Author Archives: Marce

Land cruising

Emanuel picked us up at 8 and after spending an hour finding an ATM that would give me more Tanzanian shillings, we were off toward our first destination, Lake Manyara National Park. I was excited about this park because it reportedly has 2.5 million flamingoes (cue the theme to Out of Africa.) It has most of the other famous African animals too, but the wetland birds would be a strong contrast to the dry Serengeti plain we will visit next.

As we drove we got to know Emanuel and it didn’t take long to learn how good a naturalist he is, knowledgeable in every aspect of the parks with a deep understanding of the delicate balance of ecosystems. It was around the time we entered the park that he told us that unusually heavy rain in 2018 and 2020 had flooded Lake Manyara so much that it greatly reduced the salinity of the water and killed off the algae the flamingoes feed on. The flamingoes were gone.

I was profoundly disappointed from a personal standpoint, but even more saddened by the abrupt environmental changes.

“Global warming?” I asked. Emanuel nodded.

“Will they come back?” I was thinking about the flamingoes but it was clear the bird life wasn’t the only consequence of the floods.

“No,” he said. The damage has been done.

We saw our first African elephant in the wild just then and while I was happy to see it, I felt a cloud had moved overhead and the sparkle had dimmed on the day. As time went on I started to appreciate the scenery and especially the trees, so different from the tropics where we’d been for so long. We were looking at a completely different color palette of browns and greens, instead of the blues we’ve lived in for nearly ten years.

When Emanuel stopped the vehicle and we listened, the silence was so complete we felt our ears were cartoon hearing trumpets reaching out for any sound at all. I knew then that coming to Africa was the right decision after selling Escape Velocity. We needed this.

The park continued to deliver. Our first giraffe, our first lion, and a bonanza, two young lion cubs resting in a tree.

In between there was no shortage of baboons, reminding us, in behavior if not appearance, of the macaques we’d been living among for the past three years.

We made our way down to the lakeside and saw for the first time what the heavy rains did to the lake. I read that it’s only ever about 10 feet deep all the way across, but the rain flooded the shoreline so far that trees that once stood at the water’s edge are now well into the lake, dead or dying.

Emanuel drew our attention to the color of the water, now brown instead of clear. In a normal cycle, by this time in the dry season the rainwater would have evaporated, preserving the salinity and the shoreline. But, as Emanuel said, “there’s just too much water.”

Near the lake we found our first camp. We’d elected tent camps instead of lodges because we wanted the whole classic safari experience and it was the right decision. The camps rest lightly on the land. There are no permanent structures, no hardscape, no concrete pads. The whole operation could be pulled up and moved and within a short period of time, the savannah grasses would reclaim it, then the trees. The animals and birds are always there, and we were serenaded all night by the calls of the wild.

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The view from the front porch

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This could be anywhere

After four flights and five airports we’re here.


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A perfectly ordinary day

We’re off to the airport for another couple of flights. I don’t much like the idea of spending time in crowds and especially airports, not to mention crowded planes, or the new-normal of getting a deep poke in the brain with a cotton swab for the privilege, but we didn’t much like the alternative of not going anywhere either, so here we go.

To get anywhere from here you’ve got to go through Kuala Lumpur. The first flight we booked got canceled so we booked one much earlier than we need just in case the same happens again. We absolutely can NOT miss our international flight so KLIA will be our home for the better part of a day, and the lounge is closed. That’ll give us time to get copies of our Covid test results printed. We’ve been advised that our destination requires hard copies.

Our flight to Kuala Lumpur was on time and not crowded, and just before boarding we got our Covid test results.

They showed up as a small green banner in our national Covid tracking/tracing/vaccination app. Great idea, with everything in the same app, but we’re flying to a place that requires a hard copy in their hands on arrival. We were promised a detailed email and it wasn’t forthcoming. After several calls to the hospital with no success, we put our fate into the hands of a nice lady at the service counter of our airline. She called the hospital, got cut off a few times and eventually read the riot act to a poor unfortunate on the other end. We had our emails five minutes later.

Now we have six hours to kill in an airport with few seating areas land side, a Covid-reduced food court, and a closed lounge. CLOSED! We’ve commandeered the only bench we could find, between Lancôme and Swarovski, and maybe in a little while we’ll go back to the pathetic food court for a cuppa. I’ll definitely be ready for a nap by the time we board the first of two long flights.

By the way, we will miss the comprehensive, intelligent public health response to a global pandemic here in Malaysia. There is nearly universal mask compliance, including outdoors; there are very few places you can go without being vaccinated (they check at the door); there is mandatory contact tracing by scanning a QR code on a mobile app everywhere you go; and shops consider the vaccination of their staff critical to doing business. We feel very safe here. And we wish every other country did the same.


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Now what?

