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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Travels In Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

Between the old Honda Motorbike and a fairly battered Toyota van we managed to cover a lot of ground here in Sri Lanka.  We never did get to one of the nearby wild life parks, but that didn't prevent us from sharing the roads and tracks with wild elephants, mongoose, peacocks, lizards, squirrels, deer, water buffalo, monkeys of many kinds etc etc.  That's not to mention the thousands of cattle and goats that roam free here and do really own the roads, though the local bus drivers would disagree.

Ancient City of Polonnaruva ruins
Traveling without a local guide is kind of unusual here, and the various historic sites make it a challenge, but Google Maps and an almost infallible 3G network made the navigation simple.

We spent a lot of time on back roads and tracks, and were never without a phone signal.  Even better, we were never without smiles and welcomes from the local people.

In one local town we waded into the river to watch the elephants being scrubbed, ate great local food and generally felt that we were very welcome everywhere.

The historic sites here are plentiful and spectacular, if a little expensive for foreigners to enter. But do pay the money and walk on to see some amazing sights.

Sigiriya - Water Gardens Leading To The Lions Claws
At Sigiriya we climbed the 830 steps (sure I counted them all) to get to the site of the palace.  Having proved to ourselves that we are definitely "getting older", we spent 30 minutes recovering before exploring the palace site.

Perched on top of a monumental chunk of rock, this was certainly a defendable site for a palace.  An amazing perspective on the countryside from up there, a forest of green punctuated with lakes as far as the eye could see.The next 830 steps (down) were very much easier.

From  our base in Trincomalee we were able to travel widely and return to the boat each evening.  Some of the island's attractions, including the national parks, do really require overnight travels, but we were keen to get moving again. 

A collection of our Sri Lankan images can be viewed here.

Sigiriya - Cave Frescoes
So we have refueled and provisioned for the next stage of our journey.  We cleared with customs and immigration yesterday evening, the Navy inspection boat has just departed and the dinghy is in davits ready for the passage.

We'll depart here in an hour or so and sail to Male in the Maldives.  Our transit time should be four to five days.
Sigiriya - fabulous views from the palace on top of the rock.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The Alfred Normandale - Wooden Pilot Boat History

I have to admit I'm a sucker for wooden boats.  As a child my father initiated me into the ways of these special creations - the unique joy that comes from sanding, painting and generally mucking around with wooden craft.  I was fortunate to spend many weekends at Blunts Boatyard (and here), where the smells, touch, curves and folklore of wooden craft entered my DNA.

So when this grand old lady motored past three weeks ago my heart beat just that little bit stronger.  Very little wake, 8 knots, and the sound of ..... well, very little sound, except that very low growl that can only be a Gardiner diesel.  I was hooked.

The Alfred Normandale is the official pilot boat here in Trincomalee.  Researching her provenance I learned from the crew that "she is English Sir" and is named after one of the first Harbour Masters in Columbo. Trying to trace that has proved difficult, but with the help of Hans Houterman (www.unithistories.com) I suspect that he was Alfred Normandale, born in Scarborough UK in 1853.  He is listed in the Captains Registers of Lloyd’s of London (Guildhall Library Ms 18567). He would be really proud to see this old girl still serving.  This is certainly the oldest wooden boat I've seen in official government service.

Some days later we invited the Trincomalee Pilot aboard Crystal Blues - Captain Lakshi is the sole Trincomalee Pilot and also the Deputy Harbour master here.   

We spoke of ships and pilotage, and he spoke of his education in Australia where he did specialist maritime studies. He also commented how comfortable the Alfred Normandale was at sea, even in big conditions. They don't make them like that anymore.

Captain Lakshi is one of the local officials who have worked hard to make cruising sail boats welcome here this year, for which we are very grateful.  

For more images of the Alfred Normandale, click the link the link below.   Further information on her history would also be appreciated....

