Timing is everything

Maybe sometimes it is just plain luck.

I was sent to the Solomon Islands in 1967 for a year’s voluntary service at 18 years of age, and returned home via Hong Kong a year later. That year persuaded me that there was more to life than a university degree, but what to do?

Months later, browsing the Guardian newspaper (not my first choice I might add and, yes, my mother was a teacher) at home in Derbyshire, a very small advert caught my eye — Join the Hong Kong Police. Well, I did remember the odd smell from the Kai Tak nullah, but then I also remembered the lovely outfits worn by the local BOAC staff. A year later I was here, February 1969.

Many incredible adventures later I am still here. How lucky to read that Guardian newspaper.

My parents became interested in wine through the Sunday Times Wine Club in the late 70s and they ordered a case of 1961 Grand Puy Ducasse without knowing much about it, at a cost of about £1.50 a bottle. The wine was delivered to their doorstep but, oh dear, another case was delivered the next day.

So, they opened a bottle to see if it was any good. They thought it okay and paid for the two cases. Over the years they opened a bottle every time I came home from Hong Kong. Loving parents, they were. 1961 turned out to be arguably one of the top three vintages of the last 100 years. Luck or kharma?

On the back of that event, we all became rather interested in wine and, back in the UK on leave in 1983, I had a small amount of money that I decided would go into wine. Through The Wine Society, I bid for six cases of Cheval Blanc 1982 and 12 cases of Mouton Rothschild 1982 through the en-primeur system of buying wine. Unluckily I failed on the Mouton but was successful on the Cheval Blanc. The six cases were £300 pounds each, not a cheap wine.

Over the years I sent one case to Hong Kong to drink with friends and sent one case to my parents to open whenever I was there.

Around 2007 I opened my last two bottles in Hong Kong with friends and I thought they were starting to get passed their best. Both the wine and my friends, I might add. What to do about the four cases still in UK?

Well, at that time the first big wine auction in Hong Kong for many years was being touted, with great interest from the Mainland. So, I shipped the four cases here and put them in the auction, suggesting to my wife that I might buy a small boat with the proceeds. I knew, of course, that 1982 was also a fabulous vintage. A few days I had half a million Hong Kong dollars in my bank account, looking for a boat. The price per bottle for 1982 Cheval Blanc has never since reached near that amount. Timing?

So, being a boating magazine with an excellent wine section, I need to tell you what I bought. Sea Feather is a Cheoy Lee Offshore 41 built in Hong Kong in 1977. I found her in Bonbonon, near Dumaguete in the Philippines and sailed her back to Hong Kong in 2009 when I retired.

She is now an old, but elegant, lady. Tough as well, because as we left Subic Bay bound for Hong Kong, unknown to us a typhoon formed off the east cost of the Philippines and followed us all the way to Hong Kong, veering inland just as we reached the Lima Islands. The last few hours proved how well the boat handled. But I am the first to admit there was a bit of luck as well.

I thought about renaming her Cheval Blanc IV but I’m glad I didn’t, she deserves the name she has. Read more on page 102 of the Number 292 issue of Fragrant Harbour.

                                                                                               — Neil Maloney

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