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.

- 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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January 12, 2015

Some days are like this

Today I started with a small project - change a topping lift wire that had lost some of its vinyl covering to a more sail friendly Spectra line.

We use the windlass to raise me up the mast, so I went to start the engine to keep the battery charged while using the windlass. "Click" went the starter motor. Uh-oh. While not in the middle of nowhere, you can see it from here. The nearest place we could maybe get something like a starter motor fixed is the city of Pontianak, some 80 miles up a river from here (no roads in this part of the world). So instead of climbing the mast, I get to troubleshoot the starter motor.

Wires are fine, lots of voltage, battery charged, connections mostly corrosion free but hit them with some sandpaper and wire brush, take apart the starter motor and it's looking good. Trouble must be a sticky solenoid. So I whack it a bit, squirt some miracle product into it, and when re-assembled, the starter works again. Whew. 2 hours into the 10 minute job, and I'm ready to begin. The topping lift replacement goes smoothly, but as I'm being lowered from the masthead, I stop at all the shrouds and look them over. Get to the lower shroud tangs and holy shit - one is fractured right apart. These are some nifty titanium tangs we refitted in Fiji. They have had a history of cracking at the bends and sure enough, ours have. I really wished I had taken the supplier's offer to replace them with stainless steel ones when their problem first arose.

So it's back down to the deck and start scrounging through the spare materials bin to see what I can use to replace the cracked tang. Surprisingly there is a lack of titanium flat bar but I do have some aluminum angle of the right thickness and width. So I cut off one leg of the angle, drill the required holes (1/2" holes with a hand drill are fun) and bend it with some clamps and a hammer. It looks pretty good for a jury fix. Titanium and aluminum aren't too far apart in stiffness so they won't share the load exactly equally but for getting us 300 miles across the South China Sea and coastal hopping to Langkawi it will do o.k. If I hadn't the aluminum I would have laid up a carbon fiber strap using the old tang as a mold or even plain fiberglass (would have been thick but it would have been strong enough).

Back up the mast, replace the shrouds, down to the deck, and re-tighten. I manage to do a few more minor running rigging replacement jobs that have been nagging my conscience a bit. The exploding furling line the other night makes me watch the ropes a bit more carefully.

So my 10 minute job took about 4 hours due to other failures along the way. While not typical, it's not that unusual either. The best sailors are the ones that keep trying when things go wrong we were telling a friend recently. Tomorrow morning we set sail for the islands to the South of Singapore. Maybe Malaysia in about 5 or 6 days if the weather is O.K.

- Evan

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January 9, 2015

Yes, Virginia, There Really Are Storms and Pirates Out Here. (Parent alert: just skip this post)

Friendly police with a serious warning--we're in an area known for pirates, so please take their mobile number in case we're attacked.
At some point last night, when my vertigo was at its worst, and the boat seemed to be revolving in a clockwise fashion with distressing speed, I tried to focus on one bow to settle the motion. It might have been the drugs—but rather than relieving my vertigo, forcing myself to focus made me feel like I was in the fakest-looking storm sequence ever filmed. Our boat looked like it was in a wave tank—with waves coming every which way. Buckets of water seemed to be hurtled at us from just off camera. Occasionally a flash of lightning would illuminate the entire amateur scene. While it was a bit strange to be so disconnected—the bonus was I didn’t feel even slightly concerned about the weather. If the rough seas looked that phony, clearly things were fine.

A while back Evan and I came across and article (survey?) about qualities every successful blue water sailor shares (I’d hunt down the link but have limited internet—but if this rings a bell and you know the source please post it in the comments). The results looked at cruisers who have lasted for years on the water. It turned out sailing has less to do with finances, perfect boats and text-book sailing skills and more to with grit, and the ability to puzzle through complications without quitting, than most of us imagine. In other words—the sailors who keep going are the ones who don’t give up during the tough moments, instead they try one-more-idea.

This answer makes tons of sense to me. I have to say our sailing friends are some of the most stubborn people I know—pile the problems on and they’ll just keep solving them. The flip side of this is that most of the long term sailors we know are also really cautious. They take calculated risks and don’t worry too much about not making a destination as planned, when planned. To borrow a little Kenny Rogers’ they know when to walk away and know when to run…

We just ran away. Rather than being in Malaysia with decent internet we're somewhere deep in Borneo with sketchy internet. The last three days passed in a seasick haze, punctuated by crisis. Take Two of Get to Malaysia was one of the worst passages we've ever had and took more consecutive grit from Evan (who already has a medical worry at the back of his mind) than he’s needed so far.