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Man Overboard - Improving The Odds

Moneypenny On The Wind / Photo : David Wallace
An email last year from my brother Peter showed his crew on the way to another race win aboard the very slippery Moneypenny - but also underlined the changes in crew behaviour that are needed to improve our odds of survival at sea.  In the photo Peter is wearing a PFD - here are his words on the issue :

"As you'll see from the photo, I've taken to wearing a PFD all the time now. We rescued a guy from the water a month ago after he was hit by the boom on his boat and ended up in the water, face down and unconscious. 
We managed to get to him before his own boat could turn around and it's lucky we did. He survived and it was a good test for me and my crew in rescue and first aid etc. He wasn't wearing a PFD but a guy on his boat was so he jumped in, inflated, swam to him and held his head above water as best he could. He'd been face down for about 90 sec before his crew mate got to him, and we got to them about 2-3mins after that. He was indeed lucky.

It underlined the theory that without a PFD your odds of survival, or of helping someone else survive, are severely limited. Also, as you'll see, the width of the cockpit on our new boat is pretty big for a 35 footer, I have really struggled on big weather days to get across to the opposite side in the tacks, there isn't much to hang onto. So, PFD's from now on for me."

So great teamwork from the Moneypenny crew that day certainly helped save a life. But what happens aboard a typical cruising boat, with only two people on board ?  How can we handle man overboard (MOB) situations better ?  With the off-watch crew member most likely asleep, even when wearing a PFD, how can we survive a fall overboard mid-ocean ?

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Road Master

Frustrated in our search for a rental bike, we asked the owner of a local restaurant for advice.  His solution - you can rent mine !  Kumara Alwis runs the beautiful Dutch Bank Cafe, an oasis for travelers here in Trincomalee.

Kumara wheeled out his classic Honda CD200I Road Master, an old bike he "keeps around because he loves it".  We now love it too.

Its quirky and eccentric, doesn't like changing from 2nd to 3rd gear, doesn't like idling very much either, but it has given us hundreds of kilometers of fascinating travel in and around Trincomalee.  Slow, solid and comfortable, the bike turns heads wherever we go.  We've given it a fresh oil change and some mechanical adjustments and its a quality ride.  Thank you Kumara !

By the way, Kumara's cafe, with attached accomodation, has a good range of western and local food.  It's a stylish renovation in a historic building right on the waterfront - we can see Crystal Blues riding at anchor through the front windows.  With aircon and wifi, it is a welcome stop for many and is perfectly placed for visiting sailors.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Sri Lankan Smiles

Our first day in port and right on 18:00hrs we received a call on the VHF radio from our agent Ravi ... "can you please come to the dock, Immigration would like to visit your boat".  Of course we could, and I was at the dock in our dinghy just a few minutes later.

Two very well presented Immigration officers stepped aboard and off we went.  A fast dingy ride and a visit to Crystal Blues was our pleasure.

Since the civil war ended, cruising boats are a new thing here. Understandably, the government teams have little experience dealing with the sailing / cruising community.

To their absolute credit, officers Ruwandike and Nadeera were both courteous and obliging.  They clearly wanted to understand the new people and vessels they were now dealing with.  They looked over the entire boat, asked a lot of questions and we were very pleased to have them on board.

An Emergency Dive

On our second day in port I (foolishly) managed to drop our hand held VHF radio into the the water, right at the wharf.  There is a first time for everything ...

So we contacted Trincomalee Port Control by VHF and requested permission to move Crystal Blues into the dock.  Permission granted, we raised anchor and set up fenders and boards ready to come alongside the concrete wharf.  Once berthed I donned wetsuit, mask, fins, gloves and regulator and disappeared over the stern, using the hooka breathing system installed on Crystal Blues.

What a trial - very limited visibility in 5 meters of water, and bottom silt that was easily disturbed to close down visibility in the area completely.  It took 15 minutes and a number of dives, but eventually I found the radio.  I surfaced a very happy sailor, and the local harbour police were on hand to assist.  We are grateful for their co-operation.  More Sri Lankan smiles, we are pleased to say.

Most importantly, the radio that spent 2 hours on the bottom is still working perfectly - Icom waterproof is really waterproof.

Dolphin Girl

I had to show this photo.

One day out of Trincomalee and Ley is getting close to the dolphins.

Though she's forgetting that she's supposed to stay inside the life lines.

However that's her seat up front, and she's determined to use it.  No harness, no PFD.  At least I was on deck watching.....

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Relaxing In Tricomalee

Ley Raises The Sri Lanka Flag In Trincomalee
There is no other way to describe it ... we can relax now.

