Author Archives: Marce

Mama said there’d be days like this

We have plenty to write about from the last two weeks and some great photos to share. But in the moment I want to tell you about how real life still happens even when you live on a boat, and how much we rely on our community of other cruisers and the people whose villages and towns we visit along the way.

Yesterday we motored about 16 miles to complete the lovely but long and mostly windless journey along the north shore of Flores Island. Several of our overnight anchorages were scheduled stops in previous years of the rally but this year none are on the itinerary. Even our next destination isn’t really a rally stop, but rather Labuanbajo, the tourism gateway to Komodo National Park, giving us a fairly generous break in the schedule so we can each plan our own way to explore and enjoy the UNESCO World Heritage site. Jack and I were really looking forward to meeting up with the other boats, restocking in a real supermarket, maybe eating out a couple of nights before we ventured to the land of the Komodo dragons.

We arrived at the anchorage about 10:30am and Jack lay down for a quick nap. Two hours later he was still sleeping in the cockpit, unusual for him, an experienced catnapper. We’d both been eager to get into town so I woke him, then woke him again a half hour later. He couldn’t seem to come fully to consciousness and as I pressed him to get up, it became clear he was foggy and not comprehending what I was saying. Then he tried to go to the bathroom and couldn’t get his legs under him and stumbled down the steps. My normally alert and surefooted husband was confused and unable to control his body. I was terrified.

It took some doing but I got him back into the cockpit but as I pressed him to tell me what was going on he remained unresponsive, unable to put words together. I waved our friend Mark over when I saw him pass by in his dinghy. “We have a problem,” I said. Mark came aboard and immediately saw the condition Jack was in. He asked if we have a blood pressure monitor. Of course, why didn’t I think of that? But our monitor is on its last legs and while it seemed to be working properly, the readout was illegible, even with fresh batteries.

Mark left to get his own monitor and came back a few minutes later with Craig from another boat, who brought a monitor and an oxygen sensor. Jack’s O2 level was fine but we couldn’t get a BP readout on Jack. And both Craig and Mark agreed that Jack needed to get to a medical professional ASAP. While Mark set about working on logistics, he and Craig suggested it might be worthwhile consulting Dr. Sandra on another boat. A few minutes later Sandra came aboard and proceeded to do a routine neurological evaluation. She didn’t think Jack had had a stroke, but of course couldn’t rule it out, and thought perhaps his symptoms were the result of an apparent high fever from a two-week-old injury to his knee that looked to be infected. She also urged us to get him to a hospital right away to be sure and to get the appropriate meds to treat it.

Once that decision was made our circle of sailor friends shifted into high gear. While I gathered passports, insurance info and cash, the others arranged transport from a local hotel, rallied more help to get Jack safely ashore in a dinghy and me ashore in another. Susan was designated our point person and communications link and came with us in the taxi.

Within about 20 minutes we arrived at the hospital and a nurse listened to the onset of symptoms and took Jack’s bp and pulse (both normal) and his temperature (high.) We had a bit of a wait before a doctor came and he was immediately concerned with the look of Jack’s knee and ordered both blood work and an X-ray. While we waited for those the nurse started an IV of saline, electrolytes and paracetamol for the fever.

An hour later the IV and air conditioning had brought down the fever to almost normal and Jack was once again able to respond to questions, although it was a while longer before he could recall his own birthdate.

Susan was good company, keeping us both distracted and entertained, as well as keeping the boater community back at the anchorage informed by phone about Jack’s condition. Eventually the doctor came back, and as far as I could discern from his excellent but accented English Jack’s infection has affected his knee bones and we’d be going home with a fistful of various meds to treat the infection, reduce the fever, alleviate the pain and support his immune system. Total cost for everything was 2,640,000 Rupiah, or about $185 US, well below our insurance deductible.

It was difficult to find a taxi to take the three of us back to the waterfront until an HR employee at the end of his shift offered his own car and driver to transport us. When we got back to the hotel, the manager who had arranged the original taxi and helped Jack to the car made sure we knew he was at our service for whatever we may need. We are so grateful to the complete strangers who stepped up without hesitation to help.

We realized Jack hadn’t eaten since breakfast, adding low blood sugar to his woes, so we quickly ordered food at the hotel bar, but three bites into his burger Jack developed violent hiccups that he couldn’t shake and we wrapped up our food and rallied the transport teams to get Jack and me home to Escape Velocity.

