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Once we were standing still in time,
Chasing the fantasies that filled our minds.
…Now looking back at all we’ve planned,
We let so many dreams just slip through our hands.

Do you know where you’re going to – Diana Ross

his has been added into my intermediate – term TODO list, a promise to return to Côn Đảo made earlier last year, in a different way, not by way of air of course. Don’t really know if I could make this, cause it’s really a tough (and adventurous) target to conquer, and there’re lots of things I also wanted and planned to do, too many of them indeed, but let just set the milestone there!

vũng tàu, june 2014

his has been in my TODO list for quite some time, but for various reasons, couldn’t get it done till now. To the present day, I’ve accumulated more than 1,000 nmi under my belt with Hello World – 1 & 2 (nearly 1,900 km, as logged by my Garmin), but that’s only the 20 ~ 25 km paddling around my home. I need something longer to testify my endurance; and for the last 2 months, I’ve been preparing for this 60 km paddling trip to Vũng Tàu: physical exercising, equipments, plan A, plan B, etc… It just comes the time to… get your paddles wet!

My Hello World – 2 kayak is a true player on rivers, but it’s surely no performer at sea. A 14 footer, it’s quite unsuitable to be deployed on longer journeys, so I need to make careful planning. The trip will be completed in 3 legs, approximately 20 km each, the first 2 will follow Sài Gòn and Lòng Tàu rivers, the last leg would pass Gành Rái bay to reach Vũng Tàu on ‘open sea’. And indeed, I have no ‘plan B’, no camping gears, no food and drink for a 2nd day of paddling, no signaling devices… it just has to be done, 60 km in a single day, in a single try!

Leg 1

Wake up at 3:30 AM, I carefully check the gears, load the kayak, have a big breakfast, and at 4:30 AM, I depart. Right at the first paddling stroke, it begins to rain, cats and dogs! And it continues to rain lightly for the next several hours, but that’s good really. Silently pass by many fishing boats, some was sleeping, some was watching a FIFA World Cup’s live football match! Heavily loaded, I make my way through the misty, dark water with a pace around 6 ~ 6.5 km/h. At 5:30 AM, the Garmin indicates a minor rise in speed, ~ 7.5 km/h, it’s the tide’s coming into play!

6:00 AM, as the dawn was breaking, I steadily made 8 ~ 9 km/h, 6:45 AM, I was making a comfortable 9.5 ~ 10.5 km/h riding. The tide plays quite a role in my planning, it should help to conquer the first 2 legs as fast as I can, reserving stamina for the last troublesome leap. Velocity then increases to 11 km/h for a short while, momentarily reaches 12 km/h, woohoo… I finished the 1st leg in 3 hours with little resting time, reaching Tam Thôn Hiệp crossroad, the southern most outskirt of Sài Gòn, beyond this point is Cần Giờ mangrove biosphere reserve.

Leg 2

8:00 AM, after a short break, I start the 2nd leg, which traverses the Cần Giờ mangrove forest to reach the sea. The Garmin instructs me confidently through this complex maze of rivers and canals, making ‘bip – bip’ sound in approximation of each turn point (the planned route was made on computer and transferred to the device). I’m a bit in hurry as I know I don’t have a large time frame to utilize the tide, in all, less than 4, 5 hours or so. 8:30 AM, the tide will finish lowering in Vũng Tàu area, though for inland water, there’s still a delay effect.

Speed drops gradually along this 2nd leg, and at 10:00 AM, I was returning to 6 ~ 6.5 km/h, as the tide was coming to a complete stop. The last few kilometers of this leg was a bit difficult, cause although my arms and shoulders showed little sign of tiredness, my butt was in great pains after hours of idleness. Then it was a moment of thrill, to stand here and watch over the large calm estuary where the river joins the sea! Another leg done, an hour of resting, lying leisurely in the boat, watching the sea, having lunch, and making some selfies! 🙂

Leg 3

Right at noon, I start the final leap. I was having a good day, it’s heavily cloudy, the sea is quite calm, small waves, south – west light wind at 2, 3 on Beaufort scale coming to my convenience from starboard ‘broad reach’ or ‘beam reach’, Vũng Tàu‘s mountains are clearly visible across the big bay. I decided to start as soon as I can, fearing the regular afternoon tropical gales and rains could bring much trouble later on. Switch the Garmin to compass mode, keep the bearing at 125 degrees for several hours, this gonna be just a piece of cake! 🙂

