Sunday, October 7, 2018

Air Travel in the Modern Age

We have just completed the air portion of our trip home from the Philippines to the USA. We flew approx 13,200 miles, in 5 legs, stopping in 6 intermediate cities (Singapore, London, Southampton/Portsmouth (by car), Edinburgh, Reykjavik, and Annapolis). The total cost, per person, of our airfare was $1,140 USD, including tax, airport fee, and bag and seat selection costs.

Beginning our Journey in Davao

We are now pretty much halfway around the world from where we started, and do plan to continue flying west on our return trip to the Philippines. So this year's home trip will end up being "Around the World in 80 Days".

In London, the Cutty Sark Museum

For this part of the trip, we picked mostly budget airlines: Silk (Singapore Air budget subsidiary), Norwegian UK, easyJet, Wow, and Southwest. It was quite an effort booking the flights (all online) and trying to maximize comfort while minimizing expense. And getting the airports sorted out, as there are about 4 airports around London, 2 in Scotland, and 3 around Washington DC. Most budget airlines do not fly in and out of "primary" airports, due to the cost.

Flight Costs, one way, per person including seat selection and 1 checked bag and 1 carry-on:

Davao-Singapore - Silk Air - $154 USD
Singapore-London - Norwegian UK - $235 USD
London-Edinburgh - easyJet - $239 USD
Edinburgh-Baltimore - Wow - $410 USD
Washington DC-Atlanta - Southwest - $100

As our trip is for 2 months and several different climates, plus we had a few boat parts to bring home, we chose to travel with one checked bag each, and one smaller "rollie" bag as a carry-on. The budget airlines all have different rules about what is included or excluded in the price of that amazingly-priced ticket, so you have to research the policies on EACH AIRLINE carefully to make sure you don't get any surprises on check-in.

Outside London, we visited Stonehenge

For example, if you pre-book "checked luggage", it may cost only $25 per bag. But wait until you check in at the counter at the airport, and that SAME bag will cost you $75. And usually the second checked bag costs more. And on some airlines (Wow, for example), if you don't also book and pay for a carry-on, they will force you to check the carry-on, at a substantial cost.

An Airport Transit in Iceland

The worst airline, in my opinion, was WOW, based in Iceland. We flew Wow from Edinburgh, Scotland, via Reykjavik, Iceland, to Baltimore Washington in the USA. The price of the ticket shown online included a seat (you can't pick the seat, however), and a "personal item" (small backpack, purse, briefcase), and nothing else. The service on the plane was ALL "pay for", even water (and we forgot to refill our water bottle before we boarded the plane). We pre-paid for a $15 sandwich on each leg, and they wouldn't even serve us a free cup of water to go with it (but you could buy a $3 bottle of water if you wanted). I was really surprised that there wasn't a coin slot on the toilet! The base cost of the flight is very very cheap, but beware the cost of add-ons, most of which you don't find out about until you are most of the way through the booking process AND reading the fine print.

We did, for most bookings, have to pay for our 1 checked bag, and on some airlines, for our small carry-on (specifically size and weight limited on most legs). Most of the budget airlines also make you pay if you want to select a seat. And the price of the seat selection varies by how comfy it was expected to be. Since Dave has such long legs, I usually chose to book a slightly upgraded seat (exit row, or similar). But on short legs, I just booked aisles across. One airline, Norwegian, which I booked through Expedia, I didn't make a seat selection at booking, and I could never figure out how to make a seat selection afterward, even after I created an account on their system. And even if I was willing to pay for it. However, the seats assigned by the system were fine, and that flight actually turned out to be a nice one (new airplane with built-in free entertainment, as long as you brought your own headphones).

One airline I would stay away from, even though they had an amazingly cheap flight for London to Dulles (Washington, DC) is Primera Air. We booked what we thought was a great flight from London Gatwick to Dulles, and then made all our arrangements for places to stay, rental cars, etc around that booking. A week later, Primera emailed me and said that that flight was cancelled, and I could either get a refund, or rebook on the next available flight (2 days later). So then I had to scramble to find an alternate budget booking to/from the same airports.

We ended up opting instead to take a short side trip to Scotland on easyJet, and flying from Scotland on Wow into a different airport in DC. Fortunately I was able to change my (pre-paid, budget) car rental reservation to fly into BWI without additional cost, but I had to pay an additional $90 one-way fee to pick up our rental at BWI and drop it off at Dulles (Alamo via Subsequently, on a travel Facebook group, several other people mentioned getting cancelled by Primera. I suspect this airline is running on very thin margins, and if they have problems with only one airplane, they have to cancel a bunch of flights.

At least they warned us ahead of time, rather than cancelling at the last minute, as they did to others about 6 months ago!! Note, I was trying to pull the logo off the Primera Air website, but it won't come up! Maybe we are lucky we got cancelled in advance as the airline may have tanked in the last few weeks.

The booking site I used for airfare mostly was I hear good things about Scott's Cheap Flights, but that's a whole nother way to book budget travel, so I haven't used SCF myself. We also got some amazing car rental deals on, almost to the too-good-to-be-true stage. (Late Nov 2018 note: Alamo refused my pre-paid rental through on 11/27 at LAX because of the fact that I am a US citizen with a US driver's license, but I got a full refund from and a good deal on a rental at the desk at Alamo.)

