South China Crossing report

It has been awhile since my last update. My South China Sea crossing from Hong Kong took place in April. This area of the world has two distinct seasons. The SW Monsoon which brings day after day of rain squalls with strong winds and lightning and the NE Monsoon which is MUCH drier and is the best time to cruise. The NE Monsoon is usually from January to April. There can still be some very strong winds but eliminating the constant threat of lightning makes life much better especially when you are the only boat in anchorage and have that tall mast. One of the great things about Diesel Ducks (DDs) is that with a steel boat and an aluminum mast that is grounded to the hull through the compression post, rigging and chain plates, you will be much better off in a lightning strike than a fiberglass boat. I will disconnect my electroncis and stick my Iridium Sat Phone and laptop with GPS and charting software in the microwave (Faraday cage) just in case.
The ideal time to make this crossing is as one monsoon season is ending and the other has not begun yet. There is usually about a month or so lull in the weather between the monsoons. This equates to no more than 15 knots of wind, small swells and glassy seas. My timing was perfect especially considering that I had a relatively new boat and was still working out the commissioning issues so I wanted things as lightly stressed as possible. I decided not to singlehand. Having not been on a significant voyage in some time, I was now six years older and my maiden voyage would not be a good time to see what my new limitations were. I was accompanied by one person who had just taken delivery of his 542 Duck, and a friend of a guy currently building a custom 462 sedan at Seahorse. Neither had any significant boating experience. I figured that if they were smart enough to monitor the radar and AIS system and able to stay awake for a couple of hours so I could at least get a couple of hours sleep then that would be good enough. I learned a valuable lesson. I met one of the guys a day before the trip, talked to him for a couple of hours and then invited him along. A couple of days into the trip and hundreds of miles offshore while making an engine room check I discovered that someone had turned off the main engine room exhaust fan. The engine room temp was at 130 degrees F. That is the danger temp for the electronics controlling the engine and most of the machinery located there. The engine room exhaust fan exhausts into the outdoor cockpit area behind the pilothouse. This is a great place to sleep on hot and humid days. One of my crew who decided to sleep there had turned off the exhaust fan because it is noisy and blowing hot air, not knowing the damage it would do. He lied about turning it off. Later, while I was on watch he flipped the switch again. This time he switched it from exhaust mode into intake mode thinking it would not be a problem. The valuable lesson I learned was that it would be better to singlehand then to have someone who through lack of intelligence or thinking they know everything might endanger both the boat and myself. Anyone coming on board the boat in the future would be much better vetted.
Besides the experience with the brainless crew member the trip was great. Perfect weather. We caught a couple of fish for some great meals. The sea was smooth that we were able to stop the boat on multiple occassions and go swimming. One of my favorite things to do while cruising is to float around the boat in the middle of the ocean 100s of mile from shore with mask and snorkel. After about 15 minutes small sea life starts to approach. Then, larger sea life starts to approach. As soon as anything big and hungry shows up then it is time for me to board the boat again and be on my way. It is specatular to just float in the body temperature water and stare down into the blue. Usually the visibility is 100s of feet.
The boat’s performance exceeded my expectations. This might get a little technical but I was burning 1.5 gallons per hour at 6-7 knots. That equates to about 8000 mile range using the 2000 gallons of fuel I have on board. The seas were pretty calm and there was no much wind. I did not use any form of stabilization like my paravanes or sails and the boat was rock solid. Very comfortable. The 4 cylinder John Deere electronically controlled engine is extremely quiet. I have a control panel that shows me everything the engine is doing. Exhaust gas temperature, coolant temp and oil temp were all within the perfect ranges. Diesel engines like to have a fairly heavy load on them. So the trip is to load them properly but burn as little fuel as possible. This is where a finely tuned prop comes in. My boat has the fully feathering five blade Whisper prop. It’s pitch is adjustable in the water with a special tool. Seahorse was able to dial in the pitch just perfectly so my engine is loaded just enough burning as little fuel as it can. There was nothing like sitting in the comfortable Stidd helm chair on the flybridge with a good book or listening to the stereo and watch the ocean go by. The countries around the S. China Sea are all involved in territorial disputes. Everyone is trying to assert their claim. It was a very busy trip across and I glad I had the extra sets of eyes. There are many oil platforms out in the middle of no where, many many fishing boats and war ships from various countries. On top of all this there are the dreaded FADs. Fish attraction devices! These are usually black 55 gallon drums (impossible to see at night and difficult during the day) with something hanging below them that will attract fish and also take out your prop. They are usually floating around in areas the depths exceed 1000s of feet. The only thing you can do is shine your search light every so often and pray you do not hit one.
I had a couple of commissioning type of issues like dirt in the fuel tanks clogging filters and some of my electronics not working properly but that is to be expected with a new boat.
The bottom line is that the George Buehler design performs excellent with regards to sea keeping and efficiency. And from Seahorse Marine I got what I paid for. There are many issues that will take time and money to sort out but in the end I will have a great boat. The boat costs 1/2 of what a similar sized Nordhavn, Selene or Krogen so my expectations must be in align with that.