Our arrival concluded an 1100 nautical mile passage, in 8 days and five hours from Langkawi, Malaysia. Already in the port here were six other cruising boats and one very large ocean research yacht. Until just last year, a sailboat hadn't been seen in this harbour for 27 years. All boats had to berth in Galle in the south, under military control, where conditions were less than ideal. What changed ? Our friend Larry Mimms changed it all .... last year he sailed to Galle and there approached the authorities to allow him to sail up here to Trincomalee. It worked, and the rest is history. This year, as one of the first arrivals, Behan Gifford from SV Totem has done great work liaising with the local authorities and helping them understand the cruising boat culture.

So we are anchored in one of the best protected harbours in the world (seriously),  only 300 meters off shore in Town Bay, with the city at our doorstep, but can barely hear the traffic .... there just isn't any. A few buses, a few cars, tractors, tuk-tuk's and motorcycles. Lots of people walking, beautiful coloured sari's on the women and smartly dressed young men. Trincomalee is like a smaller version of Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, very relaxed. It is different though - there is more awareness of the outside world here, more people speak English. Every one is friendly, keen to get ahead, tourism is starting to grow.

The 26 year Sri Lankan civil war finished only in 2009, and while no one here will forget those terrible times (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lankan_Civil_War), the population is getting on with life in a very positive way.

The ships agent here (the amazing Ravi) can solve most problems and has made the check-in process very simple. All the authorities are co-operative and friendly. We expect to stay here a couple of weeks and will do some local touring.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Seven Days, 960 Nautical Miles

Just over one week into this voyage and we are traveling well.

960 Nautical Miles Sailed
148 Nautical Miles To Go
0 Fish
Course 283 degrees
Speed 6.9 knots
Ley has read 5 books (!)

Last night the winds finally lifted a little and moved more to the north.

Crystal Blues finally had "a bone in her teeth", with the apparent wind at 75 degrees to starboard, 9 knots true, and we were skating along in the dark at 6 to 7 knots, flying the mainsail, genoa and staysail.

Honestly, I'd fly more sails if we had them, as we're keen to make landfall, but the big MPS seen in this photo became hopelessly jammed in its snuffer two days ago, and we need to sort it out on land.

Around 300 miles out from the Sri Lankan coast we started meeting local fishing boats - small steel affairs with diesel engines and equipped with trolling lines, traps and nets. They do it all. The first boat chased us for miles before drawing alongside to trade - fish for cigarettes seemed to be the deal. Whilst we do carry cigarettes for trade, I didn't want to get close to them at sea, so we smiled and waved and said a gentle "no thanks". The fish they were offering was huge, but dried and salted - not to our taste. A second boat early today was a real comedy, with some very funny antics on board, crew jumping all over the roof of the wheelhouse. basically they seemed really happy to meet someone out here, wanted to know where we were going etc.
I was a little reticent to bring out the camera and photograph them, until I saw one of them was photographing us ! After that it was a bit of riot as they played stupid games on top of the wheelhouse, all this in a very rolly sea that has us moving around very cautiously. These Sri Lankan fisherman have a great sense of humour.

We finally sorted out the wrinkles with the satellite data system. It was another case of too many networks. Our navigation PC has 2 ethernet connections running concurrently - WiFi to the Iridium Go! satellite device and wired to the boat's own ethernet network (for printers, network disc storage etc). Windows 7 normally handles these scenarios well, and can even route from one net to another. Seems that the new software from Sailmail and Predict Wind simply couldn't handle it though. We've had a series of very constructive emails with Jim Corenman of Sailmail, in the USA, who is now working on an update to the Sailmail program that will handle concurrent network connections. Jim has been a delight to work with, and we find the the Saildocs service is proving invaluable for weather forecasting at sea. I think we have the best of both worlds, using the Sailmail / Saildocs mail software and then having a choice of HF radio or Satellite for the transmission link.

We've moved through a couple of time zones now, putting the clocks back another hour yesterday just so the sun would set "at the proper time". So our local time is now UTC minus 6 hrs. Each evening we participate in a loosely organised radio network for vessels crossing the Indian Ocean. The Jupiter Net provides a facility for emergency radio relay, position reporting and general discussion. High Frequency radio conditions out here are not great, but the reporting and conversations are welcome. We look forward to joining some of the other boats in Sri Lanka and points further south.