When we came out of the Kumai River we knew we had an initial upwind/against current slog. But the winds were forecast to be light so we expected we’d make more than 2 knots in seriously obnoxious seas. But 2 knots it was (think toddler walking speed) and within a few hours I was bright green. By the time conditions eased off, the fishing boats had also come out to catch up for days of being harbour bound. We miscalculated which net belonged to which boat caught a net around the prop. This meant Ev jumped into the murky water at 3am and spent for an hour in bouncy seas working to cut us free (at least it got him a bath so he smelled better than me...).

Our second day and night don’t seem to come with any distinct memories. I vaguely recall Evan encouraging me to sip water and try to eat. And I know I kept a few watches so he could get some sleep—but the upwind sailing in rough seas pushed me into the worst seasickness I’ve ever experienced, mostly I was in a stupor.

By the third night we thought we might be okay. Every few hours we’d get smoother conditions—enough to get food or water. We were making good speed under genoa alone (so many squalls came through that it was easier to only have one sail to reef) and then the jib furling line broke in the middle of a squall sucking Evan's hand into the winch (it's swollen but okay).

Evan pointed the boat downwind (which had the unfortunate coincidence of being in the same place land was) and I woke Maia at 3am for the second time. Donning our harnesses we worked together to secure the sail and got the boat turned back on course in the nick of time. According to the weather reports if we fixed the furler at sea our current weather window still has just enough of an opening to get us to Malaysia.

the calm river water was a beautiful sight-even with all the fish traps we needed to dodge
But instead we followed a tug into a river this morning. We’re anchored. Evan is sleeping. There will always be another weather window. Know when to fold’em.

And…the police just pulled up. Apparently we’re anchored in an area of known pirate activity. They’re moving us to a village we didn’t see and giving us a cell number to call if we’re boarded. Umm, thanks?! They’re also getting us more diesel fuel—gotta love a full-service piracy alert.

January 1, 2015

Emergency Aboard

All is calm this morning, if a bit sombre. Police boats are coming in from the Air Asia crash site—a tragic location we were set to sail through, but then the weather deteriorated and we turned back, abandoning our passage to Malaysia. The solemn parade of boats is matched by a quiet gratitude aboard Ceilydh though. Turning back may have done more than just keep us out of bad weather; it may have kept Evan out of serious harm.

Sailing in bad weather (with a seasick wife) tends to be a bit of an endurance sport for Evan. Sometimes he forgets to do the little things, like drink water. After a busy day of sail adjustments and pounding to windward we were back at anchor and ready to call it a night. The next morning though Evan woke up clammy and dizzy; a short while later, blood drained from his face and he collapsed. Luckily Sarah and I caught him as he went down.

As we steadied him, it was clear he was confused. He complained his heart was racing but when we tried to take his pulse it was so erratic it was hard to find. Pale and lethargic we set him up on the settee with rehydration drinks and began to look at our medical books. We carry Medicine for Mountaineering and two different Ship’s Captain Medical Guides. All pointed to some type of arrhythmia and indicated we should try to get outside medical advice.

Medical care in Borneo is poor. In an emergency the best option is considered evacuation. When you’re a cruiser though, especially in a really remote location with no marinas or other cruisers for backup, evacuation is a last ditch move. I also didn’t have a clear idea of how I would physically get Evan from the settee, into the dinghy and on to shore—if it came to that. Even with three of us—this could have been a difficult manoeuvre.

Our other option was to call for help from one of the Air Asia recovery boats—but we didn’t want to pull a boat off the crash site unless Evan’s condition was truly an emergency.

Fortunately I belong to a really excellent web-group of women sailors who are based around the world. When I put a call out for medical help I was inundated with support, information and advice and put in direct contact with medical experts who walked us through how to get a sense of how ill Evan was and at what stage we needed to get outside help. His pulse had no clear rhythm but stayed between 70-80 beats a minute—which apparently was a good sign. He also made slow improvements through the day—finally being able to sit up after four hours and stand unassisted (if unsteadily) after about six.

As we worked through our crowd-sourced medical intervention, it was clear that our seemly well-stocked medical kit had a few holes. I know how to take blood pressure—but the cuff and stethoscope we used to have became toddler toys and disappeared somewhere along the way. Also our medical-grade rehydration drinks had been used up and never replaced. We made rehydration drinks with salt, sugar and water and multivitamins—but having extra potassium and magnesium would also have been handy.

By dinner time Evan was steady enough to eat. His pulse was still abnormal but the dizziness had eased. Being New Year’s Eve he opted to skip the champagne but did manage to help set off early fireworks and blow the New Year’s horn. Then we danced a dance of gratitude.

Here's to 2015--a year of health and happiness and friends and family
Our emergency was a reminder that our first step in safety aboard is all about preparation and self-care. Evan will be following up with a full check-up in Malaysia—but this morning his pulse is steadier and strong and he feels well. We are incredibly grateful that the women from Women Who Sail were so generous with their time, expertise and support. We’re a very long way from home—but through our scare we felt very close to a network of caring people from around the world.