The following hours turned out to be not easy indeed! I begin to feel pains for my hands, the waves have hampered my efforts and reduced speed into the 4.5 ~ 5.5 km/h range. I have not a single moment of worry, but rather a kind of tranquility in my mind while navigating this immense sphere. I stop for a while having an nice talk with a local fisherman, then keeping on the straight line to target. On starboard side then seen the Cần Giờ Aval lighthouse (Vietnamese: hải đăng Bóng Trắng). Then at 4:30 PM, landed in Vũng Tàu at the precise pre – planned spot.

Return

Terra firma eventually, my 12 hours of paddling completed with flying colors! 🙂 Nothing more to expect for the day, I go for dinner, then back to the hotel and have another 12 hours of sleep! Next morning, I was messing around the harbors, watching the fishing boats, then at noon, load my kayak onto a rented truck and return to Sài Gòn. My arms are still having some little pain as I’m typing this, but the feeling is really pleasant. It could be a small thing to others, but a little real achievement for me! Another milestone in my boating progress!

The trip helps rectifying some defects and shortcomings on boat building and boating equipments. It’s only in these longer trips that I would find out what gears, food, drink, clothing, etc… should I have, what improves and accessories I could do for my boats. Yet Hello World – 2, at 14 feet, still belongs to the recreational class, it’s not a real expeditional sea kayak by design… The trip also helps consolidating my understanding and experiences on what I should prepare to make successful future sea crossings and longer passages into mare liberum 🙂 .

Epilogue

The Sài GònVũng Tàu route is crowded in maritime traffic, big boats from a few thousand to a few dozen thousand tons come and go every few minutes. It’s a real risk that your tiny boat could be overseen and overrun by those giants, as I was ‘near – missed’ by a huge freighter at great speed by just 50 ~ 70 m in one case. I should have an VHF radio to communicate with them to avoid collision. The waves created by those boats, though could be as high as 1 ~ 1.5 m, are not dangerous actually, as they are well patterned and well behaved.

Routes plotted with Google Earth: planned route in blue, actual route in red. Some GPS logged data: distance travelled: 58.4 km, total time: 11:31′, paddling time ~ 9:00′, resting time ~ 2:30′, I averaged out only 5.08 km/h over all. Obviously, there’s still lots of things to be improved here!

Another aspect of paddling in tropical weather: the ‘thermal efficiency’ of your body (like any other machines or engines) would degrade badly in the 30 ~ 38°C temperature range, you’ll need lots of water (and food) to keep up the pace, a sunny day could easily use up 3, 4 litters just for drinking (not to include cooking). That could cause a ‘logistical problem’ as a kayak has limited storage capacity, it could be a headache to prepare food and drink rations (among other things) for a 4, 5 days trip, the heavier the load, the slower the boat of course.

Some video scenes of the trip captured with my GoPro camera.

Vũng Tàu is no stranger to me, having visited it many times before. But this time is different, a chance to view the city from another perspective. For many moments, I thought I had quite some illusions of grandeur, the literal, optical meaning 🙂 , as the sceneries appear as in tilt – shift photography: people, houses, cars, boats, the trees… all appears to be so small under the blue sky, even the mountains do not look really big… A fantastic feeling when you observe the little city of Cap Saint Jacques from the back of waves, some distances off from shore.

a bit of roughness

typical small tropical gale during this rainy season… winds can momentarily reach up to level 5, 6 or more on Beaufort scale. It can get pretty rough at time right here on Saigon river and without a spray skirt, the kayak takes on water easily in this weather, when filled up about 1/3 of the volume, the boat is heavy to paddle, it becomes less responsive and easier to take more water in. I need to pump the water out several times during my routine 20km paddling trip.

But it’s also fun, the rougher it get, the tougher you need to be! 🙂

woodworking

y humble woodworking corner with a modest collection of tools for sawing, cutting, drilling, planing, chiseling, sanding… dozens types of chemicals for epoxying, painting, varnishing… For now, it’s still a small corner with basic tools, but it’ll be growing into a “well – equipped” boat – building workshop soon! 🙂

4th image below: a clock, a thermometer and a hygrometer to help mixing epoxy resin, a process which is quite weather – sensitive…

lãng mạn

Lao xao sóng vỗ ngọn tùng,
Gian nan là nợ anh hùng phải vay!