The offer on Escape Velocity came as a surprise since Malaysia’s international border is still closed and even interstate travel was restricted at the time. The buyer was eager to take possession and asked how soon we could vacate the premises, throwing us into a whirlwind of sorting, packing, selling and giving away all of our worldly goods. This is completely different from moving house, where you can toss it all in boxes, load up a truck and sort it out later. We chose the keepsakes we want to hang on to and arranged a shipment, but most of the contents of the boat can easily be replaced and will be cheaper to buy new than to ship.

Our friends and dock mates benefitted from the giveaway frenzy, just as we’ve benefitted when others near us sold their boats. The liveaboard community are masters of sharing and it makes me happy knowing that my beloved Cuisinart pots, the knives I bought in Berlin in the 80s, my well-used pressure cooker, and all the rest of our life’s accumulations will continue to be useful on other boats at Rebak Island Marina and beyond. I even gave my Atlas pasta machine and a kilo of semolina to the owner-chef of our favorite Italian restaurant. Thirty years of ravioli, tortellini, agnolotti, and caramella came out of that machine. I know Lorenzo will keep it busy.

A boat is not the best place to pack up a life, so we asked the resort, which is temporarily closed to guests while they repair the fresh water system, if we could possibly have a room where we can spread out and organize. Not only did they give us a room, but they put us beachfront, with the sunrise view I’ve been walking to most mornings.

The view from our room at the resort.
Haulout for survey.

In the midst of the packing, we had the marine survey and sea trial, all the various complications of selling a boat from one country to an owner from another for registration in a third. I admit to mostly being in a daze and just followed the expert guidance of our broker until it all got done.

Then we handed over the keys to the new owner, said our goodbyes, gathered up the rest of our belongings, and boarded a plane for Penang where we’re eating bagels and ice cream to our hearts’ content while we plan our next move.


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While you see a chance

It’s 6 am and I’m standing on the port side deck in the damp, chilly air. The moon is full and still high above the horizon. Orion and Gemini are almost directly overhead in the clear dark sky. All around are the sounds of land, waking birds, cicadas, peepers, and off in the distance, the muezzin. I’m remembering the sounds of the sea.

It’s been a long time since the magical night watches of a long passage. Far from land in deep water there’s little chance of encountering another vessel and I loved the 360° horizon, our tiny boat an insignificant dot suspended in what seems like outer space except for the rhythm of the ocean swell and the distinctive creaks and moans of a sailboat underway.

I grab my flip flops and a camera and walk in the dark to the other side of the island to watch the sun turn the clouds to gold. Two herons wade along the shore, pecking for breakfast at low tide, and as the sky brightens more birds join the chorus.

The sun breaks the horizon and just like that, it’s morning and the sky is a brilliant blue, with billowing clouds marching up the Malacca Strait to the west. A troop of macaques makes their way through the treetops and down to the water. More and more monkeys arrive until there must be 30 or so, the young ones racing up and down the tree trunks while the godfathers guard the perimeter on the ground.

I leave the shelter of the trees and I can see both the rising sun and the full moon from one vantage point, a phenomenon that never fails to bring me joy. I love living this close to nature, where the weather informs what you do on any given day, where the soundtrack is provided by birds and insects and other creatures, by the wind in the trees and in the rigging. These early mornings are precious to me, a walking meditation.

We have sold Escape Velocity, our magic carpet, our life. Change is always hard and the next few weeks will be especially challenging as we transition away from this island that has sheltered us for nearly three years, from this vessel that has been our home for more than nine years. We will be off the water for the time being while we do some land travel to places we can’t sail to. We’re going to indulge in a buffer somewhere and take time to recover from the stress of the sale and the move before we fly back to the States to visit family for the holidays.

What comes next after that we haven’t a clue.

Back at the boat, I’m having coffee in the cockpit. A troop of monkeys is making a racket near the end of the hardstand, and I can hear at least five different birdsongs. Other than that, the marina is silent. Soon the boatyard will come alive with the sounds of sanding and grinding, and carts and bicycles rumbling along the docks. That’ll be time for me to get busy packing.


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The view from the back porch

The particular topography of Rebak Island often deflects the storm cells we see heading across the Strait on radar. Looks like this one’s going to pass us by.


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Ok, ok. Yes, it’s been a while, and we apologize to those loyal readers who’ve sent us increasingly worried messages asking if we’re ok. We are, sort of. Like nearly everyone else we’re trying, often unsuccessfully, to adjust to the pandemic spanner that got tossed into our best-laid plans. Actually, we didn’t really have plans but Covid-19 sure has limited our options. Let’s back up a bit.

When last we wrote Jack was appreciating some new hardware in his port side leg. He made steady progress and our plan was to sail north to Thailand around the end of February when he was fit enough to handle the boat.

