Thursday, July 1, 2021

Cats on a Cat!

When we left on our world cruise in May 2007, we left my cat Annabelle with my daughter. Though both Dave and I are cat people, and cats do well on cruising boats, the amount of "inland travel" we planned to do would make it difficult to keep a pet. Trying to find someone to cat-sit in a strange country while we were off the boat for 2 months at a time would be nearly impossible. We have held fast to this plan until 2019, when another cruiser asked us to cat-sit their cat for a few months while they were in NZ. This rekindled our affection for cats. But we were still sure we really didn't want to have a cat aboard.

There have always been boatyard cats at Oceanview Marina, where we spent all of 2020 and almost half of 2021. The strays seemed to have litter after litter--there were always cute little kittens hiding around the premises. But it was difficult to get close to them. In January 2021, we started putting out scraps for the two kittens hanging around the condo building. One little stray kitten captured our hearts by actually coming up to us and rubbing on our feet. After a couple of weeks of this, we finally succumbed and invited him/her in to the condo where we were staying (next to the marina). After a couple of days, we were hooked, and we decided to make this cat part of our family.
Our New Kitten, First Night in Condo

Without consulting a vet, and seeing little knobby things on its back end, we assumed it was a boy.
Looks Like a Boy to Me!

Many people (and the internet) told us that 90% of all yellow tabby cats were male (it's a genetic thing). So we assumed he was a boy, and named him Perkins, after our old faithful engine on our previous boat "Mr Perkins".
The Local Vet Makes a House Call

A couple of weeks later, we finally arranged for the local vet on the island to come out to the marina and give Perkins his first set of shots, Dr. Glaiza Luna. Can you imagine Vets doing house calls in the USA??

Perkins didn't like having a stranger in the room, so he spent the vet's visit swaddled in a towel, except for a quick jab with the needle, and a yukky experience with the (oral) de-wormer. (This is why the vet didn't notice on the first visit that Perkins was a girl not a boy.) We set a date for when we would get Perkins fixed--amazingly the vet agreed she could do it there in our condo room when the time came.

Meanwhile, Perkins, having been a starving stray for the first 4-5 months of his life, ate and ate and ate. As a stray, he got our shrimp peels and chicken bones. As a member of the family he got hand-peeled shrimp and nibbles of chicken breast. Oh the life! Perkins started getting noticeably fat, and we commented several times about how we needed to cut down on the food he was getting.
Our Too Fat Cat

In late January, we started telling everyone in the marina that we would be leaving a few days after Perkins was "fixed", in a few weeks. Boat preps went into high gear.

On the appointed date for castration, the vet came by, and gave Perkins a tranquilizer, and then started prepping for the operation. When she turned Perkins over, she laughed and laughed and laughed, and said "You've been pranked! This is not a boy, Perkins is a girl! And what's more, she's very pregnant!" OMG! The little bumps on his/her posterior turned out to be just tufts of hair, not male organs. And his/her "getting fat" was tiny little kittens growing in her belly. No wonder she was incessantly hungry!
Our Very Pregnant Cat! (One Week Before Giving Birth)

So now what could we do? We can't leave the marina with a pregnant cat! So we settled in to wait for Perkins to give birth, in about 4 weeks, we hoped.

On Feb 25th, Perkins presented us with 4 squirmy wet blobs that turned out to be the cutest little kittens. Even though she was only a teenager herself (about 6 months old, as best we could tell), she knew exactly what to do to squirt those babies out and make sure their first hours of life were good ones. Of course, Dave and I were there watching and were ready to help (but no help needed, thankfully).
10 Hours Old

3 Days Old

10 Days Old

10 Days Old

After a few days, we named them all after some of our favorite people. Since everyone told us that 90% of the orange tabbies turn out to be males, and they were too young to tell definitively, we gave them all boys names... Gordo (after my Dad), Henry (after Dave's ex Father in Law), Andrew (after Prince Andrew, who was in the news at the time), and Charlie (after my ex-husband's childhood nickname...Charlie was the smart scrappy one.) Later, thanks to a vet friend in the US, we found out they were 2 males and 2 females. So Gordo became Gordita and Charlie the boy became Charlie the girl.
OMG, They're Climbing Out!

