SV-Synchronicity
19Oct/130

Preparing for First Adventure

Next week I'm heading back to Phuket, this time as owner of my own sailboat. In the period since my last visit, I've been busy at work in Shanghai - and the boat has been busy doing all kinds of interesting boat things in Thailand. While I've been working on video games, she's had her bottom scraped, sanded, repaired and anti-fouled; sailed down to Langkawi, Malaysia to check out of Thai waters; sailed back to Thailand; experienced a not-small number of break-downs and failures; and racked up some impressive bills. All according to plan. No surprises... yet.

These days I'm working on a new plan - the plan I'll follow (or try) during the next visit. With 4 days on the ground (and water), I'm hoping to divide the trip into 2 parts. Part #1: preparing, cleaning and repairing things onboard. Part #2: sailing out of sight of the marina to Koh Phanak and anchoring there overnight.

During Part #1 I expect to make lists of what's needed onboard to make the boat a more comfortable and safe floating home. I'm taking with me no less than 43 items (25kg) from Shanghai - including the aforementioned tool kit, along with zip-ties, a collection of "boat clothes," sailing knives, LED headlamps, work gloves, various chargers/solar panels, bathroom supplies, and so on. These are the things I feel can be reasonably brought into Thailand under the guise of "vacation items" (yeah, the tool kit is a bit of a stretch). Another list of items, to be purchased in Thailand, includes stuff like tableware, cleaning supplies, cordless tools, an ice chest, bed sheets - all sorts of things I think would be hard to explain to Thai customs officers. (Then again, I'm arriving on a red-eye flight, and I've never seen customs people actually working at 2AM. Fingers crossed).

Koh Phanak

During Part #2 things get more interesting. I'll weigh anchor (actually, just leave the marina slip), raise the sails and... go somewhere! The plan is to sail towards the nearest island out of sight of the marina, with decent overnight anchoring - that being Koh Phanak (+8º 10' 28.7", +98º 29' 23"). The island itself features opportunities for dinghy exploring under spectacular limestone overhands along the entire west coast - and entrances to caves and hongs (an interior lagoon within the island, accessible from the sea) on the east coast. My goal in sailing to and anchoring at Koh Phanak isn't exploring though, it's to see how well I can sail single-handed to a known location, anchor and care for the boat. If all goes well, after a night on the hook, I'll weigh anchor (for real this time) and head back towards the marina. All in, this is a ~30 mile round-trip.

Once this mini-adventure is over and I'm back at the marina I'll have a chance to create a proper accounting of the boat and its need for improvement. More lists, more items to acquire, repairs to be made ad infinitum - as it is with boats.

27Sep/130

Leviathan

Three unique times today the word "Leviathan" has appeared.

First, when I was reading an "Alice: Otherlands" script and thought that the word should be used to describe an undersea monster and Alice's fight against industrialization and capitalism.

Second, when I returned home and looked at Apple TV. I found a documentary film called "Leviathan," about fisherman in the Atlantic.

Just now, when wanting to search for photos on my Flickr account - and noticed that the most recent user to add me on the platform is nicknamed "Leviathan."  I was hoping to find the Apple TV folder so I could update it with images of the boat.

Leviathan synchronicity.

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments
24Sep/130

Things to do from Shore

Cheap Chinese Tools

Cheap Chinese Tools

Back in Shanghai after the survey-and-purchase trip to Phuket, I am making lists and planning for the return trip. With my work and business-travel schedule, mid-November is the earliest I'll be able to go back. Between now and then plenty of "boat things" need to get done. On Phuket the guys at SEA-YSS are managing the post-purchase maintenance/repair process. They'll then get the boat checked out of Thailand, down to Langkawi, Malaysia - and back to Thailand. All part of the purchase and registration process. By the time I see the boat again in November, all this should be complete.

When I step aboard next time, it will be as a new owner - and maintenance guy. With those roles in mind, I've begun preparing lists of items essential to sailing, living aboard and maintaining the boat. At first I thought I would buy the bulk of these things in China, then ship them to Thailand. The lower purchase prices offset the shipping cost - but there's a snag. Bringing items into Thailand from overseas invites the possibility of import duties - which can be 40% to 80% of an item's "value." There are horror stories of Customs Officers in Thailand inflating the "value" of an item, tying it to a maximum import duty, and generating a horrific import cost. Not going that route...

