Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


 

 July 2 :

 

    Darwin is a small city at the edge of the vast central desert that is Australia.  It's a bit of an outpost if you will.  I arrived here thinking, "First-world country.  Here's where I'll get repairs made."  The list has been growing.  It started the first night out from New Zealand when the outhaul car on the boom blew out.  Then in Vanuatu I noticed that the radar wasn't working anymore.  And just a week or two ago, the 12 volt compressor on the freezer quit.  Thankfully, all these things could be overcome until Darwin:  The freezer also has an engine driven compressor that has kept our food cold.  I managed to rig a temporary block for that outhaul car and it's worked so well I almost forgot that it was temporary.

     But now I've hit the ground running here in Darwin, looking for the parts that are so hard to find in Third World places.  But this is not quite First World.  It's just a distant outpost of the first world.  So the parts for the outhaul are on order from Europe.  The compressor can be replaced, but at double the cost in the USA.  As for the radar, the bad news is that ours is so old that it can not be repaired.  No spare parts are available anymore.  And the newer radars won't work with our old video chartplotter screen, so that has to be replaced too!  Oh well.  Nobody ever said yachting would be inexpensive.

    After steamy tropical heat for the last 3 months, Darwin is noticeably dryer.  All the salt spray on Uliad has quickly dried into a grimy crust.  The salt crystals seem to attract the desert dust that blows off the land all day, so our boat is looking pretty grubby already.  And did I mention that out of fear of crocodile attacks, Kathleen has forbidden us from going swimming.  (Probably a wise precaution in Northern Australia.) 

     Unfortunately, stops in ports like Darwin are a necessary part of sailing...I've got some work to do on the boat, and this is a place where work can be done.  So here we are...putting our heads down and plowing through the chores so we can get back out there again.

     On a more positive note, all that desert dust that blows off of Australia makes for the most remarkable sunsets here.  And the day after we arrived, we discovered that it was "Territory Day".  Which meant from about an hour before dusk until well after midnight, the entire shoreline of the U shaped bay we're anchored in was lit up with constant amateur fireworks displays.  And then in the middle of all that, a giant barge came and anchored itself between us and the beach, giving us a front row seat to the city's professional fireworks display.  I'm not sure what Territory Day is all about, but I like to think of it as "Welcome to Australia, Uliad!! Day".

Typical Darwin Sunset   Waiting for the fireworks   Darwin fireworks from Uliad's deck

     Sitting on the deck chairs in shorts watching the festivities was a big improvement over a year ago when I was in Juneau, Alaska watching the 4th of July festivities wearing a raincoat and a stocking cap. 

 

 July 5: 

    To tell about our latest story, I first have to back up a few months.  As we were getting ready to say goodbye to everyone in New Zealand back in March, Kath & I found Emmett sobbing in his bed one night.  He was sad to go and worried about the long passage ahead, and most of all, wishing that he didn't have to say goodbye to his friends all the time.

    We knew this day would come.  In fact, even before we started sailing, our research had told us that by the time most kids are teenagers, they really don't want to spend all day cooped up on a boat with their parents anymore.  And even before this incident, Kath and I had started talking about needing to wrap this sailing life up in another year or two and getting Emmett back in a normal teenager's life.  It seemed like the right thing to do, although with every media report of junior high bullying, schoolyard shootings, or teenage sexting gone bad, we hoped to delay it as long as possible.

    But anyway, the three of us sat down and came up with a plan:  I'd start putting out feelers for a permanent job again.  If the right thing came along, we could start heading home.  If not, well, we were willing to keep up the cruising life for another year or two. 

    Besides Emmett's developmental stage, we also have the Indian Ocean to contend with.  The Somalia piracy issues are worse than ever, and we never had much interest in rounding the southern cape of Africa.  So where else could we go from here?

    "Putting out feelers" turned out to be harder than you'd think.  Most of our time this season has been in places so remote that there's no reliable internet/email/phone service.  A few interesting places appeared, but nothing seemed to fit just right and I was seriously thinking that we'd probably have to sign up for another Locums assignment somewhere as a base to start searching for a real job.

