4263 nautical miles (= 7895 km) and 18 different ports later…

It is with a lot of relief that we can reveal that we finally found a semi-decent weather window to sail from Taiwan to Hong Kong, and safely arrived back in Hong Kong on Monday. The weather was rather vicious at the start of our last leg, with waves over 3 metres, and although it was forecast to calm down a few hours after we departed, those conditions actually lasted for the first 26 hours of our journey. At one point, we had closed off the windward side of the cockpit with a canvas curtain to keep the cockpit dry, but the unsuspecting Mr Finn got a soaking on the leeward side of the boat when a large wave crashed over the cockpit roof and poured down on him; it scared the living daylights out of me and Lil Sis sitting on the windward side too, but at least we stayed mostly dry. We made fantastic progress though, and our average speed for the whole journey was around 7 knots (fantastic for a heavy displacement steel boat), most of the speed being gained during the first 26 hours when we were at best doing close to 9 knots. We were really pleased to see that we would be arriving in Hong Kong much sooner than we had calculated, because we knew that there was bad weather forecast also for the end of the leg.

Our emotions right now, sitting once again in our own berth in Hong Kong, are indescribable. We are feeling a huge mix of feelings, so the only definite thing that can really be said is that the emotions are high! It is definitely bitter-sweet to be back: on the one hand, we are super-elated that we made it back to Hong Kong and concluded a sailing trip that has in many ways been years in the making. On the other hand, we naturally also would not want to see the trip end. There is a tiny feeling of purposelessness, and I think it will take us weeks to stop looking at wind and wave forecasts. There is also a huge feeling of gratitude for so many things; the fact that we safely made all those passages, that we have had the opportunity to do this as a family unit, that we have learnt so many new things about sailing, other ways of life and last but not least about ourselves, and also that we have met so many kind and friendly people along the way that it feels like our worldview has been changed for the better during these months away.

People have been asking us to talk about the practicalities of extended sailing (thus my most recent post about nighttime sailing) and there would for sure be many topics to cover such as health precautions, crew safety at sea, storm preparation, communications, and even just going through the everyday challenges of living on a boat (e.g. have you ever thought about the fact that we can’t flush down toilet paper, or what cooking is like when the boat is rolling from side to side…?). I may or may not still continue to write about some of these aspects of our journey – to be honest, I don’t know right now if I will have the time to write, and it may even feel too nostalgic to do so since our adventure has now come to an end.

In any case, to those still out there fulfilling their sailing dream, the Floating Finns wish fair winds and following seas. To all those dreaming of sailing – or dreaming of anything out of the ordinary really – we say go for it! We only have one life, so if you have a dream, what better time to fulfill it than now? This often used quote, attributed to Mark Twain, sums it up much better than I ever could and it is relevant not only to sailors but, metaphorically, to all of us:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.”

To maximise the daylight and the weather window, we left Kaohsiung at 5.30 am when it was still dark.
After two nights at sea, we were finally able to hoist the Hong Kong flag.
Floating Finns want to thank all blog readers for your interest…
…and we hope that you have many calm sunsets doing things that bring you joy, excitement and inner peace!

Nighttime sailing

We have done an awful lot of nighttime sailing during this year, and will be doing 2-3 nights more on the last stretch to Hong Kong. In fact, most of the legs have required at least one night at sea.

Sailing during the night is a completely different experience than sailing during the day. Nighttime sailing has a beautiful, touching side to it, but it can also be a frightening experience to sail in the dark, particularly during days when the moon isn’t shining down on you and you are in waters that you are unfamiliar with (like us pretty much all the time this year) or the seas are rough or confused and the wind keeps changing.

Despite the beautiful sunsets, I personally really dislike the time around dusk. The colour of the sea always changes to a darker blue, eventually turning to black, and clouds that you didn’t even notice earlier start to look darker and more threatening. Your senses become heightened and you start to notice things that you did not notice before, such as odd noises from the rigging, or the irregular pattern of the waves. Most of all, it is the simple fact that you know that you have 12 hours of darkness in front of you, and that everything you do becomes more difficult and riskier during those 12 hours, that really builds up the apprehension during those evening moments.

Even though I dislike the time around dusk, I am able to appreciate the majesty of the night once I have grown used to the darkness. There are millions of stars to admire, and you can count the shooting stars every few minutes until you get tired of flexing your neck. Mr Finn’s personal record is 27 shooting stars during one night watch. Not only do you have stars up in the sky, but there are also “stars” in the ocean; the bioluminescence of plankton in our boat wake looks like a moving, bright starry sky also in the water. The sound of the boat (which you notice much better in the dark than during the day) making its way through the waves is better than any piece of music. At the best of times, you can also hear and just about make out the silhouettes of dolphins jumping in the waves made by the boat. When far from land, and alone on watch, you are hit by the serene realisation that you are just a tiny piece in the enormous puzzle that is the universe, and it is a very deep and beautiful sensation that is hard to find while on land.

