Life with a twist

Even in the best of times plumbing is a curse. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “You can’t expect that fitting to mate with this fitting, pal. That’s an NPT while this is an NPR with a twist.” (I made that last bit up, so don’t try this at home.)

So it’s never going to mate, Mate, and it’s always going to leak and blow your butt to kingdom come! So you’ve got Imperial, which sounds rich; metric, which is boring and involves counting teeny tiny little increments; and then you’ve got US stuff which as far as I can tell somebody just made up a long time ago. As if that isn’t bad enough I give you LPG tank fittings. I’ve been chasing the correct fittings halfway around the world. It got so bad in OZ that I had to make a beeline to a marina in Gladstone because Escape Velocity’s propane system, which admittedly was about as Rube Goldberg as it gets, started to leak and I simply could not stem the flow with the bits I had on board. In my defense I’d like to say that Australia makes some of your more bizarre propane tanks without regard to any US standardized dimension or design. So a lot of in the field adjustment was necessary just to connect the gas fitting (which we’ll call a POL) to the tank. Of course those Aussie jokesters use backwards internal threads while the US uses a POL with external threads with a modicum of reverse compatibility. You should have seen the look I got from that hardware store kid when he showed me that you just stick it inside and it’ll screw right in. “How long you been down here, Mate?”

Now, Yours Truly has insisted on having three 20lb propane tanks aboard. One to show, one to go, and an extra one to reach for when everything else goes pear shaped. Things go pear shaped with alarming regularity out here. EV has a nice molded-in fiberglass LPG tank compartment right beneath your feet as you steer the boat. Have I mentioned that your humble skipper lost the discussion with the powers that be about why the hell do we need three 20lb propane tanks on board when we have never needed the extra tank? Yes, but I’d call that sound weight management.

So after 750nm we pulled into Debut, Indonesia, dropped anchor, and unexpectedly ran out of propane. That’s a concern because, of course, Indonesia uses a tank fitting that is unique in all the world and they don’t want you buying an Indonesian adaptor, which would make it an Indonesian to Aussie POL and it is illegal for them to fill Aussie or US type tanks regardless even if you’d had the foresight or eyesight to read the fine print and found a rare Indo adaptor. Just don’t look for one here.

So where was I? Oh yes. Up to the bow locker to lug the only other 20lb tank back to the propane compartment, and this is a full one judging by its weight. Out of the hole with the spent tank and in goes…it doesn’t fit! It will not go down into the compartment, which means you can’t stand or really even sit comfortably at the wheel and steer! After ruminating over my options and measuring this fat boy tank I realized that a 41 1/2″ tank will not go into a 40″ compartment. Luckily another boat volunteered their bespoke Aussie POL to Aussie POL assembly with a nice stainless reinforced hose to connect them.

We will decant the gas from the tank that doesn’t fit to the tank that does.

After prying Fatboy out of the compartment I suspended the donor tank upside down from our jib halyard and our empty tank was placed in a trug filled with water and covered with wet towels to keep a temperature differential. I will say that a lot of gurgling and sloshing commenced, sounding for all the world like a terribly upset stomach, as soon as the valves were opened. That might have been my stomach. I rigged a fish scale, yes I have a fish scale, to Fatboy and watched as it got lighter and lighter so I knew the LPG was going somewhere. We gave it four hours and the tank felt kinda full so I lowered it right down into the compartment and Bob’s your uncle.

Now we’re cookin’ with gas!

Of course that only solves today’s problem and we will need propane in about three months and only have one usable tank. But kicking the can down the road is a kind of victory, but with a twist.

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Join the crowd

For our journey through Indonesia we have, for the first time ever, joined a rally. This is an organized cruise where boats travel the same itinerary, gathering at prearranged destinations where local organizations welcome the boats with various events.

We did this because the bureaucracy of Indonesia has traditionally been difficult to navigate. We understand that it’s become less complicated recently and several of our cruiser friends made reasonably easy journeys on their own, but we made the decision to facilitate the paperwork process and signed up.

