Friday, 31 December 2010

Incredible India

Bolgatty Marina, Cochin

Although Neil has spent a long time in India this year, very little has been spent relaxing.  So early in December we flew to Cochin in the state of Kerala, "God's Own Country".  Located on the south west coast of India, we explored the ancient town of Fort Cochin and the marina at Bolgatty Island.  We were not disappointed in the food, the friendliness and the wonderful sights.  We stayed at the Fort House Hotel with a wonderful view of the extensive waterways leading into Cochin's backwaters and lake system.


Three days prior to this Neil was working in Hyderabad.  He was bitten by an insect whilst in a car on the way to see a client.  The bite instantly became red and angry.  By the weekend in Cochin the bite area was infected.  Neil started on a course of antibiotics and after a few more days he contacted the company's International Travel Assistance Service.  New antibiotics were prescribed but the relief was only temporary, the bite site began swelling and in a few days was the size of a half a golf ball.  Neil immediately flew back to Singapore and was at Singapore General Hospital an hour after landing and admitted for surgery later in the afternoon.

Cleaning the wound site - not much fun.
One more scar added

The surgeon excised the infected area, leaving a 3 cm by 1cm wide and 1cm deep hole in his arm (only click here if you want to see the wound). He was immediately put on a course of intravenous antibiotics. The wound site was kept open and cleaned and packed daily for the four days Neil was in hospital.

Visiting Boat Nurse

On discharge a nursing service was organised to come visit Neil on board and continue with cleaning and repacking the wound.  Gradually the new grainy tissue and blood vessels began to fill in this hole.

Excellent visiting nurse service
After Neil visited his surgeon for a followup visit, Ley took over the cleaning and wound packing.  With a week off between Christmas and New Year we planned to relax and hopefully find time to finish off the 12 volt control side of our refrigeration, still not completed from our refit.  But this was not meant to be....

One more time....
Happy New Year!

A few days later Neil was back in hospital.  Another infection had flared up, this time in his nasal and sinus area.  More blood tests, more IV antibiotics and bed rest at Singapore General Hospital.  The infection appears to be retreating and Neil no longer looks like Rudolf's brother!  But the bad news is that he will be seeing in the New Year from his hospital bed.

Wishing all our family and friends a very healthy, happy and peaceful 2011.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Month Of Challenges

Neil continues with his "other" life, working mostly in India, with ongoing AV projects in Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad.  He had quite a few health issues over the last 2 months, but he seems to be on top of it now.  But not even a red-eye flight from India to Singapore was going to deter him from his latest challenge.

Getting Knotted
Bowlines.....up the burrow, around the tree, down the burrow, back to me!
Close friend Carol Shaw is "den mother" to a group of Cub Scouts here in Singapore.  The pack, 120 plus boys, were having a camp-out in a National Park and one of the planned experiences was knot tying.  Being an "old boy scout" in Australia, and a sailor, pre-qualified Neil for the teaching task.  But he still had to pass an online test to permit him to instruct a scouting group.

With his new certificate and a basic out line of available equipment and expectations, off Neil went to the Singapore camp out.  Both the parents and the boys had a fine time learning how to tie knots, coil line and the understanding of which knot to use when and where.

Kris and David departing from One15 Marina.

Hello....& Farewell

In early Novemeber our friends Kris and David on SV Taipan docked here at One Degree 15 Marina, Singapore, just two berths away from us.  Wow  - "real" cruisers to do real boating things with !  David, Kris and Ley shopped till they dropped, chasing boat bits, including webbing, alternator parts, and batteries.  A little food, clothes and shoe shopping happened as well.

We enjoyed  many great meals and good wines, until they finally cast off their dock lines, heading for Sarawak (our favourite Asian destination).  They are slowly heading northwards and our paths may not cross for many years to come, leaving us the challenge of saying farewell and safe sailing to great friends.