Right now the wind has decided to retreat again, swinging behind us and reducing in strength until its just a frustrating little breeze, so the engine is back on. We hope it comes back soon.

Our position is clear at : http://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/CrystalBlues

Friday, 27 February 2015

Half Way, Slow Travel, But Beautiful

564 nautical miles sailed / 4 days and 4 hours/ 33 hours on the engine/ 8.4 knots top speed
1 fishing lure lost (a big log bit it)/ 0 Fish caught/ 0 Whales/ 12 Dolphins
Decreasing wine list/ Blue skies / Puffy clouds (again)

We passed the half way stage today, as of now we have just 550 nautical miles to go. Ley and I are settling in to the routine, she's off watch asleep right now. I think her fingers are tired after all the text messages she's been sending on the new Iridium sat phone system.

Incidentally, turns out that system is still somewhat "buggy" - it has stopped handling our Sailmail email and also refuses to download Predict Wind forecasts or Grib files. So we're back to using the HF radio for our mail links. Predict Wind support tell us that we need to "upgrade our software". Where have I heard that before ... its not gonna happen till we get to Trincomalee.

Honest, We Didn't Hook It - Its A Little Undersized - 1.5" Flying Fish On Deck
The weather is still docile, we've settled into a pattern of sailing with the winds during the day and starting the engine when the winds drop, usually in the early hours after midnight (down to 2 or 3 knots). Last report showed some rain ahead as we approach the Sri Lankan coast in a few days time. The shipping density has decreased as we've edged north away from the main route. Only two vessels on AIS within 25 miles of us at this time.

Thanks heavens for the ocean current here - right now we have only 4.0 knots of boat speed, but are making six knots over the ground. Water depth here is around 2.7 kilometers (!). The boat is steering a course of 266 degrees, but the actual course is often closer to 280 degrees. Fortunately its all going our way.

Our position is clear at : http://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/CrystalBlues

Thursday, 26 February 2015

South Of Great Nicobar Island

We're two and a half days out from Langkawi now, having traveled 340 nautical miles from our start. Our
destination, Trincomalee, is about 760 miles ahead so we're not quite 1/3 of the way across.

All is well on board. Crystal Blues is sailing well (despite the wine list), and the weather has been kind to us. A mixed bag of light and medium winds, mostly very light, so we've motored for just over 23 hours so far. Ley has been dragging fishing lines each day, but no fish have been tempted - very smart fish around here.

The past 18 hours have been under MPS and mainsail, easy sailing in winds from 4 knots to 14 knots. Right now its gone light again, so we're slopping about with sheets flapping and sails slatting - fairly constant direction changes needed to keep things flying. Not pleasant ! We're hoping the wind will come with the sunrise, in an hour or so.

Adding More Leather Protection To Chafe Points
The northern tip of Sumatra (Indonesia) passed to the south of us some hours ago, so we're now in the Bay of Bengal for the first time, with a generous one knot current pushing us towards Sri Lanka. This is a very busy area for shipping, and we are constantly on watch as ships move through the Great Channel, arriving and departing East Asia.

Ley and I have been busy on small maintenance jobs, mainly on deck, adding and replacing leather covers on chafe points and polishing stainless. All our systems are working well, the only casualty so far is a failed AIS transmitter, though the receiver stage is working fine. That will be dealt with in the Maldives.

The catering on board is up to to it's usual standards, so we are not starving. We have good food, sunshine, blue sky, and fluffy white clouds - its all very pretty except for the lack of wind. We carry enough fuel to motor about 80% of the distance, so we'd like another couple of days of good wind. Cross your fingers for us.

At sea here : http://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/CrystalBlues

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Wine List

Photo : Jan Pitt
After a busy few weeks we are almost ready for our departure to Sri Lanka and beyond.

Friends Ray and Jan Pitt signed off the boat in Thailand, leaving us spoiled, relaxed and ready for the future.

Four weeks ago we sailed south (overnight) from Koh Phayam, spending four days in Phuket, provisioning and making ready.

