Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


 

February 26:

   

    Sometime after Christmas, we finally got around to buying that TV for Em's new PlayStation 3.  The parents went through a few weeks of anxiety about his brain turning to mush from all that video gaming.  I had to remind myself that all those hours I spent at that age watching Gilligan's Island and The Dukes of Hazard probably didn't do me any good either, but I still turned out OK, didn't I?

    Work, school, everything is getting settled in here.  I've got a steady paycheck, and a solid roof over our heads.  When the wind starts to howl at night, I still wake up, but it's nice just to roll over and go back to sleep rather than get up to check the anchor.  I was worried that the relative comfort and ease and stability of land life would get boring, but so far that hasn't been the case.  I have plenty of challenges at my job to keep me occupied.  Starting a new life in Port Townsend is still an adventure, too!

New land skill: tying a tie

    Our biggest family challenge lately has been finding a house.  We're renting for now while we scour the area to find the right place to call the new Uliad Estate.  One thing I've come to realize: I'm really going to miss the view.  Anchored off any city or island, you have the best view in the world from your cockpit, watching all that goes on across the waterfront.  Its as good or even better than the view of those million dollar homes perched on a cliff.  Take any nice home in town here and I find myself looking out the living room window and all I see is the neighbor's house and a few parked cars...ho hum.  Perhaps that's why we're still looking after 4 months...so far nothing feels quite like home yet.   

    Plane tickets have been bought for a mid-April departure to go back to Uliad in Malaysia.  Crossing the south China Sea on a strict schedule leaves me with some trepidation, but  I'm also filled with excitement to get her moving again  It will be great to have our boat back in time for summer here in Puget Sound. 

 

April 1:

 

    After looking at most certainly every available property in a 10 mile radius, we finally kept drifting back to...a house on a hill that looks out on the Straits of Juan de Fuca.  And after much hemming and hawing and soul searching, we finally had an offer accepted on the place this weekend.  This is a huge relief, because so much of our lives have been on hold until we could get that job done:  unpacking the rest of our boxes, getting a family dog, getting to know our neighbors.  It will good to have some projects to dive into. And good to have a house I really like to help me get over the anxiety of a mortgage.

Our new home?

    One of the biggest challenges for me has been to just get my head around owning a bunch of stuff again.  We've lived pretty simply on a boat for the last five years.  But now suddenly we have cars and property, and loan payments to go with them.  I can't help but run the numbers over and over in my head and ask, can I really afford this?  Or do I really want this?  New stuff is nice, but at times there's a part of me wanting to flee back to a place where a shoe held together by duct tape will get me to the market and back just fine, thank you. 

    Meanwhile, the day to fly back and get our beloved Uliad is approaching fast.  I woke up a few days ago to find Port Townsend smothered in fog.  I could barely see to the end of the street, but in the distance I could hear the ships' fog signals as they steamed out of Puget Sound.  Suddenly it occurred to me that I'd better get around to fixing Uliad's fog signal.  She came with one, and we may have used it once in the Chesapeake Bay.  But all that salt spray was hard on the speaker mounted atop our arch and a few years ago it pretty much rusted out.  And there's really no fog in the tropics, so I've never really gotten around to replacing it.  But I think Otis may need it somewhere between Japan and here. 

 

April 19,

 

5 1/2 years ago I quit my job, turned in my keys, and suddenly felt like I had all the time in the world and all the freedom a man could ever wish for.  Today I remembered that feeling as I walked out of my clinic to face three weeks of respite from the working world...It's nothing like the open ended freedom of starting our cruising adventures, but I could sure remember what it all felt like!

    I've got a day and a half to finish packing up everything I need before flying to Singapore to climb onboard Uliad.  And even though we've been living in a real house and working a real job for 5 months now, ULIAD still seems like home to me and I can't wait to climb back aboard.  There's something special about having no schedule or expectations other than one's own--and this is particularly true for someone who has an appointment scheduled every 20 minutes all day long.

    On the flip side... after 5 1/2 years of literally doing everything together, it has already been hard to watch Kathleen, Emmett, and I have our lives diverge in different directions (at least for 8 hours every day).  It will be painful to be away from them for 3 weeks, and somehow less satisfying to not be sharing the adventure with them. But a little separation now will pay off down the road in having our own little floating refuge from this crazy modern world to spend more time together, right?

