Trip Reports

Where There's a Will There's a Wei (01-Sep-2001-22-00):
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 laugh.

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.

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