While Jack was still rehabbing his knee we hired a local canvas company to replace our deteriorating cockpit enclosure and re-cover the cockpit cushions. We ran into a snag when the canvas people told us they couldn’t schedule our job before our Thai visas expired but they could easily finish before our current Malaysian visas ran out in early April. We were faced with a decision. The Thai visas weren’t cheap, but the canvas price was excellent and we really needed the new enclosure because it’s not only a comfort issue, keeping us sheltered from the elements, it’s also a safety concern for visibility underway in harsh weather.

In the end, we decided to sacrifice the Thai visas and wait in Malaysia for the canvas work to be done. It was a decision that sealed our fate, for good or for ill.

In mid-February, the canvas was ordered and the painstaking patterning work started. It’s a big job and we made some design modifications from the original so the canvas folks made several trips to our island over the next few weeks. During this time, just like everyone all over the world, we monitored the news as a contagious virus inched its way toward us. And suddenly, on March 18th, Malaysia went into full lockdown. All but essential businesses closed, and that included our canvas people. Our hearts ached for them, and all the other small businesses that were left with no income.

We assumed the lockdown would be temporary. As our April 13th visa expiration date approached we worried we’d have to leave the country with half our cockpit work done, bad for us, bad for the canvas business. Just in time, the Movement Control Order was extended and foreigners on tourist visas, including us, learned we could overstay our visas without penalty, but once the MCO was lifted, we’d have two weeks to clear out. At the same time, our embassy communicated to us that they recommended no unnecessary international travel. Flights were canceled left and right. Our choices were to either leave the boat and return to the US immediately or stay put. We stayed put.

As a reminder, we are in a marina on a tiny privately owned island. The only other business here is a small resort owned by Taj.

When the country went on lockdown, the resort closed and sent most of their employees home. Except for a skeleton crew, we yachties were the only residents on Rebak Island. At the time of lockdown, there were 110 marina residents and we were effectively quarantined together.

Back to the fate part. Had we declined the bid from the canvas people and left for Thailand when we intended, we’d have been locked down there instead of here. Would that have been better or worse? Who knows? Just different, I guess. We know people who are stuck in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Maldives, and the movement restrictions and visa worries are largely the same. We feel lucky that our small island is virus-free and we’re safe both from infection and from weather. On the other hand for people accustomed to traveling, being tied to a dock for this long is taxing.

The community of long-distance sailors is far-flung but tight. We’ve been following the travails of our comrades all over the world, people like us who are on our boats but confined to a certain place and with bureaucratic worries, people who weren’t on their boats when the lockdown happened and can’t return to them, people who were underway when borders closed and weren’t allowed to clear in to their destinations. Some have been lucky enough to get to a safe place where they could wait out the worst of it and move on. Depending on your passport countries are either open or not. Unfortunately, as US citizens we are not welcome in the EU, and Malaysia just announced that citizens from the 23 nations with the greatest number of cases (we’re number 1!) are not allowed to enter the country. That means if we leave Escape Velocity and fly back to the States, we will not be allowed to return for the foreseeable future. The surrounding borders are all closed, probably until at least 2021. It’s quite the situation.

So, like everyone else, we’re in limbo, trying to adjust to this new reality and wavering about whether to leave our home and return to the States until the world gets to the other side of this. On the one hand, we’d be able to see friends and family and do a little safe road tripping in a big country. On the other hand, we’d hate to leave our home, we’re definitely safer here, and SE Asia is affordable on our social security income, which America definitely is not.

Meanwhile, here we sit.

We do have some stories to tell, and Jack and I are determined to do some blogging again. We’ve missed it, but I admit the realities of life during a global pandemic too often take our attention away from our own day to day life. We need to remedy that. Life is short.


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Worn out parts

We’ve been lax about blogging for so long that we’re starting to get messages of concern from readers wondering if we’re ok. We are, but it’s definitely past time to paint the picture of where we are now and what’s happening in our life.

For several years now both Jack and I have been suffering the predictable — but not welcome — physical deterioration that advancing age can bring. Jack’s left knee became so worn down and painful that many of our travel decisions and even shopping trips had to be planned around how far he can walk between resting spots. Gone were our spectacular but arduous hikes that made many of our destinations as thrilling as the beautiful anchorages.

High above the pineapple plantations in Moorea, French Polynesia

For my part, you may remember I injured my back in 2015 in Huahine, French Polynesia. For the past four years I’ve gone through good periods and bad ones where my back would flare up and change my whole attitude toward life. Ocean passages have become torture for me, as are long bus rides, or even retrieving cookware from the bottom cupboard. I’m definitely too young to accept this as the new normal.

Between the two of us, we slowed down so much that eventually we stopped. We’ve been in the same place, parked in a marina, for over a year. This is not the life we imagined, or the one we enjoyed for more than 7 years. We’ve become less and less active, in effect surrendering to aging. Something had to change.