So far it’s been a mixed blessing. It’s nice to meet other cruisers, some of whom we’ve seen in anchorages going back for years but never actually met. It’s a good international group, with mostly Europeans — from Germany, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Denmark, England, Ireland — along with Americans, Aussies and Kiwis and one Brazilian. I haven’t met everyone yet so there might be others. We haven’t enjoyed this mixed a group since New Zealand.

On the other hand, the locals, at least here in Debut, are so excited to have this many visitors that they put on an enervating schedule of events that we can’t keep up with. It’s party time for them and a bit much for many of us. Add in that any event in this part of the world involves audio speakers turned up to eleven, and we are drained at the end of the day and long for the peace and quiet of remote anchorages.

The good news is that we are free to go off on our own and drop in and out of the rally schedule as we wish, and luckily we don’t have to check in and out of every port of call. That simplifies life for us because the authorities, as lovely and friendly as they are, have a different definition of efficiency and we must draw on the patience we developed while cruising the Caribbean. Everything takes time and a smile and a book to read while you wait.

We escaped to the waterfront during a particularly loud presentation to enjoy a little quiet time. How the locals aren’t all deaf by puberty is a mystery to me.

Everyone wants their picture taken, or to take ours.

Indonesia’s alternative to face painting: henna hands.

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The longest day

We always note that on any passage, no matter how long, the last twenty miles or so seem like one hundred miles. When you can see your destination ahead and you’re only moving at about five or six miles an hour you don’t feel like you’re getting closer hour by hour.

All we cared about was getting to anchor before dark. We were on a course that minimized the effect of the cross swell as we came up to the island and it wasn’t particularly fast but our ETA unwaveringly showed us arriving around 5pm and that was ok by us.

As we sailed up the channel we had to turn to avoid some fishermen setting out a net. It was our first encounter with the locals and we waved at each other excitedly.

Finally we got settled in at anchor just as the muezzin started his call from one of the several mosques we could see on shore.

Jack flew our quarantine flag but it soon became clear that the officials had stopped working for the day and we’d be boatbound overnight. That’s ok. We called it quesadilla night and celebrated our arrival with margaritas and hot showers.

The next morning we got the boat ready for biosecurity and customs inspections but nobody came to clear us in. We waited and waited and finally decided to spend the time doing some much needed boat work. Jack spent an hour or so installing a 12v outlet in the TV cabinet and routing the heavy satellite antenna cable so we can plug the Iridium GO in for a better signal.

And still we waited, with shore tantalizingly close.

Finally we were visited by biosecurity, who cleared us of any illness or disease pretty quick.

It was another wait before Customs came and they took a little longer, with more paperwork and a boat inspection. Finally we were told we could go ashore where Immigration had set up a temporary office in a pavilion on the waterfront. We got our visas checked and our passports stamped and we are finally officially in Indonesia.

This is how you get ashore in Debut. Get off the dinghy at the slippery steps, then walk the dinghy around to the bridge and tie off.

Our first stop was the Telkomsel truck on the street where two young men set us up with a SIM card for our mobile hotspot. Back on the grid!

By this time it was about 4pm and too late to take a taxi into town for an ATM and a market but we walked around the village to stretch our legs and see exactly where we’ve landed. I’d say it’s a pretty nice place.

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Flipside

I came on watch this morning before dawn and Jack went downstairs to take a nap. Shortly after sunrise we were hit with a sudden wind squall that spun the boat around so quick I didn’t have time to get the sails under control. We had been sailing wing and wing with the mainsail held out to one side and the jib on the other, both secured with preventer lines. I called for Jack who took the helm while I went from one side deck to the other releasing the preventers and sheeting in the sails. We followed the wind around in a circle getting slammed this way and that by the big seas until the squall passed and the wind decided on a direction, then got back on something resembling our course and the sails trimmed. It was over in about 15 minutes but we were both exhausted and flush with adrenalin.

I offered to go below and make coffee while Jack kept an eye on things. I should have remembered that slamming into steep seas would shift the contents of the cabinets but it wasn’t on my mind. So when I opened a cupboard door the stack of my beloved little Turkish bowls toppled onto the counter, and half of them onto the floor and down the steps into the port hull.