Back onboard Jack continued to hiccup for hours as we tried every remedy in the book. Finally they stopped but then his fever spiked again, higher than before. I was afraid I’d have to get him back to the hospital at 3 am. I spent about an hour sponging him down to cool him off and that brought the fever down, but then the hiccups started again. This went on all night until, completely exhausted, Jack finally fell asleep and the hiccups stopped.

This morning I waited as long as I could before waking him to eat a few bites so he could take the next round of meds. And wouldn’t you know, the hiccups came back. Curses!

It’s now 10:30am. The hiccups are gone again, at least for now. The doctor from the other boat just stopped by to check on Jack. She’s a rehab physician from the Netherlands and we know another Dutch rehab doctor, Monique, whom we met along with her neurologist husband Pieter in Panama back in 2014. Monique and Pieter were at Isabela in the Galapagos when we limped back after our dismasting and were part of the Schulz Cocooning Team that soothed and comforted us in those first weeks of emotional trauma. As fate would have it, they know each other! So twice in our sailing adventures Dutch rehab doctors came to our rescue. What are the odds? They are both special people.

Jack is asleep now. We’re hoping a few days of the antibiotics will show improvement and Jack is taking the doctors’ advice to rest and recuperate. I feel like we dodged what could have been a very serious bullet. My job now is to figure out how to repay the generosity and kindness of so many people who pitched in when we needed it most and continue to offer help. The world is truly a beautiful place.

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The view from the back porch

Lingeh Bay, Flores, Indonesia

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Break failure

Our gravest concern about joining a rally has already reared its head. The host committees at the destinations work very hard to plan welcome events, dinners and tours, but in scheduling the stops the rally organizers have not taken into account that we aren’t arriving by relaxing Metroliner but are sailing from island to island, often on one- or two-night passages through waters that require constant vigilance to avoid the fish traps, fishing nets, deep water platforms and other low-lying hazards to navigation, all unlighted. Even daylight navigation is stressful, with all manner of floating dangers that often require quick maneuvers to avoid collisions. We understand how delighted some of these communities are to see tourists arrive by boat — and for some it’s the first they’ve ever been visited by yachts — but we barely get the anchor down before a welcome committee starts to circle, wanting to know everything about us, urging us to come ashore right away, reciting all the things they have planned, and always wanting to pose for selfies with us. We’re often tired, hungry, disheveled and in need of a shower and a nap before we can truly appreciate the warm welcome. We’re only a few weeks in but already we need a break.

We decided to skip the next scheduled stop and point Escape Velocity to the one after, stopping on the way for a little R&R at an interim island. My birthday was coming up and spending it without the constant cell phone paparazzi sounded good.

We left Tifu at dawn with the six remaining boats expecting a two-night passage but the wind was at the exact angle EV loves best and in 30 hours we arrived at the reef entrance to Wangi Wangi Island at the northern end of the Wakatobi group.

We had great waypoints and a satellite photo chart to follow but to our surprise a dinghy approached driven by a local man who said he was a pilot and he would guide us in. Ok, sure. He asked our draft and led us to a spot between two other rally boats who’d gone rogue and pointed to where we should drop our anchor. No, I said to Jack, and we chose our own spot better suited to the depth, our size and the state of the tide.

As we were still completing our anchoring and arrival routine the man boarded our back steps and, despite my asking him to please wait until we’d secured the boat, he proceeded to ask for our paperwork, enumerate the services his people could offer, pointed out his office and the dinghy dock and generally distracted us from our immediate tasks. It turns out this used to be a rally stop in previous years and either they weren’t told they were off the schedule or they just assumed (correctly, as it turned out) many of the boats would stop here anyway. So much for a relaxing break.

When we went ashore we were swarmed by a squadron of hyper-excited high school age students who all wanted to assist us onto the dinghy dock and with whom we performed the now familiar welcome ritual, straight out of a standard language phrase book.

“Hello, my name is ___________. What is your name?”

“My name is Marce. Nice to meet you!”

This is followed by often hilarious attempts by both parties to pronounce each others’ names and a handshake.

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from America.”

“Oh wow! America!”

This is repeated with every single person and also involves a selfie and various group shots. There’s a lot of giggling involved. This has become the standard every time we step ashore.

