Zamami to Taiwan (and in between)

The original idea was to head directly to Ishigaki from Zamami.  The problem was that there was a storm coming in the next 24 hours that would keep us hunkered down for the next three or four days.  We decided to call our agent and see if he could get us into a  small island called Myako.  Other than a calm, crystal clear anchorage, my other favorite experience is to dock at a local fishing village with lots of friendly people.  Myako is just such a place.  It was tricky to get into, but once we were there we thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was a very quaint place with a fun town just a short taxi ride away.  The weather reports that we had previously gotten proved accurate and for the next three days it was windy and rough, and we were very happy to be at the dock.

Myako to Ishigaki

Myako to Ishigaki, our departure point from Japan, is about an 85 mile run.  Even in the worst current conditions, we felt that if we left at 5am, we could arrive the same day.  The trip was fine with reasonable conditions and no other problems other than my nagging high exhaust temperature problem.  Being that the MAN is non turbo charged and non electronic, it should be solvable by a good “shade tree” mechanic.  This time I want a guy with good common sense to look at the engine and not rely on answers to problems that he needs to find in a book somewhere or in a computer.  My thought now is that it is something as simple as not enough air or a timing issue.  I will find out when we get to Hong Kong, hopefully.

When we arrived in Ishigaki we headed toward our designated pier, only to find that it was a HORRIBLE dock.  It was directly in the traffic lane in the harbor and boats were flying by at 15 or 20 knots (large ferry boats) leaving huge wakes.  I watched the waves crash against the pier thinking that in a days time, there would be a lot of damage done to Seabird, Grey Pearl and Sans Souci if we docked there……here we go  again.  I don’t think the local agent thought much about this or actually visited the pier before making arrangements.  Ken tried to dock there but was getting pummeled and decided to move.  We all searched separately for a suitable place.  Neither Braun nor I had good detailed charts for the harbor and the depths were suspect.  We crept around for the good part of an hour before I pulled into a small basin with a suitable protected pier and tied up to the dock.  Braun followed and Ken found another spot nearby in a different basin about a quarter of a mile from us.  The local boss of the fishing harbor came and told us we were welcome to stay, fortunately, as we were out of options.  No electrical power, of course, but we were now used to running our generator all the time.  Even though it is miserly with fuel, running it an extra 600 hours was depleting our reserves and we would need to take on fuel before we left….another story in itself.

Joining us in Ishigaki was Jeff Merrill, from PAE, the company that produces Nordhavns and his son, Jonn.  It was great having them aboard for the trip to Taiwan.  There is a big difference have two extra people on board on a long trip.  The off watch time is increased to 6 + hours and you arrive at your destination well rested.

 Ishigaki is the last Japanese Island going south.  It is distinctly Japanese, but it seems the further south you go, the less formal the people are.  The umbrellas to shield you from sunlight go away and the dress is very informal, more like what I am used to being a shorts and t shirt kind of guy.

Fuel Story

We had a good time in Ishigaki and our agent, Furuno san, had arranged for us to get fuel at very favorable prices ($2.65/gallon vs $5 per gallon in Ashiya).  The only trick is that we had to check out of the country in order to qualify.  No problem.  We would simply clear out at night, get fuel in the morning and then leave, right?  No way.  We were informed that we had to clear out, get fuel and leave in the same breath.  Not only that, but it had to be done in the afternoon so we could not leave until late in the day, which we were trying to avoid.  The agent emailed us and asked if we wanted MGO or MDO diesel fuel.  I’m thinking well,  I just want boat diesel fuel.  We had been through this with Ken in Nagasaki and determined that MGO was roughly the equivalent to what we get in the US. 

Ken called on the radio and then told me that they had stopped fueling him thinking they filled his tank with the wrong grade of fuel.  After he told me what they gave him,    I contacted Bob Senter from Lugger Marine and here was his response to me (Thanks, Bob):

Hi Steve,

MDO is an old standard that refers to heavy fuel oil used in large displacement, slow turning commercial marine diesels. It may have very high sulfur content that would be damaging to your engine. MGO seems like the closest thing you can get to low sulfur #2 diesel. Here’s some info on the fuels:

An ASTM standard (D2069) once existed for marine diesel fuels, but it has been withdrawn. It was technically equivalent to ISO 8217. While some marine diesel engines use No. 2 distillate, D2069 covered four kinds of marine distillate fuels: DMX, DMA, DMB, and DMC and residual fuels (see alsoISO marine fuel specifications):

