It’s ALL Chinese to me….

Greetings…from Hong Kong! I can’t believe our little fiberglass home has brought us to Hong Kong…just sounds so cool. But it is not cool here; about 100+ degrees every day and more in the middle of the city!

Last I wrote we were cruising the southern island chain of the Japanese Ryukyu Islands. From Ishigaki we set off much to the Japanese Coast Guard’s delight, for a 3 day cruise to Tainan City, Taiwan. Why Tainan? Well Tainan is home of the Ta Shing boat building yard where Nordhavn boats are built. Our boat is a Nordhavn. We arrived on July 3rd to huge celebration and much fanfare. Outside the harbor entrance we were met by the Taiwanese Coast Guard, police and harbor patrol boats. Once at the dock a traditional Chinese parade was underway in our honor and all the Ta Shing workers and their families were there to welcome us “back home” to where our boat was built/born. It was very special to experience such a heartfelt reception.

Click here for a short video taken by one of the Ta Shing workers of our celebrated arrival:

Group shot plus Ta Shing’s President, Tin Yuan to Braun’s right

Carol and Steven Argosy on ‘Seabird’ along with crew-Nordhavn salesman, Jeff Merrill and his son, Jonn

To give you some background, Ken Williams on ‘Sans Souci’ put it so succinctly in a one of his recent blog entries: 

“All three of our GSSR boats are made by the same company, Nordhavn/Pacific Asian Enterprises [at the Ta Shing boat yard in Taiwan].

Nordhavn boats are made to cross oceans, which is a very specialized niche. There aren’t a lot of Nordhavns out there. I’m not sure of the exact count, but I think it is around 500. Nordhavn boats tend not to sit still. Regular readers of my blog might think Roberta and I cover a lot of distance, but compared to many Nordhavn owners we are total slackers. Nordhavn attempts to keep track of the distance traveled by their boats, and with only some of the boats having turned in their stats Nordhavn has already logged over FOUR MILLION miles. That’s an amazing record. Nordhavn does have competitors, but essentially owns the market for world cruising power boats. And, even though not all Nordhavn owners will ever cross an ocean, all owners like the idea of knowing that they are on a boat which can stand up to heavy seas, should they ever get a nasty weather surprise.

Nordhavn, behind the scenes, is really three companies. There is the company which most of us think of, based in Dana Point, CA that designs, promotes, commissions, sells and markets the boats. But there are also two other companies; Ta Shing (, based in Taiwan, and South Coast, based in China, which build the boats. Some of Nordhavn’s models are built in Taiwan and some in China. All three of our GSSR boats were built in Taiwan, so we wanted to ‘come home’ to see our boats’ birthplace. Whereas this meant a lot to us, we hadn’t realized that it also meant a lot to the factory.”

Braun was familiar with Pacific Asian Enterprises because at one time he owned a 43’ Mason sailboat that was also built at the Ta Shing yard.

We toured the boat yard and saw the quality workmanship firsthand.

Even stumbled around on three new boats, a Nordhavn 68’, 76’ and, the new 56’ motor sailor. Nope, as Braun would say, we saw no “rather haves” but the boats were beautiful.

Our plan was to keep our boat in Tainan for a few weeks and get some work done on her – mostly cosmetic fiberglass, other touch ups, etc… she is after all 12 years old. We did order a new bigger dining table to replace the older one we had. Just to give you some idea of what hand detailed quality workmanship looks like – see below!

Group photo in front of teak logs at the Ta Shing boat building yard,Tainan,Taiwan

Our beautiful new teak table a la Ta Shing…

After a week of festivities and touring an assortment of temples and historical relics of Tainan the ‘Grey Pearl’ crew set off for a two-week tour of mainland China while the boat was getting her ‘nip and tuck’.

Our first stop was Shanghai. One of the most dynamic cities on earth and China’s largest city! Clearly, three and half days was not enough time to enjoy booming Shanghai and its intoxicating mix of old European-style buildings and dashing modern architecture. We were part of an organized tour that covered quite a list of “must see” destinations in China in just a two week time frame. Nevertheless, Shanghai is a city worthy of a return visit to spend more time exploring.