As for practicalities, it is the time around dusk when a flurry of nighttime activities takes place. To minimise the need to move around when it is dark, we try to do everything possible during those last moments of light. We cook dinner right before it becomes dark. We rig the sails for whatever we think the nighttime weather is bringing with it (although fine-tuning the sails is something that we cannot escape during the night either), we make sure there is hot water in our thermos flask for the night, we send our emergency contacts information about our position, we read the newest Navtex messages, and so on.

We normally all hang around in the cockpit for an hour or two after sunset, and then Lil Sis goes to bed, and often so do I. Unless the sea is particularly rough or the wind very strong, Big Sis mostly goes on watch at this time, meaning that she sits at the wheel in the cockpit and is in charge of making sure that we do not collide with anything or anyone, and also has responsibility for making sure that we stay on course. Even though we have been to areas where there is significant shipping activity, she has handled it really well, as she has nerves of steel (much more so than me!) and a very logical approach to avoiding collisions. Mr Finn attempts to sleep at this time – if the weather is tricky, he might be catnapping in the cockpit, but mostly Big Sis let’s him sleep down below. When Big Sis gets tired around midnight (although she is known to have been on watch until 2 am), it is Mr Finn’s turn to be on watch. He stays in the cockpit normally until around 3.30 am, and then it is my turn to take the early morning watch basically until nature wakes up everyone else.

Even though we may dread them at times (particularly if we are already tired!), I know that we will all miss our nighttime watches once this year is over. We will try to really enjoy the last nights over to Hong Kong, and make sure that the feelings stirred up by those nights at sea are properly engrained in our memories.

Sunsets are often truly beautiful at sea, but they also mean that 10-12 hours of darkness lies ahead.
Mrs Finn is most often the lucky one to witness the sunrise. Now that is a lovely sight!
A lot of activity takes place while the rest of the world is sleeping. Here Big Sis is noting our position and checking our course. A red light is used as it doesn’t kill one’s night vision.


Small boat in big Kaohsiung

We arrived in Kaohsiung just before sunset on Sunday. As mentioned in the previous post, Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s second largest city, so a nice change from Kenting and Hualien which were rather small. Kaohsiung is also Taiwan’s largest port, and as we chose to enter the port from its south entrance, we were able to sail (or motor in this case) through a fascinating, narrow port “corridor” lined with cargo ships and massive cranes, many of which were in the process of lifting cargo containers onto the ships. It looked like one big game of lego with the crane operators carefully putting colourful lego bricks into place.

It soon became clear that sailboats are a rather rare sight in Kaohsiung, and foreign boats even more so. Cargo ship crews along the port corridor stopped what they were doing in order to wave at us, and some even yelled “hello” to us in English. Most often we are just ignored by cargo ship crews, so this was rather a pleasant surprise and for an hour, we almost felt like marine royalty!

We had hailed the port authority on our VHF radio before entering the port. Here, as opposed to much smaller Hualien port, radio traffic was constant and the port radio operators were extremely professional. We could hear them telling other ships to mind our little sailboat, and for the first time ever, we had very clear instructions as to when and how to enter the port. This was slightly intimidating (even though we’ve been in contact with port authorities in many places, we’ve mostly been able to sneak into port as we have seen fit ourselves), but at the same time very reassuring.

A cargo vessel had to pass us in the port corridor, and it became quite a show (for our safety, I am sure) despite the fact that there was enough room to overtake us all along. First the vessel itself blew its horn, which made a massive sound. Then the port authority hailed us on the radio to let us know that the vessel would be passing to port (meaning to the left). A few seconds later, the pilot on board the vessel also hailed us to let us know that they would be overtaking us. And finally, when the vessel was overtaking us, the pilot, and a person who we assume to be the captain of the vessel, emerged in an outside area with their binoculars directed at us. When they saw that we were looking at them, they waved at us and then re-entered the bridge.

We are currently berthed in a very central location in a new marina (actually, it is so new that it is still under development so there are still bits and pieces that are not working). We have water and electricity, which is great. The marina staff are really friendly, and doing their best to make up for the fact that the marina fees are rather high despite the marina still being work in progress.

We have done quite a bit of walking around the city itself, and admired the fantastic views over the harbour and the rest of the city from the 85 Sky Tower, Taiwan’s second largest building. We’ve also visited the hustle and bustle of a local night market, which we found to be bursting with people enjoying their evening food in a social setting even on a Tuesday night. We are quite enjoying our time in Kaohsiung; this is a well-kept place with lots to do and see.