     Then we heard from the Washington State Office of Rural Health that Port Townsend was looking for a family doctor.  Now Kathleen and I met in Washington state, so we knew that Port Townsend was a cute little community on Puget Sound that we knew we'd love.  It's across the sound from Seattle, to block out the city congestion, but still close enough to get a city fix once and a while.  Best of all, they were looking for just the sort of skill set that I have.   So after a few long, long distance phone calls, we were invited to come for an interview.  Come, as in fly half way around the world for a couple of days, then back.

     So for the past month, we've been pushing hard, travelling faster that we usually do just to get to Darwin where we have a safe harbor and a good international airport to go visit Port Townsend.  So in 3 days we fly back to the USA for a whirlwind tour and then, who knows where our lives will lead.

     How do I feel about all this?  I don't exactly know at this point.  Certainly this past month I've had many moments...perhaps looking up at an infinite starry sky or laughing with villagers on a sandy beach... moments where I've thought to myself "Oh God, I'm going to miss all this!"   But I also know that for the right place, the right job, there's a part of me that will be glad to be back with a bunch of regular patients to look after again.

 

July 12:

     Did I mention that it's possible, but not easy to get from Darwin to Seattle?  Our itinerary goes from Darwin to Singapore, 12 hour layover, Singapore to Tokyo, then Tokyo to Seattle.  Before you feel too sorry for us let me just say that Singapore's airport has got to be the best airport ever.  Lets see, in addition to free wifi and spotless bathrooms, it has a butterfly garden, a koi pond, a free 24 hour movie theater, orchid and cactus gardens, sleep lounges, and free tour busses leaving hourly to give tours of the city.  I've never enjoyed a layover more!

The butterfly garden in the Singapore airport 

 July 18: 

      When we arrived in Seattle, we should have been exhausted and jet-lagged after 36 hours of travel, but I think the adrenaline kicked in just enough to keep us going.  The first order of business for me was to procure an appropriate wardrobe for a job interview.  The nicest clothes I keep on Uliad probably consists of polo shirts and khakis.  We had planned ahead in this regard, keeping a garment bag at my brother's place in Colorado.  Inside was a dark grey suit, white shirt, a few ties, and black dress shoes.  Enough to get by in case I ever had to fly home for an unexpected funeral.  Or job interview.  Kathleen had a similar bag, which my brother called her "goth wardrobe" because of all the black clothing.

       My suit was shipped ahead...waiting for us at our hotel in Port Townsend.  We stopped along the way to buy a few more clothes and in my case, another pair of shoes.  This being America, everything we needed was conveniently waiting for us at the nearest mall.

      Second item on the agenda:  Uliad's radar had quit working a few months ago, and the Raymarine repair guy in Darwin insisted it was no longer repairable.  A quick stop at a couple marine outlets in Seattle confirmed that it would be quicker to buy what all I needed here and fly back with it than to buy it in Darwin.  So our rental car was soon stuffed with a few large boxes containing a radar and a new chart plotter.  Then it was on to Edmonds to stop at a refrigeration shop where I had ordered a new refrigeration compressor (also half price compared to Australia)  then on to catch our ferry to the Olympic peninsula.

Ferry ride from Edmonds to Kingston, WA

      The next few days raced by in a blur of interviews, tours, and social gatherings.  Emmett quickly made friends with a few other doctors' kids.  Kathleen loved the quaint seaside village atmosphere, and the job on offer looks to be just the sort of thing I'm looking for.  So the result of all this was...I signed a contract to start working full time again starting in November.  We left Port Townsend happy and excited by the possibilities of it all.  The reality may set in later as I try to figure out how we're going to get Uliad home and how I'm going to cope with living a "normal" life, but for now, it's all good.

 

June 21:

     We hardly had time to process the big changes coming soon.  After another long flight, and another long layover in Singapore, we were back in Darwin with only a week to prepare for the departure of the Indonesia rally.  The refrigeration technician arrived the morning after out return to install the compressor I had brought back.  Then I quickly set my attention to installing our new radar.  I spent the next few days like this:  empty out all the cabinets and lockers between the nav station and the stern, remove access panels, yank out old wires running to the old radar, fish through new wires, curse in places where new wires don't fit and have to be routed in some other way, fend of Kathleen who is annoyed that the contents of the lockers are now strewn about the whole boat, climb up to the top of the stern arch while precariously carrying brand new $1500 radar dome, bolt on quickly before it ends up in water, curse again to find that new holes will have to be drilled to accomodate new radar...etc.

