Taiwan to Hong Kong

I need to fess up –  We have actually been in Hong Kong for a few weeks now but I am just getting around to publishing the blog…….

Weather windows seem to be a rare commodity these days.  I understand that we are in the middle of the Typhoon season but I did not understand that weather systems that are not Typhoons, but still pretty crappy, are out there all the time.  We use “Omni Bob” for our weather routing.  All three of us have used him for many years and have great confidence in his forecasts.  Just on this trip, he had given us the “go” sign as we had a decent window.  The night before we were to leave, he sent us an urgent email telling us to wait as a system was developing.  It took great restraint to keep the faith in Bob as three other forecasts told us to “go”.  We ultimately held back based on Bob’s forecast and he was right!  I don’t know this for sure, but I think the commercial forecasts are based on percentages.  If they see a system developing and it looks like it is less than a 50% chance that it will affect an area, they need to make a call, so they say it won’t.  The problem is, they don’t tell you that it’s a 49% chance that it will or a 20% chance.  I don’t like those odds and Bob is sensitive to those percentages so we trust him.

On Thursday, July 22 we received an email from him that Friday and Saturday were a “go”.  Braun and Tina had not arrived back from their China trip yet but were due to arrive Friday.  I emailed them and told them of the window and that we should really take it and they agreed.  Braun, Tina, Wayne and Pat arrived late Friday and started making preparations to leave on Saturday am.  I have to hand it to Braun and Tina in the way that they prepared the boat so fast for the trip.

On Saturday morning we were all ready to cast off.  Once again many of the Ta Shing group was there to send us off.  After confirming the weather with Bob, we said our goodbyes and motored out of the harbor.  The seas were calm and there was no wind, which, not only for us, but for Grey Pearl it was a real treat.  Wayne was not feeling well and needed some rest. Calm seas go a long way to help with that.

We have cruised over 25000 miles on Seabird and if we have ever had a more beautiful trip, I cannot remember it. This is the kind of trip that you could easily go for 10 or 15 days straight and arrive fresh.  The wind never gusted over 5 knots, the seas were just about dead flat and to top it all off, we had clear skies and nearly a full moon the entire way. We saw a number of ships and fishing boats but they were easily identified on radar and/or AIS so we had no trouble avoiding them.

                                         Grey Pearl underway in calm seas

Ken had taken this trip a few weeks before us and had strongly advised us not to enter Hong Kong in the dark.  There is a tremendous amount of ship traffic in the channel and not a lot of places to move aside.  In order to do that, we had to time our departure right, guess at the currents and cross our fingers. To arrive at a specified time after a 48 hour trip is not usually easy, and this was no exception.  Ken had encountered very strong counter currents along the way up to 2 kts and advised us to take that into consideration….we did….but the problem is that the currents never materialized.  It went like this:

Steven: “Grey Pearl this is Seabird

Braun: “Seabird, Grey Pearl, whats up?

Steven “Hey Braun, I was thinking that we should slow up a bit as it looks like we will arrive in the dark”

Braun: “I kind of like to get there as fast as possible and then if we have to, cruise around outside until daylight, but if you want, we can slow down”

Steven: “Ok, I will slow down to 6.5 kts for the rest of the trip”

Braun: “ok, Grey Pearl will do the same”

A few minutes later:

Steven: “uh, Braun, my boat doesn’t seem to want to go that slow.  I think we have strong currents WITH us!  I can only go as slow as 7.8 kts”

Braun: “I guess that means we go with my plan”

Braun and I also talked about the inevitability that we were going to arrive in the dark, something we had really wanted to avoid.  After a brief conversation with Tina, who was then on watch, we agreed that we were both tired and didn’t want to wait until sunrise to enter the channel if at all possible.  If the traffic lane looked “reasonably” clear of ships, we would go for it, but, I think we both knew that we had made our decision to go in regardless, although we didn’t specifically say that.

About 25 miles out we started to encounter a great deal of ship traffic.  Unfortunately, they were not following any pattern and we were seeing ships coming toward us, with us and crossing our path in large numbers at a very fast pace.  Tina was on watch on Grey Pearl and I was on watch on Seabird.  It was about 1am and it started getting really crowded.  This is where AIS (Automated Identification System) is an invaluable instrument to have.  For those who do not know what it is, it is a device that transmits your position as well as receiving other ships position.  All the boats appear on the electronic charting system and on the radar (as shown below) as a small, boat shaped icon.

