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 19, 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 15, 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 8, 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.