  • DMX is a special light distillate intended mainly for use in emergency engines.
  • DMA (also called marine gas oil, MGO) is a general purpose marine distillate that must be free from traces of residual fuel. DMX and DMA fuels are primarily used in Category 1 marine engines (< 5 liters per cylinder).
  • DMB (marine diesel oil, MDO) is allowed to have traces of residual fuel, which can be high in sulfur. This contamination with residual fuel usually occurs in the distribution process, when using the same supply means (e.g., pipelines, supply vessels) that are used for residual fuel. DMB is produced when fuels such as DMA are brought on board the vessel in this manner. DMB is typically used for Category 2 (5-30 liters per cylinder) and Category 3 (= 30 liters per cylinder) engines.
  • DMC is a grade that may contain residual fuel, and is often a residual fuel blend. It is similar to No. 4-D, and can be used in Category 2 and Category 3 marine diesel engines.
  • Residual (non-distillate) fuels are designated by the prefix RM (e.g., RMA, RMB, etc.). These fuels are also identified by their nominal viscosity (e.g., RMA10, RMG35, etc.).

At one point, we thought that we would have to be pumping all of the fuel out of Sans Souci’s tanks.  All signs pointed to that they probably filled his tank with Bunker fuel, a very low grade fuel that was harmful to the newer, sophisticated engines.  After about an hour of going back and forth, and MANY tiresome discussions, they decided that it was indeed the correct fuel and that all was good.  By now it was getting late and neither Grey Pearl nor Seabird had fuel. All of their assurances did not prevent us from taking precautionary measures.  Braun had a fuel testing kit that tested for water and Jeff Merrill searched the yard for a stick long enough to go to the bottom of the truck tank.  The fuel guys were a little taken back by this, but then again, most of their customers don’t travel more than 3 or 4 miles offshore!

FINALLY, we got our fuel and left. It was a nice feeling that we were finally able to get out of there.  After a bad docking experience, bad fueling experience, horribly hot weather and a bad haircut on top of all that (another story), we were off.  We headed out the shortcut which was recommended to us by a local guy.  Ken was in the lead and suddenly, Ken got on the radio and said that the exit did not look good.  We looked out between the two buoys and saw breaking waves, which is a REALLY bad sign, usually meaning shallow water (like there was a beach there).

If you look at the picture below (click on it to blow it up), you can see the waves breaking in the distance in front of Sans Souci.

Rather than risking going aground, we elected to turn around and spend a few extra hours taking the long route.  Once out to sea, we were all very happy and looking forward to our arrival in Taiwan, a two day trip.

Ishigaki to Taiwan

I was hoping for an “uneventful” trip and that is exactly what we got.  Generally, the three of us really overwork the weather issue and there are no less than ten meetings or radio conferences between us before we leave.  We are definitely over prepared and it has served us well over the past year or so.  Nordhavns are built to cruise in the most unimaginable conditions safely, but it doesn’t mean that it is perfectly comfortable and that we look forward to it or enjoy it.  Sometimes you just get caught in the stuff even though the weather was supposed to be clear.  Those are the times I am glad to be in a Nordhavn.  On long passages, you can encounter simply miserable weather for days at a time.  Head seas with 25-30 knot winds may not seem like much when you are doing a 3 or 4 hour passage, but over a period of 4 or 5 days, the 7 to 10 foot seas that go along with that can wreak havoc on a lesser boat not to mention the crew.  For instance, after a day or so of constant pounding, cabinetry can start to deteriorate, drawer fronts fall off, refrigerators loosen from their mounts and all hell can break loose.  Other things, like deck hardware, fittings and even your anchor mounts start to fall apart and windows can fail.  Big “picture windows” in the pilothouse are great at the dock, and show well at boat shows, but in the real world, waves can hit and smash the ¼ inch glass flooding the pilothouse, pretty much dooming the boat. There are a few manufacturers that are making big claims about their boats, but none of them can match the 4,000,000 ocean miles that Nordhavns have gone.  One in particular has been very vocal in criticizing Nordhavn, touting a new boat that they are producing as a better passagemaker, but without a single mile under its hull.  Go figure.  Like Dan Streech, PAE’s president  says, “talk is cheap”.  I can tell you from experience that this 13 year old boat has been pounded for days on end in simply awful conditions without a single structural failure. So there!!

Anyway…..Jeff Merrill (From Nordhavn) and his son Jonn joined us for this leg of the trip.  It was great having them aboard. 

The difference between having a three person rotation vs a two person watch is that you can run 3 hour shifts and still get 6 hours of sleep, which is a huge advantage.  Jeff is an experienced passagemaker and we had no problem leaving the helm to him in the middle of the night, while we slept soundly. It was also Jeffs birthday on July 3rd and we surprised him with a cake and a bit of humiliation in having to have his picture taken with the “famous” Seabird Birthday Hat on!  (see below).  I think it was the middle of the night when we did this!

Fortunately, the two day passage to Taiwan tested NOTHING on the boat other than the crew growing bored with the current against us all the way.  But finally…..There was more than a tinge of excitement as we spotted our last waypoint and the entrance to the harbor in Tainan.  To be continued……..

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