China: Xiamen to Phuket Thailand
September 2015: An interesting report highlighting the difficulties of Chinese bureaucracy and the stress of sailing in congested waters.
Published 8 years ago, updated 4 years ago
After two years in the process, the construction of our 60ft Gunboat catamaran was finally complete and in the last week of March 2015, we returned to Xiamen China to finish sea trialling JADE. The plan had been to depart Xiamen as soon as trials were finished but we discovered leaving
China was not going to be an easy affair. We moved onto Jade and lived in the Xiangshan Marina for two weeks while waiting for clearance.
After much toeing and froing, the boatyard finally got permission for us to leave China. The authorities decided we had to move the boat to a quarantine anchorage area at sea where 300,000-ton tankers and freighters wait for permission to enter/leave. Not at all suitable for a small yacht and very bumpy with huge vessels passing all the time. We had one incident on the way from the marina to the quarantine anchorage. We had plotted a course passing some tiny islands a mile or two offshore. As we came past, a navy vessel bristling with weapons came surging up shouting at us over their loudhailer. They wanted our passports and what were we doing there? Turns out these are Taiwanese islands in a restricted area hotly guarded against the Chinese. In our haste to stop the boat, throttled back too fast causing a problem with the hybrid system and it took about 10 minutes to get sorted out, all the time drifting closer and closer to the Taiwanese shore with the navy vessel screaming at us. To make matters worse, we had no passports having had to surrender them to the Chinese the day before. Finally got the engines started and managed to get away without being incarcerated. We had a Chinese Captain on board who was escorting us to the anchorage, who spoke no English who could see our predicament but he was not going to tangle with the Taiwanese Navy at all and hid below decks.
We were told we had to wait for 3 days for Customs clearance and Immigration at the Xiamen anchorage with no one allowed on or off the boat. In the event, it only took 2 days we only saw Immigration, never saw Customs, so sailed on 14 April. When the Chinese official brought back our passports, he insisted we upped anchor immediately as he had to video us to confirm we had indeed left.
After days of favourable winds while we waited in China, as soon as we departed Xiamen, there was nary a breath so motored all the way to Hong Kong 2 days of it. Hundreds of Chinese fishing boats along the way made night sailing very stressful as they use long (2-3kms) floating nets which must be avoided.
Made it to Hong Kong in the afternoon, motoring right thru the city to moor up at the Gold Coast Marina. Had some electronics modifications and repairs carried out there for 3 days.
Realising that more motoring might be a necessity, we made arrangements for permission to enter Sanya (on the Chinese island of Hainan) en route to Singapore. And just as well too because otherwise we wouldn’t have been allowed in the Chinese bureaucracy has to be experienced to be believed and we did need to refuel.
Left Hong Kong and motored all the way to Sanya, 3 days away. But not done with military yet, as we approached Sanya we were hailed on the radio by a very menacing Chinese warship with serious weaponry on board who came up right behind us (and I do mean, right behind). “Sailing yacht ahead of us, this is Chinese Warship. You have entered restricted waters. State your intentions.” Explained we were on the way to the marina at Sanya. “Sailing yacht, this is Chinese Warship. You are in restricted waters. Turn 90 degrees away from the present course and leave immediately.” Patiently explained that 90 degrees took us right out to sea again and was at right angles to the course to the marina. Finally, they told us to go 2 miles out to sea and then to resume our course. One interesting thing, even at point-blank range, their warship didn’t show up on our radar adds new meaning to ‘Clever these Chinese’.
Left Sanya after one day and found favourable winds for a few days excellent sailing and the morale of the crew improved. But still nightmarish dodging fishing boats every night very scarily indeed and one night we literally sailed around in circles for about 6 hours trying to get out of a ring of nets. Our son who was monitoring our Fleetmon Tracker convinced we had a major problem, actually phoned us when at one stage we seemed headed back for Sanya,.