Oh My! What Big Ears You Have!

6 Weeks Old

4 Cats in a Box

Doing Their Business in the Box!

We spent the next 2 months enjoying watching the kittens grow into their legs and their ears. What fun having 4 kittens playing hide and seek around our one-room condo (including at 4am). How exciting the first time one of them actually did their "business" in the sand box. We had to pin the drapes up in the condo to keep them from climbing up the drapes. We used a big cardboard box to keep them in, until they learned how to climb up and jump out. We had to switch to using real sand in the sand box for awhile, instead of clumping litter, because oddly, the kittens liked to eat the clay in the clumping litter.

Now, what to do with 4 kittens?? We eventually decided to keep one kitten, and the chosen one was Charlie--one of the smallest but smartest and most adventurous. A friend wanted a male cat, so Henry went to him. And the other two were placed by the vet to two sisters. By mid May, we were down to only Perkins and Charlie.
Kittens Going to Their New Homes

Finally the day came to get Perkins fixed. Neutering a female cat is more difficult than a male cat, so the vet insisted we bring Perkins in to her office for the procedure. A cruiser friend with a car gave us a lift, so we didn't have to take her on a trike! The operation was over in about 15 minutes, and the vet handed Perkins back and said "Keep her quiet for today."

When we got back to the condo, little Charlie couldn't understand why mommy wouldn't play with her. So we had to lock Charlie out on the balcony to let Perkins sleep and recover from her surgery. As I was closing the sliding door, Charlie dashed back in, and I closed the door on her head...hard. OMG I thought I killed our sweet kitten! It knocked her back and she staggered around for a minute. She stayed woozy for the day. So both momma and kitten slept all day. The next morning, both were right as rain, and chasing each other around the condo. Thank God.
Finally We Break Away from the Marina

So we finally set out from the marina on May 11, with two cats aboard. The cats have adapted well. When we are underway, they voluntarily stay below. As soon as we turn the engine on, they curl up in their underway spots. But at anchor they have the run of the deck.
One of their "On Passage" Hangouts

Hanging Out on the Hard Top During Happy Hour

Their favorite Happy Hour pasttime is chasing each other up and down the boom.
Playing On the Boom

We've only lost one overboard so far--one very still night in a crowded mooring field in Port Carmen, Charlie fell or jumped in, and ended up swimming to a neighboring boat and climbing up on their cat rope, as we did not have one hanging over the side yet. Our neighbors noticed a strange cat in their cockpit at 3am, and brought her back to us. We've got climbers on the stern now, and are planning a cat swimming lesson soon.

Sometimes they like to play the "See if you can find me Game!"
See If You Can Find Me!

One of the hard things about having pets on a cruising boat is finding good veterinary care in new countries. The vet on Samal Island was great. However, we had a vet in Danao, Cebu spay Charlie, and it was a disaster. After 2 hours on her table, the vet announced she could not find Charlie's uterus. Then she did a terrible job of sewing her back up. A week later we had to rush to a vet 60 miles away on another island because Charlie was having trouble urinating. 1 month and 2 surgeries later, she is finally spayed and nearly 100% healed. We found a great vet in Catbalogan, Samar, experienced and caring. Because it was a long trike ride to town, they made several house calls.
The Husband and Wife Team at Cinco Family Clinic
(Pets Unlimited)
Treating Charlie on the Beach

Our Cute Little Charlie is Finally Recovered

We're not sure what we're going to do next time we want to leave the boat for a couple of months--but we'll figure something out!

Monday, June 28, 2021

2020 - The Year of COVID

June 28, 2021, from the Philippines

I haven't quite finished updating our adventures in 2019--I did a few long posts while we were in Lockdown in 2020, but waiting for catchup obviously isn't working, so I thought I'd at least let everyone know that we DID survive (at least so far) Covid-19 in the Philippines.

To recap our situation in early 2020... With the boat at Holiday Oceanview Marina, Samal Island (near Davao, Mindanao, Philippines) we had stayed in Florida until the end of January 2020.