I loved those bowls. I bought them at Harris Farm Market in Sydney for $2 each on a day when Alex drove Jack and me all over the city to knock off a bunch or errands that would have taken a day apiece had we used public transportation. Alex embraced every one of our quests and entertained us with life stories to boot. We ended up at Harris and when I wondered aloud if I should get four or six bowls Alex said to get the six. They became our dessert bowls, my yogurt bowls, serving bowls for nuts, olives, salsa. I associate them with Sydney and Alex and they made me happy. Three survived, not enough to serve dessert to guests, but enough for the salsa and the nibbles.

It took the better part of an hour to clean up the shards scattered so comprehensively throughout the galley and port hull that the effort left me queasy. By the time I delivered Jack’s thermal coffee mug to the cockpit I was ready for this day to be over. In fact I may have said I wanted to move to a farm. I’m not sure now what may have come out of my mouth at the time.

The day did improve after that, but I’m going to miss those bowls.

Flying fish routinely land onboard during a passage, but not usually on the cockpit cushions.

This fish was on deck after a particularly lively night of big waves.

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Underway

It’s our second night at sea on the way to Debut, Indonesia. It’s a beautiful night, with a sky full of stars, a soft breeze, following seas. The air is still chilly enough when the sun goes down that I change into sweatpants and a hoodie, funny when we’re at 10 degrees south latitude, closer to the equator than we’ve been since the Marquesas three years ago and that was hot. There’s a near constant parade of ships in both directions but they pass at a respectful distance. I’m still on the lookout for fishing vessels which are often unlit. There’s a tiny bit of moon but it’s dark on the water and I have to stare hard on my every 15-minute horizon check to see that the way ahead is clear.

A ship that I hailed earlier on the radio to make sure he could see us has altered course and is now abeam about a mile and a half away, bound for Singapore. Jack is off watch and I hope he’s getting some sleep. It takes a few days to adjust to the sleep pattern of a passage and we both feel out of sorts at first.

This afternoon we piped a couple of podcasts out to the cockpit, then switched to music. The random shuffle of a hundred gigabytes of tunes gave us didgeridoo music by Ganga Giri as a goodbye to Oz, then a beautiful rendition of Over the Rainbow by our dear friend Mary Cassidy to make us a little homesick for the people we love.

Being at sea, being anywhere cut off from the world and stripped of the visual stimuli of modern life, always unclutters my mind. It’s meditation, a complete reboot, tabula rasa. It’s what I loved about camping, when the hours in a day are concerned only with shelter, water, fire and food. Onboard a sailboat at sea, we watch the weather, take care of the boat’s needs to keep her on course and moving well. We take care of each other too, making sure we get enough rest, stay hydrated and fed. But with no internet or TV our minds are free to wander. Sometimes I find I’ve been staring at the sea or the sky for an hour with not one thought except to look and listen. The sea is of course hypnotic and it’s easy to lose yourself in its soothing rhythm. That’s assuming it’s in a soothing mood, which it is so far tonight. The wind is steady so I’m not having to tweak the sails or the course. So far this passage reminds me of sailing from Puerto Rico to Panama, a thousand downwind miles that started us on our six on/ six off watch schedule because it was too beautiful to go to bed. It doesn’t often happen but the memory of it keeps us coming back for more.

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And now for something completely different

We checked out of Australia on Tuesday afternoon at the Border Force office on Thursday Island after a last Aussie lunch, burgers and fries at the same hotel café as before. It’s hard to beat a $10 special. The ferry driver recommended a cafe down the street and the cabinet food there may have been a little healthier but how can you pass up a pile of hot crisp made-to-order fries? You can’t. That’s all there is to it.

Custom house, Thursday Island

The clearing out process was quick and easy and we got a Border Force shopping tote, two Border Force caps, a Border Force cool wrap, a Border Force water bottle and a Border Force pen. We’re all set with Border Force branded gear.

We did our last bit of provisioning at the supermarket before catching the 4:15 ferry back to Horn Island, but really, we don’t have room for anything else and long ago stuffed the cupboards with all the must have items we understand might be hard to come by in Indonesia. I think we could survive a year on the food we have onboard.