                                         AIS targets entering Hong Kong

 It gives the name of the ship, the destination, the course and speed, and, most importantly, TCPA.  TCPA means Time to Closest Point of Approach, which in layman’s terms means how close they will come to hitting you and when , which gives you plenty of time (sort of and usually) to either contact them to alter their course or for us to alter our course. There are strict rules as to who has the right of way and usually if you contact them, they will yield.  I say usually because sometimes they ignore you.  In cases like that, we choose not to play chicken and use common sense. They are WAY bigger than we are and could flatten us like a pancake,  so we move out of their way. It definitely got a little hairy but as soon as we entered the main shipping lane, things seemed to get a little more orderly …..for a while.

Tina and I kept in radio contact the entire way in.  At one point, she noticed a ship coming from behind and the CPA (Closest Point of Approach) on the AIS showed that he would be passing at under 50 yards.  Both of us tried to contact the ship but more than likely they did not speak English and ignored us.  They are ALWAYS supposed to have an English speaking person on the bridge but in reality, they do not.  Tina left the bridge to wake up Braun who came up and also tried to raise them, with no success. He immediately took evasive action and turned sharply to the right and slowed down, which was the right thing to do.

                                          Hong Kong Harbor arrival at 5am

After that, everything seemed to be fine until we entered the main harbor.  It was almost surreal.  The moon had slightly illuminated the harbor, just enough to see the hundreds of ships either anchored or moving around randomly.  It really got kind of scary as large numbers of them were passing us, crossing our paths and heading towards us.  It was difficult to tell which ones were moving and which ones were not. Fortunately, Carol had awakened and come up to the bridge.  It was definitely a two man job to avoid a serious problem. Some boats had lights on and some did not which made it really difficult.  We always try to keep calm in these situations and try not to yell.  At one point, Carol said “Over on the right”.  I looked and a very large tugboat was crossing our path about 100 feet away. He had the right of way (not that it mattered) and we veered off sharply, avoiding a collision.  The rest of the night went like that, but fortunately, it was almost sunrise, and when it came, it was a VERY welcome sight.

                                         5:50am –  Sunrise (note the moon)

Another hour later, we spotted the entrance to the marina.  The sun had risen and the visibility was great. Braun still did not have his bow thruster working so we decided that I would go in first, dock the boat and then try to find a place for him to dock that was easily accessible.  When I got to our slip, Karen, from Asia Yacht Services, was waiting for us and helped us in.  Ken, Roberta and Shelby arrived shortly afterward.  They had been spending a few days away from the boat in Hong Kong, basking in luxury at a hotel!  As it turned out, Braun’s slip was a bow in and reasonably accessible.  The problem was that the slip was about 3 inches narrower than the boat!  We ended up putting him in a temporary location until he found a more suitable slip the next day.

I was a little concerned about the electricity situation.  Hong Kong is a 50 cycle, 220 volt environment and Seabird is a 60 cycle boat.  We prepared for this long ago but really never knew if it would work. To add to the problem, if it didn’t, we would have to run our generator all the time as we had a failed inverter that needed replacing.  As it turns out, we would have had to run the generator anyway because it is so hot here that you could not go 1 hour without air conditioning!!

After about 2 hours of the electrician’s time in fiddling around with our cables, we had power.  Everything seems to work perfectly and with a great sigh of relief, we started to settle in.  Gold Coast Marina is a great, modern facility with good internet, spa services available and lots of restaurants to choose from as well as an exercise facility that we can use.

                                          Gold Coast Marina complex

                                         Seabird’s new Berth

 On the down side, it is 98 degrees during the day and I measured the temperature on the bow deck of Seabird with my infrared gun at 166 degrees!!! I will however, take that over the climate that we were in last year at this time in the Aleutian Islands.

There is an odd phenomena here at the marina.  There are lots of people who live in these, well, sort of, houseboats like you have never seen before. 