 

April 25:

 

    It has become a familiar feeling for me to arrive back to Uliad after being away for a number of months.  First there is the excitement of finally being done with work and being ready for new adventures.  Then comes anxiety over what calamities may have befallen Uliad in my absence.  And finally, there is determination to plow through a long list of preparations before we can finally get underway.  This has almost become a routine.

     At the airport I met my old friend Otis.  Readers of this blog will remember him as our dear cruising friend from the boat Independence.  Otis & family stayed behind in Tonga where he has been running charters for the past few years, and he kindly agreed to take on the role of delivery skipper for this trip.  The marina sent us a driver who swiftly negotiated us through the busy freeways of Singapore and across the Malaysian border crossing.  

    Uliad looked remarkably good on the outside...which was not surprising given that I paid a guy at the marina to look after her and wash her regularly.  Inside, she also offered no immediate surprises.  But as I've learned, boats sitting in the tropics quickly rot.  All those electrical connections that aren't getting used regularly start to corrode.  All those bearings and fittings start to stiffen up.  All those hot and humid corners start to mildew.  So after putting our bags on board, Otis and I started in on a bow to stern checking of all Uliad's various systems.  This also served as Otis's initial orientation to all the details of where various things are found on board.  We hauled out the sails and cockpit gear that had been stored below.  We fired up the engines with enough difficulty to decide that the starting battery was due for replacement.  We turned on all the lights, the refrigeration, the electronics, the water.  And then we came up with our plan of attack for the things that weren't right.

     Now all of these jobs in the past have fallen to me while Kathleen would take over cleaning up the mildew, unpacking, homeschooling, and such.  So I can't tell you how quickly everything seemed to go when I had a second pair of mechanically inclined hands on board to start tracing electrical faults or hoist on a sail.  By the end of the first day, we seemed to have everything ready to go except for a nagging problem with the Raymarine instruments and some trouble tuning the HF radio.  We celebrated with cold beers and dinner at an Indian restaurant that had opened up at the marina while I was away.

    On day 2 we bought groceries and the new starting battery, then spent the rest of the day struggling with the data links on the Raymarine electronics which display and distribute data such as boat speed, wind direction, and position to the autopilot and chartplotter.  We had pretty much concluded that I was going to have to go to Singapore and get a new course computer, when we finally discovered that by disconnecting one of the GPS antennas, everything worked fine again.  Since there are still two other independent GPS antennas feeding into the whole system, this was to be no cause for concern that the third was not functioning.  Celebratory dinner at the Malaysian cafe at the marina.

   Day 3 was final packing and taking on fuel.  This turned out to be an interesting affair of tying Uliad onto a little wooden raft next to a high concrete wall so that a guy could pass a hose down the ladder.  I really should have gotten some photos.  Anyway, I was initially planning to park at the fuel dock overnight so we could leave at dawn and navigate the Singapore Straits in daylight.  One look at the fuel dock led to a change in plans.  As I paid the marina bill, I asked about coming back to our slip for a few hours so we could eat at the cafe...which they were happy to have us do.  And of course since everyone leaves the office at 5pm, who would care how long we stayed as long as we were gone before they opened up the next morning.  One last meal at the Indian restaurant again and a good night's sleep before slipping out of the harbor just before sunrise.

 

April 26:

 

     Now there are some sailors who cling to the old superstition that one should never leave port on a Friday.  Otis is one of these sailors.  I on the other hand tend to dismiss all superstitions out of hand without a second thought.  Although he raised his eyebrows once, Otis was kind enough to keep his mouth shut when, after leaving port on Friday, we immediately realized that our autopilot was not engaging properly.  There are lots of systems that one can make do without on a boat, but the autopilot is NOT one of them.  Hand steering is of course possible, but nearly unbearable 24 hours a day.  So we quickly set to work fault finding.  The first culprit was a solenoid switch that seemed to be corroded.  When that was replaced, the next potential source of the problem was the solenoid itself.  When I finally found it in the stern locker, I found the hydraulic hose running to it was dripping hydraulic oil  all over my hands.