Then another overnight passage, again hard on the wind, brought us into Kuah Harbour in Langkawi, our final provisioning stop before departure for destinations west.

Its here that we finally created "The Wine List"....

We've spent over two weeks now provisioning and finishing off various systems and "boat jobs".  We've had every power tool in use and every conceivable combination of electrical, electronic and mechanical work underway.  Even the paint pots came out again.

We're now down to a list that is manageable, in fact its entirely forgettable, as we're stocked up and anxious to go sailing.  But those lists can create there own problems .....

Test Posting

Hi there, this is just a test post from the boat via the IridiumGo satphone system.

Ley and Neil

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Koh Phayam Cricket Club

January 26 is Australia Day, and at home the Aussies are relaxing around BBQ grills, swimming, drinking and generally lazing about.  Beach cricket is a popular pastime, so here at Koh Phayam we celebrated Australia Day in a perfectly traditional way.

With Crystal Blues "dressed all over" we joined the other Australian boats here for an afternoon of drinks and cricket. Ley raised the Australian flag on the beach and dinghys of all types converged to celebrate.

A dinghy paddle is not a great cricket bat, but it was much better than no bat, so we soldiered on (thanks to Adagio for that).  The wicket was paced out carefully, an umpire appointed, the drinks whistle tested and away we went. 

Predictably, the pitch was shortened as the game progressed, usually after each drink break .... these older cruising bodies were struggling.

The day was completed when we retired to Crystal Blues for a pot luck BBQ dinner with several other boats - Adagio, Chinook of Canada and Sylvia May.  Fireworks mysteriously appeared on the beach that evening, another Aussie contribution to the day - thanks to Persian Sands and Boomerang.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Cruising At Ko Phayam

Our approach to Ko Phayam was compounded by 25 knot squalls and lumpy seas.  A contrary current combined with wind over tide conditions to challenge us, and then the wind changed direction several times over five hours, keeping the crew both cranky and busy.

So when the anchor hit the sand in Buffalo Bay there was a collective sigh of relief from the crew - we'd arrived.

You could actually feel the tension leaving the boat.

Now, after 10 days here, we're chilling....  It's two years since our last visit, and some things have changed, there are more cruising boats visiting, but the essential laid back character of Buffalo Bay remains the same.

This is a very beautiful place, I think perhaps the finest cruising boat anchorage on the west coast of Thailand. When the other locations are rolly, Buffalo Bay is nearly always OK.  Local businesses will provide drinking water for visiting boats, and the river delivers good water when there has been rain.  Of course the food is still sensational. But what about the hippies ?

Friday, 23 January 2015

Too Many Networks - NMEA 2000, STng & More

Turck Devicenet Hub - For NMEA 2000
As you may have seen from our earlier story, we're progressively updating to newer navigation systems on board Crystal Blues, with our first update being the autopilot system. 

It is getting crazy folks - upgrading the systems in stages means that presently we have both the old and the new networks running, which means (count them) seven data networks on board :  NMEA0183 / NMEA2000 / ST1 / ST2 / STNg / HSB / Ethernet.

The NMEA 2000 networking standard is clearly the preferred network for the future, and fortunately has been adopted by our preferred vendor Raymarine, even if they insist on using non-standard connectors for their own version called STNg (those extra pins and wires in the Raymarine cables are there to carry legacy Seatalk 1 data). 

Our new autopilot uses only STNg, the older unit uses ST1.  Our sailing instruments use ST1 and ST2, plus NMEA0183.  And of course the older radar and sonar use Seatalk HSB to share graphics.  What a nightmare.  Unless we put a completely new system on board, we needed a way to integrate now,  provide a logical upgrade path in the future and to monitor what was happening on the network.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Floating Again

Who's A Happy Girl ?
After a month on the hard stand, we re-launched Crystal Blues in late November.  What a relief  - it was great to be floating again and not dealing with paint spatter.

Preparing for the cruising season ahead,  we were busy cleaning and completing our works list.  Three days work on the main engine, including sea water pump replacement, gear box service and overhaul of the heat exchangers,  which we "rodded out" with brass rods.  The salt water cooling system was stripped completely, exhaust elbow removed and checked, belts, filters and lubricants replaced.  On the electrical side we rectified a loose connection in the alternator field wiring and replaced one of the 12volt fans that handles airflow in the engine compartment.

