Thursday, May 8, 2014

SAIL Magazine article about the kids

Hey all,

When we were in the Solomon Islands we were contacted by SAIL Magazine and asked to write something about our kids' experiences while sailing.  Well, the article was finally published in print and online.  It turned out alright. 

http://www.sailmagazine.com/columns/viewpoint-5-lessons-my-kids-learned-cruising


Otherwise all is well here on Madrona.  The kids are buckling down on certain aspects of school and Carrie and I are doing our curriculum mapping for the school where we will be working.  Lots of boats coming and going here at Danga Bay, and we are really enjoying Malaysia, and making many new friends.

We will do a more thoughtful post soon.  There is a lot to say regarding many things that have been going on in the cruising community and it has taken a while to process it all.

Owen

Monday, March 31, 2014

Censorship in blogging


Censorship - Self and otherwise - both the positive and negatives

Why do you write what you write in a blog? What do you talk about? How often? Can you always write? Can you always publish it? What do you leave out? What do you edit out? What do you purposefully omit?

Writing in a public blog requires a balance between what you really want to say and what you know you cannot say for one reason or another. Not everywhere is as free as America. Despite the fact that we are Americans, we cannot say what ever we think in some countries. Not only would it be impolitic, it could get us deported. 

So how do you choose? I think first you must have a sense of your audience. Who is really reading our blog?

At first we knew it was mostly our family members, some friends and a few people who read sailing blogs stumbled on to ours. I remember feeling unsure about what I should write about. What would be really interesting to anyone but me. We hadn't left the dock yet. When did the adventure begin? Of-course this blog has always been written by two people and usually where I had little experience, Owen could fill in.  He knew where to begin and he had a pretty clear understanding of our initial audience.

In Mexico we wrote pretty freely about what we were experiencing. Our beginnings were interesting simply because many people have trouble knowing how to begin an adventure, so our readership developed naturally without much effort on our part to be extra humorous or super knowledgeable. The only thing I remember thinking about as I wrote back in those days was how to phrase something so that you didn't loose the audience before I had one. I mean how do you find the balance between saying how you really feel about a challenging situation while still maintaining a sense of humor about it. Or how do you write about the mundane activities that now make up your day (like washing laundry by hand) with out boring your audience to death - since most people are not as fascinated by laundry as I had to be. [My motivation to deeply understand the process of cleaning clothing came of course from the desire to make it as painless as possible.]

Once we left the dock (in Mexico) and were living mostly off solar power, our access to electricity changed the amount we could write or how well it was edited. I write both in a journal and on the computer, but I only edit while I'm plugged in. This change was subtle though because we were still too concerned with boat repairs to spend much time writing. 

Then we went on passage. Our first real passage, across the Pacific ocean, drove home just how limited one is by solar power (when using the refrigerator too) and for publishing the blog - how limited Sailmail is. While crossing the Pacific, I wrote most of my blog entries in a journal. We didn't use the computers for much more than navigation. We needed the 1.5 connection hours per week alloted by Sailmail for pulling down weather. Sometimes it took 30 minutes to request and receive a single weather forecast through the SSB radio. So posting tiny "where we are and we are safe" blog entries (for our family) was quite often all we could do. 

Of course when you reach an exotic destination such as French Polynesia you are so blown away by the new feeling of being an ex-patriot tourist in a beautiful foreign mountainous jungle that you cannot write about it. Or you are living it so fully you cannot begin to process what you are feeling. So there is a lapse in the blog, a few significant omissions.

We wrote as we could for the next group of countries/experiences as we sailed west. But it wasn't until we reached New Zealand that we really thought about censorship or what not to say in a public blog. Owen was asked by New Zealand immigration officials to submit a photograph of Madrona. He said, "Ok, I'll dig one up." But by the time he had one he liked, their response was, "we no longer need it." He asked why not and they said, "we just looked up the boat name and pulled one off your blog." After that Owen suggested rather firmly that we not write about the stowaway ants that had boarded Madrona in Tonga. We knew we could get rid of the ants but we really didn't want to pay the $300 USD the NZ officials would have charged us to bomb the boat. [We did manage to eradicate their 3 nests at a cost of $10 USD - but no one heard about how interesting it was.]

I wrote a lot in the 6 month layover in NZ - about everything but pests and swattings. It is illegal to spank, or even swat, your child in New Zealand. I don't think they would have deported us for swatting Griffyn, but we didn't want to find out.