So, I've split my list in two - things I will buy in China and take with me in my checked-bags. Then the things I'll just buy in Thailand. Below are the items I've decided to buy here in China and take with me - these are either high-cost tools or unique items I'd have a hard time finding in Thailand. I'm also hoping these all look like things one might be expected to take on a charter sailboat trip (which, if I am asked, will be my excuse for bringing them). Note to any Thai customs officials reading this: This is all hypothetical, of course 😛

Take via Airport
Item USD RMB KGs Quant URL
Bath Towels  $      21  ¥        128 0.2 8 http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a230r.1.14.68.tp2YJn&id=26073948697
Kitchen Towels  $      10  ¥          64 0.1 8 http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a230r.1.14.23.hLhtJd&id=18109014264
Cordless Solder Iron  $          33  ¥        202 0.2 1 http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a230r.1.14.36.inBPTd&id=26887908390
Tool kit (hand)  $        274  ¥    1,700 11.8 1 http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?id=17652559515&ali_refid=a3_420434_1006
12v chargers/USB  $             1  ¥             6 0.1 2 http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a230r.1.14.36.8Gsb6T&id=20658735028
Sailing Knife (with sheath)  $             1  ¥             6 0.2 1 http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=2013.1.0.0.AILAz7&scm=1007.77.0.0&id=21378647599
Binoculars  $          97  ¥        600 0.4 1 http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a230r.1.14.383.NzRp6Z&id=17376724748
Multi-light Headlamp  $          30  ¥        184 0.1 2 http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a230r.1.14.396.utVjR5&id=19587170190
Work Gloves  $          13  ¥          80 0.1 2 http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a1z10.3.w4002-2347088413.73.7INKaQ&id=26689596328
Vacuum Bags  $        6  ¥          39 0.1 1 http://detail.tmall.com/item.htm?id=22444416315
12v - 220v inverter  $          22  ¥        135 0.5 1 http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=2013.1.0.0.UxIdq0&scm=1007.77.0.0&id=22454123246
Total USD Total RMB KGs
 $        507  ¥    3,144 13.8

The list of stuff I'll buy in Thailand includes rechargeable power tools, sanding/finishing tools, paints and household items - plates, kitchen utensils, cleaning supplies, etc. Would be hard to justify taking a 12-volt cordless vacuum cleaner on a vacation to Thailand. "But officer, I'm obsessive compulsive and have to vacuum everywhere I go!" Right...

Away from the lists and online shopping, I'm spending time to study the SE Asia Pilot Guide - getting ideas on where I'll sail to first. I'm combining this with study of navigation, using the Australian Boating Manual as my guide. If you've never seen or heard of this manual, I'd highly recommend it. Contained within are sections covering literally *everything* there is to know about boats and boating. The thing weighs 5 pounds and measures 5" from cover to cover.

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments
21Sep/130

Purchase Day

Happy Buyer and Seller

Happy Buyer (red) and Seller (blue)

They say the happiest two days of a boat owner's life are the day on which a boat is purchased and the day on which it's sold. I've now experienced the happiness that comes with the first part, a purchase. And I witnessed the related happiness on the face of the man who has just sold me his sailboat. He's done his journey and mine is just beginning - and we're both super happy. I now inherit any and all frustrations and joys that come with this particular boat.

The purchase process itself was about as exciting as signing papers ever is - which is to say, not very. Many redundant copies in various formats (and languages) were printed and signed in preparation for the bureaucratic hurdles that constitute the Thai boat registration process. While on paper the process looks simple, the reality is that the system frequently produces mysterious obstructions and miracle "fixes" through under-the-table dealings. Unfortunately, typical in many SE Asian countries. Instead of trying to navigate this annoying system on my own, I've handed over the responsibility to South East Asia Yacht Sales and Service, the same group who helped introduce buyer to seller and then broker the transaction.

A quick word about brokers and my experience with them... I've been looking at boats (online and in the marinas) around Asia (and Australia) for over 5 years. There have been two periods in that time when I knew I was serious about actually buying a boat - if the right one could be found. The rest of the time was fuel for research, understanding the market and day dreaming. That "not buying" stuff is great for me, but a waste of time for brokers (and boat owners). I've tried to minimize the inconvenience my curiosity might cause, but the "annoyance" has been visible more times than not.