In the beginning of November we flew to Penang, a well-respected “medical tourism” destination and made appointments for both of us to see an orthopedist. For my part, I was assured that with proper physiotherapy my back can be pain free and I can regain my former strength and flexibility. For Jack, the answer was simple and unavoidable: total knee replacement. Remarkably, they could schedule it for two days later. That was a shocker, but we needed to think it through, do some research and financial calculations. Besides, we had flights booked for the end of the week and we’d need to repack for a longer trip.

I spent the next three days in physiotherapy with a wonderful woman who not only released the muscle spasms that cause much of my pain, but also taught me strengthening exercises and reassured me that the stretching she recommended would not reinjure my discs. I’m on the road to recovery, but it will take a long time to rebuild the strength I used to have in my back and to live pain free.

We flew home to Escape Velocity where we tried to compare the out-of-pocket cost of a knee replacement in Malaysia vs. the cost of flying back to the states where Medicare would cover most of the hospital costs but not the flights, car rental, Airbnb, etc. It’s apples to oranges and impossible to reckon. The final decision was based on our assumption that scheduling the surgery in America would probably take weeks, if not months, and here in Malaysia the only scheduling factor is which days of the week the surgeon operates.

In the end we called the hospital and scheduled the surgery for Thursday of the following week which just happened to be Jack’s 70th birthday. By paying a little extra for a private room in the hospital I was allowed to stay with Jack and sleep on a daybed, saving us a few bucks in hotel costs. We packed what we needed for a couple of weeks, flew back to Penang and checked into the hospital on the 20th of November.

The surgeon made sure there’d be no mistaking which knee would be replaced.

All of the nurses and other hospital personnel were wonderful and the hospital is well run and up to date.

Dr. Aaron Lim replaced Jack’s knee in little more than an hour. Later that day he came to check on his work, and the following day Jack started the long road of physical therapy.

After a week in the hospital we moved to a hotel and made daily trips to rehab. Jack made great progress and after another week he could walk without a cane. We moved to another hotel closer to restaurants and part of Jack’s daily exercise became walking to a café or to dinner in the evening. Penang is a food paradise, especially compared to Langkawi.

Finally, twenty-four days after flying to Penang, we returned to Escape Velocity. I was a little worried about whether Jack could get on and off the boat, and if he could continue rehabbing without the supervision and encouragement of the physiotherapist. On the first point, he had no problem. His knee was so bad for so long that he had already figured out workarounds for most movements. This turned out to be a mixed blessing and Jack sometimes needs reminders that he’s got a perfectly functioning knee now that doesn’t require favoring.

Back to my back. After making great progress while I saw the physiotherapist and diligently doing the exercises she suggested, at home my back returned to its new not-normal bad condition. It’s clear I need longer term help to get better. We both do.

So here we are, making progress but much more slowly than we hoped. We’re still in a marina, me unhappily so, Jack, the more zen of us, content for the moment. I still love boat life, but not being in one place for so long. Jack wants to keep on keeping on, whatever that means to him.

We are definitely at a time of re-evaluation. We have to consider what we can do physically, how many more years of active life we can expect, what our priorities are travel-wise, and what our options are from where we are now.

Most options are on the table. Negotiations continue….


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Night moves

It’s 3am and the gentle rain we were having has suddenly turned into a howling squall. Escape Velocity is tugging at her docklines and Jack climbs down to the dock in his underwear to lay his bicycle down while I retrieve a few loose items out of the cockpit before they blow away.

When we’re at anchor the boat generally swings to face into the wind, which means wind-borne rain is blocked by the forward cockpit enclosure and we’re safe and dry while we check on things. Tied to a dock the boat is held in one position and we’re at the mercy of whatever direction the weather comes from. Right now it’s blowing in from behind so even a quick foray outside leaves us dripping.

Jack climbs back aboard and I check that our rain collector hose is feeding into the water tank. We’re both barely back in bed when a white flash lights the cabin accompanied by a loud thunderclap.

“That was close!” we both say at once and I jump out of bed again and out into the cockpit to see — what? I don’t know. I just feel the need to do something. Back inside I adjust the position of the yellow plastic bowl that collects the drips coming in where I haven’t perfectly taped the plastic around the temporary room air conditioner over the main galley hatch. I make a mental note to look into that tomorrow.

Within minutes the wind dies down and the rain is back to its gentle pitterpat but I can still hear thunder rumbling in the distance. Whether it’s coming or going I can’t tell. Squalls often come in bands around here and may go on for hours. I could check the weather radar but it’s now almost 4am and it seems more important to close my eyes again and try to get some sleep. Jack’s already in dreamland, blissfully trusting our boat, the docklines and his own instincts. As the more analytical partner I go through my standard mental checklist of What Could Go Wrong and What To Do About It before I can begin to think about sleep. But I’m going to try. Here goes. Good night.


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