My still-most-favorite American airline is Southwest. Budget prices, no charge for checked bags or carry-ons, a cheap way to get a good seat (Early Check-in), very friendly crew, and free bring-your-own-device TV on some flights. I ALWAYS check for US flights on Southwest before I check anywhere else.

Our flight home from Tampa to Davao is already booked. Southwest to San Diego to visit family, then LAX to Davao on Philippine Airlines. We have flown Philippine Airlines before and know them to be a good long haul carrier, with 2 bags and seat selection included in the price. The one-way cost per person is right around $1,000 USD for the total trip. It is $100 higher than normal because our flight from Tampa to Davao is right after Thanksgiving. We're set to get back to Davao on Dec 1, so we get going on next year's adventure to Papua New Guinea, on the favorable winter winds.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Day Hopping Up the Coast of Mindanao

March 20-April 1, 2018

We did our last trip to Davao for shopping and to renew our visas (good for another 2 months) on the morning of Tuesday March 20. By 1:30pm we were ready to blast out of the marina and start cruising again. I thought we'd never make that schedule, but Dave is relentless once he sets a schedule.

We had waited out the stronger "winter winds" (northeasterlies) that would have made hopping north up the east coast of Mindanao more difficult. All the important repairs were done, engines back together, boat full of fuel, water, food, and essential supplies (beer, rum, and wine!).

I had been watching the weather, and doing a bunch of planning, making GoogleEarth charts, looking at anchorages, and reading up on others' passage up and down the east coast. I had to laugh when I saw the result of my favorite weather routing program's result for sailing up the coast offshore, against both wind and current.

Pink Line = Routing Solution

Zoomed In on the Hardest Section

This is why our plan was to do day hops, taking advantage of the early morning light winds, and hugging the coast, staying out of the south-bound current.

Our first hop was across the bay to the east side of the Gulf of Davao...16 miles. We experienced a few "minor" problems that first day, including the starboard engine shutting down due to overheating (solved within a few days), port engine muffler leaking salt water into the galley bilge (still not completely fixed, months later) and a too-big (new) shackle on the anchor swivel causing problems with anchoring (solved on site). Our first night's stop was on the south side of Piso Point in the Gulf of Davao, where a prior cruiser had an anchor waypoint that said "Goes from 20 meters to Oops in a boatlength". He was right! We ended up anchoring in about 70-75 ft, with our stern in 20 ft and shallow reef about half a boatlength behind us. By the time we finally got the swivel issue fixed and the anchor down, it was darn near full dark.

Good Bye, Holiday Oceanview Marina! See You in September!
A Squid Boat Heading Out For Overnight Fishing

This began a series of very early morning starts to go as far as possible in the lighter morning winds, as generally we were making long day hops and going against the wind. Why? Against our better judgement, we were on a schedule. Last fall we booked an expensive diving workshop in the Puerto Galera area at the end of April, so we had to get the 700+ miles there in time for that. We had thought when booking that we'd be launched and underway by 1 March, and have time to cruise north and explore. For an ocean-crossing cruising boat, 700 miles isn't far--could be done in about 4-5 days. However, it's not really advisable to do overnights in the Philippines due to the proliferation of unlighted fishing boats, FADs, nets, and not to mention quite a few reefs.

A Typical Filipino Fish Aggregating Device (FAD)
Near Shore Version
The Offshore Versions are often large steel cylinders the size of a VW!

Even though we had a fairly long slog ahead of us, we were super-excited to be out of the marina and underway again.

Finally At Sea Again!

Super Excited and Loving Our New Helm Chair!

Our first day hop was 48 miles to Lima Point, as far south in the Gulf of Davao we could get, so the next day we could round San Agustin point and get up into protected Pujada Bay for our next anchorage. 06-18.39N / 126-11.06E dropped in 25 feet, hanging in 70ft. OK anchorage for light wind conditions.

Beautiful Mindanao Early in the Morning

The next morning we were underway at dawn (0530 in the Philippines) and by 6:15 had rounded the point and headed up the east coast of Mindanao, against wind, waves, and current. Due to good planning (good weather window and early start), this was a long but easy motorsail. We stayed as close in to the coast as we dared to stay out of the current. The wind was under 10 kts and due to several days of light winds, the swell coming all the way from Hawaii was down. We used other cruisers tracks and GoogleEarth charts to make sure we didn't have any nasty surprises. By 2pm we were inside Pujada Bay, and spent an hour or so exploring and choosing an anchorage. We ended up off the Blue Bess Resort on the advice of another cruiser. It is quite far inside Pujada Bay, with internet coverage and road access to the rest of Mindanao. 06-52.33N / 126-17.31E

Because the wind forecast was up for the next couple of days, we decided to take a lay day or two to rest up and do inevitable boat chores. One of the first things Dave worked on was the Starboard engine cooling problem (we'd been motoring on Port engine only for the past 3 days). Dave had rebuilt both waterpumps while we were hauled out. After making sure there were no clogs or obstructions, he finally took the starboard engine water pump apart and compared it to the port engine, and discovered that the starboard raw water pump had been re-mounted backwards. No wonder the cooling water wasn't flowing!! New lesson #235 on the new boat...