     At the end of it all, I threw the switch with great anxiety to discover with great joy that it all works.  I love you Raymarine!  Now to repack all those lockers.

     Last night was a big barbecue at the Darwin Sailing Club to welcome all the rally participants.  It is funny how whenever and wherever cruisers gather, the kids all find each other like magnets, and then the parents of these kids all seem to find each other only a few minutes later.  We met 3 or 4 more boats with potential playmates for Emmett, which was one of our main reasons for joining this rally anyway, so mission accomplished, I guess.  I'm on a roll lately checking off the "to do" list.

 

June 25:

     Several years ago, we left our boat in Raiatea for 5 months.  When we came back, all of our batteries had been run flat and left that way for months.  I never learned exactly why, but I suspect that the person watching our boat left some switches on to drain the batteries.  In any event, I replaced half the battery bank then, and we've been making do with the other half running at only about half it's intended capacity since then.  I never got around to replacing the other half until now because big AGM batteries like we need were just too bleepin' expensive in New Zealand.  (over double the US price)  Here in Australia, they were still expensive, but close enough to buy.  (And hey, I just got a job, right?)

     Perhaps the other reason I delayed the battery change is the sheer difficulty of getting the job done.  These batteries each weigh over a hundred pounds, and they're tucked into the farthest corner of the engine room, inside a battery box.  So to get them out, I have to crawl in, somehow lift the enormous battery up out of the box with only a few inches of space to spare above, pull them out through a narrow slot between the engine and the generator, then up the companionway and out.  Sadly, I've done this job before a couple of times now, so at least by now I knew the right combination of pry bar, block & tackle, and muscle force to make the job go quicker.  And I was also pleased to discover that, since the last time I replaced this battery bank, Emmett has grown to the point where he's starting to be useful!

     The battery change was all part of a well choreographed dance yesterday:  raise anchor, get to the fuel dock, meet battery delivery man, pull out old batteries while Kathleen pumped diesel (slowly...we didn't really need to fuel up yet, but that was just our ruse to use some dock space for a few hours).  After installing the batteries, we took all the time we could to top up the water tanks and give Uliad a quick wash.  She was filthy from weeks of desert dust sticking to the salty crust on deck.  And now there are bush fires burning in several different directions so add ash to the mix.

    By 4 pm, other boats were starting to wait impatiently for us to leave the dock, so we shoved off and slowly motored back to our anchorage looking much cleaner.  The boat, that is.  I was still pretty sweaty & filthy from crawling around in the engine room.  We got the anchor down in time to pour sunset cocktails and celebrate the completion of all our repairs & technical work on board.  Now we just need to buy provisions and we should be set for an on-time departure for Indonesia this Saturday.

 

July 26:

     For those who might be wondering, a "rally" is an organized event where a bunch of yachts travel together along a certain route.  These tend to be annual events to coincide with natural migration seasons for boats.  The "Caribbean 1500 Rally" departs the east coast US every fall at the end of hurricane season for boats heading south, for example.  The "Atlantic Rally for Cruisers" goes from Europe to the Caribbean.  My impression of these events has always been that, for a price, it gives inexperienced sailors a false sense of security by assuming that "there'll be help nearby" and someone else will be making weather decisions and route planning.

     The Sail Indonesia rally is a bit different in that its primary goal seems to be easing the byzantine bureaucracy that sailors face in Indonesia.   There are over 100 boats participating, so it seems to allow for some organization of an otherwise chaotic process of obtaining an Indonesian Cruising permit, visas, port clearances, and what not.  Aside from that, there seems to be very little in the way of set schedules, organized activities, or radio nets.

    I suppose this is fine with us, we were a little unsure about those aspects of a rally anyway.  But we're also starting to feel a bit of unease over the lack of organization.  Today the rally "technical briefing" was held in a hotel ballroom.  This consisted of several politicians getting up to bluster through prepared statements of welcome...blah blah, spirit of international friendship...blah blah blah.   Then the rally people stood up to basically read the photocopied handout we were given a few days earlier about customs checkout, start time, contact numbers, etc. Meanwhile, power point slides clicked back and forth in seemingly random order in the background.  Finally, a representative from a Singapore marina told us about the procedures for entering the country there, followed by the same from a Malaysian tourism office representative.  There's half a day I'll never get back again.

