Sunday, 26 November 2017

'Under the Arms of the Sky' - Book Release!

So it has been a long time since I last posted, partly because I have two small boys keeping me busy, and partly because I have been writing a book 'Under the Arms of the Sky'. Which is now released! 

You may think that you have read everything that we did, but there are some huge stories that never made it to the blog. And you'll just have to read the book to find out.

If you like it, share, post and recommend to family and friends. At less than $4 (AUD), it's a steal!

Check it out at:
Kobo AUS

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

How Much Does It Cost to Go Cruising?

There are many variables that play into answering that question. It's a lifestyle choice, living frugally or living it up. How much it costs is closely related to what your budget is and how closely you stick to it, it can mean the difference between luxurious travelling for a short time or making budgeting choices to enable you to travel for years (basically, you will spend what you have because more possibilities are open to you).

Some factors to consider:
  • Where you are sailing, your currency versus the host country currency;
  • How much food costs at the shops / markets;
  • How much fuel costs (and if the sailing conditions are good) AND do you use a freezer, air conditioner or dishwasher that need extra electricity (fuel) to run;
  • How much you eat out (and the cost of eating out); 
  • How much alcohol you drink (and if you choose to drink on board versus at bars); 
  • What kind of land travel you do (flights, car hire, guides, hotels, experiences); 
  • What will you use to navigate - do you need to periodically buy mapping software/ hardware;
  • Whether you stay in marinas or anchor out; and
  • The big one, how much you spend on boat bits and repairs, how much you do yourself  versus pay tradespeople to do and how you balance the decision making.
We decided to tread a fine line. We were only in the cruising gig for about 2 years, but we didn't have a whole lot of cash to splash either. So we judged the big ticket decisions on their merit and splurged on some indulgent activities for those 'once in a lifetime' experiences.

Below is a breakdown of what our spendings looked like over a 12 month period (2014). Noting that at the time we traveled the Australian dollar was king, fetching above or at parity with the US dollar which correlated to a healthy exchange rate with the Malaysian Ringgit, the Thai Baht and the Philippine Peso. Later in the year we traveled east and into the Pacific where we saw our dollar value demise as a global currency, inconveniently as we entered territory ruled by the US dollar and at a stage where the Aussie dollar was beginning its comparative decline (about 80c to the USD). 

Further description of the above categories - 

For us, it was $40K of expenditure. But comparing that to life on land, it covered our housing costs, car, entertainment, food and dining out for a year...and holidays, of course! To offset the spending we worked a bit too, we did some crewed chartering of our own boat, I wrote and sold stories to sailing magazines and our property back home was turning a small rental profit. We could have done better with some of the costs, on returning home to Australia we spent over $5,000 beautifying the boat after a year of hard sailing, much of that could have been done by us (and therefore cheaper) under different circumstances. We also bought some top-of-the-range electronics (to assist us with our job searching) after our previous ones died at sea. Our tourist splurge happened in our month stay in Palau, where one sixth of our total year spending went on world class diving, fresh tuna sushi and beer, where the US dollar reigned and where we never thought we would have the opportunity to return, it also happens to be a kind of natural heaven on earth. 

So the question of cruising costs is complicated, subject to external factors and needs to have some cushion in it for the unexpected! You can get by on less and you can invest more effort in making money, but for us, the limited time of our adventure restricted those opportunities. The trip for us was well worth the expense and money could not buy the amazing adventures we had and beautiful people we met.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Epic Journey East - Sailing Video #3

A dreary day in Sydney is enough motivation to get all nostalgic. Here is the third instalment in our sailing movie series. This one gives you a 9 minute insight into what it is like to spend the best part of 1.5 months at sea while we crossed the Pacific Ocean eastbound in 2014. 

Starring the ever calm Captain Hugh, Faithful Seaman Abe and a myriad of other wonderful folks.



Monday, 26 January 2015

The Light

You can tell where in the world you are by the light on the horizon.

The further from the equator you are, the longer the light lingers before and after breaking the surface of the horizon. When you are around the equator (plus or minus 10 degrees) you know the sun has risen because it is bearing down on you furiously and there is no safe haven except under cover. The sun is up or it is down. There are no pinkish hues or tell-tale glimmers in the clouds, it is up at 6am and is relentless until 6pm when it promptly drops, to be replaced by a pitch black and it's memory ablaze on your retinas. The age-old conundrum baffles the double handed sailing team, do you have dinner with some natural light under which to eat it (and eat ridiculously early) or eat at a reasonable time in the dark? Much time during those long ocean passages is filled with the healthy debate about what time the dinner meal should be consumed, because it inevitably leads to the first watch/sleeping shift.

View from amidship looking aft while the sky is on fire with the
sunset - The Coral Sea, PNG

As you draw away from the equator maximising your summer months, you are given some warning of the sun’s movements because of the different angle of the globe to the sun at that location. It starts with a dull grey creeping across the sky from the east at 5am until it gives way to some yellows, then light blues, pinks and the start of some golden beams as it slowly stretches its arms and lightly taps you on the shoulder to let you know that it is time to get moving. Then at night you get the reverse, the sun leaves you with a relaxing twilight in which to ponder the idea of making dinner or at least finishing up your sundowner drink before the light completely departs at about 9pm.