At the end of the day, we moved out to a beautiful beach near the entrance of the bay. Great location where we had a much better feel for what the weather was doing offshore. 06-48.02N / 126-19.25E Anchored in great sand in 25ft, hanging in 42 ft. Only problem was, we were in a location with no cell coverage... :(

Next day (March 24), with calm winds and most of our chores done, we decided to motor around in the bay a little bit, making water, and exploring possible anchorage, with intentions to eventually return to our nice anchor spot on the point. However, just as we headed back, a squall came up with 25-30 kt winds out of the NNE. So we thought better of returning to our more exposed location, headed back in the bay a few miles to a more protected location. Ended up anchoring at 06-49.51N / 126-17.17E in 25 ft sand. Here we waited another couple of days for the offshore weather to calm down.

(Note, all our anchor waypoints and comments about them have been edited into the Philippines Compendium, which can be downloaded from, and they have been provided to Terry on Valhalla and are included in his Philippines Anchorage Waypoints downloadable from )

Finally, on Tuesday Mar 27, the weather was good enough to venture out, and we set off at 6am for another hop up the coast. For awhile we had sailable wind and a following current and were making 7.5 knots! Woo hoo! But that didn't last long. Our first possible anchor location was about 25 miles away, and the next possible one was another 25 miles further on. By 9am we had no wind, both engines going, and motorsailing with one foot on the beach, almost no current. At 10:30, with favorable conditions, we were almost to the first anchor spot, and decided we had time to make the next one, so we kept going. Big mistake!

At First We Could Sail

At 1:45pm we were rounding Pusan Point, motoring with both engines and a reefed mainsail, against 20-30 knots of apparent wind in a (thankfully brief) squall, and about 1.5 knots of current. For awhile we were only making about 2 knots and had an ETA of 8pm! We almost turned around and went back to the anchorage we'd passed a few hours before.

Fortunately, once we got around the point and could tack into the next bay, we got out of the wind and current, our speed picked up, and the conditions got better.

We ended up anchoring near a bunch of fishing boats off the tiny town of Baculit in a nice sand spot in 35-40 ft. Though the wind offshore was blowing 25 kts NNE, we only had about 10 kts and no swell in the anchorage. After we got settled, one of the small boats from a big fishing boat nearby came by to ask about the weather. We told them the storm had gone and the wind and seas were laying down, and the forecast for the next few days was for good weather. They thanked us and gave us a fish... all the fishing boats were gone by sundown. Anchorage position 07-26.75N / 126-34.37E.

Iconic Filipino Fishing Boat

Note the Row of Smaller Boats on Deck

These Boats Venture Far Offshore

And Launch Individual Fishermen in the Small Boats
to Hand-Line for Fish

Having learned our lesson the day before, we got going even earlier the next day, to take advantage of the calmer morning winds. (Dave is NOT a morning person, so getting him up while it's still dark out is near impossible.)

We had almost no wind but almost 1 kt of current against us, as we were rounding the outermost point on the east coast. Later in the day, the wind pulled to the east a little, so we could put the sails out and get some drive out of them. We got up to 7knots at one point, and then of course the wind went too high and we had to reef down!! But we actually got one who hour of "pure sailing" in this day.

By 3:30pm we were tucked into another small harbor (Barcelona) on the coast. 08-09.64N / 126-26.61E in 18 ft. This harbor was filled with "squid boats". They go out a little ways--still staying within the shelter of the reef--and put out bright lights, and jig for squid. There were hundreds of bright lights in the bay all night long.

Next day, March 29, another early start and another long day of mostly motorsailing in mostly light wind. We actually turned both engines off for 15 minutes, but the wind shifted again and we had to turn one engine on to keep our speed up. Around 1pm a big wind came up on our nose, so decided to tuck in at Aninan Island. There's a karaoke bar ashore and a bunch of surfers near the anchorage, plus a daytripper place on the point. We managed to find a not-too-swelly anchorage 08-46.74N / 126-17.99E.

We are now close enough to the Surigao Strait area that we started looking at tides, to make sure we had a favorable tide to go through the narrow passage. Based on where we were and the tide schedule, we decided to go through the worst part of the strait on Sunday, April 1. We were also now heading NNW and expected to actually be able to sail some rather than motoring into the wind.

As we set out the next day, I had picked an anchorage at Cortez Bay only 32 nm up the coast. The wind forecast for the afternoon was predicted to be a bit higher than normal and I wanted to be tucked in for that. But around our decision point, conditions looked OK, and Dave wanted to push on to the next anchorage at General Island, 15 miles further north. About 1:30 the wind came up from a sailable direction, and we had an exhilarating 2 hrs of sailing in 25-30 kts of wind, but slight seas. We even tacked a couple of times (can't motor straight into that much wind!). Once we got in the lee of the island we could motor up OK. But what looked like a secluded anchorage on Google Earth turned into a bay full of fishing boats and the shore was lined with fishing shacks.