When we left NZ, the passage was quite difficult. I wrote about that, but it was suggested to me, that I get some perspective before I just blather on about how challenging it was (in a blog entry). So I tried to write it in a way that could include a sense of humor and still transfer the feeling of intensity and fear I felt on that journey. 

In Fiji I wrote about Friends and School. When you write about school - you want to be honest - for the other parents traveling with children who might be reading your blog. But you don't want to completely trash the idea of educating your children abroad in local schools. (I'm not sure how I did on that one.) 

I'm still writing about Vanuatu, Indonesia and Malaysia so we'll see. We have been told not to talk against the Sultan, or Singapore for that matter. But there are things you definitely cannot say from here. We don't have anything bad to say about Singapore or the Sultan, but that fact that we can't reminds us that we are not at home.

A friend emailed me recently and asked us how we were? She mentioned that we hadn't posted much lately (in 2014). She was particularly curious about how we ended up in Malaysia. She meant why hadn't we crossed the southern Indian ocean instead of heading north? And I told her many things I couldn't say freely at the time on the blog. I reminded her that we had families that were concerned about our health and to suggest that it was less than perfect might alarm them. 

I told her that we just couldn't make another huge crossing (really two huge crossings considering the short weather windows) to get back to North America in a year with the broken bones Owen sustained when I tried to repeatedly close the cupboard door on his hand during a storm. I told her I didn't feel confident about dealing with more sails almost blowing out when Owen at the time only had only 30% of his strength in his left arm (caused by some unremembered injury during a recent passage). I told her that we were dog tired from almost missing the island of Bali as we fought ferocious currents sucking us out into the Indian ocean. 

I told her that I just couldn't tell our families about all of that just then. That sometimes you don't put things in the blog to protect the ones who love and support you from the truth of an 'adventure' because they have not made the choices in life that lead them to this path. That sometimes this path feels crazy to even the ones who have chosen it. That sometimes you just need a break or maybe it's time to find a new path.

So there are almost as many reasons not to say something as there are to say it - depending on your audience.

P.S. Broken bones, injured muscles, exhaustion and even mild depression heals with time. The kids need different things than what we all needed when we left North America over three years ago. So as we navigate the future (for a while from Malaysia) we will be snorkeling less and spending more time in classrooms.

Carrie



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

So... it was a long haul up from Bali - PHOTOS

Long time...

Special hello to Zander!  The kids will be writing soon, you know - school and homework and stuff.

So as Carrie mentioned we are in Johor Bahru to catch our breath, fix up the boat and earn a little scratch.  I've been playing chase the drip for the last couple of weeks.  We have some persistent drips that have been defying me to find their origin.  I have not begun to fight, blah blah....

The kids are well, as are we.  It's nice to not be always on the move.  I thought I would post some photos that we took between Bali and Malaysia.  So without further ado....


A beautiful mask we got in Bali for like $10.

Dolphins giving escort.  The kids loved this for about an hour then went back below for lunch.

Griffyn makes friends everywhere.

In northernmost Indonesia while waiting for decent weather these kids would come out to the boat and bring Griffyn to shore to play daily.

This family was very gracious and generous, making our wait in northern Indonesia much more fun.

Crossing the Singapore Strait - on the northern side on the very edge of the traffic lane, but not so close to the Singapore boundary to upset the Singapore police boats that patrol like angry hornets.

Tamsyn's birthday (belated) in J.B. with Alex and Bob, and Phil and Sandy.  She had fun.

Not Kansas.  Seems like we were plagued by waterspouts on the way north, some getting too close.

This village was where the family that we visited lived.

A volcano in Indonesia?  What?  Actually you can't throw a rock without hitting a volcano in Indonesia.  This one is on the north side of Bali.

Christmas morning!

Hope you liked.  More to come.  Sorting out our computer problems, and should be able to post more regularly again.

Cheers.

Owen



Sunday, March 9, 2014

Johor Bahru, Malaysia - Teaching Abroad


A good place to stay for a while

Johor Bahru, Malaysia


Hello All, 

We have been very busy since we arrived here in Johor Bahru, Malaysia - last December of 2013. We are in a marina - Danga Bay Marina Club. The rates are pretty good and this place reminds us a little of home. There is a MacDonalds in the nearby mall. The mall is big, 7 floors with a movie theater. We all went to see "The Hobbit" (part 2) around Christmas time. Tamsyn and Griffyn hadn't seen a movie in a theater since we left North America in 2011. So it was a big treat for us. We had chocolate dipped ice cream cones at Mac & Dons. We Christmas shopped like most Americans at the mall. There are many things here that remind us of back home and at the same time, this place is very different. 

