The GSSR 2010 has officially ended. I am very pleased to report that all three boats are now moored at the Gold Coast Yacht and Country club in Hong Kong.
At the end of my last blog entry Grey Pearl and Seabird were still sitting in Taiwan. They needed a two-day weather window in order to move the boats from Taiwan to Hong Kong. As we are now deep into typhoon season, the storms seem to be back to back. For a week we monitored the weather reports several times a day, and just when it seemed the storms would never end, a weather window opened.
To our surprise, Grey Pearl and Seabird had a perfect passage from Taiwan to Hong Kong, sliding along on lake-smooth water. The adverse current that slowed me by as much as three knots, wasn’t out there. We have two theories as to why: 1) The bizarre currents, for my passage, may have been stirred up, and accelerated, by the approaching Typhoon. Or, 2) I only thought there was a current against me. In reality, perhaps I was being slowed down due to all the growth on the bottom of my boat. My speedup later in the trip may have been nothing more than some of the crud shaking itself off the bottom of my boat.
Both Grey Pearl and Seabird had divers clean their bottoms just prior to departure, so with no current against them, and with their freshly cleaned bottoms, they ran much faster than planned. From the beginning, they knew that their fast speed might mean arrival at night, however, with the knowledge that a storm was behind them, they decided that a night arrival was the lesser of the two evils. And, in fact, they did arrive at the outer entrance to Hong Kong at 3am, the same time I had. They had a few tense moments, but were lucky enough to have a full moon, and made their arrival look easy.
With everyone now in Hong Kong, there was no hiding from the most treacherous GSSR challenge of 2010…
The #1 question facing the GSSR is, “What next?”
We were now at the end of this year’s cruise, and facing a near-certain end to our group cruising together. Adding to the tenseness, at least for me, is that I’m the villain in this story. We’ve mostly been doing a kind of cruising which I’ll call “adventure cruising.” Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong are modern countries, but we’re in a part of the world where few cruisers ever venture. Every day is a surprise. There are no cruising guides, and we usually don’t know what to expect until we arrive. I remember a year ago that, as I looked forward to our 2010 cruising, thinking our voyage through southern Japan would be characterized by Hawaii-like warm water, beautiful anchorages, white sand beaches, diving, swimming and time spent hanging out. I was totally naive. Other than about 48 hours at one island near Okinawa, we never had the mellow anchoring experience I love so much.
Looking southwest from Hong Kong, I see seas populated by pirates, and countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia, which also fit into the “adventure-travel” category. Roberta always wanted to be an archeologist, so being amongst the first to discover new cruising grounds is great fun for her. I, on the other hand, confess to much less adventuring sentiments. Give me a sand beach, clear warm water, a glass of wine, the odor of steaks on the barbecue, a good internet connection, and I’ll have attained boating nirvana.
Last month, I sent an email to Seabird and Grey Pearl saying Roberta and I would be splitting from the group. It was one of the tougher emails I’ve ever had to send. I cannot over-emphasize what a great group we have, and how much better it is to travel as part of a team. Our skillsets and personalities match each other perfectly. It’s like a marriage, if you find one that works, stick with it, because you are a very lucky person.
To make a long story short, Roberta and I have been making plans to put our boat on a freighter and ship her to the Med. Our hope was that the others, Grey Pearl and Seabird, would catch up with us somewhere in the Med, but the Med is a big place, and as we looked at the logistics, it didn’t look likely. There was a real possibility that we were saying goodbye forever.
During our last week in Hong Kong, we all avoided the topic. It was like a big ,ugly elephant standing in the corner that no one wanted to acknowledge. We went through two closing dinners, and yet whenever the subject of next year came up, the topic would switch immediately before anyone could say anything.
Finally, at 5pm, on Roberta’s and my last day, only a couple of hours before our airport departure, I received a call from Steven, inviting Roberta and I to a 5:30 p.m. going-away party on Seabird. Roberta was in the shower, with no idea we were going to a party, and there was still packing to be done, but I agreed immediately. I knew that it was time to confront the elephant in the corner. And Roberta, who is usually not the type to react well to suddenly needing to be somewhere in 30 minutes, while still in the shower, also recognized that this was an important meeting, and never grumbled one word.