At Wangi Wangi, after these formalities they asked us where we wanted to go. We really just wanted to stretch our legs and explore the area but they pressed us to be more specific and even led us into the office, seated us at a desk where the head of this hyperactive welcome committee prepared to guide us to our heart’s desire. The rest of them surrounded us and eagerly awaited our answer.

“Well,” we said finally, “we’d like a café and a market.”

This prompted rapid chatter and eventually a map and the assurance that they would get us to these places. We tried to get the map but were assured instead that they would escort us there. So two of their number — I couldn’t figure out how this was decided — became our minders/guides/escorts and we were walked about a half mile to a café, all the while being peppered with questions.

They were adorable, spoke good but heavily accented English and were delightful to be with. At the café we told them to get whatever they wanted which excited them to pieces, and they ordered what looked like chocolate sodas.

After nearly an hour of conversation we convinced them that we could manage the market on our own and they returned to the office while we explored the town, eventually ending up at the market to replenish our fresh supplies.

The swarm event was repeated when we got back to the dinghy dock because by then the shift had changed and it was all new kids minding the landing. More handshakes, more introductions, more selfies, more assists into the dinghy.

We’re happy they’re happy, but boy is it exhausting! And that was pretty much my birthday. Not exactly the quiet break we were hoping for.

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Pig out

The official schedule in Tifu is over. Many of the boats have sailed away toward the next rally stop, but there are a lot of us who looked at the sea state and said nope, not going out there. The seas are predicted to settle down in another day so the remaining boats took the opportunity to throw a big party, sponsored by the family on Philocat, who arranged and paid for a pig roast for us and the town.

As a vegetarian, pig roasts are not my thing, as you can imagine, but a pot luck is always nice and this was mighty fine. The dishes the cruisers contributed were varied and interesting, especially since it had been quite a while since any of us has been able to provision. It was bottom of the larder creativity at its best.

Many of the men spent the day hand turning the spit and basting the unfortunate animal, and when the time came the rest of us plus half the town gathered on a steep hill overlooking the anchorage for a good meal and a final thanks to the welcoming community of Tifu. It was a pretty good sendoff.

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School day

Almost every day when we went ashore I was met by a man who offered a pot of homemade nutmeg jam and “spices cake,” both made by his wife. We were always on our way somewhere but one day I made arrangements with him to meet us at the dock when I knew we’d be on our way back to the boat and the deal was done. (Delicious on both counts.)

In talking with him we learned he teaches an after school English class and he invited us to come talk to his students. A group of cruisers did this a few days ago when we were booked on a tour and I was sorry to miss it. I agreed to come and volunteered Jack, who reluctantly came along.

We were whisked to the other side of the island on motorbikes and saw the eye-opening living conditions away from the touristy areas.

We were parked on a shady patio to await the arrival of the students and served the ubiquitous cinnamon tea and two plates of baked goods. We were the object of curiosity, as always.

When the students arrived we were coached to introduce ourselves with our names, boat name and where we come from. Then the teacher asked us to tell something about ourselves then make up five questions as a quiz to test the students’ listening comprehension. We had heard about this from the other cruisers and discussed it beforehand, and we even brought visual aids.

I spoke first and showed on our soft globe where we come from and wrote “Pennsylvania” on the whiteboard. I told them we have four seasons, spring, summer, autumn, winter, and that summer is very hot, and winter is very cold. I tried to explain how cold but I think subzero temperatures are hard to convey to folks who live near the equator.

I erased my notes on the whiteboard and wrote my five questions, which they answered in their copy books.

Then it was Jack’s turn. He talked about the animals we have in Pennsylvania, as the teacher translated the names of some that Jack listed. When he talked about bears we showed our stuffed black bear — our onboard reminder of our previous home — to the delight of the students. Jack told them a real black bear is as big as a man.

Jack erased his notes and wrote out his own questions, including “How big is a bear?”

After the students answered all the questions we had to grade their quizzes and sign our names to the papers, and in a “formal” ceremony, hand the papers back and congratulate them on their achievement, shaking each hand in turn.

In the end we were serenaded with great gusto with the Kookaburra Song and three or four other easy songs, many with counting or repetition in them, good for learning English. The teacher asked us to teach them a song but for the life of me I couldn’t come up with anything appropriate on the spot.

