has bonded. The other two boats don’t arrive in Hong Kong until Monday, and it
feels funny being here without them. It is more fun to share cool experiences
It’s a little like a movie, where there are lots of ups and downs, and lots of
things are happening, but you don’t worry too much because you know at the end
the guy is going to get the girl, and the nice older couple is going to get to
keep their farm. I know that our GSSR group is going to figure where to go next
year, and that we’re going to see a lot of the world together, but damned if I
know how we get there from here. But, we will.
That’s it for today! I’ll post again when Seabird and Grey Pearl arrive in Hong Kong. For now, they are on the move. This link should allow you to track their movement, live, over the next two days: http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0QFfdZsomAjanceJLt1fsqyBLUHqnKLD1
I’ll be checking it often!
Thank you, Ken Williams
Sans Souci, Nordhavn 68
And, if you are interested in my books, check out : http://www.lulu.com/kenw