November 18, 2015

South Africa and/or Bust—a tale of camera gear

It's hard to imagine we'd forget a moment of this trip, but memories fade and photos help keep them close

In our last port before Richards Bay, every single boat we talked to had something that needed repair. Most of us had a lot of somethings that needed repair. The broken gear ranged from biggies like engines (inboard and outboard), dinghies that were on their last legs (or tubes), ripped sails and sail covers, damaged rigging and cranky autopilots to small (but vital) things like rusted out bras (yes, that’s a thing) and worn out bedding.

But for us, the #1 item on our to-do list was to fix our damaged camera equipment.

Because we shoot for both money and memories we have quite a bit of gear aboard. The first time we went cruising, when all of our lenses developed fungus (more on that later), we realized sailing and cameras have an uneasy relationship. And over the course of sailing across the Indian Ocean we proved this was true. We damaged one our main 17-55 F2.8walk-around lens (and may or may not have permanently killed the 7D camera) during a surprise downpour on shore. An older 24-85 lens succumbed to massive fungi infection, while our much loved 10-22 super wide angle took a tumble and broke in half.

By mid Madagascar we were down to our 12-year-old SLR body and a bit of an odd assortment of lenses including two telephoto lenses, an 18-55 that would only communicate with the camera intermittently and the infected lens. Based on our mishaps and experience we learned a few things:

Maia was taught to wrap her sari by tea plantation workers--i love the sweet memory and the photo reminder
Fight the Fungus:
Fungus is an infestation of spores on the outer (not so clean) surfaces of your gear which then germinate and produce more spores on the internal glass surfaces. The damage ranges from cloudiness to opacity and the way to tell if you have it is to hold the lens up to the light and look through the glass for signs of spores. Because there are a lot of fungi options you're looking for anything that's white or grey and may range from faint spotting in one corner to spider webbing across the entire surface.

While camera repair shops do offer to clean fungus, more often than not the delicate work is cost prohibitive. Even if you can get it cleaned for a good price (shops in SE Asia offered good deals) the lens surfaces may be permanently damaged by the metabolic products of the fungus, which destroys the non glare coatings and etches the lens. And even if you're successful getting it cleaned chances are the spores are still there and eventually the fungus will come back.

If you do find fungus, segregate that lens and look into having it professionally cleaned (see above) to prolong its life until you can replace it. If you’re spore free keep in mind that humid salt air is terrible for camera equipment. I’ve learned from a couple of pro shooters that lenses and the internal workings of cameras can develop fungus in as little as a week, especially if you are in a hot and humid environment or if you go in and out of air conditioning frequently. Zeiss warns it can develop even sooner; in relative humidity of at least 70% it may only take 3 days.

The Maldives offered dramatic and complex contrast--something I made sense of later as I went through our photos
Clean and Store:

The key to protecting your gear is keeping it clean and storing it in a dry place. Many pros recommend wiping down the external surfaces of your bodies and lenses with clean cotton rags lightly soaked in alcohol—this helps remove all the ‘food’ for the spores and also removes any salt that’s accumulated. Then you want to store your camera in a dry box with silica gel packs. We use rechargeable ones like these Dry Packs. Keep in mind when storing or carrying your gear that you should avoid leather, fabric and wood containers.

We keep one small drybox in a handy place so we can grab the camera quickly, while the big box with lenses and the backup body are stored in a different place. When you go to shore, don’t forget to pack your camera in a dry bag—or at the very least bring along a heavy Ziploc—just in case.

The Seychelles looked like a postcard
Go for Redundancy:
Even if your photos don’t contribute to your income, they probably contribute to your trip and will definitely contribute to your old age when (if you're like me) you’ll need them to jog your memories. If you shoot SLR it can’t hurt to have a spare body and lens kicking around (check for used and reconditioned gear). If that’s out of your budget, look for a point and shoot that takes decent pictures. But keep in mind if you’re main gear fails, you’ll be relying on back up gear so make sure you like it.

