The name is a reference to the sensory deprivation experience of chilling out in a floatation tank — Gary, the owner, being interested in such things. I get the parallel but it isn't quite my motivation for sailing.
I've volunteered to help Gary deliver his new boat from Hong Kong, where he bought it, to somewhere around Singapore. Originally called 'The Island' it's a ten year old Lagoon 380 catamaran. It's a nice boat, but with the usual catalog of items needing attention, from toilets, to electronics, and missing 'must have' things such as satellite comms and watermaker. The brief is to help prepare the boat for the delivery trip and then sail it to Singapore.
Getting to Hong Kong from Bali is the first problem. Super Typhoon Mangkhut threatens to blow the place away even before I get there. I'm booked on a flight the day after the typhoon is due to pass by Hong Kong. The flight is delayed so I spend ten hours experiencing my own version of sensory deprivation in the transit area of Don Mueang International Airport Bangkok, waiting for the connecting flight to connect. To my surprise, the flight leaves right on its new time.
We are one of the first flights into Hong Kong after the typhoon and there are no departing flights yet, so the couple of hundred people on my flight are the only passengers in the huge airport. I am through customs and immigration in a flash and following directions to catch the MTR (train) to Central. Pay with a credit card, I'm told, or change some currency at the airport. I forget to change currency, so it's credit card. No problem. Now a cab to ABC — Aberdeen Boat Club — where Lesley will meet me. I take a seat at a table on the balcony outside to wait for her.
We head for Simpsons Dock where Deep Chill is moored and I meet the crew. Gary the owner and Anna, the crew. Warm greetings all round. I have not met Gary before but I have met Anna once before in Australia.
Lesley wants to get out on the water and sail the boat, which hasn't really been possible before because of weather and boat maintenance issues. I concur, but there is still plenty of maintenance to do. New solar panels and controllers are still being installed by Ryan, the electrician; the Iridium Go satellite system has arrived but is yet to be installed; the watermaker is yet to be commissioned; there are some rigging issues to address; and so on.
Somehow, we manage to leave in the afternoon of September 28th. I am the only experienced person aboard; Lesley decided that morning not to come. The weather forecast is perfect for our planned route via Nha Trang, Vietnam. I'm figuring that Anna and I can sail the boat. If Gary can stand a watch or two then that is going to be a bonus. This afternoon is just a simple motor trip to Turtle Bay on Lamma Island where we anchor overnight. The mood is light and positive.
Next day we're up at dawn and make our way out of the bay. We set the mainsail in extremely light wind at the entrance to the bay and take advantage of the light air to walk slowly through the procedure. I emphasize that all sail work will be down to me. For the first day or two they are not to trim sails or change anything — just call me if there is any concern.
We're off! Anna sets a trolling lure despite me explaining that we are never going to catch anything. Gary looks a bit green already but is putting on a brave face and is willing to stand watches.
The breeze gradually fills in to the point where we turn off the motor and we're sailing — forever a moment of pure magic.
Hong Kong to Nha Trang
The breeze builds as we move south towards Vietnam, threading our way through the outlying islands of Hong Kong and the thousands of fishing boats in our path. Keeping watch is a stressful process of monitoring the twenty or so boats around us at any one time, figuring out which ones are on a collision course and making small course changes to avoid them. I show Anna and Gary the basics — how to use the AIS and radar to visualize another boat's course — but I am worried. There are too many boats and while most have AIS and appear on our screen, quite a few do not. What's worse, they are wooden boats and don't show up on radar either. At night we rely soley on seeing their lights. Its a waning moon for just a few hours in the early morning, so the rest of the night is just black.
Having identified a boat the next problem is figuring out which way it is moving, and then whether it's on a collision course with us or not. If it's on AIS then the chart plotter calculates CPA (Closest Point of Approach); if it's on radar then we can track it with MARPA, but that's a bit complex and I don't encourage them to do it but to call me instead.
I get little sleep the first night. Gary and Anna stand 4 hour watches each with me on call. I spend most of the time imparting what knowledge and skill I can and hoping their intelligence and desire for self-preservation will make up for their lack of experience.
We get through the first night without incident by taking down all sail and motoring, though we've still got the wind as forecast, and it hurts to waste it. In the morning I set sails again and we're flying along comfortably at 7 knots. Day watches are easier and less stressful so I take the opportunity to get some sleep between calls. Gary is looking less comfortable with every notch up in wind and waves. The great sailing conditions are forecast to last several days and I've every intention to make the most of it, especially during the daylight hours.