Shanghai on a cloudy…ok…maybe smoggy day

A view of Shanghai at night from our hotel room

We did make an attempt to visit the World Expo presently underway in Shanghai. We felt pretty good only having to wait 15 minutes to get inside the Expo but, that was short lived.

It was our hope that we could at least get into the much touted and popular China pavilion but that would not be the case. Sadly, the lines were incredibly long to get into the Chinese and most of the other pavilions. Other downsides were the oppressive heat and the disappointing pavilions that we did eventually get into – Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Belarus(??) to name a few. Oh well…”it is China” – as we would say and say often.

The happy group before entering the World Expo…

Not all was lost…we made some new friends…

From Shanghai we flew to Wuhan to embark on a river boat for a five day cruise on the Yangtze River which included a tour of the Three Gorges Dam. No sooner do we get settled in on the ship then Braun’s trying to figure out a way to tour the bridge! We managed to embark without his being in command and the scenery was fascinating. Initially we saw lush green farmland tended by a few farmers using water buffalo. Later we would encounter large new cities recently built to house persons displaced as a result of the Three Gorges Dam. The dam resulted in the flooding of over a million acres of farmland and the displacement of over a million people. China’s largest construction project since the Great Wall, the Three Gorges Dam is 610 feet tall and 1.3 miles wide taking 15 years and over $30 billion to build (completed in 2009). It was intended to provide a significant amount(30%) of China’s energy (turns out to be just 3%), curb the Yangtze’s tendency to flood and channel some of the country’s wealth traditionally concentrated along the coastal regions into China’s heartland. However, creating a 400-mile reservoir has been a negative byproduct of the relocation of thousands of people, the obliteration of important cultural sites, and long term environmental damage. Toward the end of our river cruise there was significant flooding which seriously tested the dam’s capability. The news early on reported that the dam was good for a 1000 year flood cycle, then modified to 500 years, then to 100 years which is presently being experienced. One thing about the Chinese government is flexibility! It was interesting to follow – NO, actually be there – for the dam’s first significant flood test!

Some photos of life along the Yangze river –

Shibaozhai pagoda

Locks near the Three Gorges Dam

Slice of river life just beneath our berth on board the ship

Had to throw this one in…angry baby in a basket!

Okay…so I have another to throw out there…China’s answer to baby diapers…none! But look out when they gotta go!

Next stop was Xi’an. Xi’an’s history stretches back more than 3,100 years and it was the capital city of China, the Middle Kingdom for 12 imperial dynasties. It reached its peak during the glorious period of the Tang Dynasty rule. Once one of the world’s biggest and richest cities, Xi’an is at beginning of China’s fabled Silk Road. Xi’an is home to what is possibly China’s greatest archaeological treasure the Qin Mausoleum. When he was only 13years old (246 B.C.) the future emperor of the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang had begun preparing for his afterlife – and boy oh boy he spared NO expense! In 1974 a local farmer digging a well uncovered the first evidence of the extraordinary lengths the emperor went to in order to ensure his protection in the afterlife. More than 7,000 life-sized terra cotta archers, infantrymen, soldiers, horses and chariots in full battle gear and standing in formation were buried to guard the emperor’s tomb. We visited the three excavation pits containing the terra cotta army. It’s fascinating history. Moreover, the terra cotta army was just one part – the defending army of a necropolis. A mile west of these pits a large hill yet to be excavated is believed to be the burial mound of Qin Shi Huang. He enslaved over 700,000 people for over 36 years to construct the tomb. Historical sources claim all kinds of things were buried in the emperor’s tomb including 48 separate tombs for concubines who were buried alive with emperor. This fate was also reserved for the tomb workers to prevent the location and the design of the tomb from being known.

Terra Cotta Army

Another highlight in Xi’an was a visit to the Chongqing Zoo…let’s face it, no visit to China would be worth it (for me, at least) without seeing China’s national treasure the giant panda bears. They outdid all expectations.