I found our 12-year-old 20D was a big step down from the 7D and recalled immediately why we had upgraded before sailing. Because the results were so disappointing (and super contrasty) my photo output from the middle of the Maldives onward dropped dramatically. When we got to South Africa one of the first things we did after dropping of all the gear for repair was to upgrade our backup equipment to a reconditioned 100D. Not only is it a good backup, but its light weight and compact size make it a great walk-around camera—something we were missing, despite all the gear we carry.
I hope to always recall the colour and life of Comoros
Protect your Photos:
At least once a month we hear from or about someone who’s lost their photos due to abandoning a boat, having a computer stolen, being hit by lightening or experiencing a run of the mill computer crash. Repeat after me: backing up isn’t enough.

While we do backup to at least two hard drives: we backup weekly and keep one in a waterproof container in our ditch kit (dry bags are not submersion bags and their contents will get wet). We also go a step further; we keep all our photo files located somewhere off our boat. Backing up to flikr or the cloud works for people with regular and fast internet, but many of us don’t have that. Our method is to send a hard drive with all our pictures on it home at least once a year. Hard drives are cheap and compact and offer great insurance.

So that's us and our gear. We're always happy to learn more--so if you have more tips please share away.
and lemurs--just because

November 7, 2015

It takes a village-to cross an ocean

Papillion takes on the bar at Bazaruto
Sometime in the next 36 hours we'll find our feet planted on solid motion-free South African soil. If I had any champagne, it would be chilling. 
But we drank the last bottle of bubbles in pretty Moramba Bay while celebrating our Thanksgiving. And as much as this passage deserves marking, we'll have to wait for pub drinks with our little passage making fleet.
Leaving Bazaruto was carefully timed for high tide and diminished wind. Even still the bar crossing left us grateful for lots of past experience. The confidence that our friends on Crystal Blues showed when they plunged into the breaking seas first, reassured the bar crossing neophytes that crossing was possible.
Even more than the Pacific successfully crossing the Indian Ocean has shown me how important our 'village' is. The sense that someone has your back has been profound. While early cruising was much more about encountering locals these days it tends to be more about the company you travel with. With only rare exceptions its easy to move between fleets of boats and be warmly included and made welcome.
We'll miss our tight knit International fleet as we move from the Indian to Atlantic. But first, bring on South Africa!
Papillon makes their first bar crossing at Bazaruto. With a series of 8-10 breaking waves in 3 meters of water, it was a nail biter.

November 1, 2015

Mozambique-shelter from the storm

On the weather GRIB, the approaching low kind of looked like an invading force: Little magenta weather feathers multiplying and marching toward us—bringing 4 meter waves along with them. As the nasty weather feathers advanced, Evan and I used electronic charts overlaid with the approaching low to look at our options. If we held our speed we'd be into Bazaruto before the main army of wind. If we picked up the current we'd we could even bypass Bazaruto and hit the harbour 100 miles further south—but that harbour didn't offer the same protection as Bazaruto, and the stormy weather would overrun it first.

The prudent option was Bazaruto—and when we realized at least eight other boats would be taking shelter here—including friends that needed assistance with engine problems, we opted to duck into the national park.

In a perfect world we'd hoped to make Richard's Bay in one shot. Different from most passages, the trip between Madagascar and South Africa juggles a number of elements which makes route planning more complicated than normal. Not only do you have to have to pick a suitable weather window for an 8+ day passage (when most weather forecasts are really only accurate about 4-5 days out) but you need to decide where to start and end a passage to make the best use of the whirling eddies of current which can run several knots in any direction.

The result of the excessive number of variables is everyone has an opinion. And everyone thinks their opinion is best. But opinions about passage making often end up seeming like opinions about parenting. Most of us only do a passage once and we take in as much information as we can and then do what we can with the conditions we're given. Then despite all the research we've done, nature and circumstance take over. We get the kid we get and the passage we get.

For us—we decided that we wanted to cross the Mozambique Channel at its narrowest, where it offered the best consecutive positive current run and where we could have a bailout option if the weather deteriorated: which it will and so we did.

So we're safely tucked into a pretty bay—with soaring sand dunes, dugongs in the water and friends floating near by. It's all a stormbound sailor could really ask for.

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