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Captain’s Log: Hong Kong

Hong Kong 11th-13th March

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We were scheduled to arrive at the pilot station at 0630 and when we departed Manila, I made allowance for the expected heavy shipping traffic in the vicinity of this busy harbour. As a consequence, we made good a speed of 20 kts, faster than needed, however this would give us time to slow down to a moderate speed when nearer the Chinese mainland. Additionally, fog was in the forecast and I did not want to go barrelling through one of the busiest waterways in the world doing that speed. Approximately 60 miles from the pilot station, (which is actually in the harbour), we slowed down to 15 kts; it was just as well that it had been planned this way because, even that far out from the mainland, the density of fishing boats was enormous and looking at a radar screen it looked like a bad case of measles, spots everywhere.

The vast number of fishing boats never decreased, (made me wonder how come there were still fish around, with so many boats) and added into this was the cargo-ship traffic, container ships, tankers, all crossing our path as they made their way south-west or north-east. At our more sedate speed, collision avoidance became easier, having more time to assimilate and decide, was a necessity. We have varying modes of manning on the bridge and in the engine control room, depending on the expected situation, we always have 4 personnel on the bridge and then we supplement. Yellow and Red are when conditions warrant additional senior personnel and other items, such as closure of watertight doors. We had been on Yellow from 60 miles out and I was on the bridge at 3 in the morning, assisting the watch-keeping officers, at 15 miles out, we went on red and at this time the bridge and control room were manned with a full complement of senior, experienced officers.

The fog reduced the visibility and we navigated primarily by radar; into the Vessel Traffic System (VTS), which is akin to a motorway (or highway) on charts, inward ships stay on the right, there is a ‘median’ in the middle and outward ships stay on their right; the whole seaway is monitored by radar from ashore and we are constantly informed of any opposing ships which may present a challenge, however we are not ‘controlled’ by the shore station, merely monitored.

So, on a cool and misty Wednesday morning, having successfully negotiated the shipping lanes, we embarked our pilot at 0629 at Lei Yue Mun and proceeded inwards through the narrow waterway, the Tathong channel; the island of Hong Kong on our port side and Kowloon on our starboard. There is a 2 knot tide pushing us in and the waterway is a bustle of assorted ships, tugs towing barges, ferries, workboats, junks, you name it, we got it. We pass the old airport at Kai Tak, soon to be a new cruise terminal, the first docking trial being this coming Saturday; I hope we can keep our traditional berth at the Ocean terminal, Kai Tak is miles from anywhere. Into Victoria Harbour and our berth beckons, downtown, in Tsim Sha Tsui. The berth itself is part of Harbour City shopping mall, 700 shops, full of the very best that the world has to offer. In we go, ‘crabbing’ sideways as the current pushes us in and by 8 a.m. we are alongside and just waiting for clearance, which comes a few minutes later.

One can ‘feel’ the excitement of this city, it pulses with energy, the skyline towers around you, soaring skyscrapers, ferries hither and thither, tugs, barges, tour boats, it just goes on and on. Our guests are off as soon as the jet-way goes in, some touring inland to mainland China, others meeting friends but most are off to see the ‘sights’. The haze burns off and we have 3 glorious days of sun, unlike last year, when it rained almost every day.

We take the opportunity to go to Lantau, one of the outlying islands and also where Hong Kong’s new airport has been built on reclaimed land. Having flown into the old Kai Tak airport, with the pilot weaving through the skyscrapers on final approach (and expecting to find the laundry from the washing lines, on the wings), the new airport must be a joy to them.

However is not the airport that we go to see, Lantau has much to offer. The ‘big’ Buddha, or (Tian Tan Buddha) at Ngong Ping and Po Lin monastery, Tai O fishing village and an enormous cable-car ride which stretches for miles. (Disneyland is there too, however I won’t mention that :)). We catch a ferry from the Hong Kong Central ferry pier (HK$14, or about $2 U.S.), it takes about 30 minutes to Mui O. One realises, during this trip, how vast the Shipping enterprise is, there are ships at anchor everywhere, barges alongside, loading cargo for distant lands. The container ship berths are vast, mountains of containers full of goods to be exported, it stretches for miles.

