March 23, 2015

Slowest passage ever?

If there is any wind, we're a 6 knot boat. We have typically averaged about 150 miles in a 24 hour period on passages. From Trinco to the northernmost Maldives port of entry is 720 miles.

This one has been different. Aside from the south coast of Sri Lanka, where the light NE trade winds are deflected and increased by the island, and the engine was shut off for a day, this has been a motorboat ride. And because we've still got a long way to go, we're maximizing our fuel range by motoring and motorsailing slowly. At 4 knots.

At 4 knots we burn about 0.4 gallons/hr, at 5 knots it's closer to 0.6. Fuel consumption in displacement boats is a very nonlinear curve.

We carry 60 gallons of diesel. At 0.4 gph we can motor for almost 150 hours. 150 hours x. 4 knots = 600 miles. We've never tried to maximize our motoring range until this passage. Let's all raise a glass and say "cheers" for bit of wind out here. 320 miles to go as of 3 am today.

Its boring to motor for 6 days. ��


This e-mail was delivered via satellite phone using Iridium Mail & Web software. Which is still a work in progress.

March 21, 2015

En route to the Maldives, day #3

It's been a very light wind passage to the Maldives until last night. Night #1 saw us getting caught in 2 fishing nets and having to cut ourselves free. It got to be a well practiced drill. Engine off, furl Genoa, raise the daggerboard where the net was caught, let net slip aft to the rudder, lift it with a boathook and cut away. Thankfully winds were light so there wasn't much pressure on the nets. Its always very stressful.

Last night was easier, we stayed further offshore in the shipping lane on the South coast of Sri Lanka - but more importantly the fishermen had lights on both ends of their nets. Made it much easier to avoid them. None came by to trade with us for fish.

We've been sailing slowly all night but the wind has increased to about 11 knots on the beam. So we're doing 6.5 knots. The forecast doesn't have this wind lasting, but for now we're going to enjoy it and sail fast to our next country.


This e-mail was delivered via satellite phone using Iridium Mail & Web software. It's working quite well.

March 19, 2015

So Long Sri Lanka

In a perfect blogging world I would have written several posts about Sri Lanka by now. I would have written about riding an antique train to catch up with our friends in Kandy, and then stopping long enough to absorb a little of the wonder of Sri Lanka. I would have described how Maia fulfilled a childhood dream and had a sari made with babysitting money—and then how she discovered that it’s a bridge between cultures which lead to some of the sweetest interactions she’s had, as each woman she met needed to adjust it.

Some of my words would have been used to tell about the highlands, where tea is grown. How the green is so vibrant it made us think of New Zealand. But also, how the picking and processing of tea is so labour intensive that we’ll never take a cuppa for granted again. One entire post would probably have been about traveling cross country in company with three other boat crews—about the hotels we found (some nice, some infested) and what it felt like to hurtle down roads, passing every vehicle in sight, despite the lack of passing lanes and driving three abreast on a one-lane road.

The roads
Making hoppers--a yummy rice and coconut pancake with an egg inside
Sri Lanka has captivated us. We love the food, the people and the beauty of the landscape.

One morning in Anuradhapura we woke up early and loaded into a big jeep for a Safari through Wilpattu National Park. The park was closed for 26 violent years during the civil war. In 1984 when the LTTE massacred 24 park rangers, the terrorists went on the rampage poaching animals, taking timber and robbing archaeological treasures. The Government attempted to re-open the National Park twice. First in 2003, but then a group of visitors were killed in a landmine blast. In 2007 eight soldiers and park staff were killed by terrorists.

The park reopened for good after the war in 2010. But even in 2015 visits to the park are still a fraction of what they were. For us, this meant when our jeep passed through the gates and into the park, we soon wonderfully alone in the woods. Our guide was thrilled each time he stopped to show us yet another wonder. There was a jackal which looked exactly like an Egyptian Hieroglyphic, enough mongooses that we had to look up the plural of mongoose (mongeese is also correct), native peacocks and elephants.

When we sighted one of the parks 40 endangered leopards, I couldn’t help but cry.

In Anuradhapura we cycled through the 2000 year old city exploring the ruins. Samphat befriended us when we were looking at one excavation. He had worked as an archaeological assistant but because his hope is to travel he went to school to become a cook. Even as a cook in a good hotel he still only earns $40 a month. So as he showed us the ruins and taught us about Buddhism he explained his plan.