"What's that flashing on the end of your fishing line?" says Gary late in the morning. Anna and I look and sure enough there's something amazing on the hook. It's flashing incredible colors and it's fairly big! We reel it in and it's a Mahi Mahi (also known as a dolphin fish, though it's not a mammal). The colors are mesmerising — its flanks glow as it rapidly changes color from orange to green and back. One of the most prized catches in all the seas, this is the first one I've ever caught. We will eat well for the next few days. In addition, I have to eat my words about not catching anything!
Nights are stressful not just because we can't see but because of the squalls and lightning. Fortunately, the squalls have no wind in them, just cloud and rain. I am pleasantly surprised at how constant the wind is. Each squall brings small changes in wind direction and a few mild gusts and lulls, but nothing more. The lightning is everywhere but we take no hits and while the occasional peal of thunder indicates a closer strike it is mostly just an intermittent background lightshow.
On the second night I leave the mainsail set with two reefs. We now have 15 knots of wind and it's enough to push us along at 5 knots or so. I stand a watch and then actually snatch some sleep during my off-watches. Again, I set more sail with the morning sun and we romp along at 8 knots.
Our confidence is growing slightly. Everyone is now quite good at anticipating and dodging the fishing boats, cargo ships and tankers. The traffic is constant, day and night. Whoever is on watch now does whatever it takes to sail a safe course, mostly without reference to me. I simply set some parameters for them, provide a course heading, tell them to watch the wind direction so they don't gybe, and they manage the boat capably. Only Gary hasn't found his sea legs. The rings under his eyes show his lack of sleep and I ask Anna if she can share a night with me in an effort to let Gary rest, but Gary insists on standing watch.
The third night is more of the same. We sail with a bit more sail (some headsail as well as double-reefed main) and the wind is slightly stronger so we go fast. There is also less traffic to watch out for as we are in deeper water further from land and there are fewer fishing boats. My watch is boring, nothing to do. Then it's Gary's watch but we can't raise him — so I let him sleep and stand another watch.
Bigger seas and the wind is now 20 knots with gusts touching 30 or so. There is a bit of slapping and slamming as waves come up under the bridge, but Deep Chill feels solid and stable in the conditions. The autohelm is mostly reliable, easily capable of guiding the boat downwind and we never have to steer manually. I take the helm occasionally, just to get a feel for the way the boat handles.
Gary is trying valiantly. He can do a daylight watch but the night watches are beyond him. Not being able to see the horizon at night is quite disorienting when you're seasick.
Nha Trang, Vietnam
Dawn slowly penetrates the cloud and misty rain on October 4th as we make our way into Nha Trang Bay. It's hard to see, but the island offshore is vaguely visible as a mass on our port side. The city of Nha Trang is on the mainland, on our starboard side, but invisible so far. I'm peering intently at the chart, then at the island, trying to correlate everything. Slowly, a shape looms above the island. Is it a gigantic aerial? No, it's a satellite dish? No it simply cannot be, but it is — a huge Ferris Wheel!
None of us is prepared for Nha Trang. We have no idea it's a huge tourist trap for Russians, Koreans, Chinese a few French, and us. Our agent, Nguyen Van Dinh, looks after us well and makes clearing in easy. We just cannot get used to this place being a tourist town. With the sun up, Nha Trang reveals itself as a modern skyline with multi-story buildings and cranes everywhere. We go ashore and look around. Anna likes the look of a particular fish restaurant so we dine on grilled prawns, eaten whole. I can't come at eating the heads but manage the rest.
Nha Trang is a strange mix of new and old; trashy and traditional; tasteless and beautiful. There are very few conical hats and a lot of new cars and motorbikes.
But the pièce de résistance, Nha Trang's magnum opus and its chocolate topping over all the sugary ice cream is Vinpearl Land, the collection of Ferris wheels, fairy palaces, gothic facades, water slides, geodestic domes, palaces and who knows what situated on the island opposite the city and connected to it by a huge cable car system whose towers are each a 1/6th replica of the Eiffel Tower. No conical hats here either.