It's now 4pm, the wind is up, and there are no good looking nearby anchorages. Sunset is an hour and a half away. I'm frantically looking at the chart, GoogleEarth images, and other cruisers' waypoints to try to find an alternate anchorage we can reach before dark. One anchor spot we had on our chart was obviously mis-plotted, when I double-checked it on GoogleEarth. The next spot was too far to reach before dark. We finally anchored in a deep bay off a tiny fishing town at 09-26.59N / 125-56.43E. As in many anchorages in this part of the world, it went from too deep to too shallow too fast. We finally found a spot on the slope in "only" 70 ft. It was closer to the village than we would normally anchor, but it was all we could find, good enough for the night.

Saturday March 31, another 5am reville, and it was pouring rain. I let Dave sleep in while I collected weather. It looked like the day would be decent, so we finally got the anchor up about 6:30. We had mild conditions all day, and anchored on the south side of Talavera Island, just shy of the Hinatuan Passage, in the early afternoon. 09-44.15N / 125-42.16E in 30 ft mostly sand, off a nice sand beach. We had made it up the long east Mindanao Coast!!

High tide on Sunday was about 11:45am, and our cruiser notes said to start through the passage about 3 and a half hours before high tide. So our target "underway" time was 0815.

We had a wonderful transit through the "dreaded" Hinatuan Passage, starting out with 1kt of current behind us and going up to a max of 4.5 knots in the narrowest spot. Lots of swirls and overfalls in the strait at the worst part, but easily managable with our boat. We made such good time that rather than stopping in Surigao, we carried on to an anchorage called Sonok at the south end of Leyte Island.

Ferry Terminal at the Town of Surigao, Top of Mindanao

A Philippine Navy Ship Checks Us Out

We still had 6 weeks to get to Puerto Galara, and for the rest of our way up to Puerto Galera, we would be inside the Visayas area of the Philippines, with expected milder winds and seas. In retrospect, this trip up the coast was a fairly pleasant experience, except the part about getting up at 5am every day. You just have to pay attention to the weather forecast, and wait until conditions are right.

The Red Line Shows Our Actual Track Up the Coast

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Finally Back in the Water

After nearly 6 months "on the hard" at Holiday Oceanview Marina, Samal Island, Mindanao, Philippines, we are back in the water. During the time we were hauled out, we spent 2 months working really hard on maintenance and improvements. The rest of the time we were traveling, including short trips to Hong Kong and Seoul South Korea, nearly 3 months in the US, and a 3 week trip to Cambodia and Thailand.

Headed Back Into the Water at Holiday Oceanview Marina

The primary impetus for the haulout, so soon after our last one, was continuing problems with the lower half of our SD20 saildrives. When we bought the boat, the saildrives had evidence of pretty severe galvanic corrosion, but we loved the rest of the boat so much that the alarm bells didn't ring loud enough. (We did get 3 years of use out of them.). But when we were in Indonesia last year, we continued to struggle with issues related to the corroded lower assemblies.

Dave thought that we could just buy the outer aluminum housing, and that would fix our primary problem. But Yanmar doesn't sell just the outer housing. So in September we bit the bullet and ordered 2 SD20 full lower assemblies. After checking with the Yanmar dealer in the Philippines, and pushing for a quote and delivery for nearly 2 weeks, we finally got a price (outrageous) and delivery "we don't know when we can deliver them". So, we finally ordered 2 new units from Mastry Engine Center in Florida, the SE USA Yanmar dealer.

We ordered the heavy bulky items to be shipped to my sister's house in Atlanta, so we could immediately arrange to ship them sea freight, so they'd be in the Philippines when we arrived back in December. But the customs laws were changing in the Philippines, and in September, when we arrived in Atlanta, it was uncertain whether we could ship them duty free. So then we decided we'd have to take them back in our luggage!!

By December when we arrived back at my sister's house to organize ourselves to fly back to the Philippines, we had received clarification on the shipping issue and decided to go ahead and ship them sea freight rather than trying to get them there in our fly-in luggage. In the end, they arrived in the Philippines intact, at a very reasonable rate, no duty required. But it took nearly 3 months for them to reach us in Davao. (We knew this when we made the decision to ship vs carry).

Meanwhile we had other projects to keep us busy. The biggest was "transom extensions" (aka enlarged swim platforms). We cruised last year in Indonesia with Ocelot, who had done this on their boat. Because we are "over design weight", the steps down the aft end of our two hulls are lower in the water than designed. The bottom step was always "a-slosh" resulting in rapid algae growth. No matter how often we scrubbed the top surface of the bottom step, it was always very slippery (and looked frightful too).

Original Stern on the Port Hull

So Dave and the marina carpenters designed and constructed a 1 foot extension on the stern on each hull that raised the lowest step to the height of the next higher step (about 6"). This did two things--make a nice wide, flat "landing area" on the stern; and raised the bottom step around 6", so it is no longer "a-slosh" when sitting at anchor in normal conditions. It also extended our waterline length another foot, but I'm not sure this is significant in a catamaran. It also added buoyancy to the aft end of the boat, so we weren't "dragging ass" so much.

