Arrived Tong Yeong

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Sun 13 Apr 2014 13:45
Position: 34 49.70 N 128 26.28 E
Alongside Tong Yeong
Wind: North east F3 gentle breeze
Weather: overcast, rain
Day's run: 65 nm

It was a long and tiring sail down the south east coast of South Korea, though in many ways an interesting one. I tried to put my worries about what would happen the following day behind me and to remain focused on more immediate issues such as not getting run down by the numerous merchant ships that run up and down the Korean Strait. Once clear of the skyscrapers and mountains of Pusan a light and steady breeze returned from the north east, and as our course was now to the south west this put the wind right aft, and allowed me to spread Sylph's wings, with the mainsail to starboard and the genoa poled out to port.

I think I can safely say that this particular piece of coast would be the busiest I have come across. Numerous ships ranging from small trawlers to huge container vessels plied their wares along its coast, a far cry from the junks, dhows and carracks that would have carried the world's trade only several hundred years ago. The VHF radio was alive with chatter through the night. I gained the impression that the traffic all up and down he coast is overseen by several shore based traffic management centres, especially around the busier areas. Ships were frequently calling each other up clarifying their intentions and every now and again some more irate words were spoken between ships that had undoubtedly gotten a little too close to one another. In today's world even old Sylph is quite technological machine. I increasingly rely on electronic charts linked to GPS and the AIS (automatic identification system) is a definite quantum leap in collision avoidance technologies, though in these crowded waters by no means fool proof. For most of the night I was working on the one to two mile range scales as any larger scale presented me with too many ships to look at, and the alarm would never stop.

Despite the near constant traffic and the odd close encounter (at such close ranges faster ships could come up on one very quickly) I still managed to catch a few winks of sleep. While this is not without its risks, I have come to the conclusion that even getting a ten minute snooze on a regular basis can help keep the mind functioning at an acceptable level, however once you get into serious sleep deprivation, it becomes more difficult to recover into a safe mental state, and one can end up making either a mental or physical mistake with potentially disastrous consequences. Besides which, trying to survive in a zombie like sleep deprived state is not what I would call a fun time.

The navigation also needed a fair amount of attention. I had not planned on coming this way, so I had no paper charts and had to rely on my electronic charts. This is not something I prefer but over time have become more comfortable with. We rounded the small island of Somaemul Do at a little before midnight, where we gybed and dropped the jib pole to broad reach to the west before coming more onto the wind to close the narrow channel into Tong Yeong. Now that we were leaving the major shipping channels and getting into shallower water the risk of running into fishing gear was increasing, and I did not want to get to Tong Yeong too early, so I put a reef in the mainsail and furled most of the headsail, allowing Sylph to coast along in the now swell free waters in amongst the numerous small islands at between two and four knots, her speed varying with the changing wind flowing over, through, and around the high precipitous terrain.

As dawn turned a night lit strangely pale by numerous man made lights to a dull grey, the hard black shapes of rocky islands softened and, despite the rain I enjoyed the sail. I tacked up the increasingly narrow channel, dodging the many smaller vessels, mostly fishing vessels heading home from the night's work. Even here I managed to have one close encounter with an angry trawler. We were closing one another, I under sail of course, and he churning along at full speed, a flurry of busy white water showering petulantly down the vessels sides. I watched him closely and wondered whether he was going to avoid me. I did have right of way, and while we were getting into more constrained waters there was no way that the channel could be considered narrow for vessels of our size, having some two miles of water to manoeuvre in. It seems the mentality of fishing craft largely transcends nationality. I got ready to throw the wheel over, but then the truculent trawler altered suddenly to starboard, sounding a long wail on its siren as it did so, presumably in protest at the inconvenience I had caused. Now why he could not have made a small alteration of course so as to pass clear astern of me half a mile back is beyond me, but from then on I decided that, being the visitor to these waters, I would stay as clear of these troublesome fellows as I could. I suspect there is an element of thinking in the fisheman's mind that, as someone who works hard at exploiting the world's waters so that the rest of us who depend on their munificence might eat, that they enjoy some rights that we who ply the oceans more in the line of pleasurely pursuits, albeit of a very dubious nature, do not share in. However, the last time I looked at the Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea, no mention of such rights were so proclaimed. Nonetheless, I shall defer to commonsense, and desire for a peaceable world, and, when possible, a good night's sleep.

I had called the VTS (vessel traffic scheme – I think) earlier to obtain permission to enter the harbour, which was forthcoming, and obtained instructions on where to berth . I was grateful the the radio operator spoke good English (presumably a requirement) and was very helpful (probably desireable but not essential). Once alongside people proved to be mostly friendly, and some of my fears about what was yet to transpire between myself and the authorities started to subside. The customs officers arrived first, who completed their paperwork efficiently and cheerfully, one of them even accepting a cup of coffee, which I always take to be a good sign. Next a delightful lady, in small checkered rain boots, arrived. Of slight proportions, she somehow gave off an almost absent minded, aunty-like fussiness. Initially she did not want to come aboard, but I think the steady drizzle outside changed her mind. Fortunately she was not at all fussed at the sight of RC, and was satisfied to take away with her a copy of his rabies vaccination certificate.