    This led do a decision to pull into Raffles Marina in Singapore, where I knew I could get a solenoid and a hydraulic hose pretty quickly.  Now clearing in to Singapore is not difficult, but it does involve some paperwork and around a hundred dollars in fees, so we decided to raise our Singapore flag and hope nobody asked where we arrived from.  Within an hour, a mechanic from the boat yard had stripped down our solenoid, freed a sticky valve, and declared it good. (I love Singapore!) He then took our two hoses that run to and from the solenoid to a hydraulic shop and brought new ones back by the time the dockmaster first wandered down to ask who we were and why were we on his fuel dock.  We mumbled something about coming from the other marina in Singapore and just needing an hour to make a repair to our steering system.  Otis climbed into the stern locker to put everything back together only to find that the two hoses were slightly different and we needed one additional fitting.  I ran back up to the mechanic's office only to find that he had left on a job at another marina already.

    I returned to find a uniformed man with a gun on his hip asking Otis where we had arrived from.  Now remember, Singapore is a country where you can be arrested for chewing gum or swearing in public. And corporal punishment is still doled out for infractions of these laws.   I was quickly starting to question our strategy of sneaking into the country for a quick repair without officially clearing in, but fortunately Otis is a smooth talker.  Shortly after my arrival, the policeman was satisfied with our story of coming from another marina in Singapore and stopping here just to make a quick repair. I'm not sure why it set him at ease for ME to confirm Otis's story, but somehow it did.  I was relieved to not face 20 lashes with a bamboo cane, but it was now 4:30pm on a friday and we weren't going anywhere until we could get that second hydraulic hose reconnected. "In for a penny..." I thought and a few minutes later I was in a taxi to the nearest hardware store to look for a bronze adapter fitting to make our hydraulic system whole again.  The first shop I stopped at didn't have it, but the owner walked two stores down and got it from his neighbor.(Did I mention that I love Singapore?)  I then discovered that he didn't take credit cards, and I didn't have any Singapore dollars.  I begged $5 from my taxi driver and then gave him a $15 tip when he got me back to the marina.  The fittings worked.  We bled the air out of the hydraulics, and by dusk we were on our way again, thankful to have gotten what we needed from Singapore and avoided any beatings or torture.

 

April 28:

 

     By midnight we were through the busy Straits, and by daybreak we were in the clear blue waters of the South China Sea.  I had been waiting for this moment to un-pickle the watermaker.  All of the water around Singapore is pretty dirty...there was a dead monkey floating in our Malaysian marina one morning for goodness sake.  We started up the generator only to find that, while the generator motor was running fine, we were getting no AC current out of it, and therefore there would be no watermaker.  So once again we set out to trace the fault and it eventually came down to something called a bridge rectifier which unfortunately I had no spare onboard.  I sent off an email to Kathleen to hunt one down and have it shipped to us in Hong Kong

     A few hours later Otis was showering off the sweat of our endeavors when the water quit.  I presumed that we had emptied a tank but then I switched to Uliad's two other tanks and was shocked to find them empty too!   I was so sure that I had filled at least one other tank back at the marina.  We could make do without a lot of things for this passage, but water was not one of them.  We turned around and started motoring back toward Singapore where I had decided we'd need to go to a different marina and clear in properly this time.  After motoring for 45 minutes or so, it occurred to me that we might be able to run the watermaker off Uliad's batteries as long as the engine was running to continuously replace the heavy electrical load.  This worked for about an hour before the inverter overheated and shut itself off.  But by running the watermaker for 30 minutes, then letting it cool for an hour, we could make 8 gallons every 90 minutes around the clock.  So, with thoughts in my head of the Singapore harbor police having an All Points Bulletin issued for us, we turned around once again and started motoring toward Hong Kong. 

     Then a few hours later I checked the fresh water strainer I installed last year and found it so filled with crud from our water tank that had been in storage that no water could pass through it.  I cleaned it out to find that lo and behold we still had plenty of fresh water onboard.  I felt like a real moron at this point. 

     So we turned around again and started motoring northward across a glassy flat South China Sea. enjoying a tall cold glass of water. 

