10:00 PM local time Saturday, September 1st. (1100 September 1st UTC) 17
40 S 168 18 E. Temp. 79, Humidity 63%, cloud cover 20%. On a mooring
at Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu.
The other day we were remarking that even though we are now not as
far away from Asia as we are from the US, we seem to never see anyone
from Japan or China out cruising. Soon after that we were sitting at the
local yachtie watering hole and an Asian couple came in from the dinghy
dock. We waved and asked them what boat they were on. They said they
were from Balmette and Ship's Sinologist, Terry "the Asian liaison"
Shrode and the Captain instantly understood from their accent that they
were not Australians of Chinese descent, which wouldn't be so uncommon.
They were Chinese.
The man told me his name was Wei and introduced his wife, Jane.
Their full names are Zhang Wei and Gu Xiu Zhen, which she shortens to
"Jane" so we unilingual westerners can pronounce it. Also aboard
Balmette is their 14-year-old daughter, Zhang Shan Shan. I asked him
where he was from and he said "Peking" (he called it "Peking," not
"Beijing"). "THE Peking?" Yep, that's where he's from.
Wei and Jane were in Fiji where he was working and one day he
sailed a Hobie Cat and decided on the basis of that experience alone
that he would get a boat and sail with his family around the world. He
bought a French steel centerboard sloop and worked to get it ready to
cruise for a year. In May of 2000 they set sail for Vanuatu without VHF,
depthsounder, or self-steering. They hit the reef on the way out of
Fiji, but "not too hard." Wei said before he launched his boat, that day
on the Hobie Cat was his entire sailing resume.
The Captain, who is quite skilled in the area of Far East
diplomacy, was forming a response to Wei's story as he listened, here
quoted word for word so that those at home can appreciate its subtle
nuances. "You've got no brains!!" There was a slight pause, then Wei
laughed, and nuclear war was averted. It's not so hard to get Wei to
Wei is still having trouble registering his boat in China. He
claims he finally had to write the "president" (that's the word he
used…is there a president in China?) and supposedly they're going to
register the boat, though the government of China is having to create
the procedure for him. "It's never been done for a private yacht
before," is what he said, and as hard as that is to believe, if Wei said
it it's true. So his boat registration alone makes him one in a billion.
As a result of his lack of proper paperwork, Australia would not let him
in, but New Zealand would; so he spent the last hurricane season there.
On the way to Port Vila six weeks ago, his boat suffered a knockdown in
thirty-foot seas. The battery hit the roof, everyone was thrown around,
a lot of gear was ripped off the deck, and Wei and Zhang Shan Shan were
injured. Wei just wiped the blood off and put the battery back. He now
has a wind vane and a VHF radio, but no HF communications, no fax, and
not a lot of other things either, except guts and his own good nature
and that of Jane and Zhang Shan Shan.
The Maverick boys stand somewhat in awe of Wei and his crew. We so
heartily wish them the best that we are going to do something we would
ordinarily never dare do and that is mention that they need money to
complete their voyage. You'd never be able to resist trying to help
these guys, either, were you to meet them. (I should mention it was the
Captain who raised the issue of help, not them.) Mind you, I have no
doubt whatsoever that Wei will get the job done no matter what he has to
do to do it. But they lack what we would consider essential safety gear,
like an EPIRB, long distance radio communications, and a life raft. I'm
not asking for contributions from any of our readers, but rather, it
seems to me that his story may be of interest to Chinese Americans,
sailors or not. If anyone out there knows someone from this or any other
demographic group whose corporate interests might be extended to include
the sponsorship of the voyage of a unique and endearing (and by the way,
very photogenic) family, the Captain can put you in touch. You'll hear
more about these people as time goes on but you heard it here first.
Our stay in Vanuatu must needs be brief, and we'll depart
tomorrow. We lingered too long in Fiji and as a result (with apologies
to Hank) we're going to have to skip the Solomons and go directly to
Australia. The next leg is the longest passage since the trip down here,
about 2400 miles, and it takes us through the Great Barrier Reef and the
infamous Torres Strait. This will involve weaving our way through an
intricate maze of passes and will also have the added danger of being
full of large and small ship traffic. It's a challenge the Captain and
Navigator Terry Shrode have been looking forward to.