Continuing the Tradition
When we were based in Sydney we celebrated Thanksgiving with our American friends, Steve and Carol Shaw.  After the annual Saturday feast we usually loaded all the leftovers and more friends aboard Crystal Blues for a peaceful picnic on Pittwater.  We're pleased to say that this year we continued with our Thanksgiving tradition, celebrating again with the Shaw family and friends.  True to form, Sunday saw us sailing with delicious leftovers, plus a bunch of hangovers.  Crystal Blues sailed to St John's island, a challenging journey of at least 2 kilometers.  Our taste buds and waist lines were again challenged with turkey, mounds of stuffing, plates of vegetables and Carol's fabulous pumpkin and sweet potato pies.
Allen and Neil enjoying Thanksgiving!

Steven Shaw carving the turkey.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A Little Bit Of History

Trader Boat, August, 1997
Last month marked the 13th year of our guardianship of Crystal Blues.  From the moment we saw her advertised in the August 1997 addition of Trader Boat we fell in love.  Owners John and Jenny invited us to Townsville for the weekend, to stay aboard and go out for a test sail (motor really - there was no wind...somethings never change.)  She passed our inspection and then the surveyor's, with flying colours and a month later she was ours.

A lot of water has flowed under the keel since then and for both of us it has been 13 years of fun packed adventure.  Crystal Blues was advertised with "every electronic gadget imaginable" - though we don't think the previous owners imagined Neil's passion for technology! 

Fortunately we both enjoy working with our hands and don't mind get dirty.  We continue to enhance and titivate Crystal Blues.  The worst job we have tackled on Crystal Blues was sandblasting in the forward locker  and the scariest was catching and removing a banded sea snake from the machinery area, in New Caledonia. We have enjoyed sensational sailing, beautiful anchorages. Continuing to do boat jobs in exotic places is still high on our agenda!
Three blades broken.....

Something Old

Just for something different we replaced the raw water pump impeller again on our Onan Genset (AKA the Insatiable Beast).  Two hours and 35 minutes of running is an all time record for such undistinguished lack of service. 

Something New

Life's Good  - LG 1055LDP
Our electrolux washing machine died whilst we were at Boat Lagoon last year. It was 5 years old.  Unfortunately Electrolux did not support this machine in Asia and the cost of importing new parts from Australia was prohibitive.  David and Kris from SV Taipan discovered a compact LG washing machine in Singapore, an LG 1055LDP

Yesterday we installed our new washer and the lazerette is again fully populated with machinery.  Even though the machine came with Singaporean plumbing and electrical fittings we had enough changeover parts to make good and within a few hours Ley was happily watching the first wash.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Keeping Busy

Boat jobs in exotic places......


In 2004 we installed an electric macerator to our marine head in order to comply with Australian boating standards.  After much research and talking to other cruisers, we purchased the Jabsco Quiet Flush Conversion system.  We also fitted a Y valve between the fresh and salt water supply and mainly run the system on freshwater, when it is plentiful.

For just over 6 years the toilet has been maintenance free.  It has happily flushed and macerated its way around Australia and Asia.  A few months ago we noticed that the pump was making unusual sounds - time to source a new one.  A replacement Jabsco macerator pump and seal kit was supplied by Jessie at MarineTech in Singapore for 1/3rd of the price that was quoted to us in Australia (how can there be such a huge price difference?)

The whole change over took less than an hour and the system is working perfectly again.  Six years maintenance free, for a marine head rates to us as exceptional service - given that we have been living aboard all that time!

More Work!
Wow another long weekend!  We quickly made a plan to go back to Telok Sengat, on the Johore River in Malaysia, so we could relax and tick off a few more boat jobs.  There are still quite a few incomplete projects from our 2009 refit and we planned to tackle  the control side of our refrigerator and freezer system.  Running the 12 volt power cables over and under and through the boat was fairly painless and we are much closer now to completing this project.