Now that we’ve done this once and know what the kids responded to we’ll do a little better next time. It was definitely a rewarding experience and I think even Jack enjoyed it.

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Around town

Pulau Bandaneira is a tiny little island, but jam-packed with surviving evidence of the nutmeg wars along with more recent historic buildings and newer accommodations to the tourist trade. We tried, in the stifling heat of the day, to explore as much as we could in the time we had left.

On one hot day we corralled the crew of Erie Spirit to join us for lunch at a nearby café where the food was cooked to order by Rose in her back alley kitchen. And it was delicious!

After lunch we followed a hand drawn map in search of a couple of notable buildings.

We started at the beautiful Cilu Bintang, a guesthouse and restaurant where we enjoyed a welcome dinner the night we arrived. It’s a Dutch colonial reproduction decorated to the max with artifacts from the nutmeg trade and lovely cool gardens and balconies. The owner is also the go-to person for tours and information.

Further out of town we met a local man who guided us to the Hatta House, the early 20th century home in exile of an Indonesian revolutionary who became Vice President after independence. It’s easy to see that this exile may not have been so terrible. The house is lovely, and now seems to be occupied variously by squatters and community groups.

The man who showed us around is pioneering a recycling campaign to help the Bandanese better manage their considerable waste stream, which ends up along the waterways and is the only sad blot on these gorgeous islands. We made a small donation of support for his efforts by buying a couple of the purses his group makes from plastic wrappers.

The heat finally chased us back to the waterfront and a cold drink in the shade. I think I could live here.

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Nutmeg trail

On a hot sunny day we joined a tour to the adjacent island of Pulau Besar to see the nutmeg trees that put these islands on the map.

A wet landing took us to the town of Lonthoir, an obviously prosperous settlement whose residents seem to try to outdo each other in Crayola color combinations.

These islands are steep, and the fitness program on my phone was delighted that I was finally exercising my passage-weakened legs.

The tropical sun is hard on the nutmeg trees, so the planters shade them with huge and beautiful almond trees that are so big I can’t get a whole tree in the frame.

At the plantation the owner demonstrated how they pick the nutmegs with what looks like a lacrosse stick, then he cut open several nutmegs and almonds so we could all smell and taste the fresh fruit and nuts.

Then we were on to cinnamon, another of the traditional crops of these spice islands. We all stood around like Ewell Gibbons chewing on tree bark and agreed that its fresh, pungent, bordering on hot spicy flavor reminded us of the candy Red Hots.

Walking back through town we saw nutmegs and cloves drying in front of many of the houses and realized the spices are produced not just by the plantations but by nearly everyone on the islands. The scent is nearly intoxicating.

We climbed a little further to the remnants of the Dutch fort for a spectacular view of the volcano and the anchorage below.

We ended the tour with cinnamon tea and nutmeg coffee and more of the friendly faces we’ve become accustomed to here in Banda.

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Bandanese welcome

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The land of nutmeg

As soon as we set foot on shore we fell in love with Banda Neira, the administrative center of the Spice Islands. It’s got the same lively, bordering on chaotic vibe as Bali, but on a much smaller scale and without the Hindu influence. People here are Muslim and the competing muezzins ring out a modern jazz symphony of aural ouch four times a day. But the people are as friendly and fun loving as we’ve seen so far, and obviously used to foreign visitors, as evidenced by the many shop signs in English. We’re using our Google Translate app far less that we did in Debut.

Every shop displays nutmegs, cinnamon and nutmeg candy, made from the dried and spiced meat of the nutmeg, something we haven’t seen before.

Our local host for the rally boats has arranged various tours and dinners on an ad hoc basis, so while we decide what we want to do on an organized jaunt vs. on our own we’re just wandering the streets of Banda Neira, appreciating the Graham Greene atmosphere of slightly decaying colonial architecture.

The spice that made the islands famous and the bitter conflict between the Dutch and the English it caused are evident everywhere.

But this is not a reconstructed Disneyland of tourist fakery, but rather a lively community with, of course, a traditional market, always my favorite destination.

The locals seem to absorb the influx of visitors with good cheer while still going about the daily business of living.

We have a lot more to see and do on these tiny islands. Another day. We’ve got time.

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The view from the back porch

We have arrived at the legendary Spice Islands, a dream come true for Jack.

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