That left only the immigration department to deal with, perhaps the people who potentially had the biggest grievance with my lack of attention to bureaucratic detail. In this instance they were not going to come to me, but rather I had to catch a taxi to their offices in town. The man who stood behind the desk in the marina hotel complex attending to yacht tours, also seemed to double in someway as the visiting yachts liaison officer, for he organised the taxi for me, gave me a slip of paper with written instruction in Korean to give to a taxi driver for the return trip, deposited me in the taxi and gave the driver his instructions. At this stage I had no Korean money on me, but it turned out that, unlike Japan, Korea makes much more extensive use of credit cards, including taxi services.

It was a slow trip along the choked streets. We sat immobile in the congested traffic for several minutes at a time, the driver patient, listening to what sounded like a melodrama on the radio, with a noisy dialogue between two very angry men, while I dozed, head nodding, occasionally aroused into a more conscious state by the heated exchange emanating from the dashboard speakers.. The taxi driver duly deposited me at a building clearly marked Immigration. It was at this moment, looking very dubiously at doors that seemed locked and barren, that I realised it was Sunday, and the thought occurred to me that I might have been deposited at an empty office. But, as I was paying the taxi driver, my fears once more proved unfounded, when a young lady opened the doors and waved at me to come in.

In these post 9/11 days, an event it seems that has changed the world forever, the management of people across borders has become complex and very technological. Now biographical metrics are recorded as a matter of course, primarily an electronic scan of fingerprints and a photograph. The passport is now also a member of the electronic age, with what is I presume a microchip of some description buried in its heart. This is why I had to go to their office and not the other way round. When I entered Japan, the immigration procedure, while a little more portable still required a suitcase full of equipment and a government building with power outlets and interview facilities. Now maybe I am still a little sexist, but I have to say a smiling young lady is in no way intimidating, so what remaining fears I might have had of the full force of the South Korean law being visited upon me evaporated.

Once the official business was taken care of, and the all important stamp impressed upon the pages of my passport, I inquired about finding a bank. The young lady, who I suspect was called in specifically to attend to me, walked down the street with me to a convenience store that contained an ATM. She helped me through the machine's hieroglyphs, but the machine would not take a foreign card. She then started to walk with me down the crowded streets to guide me to a bank, but I started to feel that I was imposing on the young lady. I felt entirely relieved to be legal and free, and was confident that I could recognise a bank without too much difficulty, regardless of the obscure markings it might have on its exterior. Somehow banks effuse bankness, a pure form that Plato would immediately recognise, though not the bank.

Tired and relieved, I started to explore the streets of my first Korean city in thirty two years. Despite the passage of time, something familiar echoed down the decades. The chaotic crowdedness of the Asian urban landscape, its odours of fish, and the noisy caterwaul of street vendors drifted through time, unchanged, to tug at some distant memories, memories that resided in my brain, but memories that belonged to a person I am no longer familiar with.

I walked along the streets, lined with overflowing fish tanks, that were even more overcrowded then the city containing them. Mussels, and shell fish of all varieties, were everywhere, little women sitting amongst them cutting them open, and piling new catches into tanks of seawater. Streets and streets of aquariums, crowded, packed with live fish, swimming as best they could, the bottoms of the tanks a carpet of small soles over laying one another. Tanks full of numerous small octopuses tentacles writhing, stood open topped, while tanks of large octopuses stood higher up, the creatures' legs firmly suckered to the glass. Slithering masses of thin eel like fish, perhaps they were eels, waved and writhed through each other, like sea grass waving in a tide. Elsewhere dead fish of all sizes lay on display, dried and dessicated. Piles and piles of white husks of fish, less than an inch long, lay everywhere on tables in plastic buckets, and were scooped like sugar into bags for their customers. Larger fish lay flat, opened out like so many leaves of paper lying loosely on top of one another.

It was all a little overwhelming, and I could not help but feel that it is crazy. We just cannot go on like this. Too many people, too many mouths, eating, eating, eating. I felt the hope in my soul washing away, overflowing into the gutters along with the thousands of gallons of sea water overflowing from the fish tanks, keeping the fish alive and fresh for nature's most glutinous predator.

I wandered wearily away from the bustle of the markets, trying to find my way back towards the marina. I knew it would be quite a distance but felt the walk would be good for me, and a new place is always interesting to explore. Nonetheless the complex maze of streets and the irregular shape of the indented coastline, with bridges, tunnels, and highways cutting it all up like so many jigsaw pieces, I soon became disoriented and lost. I found myself out on a busy road approaching a bridge that I was certain was going the wrong way. I backtracked and eventually hailed a taxi.

The taxi ride back was unpleasant. The driver was manic, speeding and dodging in and out of traffic; in a hurry to make money I suspect. When we pulled up at the marina, initially my card would not work on his machine, but after a couple of swipes it appeared to work. Once he had his money the driver became highly agitated with me, and rudely gesticulated for me to get out. He took off in a squeal of tires, which made me wonder whether the payment had in fact not worked. I looked at the receipt and it all seemed in order. Who knows?

Back on board I have just caught up on a couple of hours of sleep.

All is well.