Another impeller bites the dust!
Closing the valve on the salt water inlet manifold.
Unfortunately our genset demanded our attention, by shutting down as it devoured yet another water pump impeller. Okay, it was time for an oil change, so we stripped down the genset, lavished TLC in the form of new oil and a fresh impeller.  The genest ran for just over two hours on Sunday and when we started it this morning it ran for a whole 2 minutes - yep chewed up and spat out another impeller.  We spend way more money and time on maintaining this genset than any other piece of machinery or equipment on the boat.  Although Onan were extremely generous and helpful to us initially ( they took away our first lemon and gave us a new genset for free after 2 years of continual problems.)  Yet here we are still pandering to an insatiable beast!

and Play
Good food, friends and fun in Penang
Ley's high school girlfriend Judi Scott, decided to have a pre 60th birthday bash in Penang, Malaysia last week.  Neil had work plans to be in India so Ley flew north for a few days.  Luckily for us there was a wonderful Indian festival happening so between temple visits, partying in the street in Little India and fine dinning at the local cafes, we all had a ball. Here is a link to some of our favourite eating places in Georgetown.

Happy Birthday Judi!

Monday, 4 October 2010

New Crew for Crystal Blues

Nana Ley and Harrison
Harrison leaving the hospital, 4 days old.

Sarah, Harrison, Chloe and Shaun

Harrison Oliver Gatter was born on September 7, weighing 8lb 2 oz.  Shaun, Sarah and Harrison are having a wonderful time getting to know each other.  Luckily for me, I spent 2 weeks back in Australia, enjoying lots of cuddle time.  We all agree that Harrison is the "spitting image" of Shaun.  Our grandson is a pretty good sleeper, though he still likes to party between 1.00am and 3.00am most mornings!

What a joy it is to be a grandparent.

Monday, 6 September 2010

In India, Getting Lost Is Half The Fun

Let them eat cake...!
Last Sunday we went for a drive out of Bangalore.  We were headed for the vineyards we had heard about North of the city.  Ley downloaded directions from Google Maps, and with the camera, books, map and  iPhone, we drove off.  But this was no ordinary Sunday drive....

After studying the map and Google directions we took what we thought was the correct road, but five minutes later we were lost and only a few kilometres from our hotel.  Neil back-tracked and took another road, but no, we were lost again.  So we continued on, Ley scanning the street scape for sign posts, business addresses - anything that would pin point our position on the map.  We took some interesting roads, crossed under the train tracks a few times, saw some fascinating sights but an hour later we were still hopelessly lost!

Boy Scout Technology

Not knowing the direction we were traveling, Neil opened his iPhone and turned on the compass/GPS app.  Where we wanted to go was NNW, where we were heading was due west. Compass to the rescue, we then headed north.

After spotting a road sign and matching it with the map we finally coordinated our position with the printed Google Map, and after 3.6 km the next turn was down a tiny lane and through a small village. It didn't feel right so this time we booted up the computer, plugged in the 3G cellular modem and logged on to Google earth.  Technology is amazing, we zoomed in on the map and all was revealed in larger scale.  So then we really knew where we were.....

Drinking chai while waiting to hear about the tow truck.
But road conditions changed and the bitumen morphed into a red earth track.  Then WHAM - we hit the only rock on the road.  The oil sump was pierced and oil dribbled out.  We were a long way from anywhere, so we quickly turned around and headed back towards civilization.  Once back on the bitumen road we came to a stop near an International school and a block of shop houses in a small village.

The oil continued to drain out as Ley walked up to the shops and asked if any one could help us.  One of the shop keepers called directory assistance and then arranged for a tow truck to come.  All we had to do was wait, and then wait some more.

Free Entertainment

Luckily for us one of the shops was a bakery.  As we hadn't had lunch we dined on curry puffs, sweet pastries and cups of chai.  We sat at the rickety plastic table on two wobbly chairs, ate our meal and read our books.  The bakery had many customers that afternoon - not sure if it was the sight of us sitting there for three hours, or the cakes and chai being the main attraction.

Vineyard in Bangalore
Across the road from the bakery was a vineyard - not the one we were looking for, but luckily for us the grapes were being picked.  The vines were trussed up above our heads and were supported by 4 x 4 granite posts.  We tasted the grapes and chatted to the sari clad workers, noting that the picking style was very different to when we picked grapes at Hankin Vineyard in Victoria.

