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Thursday, 10 August 2017

Thankfully, the discovery phase on Gjoa is done. The last two months here at Rebak Island Marina in Langkawi, Malaysia have passed in a blur. We still have a huge to-do list, this is a boat after all, but, we're through the 'must-do before leaving' items and ready to be on our way. It feels good!

We finally had some time to check out the island's resort, Vivanta. I tried to take some pictures of the resort, but, the light never seemed right. Here are a few from the resort's website to give you an idea.

Our birthdays are within three weeks of each other, so, we used this as an excuse to treat ourselves to dinner at the resort restaurant, Senari. The food was excellent, definitely the best meal we've had in Malaysia so far.

If we'd really wanted to splurge, we could have hired the Moon Deck for a private dinner for two.

The resort clientele seems to vary from week-to-week, but, is mostly between large, well-to-do, Indian families escaping their even warmer climate (we overheard somebody saying it was 50C at home in India), Chinese families and younger couples from traditional Muslim countries.

One week when it was mostly Indian families, there was a sumptuous wedding that went on for three days. Everybody was walking around dressed in their finest, women in richly coloured, beautiful saris, the men in finely tailored silk 'suits' and silk shoes with turned up toes. By comparison. all of us yachties schlepping around in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops looked like a bunch of slobs.

One thing I won't miss about this marina are these fish around the boat. They may look harmless, but, they are evil. They're usually hovering around, looking for a handout, but, we never feed them. I was leaning over the side, adjusting something, and this little devil spit right in my face! From a metre away, it hit the bullseye, right into my mouth and all down my shirtfront. Needless to say, my reaction was swift, lots of spitting out and jumping around.

There didn't seem to be many species of birds on the island, but, there were quite a few of these large hornbills, probably the most exotic-looking wild birds we've ever seen.

There are some nature trails on the island and on one evening walk, we came upon a large family of monkeys. There were lots of young ones who seemed as curious about us as we were about them. They came very close to us and we contemplated each other for a long time. They were fascinating to see up close in their native habitat. However, as jungle 'newbies' we were probably a little naive. We later heard that monkeys, especially the large males, can be very aggressive and bite. A bite results in an immediate trip to a hospital for a rabies shot. We were advised to carry a stick with us next time.

The current plan is to leave Rebak and head north for a mini shakedown cruise to Phuket, Thailand before turning south, back through Malaysia/Indonesia and then on to Western Australia.

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Sunday, 6 August 2017

On the road towards departure, there had to be a few "stumbles" and there were. One that almost derailed our departure plans for the end of July was our Aquadrive installation.

An "Aquadrive" is a unit that joins an engine to its driveshaft. It acts sort of like a hip joint and allows movement between the two without them having to be perfectly aligned. A thrust bearing (on the right in the above photo) transfers the thrust from the propeller to a structural support. Then, two constant velocity (CV) joints, full of bearings and grease, transfer movement to the engine's gearbox.

A casual conversation, here at the marina, with the mechanic that installed the new engine and gearbox on the boat led to the question: "have you done your CV joints yet"? What? This vastly experienced mechanic warned us not to leave on any long trips without replacing them. After some further research, we learned that these units only have a lifespan of about 3,000 hours. The old engine in this boat had done almost 5,000, so, they were well past their lifespan and needed to be replaced.

That realization led us to a multi-continental, five country, two week search for replacement CV joints. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about makes and models of Aquadrive. Our unit turned out to be a 6070008, an obscure, short-shaft model that was only in production for a short time. Most dealers had never even heard of it. We were offered all kinds of "maybe" solutions to the problem, but, nobody had any parts in stock anyway. It seemed hopeless. Then, I contacted Halyard, the UK Aquadrive distributor. After listening to our problem (refreshing in itself), they referred me to a dealer that they said had a stock of old parts. Well, it seemed most unlikely, but, after contacting Steve at TW Marine, in the most unlikely place for a marine store, the Peaks District in the UK, it only took him five minutes to confirm that he had one, actually more than one, in stock! He said we were the first people to buy one in the 15-20 years they'd been sitting on his shelf. The price was very reasonable and we received the unit in less than a week. It was an easy replacement install, just three hours of installation time and we were done, just a few days before we planned to leave. We heaved a huge sigh of relief.

