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Author Peter Aston
Date Nov 1977
Map Ref Hong Kong


This article appeared in Modern Boating in June, 1984 (pp88-92). They were heady days when we were young and inexperienced but very keen.

Buying a yacht from Taiwan is not the same as taking delivery from a boat builder nearby in Sydney especially if you plan to save transport costs and sail her home yourself. When dealings between my wife Lyndall (our on-site negotiator) and the Taiwanese boat builder reached a fractious stalemate we arranged for our yacht to be shipped to Hong Kong where we planned to carry out the final stages of fitting out and taking on stores. Our eldest son James and I flew from PNG to meet Lyndall there on the day prior to it's arrival.

Of any place on earth Hong Kong exudes life, a 24-hour carnival of lights, noise, smells and millions of people. No wonder I was in culture shock. Everything was foreign to me: the people, whose business acumen and ideas of social intercourse were on a plane far removed from mine; finances where funds were transferred to an unheard-of bank in the hope that the builder would deliver the goods; customs and maritime procedures: import and export licenses, surveys and registration papers, all might as well have been in Chinese characters.
Without local knowledge, a venture such as this would be lengthy, expensive and big on mistakes. Friends in Hong Kong had been through all this before and now we’d taken over their home with piles of junk only yachting wives can put up with. Fellow Aussies, they’d already been run ragged clearing items through customs, arranging a berth at the yacht club and many other time-consuming errands. Their experience proved invaluable.

A bill of lading snug in my pocket was the only tangible link with my pride and joy, due in at 0700 in her cradle astride the main cargo hatch of the freighter Alondra. The task was to board, find the captain and convince him that it was my yacht he had. Six of us crammed in a Mini raced down Connaught Road zigzagging and taking short cuts down alleyways, all the while hoping we’d find a workboat at this time on a Sunday morning to take us out to the Alondra before unloading began. At dawn we’d seen her leaving the quarrantine buoy. If we weren’t on board soon after she arrived, our precious cargo would be lifted from over the main hatch and lowered to a lighter alongside - a disaster since lighterage could run to over $1000 a day.

With a minimum of decorum we roused the driver of a rickety sampan and our friend Kevin bargained a fair price for the trip. After what seemed like an age we closed the Alondra, a black and dirty monolith with an equally grubby lighter alongside. There was activity on the deck of the ship high above us, where the yacht could be seen sparkling white and out of place amongst all the rust and grease. There was no time to lose. With a series of death defying leaps from the sampan to the ship’s ladder, six Aussie sailors bounded onto the scene waving papers.
“Hold everything, we want that yacht in the water, not on that barge down there! The workmen continued to pass the slings under the cradle as the deck officer looked at us impassively, in the same way my bank manager does when I ask him for a loan.
“Oh my God, he doesn’t speak English.” A pause, and then the deck of a Panamanian cargo ship was transformed into a frantic theatre of mime. I don’t know what he was laughing at, but a few moments later the yacht was ours.

But talk about close! We scrambled up the cradle and on to the yacht as the slings were taking the strain. Even covered in ply and striped plastic she looked beautiful. The mast was moved to one side to expose the steering pedestal and free the main hatch. With a pounding heart, I climbed below for my first look at our home for the next six years. It was paradise. Everything smelled new: stainless steel, shining bronze and the soft sheen of oiled teak and elegant upholstery.

Rudely, my world lurched sideways. We were being hoisted from the Alondra towards our launching and a most unpretentious christening. Remembering my prime task, I grabbed the steering wheel, relieved to find the shaft key taped to one spoke, and rushed on deck praying it would fit. High in the air, we were swinging out past the lighter for our descent.
While I was fumbling with the wheel, Kevin was searching for the ignition key while the others were securing the cradle to prevent it disappearing into the murky depths. With indecent haste the yacht splashed into the water and was named Dulcinea while ship’s hands released the slings and rode them back up.

We were free, but dangerously close to the side of the freighter. The engine started on the second attempt and with all gauges normal the gear was eased forward. For the first time in her life Dulcinea propelled herself through the water - but alas, backwards into the Alondra! Much fending off and cursing of the builder ensued. Always quick with puzzles, I put the lever in reverse and we motored forward and away - for 100 thrilling meters - until the oil alarm sounded. There was less than half the required oil in the sump. Even less complimentary remarks in favor of the builder, as we bobbed engineless in Hong Kong harbor. What a beginning to a glorious cruising career!

Our sampan driver, standing some distance off, was no innocent bystander but a businessman who could sense a good deal in the making. He motored over and made his too-good-to-refuse offer of a tow back to the yacht club. Kevin’s reply was brief and the driver motored off in disgust.
“He’ll be back,” said Kevin, and with a confidence borne of long experience he stretched himself out on the deck to enjoy the morning sun. And he did come back too, this time ready to negotiate a more reasonable sum. It was a slow journey and ignominiously towed with cradle attached, we eventually arrived some hours later at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club where work for the journey home began in earnest.

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