June 2014 China visit – Intro to Seahorse Marine

Just returned from a month at the shipyard, which will (hopefully) be the last visit before actually taking delivery of my boat. For those of you reading this, who don’t know, the visits to the shipyard are a key component of Duck ownership. You will obtain valuable information by watching your boat being built and by getting to know the people building it. Seahorse Marine has a business model that builds a boat with similar quality as the top trawlers on the market today i.e. Selene, Nordhavn or Kady Krogen but is able to sell them at approximately half the price. One of the ways they do this is by having no expensive USA overhead. They do everything including commissioning at the shipyard. The vast majority of the owners take delivery there and save the $80,000+ shipping cost too. There are no salesman and Bill, the owner of Seahorse, handles most everything himself. Bill, an American and his Chinese family own and operate the shipyard. After taking delivery, most owners head to Hong Kong which is about a one day boat trip away. Bill has warranty people there who will take care of any issues. Most owners spend a least a month there working the bugs out of their new boat, experiencing everything Hong Kong has to offer, before making the 3-4 day passage to the Subic Bay Yacht club in the Philippines. Seahorse also has warranty contacts there just in case any issues pop up.

China Visa

The first thing you will need to do is get a China Visa. There are three different types so be sure and get the correct one. They all run about $140 which includes a rush charge meaning you will get it in three working days. There is a single entry, fixed amount of entries or multi entry valid for up to a year. Get the multi entry. There is a good chance you are going to want to visit Macau or Hong Kong if you stay at the shipyard for any length of time going back and forth. Remember that Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau are technically three different countries with their own customs and immigration departments. Meaning you will have the long lines, questions and inspections with each entry. Also, you might want to visit the shipyard twice or more within one year. Getting the visa at the consulate/embassy in person in Los Angeles is a real pain with long lines. There are many dated visa application forms floating around on the web so be sure and get the most recent one. You do not want to get rejected and have to start the procedure all over again. The application form requires an invitation letter (provided by Stella, Bill’s wife) and a passport photo.

Getting There

The first time you go to the shipyard can be intimidating and frustrating. The nearest international airport is in Hong Kong. From Hong Kong it is a 1-1.5 hour high speed catamaran ferry ride into Mainland China. There are three ferry terminals in Hong Kong. One is at the airport, another in Kowloon (aka The China Ferry Terminal) and another in Central (aka Hong Kong/Macau Ferry Terminal). The shipyard is located in Doumen (Dou Men) near the much larger city of Zhuhai (Zhu Hai). During the day there are many ferries almost every hour to and from Zhuhai. There is only a once a day ferry in the morning to Doumen from Hong Kong. The problem is that the ferry terminal in Zhuhai is an 1-1.5 hour car ride from the shipyard depending on traffic and road construction which is very bad. You will have to make your own way there. You are in a part of China that is FAR off the tourist track. Hardly anyone speaks English. The bus would be too hard to try and take during your first visit. You will hand a piece of paper to the taxi driver with the address of the shipyard written in Chinese hoping he does not rip you off. The fare should be $20-$25. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that on your first trip you take the Doumen ferry. The ferry terminal is only 15 minutes from the shipyard and they will send someone to pick you up. Much more convenient. But, this means that you will end up having to spend the night in Hong Kong and then take the once a day morning ferry. The airport is located on the outskirts of Hong Kong about 12 miles away. A taxi is very expensive to get into the city. Hong Kong has excellent public transportation. Use the Bank of China ATM at the airport which disperses both Hong Kong Dollars and Chinese RMB to get some cash. Use the Airport Express Subway to get from the airport into Hong Kong. Buy a one time ticket or buy an Octopus card. Definitely buy the card if you plan to do some sightseeing in Hong Kong. The Airport Express Subway has three stops. One of which is Kowloon. I usually book a room at the Royal Pacific Hotel which is located directly above the China Ferry Terminal in Kowloon where the once a day Doumen ferry leaves from. With advance purchase a room will run $150. From the Airport Express Kowloon station take a taxi the short distance to the hotel. Get up in the morning, walk downstairs and board the ferry. Very convenient. There are many ticket windows at the terminal. Go to the Chu Kong window and buy your ticket. Verify the ticket destination, the people who work there do not speak very good English. I usually buy my ticket when the windows open (6:30am) or the night before because on a busy weekend or holiday it can fill up. You will be the only non Chinese on the ferry. Be prepared for extra scrutiny at the Immigration counter in Doumen. The State Security lady thinks if she shouts at you in her bad English you will understand better. Just smile!

Once you get there

Like I said, Doumen is VERY far off the beaten tourist track. The shipyard will book you a hotel room which runs about $25 a night within walking distance. I am not particular but the hotel is for traveling Chinese businessmen on a budget. It could be considered “rough”. You can stay at a much nicer hotel in Zhuhai but traveling the hour a day back and forth is a pain. If I am staying in China for an extended period of time I will rent an a fully serviced apartment in Zhuhai. There is nightlife and a decent sized expat community there and deal with the hour bus ride every day. Small town Doumen will get very old after a week or so.

The only two restaurants you will recognize in Doumen are the KFC and McDonalds. You will not recognize most of the items on the menu. Since hardly anyone speaks English they will hand you a laminated card with pictures of all of the menu items and you point to what you want. These restaurants are expensive for the average Chinese worker. Notice that the restaurants are full but no one is eating. They are there for the free WIFI. Also notice that every family only has one child. To me, it looks like 7 out of every 10 children are boys. Eating out is difficult because nothing is written in English and few people speak it. The Dim Sum is excellent. It originated in this part of China.

The shipyard is located along the Pearl River. The economic expansion has happened so quickly that pollution regulation has not kept up. Breathing the air reminds me of Los Angeles in the 70s with the smog alerts. The river is brown, the skies and buildings are grey.

At the shipyard you will unexpectedly find one of the largest pre war collections of Lionel trains in the world. Bill, the owner of Seahorse, has been collecting since he was a kid and has a large museum. 

View of the shipyard

The picture above is of the dock at the shipyard.

View from my apartment

The picture above is the view from my apartment in Zhuhai.

Some of the above might sound negative. I really enjoy visiting the shipyard. Meeting new people, trying to learn the langauge and culture is really fun. It is definitely an adventure. And the best part is that you get the intimate knowledge of your boat that can only be obtained by watching it come together piece by piece and stage by stage.