Avoiding fishing boats and their nets at night caused a minor a disagreement on board. The fishermen used powerful laser pointers that they shone in our direction and then waved the beams in the sky. We couldn’t raise them on the VHF to enquire what they were indicating and they didn’t speak English anyway. The skipper believed that the fisherman was signalling to indicate where their nets were lying. The rest of the crew believed they were indicating the way to go so as not to run the nets, which finally proved to be the case.
7 days later, reached Singapore just as night was falling. And for the next 10 hours, we threaded our way through the congested shipping lanes of the Straits of Singapore in inky darkness with big black thunder clouds menacing above. Not for the faint-hearted! Bob did an amazing job. Definitely a Boy Scouts badge of some sort for that. At one stage I came up from my break just to see one HUGE ship about 12 meters away from us on the STB side. Thought I hadn’t woken up properly when I saw exactly the same on the PRT side which I took to be a reflection, then realized we were sandwiched between two enormous tankers, on the edge of the separation traffic zone. Cleared immigration and customs in the middle of the night at the Western Quarantine & Immigration Anchorage off Sisters Island. (Approximate Position Lat. 01° 13.0 ‘ N. Long. 103° 49.7’ E) where they send a boat out to you and you pass your passports over in a fishing net, that was interesting. Finally made our way to the Marina and were stopped by a Police boat just before we entered Raffles Marina but they just wanted to check our passports. So a welcome stop in Singapore in for 3 days to catch our breath.
Finally the last leg from Singapore to Phuket up the Malacca Straits and again, no wind and lots of vessels but all pretty well behaved and following the rules of the road, a walk in the park compared to the Chinese fishing boats. 4 days later reached Phuket with a lunch and fuel stop only at Langkawi along the way. Something to bear in mind, when we tried to check in at the One-Stop immigration centre in Chalong Bay at 11.45 we were told they close for lunch and to come back at 13.00.
Immigration formalities and agents in Hong Kong and Sanya
The following documentation, to be provided at least 1 week prior to ETA, was requested by the agents for clearance into Hong Kong. Note – a company stamp is essential in this part of the world to ‘authorise’ signatures. Note too – that if you have crewmembers leaving the vessel at that port, they must be recorded as passengers on a passenger list and not detailed on the crew list.
1. Original yacht registration
2. Last port clearance certificate
3. HK Marine Department declaration form MO618a
4. HK Immigration Crew list form ID207a
5. Immigration arrival/departure card for all non-HK residents
6. Authorization letter (from the Owner of the vessel confirming that you are entitled to be using the vessel.
For departure clearance, the following are required:
1. Original yacht registration
2. All Passports (pax & crew)
3. HK Marine Department declaration form MO618a
4. A completed Sailing Notice
5. The Composite Permit (Arrival Clearance/Permit to Remain) issued to the vessel by the HK Marine Department on arrival
6. HK Immigration Crew list form ID207a
7. Immigration arrival/departure card for non-HK residents
8. Authorization letter
Our agent, Alex Au of Lodestone Yachts met us at the Gold Coast Marina and had all the forms filled out in advance for our signature. He took our passports away and returned them the next day. He provided us with a free GSM mobile SIM card (HK$100 value) and a 2’ x 3’ nylon HK courtesy flag (plus one for China) for HK$310.
He also provided the following instructions for entry into Hong Kong from the north and confirmed, as a pleasure yacht, it was not necessary to call the HKG Vessel Traffic Centre “Mardep” on arrival for permission to enter Hong Kong waters.
Entry to Gold Coast Marina approaching from the north:
When sailing down the east coast of HK and into Victoria Harbor, enter from the Eastern Fairway passing Hung Hom, Central and Northern Fairways. Once you’ve reached Tsing Yi island, you should stay to the side of the Ma Wan Fairway to avoid all commercial traffic (container terminal is located in Kwai Chung). The fairway is only for commercial ships and not pleasure crafts. After Ma Wan island, you can cruise up to Gold Coast Yacht Club. Note: there is serious traffic in the HKG harbour coming and going from all sides.