This place seems like a good place to stay for a while. We all need some time to be grounded and not in mortal danger as we make harrowing passages. The kids need some stability and a chance to make friends, kick a ball around. Owen and I need some time to figure out our next move. We are tired, tired of traveling, boat repairs, bad weather. And our coffers are empty. We need to rebuild.

I don't think I would ever have planned on spending time in Malaysia, a country I knew little about before arriving. But like many of the places we have visited on this trip, there are wonderful surprises here. Most people are Asian. Malaysians are Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Thai, Philippino, and European primarily. This culture is ethnically diverse and also very tolerant. The Malay (meaning everyone who has a Malaysian passport even though they are ethnically Chinese - for example) are gregarious, considerate, generous, spirited and have a strong desire to become more westernized like their neighbors in Singapore (and China), so ex-pats are respected.  

Everywhere there are huge apartment complexes and waterfront malls being built. The air just teams with industry (and noisy dust). There is a ton of Chinese investment money pouring into Johor Bahru right now. JB is across a bridge (the causeway) from Singapore - a wealthy, prosperous, nation state. And despite it's small size (an island nation of one city), Singapore has a tremendous influence on the well being of JB. People are investing here because of it's proximity to Singapore. It's quite cheap to live in JB compared to Singapore and the Singapore dollar is strong. So if you work in Singapore your money will go far in Malaysia.

However commuting to Singapore, from JB is a drag. To arrive at work by 8 AM, you get up at 5 AM. You leave work around 5 PM and arrive home sometime after 8 PM. If you want your kids to attend good schools (the local public schools in Malaysia are still quite poor), you try to get them enrolled in International Schools in Singapore - and they commute with you through customs twice daily. That's a long haul for kids. In the last year, 5 brand-spanking-new International Schools (K-12) have opened their doors. They are all competing for the kids whose parents work in Singapore, but live in JB. Now parents can hire a local driver/babysitter for their kids to take them to and from school, while they do the long commute to Singapore solo. These new International Schools are big complexes which offer boarding options, state-of-the-art sports facilities, and lavish performance spaces. 

It didn't take long for me to realize that I could probably get a job teaching here. I am an ex-pat armed with a Master's Degree. So that is why we have been so busy here since we arrived. I spent three weeks pounding the pavement and was offered three positions in three different schools. I am currently teaching Art, Music, Speech & Drama, Writing and English as a Second Language (all at one International School) to kids from Kindergarten to 9th grade.  Owen is also teaching at the same school.  His subjects are Science, Geography, Environmental Studies, Chemistry and History. (There are Malay teachers at the school too.) Tamsyn and Griffyn receive free tuition, are making friends, playing ball and generally liking being around their peers again. We are all-of-a-sudden quite busy. Yes we have joined the rat race again. But like all cruisers, we arrive at this destination - this decision, knowing we are still quite mobile should we change our minds. Even though Madrona is currently tied to a dock, we sleep on the wake of her next move. She is resting with us. And we dream about the future knowing we have time to get there.

Carrie





Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hi all,

Just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. We had a lovely restful day aboard Madrona with baking of Bread (regular and cinnamon, chocolate cake, and pumpkin pie!

Dinned was mashed potatoes with gravy, fried SPAM,and green beans. Desert was yummy. And we enjoyed our annual watching of the Wizard of Oz. Hope you all have a great day.

Owen,Carrie, Tamsyn & Griffyn

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Storms, low fuel, across Java Sea and into South China Sea

On Passage - Bowean Island to Banka Island (part of Sumatra), Indonesia
Anchored near the town of Mangarr, Belitung Island

November 20, 2013

We had no trouble motoring the first 250 miles of the 450 mile passage from Bawean to Banka. There were very light winds as expected, electrical storms each evening and some rainy days when we collected water. The first couple days reminded me of our trip north a year ago, heading up to the Solomon Islands. Each night we drove through multiple electrical storms, often we filled our oven with the hand held GPS, a computer, a couple hand held radios and maybe the kindle. The oven is a Faraday Box and if we did get hit by lightning most electrical devices on board would be ruined permanently. This trip like the one last year made me anxious, I just wanted to get there intact.

We figured we'd have to motor the entire 450 miles. We were unable to purchase enough fuel in Bowean to fill our 4 jerri-cans that live on the rail. The only local ATM didn't work the day we were there and Owen was unable to trade a pair of high powered binoculars despite the help of the locals who stopped everyone on the road to see if anyone was willing to purchase them. So we left Bowean with a full tank (75 gallons) and none on the rail (usually we left places with another 20 gallons). According to our calculations we should be able to motor 525 miles (at 4 knots). Thus we should have enough fuel to get us to Banka - where we would check out of Indonesia before our Visa's expired on November 20, 2013.