Our Northern Lights generator also received its first service, having run for just 46 hours since new.  An oil change and valve lash (tappet) adjustment and that was over very quickly.  The toilet system has also been stripped out and re-installed, with adjustments to the stainless base.  Ley has also worked hard re-stocking the vessel with food and wine for the coming months.

Its been a busy time. We flew to Australia in mid December, after a farewell dock party with live music from our resident band.  It was our first Christmas with our families for many years, a real buzz. We returned to the boat just before the New Year, ready to cruise north to Thailand.  

The lure of family connections was strong, but it was hard to leave the boat so prepared and ready for our next adventure - we really were aching for some sailing. The adventure started after a fine New Year celebration on Rebak Island, with Neil's band playing at two locations on the night.

Ley & Jan " Just Testing" The Gin
Good friends and frequent crew, Ray & Jan Pitt arrived onboard courtesy of Air Asia, and within days we headed north to Thailand. 

Tonight we are at anchor on the north east tip of Ko Ra, only a day's travel from our destination of Buffalo Bay at Ko Phayam.  The winds are good, blowing generously from the East, and the monsoon has set in with sunny dry weather. 

Life is grand.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Raymarine Electronics For Sale

We have for sale a package of Raymarine equipment :
  • L770 Plus Fishfinder & Radar Screen
  • DSM250 High Power Fish Finder Module
  • RL70C Plus Radar & Fishfinder Screen
  • 4D 24" 4Kw Radar Scanner (48Nm)
  • Radar Cable
  • HSB Connection Cable
All items are fully operational, presently installed on Crystal Blues (we have new systems on the way). Come and see them working at any time.

We're now at Rebak Island Marina in Langkawi, Berth D16.

Email :  svcrystalblues@gmail.com

Mobile :  +60-11-2769-8420

The package is offered at a bargain price, only US$900.00, though individual items may be sold seperately.

Saturday, 15 November 2014


Crystal Blues has been lifted out of the water and is on the hard stand at Rebak Island Marina, in Langkawi, Malaysia.

Ley (optimistically) booked for just a week, thinking we only had to do a quick anti-foul paint job and replace some plumbing - one week, should be easy.  

So now, almost three weeks later, no paint tins have even been opened, though the end is in sight.

In The Beginning

Removing the toxic underwater paint with normal electric sanding machines is not recommended.  

We now use an air powered random orbital sander that allows us to sand the hull wet, without too much effort. We keep the water running over the work area and the old paint is flushed away.  There is no dangerous dust, though it is still a very dirty and messy job. 

Once this was done I finished polishing the topsides, a job we started back in Singapore. Then followed all the stainless bright work.

So Far So Good

Next Ley tackled the brass-ware - aka cleaning the propeller ready for the new paint system.  

All was moving along quite smoothly until our neighbour Eddie said - "gee, you've got a bit of movement in that P-strut bearing".  Sure enough that bearing was badly worn - 10 years and almost 3000 hours of motoring will do that.  We ordered a new bearing from Australia, started to disassemble the drive train and the real fun began (click the link below).

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Good Medicine In Penang

Crystal Blues had health issues, with "something" around the propeller.  So after a few days of rest and recuperation in Penang I dived on the propeller and removed an indecent chunk of rope.  What a pain - visibility in the marina was less that 12 inches, and cutting it away was a slow process.  I'm still amazed that we managed to maneuver the boat into the berth with this around the propeller.

In Penang we were medical tourists - we had our own schedule of tests and specialist visits (mainly dermatology), but we were surprised at the massive numbers of foreign visitors here purely for the medical facilities.  At Hospital Lam Wah Ee, the specialist surgeon who removed Ley's "lump" (a small BCC) said his business was directly linked to the number of Air Asia flights coming in from Indonesia.  Things have changed.

Penang is still a most attractive Asian city, one of our absolute favourites. It ain't perfect, but it is a shining example of racial tolerance and self awareness, welcoming visitors with a quirky sense of humor, great food and a multi-cultural social history that is alive and prospering. 