Sundowners and nibbles, boat life can be quite
spoilt - Pittwater NSW

You have lots of time to ponder the intricacies of the earth while you are at sea, and the role of the sun is central to every single one of those intricacies. The comfort of the sun and its light can not be underestimated, a night filled with storms or squalls can trigger the fear emotions, but a day with storms is not as frightening because you can see them coming. 

I could never get tired of watching the sun set on the ocean. It glows across the surface with waves nipping at it's circumference, then slowly dips below, distorting slightly as you bathe in it's penumbral light. There are no buildings or mountains or other obstacles to block any portion of the view as the sun does the same thing that it has done for 4.54 billion years, watch us circle around it. There is some isolating emotion that comes with the vast distance you are from any other human life and the sun is the only one to bear witness to any mysteries surrounding your whereabouts.

The sun is glimmering over the horizon behind me, reflecting pinks across the
clouds - South China Sea, Borneo

The light marks the end of the night shift and a new day, you are one more day closer to land and the routines of the sun change minutely as you travel further north or south.


Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Scourge of Sailors - Seasickness

What is the cure for seasickness? In my opinion, there isn't one. The answer, is management. Everyone has an abstract cure for seasickness, believe me, I have tried every single one... to no avail. While I am slightly better now after being at sea for 20 months, I still get seasick and it is still horrible. It is just that I have medicine at the ready if things look grim and there is no end in sight for my green gills.

'A long sit under a shady tree' is an extremely effective cure, though not exactly practical for crossing an ocean. Neither is staying in the cockpit the whole time when you are one of two people on board making a passage. So my tips and tricks in order of effectiveness (in my opinion...everyone has a differing level of tolerance for seasickness):
  1. No drinking the night before or during a passage. If you are prone to seasickness, this will only enhance your feelings of sea hatred once you are underway.
  2. Try to have a good sleep the night before, being well rested is an amazingly powerful antidote on that first day.
  3. Don't go trying to dig in the bottom of a food drawer or pack a spinnaker in the bowels of the boat while you are underway. Those tasks can wait, or your sea adept partner can look after that job this time.
  4. Watching television or reading a book can be detrimental, as your eyes are fixed on one spot while your body is moving with the boat motion.
  5. Avoid spending too much time down below while underway in beamy sea conditions. The lack of awareness of where and when the knocks will come disorientates the inner ear and gets that nauseous feeling pumping.
  6. Try lying down in the cockpit, maximising your accessibility to fresh air, awareness of the moving of the boat (and your movement compared to the horizon) and drinking plenty of fresh water.
  7. When things get dire and you have already tried eating some food with ginger in it, eating ginger tablets and generally trying to access your inner zen... and not succeeding, try some travel sickness medication. I recommend travel sickness medication with the active antihistamine ingredient of meclazine (used in the US drug bonine, travel eeze and also some generic brands) it is fast acting and very effective.
Modern medicine to the rescue - ginger tablets and fully-fledged sea sickness meds

Un-useful suggestions (in my opinion):
  1. Wrist bands with pressure buttons to push on the inside of your wrists. They don't do much more than create a sore spot on the inside of your wrist due to the pressure they exude (if you want try to some I have heaps, I can send them on).
  2. Anti-nausea medication. It may stop the nausea, but it wont stop the being sick action.
  3. Mindful distraction. There are only so many times you can 'go to your happy place' when you are at sea for 12 days in a row.
Useful suggestions:
  1. Take travel sickness medication if you feel anxious about sailing the next day (as a prophylactic). When you don't have to prepare for being seasick, the whole experience is much more pleasant.
  2. I usually wait to see what the conditions will be like before taking tablets as the side effects of tiredness knock me around. If the nasty seas are only hanging around for a couple of hours, I can soldier through it.
  3. Cook food ahead of your passage so it is a quick job to heat and eat and you are not spending long periods down below.
  4. Certain types of sea conditions trigger seasickness for me - beamy swells, passages where we are beating and the boat is bouncing through the swell on the forequarter and confused seas where waves and wind come from all directions. Be aware of the conditions ahead of time and mentally prepare yourself.
  5. Get an ipod with music or podcasts to entertain you through those rough moments. Even better, get addicted to some audio books that can fill your ears with imaginative descriptions for 300 hours!
  6. On multi-day passages, you may only need medication for the first or second day, then your body is used to the motion and you don't need the tablets anymore.
  7. Have lollies, crackers and small treats around. Making sure you don't get too hungry helps if your nausea is related to gaps between meal times as well.
The amount of circumnavigating sailors that we met on our trip where one or both partners sailing the boat suffered from seasickness was astounding. Despite it making us miserable, the allure of the sea is enough to keep us coming back for more punishment! If you get seasick and love the sea, don't let it stop you from seeing the amazing world beyond our shores (modern medicine is there to give you a helping hand).


Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Spectacular Sydney

We were overcome with a ranging set of emotions as we slowly made our way through the Sydney Heads at dawn on 22 December. The city was just stretching its legs and arms to wake to a spectacular day and I will boldly say that it was somewhat more spectacular for us, as we rubbed our tired eyes and warmed our hands in the chilly summer morning air. We were coming home.

