Blown Out of Hong Kong

By Derek On October 9, 2011 Under Post


Marge: Dear God, this is Marge Simpson. If you stop this hurricane and save our family, we will be forever grateful and recommend you to all our friends! So, if you could find it in your infinite wisdom to…

Lisa: Wait! Listen, everybody.[the sunlight shines and birds chirp] The hurricane’s over.

Homer: He fell for it! Way to go, Marge!

We have lived in Hong Kong almost six years now. The city state, now ruled by Beijing, sits at 22 degrees, 16 minutes north, putting us just below the Tropic of Cancer and into the tropics. Half of the year it is hot and sweltering, with the ever present threat of typhoons sweeping through laying waste to the unfortunate and unprepared, while in the other half the climate is more agreeable.  However, what you may have heard about the alarming levels of pollution here is all too true and that is a full 12 months a year. The pollution is not just an arsenic-laced, heavy metal-impregnated brown miasma drifting in menacingly from China, but unfortunately extends to the water (and food chain) as well. The words “Hong Kong” in Chinese mean “fragrant harbor,” which is more than ironic since it really stinks when you get close to the water! However, Hong Kong has a long maritime tradition, thanks mainly to its existence under the British as a trading entrepot par excellence. In fact, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club boasts a history 117 years long and was one of two local organizations to keep the word “Royal” in their name after the Chinese took over the colony in 1997.

The HK Sailing Scene

The Hong Kong sailing scene is active but 100% confined to racing. The weekend racing is very competitive and there are some world class racers living here. Once a year the RHKYC sponsors an offshore race to the Philippines, “The China Sea Race” (575 miles) and sometimes one to Vietnam (656 miles). The maritime territory of Hong Kong is quite small and you are not allowed to venture into Chinese waters without permits and prior permission. There are also shorter jaunts possible to Macau across the Pearl River Delta (35 miles) but mainly the sailing is centered on short weekend races in and around local brown water bays and green islands.

Keeping a Boat in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is outrageously expensive as resources are stretched due to the growing population comprised of rich Mainland Chinese buying hard assets “outside” of China, and other nationalities attracted to the strong job market. If you are a transient cruiser, you may be able to find a temporary berth up at Hebe Haven Yacht Club in Sai Kung, 45 minutes north of central Hong Kong by car. HHYC is the other yacht club here and they are friendly to visiting cruisers. You may just get a mooring ball however, as the facilities are small and demand is great. Hong Kong itself is off the beaten path for most cruisers given the fact that it is a long way from anywhere and from here you have to go to Japan and then 3,500 miles across the N. Pacific to get anywhere else. The offshore sailing season is very short and you can only really move during small windows before and after typhoon/hurricane season. (“Typhoon” is another Chinese word, by the way, meaning “great f*cking wind”).

Life is Too Short to Spend on Land

We looked at keeping a boat in Hong Kong for several years but I had a hard time squaring the expenses. Finally, boat-less for too long, we decided to throw all financial caution to the great f*cking wind and buy a boat regardless. Life is too short to spend all on land. This kicked off a two year search for our “next boat” which was great fun. Some people like to buy clothes. I like to buy boats. Unfortunately, due to the higher cost per unit, I am only allowed to indulge myself maybe once a decade! Like most boat shoppers, we started small but then our eyes began to quickly outgrow our wallet. I spent every weekend scouring the ads on Yachtworld to re-learn the market and see what was available where. Once I could look at a boat in the category we were interested in and guess the asking price within 10%, I knew I was ready. The market in Hong Kong is very small, so we flew down to Thailand to look at boats again with Leemarine. We bought our last boat through them and there are a lot of cheap boats in Thailand and Malaysia. But we just couldn’t find the right one at the right price.