The one thing that we do not like about Kaohsiung, however, is the level of pollution. Already 1,5 hours after our departure  from Kenting (on an 11-hour journey), we noticed that it was completely foggy in the direction that we were going. We couldn’t see ships that we knew were just a nautical mile away. Soon thereafter, the smell hit us and we realised that the “fog” was actually “smog”. A Kenting sailor had mentioned that it was always polluted on the west coast, but we hadn’t given it much thought as the skies were always clear in Kenting. In Kaohsiung city, we have now seen some people wear pollution masks on the most polluted days, so it seems that they are as used to pollution as people living in Chinese cities like Beijing. Such a shame as this would otherwise be a very nice city.

Port “corridor” from the Kaohsiung south entrance.
Evening view from our deck in Kaohsiung marina.
View from 85 Sky Tower over the city and the port.
Kaohsiung Liuhe night market.
Fancier fare at the night market in the form of lobster.
You can even get a tattoo at the night market…

Kenting area

We have been in Kenting in southern Taiwan for 1,5 weeks now. It was an overnight sail to get here from Hualien – one of rather few coastal legs that we have done this year. It was the time of the month when there was no moon at all, but we had the collective bright light from Taiwanese cities lighting up the skies above the island, and also enjoyed watching building and street lights on the coast while sailing past, so the night did not feel particularly dark at all. We also had a visit from a few dolphins who were jumping around our boat in the semi-darkness, trying to catch fish in our wake. One such fish, jumping for its life, scared me half to death when it almost landed on me while I was on night watch.

The seas were rough when we left Hualien, but fortunately calmed down towards the night so that we all could enjoy some sleep (taking turns, of course – we never let the boat go without someone up in the cockpit). Aside from the roughness of the seas around Taiwan, the Taiwanese themselves are not making it easy to sail around their island. There is an astonishing amount of fire practices and bombing taking place along the coast. We have had to carefully time both our passage from Ishigaki to Hualien and our passage from Hualien to Kenting to make sure that we do not end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is not easy for a slow boat like ours, as it can take 7 or 8 hours to cross some of the practice areas, and the practices themselves can take place for hours each day. It is far too easy to end up in the middle of those army practices, so sailing here has become a huge puzzle where the pieces that one must fit together are not only wind strength and angle, wave height and period, tidal current, the Pacific Ocean swell, the direction and speed of the very strong Kuroshio current but also constant fire practices blocking half of the coast at times. We still have one large puzzle to piece together in the form of our journey to Hong Kong.

Here in Kenting, we are in an actual marina (meaning floating finger piers) that belongs to the Kenting National Park, and we even have access to water and electricity (yes, they have 220 V here too, despite Taiwan being a 110 V country). We also have some really nice live-in neighbours here – people who have been cruising around on their sailboats for several years already, and whose stories about different countries and sailing conditions it has been fascinating to listen to. Together with a couple of friendly local sailors, they have been providing us with helpful information about the surrounding area too.

If it weren’t for the fact that we are getting desperate to see a weather window to Hong Kong, we would probably enjoy this place very much. The beaches here are beautiful, with white sand, and swell coming in from the Pacific Ocean. No wonder it is a haven for surfers and beachgoers alike, and there are hundreds of thousands of tourists coming to Kenting every year (we have seen quite a few Westerners as well). There is a lively night market every day in Kenting town too, and there are some nice restaurants along the main street. The only problem is that there are no supermarkets in town, only 7/11 stores and the like. For groceries, we have taken the bus to Hengchun, which is a bigger town. Even there, supermarkets are not particularly well stocked, and we have found ourselves lacking some (for us) everyday food items. Hengchun was at one time surrounded by a city wall, and even now part of the wall remains, as well as four city gates that once were the only entrance points to the city. These give the town a nice character, and meandering around the back streets of the city has been quite a nice way to kill some time. Without exception, people around this area have been very friendly and helpful – we have been driven to town by locals, and have even received surprise snacks and drinks from local vendors while sitting by the beach.

Our eyes are now glued to the weather forecasts (and, at the same time, to those fire practice areas and dates). Since we have not been able to leave yet, we are now planning to sail up the west coast to Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second biggest city. This will provide us with a diversion from “weather madness” in the form of a large city to explore, and we’ll also be able to stock up on those missing food items in preparation for the journey to Hong Kong. Most of all, sailing to Hong Kong from Kaohsiung rather than Kenting should give us a slightly better wind and wave angle, and it will also shorten the trip by some 5-6 hours (which may mean that the journey is cut by half a dark night!). By now, we’ll take anything that might help us find that suitable weather window to Hong Kong…

These are all separate Navtex warnings about Taiwanese fire practices. At times, they have blocked virtually the whole east coast!
Rocking and rolling from Hualien to Kenting, but at least we had a rainbow to admire!
Houbihu marina in Kenting.
One of the lovely beaches in Kenting.
More beautiful beach!
Kenting night market. Food stalls, souvenirs, clothes, all along the main road.
One of the four old city gates in Hengchun.