Choosing the ideal "base of operations" involved making many trips to various countries and locations throughout South east Asia, scouting out various harbors and "marinas" to see which one(s) would be best suited as a semi-permenent "home port" where I could live and work. Once that was done, the next step was buying a boat. Having completed that task, the next project was figuring out the most economical way to get my "dream boat" to Asia from the Finger Lakes in New York; (see below: Getting There Is Half The Fun). And since the journey turned out to be more than 20,000km and passed through three separate tropical cyclone (hurricane) zones in three separate oceans, planning the route turned out to be no small task! I am grateful to have had a copy of Jimmy Cornell's book World Cruising Routes, and for the Sailnet members that recommend this VERY useful book! Without it, I don't know how I could have possibly planned a safe route through so many potentially dangerous areas, and across so many miles of open ocean.
I've visited many marinas, harbors & anchorages in China from 2006-2015, from Shanghai to Hainan Island, and while China is indeed increasing the number of marinas at a relatively quick rate, they are all VERY expensive, better suited to corporate owned yachts, and certainly not suitable for ragboat liveaboards like myself. Before you can dock your boat in a marina, you need to be a member (read: $70,000 to $100,000 upfront fee + annual dues), after that, you can begin to pay your slip fees of $100/ft per month. One could risk moring with the fishing boats, but an active typhoon season, and a plethora of illegal activities that take place in most Chinese harbors (Hong Kong included) would make it a risky venture. The best option if I were to seriously consider China would be to buy a mooring in Aberdeen, but having lived in Aberdeen for several years, I'd be very reluctant to live aboard there. It's an "OK" place to keep your boat if you have six figure income, but on my budget, it won't be an option. Besides, Hong Kong is a crowed expensive place, and I've already seen enough of Hong Kong.
Unfortunately however, as of December 2016, there still isn't a single marina accessible to yachts in the entire country of Vietnam, though several are rumored to be "opening soon," customs clearances fees are exorbitant and the process is so riddled with red tape that an expensive agent is the only way to get your boat into the country. Nevertheless, from 2012-2016 I've put over 20,000 kilometers on my motorbike exploring the costal areas and the many rivers with ocean access looking for the right place to keep a yacht. I've spoken to people with waterfront property about keeping my boat on their property, and I've even gone so far as to build a bamboo boat house with a dock on an offshoot of the Mekong river. But the bottom line (in all of Asia) is that until the government begins to support yachting, it will be a very difficult venture, full of prohibitive red tape and excessive fees. I do believe Vietnam will come on-line as a viable yachting center in the near future, but unfortunately, it's not there yet.
In November of 2016 I took a trip to visit Andrey and his wife Olga, the (Russian Expat) owners of Marina Oceania, in Sihanoukville Cambodia, and to scout out the area as a potential home port and base of operations. Andre was very accommodating and his prices seemed fair. Unfortunately, the port authorities recently changed the entrance regulations for foreign yachts (again) making it a bit harder and a bit more costly to bring a yacht into the country. We rode in his SUV to visit the port authorities. My conclusion was that Cambodia, much like Vietnam, still does not have a government that is interested in having foreign yachts stay in their waters for any extended periods of time. While it is still necessary to clear customs with the help of an agent, it is possible to get one's yacht into the country for less than $1000 dollars, and keep it there for up to six months. Unfortunately for me, I don't see an opportunity to make enough money working there though to make Cambodia my home base, at least not for now. Things could change though in the next year or two, as Cambodia is undergoing rapid development, especially in the costal areas.
Customs clearance costs are reasonable, and foreign flagged vessels can stay up to six months at a time. Extending the time for another six months is also possible by making a quick day sail to Malaysia and back. So as long as sailors are willing to make the trip every six months, they can stay in Thailand indefinitely. If one does elect to register one's yacht as a Thailand flagged vessel, it will only cost 7% of the cost of the vessel. There is one catch however; foreign flagged vessels are required to have and use an AIS transponder whenever they are not at anchor or in a marina. The government wants to make sure foreigners are not running illegal and unregulated boat charters in Thailand waters, which seems to me like a reasonable request. From what I have seen so far, Thailand seems to be the best place to set up a home base of operations.
A quick 360 degree view of the Royal Yacht Club Marina on Phuket Island in Thailand. It is one of at least four well established marinas in Phuket.
Hey! Somebody put several huge islands right in the way of where I need to go! Lucky for me, Obama just made visiting Cuba legal for American sailors! It's also lucky for me that the best time to sail to the caribbean from N.E. USA is May to June.
For now, I am looking at following the route from Galapagos to Kiribati in Micronesia is outlined in W.C.R. as route PT18 and because this route hugs the equator, it can be made at any time of the year. I will also consider Marquesas (W.C.R. PT13) as an alternative waypoint to Micronesia as this could reduce the longest leg of the journey by aprox. 1500 nautical miles. If I discover by the time I reach Panama, that I have a strong distaste for long ocean voyages, I may follow the lead of other "puddle jumpers" and continue West, hopping from one South Pacific Island to the next. However, because of the current controversy about the effects that global warming is having on the population in Kiribati, I am quite tempted to visit the line islands and make a first-hand inspection of this globally "hot" topic and its affect on the planet.
Although I have looked over multiple possibilities for this portion of the journey. It seems that typhoons are a threat year-round for this part of the world, so planning may have more to do with weather windows than with sailing seasons. For the time being, I want to focus my effort on the first part of the journey; getting to Panama from New York. I'll adress getting to Thailand from Micronesia at a later date. After I've sailed a few thousand nautical miles on my new (used) boat.
In the early stages of planning this adventure, I was very clear about one thing: I wanted to spend my time exploring Asia from the comfort of a humble, yet well built small yacht. After looking for the "right" boat in Asia for several years, and not being able to find the make and model that I knew in my heart was the best boat for what I wanted to do, I decided to buy one in the USA where they were made. I received a lot of criticism from other sailors in Asia for insisting on one particular model, and for "wasting time and money," to bring a boat all the way from the other side of the planet instead of just buying one locally in Asia. After choosing the boat I wanted to buy, I looked into having it shipped to Asia. Shocked by the cost, I started looking into the possibility of sailing it to Asia myself. The more I thought about this idea, the more it started to grow on me. I bought a copy of World Cruising Routes by Jimmy Cornell and spent more than a month researching the safest and quickest route. Once I had the route all planned out, I got out a calculator and figured out the cost of all the equipment I'd need to buy and all the other expenses I'd likely incur on the nine month journey from New York to Thailand. If I stayed out of marinas and bought only the bare necessities, I figured the trip would end up costing me USD $20,000 - $25,000 depending on how many disasters I could avoid. That was not including the "opportunity cost" of nine moths of wages that I'd be missing. Granted, sailing the boat to or through, Bermuda, Panama, The French Polynesian Islands, New Zealand, Australia & Indonesia, truly would be a once in a lifetime experience that would be hard to put a price on, but my main objective was to cruize Asia, so I literally cancelled the order for a Marine Sextant I had recently placed on Amazon.com, and decided to get a few more quotes to have the boat shipped to Asia before totally committing myself to sailing the boat there myself.
I considered having my boat shipped to either Singapore or Port Klang (Malaysia), and I got price quotes for both. Having it shipped all the way to Phuket in Thailand would add another $5,000 to the transport cost and besides, I was interested in sailing the boat through the Malacca Straights myself, as I considered this to be the gateway to my new cruising grounds. The SUPER HIGH labor charges in Singapore to have the boat put in the water and to have the mast re-stepped rendered Port Klang as the port of choice. To be continued...