We arrive at the ferry terminal and have to decide, bus or taxi? Taxi wins and we wind our way through the mountains to Po Lin. The Buddha dominates the skyline, it is 34 metres (112 ft) tall, weighs 250 tons. It reputedly can even be seen from as far away as Macau on a clear day.

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Climbing the 240 steps to reach it is a work-out in itself. Below, lies the Po Lin monastery, truly beautiful and this, as well as Buddha, is a major centre of Buddhism in Hong Kong. Many of the visitors kneel to pray and make offerings; the air is filled with the aroma of incense, which are placed in special urns.

Shrine at Monastery.

Shrine at Monastery.

On then to Tai O, a rural fishing village which has not changed despite its proximity to Hong Kong. It lies on a river estuary and the fishermens’ houses are built on stilts. Narrow passageways, lined with fish stalls, small (and dubious) eating houses, (I won’t call them restaurants), apothecaries, stalls with fish products, the origin of which remain unknown to me…… A fascinating place.

Lunch!!!!!  Fresh crayfish, scallops, oysters.

Lunch!!!!! Fresh crayfish, scallops, oysters.

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Tai O houses on stilts.

Tai O houses on stilts.

Then back to Ngong Ping and the cable-car terminus, a ride with breathtaking views, which takes about 20 minutes and terminates at Tung Chung, we have a bird’s-eye view of Chek Lap Kok airport as we do so.

Cable car, you can just see part of the new airport, to the left.

Cable car, you can just see part of the new airport, to the left.

Back to Kowloon and an authentic Chinese meal in the evening.

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I have a new ‘toy’, (who can resist not buying ‘toys in Honk Kong)… I used a new ‘mirrorless’ Canon camera for these photos, the Canon ‘EOS-M.’ Tired of lugging my DSLR for hours, this small camera fits my lenses by way of an adaptor; it is similar in size to a ‘compact’ but the resulting photos are as good as its far larger DSLR (and it is 10 times lighter), I’m in heaven! 🙂

We are on our way to Nha Trang, Vietnam, where we arrive on our Friday.

5 Comments
  • Patricia B

    Absolutely fasinating, Captain Mercer! Thank you for posting, really appreciate it that you take the time!

  • Jeffrey Kane

    I remenmber our “soggy” and cool days in Hong Kong on last years world cruise, so I am thrilled that this year you had 3 glorious days of sunshine. Cannot wait to see your new “toy” as I admired your “vigor” in carrying that incredible Canon camera and that the pictures are of such great quality and definition.

    How I remember those 240 steps…….but it was certainly worth it! The Cable car ride reminded me of that incedible cable car ride (15 miles worth) we had last year whilst in Cairns.

    Keep up the wonderful description of navigating the Amsterdam through some of the most difficult sealanes in the world.

    Cannot wait till next year to rejoin the World Cruise again

  • Diane A.

    You have truly captured the beauty of Hong Kong with both words and photos ! Thank You for sharing your adventures with us …………

  • Bob & Kerrell

    Dear Captain,
    Like you, (quote below) we hope to again moor at Ocean Terminal on our next cruise to Hong Kong. We hope you are successful in convincing HK authorities, and, Seattle. We LOVE visiting Hong Kong — we have terrific adventures there. As you recount, in mere minutes one can be out of one of the most densly populated cities on earth, and into serene solitude of surrounding wildlands. Terrific, but… we would not like to LIVE there.

    “We pass the old airport at Kai Tak, soon to be a new cruise terminal, the first docking trial being this coming Saturday; I hope we can keep our traditional berth at the Ocean terminal, Kai Tak is miles from anywhere.”

  • Rediahata

    Dear Captain Mercer,

    Thank you for written such a nice log about Hong Kong, Captain.

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