By the old bathing pool he gave us samples of the languages he’s learning—along with English, he’s taught himself some French, Italian, German and Spanish. As he showed us 2000-year relief carvings he told us how he was collecting foreign coins to represent his goals and showed us his small collection. Then he grew thoughtful and explained Buddhism teaches you to accept things, and maybe he’d never earn enough money to travel. So he showed us how to meditate to gain peace. 
But when he was done he told us he was a bad Buddhist because he still really wanted to travel.

March 4, 2015

Deep Sea Fishing Sri Lankan Style-day 8

It might seem counterintuitive, given all the pirate lore out there, but being approached by a decrepit boat with a wildly waving crew can be the highlight of a passage. We were prepared for the fishermen as we closed with the Sri Lankan coast. Other boats mentioned that the boat crews love to trade. On the surface they seem to be looking for beer and smokes but when we said we had neither, but wanted fish, it seemed anything would do. We were offered 3 mahi mahi for a container of orange juice. We only took one, but the real trade seemed to be a chance to laugh and wave and check out each other's boat.

We have a love-hate relationship with fishermen. At worst they fill the sea with unmarked or illegal gear and turn the ocean into a hazardous obstacle course. It's the best fishermen we love. They're often fishing at a substance level, with barely seaworthy boats, but their seamanship skills are humbling and their good nature is infectious.

Maia counted seven young men, on that small boat, 200 miles from shore. The cabin was a crowded wheelhouse and gear spilled over the decks. She tried to figure where they'd sleep or even find shade in the hot tropical sun. And maybe where they'd cook and what they might eat. They had questions too; where were we from and where were we going, but we had no common language for questions. So they circled us, calling out "hello" and "Bollywood" while one danced. And we called out good luck, wishing them safe fishing.

It's a small thing to trade for fish in the middle of the ocean, but it's a moment that will linger. The fish tasted of gratitude.
Sent via Iridium Go!

March 3, 2015

Collision in the night-day 7 to Sri Lanka

My 12am-3am watch started off with a bang. We were speeding along at 9 knots under spinnaker when our starboard hull collided with something. The banging reverberated through the boat, waking Maia and sending Evan I out to check the rudder by flashlight and to try and catch sight of the mystery object.
The sea is filled with things we don't want to hit. There are half-sunk shipping containers, and their liberated contents, whales, fishing gear and more recently tons of random garbage. Along with all the plastic we've avoided huge timbers, large metal tanks and containers and even a door in the past months. Yesterday we sailed past what appeared to be a wooden stairway railing.
Happily whatever we hit last night was noisy but light weight and our hull and rudder were fine. Reassured all was well Evan and Maia headed off to sleep and Charlie and I hunkered down in the moonlight and peered into the distance.
There wasn't much to see; while the moonlight brightened the waves and made it easy to see the horizon it was impossible to see any submerged hazards. After a while I stopped staring at the waves and went back to scanning the horizon for boats. This is why I only caught a flash of the flying fish when it came soaring in through the hatch.
It landed by Charlie, who must have thought dreams do come true, then started fluttering its way around the boat.
A fish, flying through a window at 2:30am, is a hard thing to process, even on the ocean. Mouse, bug or wind-up-dalek toy all seemed like more likely explanations for the object that had just bounced down the stairs into Maia's hull, with Charlie in cautious pursuit.
The fish woke up Maia and she suggested I catch it and set it free before Charlie got brave enough to approach it. I scooped it up with a paper towel and slipped it back into the sea. Charlie settled in back beside me and stared intently out the window perhaps hoping for another wayward flight.
A half hour later, just before I woke Evan for his watch, I spotted a small boat dead ahead. I steered to avoid it and then headed to bed. When I woke the moon was gone and dawn was breaking and we were one day closer to Sri Lanka.
Sent via Iridium Go!

February 28, 2015

Bound for Sri Lanka-day 4

Today's stronger winds and bumpy seas have settled into smooth sailing. Usually by the 4th day passages have settled into a comfortable routine; night watch patterns are established, we've caught up on sleep and we're just enjoying the view of an endlessly changing ocean. This time though I was caught off guard by day 3 sea sickness.
Non-sailors are often surprised that long distance sailors get seasick. I have to say there are times when I really wonder why I put myself through such misery. Like most sailors who get seasick I've tried all the remedies. Some knock me out, others make me hallucinate. At best I end up feeling doped and only mildly nauseous.
The payoff always seems worth it though. Tonight we'll be hundreds of miles from land and the stars in the night sky will span from the Southern Cross to the North Star, our wake will gleam with bioluminescence and some where over the horizon there's an exotic destination we're just starting to dream about.
Nothing about getting this far is easy- but in those bright and quiet moments there's no where else I'd choose to be.