ãng mạn, từ nguyên: text=浪&font=2&size=17&color=555555text=漫&font=2&size=17&color=555555, lãng (text=浪&font=2&size=17&color=555555) là sóng, mạn (text=漫&font=2&size=17&color=555555) tức tràn đầy, nghĩa gốc của lãng mạn như thế. Không phải ngồi một chỗ, đọc vài câu thơ, hát vài ý nhạc vớ vẩn mà phần lớn trường hợp, còn không tự phân biệt được đâu là loại hay, loại dở, loại tầm tầm, loại nhảm nhí rẻ tiền… (chưa bao giờ các phẩm chất cơ bản con người lại xuống cấp mạt hạng như bây giờ). Lãng mạn tức là… sóng tràn đầy, thế thôi; đâu đó ngoài kia, có một không gian thật… lãng mạn! 🙂

on saigon river

or the last several months, I rarely take a camera with me while kayaking. Partly cause I don’t want to bring delicate electronics to water, partly cause I want to concentrate just on paddling. But that’s why I’ve missed many noteworthy things on the way, many times I wished I’d had a camera at the right moment.

The other day, I was paddling in the late afternoon when a large flock of white storks approached my boat in the opposite direction. The V – shape formation obviously was utilizing the “surface effect”, flying closed to water. Just 10m away, the birds raise the altitude, make lots of noises, and pass above my head, a spectacular scene!

Another day, I was taking a short rest under a big mangrove palm tree, watching a beautiful butterfly in a brush nearby. All of a sudden, a big catfish jumps from beneath the calm water, catches the butterfly in its mouth, then disappears as quickly as it comes. I wished I could have taken a picture of that interesting moment!

A colorful world of boats of all kinds and sizes on the rivers, ranging from 0.5 ton (my kayak 🙂 ) to 50,000 ton (this is about the upper limit for boats to traverse safely on Saigon river). The 3rd and 4th images, the pair of Sonya – class minesweepers: HQ – 863, HQ – 864 and two Svetlyak – class gunboats: HQ – 264, HQ – 265 at Hải Minh naval shipyard.

Most people I met on rivers is friendly. The local fishermen are usually timid (except when they’re drunk), the vendors are talkative and glib, only the professional sailors warmly share with me their thought on boats and boating… I receive lots of questions on my boats, and some even propose to sell / build for them another Hello World – 2 🙂 .

A week ago, I passed by a group of wooden boats, whose outlooks are very different to boats of this area. The long, narrow hull, the crescent rudder, colors and decorations… those could be boats of Cambodian influences, I’d thought, very original design, little modern modifications! The next day, I come back with a camera, and they’ve gone! 🙁

Today, I met that group of strange boats again, luckily. It turned out that they’re of Cham ethnic group, not Khmer as I initially assumed, coming from Châu Đốc (An Giang province). It was so good that a really friendly young guy showed me around the group of 4 boats, 4 families living floating lives. They’re poor, but simple and sincere!

The young men then showed me that of the four boats, there’s a different one, it’s an “antique” dugout boat, made mainly from a single huge log of wood. The other 3 are modern builds, wooden planks on frame, although externally they look exactly the same. He said, the dugout boat has been handed down from generation to generation…

…And he doesn’t even know how old the boat is, but estimated that it should be older than 150 years. I examined the boat’s very original design, such a dugout is surely a very rare specimen that can hardly be found today. I then continue my paddling path, many entangled thinking in my head, twilight is gently casting on the immense river…

A watery Saigon, part 1
photo album

(Many pictures taken are not very sharp, since my new fixed lens has difficulty making proper focuses through the opaque water – proof plastic cover)

 

Chiều buông, trên dòng sông Cửu Long, như một cơn ước mong, ơi chiều! Về đâu, ơi hàng cây gỗ rong, nghiêng mình trên sóng sông, yêu kiều…

Chiều về trên sông – Thái Thanh

hello world – 2, part 3

ay after day, I gradually… felt in love with my new kayak 🙂 . Although quite sturdily and heavily built (around 32 kg), it behaves well on water. The longer and thiner hull offers much better speed (compared to Hello World – 1), but the most important thing is that the hull shape provides and maintains sufficient “kinetic energy” for the boat to make sustainable headway into unfavorable winds and waves!