So, this poking around (when serious and when not) has taught me about more than sailboats - it's also taught me a great deal about the people who own and sell them. On the surface, everyone I've interacted with has been "nice" - they need to be, since they never know when a tire-kicker might turn into an actual buyer. But there's a small handful of people who bent over backwards, even when they clearly knew that a purchase wasn't going to happen that day or anytime soon. Rob Williams and his team at SEA-YSS certainly top the list of people who are in the business for reasons that extend beyond just business. They're doing it because they love it, and that shows in the way the treated me.

As I finished signing the purchase papers yesterday all this really hit me: These guys took great care of me. And the thing is... While I bought one of the cheapest boats in their listings, they treated me like I was buying the most expensive one. Just good, solid, and caring service.

You can't always choose who you're going to buy your boat from, but if you're able, I can tell you it does make a significant difference. Besides, if it's meant to be a happy day, why not make it as happy as possible?

Enough about brokers... as nice as they might be.

Purchase done, I headed back to the hard stand where the boat's now sitting out of the water. With me this time was Graham, the sailboat service and repair guru recommended by SEA-YSS. He and I went through my list of "must fix" issues and discovered a couple of minor things to add while walking around the boat. Lesson for today: A sailboat in the tropics is going to be hot (sometimes to the point of serious discomfort) - that I knew. But whoa... a sailboat on the hard in the tropics... is a sauna. Take along lots of water - and DRINK it.

I don't expect to see the boat again until it's had service and repairs, been anti-fouled, cleaned and put back in the water. For me the earliest return date is mid-November. Between now and then I'll get email updates from Graham on the repair process. In Shanghai I'll be planning the next trip and preparing for my first series of sailing adventures around Phuket. A small load of equipment needs to be sourced and purchased - then sent to Thailand. Everything from tools and emergency gear to snorkel masks and beach towels. Fun stuff!

The synchronicity for the day? Last night I flew back to Shanghai (where I'm writing this). Prior to my flight at 2AM I decided to get a little rest at the hotel. When I reached over to turn off the bedside light - just as I clicked the switch off - the entire hotel and neighborhood was plunged into darkness. Power outage. The timing of it was so perfect that I felt I'd literally turned off all of the surrounding power with a press of my thumb. A magical fade to black on a very powerful first chapter in this new book of my life. Looking forward to whatever comes next...

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments
19Sep/130

Haul Out Day

Salulami Out of the Water

Salulami Out of the Water

After a successful day of survey at the marina followed by a sea trial comes a haul out and survey of the boat below the waterline. Again, I met with Anthony (the surveyor) - this time at the haul out facility West of the marina. The boat was already out of the water when I arrived, but it was interesting to see how this particular yard gets boats out of the water. Most boat yards (I've seen) use a crane and sling system. These guys use a tractor and rolling lift bed. Different, but judging by the massive size of some of the boats sitting in the yard, completely capable.

I walked around with Anthony while he pounded the bottom with a sounding hammer - listening for any areas that sounded like they might be hiding saturation. We attempted to use a moisture meter as well, but with the boat just out of the water that was practically useless. In any case, there were no signs of serious issues. A handful of minor blisters that can be ground out and filled with epoxy. The rudder, stock, prop and prop shaft were also closely inspected. Aside from a very small amount of wiggle in the cutlass bearing (which will probably prompt removal and replacement of such) there were, again, no issues.

Another trip inside the boat to inspect the engine compartment for any signs of leaking fluids since yesterday - no issues. The only new thing that turned up today was a little mountain of belt dust under the alternator - that belt being clearly too loose and probably needing to be replaced anyway.

A bit more poking around and we were done. With the list from yesterday and the new items from today in hand, I sat down to speak with Anthony about the overall condition of the boat and things that would need immediate attention. It's a surprisingly (thankfully) short list - further evidence of the care taken by the (soon to be previous) owner. That list includes:

  1. An exhaust mixer elbow in need of replacement.
  2. Depth gauge that needs repair or replacement. 
  3. WInd gauges that need repair or replacement.
  4. Steaming light that needs repair.
  5. Fuel filter that needs cleaning (and likely need to clean the tanks).
  6. Air filter (needs to be installed; currently without).
  7. Safety equipment that needs updating.
  8. Propane tanks that need securing - new gas line run.
  9. Cutlass bearing that needs inspection/replacement.
  10. Anti-fouling to be done (a yearly maintenance anyway item).
  11. Anodes to replace (also yearly maintenance item).