December and January in Florida
2020 Started Out Right
With a Regatta at Melbourne Yacht Club
And Pick'n and Grin'n with some of our favorite folks at Melbourne Yacht Club

We enjoyed visiting with lots of people all over Florida, including Dave's cousin Bryan, kayaking with some of Dave's Naval Academy buddies, sailing with friends Don and Gwen (who also own a St. Francis 44), and visiting with former Keys friends Dave and Jo-Ann. Plus Dave spent a bunch of time talking about World War II issues with buddy Justin Taylan of Justin also helped us move a bedroom full of stuff into a storage unit.
So Much "Stuff"!
The Last Trip with the Van

By late January we were starting see the news from China that looked very bad. Contemplating our flight via LAX and Manila, on about Jan 28, I ordered a 100-pack of surgical masks from Amazon to be delivered to Dave's son in San Diego, which was on our route back to the Philippines. Prescient!

Purchased: 100 Count Surgical Masks, Jan 2020

We were scheduled to fly LAX to Manila, leaving LAX Feb 4 and arriving in the Philippines on Feb 6, and I was scared that we might have problems with this flight, as China is so close to the Philippines. All went well on the flight, but we kept masks on when in enclosed spaces. We flew straight through, LAX to Manila to Davao, with only a 4 hr layover in Manila--no problems. All of our (very heavy x4) luggage arrived with us. We were grateful that a friend with a pickup agreed to meet us at the airport and transport us and luggage across on the ferry to the island of Samal. As always, we were very happy to get back on board.

Our plans were to leave Samal Island "at the end of February" for Indonesia, and then work our way west to Singapore and the Malay peninsula during 2020. So we had a really busy month planned to get ready to go. Besides our 4 big suitcases full of stuff, we had also shipped 3 big boxes via sea freight, with lots of parts and materials for "projects", including a complete set of standing rigging wire and connectors, a mainsheet, and too many other things to list.

Approaching the Haulout Ramp
Blocked and Ready for Work

Well, we didn't make our "end of February" date--our 3 boxes didn't arrive with the new rigging wire until mid-March. On March 8, we hauled out for a couple of weeks to do bottom paint and some work on the saildrives. Since they were going to leave us on the haulout ramp, we got a short term condo booked at the resort next door, for March 8-22. We didn't check out of that condo until May 10, 2021!

The Lovely View from our Condo

Other than the haulout and the re-rigging, we were ready to leave. We were fully fueled and stocked to the gills for 6 months in Indonesia. We just needed to complete the haulout, a couple of days of work to replace the rigging wire, and we were ready for Indonesia. God laughed at our man-made plans.

The First Inkling That Our 2020 Plans would drastically change

While we were hauled out, on March 18, 2020, COVID measures started happening on Samal Island. This included restriction of movement, requirements for quarantine passes, and very limited trips to even the local market on the island, and severe restrictions on going in to the big city of Davao.

By the end of March, almost all SE Asia countries were "locked down" (not admitting new visitors). By the time we finished our haulout and our our re-rigging, it became obvious that continuing with our plan to move on to Indonesia was unwise and maybe impossible. There were already several cases in our cruising Facebook groups of cruisers that left one place while their next stop was "open" only to find out that country, and the country they left, both closed while they were enroute. We didn't want to get stuck somewhere--we had it pretty good in our little Oceanview Marina on Samal Island.

Waiting at the 7-11 for Shuttle Pickup

Checkpoints around Samal to Keep Unneccesary Travel down

Sale of Liquor was Banned on Samal Island for most of 2020!

The alcohol ban was the worst. We were fortunate that the new 7-11 store on Samal still permitted us to buy wine. We also hired some fishermen to go to a nearby town that wasn't under liquor lockdown and buy all the rum they could find. And we made rice wine in the pantry.
Signs at the Checkout Counter at the Grocery Store

Washing Money in Alcohol after Shopping
(I only did this once!)