                                                   House Boat

The above pictured boat may LOOK like a fancy seagoing yacht of about 90 feet, but it is in fact a houseboat built in China.  They are very shallow draft very flat bottoms and have about 4000 feet of living space aboard. Some of them had to use what little bilge space they had to fill with concrete so that they would be stable at the dock! They have a tiny engine capable of moving from one calm locating to another, as long as it is not rough out.  They stay at the dock ALL the time and have no cruising capability whatsoever. Unfortunately, my understanding is that Hong Kong has now severely limited live-aboards  and many marinas are not allowing them any longer, aside from the grandfathered vessels.  That results in a no-market for these vessels, which is bad for the owners. One owner reportedly is planning on shipping his boat to Thailand aboard a ship in order to sell it.

I was anxious to hook up our new inverter so that we would have stable power.  It had arrived here about 2 weeks ahead of us and we scheduled an electrician to install it. After it was installed, I noticed a red light on the unit.  It was labeled “Low Voltage Alarm”.  Huh!!  We checked the voltage coming in and it read 13.8 volts, perfectly normal.  That could mean only one thing and sure enough, I checked the cover and the company had inadvertently send a 24 volt inverter instead of the 12 volt that I had ordered!  It is a good thing we did not switch it into the system as we would have fried our batteries with 24 volts.  It is one of the reasons that I really like to be there when any mechanical work is being done on my boat.  Technicians tend to miss those things, not as a rule, but enough times where a lot of damage could be done to the boat. Victron was really good about it and sent a replacement by Federal express the next day no questions asked. Fortunately, my old inverter has been “hanging in there” so we do have power.

Unfortunately, our inverter issue continued.  All of a sudden, our washing machine refused to work.  No power to the unit at all.  Carol and I pulled it out of the little alcove to find that the socket was dead.  We checked the voltage at the breaker and it was fine.  I spent several hours trying to trace the wire to see if there was some sort of a void, but the path was so convoluted that I decided it was easier to run a new wire from the plug to the AC panel.  I did that and a few hours later we had power to the washer and it seemed to work fine. There were a few odd things working in the electrical system on that leg and I started questioning my installation.  I decided to do a quick test on all of the circuits and found that, somewhere, there was a neutral and hot wire crossed. On any three pronged plug there is a neutral wire, a ground wire and a “hot” wire.  I figured for sure that I had crossed two wires somehow and rather than pulling the washer out again (a 2 hour project), I decided it was easier to just cross the neutral and hot at the electrical panel (yeah the lazy way out).  I did it and found no difference.  A lightbulb went off in my head and I immediately went to the new inverter installation and found that the electrician had crossed two wires inside the inverter!  If you look closely at the photo below you will see that the black, white and green follow a pattern on the left that was NOT duplicated on the right.

                                         Notice the white and black wires reversed

An hour later and lots of swearing, I had it fixed and all is well in electricityland aboard Seabird.  The fun never ends here on board.

Thanks to all for your supportive emails this cruising season.  I read every one of them though sometimes I forget to respond in a timely fashion.  There are many hundreds of people who get my updates by email and thousands who read the blog on line. Sometimes you begin to wonder if anyone is actually reading this stuff and it is nice to hear from people, most of whom I have never met!

Ken, Roberta and Shelby (the dog) from Sans Souci have already left Hong Kong to fly back to the US.  The night before they left, we had, what is now becoming, the “Annual Goodbye Dinner”, where we start to go our separate ways after we have arrived at our destination for the cruising season. This year, the dinner was graciously hosted by Ken and Roberta at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong. It is always a bit sad to see the season end.  We are a special group and get along very well.

                                          Front L-R  Tina, Roberta, Ken

                                          Back L-R   Braun, Carol, Steven

Braun and Tina on Grey Pearl left here last week to fly back home also.  We are staying until late September to spend the winter in Florida with some side trips to California.  Our plans for next season, finally, are beginning to take form, but they are far from being locked in cement, more like Jello,molasses or at best, putty right now.  More on that later………….

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Always good to hear from you. Can not believe the Summer is almost over !!! Have a safe trip home. Conn Tool will never be the same. To me ,that is a little sad. Regards.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to post your travels. The shipping traffic you described reminded of leaving Yokohama in the evening with ships climbing all over you. That was back in November of ’06 aboard the Walkabout.

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