635 miles from Trincomalee

This e-mail was delivered via satellite phone using Iridium Mail & Web software. Please be kind and keep your replies short.

February 17, 2015

Test #2

I'm sure this will include a photo now that I've resized it.

Iridium test

This is a test to see if we can upload photos to the blog.

This e-mail was delivered via satellite phone using Iridium Mail & Web software. Please be kind and keep your replies short.

February 14, 2015

Indian Ocean FAQ’s (including the all-important pirate question)

Ceilydh from the sky, thanks to Brian from Delos
About four weeks ago we decided set off for South Africa. When I wrote the post letting people know what we were doing, I promised to share our route and our plans in the next blog post. Somehow repairing a broken dagger board, a shattered catwalk and a leaking hatch as well as provisioning for the next 8-9 months and catching up with a variety of old friends got in the way of actually thinking about the fun part of our plans; the travel. But as we hit countdown mode (we’re aiming to depart mid-weekish) I thought I’d answer a few of the questions have come in from friends, family and the occasional mean stranger (who still write to tell me what a bad mother I am and to ask about pirates…)

So, where the heck are you going and will there be pirates?

The most popular cruising route through the Indian Ocean used to be from Sri Lanka across to Yemen and into the Gulf of Aden through the Suez Canal and into the Med. But after a long civil war Somalia’s government collapsed. With no government (hence no navy or coast guard) local fishermen lost their livelihood to illegal fishing by foreign trawlers. Not surprisingly the fishermen took it upon themselves to fight back and some of them discovered stealing boats was more lucrative than fishing. Piracy soon emerged in the unpatrolled waters off of Somalia and even small yachts were attacked.

So we’re not going that way.

Our plan is to go around South Africa—arriving there in time for their summer (Nov/Dec/Jan). With that as a deadline, we have two basic options. One is the Southern Route—boats leave later in the year and do longer passages to Cocos Keeling, then the Mascarene Islands (Reunion and Rodrigues), on to Madagascar and then Richards Bay, South Africa. The benefit is you get more time in SE Asia and get the whole Indian Ocean done quicker. The risk is you are making longer passages and are exposed to the weather for much longer periods of time. This route tends to have stronger winds and rougher seas.

We’re not going that way either.

We’re departing on the Northern Route. This route will take us eight months, or so, and give us a chance to visit some pint-sized countries and remote atolls. From Langkawi we’ll be sailing about 1100 miles to Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. After a few weeks there, we’ll head on for two months in the Republic of the Maldives—a chain of 1,192 islands that stand in the Laccadive Sea and where they speak Maldivian and spend rufiyaas to buy access to reportedly great 4G.

From there we’ll head another 450 miles to the Salomon Islands—part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos/ Diego Garcia) where no one but sailors who are on their way across the Indian Ocean and sailors who are part of the military are permitted to visit. From there it’s on to the Seychelles, Comoros (which is the third-smallest African nation by area), Mayotte (an overseas department of France), Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa.

Clearly we chose this route as a geography lesson for Maia. We also love the fact that four other teen boats are making the trip at the same time as us.

No, really, what about pirates?

We would never go anywhere we didn’t feel was safe. But that said, from the Maldives to Mozambique we’re technically inside the ‘box’ where our yacht insurance won’t cover us for acts of piracy. We’ve been monitoring the situation though and in 2012 a joint action by several countries and shipping agencies successfully disrupted piracy to such a degree that yachts are beginning to go through the Suez Canal again. The region we’ll be in hasn’t seen any recent pirate activity at all.

We will pay careful attention though—there are a variety of agencies that track acts of piracy. If we feel it’s warranted we may change our route or got into ‘stealth mode’ where we stop reporting our position publicly.

How do you plan to communicate (in case of pirates)?

We’ve been really happy with our SSB. Combined with our Pactor modem we’ve never felt isolated and have been able to participate in nets, get weather and send emails. This said, it turns out there is a pretty significant gap in the Indian Ocean where reaching a Sailmail station (the way we get our weather and email) becomes tricky. This is also the area of the Indian Ocean that we’d want to be really up to date on any piracy concerns.