    There is an interesting mix of rally participants.  There's a large group of Australian boats, many of whom, presumably, are just starting out their cruising adventures.  Then there are boats like us from Europe or North America who have already been at this for many years.  Like us, it seems that everyone has been running around making preparations.  Aside from the barbecue a few days ago, we haven't had much time to meet other boats.  In fact, all our time in Darwin has felt a lot more like work than like cruising.  I'm looking forward to geting back to cruising.

 

July 31:

     After a whirlwind week of preparations, we were finally ready a day ahead of schedule.  Enough so that we all tromped out to the "Deckchair Cinema" in Darwin.  This is an outdoor theatre where you literally all sit in lawn chairs and watch a movie on a big projector screen.  This concept works well in a place like Darwin that sees not a drop of rain for 6 months out of the year.  In addition to popcorn, you could buy beer, wine, dinner...   Along with the Uliad crew came Emmett's friend William from the boat Myriam and Vince--a solo sailor who lived in our marina in New Zealand and just sailed in a day before.

     The organizers of the rally had planned for a race start:  At exactly 11am, we were supposed to try to be the first across an imaginary line between a anchored tour boat and a harbor buoy.  Most cruisers, in typical cruiser fashion, just did their own thing.  All morning there was a steady trickle of boats sailing away to Indonesia in complete defiance of the start.  We did our part for the photographers by raising anchor at 10:45, waiting a minute or two for any congestion at the start line to clear out, then motoring right through the middle of the starting line while smiling and waving to the observers on the tour boat. 

The Sail Indonesia Rally fleet pouring out of Darwin harbor  Emmett hauls in a tuna   A mahi mahi arrives at sunset

     The fleet spread out slowly over the next couple of days.  We were blessed with a steady 15-25 knots of wind behind us for most of the way across, and by the time we pulled in to Kupang, we were probably about the 10th boat to arrive.  Not bad for a fleet of 80 or so boats (the rest of the 110 Sail Indonesia Rally participants electing to go to a different island route).  Uliad still sails pretty sweetly after all these miles & years.

     The passage was pretty uneventful, save for the fact that there were always a few other boats in view--unusual for an ocean cruise.  Emmett reeled in a small tuna the first evening out, and I caught a nice Mahi Mahi on the third day.  We also had several other strikes underway that didn't hook up.  Every single strike occurred right at sunrise or right at sunset.  Catching a big fish at sunset always leaves me scrambling to get the thing cleaned and iced before dark.  Then inevitably there are a few bits of scales, blood, or guts that I fail to wash off the deck in the dark until Kathleen gives Em and I a good earful over it the next morning.

     I've heard conflicting reports about the fishing in Indonesia, from "great" to "all fished out".  So far so good. 

     As we reached the coast of Timor, the waters were soon filled with little fishing boats, fishing nets, pearl farm buoys, and other flotsam requiring constant attention on the part of the skipper.  We ended up motoring the last few miles to the town of Kupang and put the hook down in a busy harbor with lots of floating garbage everywhere.  We're getting pretty antsy to go swimming again now that we've finally left the crocodile infested waters of Australia, but it looks like that will have to wait a few more days.

     With anchor down and "Q" flag up, we then sat and waited most of the morning for the customs officials who were valiantly shuttling from one boat to the next, valiantly trying to inspect the ever-growing fleet of arriving yachts.  A gang of 8 men finally appeared on our starboard side and had me sign at least a dozen sheets of paper, most of which were not in English.  They asked for lists of our vaccinations, lists of our crew, lists of all our medications onboard...   I had heard that the Indonesian officials really like their paperwork, but this was getting ridiculous! 

     While I was working on all this at the cockpit table, Kathleen led two customs boys below to carry out their inspection.  They got about as far as the galley before the inspection turned into a photo shoot.  "Take my photo with your son?  Take my photo at desk?"  Kath smiled and complied while one of them struck an officious pose at our nav station."  They appeared to forget all about any more inspections, a few more pages were quickly signed and presumably, with plenty of material now to update their Facebook pages, the gang filed back into their launch, only to remind us that we must go ashore now to complete "the rest of the paperwork" at the customs office on shore.  Wow.  That already seemed like a lot of paperwork to me.  We gathered up more copies of our documents and headed to shore.  Kathleen reminded Emmett to comb his hair first in case more photographs were coming. 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                   

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