Three hours later our tow van arrived, complete with 10 feet of chain.  A connection was made and off we went, back into town.  We arrived back after dark, it wasn't the Sunday drive we had planned on, but what an adventure!

To see more images of our Sunday afternoon drive and our travel and work time in India click here.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Finding The Balance

Neil with Tony Spence, David Seaman and Bas Huibers
Singapore Sailing Visitors

We've been delighted to have visitors from home during the last few months.  Neil's brother Peter and "a few mates" flew in for a shopping fix and get together.  All being members of the Royal Yacht Club Of Victoria, they were keen to see Singapore from the water.  Included in the group was Michael McLean, talented Para Olympics sailor.

We stowed Michael's wheel chair in the dock box, cast off the dock lines, and motored out for a barbeque and swim off St John's Island.  After lunch the wind picked up and the Royal's crew were getting a bit jittery - so up went the sails, and with Michael at the helm we had great afternoon with 10 to twelve knots of breeze- unusually good for Singapore !  Our good friend Cas Bukor also visited us for a week.  Whilst the weather was hot and wet, we all managed to have a good time.  Cas learned how to make Crystal Blues bread, and also did some quick graphic design work for Neil from the floating office.

Neil and Prasana in the Bangalore Office
 At The Coal Face
Neil has been working with the Space Matrix team for 5 months now.  He's hired four new staff to build the team in India and Singapore, and is constantly interviewing for more.

Multimedia projects and business growth in India are taking up most of his time, plus supporting and enhancing the Space Matrix regional IT networks.   Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad are his second homes now, and he's in India more than 2 weeks of every month.  He's gradually discovering the delights of India, including a vibrant live music scene - lots of rock and blues, but disappointingly little jazz.

His multimedia team are designing projects valued at more than 5 million US dollars, with clients including Wells Fargo, Axis Bank, Gartner Research, Shell and Symantec.  Space Matrix is growing rapidly, so on the IT side he's also planning for upgraded IT networks plus new offices in China and Dubai.

Sailing home from Johore.  Photo taken by Gordon Fraser

A Long Weekend!

Australians love a long weekend and Singapore National Day gave us a great opportunity to escape from the marina and go sailing, exploring up the Johor River in Malaysia.  We were invited to join a small group of seven local yachts on sail-away to Teluk Sengat. By sundown on Saturday afternoon all the yachts had cleared-in to Malaysia and were anchored in a beautiful bay at Teluk Sengat.  Dinghies ferried the crews into the Blue Dolphin restaurant (highly recommended) for a Chinese seafood banquet. The food and the company was great and the restaurant was re-booked for the following night.  Sunday offered a lazy start with roti canai for breakfast and a stroll around Teluk Sengat.  Sun-downers were held on Crystal Blues and this gave us a chance to get to know our fellow sailors.

A squall hit the fleet early on Monday morning and canceled our roti breakfast.  Sails went up, anchors were retrieved and we sailed down river to clear Malaysian Customs and Immigration.  After that we had a fantastic sail almost all the way back to the marina in Singapore. Can't wait for the next long weekend to sail away again.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

A Month In Borneo

I Must Be Dreaming
Birthday surprise.
Crystal Blues is anchored on the very peaceful Sungai Tulai, and the sun is just peeping through the open hatches.  I'm still sleeping when I hear a choir of sweet young voices singing (very quietly) "Happy Birthday."  Of course I think I'm dreaming, so I lay in bed, sleeping, drifting off.  Then the choir starts up again, a little louder, and through the fog I realise - this is for real ! The singing is coming from the cockpit !  I stumble out of bed and through sleepy eyes I see nine children, a stack of gifts and a beautiful cake with candles burning.  After blowing out the candles, and opening the gifts, the children paddle home in their canoes.  What a fantastic way to start our birthday !

Then I turn on the computer.  As soon as Skype loads birthday messages and calls come flooding in.  Gary and Sue on SV Yaringa made a quick video call from Japan, just before they depart on passage to Alaska.  Our Seirra Wireless modem and the Celcom data card is provividng excellent service up here in the jungle. I quickly emailed some of the birthday images to Neil, who is still in Singapore.  Our birthdays will be spent apart, as Neil flew back to India and Singapore for a week of work.