Walking in the door of Seabird, I could see Braun already had a guidebook, ‘The South East Asia Cruising Guide,’ in his hand. For about 10 minutes we made small talk, and as I glanced at my watch, I knew someone had to make the first move. Roberta and I really did need to get to the airport, and it was time for ‘the discussion.’ Earlier in the week I had sent around a link to a story about cruising in Vietnam which I had hoped would somewhat explain why I wanted to mutiny (http://www.latitude38.com/lectronic/lectronicday.lasso?date=2008-05-23&dayid=378).
Braun cut quickly to the chase, “What if we split next year into two halves? July and August are hot, sticky and miserable. We could quickly move the boats to Singapore, prior to the typhoon season, in May and June, and then come back in September and October for fun cruising in Thailand, then return the boats to Singapore. We could then ship all three boats to the Med together from Singapore.” This immediately made sense, and addressed many issues that had been bothering me. It was an agreement not to go to the places I least wanted to go: Vietnam and Cambodia. It also indicated that the others (Seabird and Grey Pearl) were agreeing to ship their boats to the Med, rather than trying to brave the Somalia pirates on their own bottoms.
I then said that I had heard good things about the Philippines and that we should consider stopping there. This caught Braun by surprise, in that he thought I would refuse to go to the Philippines, and a couple of weeks earlier he would have been right. But over the past few weeks I’ve done a bit of research and decided that the Philippines might not be so bad. There are beautiful beaches and resorts to be found in the Philippines and Malaysia. We could stop along the way and have fun.
The orange markers in the chart above represent actual pirate attacks, and the yellow markers are attempted attacks.
My worry, though, is piracy. Above is the 2010 pirate attack map, taken from this link:
These are real, reported pirate attacks during 2010, and this represents only the first half of the year. Everyone tells me we are safe between Hong Kong and Singapore, and many people have told me lately that the Mallaca Straits are 100% safe. However, the facts say otherwise. Each of the markers on the picture above is a real attack. All are against freighters, but my guess is that a lot more freighters move through the area than private yachts. It doesn’t mean that private yachts wouldn’t represent a good profit opportunity.
The bottom line: I agreed to Braun’s plan. I don’t like the pirate risk, but there are three of us, traveling together, and the pirates haven’t been focusing on yachts. Most importantly, it allows our group to stay together and the GSSR to survive.
My only caveat was that I need to understand the issues associated with shipping our boats from Singapore. I do not want to be in a position where the three boats get to Singapore, and there are no freighters that can carry Sans Souci. Three years ago, Sans Souci and Grey Pearl were sitting in Golfito. A freighter arrived that was able to scoop up Grey Pearl, but said ‘no’ when they looked at San Souci’s 120 gross ton weight. Instead, Sans Souci had to sit in Golfito Costa Rica for nearly six months, watching a succession of freighters pass by, none of which could transport Sans Souci. Ultimately, our boat had to be driven all the way back to Seattle on its own bottom. I’ve been there, done that, and am not doing it again.
Here’s a sneak peek at the first pass at a trip plan for the GSSR 2011 that I sent to the group. This is very preliminary and was just sent to start the discussion going. Braun responded with this comment: “Done. The GSSR is together again! Destinations don’t matter, people do. -braun”
So, with all that said, I’ll close out the year a few random pictures from our final days in Hong Kong…
Here’s a picture from the strangest incident of the trip. While Seabird was at the dock in Taiwan, a driver commited suicide next to their boat, by tying his hands to the steering wheel and driving into the water, just in front of Seabird. Hours after pulling the car and driver from the water, the winds came up, blowing the car back into the water, driverless. It came within feet of striking Seabird and wound up on the bottom beneath Seabird, requiring Seabird to move so the car could be retrieved from the water, for the second time.
I wanted to see what a marina looked like which didn’t have boat slips, so Roberta and I took this Sampan around the bay at Aberdeen to explore the boats. Whereas we were just ‘being tourists’ these sampans have a real purpose. There is an entire floating city of boats at Aberdeen, with many people living on their boats, both fisherman, and others. The Sampans are their link with shore.