When checking out of Indonesia, if your Visa is already expired, the fee is $25 (US) per person per day - for us that means $100 per day. So we were very motivated to arrive in Banka on time. We left Bawean on the morning of the 14th of November. We had 6 days to go 450 miles. We of-course had left ourselves with much more time than 6 days to go this distance, we had planned on going to Kalimantan to buy fuel and break up the trip, but fixing the leak in the coolant tank cost us 6 days (instead of a 1 night stop).

On the morning of the third day of the passage (Nov. 16) - about 250 miles out of Bowean - Owen woke me up at 7AM. (I usually slept until 10AM). Some storm had turned the 200 foot deep Java Sea into a roiling, boiling, helacious blue world. I could hardly see the sky, Madrona rocked so much, I mostly saw the sides of huge waves as they rolled towards us. The winds blew in the 40s and Madrona almost broached at the crest of each 3 meter wave. The wave period was about 5 seconds. We had to get the head sail in NOW! Where the hell had this come from? Why didn't it show up on the grib files?

After we got the head sail in, Owen let the engine run, but throttled down. He needed information (via sailmail.) We couldn't motor in these seas and we couldn't sail. So we sat and drifted as we were being rocked to death. Things were flying across the floor, falling off shelves, and being hurled through the air inside the cabin. Tamsyn and Griffyn tried to rescue things as they landed. Owen and I took more sea-sickness medicine and stayed in the cockpit as much as possible. As Owen sent off emails, I took the watch. I saw a huge bulk carrier approach our starboard beam. He was moving fast (15-20 knots?) I suggested Owen get on the radio. He hailed them on channel 16, "Securitee, Securitee bulk carrier, there is a small sailing vessel about 1 mile ahead off your bow. We are drifting. Please come back."

They called back and changed their course to take our stern. They came a little too close for comfort especially in those seas, but at least they spoke English and hailed us. The heavily loaded bulk carrier proceeded on their course past us about another mile to our port quarter and then held station. Owen called them to see if they had a weather forecast. The said it would be like this all day. They were also drifting to adjust their schedule (they couldn't arrive too early in Java, there would be no place to dock.) They asked us if we needed any help. Owen said, "No, we are just short of solar," (diesel). He meant we didn't have enough to waist it trying to bash into these waves and winds to try motoring out of here.

At some point I started hearing a deep rumbly skidding sound coming from below the cockpit floor. Something was slipping or breaking. Owen unloaded the quarter berth into the salon (reducing living space for Tamsyn and Griffyn dramatically,) and climbed into the engine room to investigate the steering, since that is directly below the floor of the cockpit. It was the auto pilot. One of its braces was coming loose from the bulkhead where it was anchored. We turned it off. The waves must have been too much for it. It was attached to the wall with 5200, Owen couldn't find any bolts. Another thing to fix later. We would find a way to bolt it on (It still works fine - just not in heavy seas).

It took a couple more calls to Merkar Tide, the bulk carrier, to figure out that there was a low in the Indian ocean creating all these winds. Eventually Owen pulled down a current grib file. The low was very slow moving and would continue to affect the local wind patterns for 3 or 4 days to come. We didn't have that kind of time. A feeling of depression hit both of us as we sat there trying to figure out plan B. We certainly could not go to Banka - north of us - the winds were being sucked southwest into the low. Where could we go to check out and get fuel and water? And could we drift there?

It took all day to figure out another plan while we drifted 1-2 knots/hour south east. I remember feeling grateful that the bulk carrier full of English speakers was always within sight, just drifting there too. I could always spot them at the crest of each wave. It made me feel a little safer that day. I told the kids to come up to the cockpit (we didn't need to clean up vomit too). They loved the enormous waves and played sea-saw games and "I Spy" for hours completely oblivious to their parents feelings of peril. Their giggling and cheerfulness helped me too.

We needed to check our fuel level to see if our calculations for fuel consumption matched the dip stick. That dipstick is under the V-berth mattress, the bounciest part of the boat. So as quickly as possible Owen tossed things being stored up there aside and crawled in. I thought it was a pointless considering how we rocked and pitched. We waited for a period in the wave cycle where the chains on the ports hung straight down. Then Owen thrust the stick in as quick as possible and pulled it out. There was no way we would get an accurate reading. But Owen insisted - good thing he did too. We had much less than we thought, around 25 gallons.