The extensions were fashioned from boat construction foam and honeycomb, plus a little fiberglass and epoxy. The result was a very professional looking job and fabulous in form and function. Here is one picture of the end result:

Finished Swim Platform on the Port Hull

For a full set of photos of the extensions under construction, see this photo album: Aft Step Extension

A third major project we completed in January, while waiting for the saildrive parts to show up, was to build a big sturdy "helm seat" from the leftover foam we had from the extension project. The boat came with a low-end post-mounted wobbly plastic captain's chair. It wasn't high enough for me to see the bow of the boat (or ahead of the boat) while sitting down, and it was uncomfortably wobbly in a sea. That meant that I'd have to stand while driving (or sit in cheap wobbly plastic chairs we have on the wing deck). We had already done emergency repairs on it to make it last as long as it had.

Our friends on Tackless Too had a nicely crafted stainless steel "captains chair". custom made by a welding shop. It was gorgeous, but expensive, and heavy. Dave knew the marina carpenters could make us a great chair with our leftover foam. And they did!

Our New Spiffy Helm Chair

It was designed to be wide enough that the two of us can sit there comfortably and see what's going on at the same time. It is a fabulous addition to both comfort and safety underway. And though it looks very heavily built, the construction foam makes it very light. Plus we designed in ample storage for all our cockpit "stuff".

Meanwhile, my job was "Chief Purchasing Officer", "Expediter" and "Technical Research Officer". I spent a bunch of time on the computer sourcing both parts and information, arranging shipping, and tracking shipments. Of course, once the saildrives arrived, we found we were missing a couple of critical gaskets. So I had to find a source for them and get them to the Philippines "quickly". We ended up with 3 "rush" shipments in the end, for which we used a Philippine company called Johnny Air. They have offices in NY and California where you can send a package, and they handle the Customs clearance in Manilla and get it to us in Davao in a timely fashion (about 10-14 calendar days, usually). Neither DHL or FedEx are recommended for rush shipments of goods into the Philippines, as stuff gets tied up in Customs, sometimes for weeks and for hundreds of extra dollars in Customs and agent fees. Not sure how JohnnyAir manages, but they do.

If Dave needed to know how to do anything on the engines, or other projects, I searched online forums and Youtube for just the right information, and collated it all for him to use.

I also had a number of maintenance projects in the sewing arena. Our dinghy cover first purchased in Colombia in 2008 needed some more TLC. The sunbrella is good as a cover, but it does't hold up to the rugged use of the dinghy. Lots of plastic chafe protection added in various places, plus I had to completely rebuild the aft end of the tube covers. I also completely rebuilt/reinforced the mainsail cover/Stackpack. It needed a new 20-foot zipper plus needed a flap to cover the zipper so the UV doesn't get to it. And patches and restitching in several places. I added a second layer of cloth on the top flap of the stackpack, to provide more UV protections, and some reinforced drain holes in the bottom, so rain water wouldn't stand inside the cover.

My biggest project, which I put off and put off, because I knew it was going to be very difficult to do a good job, was to finish the cockpit enclosure I had started the year before. Before, I had done the easy part--roll-down sides--straight lines--easy peasy (but still took 2 weeks to finish). And the year before that, I had adapted the original front "window" part to our new hardtop. What was missing was the corner pieces. The way our cockpit is, there are complex curves in the corner everywhere, and I just couldn't figure out how I was going to shape the thing. It was a daunting project. But it had to be done, and there is no "canvas place" in Davao that I could hire to do it. Fortunately, my sewing friends on s/v Carina had told me that I should be using patterning material for jobs like that. So one of the shipments we got from the US was some more clear vinyl for the windows, and the patterning material and double-sided tape. Wow, that stuff is so easy to work with--after watching a 15 minute video by Sailrite, I was an expert. My corner windows turned out really well (for an amateur job).

Fortunately for me, because my sewing list was so long, there's a nice Filipino tailor with a sewing machine near the marina, and Dave gave him all the easy projects (the smaller stuff, covers, etc). Ariel the Tailor does great work. He did the cushions for the helm chair (above), as well as new covers for our Man Overboard Module, and the rope reel hanging off the stern rail, new windlass cover, and a "line bag" for the reefing lines under the boom.

Dave and his Filipino helper, Alex, also took the lids off all 14 hatches on the boat, and cleaned up everything, checked the locking handle mechanisms, checked the gaskets, and fixed the two leaky hatches.

Dave and Alex also replaced the 8 below-water through-hulls. The old bronze and stainless ones were looking pretty shaky, and a friend on another St. Francis warned us that his had crumbled in his hands when he tried to remove them. A couple of ours did the same! We replaced them with new composite through-hull and ball valve fittings from Tru-Design in NZ (sourced via Defender and shipped via JohnnyAir).

Old Corroded (Crumbling) Through Hull

Dave and Alex also did a bunch of preventive maintenance on the Yanmar engines, including rebuilding the raw water pumps, and mounting a matched set of new alternators with fancy electronic alternator regulators (designed to be compatible with a Lithium battery bank in the future). They also rewired a bunch of the start battery circuit to add an "always on trickle charge" mechanism for the start battery.