This floating chinese restaurant in the middle of the bay at Aberdeen is enormous! We didn’t eat there, but I hear it is actually fairly good, even if ‘touristy.’
As the Grey Pearl was preparing to depart Taiwan they discovered that their bow thruster had died. With a single engine boat, with no stern thruster, and the bow thruster not-functioning, maneuvering inside the marina, on arrival in Hong Kong would be impossible. Here you see us using rodeo tactics to lure Grey Pearl onto the dock.
[Top row: Braun Jones, Carol Argosy, Steven Argosy. Bottom Row: Tina Jones, Roberta Williams, Ken Williams] To celebrate the GSSR’s arrival in Hong Kong we went out for a ritzy French dinner. It was strange seeing everyone all fancied up. Most of the time we wear shorts, t-shirts and look kind of grungy (except the ladies who are always beautiful .)
Before leaving Hong Kong we wanted to see all of the anchorages in the Hong Kong area, so that we would know how much time to allocate to local cruising when we return. Here you see Steven and Carol enjoying the sensation of speed (25+ knots) on the boat we rented.
We used a local captain to shuttle us around to see all the anchorages. Behind him you see two boats pulling a net. This picture was taken after he accidentally ran over the net, and he is looking at the props to see if there is any damage (there wasn’t.) I was very happy I hadn’t been driving at the time.
As we worked our way around Hong Kong we saw many white sand beaches, just waiting for us to come drop our anchors. Hong Kong’s only rule on where you can, or can’t, anchor is: don’t block traffic.
A small fishing village we passed. Hong Kong is a very unusual place, in that the vast majority of the land is protected from construction. Thus, you can see clusters of huge skyscrapers, then turn the corner and see a tiny fishing village, or nothing at all, and pretend you are a million miles from civilization.
Here we’re approaching an anchorage with a beach. There were already several boats at anchor. I have a couple of memories from this anchorage: 1) We watched as a local boat, probably 70 feet long, with about 20 passengers, pulled in to drop anchor. Before the boat could come to a complete stop, the raucus passengers started laughing and pushing each other off the boat into the water. I couldn’t believe it! They were swimming within a few feet of the boat, while it was still in the process of dropping anchor, with the props still turning. Luckily no one was hurt, but it seemed a very dangerous sitution to me. And, 2) I’ve noticed that all of the swimming beaches have shark nets, including this one. I asked if there had been shark attacks. The answer was, “Not for almost a decade, but there were three people killed here, at this anchorage, in separate attacks. I wouldn’t worry about it though. You can swim anywhere.”
Most of the marinas in Hong Kong have no docks. The boats just float all the time. Some have power, but most do not. We were very lucky to get into a good marina in Hong Kong, with normal docks and shorepower.
Here you see Steven looking very relaxed, given that we are within about 50 feet of a tug pulling a barge, with a freighter bearing down on us from another direction. The channel that separates Kowloon from Hong Kong has a LOT of traffic. I remember that prior to this trip my rule was always that I never wanted to get within a mile of a freighter. In Asia I have had to recalibrate my whole outlook on how close two boats can come to each other.
Prior to our trip I added scuba tank storage in the cockpit of the boat. These brackets work slickly, and fold out of the way completely when not needed. Hopefully, next year, the tanks will get MUCH more use.
You can tell I am starting to think ahead to the Med. Here you see that I put out the passarelle, for us to walk on in boarding the boat. There was really no need to do so, in that we could just step off the side of the boat, but I had never tried our passarelle and wanted to see if it worked. It did!
