Hong Kong to Subic Bay, The Philippines

                                                       Route from Hong Kong to Subic Bay- 588 Nautical Miles

Well,  departure day has come fast.  It is becoming a mad scramble to get the boat “tweaked” for the passage from Hong Kong to Subic Bay, The Philippines.  Some of the items that were supposed to be fixed for the trip have failed (infant mortality, as they call it in the boating business).  Our new Hydraulic powered cooling pump started leaking and we had to replace it, only to see it leaking again.  We had a third one shipped from the US but decided that it was the wrong kind of hydraulic motor for the job. 

Our friend Doug arrived from the US to make the trip with us.  Fortunately for us (probably not for him), I had an extra pair of hands on board to help me fix the problem.  Our friend Kevin, who lives at Gold Coast Marina, volunteered to help us find a new, more suitable pump.  We traveled to Mong kok,  a town about 15 miles from the marina and found a hydraulic shop that had a suitable motor.  Of course, no way was it going to fit properly, so we had to find a machine shop to adapt it.  Again, Kevin to the rescue!  The three of us found a guy in a machine shop in Tuen Mun  about the size of two normal closets and some old junky machines.  For the equivalent of about $100 US Dollars, he machined the shaft on the pump, made a new adapter plate and machined a bushing to make it all fit together.  At first he told us it would take three days (yikes, we were leaving in 30 hours!).  Doug said “offer him more money!!!”  Great idea, I did just that and it worked.  He spoke no English and how we got across what we wanted is still a mystery to me.

Doug and I spent the balance of the next day trying to get the damn thing to work only to find that the motor was too anemic for the job!  Ahhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!  With departure only about 20 hours away, we decided to go back to the original electric pump from last year.  It used a lot of electricity, but we know it worked.  We were missing all kinds of parts so we pieced together what we had and made it work.  We crossed our fingers, started the engine, and, it worked!!!

Provisioning is always a big deal when you are headed for distant lands.  You never know what to expect for stores when you arrive and on this trip we were planning on spending most days and nights at anchor, with just a few stops at docks where there might be food stores.  Carol and Tina (on Grey Pearl) spent several days in Hong Kong shopping at various stores as no one place had everything.  Some places took orders and delivered and others they did by cab and bus. By the time we left, we were fully stocked.  We do not starve on Seabird or Grey Pearl.

After a few mechanical checks, we were saying goodbye to our friends in Hong Kong and Seabird along with Grey Pearl (Braun and Tina Jones) were ready to cast off in the morning…destination Subic Bay, The Philippines.

Day one: Saturday

It was really great to be cruising again, especially leaving Hong Kong harbor in the daylight!  If you read our previous blogs about our arrival at 2am in the morning, you will know that was not a fun experience.  This day we saw all of the stuff we missed on the way in. Hong Kong is a wonderful place and we will miss it along with all of the wonderful people that we met there.

Our trusty weather forecaster, Bob, located in the US, gave us a fairly good window for the three day passage to Subic Bay.  Day number one was to be smooth,  day two deteriorating a bit and day three was to be fairly smooth.  As usual, Bob was right on track for the first day.  It was a beautiful cruise so far with the engine and all equipment performing just perfect.  Getting used to the three hour shifts took some adjustment and the first 24 hours are the worst.  You take the helm for 3 hours, and in this case, because we had Doug along, we rested for 6 hours.  The first night is difficult as we are normally sleeping!  Getting up and taking the helm in the middle of the night is disorienting, especially if you did not have much sleep…….because of equipment failure number one…..