By this point I've seen (and personally inspected) enough potential boats to know this is *not* a terrible list to be looking at when purchasing a used sailboat.

The overall outcome of the survey is positive, so we move to the next step - actually going through with the purchase of the boat. I've already made a 25% deposit, so now comes a stack of paperwork and the final payment - all of which will be handled tomorrow. After that, I'm officially a sailboat owner!

The purchase process and post-purchase process continues even after all the dotted lines have been signed. The previous owner walks away with his bag of money - but my tasks as an owner just begin. All those repairs need to be made, the transfer of ownership has to be made official, and the registration has to be moved - I'm opting to register the boat in Thailand, since that's where I'll be keeping it. Registering locally is a little more costly up-front, but avoids yearly "visa runs" where the boat would have to be sailed down to Langkawi, Malaysia to check in and out of Thai waters.

All of this paperwork and bureaucracy is (thankfully!) being handled by my friends at South East Asia Yacht Sales and Service, which happens to be connected with the charter/school company I've used here before on Phuket. The owner of SEA-YSS, Rob Williams, has made the process of purchasing this boat a pleasure - and they'll continue to work with me going forward, acting as management for the boat at the marina to ensure it receives regular service and attention while I am off working in Shanghai.

This strange feeling of setting a new course in life has stayed with me since yesterday. Reminds me of how I felt when, around 10 years ago, I sold all my stuff and transplanted myself from the US to Hong Kong. It's the feeling of doing something meaningful and big in life - like a bungie-jump for the soul.

Lastly, there was another meaningful coincidence today. It goes like this: I was born on December 13th and have always held "13" as my lucky number. The marina assigned me a slip, where the boat will be kept, and the number is, of course, "B13." Be lucky. Sounds good to me!

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments
18Sep/130

Survey & Sea Trial Day

salulami

Salulami Under Sail

Survey and sea trial were done today. This is how it went... At 9AM I met with the surveyor, Anthony from Andaman Maritime Services, and discussed basic details. He wanted to know how I was hoping to use the boat - why I was interested in this particular sailboat. I told him about my sailing experience and intended use - coastal cruising around Thai (Phuket) waters whenever I can make it over from Shanghai. This way he had an idea of things that would be important (or not) when doing the survey. We then went down to the boat and got started.

The first part of the inspection was focused on the deck, rigging and visible hull (everything above water on the outside of the boat). Some minor issues were found with the paint - probably humidity blisters. Aft side corners port and starboard both displayed similar rust stains and small spot blisters - what we later discovered are caused by bolts left in the hull after some hardware was removed. Every inch was looked at in detail - chainplates, standing/running rigging, anchor windless and bow roller, cockpit drains, cockpit and propane lockers, etc, etc. And everything was in generally good condition. We moved inside.

The interior inspection started forward at the anchor locker and moved back. This entailed pulling up all the floor boards, digging into every cabinet and locker. More minor issues were uncovered - tubes and hoses that need replacing, mysterious oil in the bilge (later discovered to be caster oil from a depth transducer housing), an unusual looking repair on the king post supporting the mast beam and other items - all duly recorded. Again, the take-away was that things are, for the most part, is generally good condition. It was heartening to see that the engine is in very good condition and obviously has been well-cared for over the years. An engine can be the biggest source of misery on a used boat (well, on any boat).

Then a lunch break. By this time both Anthony and I were covered in sweat and grunge. There's a lot of dirt and muck to be found when digging around in the bowels of a 28 year-old boat. We cleaned up, met with the boat's owner and had some lunch. Over lunch we discussed some of the minor issues we found - and were able to get explanations from the owner (like learning about the bolts left in the hull, causing the rust). The owner has kept meticulous records of all repairs and servicing - something in which he takes obvious pride.

Then back to the boat to continue the inspection, moving aft. At this point the owner was along to provide running commentary on everything we were seeing. The aft cabin was opened up so that we could access the rudder mechanisms (auto pilot, emergency tiller). While the inspection continued, the owner prepped the boat for sea trial. Again, a few minor issues found here and there, but nothing to cause significant worry.

With the dockside inspection complete, we were ready for the sea trial. Backing out of the slip, powering out of the marina and getting into open water, I finally had a chance to feel how the boat moves underfoot. It conveys a feeling of solid security - heavy and sure. The engine was run up to max RPMs, temperatures were taken and again everything checked out. Time to put up the sails!