If this picture looks out of context, that’s because it is! Here you see Roberta and Shelby in Zurich Switzerland. In order to get home from Hong Kong we had to fly to Europe, then New York, and finally back to Seattle. It’s the wrong way around, but Swiss Air is very dog friendly and lets Shelby ride with us in the cabin. All of Switzerland is dog friendly. We had dinner in restaurants so fancy I was surprised they let me in, but none of them opposed allowing Shelby to sit with us at our table. The best thing about this picture is how happy Shelby looks. The weather in Hong Kong was too hot for Shelby. She just couldn’t take it. One day, Steven from Seabird, got curious how hot it was, and got out his infrared temperature gun. Here’s the email he sent: “Ken: I just checked the temps outside with my heat gun. Teak under the shade: 99 degrees Concrete dock: 148 degrees Bow deck of Seabird: 166 degrees. Too hot for bare feet! Steven “
Check out these blog entries…
Steven and Carol, on Seabird, have been catching up on their blog. Check out their last blog entry: http://www.seabirdlrc.com/aspx/blob2/blobpage.aspx?msgid=485656&beid=100618. There’s a bit more about the problem that forced them to turn back on the way to Hong Kong.
Also, Don and Sharry Stabbert, on Starr, have continued cruising Japan. Their most recent blog entry presents a side of Japan that I am unfortunately blind to. For whatever reason, I never was able to bond with Japan as they did. Check out this blog entry (and, all their others), which explain why cruising in Japan is worth the distance to get there, and all the bureaucracy: http://starr.talkspotblogs.com/aspx/m/629684/beid/99755
And lastly, I would like to thank all the special people who made this year’s GSSR trip possible…
As several people said, “Japan has never seen anything like the GSSR.” Three American motor boats cruising Japan is simply unheard of, and Japan is not a country which reacts well to events without precedence. Kazuo Furuno, from Interocean Shipping (http://www.interocean.co.jp/), was our agent in Japan, and made the impossible possible. Anyone considering cruising Japan would be well advised to have Furuno assist them with logistics.
We also owe a thank you to John Rutherford, who helped us in Okinawa. John is a friend of a regular reader of my blog, and with no idea who we were, or what the GSSR was, interceded on our behalf to get us moorage in Okinawa, then took his sailboat out in the rain to guide us safely into the marina.
Another very special person, actually a whole company, that helped make our 2010 GSSR voyage a success was Tim Yuan, and his company Ta Shing. In addition to building our marvelous boats, that brought us so smoothly across the Bering Sea, they gave us a hero’s welcome in Taiwan, a fantastic tour of their factory, many meals, and more.
I also can’t forget the people at Asia Yacht Services who are watching over our boats during the offseason, especially Karen Ball, who served as crew, helping to guide Sans Souci safely though Hong Kong in the dark.
Another unsung hero this year, was Jeff Sanson, and his company Pacific Yacht Management (www.pacificyachtmanagement.com). Prior to Sans Souci’s departure this season, Jeff brought a team of experts to Japan, and spent three weeks ‘tweaking’ the boat. I was then able to step on board, and run the entire season with no mechanical issues, thanks to Jeff’s hard work.
Then, there is Phil Strable, our good friend and helper, who flew to Hong Kong the last 10 days we were there to ‘babysit’ Shelby onboard Sans Souci while Roberta and I luxuriated for a week at the ultra-ritzy Peninsula Hotel in downtown Kowloon — then later helped us get the boat cleaned and ready to leave for the winter.
And of course, I can’t forget Roberta’s parents, in their 80s, who traveled across the Atlantic with us a few years back, through Alaska with us last year, and this year helped us make the run from Nagasaki, Japan, to Okinawa. We also had the pleasure of having on board our son, Chris, who speaks fluent Japanese, and was also on Sans Souci last year just after the GSSR’s arrival to Japan, and also for the Fubar rally through Baja, Mexico, a few years back.
And of course, the biggest thank you of all goes to our co-conspirators on the GSSR; Braun and Tina Jones and Steven and Carol Argosy, without whose companionship, assistance, and friendship, the GSSR wouldn’t be the GSSR.
Which brings me to all of you, who read this blog. I thank you for taking the time to follow our journey, and for all of the 100s of emails, offering invaluable assistance and encouragement as we’ve made our journey.
And, with that, it’s back to civilian life for me until next year. I don’t plan to do an offseason blog. This year, I won’t be sending anything else beyond this last blog update, except perhaps short updates from time to time as we do trip planning.
See you next year!
Sans Souci, Nordhavn 68
And, if you are interested in my books, check out : http://www.lulu.com/kenw