“Oh crap….it’s getting hot in here”………….Last year, toward the end of the cruising season, we were experiencing a strange occurrence with our air conditioning system.  We have what is called a Chilled Water System in Seabird, which is very unusual for a boat this small.  Instead of having compressors that send Freon to the air handlers in the various areas of the boat, the main compressor  in the engine room cools a loop of water to 45 degrees and sends it through large pipes throughout the boat to the air handlers, which cool the cabins. It is a very expensive system but uses about 1/3rd of the energy of a conventional system.  It normally works extremely well, but for some reason, when the boat was underway and the engine room was hot, we would get a fault error indicating flow had stopped and the system would shut down.  A flow switch error could mean many things from a blockage, to a seized pump to a bad circuit board.  Since back at the dock in HK we had gotten a few other errors, it was diagnosed to be a bad board, which we had replaced during the winter.  In our first opportunity to test it under hot conditions,  it failed.  Seabird is not a good cruising boat when you are trying to sleep in your cabin underway with no air conditioning on.  All hatches  and ports need to be closed and it gets very hot and sticky, making sleep a difficult proposition.  We knew that we were in for a tiring trip as there are NO TECHNICIANS AT SEA!!  We resigned ourselves to the fact that for the next three days, our sleep patterns would be changed to napping at best.  Well, at least the weather was good and everyone on board had a great attitude.

Problem number two…..  It seems that our inverter system was not able to operate in charge mode without overheating the batteries as we were getting a warning light.  This was not a huge problem and could be addressed after we arrived in Subic Bay as we have back up charging systems that will operate off of the generator.  In retrospect, I wish now that we had tested it before we left the dock….lesson learned and it turned out to be an easy fix.

Day Two: Sunday

Another problem was that we are all HUGE Uconn Husky basketball fans and we had no way to watch the final four.  Tina Jones, on Grey Pearl, graduated from Kentucky, who Connecticut was playing in the Semi Finals.  Since we are twelve hours different in time zones,  we resorted to calling Carol’s sister on the Iridium satellite phone Sunday morning about every 10 minutes for an update, transmitting the updates by VHF radio to Tina on Grey Pearl, who was NOT happy with the final outcome! (on Seabird, we were VERY pleased, and that’s all that matters!)

Late day two was when the weather started deteriorating.  The winds were on our port beam directly at about 30 to 40 knots at the peak, with scary wave heights.  At one point, Grey Pearl reported they showed rolling over 30 degrees on their meter.  I shudder to think what would have happened if our stabilizers had failed (Actually, I do know, you head more into the swell, tack and make it a much longer trip!).  We did not have the meter that showed the actual roll, but we did have the verbal meter, when one of us, or all three of us, would swallow hard at seeing a particularly large oncoming wave, shouting an expletive or two, which I can only describe in this blog as !!#?**#!!**@@!!!, or something like that.  Sleeping that night was particularly difficult being hot and nearly rolling off of the bed many times.

So what do you do for fun when the weather is so crappy..?  Well, on Seabird, we decided to have a barbeque!!

                                         Cheeseburgers in Paradise (300 miles from land!)

 The waves had subsided somewhat temporarily  so we fired up the grill and had cheeseburgers!  It was a little challenging, but the burgers nearly flipped themselves so it was not a lot of work.  With three people having good attitudes and not bothered by poor conditions, it made the trip a lot more fun.  We also looked at the positive side:  The engine was running good, we had plenty of electricity and water and we were not cruising alone, which, for problem number three, helped tremendously.