Thinking Big

Then, I suppose, we (I) started to think big. We wanted to take our two girls cruising someday and they are now three and five years old. In a couple of years they will be old enough to go and our thinking was focusing on the S. Pacific: warm, trade wind sailing to friendly, beautiful islands we had never seen. So instead of buying a boat for weekend use in Hong Kong, I “reasoned” with my better half, why don’t we just GO ALL OUT NOW and get the boat we would need to go to the S. Pacific? Hmmm. It took a lot of convincing but for the historical record, either due to blind trust in her spouse or just congenital bad judgment, the wife reluctantly agreed.

Why We Bought an Oyster

Two words: reputation and resale. As I wrote in another post, “Our New Boat,” we wanted a boat for the trip.

What Happened Next

While negotiating on the Oyster, I was busy joining the posh RHKYC and scouring all the marinas for a place to put her when she arrived. This period of active search actually spanned several months with the reality being: tough luck sailor. For example, once you become a member of the RHKYC, you are then put on a three year waiting list for a slip! I spoke to the owner of the only other Oyster out here and he confirmed, yes, it took him that long to get a berth too. He also spent three years building his boat so that worked out fine. He asked me:

“Do we have a boat boy, by the way?”

“No, I like to do things myself. Why?”

“Every time it rains the boats turn black and you have to wash that stuff off right away. Unless you will be doing that every day you need a boat boy.”


Other marinas here had a few empty slips so we would eventually find something, I thought. Ha! These marinas are part of high priced “country clubs.” To put your boat there you first have to join the club. I went to Discovery Bay marina to talk to the membership office and suss it all out. The Chinese woman who was in charge charged out of her office with a fistful of application forms and demanded:

“Yu wan join clawb!”

“Maybe. What I really want is a wet berth for my boat.”


(A long explanation on my part followed with the upshot that first I needed to submit an application with a $300 non-refundable fee. If accepted, I would have to pay another “debenture” of $30,000 (!). There was the non-refundable joining fee of $10,000 and there were minimum monthly food and beverage charges of $150. Also, there was a one-off non-refundable fee to apply for a berth of $1,000).

“I see. Are there any more fees I need to be aware of?”

“Awf coss!”

That ended all interest I had in the subject. But to finish our long 20 minute conversation I asked her:

“So, if I do all these things and am accepted into your club and pay all these fees, which berth will I get?”

“No berf! Ah full!”

Living in Hong Kong is like that. And so it went, club after club. I won’t bore you with the other annoying failures I had but now we had put ourselves in a quandary because we had just closed on the boat and she was sitting in the UK. If we didn’t move her soon out of the UK and the EU, we would be liable for a 20% VAT. Yikes. What to do? The only alternative here was the smelly and toxic mooring field in Aberdeen, which has room for 300 boats but now is home to 2,000. All are sandwiched side to side. The place is run by triads and hasn’t been hit by a typhoon in recent memory. Totally unsafe for us, I decided.

And the Winner Is…

Damn. Damn, damn, damn. So, we decided to move her to Seattle. Puget Sound is beautiful; the water and air won’t kill you and there are many islands and anchorages.  Vancouver Island is right next door and the Inside Passage up to Alaska is something I have always wanted to do. Now very concerned and not without a little trepidation, I placed a call to Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle, half expecting a cold heartless laugh at the end of the line telling me they were full with a three year waiting list. The response? No problem. A 55 foot slip? Yup, we got several. When is she due to arrive? OK, I’ll save one for you. How much? $750 a month with all power and water you need. No other hidden fees, debentures and little hoops to jump through. Man, good to be home.

Conclusion: if we could have arranged a slip for our boat in Hong Kong I figured, after all the fees and expenses, it would cost between $30,000 – $40,000 a year! Or 750 bucks a month in Seattle in a proper marina with no trash and no typhoons? Done. And there we are. The situation is not ideal but with the money I am “saving” we can afford to fly the entire family from Hong Kong to Seattle nine times a year! I keep telling myself, a boat is always a compromise…

Submit a comment

  • Avatars are handled by Gravatar
  • Comments are being moderated