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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ready for a Shakedown?

Feb. 16 (Jeju Weekly) When Lee Yill Byung headed out of Busan harbor bound for Jeju on his yacht’s shakedown cruise, he wasn’t aware just how shaky it was going to be. In nautical parlance, a shakedown cruise is where you learn what your boat can do and what problems it may have, and this professor of computer science at Yonsei University in Seoul found more difficulties than he had expected.

He ran aground at Haengwon Harbor on arrival in Jeju and learned the hard way that most of the yacht’s sails needed to be replaced. But he has taken each setback with good humor and a relaxed calm and treats each as a learning experience.

Lee first became interested in sailing as a way to spend more time with his family. “I started windsurfing in 1987-88,” he said. “At the time I was also riding a [motor]bike but I felt I wasn’t doing anything with my family.”

While in the United States with his family in 1999, he bought his first yacht, a Catalina 27 (yachts are traditionally identified by the design firm or maker’s name, followed by the length in feet). “My wife didn’t like it,” Lee said. “My kids kind of liked it but they weren’t really into it.”

When the family returned to Korea, the boat stayed behind and then, a year and a half ago, Lee began to look for another boat. “I went to Indonesia and I went to Norfolk, Virginia, to find a boat, then I found this boat in Busan,” he said, speaking of Paramida, the Celestial 48 he bought in December 2008, “as a Christmas present for myself.”

The boat was named by a previous owner, a Buddhist monk who bought it in San Diego and eventually sailed it to Korea. Param is the Sanskrit for the world beyond, or heaven, and ida means to go over, Lee said. Korea does not have professional boat surveyors so Lee bought the yacht not realizing the amount of work it needed: “I didn’t know a lot of things didn’t work.” This was only partly due to his inexperience, he explained.

“It is my bad habit,” he said. “When I like it, I buy it. I just want to find a reason to buy rather than a reason not to buy.

He sailed Paramida off Busan and took the yacht to the East Coast last summer with only an inexperienced crew member to assist him. “I got really friendly with the Coast Guard,” he said, with a laugh.

Then, for his winter vacation, he invited four students who sail dinghies in the Yonsei University yachting club he supervises to accompany him on a longer trip. “I said we’ll go to Jeju and then go to Fukuoka and come back.”

The charts they were using were old and did not show Gimnyeong Harbor, where they were headed, and the inexperienced crew members were having difficulty plotting their exact position as they neared Jeju, he said. They were talking back and forth with the Coast Guard at Gimnyeong but were actually outside Haengwon, a small fishing harbor further east. “We called the coast guard again before the harbor and I said, ‘We are strangers but I see there are about 15 big windmills to our left and two or three big windmills on our right. So if you are in the harbor, do you see those 15 windmills and two windmills on the left and right?’ He said, ‘Yes!’ so we went in.

“Of course, Gimneong doesn’t have any windmills,” he said.

They realized when entering the harbor that the lighthouses were not set up as expected for Gimnyeong Harbor and they “could see rocks everywhere.” They ran aground on those very rocks and at 3:55 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 15, Lee phoned the Coast Guard on 112 to report the incident. The Fire Brigade arrived first and tied lines from the yacht to the lighthouse and Coast Guard scuba divers checked the hull to see if it was holed. Another Coast Guard employee responsible for oil control also checked the amount of fuel on board and whether there was a possibility of any leakage. Late that night, at high tide, Paramida was refloated and finally made it to Gimneong.

The students flew back to Seoul on the next available flight. “I didn’t know how long it would take to fix the boat or how serious it [the damage] was, so I let them go,” Lee said.

The following week, having made minor repairs, Lee and a crew of more experienced sailors took Paramida to Hwasun Harbor, near Mount Sanbang in Seogwipo. A few days later, Lee was joined by Ralf Deutsch, owner of Big Blue 33 Jeju Island Diving and an experienced sailor; Sherrin Hibbard, a former fishing boat skipper in Australia who holds her Korean yacht license; and this writer, who has crewed yachts from Thailand to Kenya and between Sydney and Hobart, Tasmania. Sailing in highly variable winds, we managed to tear both the mizzen and mainsails and reduce a sizeable portion of the genoa (foresail) to ribbons.

“The fiber was really old, I think,” Lee said. “It had seen too much [sun]light.” When I commented during the trip that it had been an expensive day, Deutsch’s comment helped put things in perspective. “It clears thing up,” he said.

What it has cleared up for Lee is that a boat requires a bigger commitment than he first anticipated and, despite being tempted to sell Paramida, he intends to strip the yacht back to basics and do the work needed and learn more about his vessel while doing so. He will get a new set of sails, do some work above and below deck and replace any damaged parts, then cruise a little more.

“I enjoy it in the sense that I get to meet a lot of special people who are very kind and who are very different, who are unique characters,” he said. “Foreigners as well as Koreans, especially on this island. That is happening because I came here by myself on a boat.”

However, Korea doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure for yachting, such as marinas, he said. (The Jeju Free International City Development Center signed a memorandum of understanding with a Singapore-based company in January to help develop a marina somewhere on the island.) “I probably bought the boat too early in the stage of yachting development in Korea,” Lee said. “Maybe in 10 years, it will be much easier to keep a boat.”

For now though, Paramida will remain moored as a guest at the Gimnyeong Yacht Tours floating dock until its new sails arrive and Lee has it shipshape for the voyage back to Busan. “I spent a lot of time and money on the boat so far,” he said, “and I cannot forgive myself quitting in the middle. I want to make it nice again and really desirable, to me and to other people.”

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