Ferry dock with dinghies, Horn Island

Wednesday the change of tide came at mid day so for once we didn’t have to pop out of bed in the dark and get underway before the coffee kicked in. The Torres Strait has wicked tidal streams that can set you back a couple of knots or give you a welcome assist. Timing it is confusing but we came out ok. Our method is to see when everyone else goes and follow them. It doesn’t always work but the odds are with us and this time was perfect.

It was sad leaving Australia. We fell in love with the country long before we arrived, lured by the many Aussies we met along the way, from Laurie and Sonia of Moana Roa in the Caribbean, to Tom of Dancing Bear, and Phil and Karel of Tehani Li in the Galapagos, to Diana and Alex of Enki II, and Di and Bruce of Toucan across the Pacific. They all share what we’ve come to think of as the Australian character: a big heart, a generous spirit, an irreverent sense of humor, and a ready enthusiasm for fun and adventure. Maybe those are just traits of long-distance cruisers, and if so, Australians embody them better than anyone.

Once we set foot on Australian soil we felt instantly at home. It’s big, diverse, unruly yet regulated, profound and ridiculous, familiar and confusing all at once. Any country that shortens many of their names for things by adding either ‘ie’ or ‘o’, as in barbie for BBQ or rego for registration, doesn’t take itself too seriously. But why do they call a fuel pump a bowser? Why do shoes cost so much? And why are they against colorful footwear? We ran out of time to answer these questions.

In the end it was hard to tear ourselves away. It’s easy living, and we were seduced by ready access to every little whim. That ends up being bad for our pocketbooks and salves the itchy feet that brought us to this side of the globe in the first place. It’s definitely time to move on.

We’re on our way now to a place completely unfamiliar, where English is not widely spoken, where our rusty traveler skills will be exercised, where every day will be a journey. And that journey, for us, is home.

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Backfilling

Subscribers may be confused as to where we are while we try to catch up with the last couple of months of missed blog posts. We’re slotting them in in chronological order, so please bear with us as we attempt to tie up Australia with a pretty ribbon before we go. Everyone else, scroll down if you want to see what we were doing during those long periods of radio silence.

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We’re ready for our closeup

We’re included in an article on “Cat People” in the current Multihulls issue of SAIL magazine. Here’s a photo of the spread with our faces sent to us by Ed Kelly of Angel Louise.

You can see the online version with more photos here. Be sure to check out the story about Angel Louise’s great loop of Europe while you’re at it. It’s a unique adventure.

We’re still hoping someone will come across a print copy for us. It’s not available here and we’d love to have one. We’ll PayPal anyone who can put their hands on one and mail to our US address.

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Thursday on Friday

Our calm anchorage is a scant distance from Thursday Island but the constant trade winds and wicked tidal stream would make a dinghy ride across the channel a wet and bumpy proposition. We wisely took the local ferry over on Friday to check out the place, have lunch and play tourists.

Thursday is much smaller than Horn Island but as the administrative center of the Torres Strait district it’s way more populous and feels almost urban.

We started at Green Hill Fort, a late 19th defense against a possible Russian invasion. During WWII it was recommissioned as a signal station, and used post war as a weather station until the 90s. Today it serves only as a panoramic lookout over the Torres Strait and our likely route westward when we leave Australia.

No self respecting boater passes up either a chandlery or a hardware store and we all cruised every aisle picking up last minute must-haves from the surprisingly well stocked Miter 10.

Lunch was a $10 burger and fries special — they even had a veg burger! — in what appeared to be a local hangout.

We walked the Main Street and went in nearly every shop, knowing it would probably be our last retail opportunity in Australia, then visited the church that was built in 1893 to memorialize the 134 lives lost when the S.S. Quetta sank in 1890 near Mount Adolphus Island nearby.

I can’t see I’ve ever seen either a wall hanging or a stained glass window depicting a disaster at sea, but they’ve got them here.

The rest of the afternoon we spent slow-walking every aisle of the supermarket doing the mental calculus of cost-space-desire on every product on the shelves. We’re provisioned to the gills but there are always items you wish you’d bought more of. Trying to anticipate what those will be is a fool’s errand but that doesn’t mean we don’t try.

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The view from the front porch

Horn Island, Torres Strait, Australia

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