It didn't seem like enough. The nearest anchorage was 100 miles away and in these seas who knows how much fuel it would take to get there - the currents are so unpredictable. But we could not just stay here and drift either even though it was a safe place (meaning it was not near a reef). An hour before sunset we decided to try sailing eastward towards a town on Belitung Island, called Manggar. Through a series of emails to our homeland support team (thanks John H., Grandpa John, Wendy, and Lois & Hink), Owen found out that there was an ATM in that town (which meant we could purchase more fuel there.) It was closer than Banka and East North East - with winds coming from the north we could sail part of the way for sure. We put out a little sail and headed east at 1-2 knots. The waves preventing faster travel.

Over the next 4 days we sailed, drifted and motored towards Manggar. Each 25 miles took a day of incredible patience and frustration as we would continuously be slowed by currents, waves and winds on the nose and once again forced to drift south east - away from our goal. We were struck by squalls and watched lightning dance on the waves near by. We watched funnel clouds form and dissipate. We vacillated between spirited hopeful thinking while the boat progresses toward Manggar and despair when we were forced again to just drift away. It seemed an eon to cover just twenty miles and not loose half of it drifting again. We checked the fuel level again, the sea was calmest in the mornings. We didn't have 25 gallons as we thought, we had less. We never seemed to be able to travel faster than 2.5 knots. There was just too much that kept preventing us from going north. The town was on the northeast corner of the island.

We had 12 gallons of fuel left on November 19th. We looked at our planned course and re-drew the lines to find the shortest possible path to get there. We shaved off about 7 miles if we sailed (or drove) closer to the reefs, nearer shore. I reminded Owen that like Bali island, the currents may be much less strong near shore. At 2:23PM we started the motor for we hoped our final run. And by the grace of God, or something, we motored along at 4 knots. We had roughly 40 miles to go, I knew it would just take one more storm to slow us down and make it impossible to get there. We hand steered keeping a very straight line. Having my hands on the wheel, steering always makes me feel more in control and gives me something to do. It was hard steering because of the currents, but it kept my mind occupied. We watched a huge storm with multiple Wall clouds form in front of us for an hour. It looked terribly menacing. We had covered 20 miles with out a hitch and I decided as the storm seemed to be moving east of us that this storm was not going to get us. I decided to be positive and believe that we would get there. As the storm rotated the winds (on our nose) shifted to our port quarter. We past the tail end of it with out a drop of rain as it poured dark purple off our starboard beam. We drove the final 20 miles at 4 knots through increasingly calm waters as we approached Manggar. On November 20th, we dropped the hook at 12:25AM and fell into bed.

As I write this, Owen is in town. The ATM machine wasn't working with our card. Someone from the tourist office has offered to drive him to a town 1 hour away that has a BNI bank. We should hear from him again sometime after dark tonight. The water is calm here, the kids did some school and took baths. I am making bread. I have moved slowly through this day balancing exhaustion with a need to communicate.

Carrie

Postscript:

We got ourselves checked out. The people from the Minestry of Tourism (Tiwi, Frans and also Fauzi who was the first person I met in Manggar) did an incredible job helping us get money, fuel, water and provisions for our trip north.

We left Manggar yesterday afternoon, and as I write this we are motoring through a dead calm in the South China Sea, on our way to Malaysia. We have more fuel on board than we have ever carried, and the seas and currents are not bad so far.

Things are looking up. We should cross the Equator and be back in the Northern Hemisphere in a few days.

Owen

1 48.074S
107 19.977 E

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Crossing the Java Sea - in storms and calms

So we left Bawean Island about 30 hours ago headed for Pangkal Pinang on the Island of Bangka (which administratively is part of Sumatra).

We couldn't find a working ATM on Bawean, so we could only get 75 gallons of fuel. We hope it is enough to go all the way to Bangka. Wind has been light, but we sailed for part of today with thunderstorm winds. Both yesterday and today we've collected over 7 gallons of drinking water, so that helps.

Wind instrument went on the fritz yesterday, so I sprayed it, and we'll see if it comes back. Typical Raymarine behavior. Griffyn's DVD player died yesterday - the last of the portable players so there is much lamenting and gnashing of teeth from that quarter.

We also ran into a bamboo "Fish Exciter" during the night, but no harm done. These little tethered platforms are meant to provide shade and cover for fish, and are not easily seen at night, as they are not lit and don't rise more than inches above the water in some cases.

Rain up ahead. Carrie baked bread and cinnamon bread today.

5 02.600 S
110 41.975 E
294 degrees true at 4.0 knots

Owen

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