Jungle Barbecue

Kikki and Betty preparing the middin fern
Jabu and Chanda suggested a barbecue in the jungle one afternoon and invited all the cruisers.  A children's committee was formed, menu and costings were calculated.  Coconut rice in bamboo, hot dogs, marinated chicken wings, fish bits, sausages and midden fern were on the menu.  I added an Aussie touch with potatoes in foil, cooked in the coals.  Next morning we speed off in the dinghy to purchase the supplies and others prepared the barbecue area and cut down the bamboo for the rice.
Two fires were prepared, one for the grill, one for the bamboo rice and potatoes.  While the food was cooking Jabu, Beretin and Dominic took the cruisers to explore the jungle.  The boys showed us large Nepenthes, (insect eating Pitcher plants), hanging orchids, birds nest ferns and many tall native fruit trees.  We arrived back as the food was being served on large green leaves.  Everyone agreed that it was a great adventure.
New reading glasses and big smiles!

Reading Glasses R Us

Kikii from SV Endelig and we on Crystal Blues had been collecting reading glasses and sun glasses.  One evening whilst visiting the long house we asked for a book and distributed the glasses.  Then we sat back as glasses were tested.  Eventually all those who needed new reading glasses found a suitable pair.  Our Iban friends will often "go without" with no complaints, but are happy to accept when the spirit is right.

Rubber Tapping Iban Style 
Jampie collecting the latex
Although this was our fifth visit to the longhouse, we had never visited a rubber plantation.  This year our good friend Jampie asked us if we would like to go and watch him tap and collect the white, silky latex.  Robert and Elaine (SV Sunrise) joined Ley and the kids early one morning to watch Jampie.  We saw the simple tool that is used to just skim open the the bark each morning.  He carefully poured the collected latex into a bottle and then turned over each cup so that the mosquitoes could not breed in them.     
Jentang and Asat rolling out the rubber.

The latex is then taken back to the long house and mixed with a coagulating chemical (an acid), left to firm up and then pressed out into rubber slabs.  These are then dried and sold off to the traders in town. Even after four years of visiting Rumah Lidam, we are still amazed by their culture and life skills.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Borneo River Action

Our Caribe "car" with a load of Iban visitors
We always think of our inflatable dinghy as our "car".  Here in Borneo, on the river Sungai Tulai, it is the quickest way for us to get to town, and really the only way to move around - visiting the long houses or bringing visitors to our boat.  Built by Caribe in Venezuela, it's now ten years old and still going strong.  On our last visit here the Caribe carried a mother in labour to hospital - and that child was named after Ley.  Last week it carried a badly injured young man to the same hospital, after he was involved in an accident in the longhouse.  Bleeding badly, he was carried from the longhouse in a woven sling under a stout pole and loaded onto the floor.  We hear that he survived, but may not have use of his fingers.

Local Boats 
Our Iban friend Jampie made his own boat 5 years ago.  He went into the jungle, cut the tree down and then cut the timber into long planks.  These were left to dry out and then he built his boat.  That tradition continues, though this year we were surprised to see new styles emerging - boats clearly built for speed.  This year, the young men are building small racing boats, practicing for a competitive regatta to be held on the river in July.  Though the designs are new, they're assembled with the same skills used by their fathers.  
 Each boat uses a small (standard) chinese manufactured petrol engine, air cooled with a single cylinder. Propeller selection and hull shape seems to be up to the builder.  Every day this week they've been carried down to the river and tested, sometimes with dramatic results. Iban boats are usually steered by a single paddle, held over the side.  These new boats have rudimentary rudders with a basic rope steering system.  These afternoon practice sessions are great entertainment for the locals - big and small, old and young, the community crowds the dock, offering words of encouragement and helpful suggestions. There is always alot of laughter. Neil uses our dinghy as the "crash" boat.  He has towed a few boats back to the dock and was instrumental in one rescue where the driver flew out of his boat whilst turning too sharply.  The boat sped off into the jungle along the riverbank.  It was totally hidden in the undergrowth and a machete was called for to hack a path into it.  All the time the engine was roaring away - no safety cut out switches here. 