So, it was a very fruitful haulout. We were scheduled to launch March 15 during an appropriate high tide window. But we didn't get the final gaskets until a couple of days before that, and Dave and Alex still had to put the engines together!! Amazing that we could go in on the 17th, just 2 days late!! (Dave is AMAZING).

Whew! It's great to be floating again!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Panama Canal Costs - Updated 2018

We just had friends complete a Caribbean to Pacific transit of the Panama Canal, and they did a great post on their transit costs. Thought I'd put it in here for the record. Bottom line was just over $2,000 USD, including some crew visa costs now eliminated. Their boat measured out at just under 50 ft, just like ours did.

Totem's 2018 Panama Canal Transit Costs

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Rice Wine for "Out There" Cruisers

This is for our friends cruising in the Bahamas, central South Pacific, Indonesia, and any other cruising grounds in remote places without reasonably priced stocks of wine.

Another cruising boat we met last year, Gaia, from Holland, gave us this recipe, which they passed on from another cruising boat. I include below the original recipe, and then what we did that worked for us.

I had previously looked into "making wine" a bunch of times over the past 10 years of cruising. But the instructions always seemed so complicated. For example...there was a huge debate on the forums about which esoteric wine yeast to use. It always put me off. And who had wine yeast aboard when you got desperate for some wine? And, didn't it take 2-3 years before the wine was drinkable?

This recipe is diffent--so simple--and 2-3 weeks to yield drinkable wine. For a bottom-shelf wine drinker, with no other recourse to wine, it's a pretty good solution--extremely affordable, and the ingredients are probably already on your boat.

Why would we make our own wine? When we were in Tonga, a TERRIBLE bottle of white wine was $25 USD! (if you could find one). In Indonesia, at least in the outer islands, you can't find wine, at all. In the Bahamas, liquor is not bad, price wise, but beer and wine is outrageously priced. So here goes.. original "sailor's wine" recipe, and exactly how we brewed on Soggy Paws last year in Indonesia.

Sailors rice wine recipe (original recipe)

Rice wine recipe makes 10 litres
1 kg white rice, washed and skim off the bugs
2.6 kg sugar
12 litres water
2 teaspoons yeast

Add options:
2 handfuls of raisins
2 lemons thinly sliced

Other add options:
Cranberries instead of raisins
Cherries instead of raisins
Oranges instead of lemons
Pomelo (sweet grapefruit)

You have to find out the quantities and flavours you like best.

Stir daily.
Cover with cloth or wrapping plastic with an elastic. So air can go out if necessary, but not in. Fermentation takes +/- 2 weeks.
Siphon into sterilized bottles. Let sediment settle for several days till the liquid is clear. Siphon into serving bottles.

To sterilize the bottles:
Just 1 or 2 drops of Betadine(Iodine)in a cup of water. Just let it in the bottles and container till you start using them. Use more water and Betadine for your container.

Here is what we did on Soggy Paws last year in Indonesia.

For a gallon jug (US Measures)
1.5 cup rice
4 1/3 cup sugar
water to fill gallon jug
2 tsp plain old bread yeast
1 slice lemon or lime (or ~ tsp or 2 of some bottled lime or lemon juice)
7 cranberries or raisins mixed

Don't cook the rice, just rinse it enough to get the bugs out (if necessary), and throw all the ingredients together in your brewing container.

I brew in a 1 gallon apple juice container, with the cap on very loose, and sitting in the sink in the head. WARNING: Big problems if you tighten the cap too much--it definitely needs to be able to off-gas! I did have a one gallon jug that we tightened up the cap, and it got a little too excited and sort of exploded and made a mess in the head. The jug and fermentation is much more volatile early on, and then tapers off. So if you are sitting for a week, good time to start a new jug.

I brewed in my jug for 2 weeks exactly (I tape a piece of blue tape with the due date). I tighten the cap, shake the jug well, and then loosend the cap again, at least once or twice a day.

My Rice Wine Brewing Kit

When it came to "siphoning off" to bottles, I did that one time with a proper siphon hose and decided that was too much trouble. I ended up just pouring my 2-week-old fermented rice wine from the gallon jug into the "clarifying" bottles, gently, using a funnel, and leaving the sludge in the bottom of the jug. I did filter what I poured off through a fine-mesh plastic filter (a plastic filter, a little cotton cloth, or a paper coffee filter might work also). What I used is the red "filter" in the foreground in the picture. I labeled my clarifying bottles 1, 2, 3 because the first one was easier to keep the sludge out than the last one. The #1 clarifying bottle generally had a little less "sediment" in it, and took less time to clear up. (In the end, for a thirsty person, it didn't matter).

Once the very fine sediment falls to the bottom of the clarifying bottle, the wine looks clear, and looks very much like white wine. Then siphon or pour gently off to your serving bottles. It takes at least 3-4 days for the stuff to settle to the bottom of the clarifying bottles, and the milky wine to turn clear. But if desperate, you don't have to wait that long! Chill well, and it's a decent substitute for that evening glass of white wine.

I have found that I have quite a bit of left over rice in the gallon jug, which I rinse and re-used for the next batch, adding a bit more rice to make up the difference. I keep meaning to email Gaia to see if they do too, and whether that means I didn't do the ratios right, wrong rice, or whatever (but what I did worked, so...).