Our final stop on mainland China was the grand imperial capital Beijing. Again, we scratched but the surface of this incredible sprawling city. Highlights being Tiananmen Square especially beautiful lit up at night, the Forbidden City, the Beijing Opera and, of coursethe fabled Great Wall.

Normally we would not take such trips at the peak of the summer because it’s typically more crowded and the temps are very hot. But we had no choice. We did our best not to let the 90+ degree temps, oppressive humidity, flooding, epic crowds and traffic, and another “bus & buffet” cloud our enjoyment or judgment. “It is China!” and it’s a fascinating country.

While in China we closely watched the maritime weather anticipating the continuation of our voyage. Our GSSR pals, ‘Sans Souci and ‘Seabird’ had wrapped up whatever work they needed done at the Ta Shing yard and were looking for a 3 day weather window to make way for Hong Kong. They set off July 13th. Two hours into the voyage, Seabird’s exhaust/engine was running hotter than usual. After some routine trouble shooting (changing the air filter on his main engine) Seabird elected to turn around and go back to Taiwan. They suspected that there was considerable growth on the hull/keel coolers that caused the problem and needed to get in shallower water to anchor and dive the boat. Water temps were in the 90’s which is conducive for lots of growth, shellfish, etc…we had a nice shag rug workin’ on the Pearl. The net of it was Sans Souci continued on to Hong Kong as they had some time constraints. Seabird returned to Taiwan, had a diver come and clean the bottom of the boat and waited for the next weather window. More and more typhoons and tropical storm warnings were cropping up in mid-July…tis’ the season! Just after we returned to the Pearl from mainland China the weather cleared and in the next 24 hrs we set off with Seabird for Hong Kong. If not careful, we could get stuck in Taiwan which is not typhoon protected for weeks – so, we knew we had to scoot while the getting’ was good. Our timing was perfect. We had one of the calmest passages that I can ever remember…the wind never got past 8 knots and we enjoyed two full moon lit nights. Things did start to get intense a couple of hours before our arrival at the harbor entrance to Hong Kong. Of course, that would be on my watch…Up until 4am, Steven on the bridge of Seabird and me on the Pearl in the flow…a real tag team on the radio identifying nav lights of ships and mega-freighters like you’ve never seen before, trying to determine their direction and intentions. We were at it for some three and half hours and feelin’ pretty good. We were not planning to arrive at the actual harbor entrance until first light. Ken had suggested waiting until light as he entered at dark and said it was pretty tricky. Well we maintained our usual speed and figured when we were hours away from the harbor entrance we would slow down. We didn’t count on the nice push we got from the current and in spite of throttling back; we approached our mark for the entrance to the harbor at 3:30am – dark but with a nice moon. Steven and I concluded from studying the radar and ASI targets on the chart plotter that the traffic seemed to fall off some inside the entrance channel. We made a command decision and decided to go for it. It was exciting to see the bright lights of Hong Kong laid out ahead of us. Fifteen minutes later I noticed a large freighter about 5miles off my stern, closing fast at 15 knots. No big deal…I kept an eye on him as he was exactly on my course. Nautically speaking, he was overtaking me and I was the “stand-on” vessel. I thought I’d give him a little jingle on VHF channel 16 to see which way he intended to pass me. No answer after repeated calls from me & Seabird. Coincidently, Braun was coming up to relieve me from the watch…we put our big spotlight – fondly called the “Cajun radar” and, still no response. He is now but a mile and half behind us, bearing down and has not altered course. We blasted our horn, the “5 danger doubt” sound and quickly altered course to starboard doing what we had to not to get mowed down. Ah…the joys of cruising! It made the dawn arrival into the main harbor of Hong Kong all the more sweeter!

Braun’s comment:

Sit Rep: At the end of the voyage from Taiwan, we entered Hong Kong harbor in the darkness at 0430 in the morning. We had not planned to enter such a busy unfamiliar harbor in the dark but we made better time than anticipated and arrived before dawn. Tina and Steven were on watch and made the decision not to stand off but to go on in. I was off watch and asleep when Tina called me to the bridge. She rarely does this, so I knew that something big was up. Yep, there it was, a huge freighter bearing down on our aft port side (port quarter).