December 31, 2014

Visiting the Relatives--Orangutans in Borneo

Our bright green and yellow Klotok slowly chugged up the river, easing past floating islands of water hyacinths and skirting the edge of the dense swampy jungle. This river trip, to see the orangutans of Borneo, is one we’ve dreamed about for years. And with our private boat, friendly crew and delicious meals—the trip was even better than hoped.

home away from home--complete with great meals, crew and a wonderful guide
Even still, station one, our first stop, was a bit of a surprise. All the photos I’ve seen of the orangs give an up-close and personal feel that somehow seems unstaged. What we found was a feeding platform set in the jungle and roped off from a set of benches. The orangutans were called (yodelled for?) by the guides after food was set out—giving the whole thing an animal-show-at-the-zoo vibe. But when the apes began swinging in from the jungle, crossing over our heads and cautiously sussing out the setting before grabbing a handful of bananas, it was clear that while these former orphans and illegal pets were habituated to humans—they’re still wild animals.

juvenile trying to get away from the boar

the wild boars can kill small orangutans--so mama grabbed a stick and whacked this one
Tanjung Puting National Park was first set aside by the Dutch Colonial government in the 1930’s—to protect the resident orangutans and proboscis monkeys. In 1971 Camp Leakey was established by Birute Galdikas as a base for studying the wild Orangutans. But fairly quickly Indonesian officials began bringing her orphaned and seized orangutans and her work turned to controversial efforts to oversee their rehabilitation.

proboscis monkey
Tanjung Harapan, or station one, was originally a village. But when it was absorbed into the park boundaries and chosen as a quarantine and release site, the village was moved across the river. Until about 1995 some 250 wild born orphan and ex-captive orangutans were released here and in Pondok Tanggui, or station two. The great apes that were swinging over our heads (and in our friend Sarah’s case, peeing on her) were all the decedents of these original rescues.

at 5-7 years the little orangutans become independent
Knowing their history made seeing the animals living in the semi wild seem extra sweet. Watching the young ones come out of the canopy and scurry to the platform for milk and bananas felt beautifully familiar--like watching kindergarten kids grabbing a snack. Despite knowing that orangutans are one of our closest relatives (they share 97% of our DNA) it took watching a mama help her baby down form a tree and another teaching her baby to climb to feel the deep connection—right down to my DNA.

watching the mamas felt so familiar
We spent hours watching them. At Camp Leakey we didn’t leave the feeding station until dusk drove us away. And we felt so rewarded—seeing so many intimate moments between mother and child, and then having a breathtaking encounter with Tom, the alpha male as he swept past us, close enough to touch.

Tom the alpha male at Camp Leakey
Our trip back down the river came with even more wonderful moments: the sightings of six different wild and semi wild orangutans in the trees on the river banks.

Uning teaching her baby to climb--the most important skill an orangutan learns

Ex-captive and orphaned Orangutans are no longer released in Tanjung Putting because of the health risk to the wild and established populations. As we traveled down the river we sighted a mother and baby on the non-park side of the river, on public land which is being ferociously logged by illegal cartels planting oil palms. When I asked our guide, Rini what will become of them she was sadly straightforward with the harsh facts—unless the logging is stopped, they’ll die. The best case is a logger might rescue the baby, which would then go into a quarantine site and eventually rereleased in a safe place.

The problem is the lack of safe habitat. New release sites take community involvement. The village that was moved across the river from Tanjung Harapan, or station one, is developing a new release site on re-forested public lands. Other release sites border the park, but they are at constant risk of being logged.
Uning and Maia make eye contact
The hope comes with Indonesia’s new president Joko Widodo, who has pledged to halt the illegal clearing for palm oil. It also comes with each of us refusing to buy products that contain palm oil—which is found (and often hidden in) more than 50 percent of the goods we use every day, from shampoo to cookies…
A wild baby orangutan--who was unlucky enough to be born on the wrong side of the river

December 25, 2014

Ho ho ho from Borneo

What happens when three heathens and a Jew set off from Bali across the Java Sea to Borneo in the middle of Hanukkah? Light winds and pleasant days, it turns out. We’ve been worried about being the last boat through Indonesia this season. Perhaps we’ve been lucky, but the weather has been pleasant and easy for most of our trip and our thought is if you’re leaving Australia late, don’t fret too much. The bonus of being later in the season is you’ll have just about every anchorage to yourself and the flies…

colourful boats and spa day
To date our passages have been similar to those we’ve read about; light winds and the occasional rain squall. We dodged one particularly intense squall (lightning but not wind) on our way to Kumai. But most of our days were spent admiring a flat sea and the flamboyant fishing boats that ply the waters. Here and there we got a few hours of sailing but it stayed pretty calm the whole way across. Each evening we lit the Hanukkah candles and Sarah tried to teach Maia the ancient prayers. When it turned dark, we watched the AIS for big ships, and squinted into the dark for signs of fishing boats and tugs.