Day Three: Monday

“Hey Steven, I was trying to get water out of the faucet and nothing came out”………uh oh…..that could only be bad….the pump failed, we had a leaking water tank, blew a hose somewhere or something else.  Boats have a LOT of nooks and crannies and problems never seem to occur in easily accessibly areas or in calm seas.  I immediately noticed that the bilge pump in the engine room was going off so I went there only to find water gushing out of the weep holes under my tool box.  I then went and shut off all of the valves to the various areas of the boat at the main manifold and started to hunt down the problem.  I checked the water tank and fortunately, it looked like we only lost 50-75 gallons out of the 1000 gallons that we hold.  Also, we have a bilge pump light in the pilothouse but for some reason, every time it went off, we were looking elsewhere.  On Seabird, we also have a high water alarm if the pumps get overwhelmed.  The pumps, in this case, were keeping up and the alarms were not activated.  Anyway, for the life of me, I could not locate the leak.  The engine room was 130 degrees, loud and it was rough conditions.  I called Braun on Grey Pearl on the VHF radio to see if he had any ideas.  As it turned out, he had the exact same problem a few years back and told me where to look, which was deep inside an alcove under some floorboards.  Getting at it in the engine room meant unloading  a large area of spare parts, emptying the alcove and removing the floorboards in that area.  After doing that and squeezing myself into the compartment, there it was, staring me in the face….a three way splitter with a rusted hunk of crud which at one time was a hose clamp, sitting in pieces near the splitter. To verify this was the problem, I had Carol turn the water valve on and off for a second,  spraying me in the face, but it was a happy face because we had  found the problem.  Working in a cool engine room at the dock is easy, but it is never fun underway.  Ten minutes later, 3 lbs of water weight lighter, soaked in sweat, with scrapes and bruises, I emerged victorious and we now had a working water system.


Day 4: Tuesday

This was an exciting day for us.  The rough weather was to subside,  Uconn was playing for the national title and We were arriving late in the day to Subic Bay.  Early morning (Monday night in the US),  We began harassing Carol’s sister Tina, who was watching the game in Connecticut, about every 10 minutes.  She finally got tired of getting up to answer the phone and demanded that we call her cell phone, which she kept with her for the rest of the game.  Well, Uconn won in an ugly game, but it was party time on the Seabird!!   That set the mood for the day and weather started to calm substantially,  it became tropically warm and we could see land!  We had our first cup of coffee in three days and we were getting excited about our arrival in Subic Bay.

Subic bay is a fairly large harbor and the entrance was fairly straight forward, well marked with bouys and our charts were accurate.  It is here we notices a strange phenomena in the distance. We saw these skinny little boats scooting along at 15 kts with outriggers on both sides for stabilization.  As it turns out, they are a common phenomena here in the Philippines called Bangkas.   They have very small Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engines in them directly coupled to a small propeller with no neutral and reverse! There are so many scooting around the harbor, it kind of reminded me of water bugs!

As it turns out, they have much larger versions of the same boats with large engines and are used for ferry boats.  I will post some pictures of them in a later blog.

We were met at Subic Bay Yacht Club by Dirk van Straalen,  a local agent who was referred to us by our agent in Hong Kong.  For a reasonable fee, they make your arrival go very smoothly.  We were guided into our slip, wired up for power and we were temporarily smothered by local officials, with whom  we traded paperwork and small fees for about half and hour.  Once we were checked in, we asked Dirk about getting some day labor to wash and wax the boat.  He referred us to his nephew, Jason, who would work for us for P600 per day, or about $14 US dollars…..that sounded awfully good to me after paying Hong Kong and Japanese workers for the past year!  Well, time to get busy and fix the air conditioning pump as the average day here at this time of the year is about 95 degrees!




This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Glad that you and Carol are safe and sound….What an adventurous trip!! I look forward to reading your blogs. Ed and I met you two at Fran’s New Year’s Party this year and lucky for us you have our email address, and get to enjoy your adventure. Hope you enjoy the Phillipines!! The Basketball was the best this year…We love the Uconn girls and they were so close!! Maya couldn’t do it alone!! The guys did pull through!! We have had days of cloudy and chilly weather, but finally now it is in the 70’s. Stay safe and enjoy!! Looking forward to hearing from you..
    Dianne and Ed Elie (old boaters at Seaport Marine, Ocean Yacht, named Razzmatazz)

  2. Hey guys just popped by ur site to see the latest and greatest. Loved the cheesburgers in paradise 300 miles off shore with the swells in the background. Hope you are enjoying your adventure, be safe, and keep up the updates. I actually do read them!!!
    Cheryl the important “C” in C’Cap….LOL

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