15th January 2000

We arrived in Melaka, Malaysia, on the 13th January. Melaka was a very important stopover for Zheng He, and we are spending five days here filming. More news about our visit to Melaka, hosted by the Renaissance Hotel, to follow shortly ...

In the meantime, check out the new Kids Zone (for adults too!)

Raffles Lighthouse
Rounding Raffles Lighthouse, Singapore.

Superb Sail to Singapore

Having survived the Vietnamese typhoon and bureaucracy, we set sail from Qui Nhon on 23rd December, heading for Singapore...

Fortunately, we ran into gale force winds and heavy seas - i say fortunately, because this meant that we had a good reason to seek shelter in the secluded bay of Xuan Day, and anchor off the tiny fishing village of Vung La.

We spent six days over Christmas at anchor in the bay, waiting for the gales to abate. It was an ideal opportunity to break free from the stifling bureaucracy we encountered in Qui Nhon and meet the young people and fishermen of Vung La (remember that the slogan at the top of every official Vietnamese Government document reads Independence - Freedom - Happiness ! :) ) Click here for the story of our visit to Vung La.

By the 29th December, the wind had moderated to Force 6 and we were able to set sail once more. During our stay in Vung La, the team made a new sail for Precious Dragon - a square sail for the nine hundred mile downwind passage to Singapore.

We used the new square sail for the whole leg from Vietnam to Singapore. With a favourable wind and current we made 300 miles in the first 48 hours, and arrived in Singapore after nine days at sea. Click here for the story of the voyage from Vietnam to Singapore.

We are in Singapore for four days as guests of the Changi Sailing Club.

Next stop : Melaka, Malaysia - an important port of call for Zheng He.

Bamboo basket boats in Vietnam
Bamboo basket boats in Vung La, Vietnam
Sailing from Vietnam
Departing from Vietnam under our new square sail

15th December  1999

Typhoon Approaches

Gale force winds kept us at anchor off Lamma Island, Hong Kong,  for two days. When we were finally able to depart, we encountered six days of near gale force winds. Whilst these were from a favourable direction (North East), they did provide for an exciting, wet and windy passage to Vietnam. We sailed with Precious Dragon well reefed down and she was still making 4-5 knots. She is sailing very well, although in heavy seas she leaks quite a bit, and requires pumping out every couple of hours.

Read about the trip here in the route section.

We arrived in Qui Nhon on the 13th. Yesterday, winds reached 35 knots, causing us to drag anchor in the middle of the night. All hands on deck ! Start the engine ! Pissing down with rain - cold and dark - quickly drifting into shallow water. We raise the anchor by hand with a traditional Chinese windlass. Anchor up, we motor forward in the darkness and hope we don't get a rope or fishing net caught round the ship's propeller.  We re-anchor with 200 feet of chain in 20 feet of water and retire below drenched from the persistent heavy rain ... to sleep and dream about how Zheng He would have managed to re-anchor one of his giant treasure ships in the middle of the night under sail alone ...

The next challenge has now arrived ... This morning we noticed that many fishing boats of all shapes and sizes are motoring into the shallow water of the inner harbour. The port authorities tell us that a typhoon is heading straight for Qui Nhon, and that it will be with us in 24 hours. They have arranged a very secure mooring for us - alongside a cargoship, which blankets the whole Junk from the strong wind. For three hours we've been using all our mooring lines, ropes, anchor warp and fenders to secure safely to our new berth and cope with the forecast strong winds... (We put out 11" high buckets yesterday afternoon in the hope of catching a bit of rain. This morning they had filled to the brim!)


Typhoon strikes! (click for large image 60K)
Fishing boat being towed in to Qui Nhon

Just before moving to our new berth we saw a fishing boat being towed in by three others, only her bow and coach roof are visible above the surface of the water.

5th December 1999

Today we left Hong Kong, departing from Aberdeen Boat Club (ABC) - our host in Hong Kong. Martin and Ruth from the ABC, Marc Cuthbert, and a film crew from CNN came to see us off. Next stop will be Qui Nhon in Vietnam which we hope to make on the 11th of December. Leaving ABC in Hong Kong, Marc filming, Martin and Ruth on the poop

26th November 1999

Visit to Nanjing

15th-21st November: expedition leader Rex Warner visited Nanjing, where Zheng He's original voyages set sail from. During his visit, Rex made a presentation from Essex County Council (one of our sponsors) to the Government of Jiangsu  Province; met experts from the Zheng He Research Society and gave a speech to 300 young cadets at the Nanjing Naval College. It was also an opportunity to visit some of the sites associated with Admiral Zheng He ...

Zheng He's Tomb

"Visiting Zheng He's Tomb was a very emotional experience for me. Having spent a year and a half planning our expedition to retrace the Ming voyages of Admiral Zheng He; it felt like a fitting place to start our own journey. There are 28 steps leading uphill to Zheng He's tomb, split into four groups of seven. These represent the seven voyages of Zheng He spread over 28 years."

Rex standing in front of the tomb
View of the former dry docks in Nanjing

The Treasure-ship Yard

"Zheng He's fleet comprised some of the largest wooden ships ever built. These huge ships were constructed in the Nanjing Treasure-ship Yard. Three of the original seven dry docks still remain as five hundred metre long shallow lakes. In 1985, the municipal government declared this site of particular historic importance and erected a large stone tablet saying that the site was protected. When i arrived, this stone had been completely covered by bulldozers clearing the surrounding land for development..."

The First Quest

In each port of call, Nikki and the rest of the team are setting Rex a quest based on the six hundred year old diary of Ma Huan, who sailed on three of Zheng He's seven voyages. The first quest : "In Nanjing, to find a shrine to T'ien fei, Goddess of Sailors, and light an incense stick there to wish good luck to our voyage ..."

quest1.jpg (31240 bytes)
The first quest is achieved ...