Rain of biblical proportion greeted us when we arrived in Kumai, making us wonder just how much rain there really is in rainy season. But as we settled into our anchorage and finally started our Christmas preparations (decorating, wrapping gifts and turning Indonesian meat into mince for our Christmas Eve tourtiere) the sun shone. And then we were visited by Adi, who is arranging our tour to Camp Leakey—to see Orangutans and who’s also getting us diesel and having our laundry done. Goodness, we’ll miss Indonesia…

Christmas Eve, on an exotic river, in a far away land was kept familiar with traditions we’ve accumulated along our journey. We added a new movie (how did I miss “A Christmas Story”?!) and Dylan Thomas’ reading “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”. And we ate tourtiere and Maia’s Christmas treats.

Maia, the teen goes to bed later than Maia the kid used to do, so the grownups stayed up longer than planned. Christmas morning we were woken at 4am morning by a chorus of Muezzins calling out across the Kumai River, drowning out the soothing jungle sounds. The Muezzins woke Charlie the cat, who woke Maia the teen (who’s still a child at Christmas), who rewoke us, and by 6am, as the Muezzins began their second call (which we’re guessing had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus), we were opening stockings. By 8am the gifts were open and our 6th Christmas afloat (and our second with our dear friend Sarah) was well underway.

We’re so grateful that we have this incredible opportunity to spend familiar holidays in unfamiliar places; to mix the wonder of the world with the comfort of home. We’re reminded of the friends and family we deeply miss, and those we’re yet to meet, and wish each of you the happiest of Christmases.

December 18, 2014

Searching for Bali Ha'i

At the risk of offending all the Bali lovers out there, I have to say it; we don’t love Bali. Part of the reason is as boaters we didn’t long to arrive here from a foggy winter somewhere. And our first view of the sky meeting the sea isn’t from a hotel room window in a nice neighbourhood. Instead we come to Bali through a polluted harbour that’s located on the wrong side of a garbage dump.

Garbage in Bali is as much of the landscape as Gunung Agung, as it sticks its head out from a low-flyin' cloud. There was a sign on the beach in Kuta apologising for the trash in the surf and explaining the floating plastic bags were a ‘natural phenomenon’ linked to rainy season… Yesterday we watched dolphins leaping through an island of plastic. When we swim we need to swat bags out of the way.

Bali is a handy place to have guests join us--our friend Sarah has arrived for a few weeks on the boat
But for us, the bigger loss is with the people. We’ve met some of the kindest people we’ve ever encountered in Indonesia, people who continuously make us fee like honoured guests and who seem invested in making us feel like we’ve found something special. We still catch glimpses of the kindness here (the fisherman who came out in the pouring rain to guide us past Lovina’s reef last night for instance) but mostly the saying we encountered on our first day holds true, “Westerners come to Bali for peace of mind, Indonesians for a piece of your wallet…”

We were pretty impressed with our newly acquired Batik skills
Looking past the garbage and the hawkers we still saw some of the Bali that people love so much. We happened upon an incredible driver, Made Sumartana who toured us around for a few days. We gave him our wish list and he took us through the insane traffic to temples that looked over volcanoes, to rice paddies and batik lessons (not to mention massages and grocery shopping).

In the quiet moments he told us about his life as a Balinese Hindu and explained some of what we saw around us. It felt like if we stayed longer and searched more deeply under the surface that maybe the Bali people dream of was still here. We could also imagine Bali before its most recent tourism boom. Not sure when it happened but for Aussies this is the place to come and get stupidly drunk while for busloads of Chinese tourists this seems to be the place to shop and then make the bathrooms really messy.

A huge benefit of Bali is all the options for stuff to do--Maia took a great trapeze class (that's her flying through the air!)
Maybe Bali has called to too many people over the years. And maybe rather than finding their own special island everyone has flocked to the one with an international airport. But for us BaliHa’i has slipped away. We’ll sail on and find our own special island.

Diving the Liberty wreck

We did find a few great things in Bali:

If you are looking for a safe driver, Made Sumartana has a clean seven passenger mini van. For about $50 a day he’ll take you anywhere you’d like to go 0878 6172 5409 or imadesumartana74 at gmail.com

We loved our traditional Batik class with Nyoman Deking. $45 for a three hour class in his lovely garden. Dekinga at hotmail.com