Tina had been trying to raise the large freighter on the VHF radio to determine its overtaking intentions. She had no response and so I tried several times but still no come back. Ok, so now the guessing game began – which way is this rapidly approaching massive ship going to pass us? We need to know to stay out of its way. It continued to track on our port quarter and we did have some room out of the channel to starboard so that is where we went – into the shallows. It is generally a good tactic to dodge the big boys by going into shallow water because they won’t follow – BUT there has to be enough water or you go aground. Just after making our turn the large black hulk slid by us, only 300 yards away! We could smell the coffee they were drinking on their bridge!

We returned to the channel, Tina’s watch was over and the excitement (terror) over for the moment. She went below to rest and I settled in to enjoy the entrance to one of the most legendary harbors in the world – Hong Kong.

The shore lights are spectacular and there was plenty of traffic with the large ships gliding by, ferry traffic and small fishing boats all rushing about. All wonderful except some of these fishing boats will cut very close across your bow which is the strange custom in parts of Asia. This allows them to shake the demons off their boat on to yours because demons are not dumb and won’t just jump into the water but will hop over to a near boat. The closer they come to you the more demons can get off, even the small ones.

Hong Kong became well known from the 1960’s movie The World of Suzy Wong starring William Holden as the American savior of the Chinese prostitute Nancy Kwan. I first came to Hong Kong as a teenager just after I had seen the newly made film. I went straight to Wanchai and saw the hotel/brothel and environs featured in the movie. Real neat stuff for me as a 17 year old kid.

Entering the harbor on the Pearl I made a vow to revisit the movie’s Luk Kwok Hotel and after a few days in Hong Kong managed to get to where it was located. “Was” is the operative verb because the site was completely redeveloped in the 1980s. Also, unlike the hotel in the movie the modern hotel is not a pseudo-brothel but is one of many smaller smart hotels on Hong Kong Island. Disappointed, once more I realized you can never go home again! End of Sit Rep.

Well, now you’ve gotten the whole story on our arrival into Hong Kong. We’ve enjoyed a few weeks here touring and wrapping up the boat for the season. We’re tied up in a very nice marina, Gold Coast Marina and Yacht Club amongst these rather large and boxy looking house boats. As real estate is a premium here, people buy these monster house boats(3 to 4,000sqft! with two 50 hp engines), tie them up at the dock and live on them. Anyway, we’re happy to be among the “marina queens” for now. We leave in the next day or so for home in Alexandria, VA. An earlier than usual return home but there are some things we need to tend to on the home front and we hope to get back and see more of Hong Kong when it’s not SO hot!

Lastly, we want to thank our friends and wonderful crew, Patricia and Wayne Davis. Your support and friendship we dearly cherish. Not to mention you all make a wicked Margarita!

Wayne and Pat at Victoria’s Peak, Hong Kong

And…of course, we want to acknowledge our GSSR “buddy boats”…MANY THANKS Ken, Roberta, Steven and Carol for another wonderful and memorable summer..and, remember…we’ll always have Adak! 🙂

Sorry for the lengthy update…here’s wishing everyone a cool end of summer!

Stay tuned for what’s on tap for the next cruising season…Malaysia, Philipines, Thailand and Singapore….

Until next time…Grey Pearl over and out!

2 thoughts on “It’s ALL Chinese to me….”

  1. Marie Eric Poisson

    Eric & Marie Poisson
    HP/ 9648 1416
    Skype : empoisson

    Dear Tina and Braun
    We just discovered by chance your wonderful adventure and projects 2011.
    We did your way future is to say: the Mediterranean Sea and Turkey and the countries of SE Asia.
    We live on Long Liner which we converted in a private yacht.
    We are currently in HK and wish to go to Japan on the next spring to discover the Islands of southern Japan and the Sea Inside.
    So everyone has experience of the other project. It might be interesting to discuss.
    We are currently in the shelter of Aberdeen where we would be happy to meet you and welcome you aboard for dinner and to share our experiences.
    Our tel: 9648 1416
    With our best regards
    Eric and Marie Poisson

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