Our friends there made us welcome, celebrating our visit with embarrassing repeated dinners and seafood specials - what a great time we had.  It has been wonderful to watch Eileen and Gerome's children blossom into delightful , articulate teenagers who are now planning tertiary education.  It is also great to see how Onomichi Marine, their business,  has grown and transformed over the 8 years we have know each other.

Monday, 13 October 2014

On Board USS Carl Vinson

We sail with just 2 crew most times, so it was amazing to visit a vessel with a ship's crew of 3000, plus another 3000 "passengers" being the various air wing teams deployed aboard.  That's 6000 people on a ship that is 1000' long, and displaces 192,900 tons. 

Crystal Blues neighbour at Keppel Bay Marina was a very smart Riviera power cruiser that is owned by the US embassy in Singapore. Commander Paul Harris Wilt runs the boat, whilst his real job is Assistant Naval Attache at the embassy. Paul invited us to a reception on board the carrier when the battle group berthed in Singapore. The USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) is the third United States Navy Nimitz class supercarrier and is named after Carl Vinson, a Congressman from Georgia, in recognition of his contributions to the US Navy.

Onboard, we moved through an honor guard into a massive aircraft hanger, dressed with flags, where the reception was held.  Military music, food and drinks of course, on an otherwise "dry" US Navy vessel. 

The real fun began after the speeches and formalities - we were invited to ride the aircraft lift up to the flight deck and inspect the various aircraft up there.  An amazing site, dozens of aircraft of many types, positively eerie on the darkened flight deck.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

We "Love" The Mallacca Straits

This was our eleventh Malacca Straits passage, and it turned out to be just like some of the others - a pain in the neck.  Keeping in mind that the boat hadn't been actively used for fifteen months, we started cautiously with a 40 mile passage from Singapore to Pulau Pisang.  A quiet night there was followed by a good 6 hours of sailing before the wind dropped and we started the Cummins diesel.  All systems were working fine and we spent some time on deck that day, completing the re-rigging - runners, preventers, down-haul and the like. The new Raymarine autopilot worked fine straight up and it was a joy to be at sea again.

With The Smoke Haze, It Felt This Black
That night things changed, with a decent 35 knot Sumatra (squall) coming in from the north west just after 21:00hrs.  It blew for a couple of hours and settled down gradually.  Our real issue was that I managed to receive a bad rope burn on the fingers of my left hand when releasing the traveler under pressure - substantial skin removed from two fingers and minor burning on the palm and others.  Yes it hurt like hell. After 52 years of sailing I felt like an amateur again - definitely out of practice.  We immersed it in ice water for 15 minutes, then cut away the loose bits, lathered it in Savlon and wrapped it (photo here if you're medically interested).  I have never been so glad to have good pain killers on board.  We call that Incident #1.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Bound For Penang, Smoky Haze

We departed Singapore this morning on schedule, clearing immigration just after noon and turning westward across the bottom of the island.  By 15:00hrs we should will be turning north west, up the Malacca Straits. 

The smoke haze from forest fires in Sumatra is very thick - visibility is down to about 3 or 4 miles.  The haze will clear as we head northwards, aiming to be in Penang by Thursday.  The past week was highlighted by a succession of send-off dinners with many friends, the final one was being last night aboard MV Alfa Nero (Robin & Dianna Enlund) at Kepple Marina.  Consequently we're a liitle slow today, but very happy to be at sea again.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Escaping Singapore

Crazy Curved Buildings At The Marina
That's us on the right, so keen to move, sitting here with our mainsail up in the marina. Only two days to go and we'll be away - north from Singapore to Penang, and then on to Langkawi for haul out and yard work.  

This will be our (count 'em) eleventh passage through the Malacca Straits.  Never again, we said last time....

Crystal Blues has been neglected for quite a while, so we're putting energy into cosmetic and systems work.  The mainsail has been bent onto the boom, tracks lubricated and sheets rove. Tomorrow we'll hoist and furl the staysail, and she'll be a sail boat again.  Ley has been busy stocking the freezer and pantry, while supporting me with the polishing, hull cleaning and the systems work. She's also been repairing damaged covers with the sewing machine we carry.