So with that in mind, for the first time in our lives we’re early adopters and have purchased an Iridium Go (a black box that lets us use our smart phone as a satellite phone and internet device). From what we’ve heard the reliability is emerging and they have a lot of bugs—but between the technologies we feel pretty confident.

In case of an emergency we’d set off our EPIRB.

I saw that beer photo from your friend’s boat, isn’t there any beer out there? Do pirates drink beer?

No idea on the modern pirate’s beverage of choice, but it turns out one of the reasons yachts love Langkawi is that it’s duty free. If you’ve ever bought a bottle of wine in a Muslim country (or a rasher of bacon) you’ll know intoxicants and the pig are both haram and therefore both very spendy.

While there is no help for bacon lovers in Langkawi (you’ll need to carry on to Thailand for that—or spend big in the teeny-tiny non-halal section of the grocery store) sailors who imbibe tend to stock up the way anyone would stock up when they have unlimited access to $11 a litre gin.

What other provisioning have you done?

The countries on our route for the next eight months are very small, isolated and poor. We’ll find the basics; so far every country we’ve visited has had lots of starch options (rice, taro, cassava, pasta, white flour…), onions, green beans and tomatoes have been consistent, as has some sort of tropical fruit, most have UHT milk and some sort of processed cheese, chicken and eggs are plentiful, as is tinned tuna and spam, some sort of bean or legume is usually around (though it may be hosting a protein)—so there’s always something to eat. What we buy are all the things to make a basic diet more interesting; everything from nice cheeses and long life cream, to tinned corn, olives and capers, to baking supplies.We also buy easy 'at sea' food when we find it. Maia insisted we buy out a store's entire stock of American clam chowder.

We also are restocking our medical kit and picking up a year’s worth of prescriptions and contact lenses. For the boat we’re making sure each system is in good shape after the last eight months of constant travel (cruising is like a dog’s year for a boat. One year of full-time cruising = 7 years at the dock.) and restocking the spares we went through.
Last but not least we're also stocking up on eight months of cat food and kitty litter. That's the way to keep a boat light...

February 12, 2015

Ode to the Boat Part in Transit

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a working windlass, a new starter motor, a waterproof hatch and a satellite phone to get weather by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a few more prescription meds (why does each chemist only carry a one month supply of each drug?), a new dagger board and a repaired mast tang to keep the sails flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
replacing the hatch that leaked with an 'A' rated waterproof one--note the new wood at the front of the cat walk--the old one was smashed on the Borneo passage
We’re anchored in Telaga harbour on Langkawi island up to our eyeballs in projects (they multiply once you start) while waiting for packages to arrive. As a duty free port, Langkawi is a favourite with sailors who need stuff. If you throw a whole lot of money at a spare part you can get things within a week from the US. For example we need four springs for our Quick brand windlass which should cost a dollar each, BUT the rectangular shaped springs only come as a unit with the brushes for $145—add expedited courier fees and that $4 item will be responsible for our diet of beans and rice for the next month…

Boxes of parts = more projects. Also sent our spare alternator off for an overhaul while we were here
Every second boat we talk to is waiting for parts to arrive. DHL is known to arrive here quickly (and we’ve been giving them our money by the reluctant fistful to excellent result) while both FedEx and USPS both seem to take a nearly as expensive but much more scenic route to Langkawi.

It's a busy time of year and we couldn't hire anyone to do it so Evan rented space and tools at a shipyard to build a new dagger board
As places go to work through projects and wait for parts this one isn’t bad. The anchorage is flat calm and well protected, there’s easy shore access for fuel, laundry and water etc. There isn’t much for shops or cheap restaurants in the immediate area but the marina rents cars during the day for a few dollars an hour—so we’re able to make runs into Kuah and collect up all the parts we need.

Charlie is just happy that it's calm
We are on a deadline though—two of our kidboat friends are on their way to Trincomalle, Sri Lanka and we’re keen to catch up for some inland adventuring. So if you wouldn’t mind sending a few ‘fair winds’ thoughts out to our stupidly expensive windlass motor springs to hurry them on their way, we’d be obliged.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry, ‘ Yes we have that part!’ from a laughing shop-owner,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
- with apologies to John Masefield