The added retractable skeg works perfectly! Within the storage compartment lies the skeg box, which houses a 30 cm skeg blade that can be controlled (lowered or raised) via a steel wire which runs into the cockpit on the right of my seat. With winds coming from astern, the skeg is lowered to reduce the boat’s drifting and yawing, or when waves are large, the skeg helps reducing rolling motion.

I now have the excellent Fein Multimaster oscillating tool into my woodworking collection. Watch a demo video here to see what the wonderful Multimaster can do. There’re some other accessories needed for this Hello World – 2: a paddle, a hand pump… For the paddle, it’s the first time I experiment with carbon fiber fabric, it seems to be very solid, but I need to learn more to get the most out of this special material!

The hand pump is quite simple indeed, it takes just a couple of hours to get it done. Two check valves (one way valves), some PVC parts, and a toilet pump (available at most super market). The hand pump is a crucial accessory for my kayak, as now it’s turned into rainy season, and as I’m paddling into rougher water. There’re some more accessories to be made and tested, before… the voyage begin!

the rubber duck

he famous rubber duck is here on Crescent lake, Saigon. Just my curiosity to go there and have some poses with that huge, yellow floating object. To be precise, my childhood was not familiar to this kind of thing, such a toy at my time was consider to be… “luxurious”! The guards did not permit us to pass the floating buoy line, arghh!

Accidentally met this ‘English guy’ on the waterway who said to purchase that Vietnamese – style motorized dinghy to use as his ‘fishing boat’. He complained about the difficulty of obtaining a kayak or canoe for his fitness purpose, and the expensive prices of imported boats. Well, see… we have both two: a canoe and a kayak with us 🙂 !

saigon river

t is not always as calm as in the video below, this time of the year, the monsoon is reversing, causing lots of turbulences. Sometimes waves are so big that I can hardly have anytime for playing around with my GoPro camera, one reckless moment could cause my little kayak to be flooded, or worse, capsized. But many of the times, there’s enough wind and wave to let Hello World – 2 going dancing, drifting and surfing 🙂 . My 20km routine paddling path, passing by Phú Xuân bridge, Nhà Bè fuel reservoirs, Bình Khánh ferry, Hải Minh shipyard… where I can see the CSB – 9001 (a Vietnam maritime police’s search and rescue boat) mooring, next to it are some small Navy (HQ – xxx) gunboats.

In the wet docks are two Navy minesweepers: HQ – 863, HQ – 864 being refitted, I passed by closed enough to see their towed array sonars and their wooden planks (minesweepers are rarely constructed in ferromagnetic materials, often it’s wood or composite). The two hulls: KN – 806, KN – 807 are barely finished with some upper structures, they belong to Kiểm Ngư (Vietnam fisheries resources surveillance) force, whose establishment has just been announced last week. There’re also some other exotic – looking water crafts, which I haven’t been able to identify their designs and roles. No active guard seen for the Navy shipyard, or they don’t even care about my harmless tiny nutshell!

hello world – 1 and 2

ow “operating two boats” 🙂 , I could have more ways to play and have fun with them. Usually, me and one of my friend, each of us would go on a separate canoe / kayak, then exchange them at the midpoint of a paddling trip. It’s extremely hot out there this season, 35° ~ 39° Celsius, but that’s good for our endurence anyhow.

The handling experiences are different from boat to boat, and obviously, Hello World – 2 is lighter and has much better speed compare to Hello World – 1. It can easily give a handicap of more then 1/3 of the way. But despite of that, it’s good to learn how to handle both boats, in various conditions and situations on water.

Below is a video capturing both 2 boats’ actions on water, each as looked from the other. While Hello World – 2 was taking a gentle promenade, Hello World – 1 had to struggle hard to keep up. Jump to 1’36” on the video timeline to see how the kayak made a fast, short impressive sprint to approximately 7 ~ 8 knots! 🙂