“No, I mean what do you truly desire?”
“Ahhhhh …. two boats!”
For fans of the Netflix series Lucifer, you will understand what this means and for sailors it should resonate. For all other unfortunates, let me explain.
Campaigning race yachts around the Philippines presents a few challenges. It can be difficult to find good accommodation for crews as well as delivering race equipment and crew from one location to another. Added to this is the fact that the Philippines offers one of the most spectacular, and largely undiscovered, cruising grounds in the world with mind-bogglingly beautiful Islands, amazing reefs and historic wrecks to dive, and there is even a bit of surf thrown in there for good measure. Happily, there is a solution to this dilemma that does not involve sweltering in a carbon ‘hell-hole’ whilst trying to ‘cruise’ a race boat …. get a cruiser!
To that end, I have been looking for a large passage-making cruising catamaran for some time. I have looked for the right boat in New Zealand, Australia, South East Asia, the Pacific, and the US. I was specifically after something in the 50’ to 55’ foot range, relatively light with easily driven hulls and a good sail plan. Unfortunately, my budget does not stretch to something like an Outremer 5X, but having sailed on a few Schionnings in the past, these were at the top end of my list. Also, I wanted something of a project boat with not too much to do (yeah right …. more on that later), but that could be tweaked to suit the sort of sailing I do and the boats purpose as both a comfortable fast cruiser and a ‘mothership’.
In late 2019 I found a promising contender in Hong Kong, a Schionning Wilderness 1650X called ‘Double Happiness’. Built between 2005 and 2008, the composite structure was completed by a professional antipodean boat builder and the painting and fit out conducted by a local yard.
The boat was originally built for an owner who had planned to take it offshore and so equipped it with a full suite of up to the minute (for 2008) Raymarine navigation and communications equipment, all the safety bells and whistles, and all the amenities one would need to go serious cruising (generator, water-maker, air-conditioning, fridges and freezers, etc., etc.). It was also given a good set of Doyle sails and a carbon mast. For whatever reason, the carbon rig did not survive on the boat and the planned offshore cruise did not eventuate. The boat was sold to an expat family resident in Hong Kong and it became a houseboat serving them well for more than eight years.
Having found the boat online, I reached out to the broker who promptly connected me with the owner. Questions were asked and things progressed to the point where I visited Hong Kong to take a look. This led to a survey and eventually to negotiations and a purchase.
The next challenge was to get the boat from Hong Kong to the Philippines. Having largely sat in marinas in Hong Kong with an occasional local cruise, I made the decision to update all the charts (paper and electronic) and all the safety equipment onboard, including a new six-person life-raft. The opportunity was also taken to purchase new halyards and sort out some of the running rigging. The mast was given a thorough going over and tune. The boat was fueled up (we carried enough to get us all the way across under power if needed) and provisioned. We just needed a suitable weather window. It came the week before Christmas.
The ride across was uneventful and quick. Hatches leaked and the main and jib were old, but they all held up in the fairly stead 25 knots from the quarter. The trip to Subic Bay took just over two and a half days – not too bad.
With the boat safely tucked away in Subic Bay in the Philippines, we were in a position to start firming up the plans we had to turn what is a great boat into a great boat setup specifically for us. It is always a dangerous proposition to decide what changes you will make to a boat when you have not actually owned it for very long, but that is what we did. In our defence, I had been studying plans of the Wilderness 1650X, as well as the million or so photos I had taken of the boat and we had some clear ideas on what we need in a boat and how we like to sail. We did have the opportunity to tweak our plans when delivering the boat from Hong Kong and in the small number of excursions we managed to get in before the COVID-19 induced country-wide lockdowns.
So, the course was set. We were going to set up our large cruising cat for use in the Philippines with a view to returning to New Zealand on it in a few years’ time.