Approach to the Sydney Heads

I think my most dominant feeling was one was relief - at making it all the way without any bad incidents that we could not manage. The next was a sense of joy at coming home to Sydney (and she did put on her best dress for us, glowing in the golden sun of the new morning). It was just us and the first ferries of the day, it was like the boats had been cleared as we sailed down a flat and calm Sydney Harbour making way for the glittering CBD and the icons of the Opera House and the Bridge. We could not wipe the grins off our faces.

Good morning Sydney. So happy to be home!
(you can just make out the New Years Eve Fireworks rigging on the bridge above our heads that
will light up at midnight, revealing a burning emblem to wrap up 2014 or give promise to 2015)

We were having a fabulous sail, except for the dwindling wind speed and wake from the ferries as we neared Circular Quay which we bounced around on. But nothing could dampen our spirits today as we were finally completing our journey which we started 20 months ago, whilst doing something that not many people do, we went east to bring the boat back from South East Asia.

A statistical rundown of the whole journey:

The 2013 numbers have us travelling west, while 2014 was solely an eastern
pursuit to bring the boat home to Australia's eastern coast.
Did we really sail the equivalent of 1/3 the way around the world?

That we managed to make our timeline for returning home by Christmas was also a wonderful feeling, particularly after our many long nights at sea as we crossed the Pacific this year. It became hard to believe that only 9 months ago we were plotting our course while targeting a Sydney arrival before the end of the year, so to achieve it was something else entirely! Apart from catchups and many sighs of relief from family members, Christmas meant Christmas hats made out of the wrapping of 'Who Gives a Crap' toilet paper, the clean water and toilets charity. 

So without any 'next port' to think about, we might just sit and relax for a little while and get used to the big city and ponder what is next for the crew of Elizabeth Jane II.


Saturday, 20 December 2014

Anticipation of Arrival

The stunted trips down the NSW coast have been uncomfortable, inhospitable and down-right unenjoyable. To have sailed 13,000nm and the final legs to Sydney from Queensland be some of the most uninspiring had left us feeling somewhat deflated. It is not the homecoming one would paint for themselves!

The jump from the Gold Coast to Coffs Harbour was filled with thunderstorms, strong winds and then, no winds. We were penned in at Coffs for 5 days while a low passed east, lashing the shore with 45kt winds and 5m seas consistently for 3 days. The 10m breakwall was regularly breached with enormous pounding waves and the torrents of rain left one commenting on the 'good weather for ducks'. The only excited community members were the surfers who had no regard for their personal safety, just catching the best wave. Interestingly, due to the high winds the boat had enough heel on it in the marina that Hugh could stand up inside the cabin (he is usually about 20cm too tall to do that!).

Dramatic cloud formations forewarn of the incoming storm at Coffs Harbour

Finally the weather looked good for a leg to Port Stephens, until we were underway and some strong winds were predicted to arrive on the nose and stop us in our path 25nm short of our destination. We cut our journey by 50nm and decided on Forster-Tuncurry as our safe haven for two days while the system passed through. With 35kt winds pushing us south, we sailed the hair raising entry over the Forster bar, riding the 2m waves in. Waves crashed over the breakwall and flung salt spray 10m into the air, it sure was exciting! Next came the challenge of anchoring in a super shallow and tight channel, hemmed in by a rockwall on one side and a sandbar on the other with 3kts of current directing our steering. While Tuncurry is a quaint little town with some delicious fresh fish from the co-op, it sure was a rubbish anchorage and we were keen to leave after suffering two nights of wind on tide and too many close encounters with the shallow bar as we did the 'La Paz waltz' with the boat swinging between the wind and the tidal pull.

We had the window, finally a day-hop to Port Stephens. The wind was evasive to start with, though came along for the ride about 15nm into the journey. The wind was predicted to rise throughout the day, so we were keen for an arrival in the afternoon at Nelson Bay. Not that it really mattered in terms of visibility, the convection layer was so low we could not see more than half a mile in front of the boat, it was like sailing through a cloud. Just as the wind tipped at 30kts, we rounded the corner to enter the harbour and it was all pleasant again. Enclosed waters are bliss! Picking up an RMS mooring at Chinamans Beach (good to see our rego dollars at work!) we relaxed ahead of the predicted 35kt winds for the next morning.

Two days of R & R and the weather looked like it would give us another chance at heading south. A closer review of the weather predictions has rarely been made, it is only 110nm until we will grace the Sydney shores with our presence! We were not sure where we would end up with the boat and if we would in fact make the final 20nm hop from the safe waters of Pittwater to Sydney Harbour. But all that aside, we have the right wind (not on the nose!) and an acceptable strength (not 40 knots!) so it looks like we will make the final hop to Sydney before Christmas, as we had hoped 9 months ago when nutting out this route home. You could almost measure our excitement and the anticipation for completing our journey!

Check out these excited sailors as they left Sydney in April 2013,
little did they know what was ahead of them!

13,000nm and we are coming home!