Balls Up

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Sat 12 Apr 2014 06:09
1400 Position: 35 00.7 N 129 08.6 E
Course: South west Speed: 2.5 knots
Wind: North east F3 gentle breeze
Sea: slight Swell: North east 0.5 meter
Weather: overcast, mild
Day's run: 119 nm

The wind held fair for through the night and we made good time to Pusan, arriving off the port at nine 0'clock. I called the port control, identified myself as an Australian yacht coming from Fukuoka, Japan, and asked permission to proceed to the Pusan Yacht marina. All seemed to be going well and according to plan. I had to motor the last mile or so because we lost the wind behind the mountains and the densely packed skyscrapers that sit behind the marina. All grey glass, with the spires reaching for the heavens, they were quite impressive if a little intimidating.

As I entered the breakwater I could see a big sign on top of the rocks, saying STOP. Hmm, that didn't look too welcoming I thought, and as I entered the marina proper two guards appeared out of a small transportable office and yelled down to me, clearly indicating that I had to leave. I stopped Sylph and tried to talk to them to ask where I should go. After a while they allowed me alongside a small plastic pontoon that sat at the bottom of a steel stairway running down he side of the breakwater wall. They remained absolutely adamant that I could not stay because the marina was being refurbished. I tried to ascertain an alternative location where I could go to clear in, but the guards were not terribly helpful. Eventually they suggested Tong Yeong. I tried to find out where this was and eventually they showed me on a map on a smart phone. This was not a very clear map so now having a bit of a vague idea where it was I went below to check it on my electronic charts. It was about sixty miles away. Now I had read that sailing at night is not allowed in Korean waters so this seemed a poor option. I tried to explain but the guards seemed to think that I should be able to get there in three hours. After a little remonstration on my part that this was quite impossible one of the guards seemed to be saying that I could stay overnight and leave first thing in the morning.

That sounded like a good solution so I then asked what about clearing in. The guard indicated that he would organise the customs officers to come down to the pontoon. This now sounded like we were getting somewhere. I went below for a cup of coffee while I waited. About thirty minutes later I was called back on deck. But the news was not good. The customs officers had arrived and confirmed that I must leave and go to TongYeong. Bother! I thought, I really should have checked on this before leaving. I had heard that there were plans for refurbishing this marina, but it did not occur to me that I would not be able to clear in and find a berth somewhere for a few nights. Further conversation was clearly futile so I started Sylph's engine, recovered the dock lines, and despondently motored out of the marina, back the way I had come. Meanwhile the wind had faded to not much more than a zephyr.

Once we were in clear water again I tried to call the port control to see if they could offer any help, but things just got worse. After making a few inquiries they told me that I was actually not legal to enter the country because I had not submitted an entry notification. Oh, oh! This had the sound of getting serious. The gentleman on the radio advised me that if I came alongside that I would be arrested for smuggling. Now it seemed I really was in a spot of bother. The advice I had received from an experienced yachtsman back in Japan (no names, no pack drills) was clearly completely wrong, but I could not blame him, the responsibility was mine to have checked the regulations myself. I had stuffed up quite seriously.

Now what? I asked myself. The water and fuel tanks were full, I probably had enough gas for cooking for close to a month, and I probably had enough food on board for a couple of weeks, but I had left Japan thinking that it would only be a short hop to Pusan, so I was not prepared for a long passage. What were my options? I had just cleared out of Japan, so I could not go back there. The next nearest countries were China and Russia. Good grief! They were definitely not places one drops in on unannounced. I didn't have my US visa yet, so heading to Alaska early was not possible. Canada? I looked at my pilot charts – it was over 4,000 miles away. I was very tempted but it really is not feasible. Back the way I had come perhaps, but typhoons and cyclones lay that way, and that would be totally demoralizing.

I reluctantly called the port authorities back and explained my situation to them. Eventually they came back to me and said I should go to Tong Yeong and gave me some phone numbers to call the customs there. Well I have tried ringing them on the sat-phone, one of the numbers is wrong and the other gives me some loud music for about thirty seconds before disconnecting. I have given the port authorities an ETA of sometime tomorrow which they were, like the guards, somewhat incredulous about. I asked them for the latitude and longitude to make sure I had not misunderstood the name, but I had the right place. There is a bit of short cut through some channels, which would save a bit of time if I motored the whole way, but his isn't really feasible either.

So for now we are sailing slowly before a very light breeze. Even an ETA for tomorrow is looking optimistic just now. I have a bad feeling about how all this is going to pan out. I was so close to seeking advice from the Korean consulate in Fukuoka, but I go there late, had an unpleasant experience with the guard, and then I bumped into the “expert” and chose to believe what he told me. However, that is history so there is no point dwelling upon it. For now I will continue to head for Tong Yeong, unless a better idea occurs to me. Any suggestions?

All is well . . . for now. Tomorrow I am not so sure about.