 We've hoisted the dinghy on deck for a thorough clean and minor patch job.  Still need to service the outboard engines, one more job. 

On the systems side, we always voyage with dual Autopilots fitted, with a changeover switch to select the "in service" pilot system.  This year the oldest Autohelm unit died (23 years is fair service), so it has been replaced with a new Raymarine ACU400 with the fancy new EV1 sensor core.  This of course meant running new cables from A to B and from C to D and so on and so on for several days, removing ceiling panels and drilling and painting yet more holes in steel frames - lots of fun for all. 

We've also completed installation of an AIS Man Overboard alarm system (more on that in the future), updated the voltage regulator for the engine alternator and many other jobs.  However the autopilot system was really the big one, as it meant introducing new data networks to the boat and finding ways for the older systems to share information with the new ones.  So we now (stupidly) have six (count them) different marine data networks on board, plus extensive ethernet and wifi systems. We'll talk more about that in a future post.

Sarah, Shaun, Sam & Harrison
Today we went to sea for the first time in six months, testing systems and tuning the new autopilot.  More importantly it was also to be our last picnic sail in Singapore, so we left the dock with family on board - Shaun, Sarah, Harrison and baby Sam, plus my brother Peter Langford who was in town this week attending a conference.  It hasn't rained for weeks, so of course the heavens opened just before our scheduled departure time.  We waited for the system to move through and then motored out of the marina - what a joy to be afloat and moving again. A great day, swimming, fishing and enjoying good food.  Four year old Harrison said the boat was "cool".

Singapore has changed regulations recently, visiting yachts now need to have a locally licensed captain on board - just to go for a day sail.  You can do an online license test, apparently a days swatting will get most people a pass. All private boats must also now lodge a voyage plan before every departure (only $20 at the marina office) and you must have AIS running as well.  Private boating is tightly managed here.  So today we had to hire a licensed captain to be on board for our daysail  ...  could not get a cruising permit without that.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Black Streaks Are Us

Escaping the grind of 12 hour work days in Manila, boat work seemed an attractive option and Crystal Blues has been ignored for some time.  Arriving aboard in Singapore twelve days ago, we were surprised how much attention she really needed.

 The acid rain here is (we think) the worst in the world - just one rain shower can have the boat looking zebra striped.

If the black is not removed quickly, it will eat into older gel coat and paint systems to become a permanent feature of the vessel.  

Our Awlgrip paint is five years old, but living in Manila for the past year we were simply not washing the boat often enough.  So we returned to a stripy hull and decks that resisted all attempts at conventional cleaning.

We really needed a solution.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Our Cruising Mantra - Retire Young - Retire Often

We first retired from our work in Australia in 2005, before going cruising.  For five years we stayed gainfully unemployed, before happenstance offered up a variety of interesting projects and challenges over the intervening years.

Since then we've been involved in making digital HD videos of beautiful villas in Bali and Thailand, project management at a zip-line ride and adventure park on Sentosa Island and consulting for a Singapore company, building an AV design team in Singapore and India.  These projects allowed us to experience the south Asia area in depth, and between the assignments we managed to continue our cruising life style.

Making Videos - Luxury Villas In Bali and Thailand
Project Management - MegaZip At Sentosa Island, Singapore
Building Systems - Axis Bank Mumbai, Video Walls & Multiple Meeting Rooms
Our latest contract has given us the opportunity to discover another country as we've been based in Manila for almost 12 months.  I've been working with a local company on a range of very large projects, including a museum, a luxury home and the largest temple in Asia.  Most recently I've been responsible for the design, implementation and commissioning of media systems for the new City Of Dreams Casino in Manila.

When the Fun Stops... Retire

Ley sends me off to work each morning with a consistent and clear message - have fun !  We both know that when the fun stops we will move on, returning to our cruising home.  

Retirement day now is now looming again.  On August 31 (in just one week), we'll be off again.  Yes, we are on a count down, there is water at the end of the tunnel and we are looking forward to sailing on it very soon.

Crystal Blues should depart Singapore in early October, calling in at Penang for a few weeks before hauling out of the water at Rebak in Langkawi (Malaysia) for some much needed under water anti-fouling paint. By January we'll be back to our old haunts around Phuket in Thailand.