Also, my wine ended up a little sweet, almost like a dessert wine. But it is OK if you don't have anything else!! But while I had any other wine left, I mixed the rice wine with my remaining wine. Sometimes a brew was sweet enough that I added a little water. It always helps to chill it really well. But in my opinion, it was totally drinkable, and certainly better than paying $25/bottle for terrible wine.

My wine would probably be less sweet if I let it age a little, but it never made it that long...

Once I ran out of the wine I brought with me, I started making a 1 gallon jug every week or two. By the time I decanted it the gallon jug into "clarifying bottles", this turned into three 1 liter Paul Masson clarifying bottles. Once decanted to 750 ml "serving bottles" (leaving sludge in the bottom), it would make about 4 standard 750 ml wine bottles. With 2 1-gallon Jugs, and 3-4 Paul Masson bottles, I always had enough to share with my (also desperate) friends.

I never bothered testing the alcohol level--it was a good enough facsimile to wine that I wasn't worried about perfection.

I did use the Betadine method to sterilize the jugs and bottles.

Try it, and see how it works for you!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Updated Tuamotus Current "Guestimator"

Many thanks to both s/v Brindacier and m/v Starlet who both updated the tide tables in my old "guestimator" and sent in a copy. Both are included in the zip file, which can be found here:

Cruiser's helping cruisers--I love it!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Short Sightseeing Trip to Cambodia and Thailand - Part 1

We have wanted to visit Thailand forever, and it is especially easy to do while already in SE Asia. Dave also had a hankering to see Angkor Wat, in nearby Cambodia. Plus, our Philippines Visa on Arrival is only good for 29 days, and then we need to renew or fly out. Renewals these days cost $75 USD per person. So we figured we'd fly somewhere, using that $75 USD as a subsidy for our trip.

Getting Ready for Another Adventure!

Before we left the US, we booked a round trip flight on Air Asia from Davao to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Having an outbound ticket from the Philippines when we flew in from the US also maded airport check-in and arrival, on a one-way ticket from the U.S., much easier. Because SE Asia is used to backpackers and yachties traveling through on a one-way ticket, going from country to country, it's much easier to talk your way on the plane from Kuala Lumpur than it is from LAX.

I spent a week in December making up a rough plan for our trip. I emailed the plan to several friends who had been to both places and asked for input. The major addition to our initial plan was to plan to go to Chiang Rai (a 3 hour bus ride from Chiang Mai) and spend at least a few days there. So, here is what we planned, and we were pretty much able to execute this plan. January is peak tourist season, so I felt like I had to pre-book the major things, to make sure we got to where we wanted to go, and had a place to stay when we got there.

Jan 8 - Fly Davao to Kuala Lumpur
Jan 8 - Overnight at Tune Hotel KL Airport
Jan 9 - Fly KL to Siem Reip (v early morning flight)
Jan 9-11 Explore Siem Reip / Angkor Wat
Jan 12 Siem Reip to Bangkok ($30/8hrs by bus $60/2hrs fly)
Jan 13-14 Bangkok
Jan 15 Daytrip by van to Ayutthaya
Jan 16 Bangkok to Chang Mai day train (all day) or 1 hr flight
Jan 17 Rest/get oriented in Chang Mai
Jan 18-26 Chang Mai and vicinity / touring, etc
Jan 27 Chang Mai to KL, overnight at Tune Hotel KL Airport
Jan 28 Fly KL to Davao

Our Planned Whirlwind Trip to Cambodia and Thailand

We should have planned for more time (or fewer bucket list checks), but we had other considerations... one was getting all the work done on Soggy Paws, and the other was the schedule for visa renewals in the Philippines when we returned. For the first two months of your time in the PI on a tourist visa, you can only do monthly renewals. After 2 months, you can apply for a longer extension (2 months at a time, presently). We wanted to be in the Philippines for the first 2 months, and apply for a 2 month extension, before we left Davao at the end of March. So January 28th was about the last we could fly back in from Thailand that wouldn't hold us up in March.

So after 29 days aboard in the marina in the Philippines, working feverishly on boat projects, we took off on Jan 8 for a little R & R in Cambodia and Thailand.

After an uneventful flight direct from Davao, we spent a short overnight at the The Tune Hotel at the Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) International Airport, and were off early in the morning for our flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. The Tune Hotel at KLIA is a great spot for an overnight stopover. You can walk to it from the International terminal. All the other hotels require a taxi or bus ride into downtown KL.

Cambodia (Siem Reap & the temples of Angkor)

Since we were on a fairly tight schedule, I had pre-booked a Tuktuk (motor tricycle) driver/tour guide via the internet, using a recommendation from a TripAdvisor blog. Mr. Sulu TukTuk Tours turned out to be a fantastic choice. Sulu met us at the airport, took us to the hotel, and then off for the first day's touring, starting with a stop to get our permit. He spoke good English, and was polite and not pushy. He knew where to go to minimize crowds, yet still get us to all the major attractions in our 3 day visit. He picked us up at the airport, took us through 3 days of touring, and took us back to the airport on the 4th day, all for the pre-arranged fee of $80 USD. We have since recommended 2 other travelers to him and both felt the same way we did. Click the picture below for a link to his facebook page, and contact him there, or email him at

We bought a cell phone sim card in the airport, even though we were only going to stay 3 days--to be able to contact our driver, the hotel, use the internet, etc. It only cost $10 (text, voice, and data already on it), and was well worth having.

