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Don’t plan too far ahead when adventure cruising says FCC’s own sailing enthusiast

FCC members, whether they are journalists, correspondents, or associates, have a wide variety of interests. Some play guitar, others paint and write poetry, but in the case of Richard Winter, adventure sailing is his passion. While other investment bankers might also captain their own boats around Hong Kong, Winter sails far beyond his peers, exploring hidden gems across Southeast Asia.

Sitting alongside fellow Professional Committee member Philip Bowring, Winter described how he became a “part-time sea gypsy” to FCC members at a Club Lunch on November 14th.

In 2017, Winter and his two business partners sold their company. Their goal was to rebalance their lives, which in Winter’s case led to extended stays aboard his sailing yacht Soko which he bought in 1999.

Winter and his wife Isabel soon after bid farewell to their beloved pooch Muggins and set sail out of Hong Kong — through the Philippines and to Micronesia where they spent periods of the two following years with their crew. 

“It’s interesting when you’re adventure cruising,” Winter began. “It’s a mistake to think too far ahead. When you get to the next destination, people always talk to you and they say, ‘Why don’t you go here? Why don’t you do that?’ So we purposely didn’t commit to a rigid sailing plan.”

Richard Winter and Philip Bowring. Photo: FCC

A consistent recommendation he received while cruising around the islands of Micronesia was Raja Ampat, an archipelago in eastern Indonesia.

Initially, Indonesia wasn’t on Winter’s schedule at all. Pirates, corrupt bureaucrats, petty theft and other sailors’ various cautions kept him from considering the territory at all, yet the crew began a new leg of their journey in 2019 and experienced the exact opposite of what they feared.

“The people are remarkably friendly, and they really want to help you. You can’t get lost there, you can’t be short of anything. They take it like a personal responsibility to be helpful,” Winter said when reflecting on his interactions with the locals around Indonesia. 

Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck. With the world descending into chaos and travel restrictions being quickly enforced, Winter and his wife left Indonesia, leaving their boat in the care of an Australian sailor who arranged to motor her on a Visa Run to East Timor while the couple returned to Hong Kong.

For the next two years, Winter split his time between Hong Kong and Indonesia. The only problem was the condition of his ship, which over two years of neglect, a rat attack and bee invasion began to deteriorate quickly.

Once travel restrictions eased, Winter and his crew were able to return to Indonesia  and spent 5 days restoring their ship. Their accomplishment filled them with pride as they sailed out of Sorong with growing confidence to explore more Indonesian territories.

But Winter shared his own caution to anyone who wishes to go adventure sailing: Don’t be too cocky or confident.

His advice comes from a rude awakening after a night in a beach resort. At around 5am, Isabel woke him up, claiming that their ship was gone. At first he didn’t believe it, yet when he got up and checked where the ship was moored, it really was gone.

“It’s every sailor’s worst nightmare, absolute worst nightmare when that happens,” he said.

Richard Winter. Photo: FCC

The resort owner couldn’t believe it either, yet on the horizon, a small mast was just visible.

“That must be your boat,” the resort owner said.

Sure enough, it was. Winter, borrowing a fast boat from the resort, managed to retrieve his yacht with nearly everything intact. Nothing had been stolen, there was no damage. Soko had carefully weaved her way through the hazardous reefs and sand banks and the only thing out of order was the anchor chain neatly laid out on deck and a burned out anchor winch. To this day, no one has ever explained or claimed responsibility for what happened.

“It was absolutely weird,” Winter said. 

Isabel Winter, Richard Winter, and Philip Bowring. Photo: FCC

Throughout the talk, Winter also shared creative tips for surviving at sea, as well as more stories about crossing the equator, retracing the steps of Alfred Russel Wallace who discovered the Wallace Line and origins of species before Darwin, the historical importance of nutmeg on the Spice Islands and close counters with Komodo dragons.

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

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