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

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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.

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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

February 8, 2015

The Support Team

All long term cruisers need somebody back home to help out. Some people use a commercial service, but frankly I'm not too keen on trusting all my financial affairs to a stranger. Most of us use a trusted friend or family member. Last time we cruised it was my mom and dad. But they're a bit older and they did it once already. Nobody should have to do it twice!

Carolyne, my sister-in-law, has been quietly and efficiently helping us manage our affairs for the past several years. She does it for love, not the minimal amount she charges for what I suspect is more time than she tells us. She reminds us of when we haven't paid our credit card bills, receives our mail, sends out cheques to obscure mail order vendors, get parts in the mail for future trans-shipment to some exotic port, deposits Diane's writing earnings, argues with our bank when we need new ATM cards, pays our property taxes, our medical bills, Maia's RESP contributions, and untold other tasks that escape my tired brain this evening. She also stores half a dozen cardboard boxes in her garage that our remaining ties to a land bound life.

So let's all give a cheer to Carolyne, the unsung hero back home who keeps this cruising family going, and never receives much more than a thanks from us. Those of you out cruising know how important this person is, and if you're planning to go sailing one day, I only hope there's somebody out there that has your back the way she does for us.

- Evan

February 3, 2015

15,000 miles for Pizza



Were they ever this young? Learning about tsunamis when a little one hit La Cruz

Exactly five years ago in La Cruz, Mexico we were invited to our friend’s boat, Totem for pizza. When we got there though rather than being served ‘the best pizza in the world’ (which we had been told about in great and sumptuous detail) we were given a meal of fresh seared tuna. Not shabby, but not the much lauded BPIW.
Mexico
Malaysia
Luckily the Totems are cool people and we enjoyed hanging out with them even if they lied about the menu. The kids played for hours and days on end, Behan and I would go for long walks, Evan and Jamie would do boat stuff. With a few weeks to go before they planned to jump off for their pacific crossing they promised the BPIW would still happen.

Mexico
Australia

Malaysia
But it didn’t. Other meals happened; there were tacos on shore, and potlucks, and a final farewell dinner. And as we waved goodbye when they set off for Australia, Jamie told us we’d just have to meet them in Australia for his pizza.

So two years later we did just that. The kids were bigger, the seasons were upside down, but the family was still very cool. We had a lot of meals together; there was Korean food with Scotch for Gung Haggis Fat Australia Day (Robbie Burns/Chinese New Year/AU day), corned beef and cabbage for St Patrick’s, Aussie BBQ’s on shore and even take out pizza. But six months after reconnecting with them, Totem was again on their way. And when I asked about the long-promised, but never-delivered, BPIW Jamie told us to meet them in Malaysia.

Australia
I’m not sure about you, but traveling 15,000 miles for pizza seems like a lot. Even for really good pizza. But I looked at it this way—if we’re headed around the world anyway, why not get a meal out of the deal? So we put the coals on to catch Totem before they set off for South Africa. Our original plan saw us overlapping with them for about a week. We gave Jamie plenty of notice and let them know we were coming for dinner.

Malaysia
The pizza was great: completely worth the years and miles. Or maybe what was worth it was the discovery that even as nomadic families who have been following our own paths it’s possible to forge a deep, enduring and recurring connection.

One of the questions we’re often asked is how Maia finds and keeps friends. The vision of us passing by on the edges of other people’s lives was one that also one that worried me. I love the history that comes with long-term friendships. I wanted Maia to have grown-up with other kids; to see her own changes reflected in them. That’s hard to find when your childhood spans dozens of countries.

So maybe the pizza wasn’t just a pizza. Maybe the best part of that dinner was catching up with dear friends and having a chance to both reminisce about the past and look ahead to our voyage to South Africa—with the very same people. 
Mexico
Australia
 Or maybe we just take meal invitations really seriously and if you ever invite us for dinner you better really, really mean it.

January 28, 2015

Medical tourism

Today I flew to Penang (Pinang), the local centre of medical tourism in Malaysia, for a consultation with a cardiologist. There are 4 big hospitals in Penang. The local hospital in Langkawi, where we are, is not well regarded.