The Filipinos in our small town don't have enough money to "stock up" on anything, so we never had a run on toilet paper. We were in good shape ourselves, because we were stocked for 6 months in Indonesia, so we never panicked about buying necessities.

So, with the lockdown, we decided to stick with the comfort of the condo (better A/C, Satellite TV, electric cooking, and more space). Dave could work on "projects" on the boat without having to work around me, and I could do sewing projects in the condo with a little more room to lay things out. We also felt it was safer (and nicer) for us to have a private bathroom rather than using the marina facilities. We were fortunate that our landlord was stuck in Davao and very happy to have her condo rented, even when the resort was completely closed for several months.

We did LOTS of useful work on the boat during 2020. I worked on a number of sewing projects, and Dave worked on all the boat mechanical, electrical, refrigeration, and interior stuff. With the marina closed to new guests (even those already within the Philippines), no new boats were coming in, so the marina workers were starting to run out of work to do. We all thought up new projects just to keep them working. One boat who had planned to go to Thailand for a major refit ended up staying and doing their refit at the marina, keeping a lot of the guys busy all year.
Our New Dinghy Chaps

Here are the things I accomplished in 2020:
- New Dinghy "chaps"
- New back curtain for shade across the back of the cockpit
- New side shades for the cockpit
- New windshield for the cockpit
- New screens for hatches
- New front and side window shades
- Learned how to program Arduino's (small micro computers) and Raspberry Pi's
- Tons of research and buying stuff online to support Dave's projects
- Bought and configured 2 new laptops

Dave's list is much much longer
- Moved engine exhausts to about 12" above the waterline
- Serviced both engine injection pumps and all injectors
- Upgraded the Freezer compressor from a BD-35 air cooled to a BD-50 Frigoboat keel cooled system
- Completely refurbished the freezer compartment and gasketing
- Anchor and chain re-galvanized
- Upgraded our anchor swivel to the new Mantus swivel
- All rigging wire, turnbuckles and end fittings replaced
- Added a bunch (50 shelves) of new shelving in various areas of the boat for more stuff
- Made burglar bars for the front inboard hatches
- Twice pulled and replaced seals and orings on the saildrives (chasing leaks)
- Liferaft serviced and repacked
- Installed 2 new bilge pumps
- Replaced our aging 600 Ah of Gel batteries with 540 Ah LiFePO4 (lithium) batteries
- Did some major rewiring and labeling of electrical system

Early on, to keep ourselves occupied, we had "learning night" in the marina clubhouse. Dave and I each gave several presentations on places we had cruised, and technical subjects. (see our Presentations page on the website--they are all there).

The Battery Project
When it became obvious in late May that things weren't going to get better for quite awhile, we started thinking it was a good time to upgrade our house battery bank to Lithium. The biggest problem in the Philippines is shipping stuff in--if you don't do it carefully, your "stuff" can get stuck in Customs and subject to 35-50% duty and day-by-day Customs holding charges. We got pretty good at shipping stuff in from the USA, but we wanted to buy these batteries direct in China, and we didn't know of a shipping mechanism that would work.

Our LiFePO4 Cells Have Finally Arrived!

Another friend in the marina found a way, via a friend in Hong Kong. So together we bought 24 3.3-volt 272 Ah LifePO4 cells from a reputable source in China. It took 2 1/2 months for the batteries to reach us from China. Then the fun started. It was a long long learning process for us--one that didn't complete until April 2021.

4 of our 8 Cells (note Bar Codes, etc)

The Battery Lab Where We Did Our Capacity Testing

It IS possible to just slam together a LifePO4 system without a lot of thought and effort, and it will likely work, but Dave is obsessed with "doing it right", both for safety reasons and longevity of the batteries. So he and I both spent hours reading (mostly online) and watching YouTube videos to understand why upgrading to LifePO4 batteries can be an involved process.

To see the results, check out our Electrical page on the website at

Originally we thought we would build a custom Battery Management System (BMS), using Arduino boards and custom programming, based on a project posted by someone else on Our friend in the battery project is an Electrical Engineer, and he designed a custom circuit board with an Analog Devices BMS chip on it. He did the hardware design and I was in charge of adapting the Arduino programming to the new chip, adding in a NMEA2000 communications capability, and programming the additional protection circuit logic.