Glamour For The Girls
There are three yachts now visiting the longhouses here on Sungai Tulai for the Gawai festival.  Yesterday afternoon the three cruising women decided to add a bit of glamour for the local girls.  They gathered up nail files, polish, polish remover and a splash of perfume, and headed into the long house.                                                                        
Ley gave a quick talk on  manicure and nail polishing techniques.  Nails were cleaned and filed, cuticles pushed down and then the painting began. One coat of clear base, two coats of colour and then two top protective coats - all in fairly rapid succession.  Extreme speed nail painting followed, but we all had a great time and many beautifully manicured hands were seen in the long house that evening. Many thanks to Kikki from SV Endelig and Christina from SV Roxy for helping hands and the perfume.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Sarawak Update

Crystal Blues anchored in the Santubong River
After a three day passage from Singapore, we dropped anchor in the Santubong River, where we're surrounded by peace and serenity.  Mt Santubong towered overhead, attracting a crown of clouds, whilst from it's slopes a chorus of jungle birds called.  Malay fishermen were quietly hauling in their nets and the ever shy Irrawaddy Dolphins were quietly surfacing around us.  It was a great welcome back for our 4th visit to Borneo.

Dollar and Pende, caretakers of Datu Linggi's house and dock here, were on hand to greet us.  They confirmed that cruisers are still welcome to tie their dinghy to the dock and that fresh, potable water is available.  A new development this year is the "No Berthing" sign - sadly some boats have abused the privilege of Datu Linggi's kindness, and have not only tied to the dock, but when asked to move on, they refused to do so.  This is not leaving a clean wake for others!

Ian and Mona, the owners of the Kuching registered SV Kumang, confirmed that there is still a sunken fishing boat immediately off the large Jabatan Laut dock.  Anchoring there, or too close to the fish farms, has caused problems for cruisers in the past.  Employing a diver to untangle your anchor is expensive in these crocodile infested waters.  And yes - we saw our first croc in the anchorage this visit! 

Reviewing the Rajang River charts with the Cartographers
Ian has kindly supplied a detailed Google Map of where to check in.  We also visited the Cartography Office of the Jabatan Laut, Sarawak Marine Department (Lot 683, Section 66, Jalan Utama, Tanak Puteh, Kuching) and purchased three recently updated charts for the Rajang River.  Charts required are SAR 1440, 1441 and 15.

We visited the new marina on the Kuching River and were advised that they have onshore facilities and there is water and power to some of the slips.  It is located some distance from Kuching adjacent to the new Convention Centre, before the bridge and barrage, but has none of the beauty of the Santubong anchorage.  It really is in the middle of an industrial waste land, though when the convention centre is finished it should all be different.

Three Days To Gawai!

Crystal Blues is now anchored on Sungai Tulai, in front of Rumah Lidam long house.  We have been blessed with wonderful friendships with these Iban families over the last 4 years, and have been warmly welcomed back into their homes and lives.  Last night we were invited into the long house for a jam session with the band.  Neil was given a few rhythm lessons by Jambar then the fun began.  We also shared a few glasses of tuak, yumai Iban home made rice wine.

We carefully walked down the boardwalk to the dinghy dock only to find our dinghy beached in knee high sloppy mud.  Neil waded in, pushed and pulled and finally the dinghy was freed - then we had to deal with mud caked legs, clothes and bags.  A refreshing midnight swim in the river cleaned us up.  Dealing with 5 metre tides makes for interesting times up river.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Back To Work

Neil at work
We stunned quite a few friends with this decision, whilst others thought we had sailed off the edge of the world. We just see it as part of the adventure.

Late last year Neil was offered a position with Space Matrix Design Consultants in Singapore, to establish a new multi-media business similar to our previous enterprise in Australia.  The new operation would be part of the turn key solutions that Space Martix wanted to offer to their clients.  Space Matrix is one of the fastest growing architectural and interior design firms in Asia.  It is Singapore based, with offices in India, Bangkok and Sydney.  Our good friend (and best man) Steven Shaw is the Regional Design Director, hence the arm twisting offer.