Sanya Port (Hainan)
We were able to conclude all marine and immigration procedures at Serenity Marina. Location: lat N18° 12′.879 / long E109° 28′.7. Note our MaxSea charts did not show the marina though Navionics did. You are only allowed to arrive in Sanya (Serenity Marina) during working hours. (Mon-Fri 8:00-11:30 am; 15:00-17:30 pm).
Sanya agent/officials don’t work on weekends and they need the boat’s documents before departure from Hong Kong. The agent also needed to know an hour prior to arrival to prepare for onboard inspection by officials. The agent had to be paid in cash and accepted either RMB or US$.
1. Original yacht registration
2. CE Certificate
3. Builder’s Certificate
4. Survey Report (Seaworthiness)
5. Certificate of Insurance
6. Captain Book
7. Crew list and passport copies
We obtained the Seaworthiness Certificate in Hong Kong before departing for Sanya. The Seaworthiness Certificate had to be issued by a registered marine surveyor to confirm the yacht was inspected and found sufficiently seaworthy to undertake the proposed passage with all safety gear provided, maintenance up to date, and an adequately equipped and experienced crew. This was a lengthy affair, which took a whole morning.
In Sanya, we encountered a problem, as the officials required a second safety inspection report to cover our Sanya-Singapore leg. Absent the second report, they deemed it was not safe for us to sail from Sanya to Singapore and we were informed that they could not allow us to sail for Singapore. Our certificate only mentioned Hong Kong and Hainan. So the agent suggested we apply for departure clearance showing Hong Kong as our next stop. Then when out of Chinese territorial waters, we could sail to Singapore as planned. We followed this advice but would recommend yachts entering Sanya have a safety report showing 2 voyages – Hong Kong to Hainan, and Hainan to Singapore. Safety reports must record validity, which can only be 1 to 2 months.
Most of the crew had multiple entry Chinese visas but we had a crew change in Hong Kong and the new crewman did not have a Chinese Visa. According to the Internet, one can get a tourist visa on arrival Sanya. Alex, our Hong Kong agent did not recommend it but advised if we simply had to go in to refuel or hide from a typhoon, it might be do-able. He further advised that one might apply in Hong Kong, however for some countries, first-time application had to be done in their country of residence.
We spoke to Heidi at Serenity Marina by phone who advised it would take 2-3 days, and that only certain nationalities were eligible. Our Sanya agent also confirmed the latter but said he would go to the visa office in town with the crew member who was on a Portuguese passport. In the event, the entry visa only took 6 hours at the visa office, cost US$100 and the agent required a small gratuity.
After checking out with Customs, Immigration and Marine Officials the following day at Sanya, we were told we had only one hour to depart the marina. We quickly went to fill up with diesel while the marina officials jumped up and down excitedly on the dock telling us to hurry up and get out before we got into trouble with the officials.
The weather was a concern to us during the voyage planning stages because we would be passing through an area notorious for more cyclones (called typhoons in this part of the world) than anywhere else in the world. Some serious natural disasters over the South China Sea and surrounding regions are caused by tropical cyclones. These can occur in any month, but the highest probability is from May to December, a good time to avoid sailing in the South China Sea.
There are a number of publications dealing with tropical cyclones in the NW Pacific region mainly emanating from work published by US Navy/Military authorities. The best publication in our opinion is Tropical Cyclones, (Chapter 36) which we think may be published by the US National Imagery and Mapping Agency. Amongst other things, this lists typical annual frequencies and statistical numbers of storm per month. It states:
“ More tropical cyclones form in the tropical western North Pacific than anywhere else in the world. More than 25 tropical storms develop each year and about 18 become Cyclones. These cyclones are the largest and most intense tropical cyclones in the world.”
We used Commanders’ Weather Corporation (Tel: 603-882-6789 Email: [email protected] services) to provide weather routing services for us. They gave us an eight-day forecast plus eight days of hand-drawn weather maps for $99. They monitored our progress en-route and asked that we send our daily position so that they could accurately plot us on their routing map.