 

May 2: 

 

Our path north took us along the coast of Vietnam.  Our plan was to stay 50 miles or more offshore to avoid too many small fishing boats or coast patrols.  While the communist Vietnamese government has opened up a lot to tourism in the past decade or two, the word on the cruising grapevine is that it is still pretty suspicious and unaccomodating to foreign yacht traffic.  Too bad, because it would have made a great place to pull in and anchor for a day or two to break up our journey.

    Despite our efforts to stay offshore, it appeared that the entire Vietnamese fleet was taking advantage of this fine weather to venture out in our territory.  So just as the big ships started to be a bit fewer in number, my night watches were now filled with keeping an eye out for these fishing trawlers.

    We passed by one closely in the mid afternoon and noticed a guy waving a DVD from the doorway.  I ran below and gathered up a half dozen of our old DVDs and put them in a plastic bag.  Otis circled around and I passed them over to their deck with a boat hook, thinking surely we'd trade for a nice fish.  The fishermen smiled and ran up on the roof of the cabin and snatched a few big fat squid that were drying in the sun.  He passed over the treasure and we motored off, wondering how one goes about preparing a dried squid... 

Dried squid from S. China Sea fishermen

 

May 6:

 

     We left on this voyage knowing that we'd probably have to motor for about 4 days until we got far enough from the equator to pick up some wind to sail with.  But somewhere around Day 7, with still no wind, we started to get a bit worried.  Uliad carries a little over 300 gallons of diesel, which wouldn't be enough to travel the whole 1500 miles to Hong Kong.  So as our final tank drifed down to less than half full, I started contemplating thoughts of us bobbing around out here indefinitely waiting for wind.  Then they finally started to fill in...before turning up in our face forcing us to motorsail a close reach to stay on our course.   

    Our last night coming in to Hong Kong was again spent dodging a tremendous number of small Chinese fishing boats, as well as the larger ship traffic coming in and out of this busy port.  By sunrise, we could see Hong Kong Island in the distance and soon we were weaving our way through another anchorage congested with freighters from all over the world.  It was Singapore all over again.

     I had (I thought) made a reservation at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, which is located right in the heart of the city.  And In our last few miles of motoring up the channel between Hong Kong and Kowloon, it occurred to me that this was the only time in my years as a sailor that I felt the need to check over my shoulder before "changing lanes".  It was like driving in busy city traffic as tugs, high speed ferries, excursion boats, and barges all were moving in close proximity. 

     By mid-afternoon, we were rafted up alongside a fancy racing yacht at the RHKYC, and sitting in the pleasant air conditioned office getting checked in.  The yacht club is a private club that mostly seems to cater to sailboat racing and social events.  (Personally, I couldn't imagine trying to race a small boat in that traffic we just went through).  The club facilities were pretty swanky...think wood paneled club rooms, bars and restaurants where no money is passed (its all just put on your monthly tab) filled with gentlemen in custom tailored suits (this is Hong Kong after all) at happy hour, and a parking lot filled with luxury cars.  I'm a bit surprised they even let us in, frankly.

Moored at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club

     After a week of silence at sea, the crowded, noisy, hyperactive streets seemed fascinating to us.  Otis and I spent most evenings just wandering the streets and admiring it all.  We enjoyed a different restaurant each night...mostly selected for it's most unbelievable menu items.  And after trying sauteed duck's tongues, deep fried intestines on a stick, and so forth we ended up deciding that the steamed dumplings here were the best.

     Of course we had plenty of work to organize here also.  I changed the oil on the engines and tried to sort out the generator (unsuccessfully).  Found a new wind sensor for the top of the mast, and a fitting for the watermaker.  In the midst of all that, my replacement, Martin showed up.  Martin is O's friend from Tonga.  He ran the Moorings charter boat base there for a number of years so as you might imagine, he knows a few things about sailboats. 

     In the end, I kind of stepped away from it all, handed the "to do" list to Otis, and packed my bags.  Felt a little guilty at the time...like I was quitting a job half done.

     I know Uliad's in good hands.  But even in good hands, it's a long and arduous journey ahead through some pretty unforgiving waters.  So I gave her one last pat on the hull to tell my good old boat, "See you on the other side!" and walked off to catch my taxi.  What more can you do? 

 

                                                                                                                                   

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