A few weeks into work Neil added another hat to his Multi-Media role, by taking on the management of Space Matrix's IT teams. As most of Space Marix's offices and his AV and IT staff are based in India, there will be a lot of travelling involved.

So we have based ourselves and Crystal Blues at OneDegree 15 Marina in Singapore and are enjoying the change of life.  Neil's wardrobe has been expanded with new work clothes, whilst Ley has taken on the care and maintenance of Crystal Blues (and Neil).

Neil started work in early March, after our shake down cruise to the Andaman islands.  We still manage to cast off the dock lines every other weekend, drop the anchor and chill out with friends.  One weekend our godson, Ethan Shaw and his younger brother stayed onboard, so the boat and the systems are still getting a good work out.

Najat ( dancing) at Gawai

9 Days To Gawai Festival

Our younger Iban friends have been bombarding us with text and Facebook messages, plus emails with questions and countdowns for Gawai. Neil telephoned our friend Jampie in the longhouse on Sungai Tulai, Sarawak, this week and told him that we would be there this year to share in the celebrations.  For the dayak peoples of Borneo, the Gawai festival is like Christmas, New Year & Thanks Giving all rolled into one.

We don't know who is the most excited, as we have really missed all our friends at the longhouse Rumah Lidam, on the Tulai River.  It will be only a short visit, due to work commitments, but we'll party hard, hopefully celebrating with lots of music and dancing.

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Joys of Getting Old

Shaun and Sarah snorkeling at Roc Nok, Thailand
Our son Shaun and his wife Sarah joined us for a 10 day cruise from Phuket to Langkawi in February.  We explored the delights of Phuket and then set off via Phi Phi Don, Rok Nok and the Butang Islands, enjoying some good sailing and great snorkeling along the way. Shaun even managed to catch at least 4 fish a day on our new Thai lure.

Before we left Phuket, Shaun said to me "Mum we have some bad news and some good news".  I asked for the bad news first - "Mum, you are getting old!"  This wasn't news to me, so after a few seconds the good news was announced  -  we are going to be grandparents in early September!  Lots of hugs and tears of happiness followed. When they flew from Langkawi back to Melbourne Sarah's "baby bump" had already started to show.  And we're still smiling!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Refitting In Thailand

Are we addicted to refitting ?  Many of our friends think so, yet I know I'd rather be sailing. Our recent stay in Thailand was our longest refit, lasting 16 months on the hard stand in Boat Lagoon, Phuket.

Anyone can make 8 months of work extend to 16 months - ask me, I'm an expert ! A good proportion of the time delay was caused by us going off to travel and work elsewhere .... but its still a long time to be out of the water.

The golden rule to refitting in Thailand is never leave the boat - you just have to be there every day, checking, assessing, instructing and of course trying to have fun.  If you manage to find the right approach (the right attitude) you will have fun, and the local Thai workers will be responsive and friendly.   If you get way too serious and way too demanding you'll lose them (literally), and find yourself with no workers on the boat the next day.  This can be a serious problem ....

After 16 months on the ground in Thailand we've dealt with every type of problem, and almost all the major service providers in Phuket.   Quite a few stood out, providing remarkable service, and we are confident in recommending them. Here are our Gold Star Winners :

Siam Cooling are without doubt the most competent marine refrigeration engineers I have ever dealt with, anywhere in the world.  The level of expertise and standard of workmanship was truly amazing.  They upgraded our 240 volt refrigeration to a more efficient system, working to my design (which would test any contractor).   Then they installed a split system water cooled air-conditioning  system that is first class.  Introduce yourself to Stephane, a third generation refrigeration engineer who heads the company.  Place your trust in his solutions - we believe they are world class.  Just to visit their factory is a delight - a clean and well organised working environment, motivated staff, top class facilities, an education in best practice. The Siam Cooling team stand out as leaders in the marine refrigeration market.
Cutting out the damaged steel dodger
Luk Engineering are the best marine engineers in Phuket.  Have I made myself clear ? 

They can custom manufacture almost anything for boats in stainless steel, mild steel or marine grade aluminium.   Their service is excellent, the team are universally friendly and if they make a mistake they fix it, no questions asked.   Early in our project a "less scrupulous operator" managed to demolish our beautiful steel dodger - Luk and his team re-built it carefully, better than new.  With a huge and well equipped machine shop, they tune and repair propellers, turn customs shafts and build everything from rudders to complete ships.  A very impressive operation.

Precision Shipwright Services are a division of East Marine at Boat Lagoon.  David Samuelson and his team provide skilled rigging services with a huge range of rope, wire, parts and spares on hand.

David supplied our new Profurl genoa furler, new forestay and rigged our twin backstays.  He tuned the rig and was always there when we needed him, a rare gift among service trades in Thailand.  None of this comes cheap, but its all well worth it.  I wouldn't trust this kind of work to anybody else.

Do we look happy?
Morn Car Rentals   Some times Thai people and culture are difficult for us westerners to understand - and at first glance my good friend Morn seems just too nice to be true.  But get used used to it - this guy really is that good.  Morn operates a "cruisers support service" from his small shop on the highway, just outside Boat Lagoon Marina.  He rents cars and motor bikes at reasonable rates, he runs a laundry service for cruisers, and a book lending library.  If thats not enough, Morn has recently started offering a Poste Restante service - you can have your mail and parcels delivered to your name, care of his address. As he's right across the road from the local Post Office the service is regular, and we trust Morn implicitly.  Have your mail sent to :  Your Name, Your Boat Name, C/- 12/15 Moo 2, Thepkasatree Road, Kho-Kaew, Mung, Phuket, Thailand, 83000.   Morn will also collect you from the airport when you arrive, and will deliver your rental car to almost anywhere on the island. 
When I landed in hospital with Dengue fever, Ley needed a car desperately but none were available as it was peak season.  Morn took the bus to Bangkok (almost 20 hours) to collect a car and then drove it back to Phuket so Ley would have transport.  He's one of those special Thai people who give us very happy refit memories.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Flat Water Sailing

Sydney Harbour, 1997
I remember when we announced to our families that we were buying a yacht, my brother in law Peter said “Ley, you're in love with flat water sailing - wait until you find out what it is really like out there!”  Eventually I did ....

Crystal Blues came into our life in 1997, and we sailed her up and down the east Australian coast from the Whitsundays to Melbourne twice, whilst working to extricate ourselves from our business life.  On our second Bass Strait crossing we suffered a spreaders in the water knockdown.   I was on watch by myself, at night, and when I heard the roar of a rogue wave I grabbed onto the dodger as we were pushed over to port.  Water flooded into the cockpit, loose gear flew across the saloon.  Neil and cousin Glen came running up the companion way to check things out.  Quickly they re-trimmed sails, asked if I was okay and went straight back to bed.  The autopilot didn't miss a beat, all was dry down below and I still had a few hours of my watch to finish.  It was a frightening but empowering experience - definitely not flat water sailing !

Harwood Slipway, 2000
After a major refit in 2000 and our first ocean crossing to New Caledonia in 2003 (flat water again) we were ready to leave Australia and head into Asia in 2005.

On passage from Cairns to Darwin we experienced the best of fast, flat water sailing.  Hour upon hour, day and night we silently flew along inside the Great Barrier Reef. Around Cape York (with the MPS flying) we raced onwards, reaching Darwin in 8 days.  This year, after 16 months of refit in Phuket, we were really keen to hear water rushing by the hull and to feel the wind on our face again.
Sailing to the Andaman Islands in January we were not disappointed – scooting along at 6-7 knots in a light NE wind reminded us why we do love flat water sailing.

Off watch on the way to The Andaman Islands

Stretched out in the cockpit, our favourite jazz music playing, my orchid hanging under the boom and nothing but calm blue seas around, anyone would love this type of sailing.  Our passage to Port Blair was fast and smooth, and we spent three laid back weeks in the Andmans before returning to Phuket.  Flat water all the way.