We sleep well that night. Gary looks positively human the next morning and goes ashore with Anna to buy fresh provisions for the next leg. I stay behind to find out why the starboard engine has started vibrating so badly, and to have another go at fixing toilets. The engine vibration is due to a short piece of rope wrapped round the prop and is easy to fix. I am surprised that's the only rubbish we've picked up, given how much trash we've seen.
The toilets are another matter. The Jabsco manual pump unit is relatively easy to replace with a spare, but the Tecma unit is not. I manage to get it to operate but when I flush it a second time it floods again. I am pretty sure it's clogged but can't see any way to take it apart without removing the entire unit. If it is more than a blockage then I have no spares and cannot fix it anyway, so I decide that we'll have to get by with a bucket. At least we have one toilet operating.
Nha Trang to Singapore
We finally leave Nha Trang late next morning after Nguyen gets us cleared out of immigration, with a light breeze blowing us under the Vinpearl cable cars high above. The chart says there's 45m clearance, but foreshortening always makes it look as if the mast is going to clip whatever it is you're passing under.
The forecast is for progressively less wind as we near Singapore, but that's several days away. We are glad to leave this crazy tourist trap but also glad for the opportunity to rest for a couple of days. As soon as we clear Nha Trang we're back on fishing boat watch. They are everywhere. In the daytime they anchor; at night they fish. Generally, if they are on the move then they are travelling at just two or three knots, but sometimes they step on the gas to travel much faster.
I set the gennaker and we move along nicely with the wind on the starboard quarter.
Next morning we are nearly 100nm offshore, and still the fishing boat parade goes on. Is there no end to the number of boats out here? The water is less than 40m deep, despite our distance from shore, and it is easy for the fishing boats to anchor. I am beginning to think these guys live out here, eating nothing but fish, and sending what they don't eat back to the coast. Maybe it's true?
We have a 3 knot current setting south. This current has been with us all the way, not always this strong, but always with us and never against us. I would hate to be going the other way!
It is October 9th and this is the 11th day of our journey, and the fourth day out from Nha Trang. We are tired. Gary could not be raised for his watch last night so I stood another all-nighter. However, when he came on deck he was OK and I think a bit peeved that I didn't wake him! We agree that 4 hour watches are too long so we switch to 2 hour watches and Gary agrees to set an alarm so none of us relies on others to wake us. The new watch system works much better.
Less fishing boats now, but we are losing the wind as we approach the doldrums. One moment it's ahead, then behind, then from somewhere else. Increasingly light and unsailable, so we motor.
Night watches go smoothly but are boring now we have less traffic to dodge. To some extent this is made up for by the need to dodge oil wells, but they don't move and are no fun.
Our ultimate destination is not actually Singapore but Sebana Cove, Johor, Malaysia. We're unsure whether it's a port of entry, so Gary thinks we had better pull in at Tanjung Pengheli to clear. This proves to be interesting as there's quite a current flowing straight through the small marina. Eventually, we come alongside and Gary goes off to find some beuraucracy while we find something yellow to fly as a Q flag. Gary truly knows his way around beauracracy and we are soon cleared into Malaysia.
The last part of the trip is just a couple of hours motoring up Sungai Sebina to Sebana Cove Marina. It's shallow, we're on a falling tide and none of us have been there before, but hey, we're on a catamaran, we've just travelled 1600nm across the South China Sea — what can go wrong?
Well, luckily, nothing does go wrong and I get us to the marina, tripping on my last few microergs of energy. I am so tired I try to reverse the boat into its pen by going in bow first — Anna says "Um, that won't work Dave!"
Fortunately, help is on hand to take our lines and all works out well.
Anna was fabulous the entire trip. She learned quickly, took no chances, was always positive and helpful, and a great cook and fisherman — the best crew one could hope for.
Gary deserves a gong too for best owner. He battled seasickness for much of the trip but when he stood a watch he dodged fishing boats better than any of us. Possibly his motivation was slightly greater.
I have to thank Lesley who, despite not coming, did much of the preparatory work, including finding Nguyen Van Dinh, the magician who smoothed our way in Vietnam.
The crew at Okusi also deserve credit for arranging flights and bringing bags of money to keep Gary afloat!
And finally, Ryan Mann's work on the Deep Chill electrics immediately before we left was faultless — it all just worked.
Gary coded a map to track our progress by satellite.
Photos are in the Deep Chill Gallery.