Me, Learning How to Program Arduionos
(I had a lot of fun doing this!)

Two Arduinos Communicating via CanBus
(and eventually NMEA2000)

A Simple Temperature Monitor, My First Project

We thought this would be a cinch project since we already had a hardware design and prototype software for a working system. But throw in a newer BMS chip, and several new protection circuits, board fabrication and sourcing parts from the Philippines, and things got kind of out of control, timewise. I got the prototype software working with a breadboard version of the BMS board, but the final "production" BMS boards were still not quite 100% by the time we left the marina in May 2021.

When it became obvious in about August that our custom BMS wasn't going to be ready for prime time according to our schedule, we bought a commercially available BMS (Electrodacus SBMS0), which took 2 months to make it to the Philippines, and another several months to get wired up appropriately with protection circuits, etc. But at least I wasn't responsible if there was a glitch in the software!
The Custom Compression Box Dave Built

Even now, after 6 weeks of actively cruising with the new battery bank, we are still learning. But we are glad we made the switch--adding more capacity at far less weight (300 lbs less) than our previous gel bank.
The Finished Enclosed Battery Box

Staying Fit
We were fortunate to be locked down in the marina with another boat who were both Black Belts in karate. Mike and Liliane held some kind of workout session in the marina clubhouse 6 days a week--3 days a week for karate, plus 2 days of Jazzercisey strength and core exercise, and one day a week we took a long walk. After over a year of karate we 3 students ended up as Blue Belts. We normally did our workouts in the marina clubhouse, but occasionally we would vary the venue a little just for fun.
Working out in a Gorgeous Setting

We also had the resort pool completely to ourselves for months, as the resorts were closed due to lockdowns.

Dave couldn't be bothered to get up early enough for the morning workouts. He liked to do his workouts in the evening just before sunset... a half hour walk up and down the hill behind the marina, working out indoors in front of the TV, or an evening pool swim a couple times a week.

I ended up the lockdown period 10 lbs lighter and a lot stronger than I would have otherwise.

Social Life
The traditional very strong marina social life kind of fell apart during 2020. Sundays at Bahay Kubo, Wednesday night pizza, and Friday evening potluck, all eventually went by the wayside due to lockdowns, social distancing, and low numbers in the marina. Most Sundays, participation at Bahay Kubo was only 4 stalwart foodies (winos), as the restaurant was not officially open for most of the year due to COVID restrictions.
Looking Forward to Bahay Kubo on Sundays Kept Us Sane

For various reasons, we could never get more than 2-3 boats to participate in any "social event" that we dreamed up, including a BYO dinner poolside at the resort (when the resort was closed). Even when we managed to restart "pizza night" by having pizza delivered, only a few people stuck around to socialize on the balcony after the pizzas were delivered. I sure missed the pre-pandemic social life!

We were really grateful when Wind Hog held a very nice Christmas Party on their boat, and invited everyone in the marina. We all brought masks, but after the first round of drinks, they went into our pockets (we were all outside on deck and in the cockpit). Wonder why the mayor initiated the Liquor Ban that we hated so much?
The Wind Hog Christmas Party

US News and the 2020 Election
When not working on the boat, we enjoyed/suffered through catching up with US News by watching CNN on the TV, and NBC Nightly News on the computer. The spectacle of Trumpism flourishing in our country left us speechless at times, and often made us embarrased for our country.
Our President Making Official Announcements

And Leading Us Through This Crisis

We made sure our status as absentee voters in Florida was solid, and faxed in our absentee ballots during the early voting season. And we verified that our votes were received and counted. We are hoping that "voting reforms" will not disenfranchise us in the next election.

Online Check to Make Sure our Absentee Vote
was Received and Counted

Towards the end of 2020, Indonesia appeared to be opening up somewhat, and we hoped to be able to enact our 2020 plans in 2021. However, uncertainty over when we would actually complete our battery project caused us to miss that window. Indonesia closed the special cruising permit again in early January 2021.