We could request an update at any time, as often or as little as we like. 5 and 7-day forecasts were also available. Forecast updates, either verbal or written, once en-route, were not part of the original departure forecast and were charged extra. All in all, excellent service.
Xiangshan Marina (Xiamen, China) Photo right
Should it ever be finished will be grandiose. However, construction has been halted for some reason. Apart from the berth, water, electricity and a security gate manned during the day, there were no other facilities and it is a long way from restaurants, mini-marts, etc. Regardless of the lack of facilities, the charge for berthing JADE was US$200 per night.
Gold Coast Marina (Hong Kong)
Initially, on arrival, we were not impressed with the Marina as they were waiting on the dock for us and insisted that as soon as we were moored up, the captain had to go to the office and pay for the entire stay. Also, we were informed all the facilities were for members only so we would not be allowed to use the pool or any of their restaurants.
However directly next to the Marina is a shopping complex with an excellent selection of restaurants and bars. There was also a laundry, which only does dry cleaning, a hairdresser and spa. The supermarket had an enviable stock of everything including mainly western food and on our second visit discovered an upstairs section as well.
To get into town there is a bus which takes about one hour to get to central Hong Kong stopping at the major centres. We opted to take a taxi back which was difficult as most drivers didn’t want to go all the way out to the area. We finally discovered the Red taxis at the Kowloon taxi rank were prepared to go that way.
Refueling took more time than we expected. The station is run by a subcontractor who isn’t always at the station despite us being told it was manned 6 am – 6 pm every day.
Cost per night US$103
Serenity Marina (Sanya, Hainan Island)
So-so marina at Sanya and a huge waste of time to go through all the entry and exit formalities, boat checks and goodness knows what else with the
authorities. The customs and immigration officers have an office at the marina and are called in when a boat arrives but you have to have appointed a local agent to assist. Unexpectedly, there was a delightful little restaurant in the marina probably the best food we had on the whole trip. The area of Sanya around the marina is definitely not as marketed – wonderful beaches, the Hawaii of China. One visit was enough for us, just the same as other run-down areas in Asia. Did get a photo of the Dong Feng Volvo Team on a billboard who were there a month or so before.
Cost per night US$162
Raffles Marina Singapore
Very well-run marina with an excellent chandler in the complex. Well organized, helpful, with a large restaurant. The only downside is that it is a very long way to the centre of Singapore.
Cost per night US$100
Royal Langkawi Yacht Club (Malaysia)
The buildings are currently under renovation so no facilities available. There is a low market shopping centre close by. Chose this marina as it’s close to the Immigration and Customs offices for checking in/out. However, would not recommend it in its present state.
Agents for customs and immigration clearance
We had lengthy correspondence with Joe before leaving Xiamen. His replies were always very informative and prompt. He was very helpful and patient in changing our bookings at the marina due to the delay and uncertainty of leaving Xiamen. He met us as we arrived in Hong Kong and completed all the necessary paperwork, including handling a one-member crew change. Joe also provided a map and instructions on how to navigate through Hong Kong to the Gold Coast Marina. He contacted the agent in Sanya on our behalf at no extra cost.
Lodestone Corp Ltd – Lodestone Yachts
Suite 811, Lucky Centre, 165-171 Wan Chai Rd, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 3584 8421
URL: http://www.LodestoneCorp.com [BROKEN LINK]
Contact: Joe Yuen
M: HK +852 6191 1223 & CN +86 155 0757 6315
Email: [email protected]
Fee US$ 1600 plus service charge for additional services at US$ 65/hr
We required a safety inspection report in addition to our boat papers to enter Sanya which we had done in Hong Kong before leaving. Mr Yip spoke good English and guided us thru the tedious customs and immigration requirements.
China Ocean Shipping Agency Sanya Co., Ltd.
Contact: Mr Yip
Mobile: +86 15298991917
Fee US$ 1,700
Marine Safety Report
Marine Surveys & Engineering Services Ltd
Contact: Richard Lamble
Email: [email protected]
Safety survey fee US$ 480
Report from Margie Guthrie