Our Siem Reap hotel I'd booked off and it was a fairly new establishment, and located on a back street, but not far from the main tourist part of town. A guy who was teaching hospitality at the local college, bought a 5 room "hotel" to reap some of the tourist dollars, and also help train his students in hospitality in the real world. The hotel room for 2 people, a queen sized bed, with private bath, air conditioning, and breakfast, cost $36 USD TOTAL for 3 nights (Siem Reap Phan Villa). As an exploding tourist destination, there are plenty of $100 per night hotels in Siem Reap, but we didn't need to spend that kind of money on a place to sleep!!

Our Hotel in Cambodia

It was only a short walk to the tourist center of Siem Reap.

The Neighbor Bringing His Cows Home

Ankor Wat was amazing--similar to the Pyramids of Egypt; the Mayan structures we'd visited in Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras; and the Inca structures in Peru, we just couldn't believe that such fantastic structures could have been built so extensively back in the day before big cranes and modern building techniques.

With $60 3-Day Tickets in Hand, Headed Out to our First Temple

Dave and I together took 630 pictures in 3 days. This is one of the reasons it has taken so long to produce this blog! (sorting through the pictures, trying to remember what we were taking pictures of) But below are few pictures to give you the gist of the magnitude of the Khmer empire at one time. We did 2 days of touring temples, and then spent our last day on a trip to the lake, and somehow also squeezed in a couple of hours at a small "World War II" museum. We kind of lost track of which temple was which, so I'm not going to try to name them below, but just show you some pretty pictures.

Unfortunately, we hadn't done any studying at all about Cambodia, the Khmer Empire, or the history or culture, so we felt pretty stupid at times. We did buy a $10 book from a vendor at the first site we stopped at, but then never had time to read it carefully. So for those of you starting out where we were, here's a very brief recap.

Between the 8th and 13th centuries, a succession of first Hindu, and later Buddhist kings created magnificent temples in stone. Each temple was bigger then the next, but all had elaborate carvings, honoring Hindu gods, detailing victories in battle, and honoring Buddhist principles. The final two temples, and the biggest, were Angkor Thom in about 1200 AD, and Angkor Wat, around 1250 AD. After about 1300 AD, the Buddhist temples were built out of wood, and few survived. There are about 100 temples scattered around in Cambodia. In our 2 days of temple touring, we were able to briefly visit 13 of them. I'd love to educate you more about each temple, but honestly, it kind of all blurred together. Knowing a bit of Hindu lore would be useful before visiting, as most of the symbology at the temples were Hindu. Here are a few of the pictures we took:

Typical Temple Layout (Bantai Srai Temple)

Looking in the Gopura Oriental at Bantai Srai

Inner Temple at Bantai Srai

Dave Standing in front of the tail of a Naga (snake) being pulled to churn the underworld

Unfortunately, the heads on the men holding the (very large) tail of the snake have all been "looted".

Lots of Reconstruction Work Going On in Various Temples

Angkor Wat Is So Big, It Is Hard to Photograph!

The Monkeys Were Always an Attraction

The Apsara, an Iconic Hindu Image, Adorned Every Temple

Images of Buddha Also Adorned the More Recent (but still old) Temples

An Hour Long Line (We Passed!)

The Entire Football Field-Sized Wall Was Carved with an Elaborate History of Battles

Just One of the Inner Temples in the Large Complex

A Naga (7-Headed Snake) Guarding the Causeway
to Angkor Wat

My Favorite Temple (Bayon)

Another Temple with Elaborate Scenes Carved in the Walls

Trees Are A Major Problem in Restoring the Temples

Another Temple! This One Guarded by Lions

A Helpful Guide Pointed Out This Stegasaurus
(Methinks a Joke by a Restorer?)

Thankfully, Our Last Temple (Preah Ko)

Templed Out
After two long days and touring 13 temples, on our last day in Cambodia, we went out to see Lake Tonle Sap. It is the largest fresh water body in South East Asia. Its dimension changes depending on the wet and dry season. During rainy season from June to October, the lake is filled by water flowing from the Mekong with 45 feet in depth and expands the surface of 10,000 square Kilometers. In dry season from November to May its size 3,000 square kilometers with 6 feet in depth and water flows backwards, from the Lake to the Mekong, in and out flowing is the natural phenomenon occurrences.

It Being Dry Season, It Was a Long and Dusty Ride to the Lake

Boarding Our Private Tour Boat

The Engine

The Steering Wheel

The Drive Train and Propeller

Houses with Big Stilts

Was There Any World War II Action?
Dave can't pass up a war museum, especially one that promises World War II memorabilia. It turns out this one had much more modern stuff. But we still enjoyed poking around.

And we did all that in 3 days!! Then it was on to Thailand!