From what the cardiologist was able to determine today, my heart is fine. We'll see if blood test results show anything else soon.

The Blood Testing Lab
Here's the breakdown of costs (in $USD) for those interested in how much medical care costs here without any sort of insurance.

Taxis to/from airports (4 cab rides) = $40
Lunch at the hospital = $6
Very short flights to/from Penang on AirAsia = $34 return

Cardiologist Consult = $33
EKG = $13
Echocardiogram = $80
Blood tests = $100
Admin fee = $3

Total = $309.

That's a pretty good deal considering a lot of the above was transport. According to one of my cab drivers, the Gleneagles hospital where I went is the most expensive of all the big 4 private hospitals!

- Evan

January 20, 2015

The Plans They are a Changing



Singapore in the distance

Every time we run into a cruiser we haven't seen for a while one of the first questions is, "what are your plans?" It's not that we forgot their original plans (though it can be hard to keep track) it's more the fact that cruising plans are, as they say, 'written in sand at low tide.'

Depending on boat repairs, the strength of your home currency (last time we cruised our cheeseburgers in paradise suddenly got really expensive when the Canadian $ went into a steep decline), the health and happiness of crew and family at home, and a dozen other factors plans can change without warning.

Our plan had been to kick around South East Asia for the next year. We wanted to do some inland travel in Cambodia and Vietnam, spruce up the boat in Thailand, do some writing... But then last week Evan and I celebrated the 29th anniversary of meeting each other and starting to date. We were children…
threading our way through the freighters to Puteri Harbor
As we tallied up our life: 30,000 sea miles, living and working in a handful of different countries, friends around the globe--one detail stuck out: We've been living on boats, away from Canada for fully half of those years. Then Maia pointed out that for her it's been over half her life. Somehow, in a five minute chat, we all decided it was time to point for home.

There are other factors: Maia’s growing up faster than we can keep up with and as much as she loves cruising and travel her taste of high school has made her decide she wants to finish out her schooling in a school. And Evan and I both really want to spend more time with our parents and siblings—not to mention the old friends we have at home.
 
looks like we're planning to cross an ocean...
So that's what we're doing. We'll be taking off to cross the Indian Ocean in a few weeks (we'll share more about our route in the next post). One big bonus is that a number of other boats we've met along the way, including our good friends on Totem, had already committed to the big trek to South Africa. And because Behan from Totem is a planning guru (we used all her spreadsheets for crossing the Pacific) we feel fairly organized. Though honestly, that fades a bit with each day we get closer to our planned D-day…

We still have a number of repairs to make but we've already taken a dent out of our provisioning needs and feel pretty confident that somehow it will all come together. So South Africa or bust!

January 16, 2015

Glad that's done

After crossing part of the South China Sea, we arrived this afternoon at the islands just south of Singapore. We are all in agreement that was probably our hardest slog ever. It was a 300 mile beat to windward, close hauled all the way, in about 15-20 knots of wind. And a bit of a 2-3m cross swell. And sometimes a 2m right in our face swell or residual wind waves. Horrible steep confused seas for almost the whole time. We stuffed the bows hundreds of times. One bow locker accumulated about 10 gallons of water. A forward berth hatch leaked, getting all Maia's stuffed animals damp.

Casualties:
- starboard daggerboard lower section broke off in heavy seas. It was the 'old' one - the port one was repaired in Fiji. I suspect the wood cores get wet and the fatigue of 25 years of service gives them a finite lifespan
- autopilot steering ram sort of stopped working at night. I swapped in a spare one so that wasn't too much drama.
- the genoa furling line broke. Twice. The first time in a squall when it unrolled very suddenly. We found the chafe point on the furler drum just before it went a third time.
- A few spots of the trampolines came undone in the big seas
- the forward catwalk/swim ladder broke apart, leaving it only semi-intact, a victim of constant bashing at speed.
- a running backstay fitting started pulling through the cabin top
- Fred the cactus took a bad fall, but we are hopeful he will pull through.

We will take 2 days to get to Puteri Marina in Malaysia but that's just day passages in mostly shelter waters. Whew. Now we just have to dodge the hundreds of freighters in front of Singapore.

- Evan

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