Heading into the wind, the owner then showed how the sails go up. First the main, then the headsail. All pretty easy - the boat is rigged in a rugged, traditional manner - everything is kept simple and easy to operate. Raising the main is done from the mast. Slab reefing. Lots of room to work and stainless safety bars to provide security. All good stuff. Again, no problems were found - the engine was turned off and suddenly we're doing 7 knots and enjoying a proper sail!

In this moment I did my best to stop thinking about surveys and repair issues and the business of buying a boat - and imagine this being MY boat. It almost feels like I'm ripping the "train off life" off its tracks and transplanting it to another universe. This idea of owning a sailboat has been a dream for so long that the actual doing of purchasing my own boat feels like an unreal reality. It's unsettling, but in an entirely good way. I feel like I'm doing something crazy, but that it's the right crazy thing to do. 

And just like that the sea trial was over - not much to do it seems but check that everything is operational and the mast doesn't fall off. It didn't.

We sailed, then motored, back to the marina; tied up and called it a day. Though we were working hard for the entire day, I felt the experience had passed in an instant. That's what happens when you're having fun.

All in all, a great day. No nasty surprises. Tomorrow the boat is going to be hauled out of the water and we'll inspect the hull below the waterline. At the same time I'm paying for anti-fouling and to replace the anodes. Seems likely the boat will end up mine (unless something catastrophically wrong is found with the hull) so, might as well take care of this basic maintenance while the boat is out of the water. My first act of caring for a boat… even if it's not yet mine.

One special thing to mention, and this is why I want to name the re-name the boat "Synchronicity:" on the way in, the surveyor pointed out a specific vessel docked at the marina - the Calisto. Turns out this is the sister-ship to the vessel I mentioned in my previous post - the Calypso (Cousteau's famous exploration vessel). A meaningful coincidence if ever I saw one. And I'm hoping to see many more from aboard my own boat… soon.

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments
15Sep/130

A First Step – Of Sorts

Calypso

Calypso (not the boat I am buying!)

This is a first post but by no means the first step of the journey that's brought me here.

For as long as I can remember (my family tells me since childhood) I've been dreaming of exploring the world aboard a sailboat. I think this dream began when I was a child living in Mexico. For entertainment I had nature, a swimming pool, and a TV connected to a Beta-Max player. My selection of TV viewing content was limited to what we had on tapes: Every episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus and every one of Jacque Cousteau's adventures aboard Calypso.

Cousteau's work inspired me towards study of marine biology and oceanography, a fascination I maintained throughout my childhood and into high school. At the same time I was deeply fascinated with Star Trek and Carl Sagan's Cosmos series. All of this melded together into a desire for adventure and exploration. To "captain" something across vast distances, explore strange new places and discover new things about the world and myself… I guess in that context, and within the narrow scope of possibilities available to pursue those ambitions on our planet, a sailboat makes complete sense.

So here I am in Thailand (Phuket), preparing to survey a cruising sailboat that, if all goes well, I will soon purchase.

A lifetime has passed leading up to this moment. In those 40 years I've maintained this passion through study of all things nautical. My bookshelves are filled with sailboat adventures, how-to guides, how-not-to stories and a mass of charts, primers and related material. It's a rich fantasy maintained, so far, exclusively in my head.

Living in Shanghai for the past few years, my sailing options have been limited to dinghy sailing on lakes near the city. I've used sailing schools in Thailand to learn more about sailing larger boats and earn certificates along the way. And I've been telling myself that when the time is "right" I'm going to take the plunge and buy a boat of my own. Thing is, the time never seems to be "right." I've waited for years - thinking (hoping) my company will either achieve massive success or go extinct - either scenario would provide an escape from China and the daily grind - neither has happened.

Now the plan is to ignore what's "right" and just buy the boat. Phuket is only 4 hours from Shanghai by direct flight - meaning I can hop over for extended weekend sailing excursions on a pretty regular basis. If I get in a trip every 2 months I'll be happy.

The immediate goals are: Provide myself a frequent escape from the grind and grime of Shanghai. Improve my sailing abilities for an eventual departure to wider horizons.

So, that's how it started and part of how I got where I am today. Next up, inspection. Then purchase?

Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments