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 PacificWrecks.com. 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 http://svsoggypaws.com/electricalsystems.htm)

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 Instructables.com. 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.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Back in the Philippines

Over the last couple of months, we made our way from Papua New Guinea, through NE Indonesia, and back to our marina in Davao, Mindanao, Philippines. Our total mileage for the year is a little over 7,000 nautical miles. It was a long and busy trip.

We've just spent 2 weeks doing maintenance and getting ready to leave the boat for a couple of months. We fly out Monday and will be back in late January/early February to get the boat ready for another foray into Indonesia.

I do plan to try to fill in the highlights of our trip down to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, so keep checking up on us here!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Exploring Marovo Lagoon

Exploring Marovo Lagoon
April 22-May 7, June 11-12, July 3-16

Our Tracks (Red Lines) Through Marovo Lagoon
Note lack of detail on chart!
Our Tracks (Red Lines) in the N side of Marovo
Note all the reefy areas! (Click on picture to expand)

We had been hearing about Marovo Lagoon ever since we had a "Tell us about the Solomon Islands" session with cruising friends in Palau in 2014. We were finally there, and in 3 visits during April, May, June, and July, we thoroughly explored the entire lagoon area.

Following Indigo on our First Foray into Marovo Lagoon

On our visit April 22 to May 8, we were on a mission to get further south and east before the SE Trades started increasing--supposedly this was around May 15. So we didn't do as much exploring as we'd have liked to, but we did cover the highlights.

Our first stop was Matikuri, where we'd had a number of reports of the Matikuri Lodge and it's welcome from other cruisers. Sadly, the driving force behind Matikuri Lodge had passed away a few years earlier, and the rest of the family fumbled the ball. A few bad reports on Trip Advisor from disappointed tourists, plus new logging activity in the area, and it was barely operating. They did have 2 guests while we were there, and we managed to get them to make us dinner one night. And we hired them to take the 7 of us to snorkle the small boat tunnel to the WNW of Matikuri Lodge.

Our Anchorage at Matikuri

And a Gorgeous Sunset


We never stopped at Matikuri again, as we found the anchorage pretty buggy (small black flies, not mozzies).

We did a day stop at Seghe, the main town (with an airport). Liz wanted to mail a letter to her mum, so we set about finding the post office. It turns out that there is not one, but we were directed to a small store at the SDA end of the village. The proprieter of that store handled the mail--either putting it on the several-times-a-week Solomon Airlines flight, or on the twice a week freight/ferry. He had no stamps but assured Liz that her letter would get stamped and mailed when it reached Honiara.

The Non-Descript Town of Seghe

The Seghe Airport (A Grass Strip)

We were surprised to find pretty good cell coverage in Marovo. A few places had only a glimmer of a signal, but most places, if we got our phone up high, we had enough signal so that we could do light internet, using our phone as a hotspot. The only challenge was keeping credit on the phone. For some reason, the Solomons Islands are excluded from the countries that our online topup site would work with (Ding.com and associated Ding app). Ding has worked in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, but it doesn't work in the Solomons. That meant we had to find someone who could sell us top-up. Sometimes we had to give money to someone with our phone number written on a piece of paper, and they would hike to the next village and purchase credit for us from a tiny store that had both My Telekom credit, and signal.

And if you weren't careful and let your data package run out or expire, it would run through all your credit and you were out of business. This happened to me twice before I got smart and kept the credit on Dave's phone (he didn't do data), and only transferred it to my phone when I was ready to buy a data package.

So we bought some top-up from a store in Seghe, also gasoline, and a few veggies. The first time through Seghe, there was a nice but very small veggie market on the south side of the island, near the store where we bought a few things and some dinghy gas. The next time, when I really needed veggies (Saturday morning when my daughter was flying in for a week in Marovo), the market was not operating! Apparently the big market is Friday, and Saturday is the day off.

We stopped for a day at legendary Uepi Dive Resort on the north side of Marovo Lagoon. (Note: Uepi is pronounced several ways by people in Marovo... some say Yoo-pee, some say Wee-pee, and some say Yoo-ee-pee, we're not sure which is correct!)

This is a beautiful exclusive resort where people pay ~$300 per night for a room and $100 per dive. We didn't expect to go diving, but did hope to go in for dinner. But we didn't have a great experience there. First, as we were trying to anchor in a sand spot (avoiding the coral patches carefully), a boat came out and told us we couldn't anchor there because we were on a heavily traveled route and boats traveled through there at night. (false, it turned out). Dave asked where we should anchor, and the boat led us to a deeper corally spot, and closer to the resort! It was stupid, seemed like just harassment.

But it was Dave's birthday, so we really wanted to go in for dinner. We cleaned up and put on our best yachtie dress-up clothes and took the dinghy in to look around. The workers at the dock were friendly enough, but when we went in and tried to make a reservation for dinner, we were told they couldn't accommodate us. What about the next night? Nope. We never did get to meet/talk to the owner/manager--just an underling who couldn't make a decision on her own. The owner/manager was "unavailable". Probably some yachtie took advantage of the situation some time in the past, and screwed it up for the rest of us... That's why we (and Seven Seas Cruising Association) emphasize the need for leaving a "clean wake". One bad deed by one yachtie can screw it up for all yachties for years to come.

We did enjoy the weekly carver's display at Uepi. The resort permits all the local carvers to come one day a week to exhibit their carvings. They are strictly regulated by the resort as to negotiating tactics, etc, so as not to bother the guests. This is a great place to see all the best carvings in one spot. But because it is held at an upscale resort, the prices that the carvers are asking tend to be fairly high.

An Exquisite Bowl with Shell Inlay

Several Items Including an Ebony War Canoe

A Muzu Muzu Carved out of Ebony

Nearly every carver had Muzu Muzu's for sale. These were traditionally mounted on the bow of the war canoe, and when the canoe was going out to collect heads, the man had a skull in his hands (this one has a bird, which signifies peace).

A Wall Hanging of the "Spirit of the Solomons" Style

Many carvers also had "Spirit of the Solomons" carvings, depicting the many facets of Solomon Islands life. Some were carved as wall hangings and some as stand-up statues.

From Uepi, we took a break from carvers and canoes and anchored off a beach near Lumalihe Pass. We took the dinghies out for a snorkel on the outer wall. The water was very calm and clear. I would have like to stay another day and make a dive there, but Dave and our buddies wanted to press on to the next carver village.

The next stop after Lumalihe was looking for the world renowned carver called "John Wayne" in Telina Village. We're pretty sure that that's not his real name, but it is the name that all the cruisers passing through over the years have referred to him as. Supposedly he is/was the best carver in Marovo. But we were a little disappointed in what he showed us. Apparently most of his carvings are already consigned and he didn't have a lot on hand.

Dave Looking at Rocky's Artifacts

We did really enjoy meeting his nephew, Rocky, who lives on the island just offshore of Telina. Rocky is a very talented and imaginative carver. He is not happy to just keep making the same tourist pieces, but is more of an artist exploring his art. He showed us the book he was studying, with pictures and sketches and mythology from early explorers in the Solomons.

Rocky's Oceanic Mythology Book

A Collection of Some of Rocky's Carvings

One of Rocky's "Spirit of the Solomons" Carvings


The next day we moved 2 miles east to Cheke Village. A couple of the Cheke carvers had come out to visit us in their canoes when we were anchored at Lumalihe Pass, and we had put them off then by saying "We'll come visit your village later." "Later" came quickly and as soon as we dropped our anchor, visitors came by in their canoes.

A Drone Shot of our Fleet at Cheke Village

A Close Picture of the Point at Cheke Village

They are quiet and respectful but very canny in their dealings with visiting yachts. We had trouble saying "no" even when we had acquired way too many carvings or didn't need any more veggies. But it is exhausting having visitors stop by.

Veggies for Sale!

More Carvings!

We Call These Kids "Lolly Hunters"

Often they will pilfer a few fruits or veggies from their family garden, and come out seeking "lollies"

One we didn't buy, that we wish we had

All of the villages are on the "mainland" island of Vangunu Island. There are no villages on the outer rim, though all the reefs and islands are owned by someone. The villages stay on the mainland due to a lack of water on the outer islands. But men and families in dugout canoes travel all over the lagoon under paddle power. There are a few motor boats--each village owns at least one--to go the long distance into the main town of Seghe.

So, when we wanted to take a break from all the visitors, we headed back out to the outer rim. This time we anchored on the NE side in a place called Pore Pore. We didn't have any other cruiser's tracks going in, but we did have good satellite pictures. We found a gap in the reef that was 8-10 feet going in over the reef, and then it deepens out to 20-25 ft nice sand, off a pretty beach. AND NO VILLAGE! We stayed a day there the first time and came back twice more later for several days at a time.

Pore Pore Anchorage


The final stop on our first pass through Marovo Lagoon was a village called Mbili. (pronounced Billy with a short mm at the beginning). The actual village is on an island just outside the main lagoon rim. But the anchorage is inside the pass, next to a small dive operation called Solomon Dive Adventures. Lisa has been running a dive operation in Marovo for a bunch of years, but has moved locations several times. She is current located on a Tambapeava Island, just inside Mbili Pass.

The first guy out to see us in a canoe was Paul, and he offered to arrange a "showing" of carvings that afternoon, so all the villagers could put out there wares at once, and we wouldn't be inundated by canoes for the next 2 days.

The Mbili Carving Show



We stayed nearly a week in Mbili. It was a nice anchorage. Lisa was friendly, and even shared one of her favorite lagoon dive spots with us.

Lisa's Deck

The dive is called "Pipes" it the terrain is so-so, but the "critters" were pretty cool. We encountered 2 big, friendly octopi, and a bunch of other smaller critters.

A Very Curious Octopus


A Large School of Squirrelfish

Great Shot of a Hermit Crab

Lisa also arranged for us to take a trip up a "river" to see a family of canoe makers. The primary canoe maker moved out into an uninhabited area to be close to where the trees grow. He moved his extended family with him, and there is now a small school and several families with a lot of cute kids.

The Gang enroute to the Canoe Carver's Abode

The Channel Marker for the River Entrance

At the Canoe Maker's Village

Everyone Wants Their Picture Taken

Checking out their Pictures on the Smartphone

A Canoe in the Making

Shaping the Canoe

More Shaping

And We Buy a Souvenir


There are two weekly ferries that transit Marovo Lagoon in both directions, they leave from Honiara and go to Gizo, making several stops in the Lagoon, including a stop near Mbili, and also at Seghe. They turn around in Gizo and head right back to Honiara. It would be a cool way to see a good cross section of the Solomon Islands.

One of the Weekly Honiara to Gizo Ferries

We came back to Marovo Lagoon when daughter Nicki visited. More on their visit in another post.