While waiting for the Aquadrive to get fixed we continued with other items, like checking out the SSB (single sideband radio). Powering it up brought more bad news. The Pactor modem wouldn't self-initialize and we confirmed with a dealer that it is dead and not worth repairing. A new one is at least C$2,000. Maybe we can pick up a used one. We'll leave the decision until later. We're using our Iridium satphone anyway to receive email and weather information at sea.

Next, we started route planning for our upcoming cruise to Australia. Charts, or, rather lack of charts, quickly became another big issue. On the boat, we found very few paper charts, all copies, so old and illegible that we had to throw them out. Luckily, a boat neighbour here in the marina is giving up sailing and sold us about 250 paper charts covering the area of our upcoming cruise. Then, we looked at the electronic charts. I had thought that the chip in the plotter had AU and the Pacific on it as there was an invoice onboard for one. Closer inspection revealed it didn't. There was absolutely nothing for Australia. As our departure date was getting close, this led to a mad rush to try and get electronic charts. Navionics for Australia seemed to be only sold on a regional basis and would be around A$2-3,000 to buy complete, so, we weren't going there. CMAP (whose charts I prefer anyway) had a Continental chip for all of AU/NZ for around A$320. Sounded great, however, we were unable to download the charts online due to residency, billing and payment issues (I should write a post (rant) sometime about how hard international shopping has become), so, had to get a physical chip delivered. In addition, for backup, I still wanted to update our iPad Boating App with the cheaper version of Navionics charts, but, was blocked again due to shopping restrictions. Still don't have a workaround for that obstacle.

Today, as I write this, everything has almost come together. We are only waiting for that final chart chip to be delivered and then we will be off on the next adventure.
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Saturday, 29 July 2017

We're now almost through our 'must-do before leaving' task list. There have been a few small successes.

The boat has been registered and renamed. The AIS has been reprogrammed and the epirb serviced.

We examined the rigging and made a few changes. One that felt good was getting rid of a boom extension that looked like it just wouldn't be able to handle any kind of accidental gybe without a potential structural failure. It also caused the main sheet to be angled well away from the traveler which weakened the connection between the two. The extension was originally necessary because the main sheet was unable to clear the bimini frame. Our solution was to chop nine inches off the frame. Sounds simple, but, it was actually a three day job as there was stainless to cut through and we had to shorten the fabric top on the bimini requiring restitching etc..etc...

We removed lots of old wire and aerials. Removing an old, unsealed, GPS aerial from the deck resulted in a rather large hole right through to the interior . Our temporary solution was just to bung a wooden plug in it. We'll have to get it welded properly later and watch our step in the meantime.

We installed new, deck-level navigation lights. The boat actually didn't have any, which was quite surprising. We prefer using deck-level lights inshore and a tricolour at the masthead when offshore. This job also took a few days to complete as we had to run wire from stem-to-stern. The lights are temporarily mounted on wooden panels. This will need to be redone when we can weld some aluminium mounting plates and get drill bits that are up to the job to finish it properly.

We installed an external Iridium antenna and cable. How hard can that be? Well, we measured and ordered a 10m cable (all the way from Seattle). When we installed it, there were so many twists and turns necessary to get around structural items that it ended up about 1m too short. We had to order another one.

We went through every nook and cranny. There were a few surprises, like the intact Hershey chocolate bar with a best-before date of 2003 and a few other long-forgotten food and toiletry items.

The boat came with newer (2015) electronics: two Raymarine chartplotters and a new radar that were networked together with older Raymarine nav instruments and autopilots. This sounds good, but, I knew I would have difficulty with the chartplotters as they were touchscreen-only models. I find touchscreens to be incredibly frustrating to use at the best of times. A lot of our sailing seems to involve cold and wet fingers covered with gloves. They just aren't going to work with a touchscreen. Even in the Raymarine manual, they reference "Erroneous Touchscreen performance" and recommend, in wet weather, "locking the touchscreen and using the physical buttons instead". Our model of chartplotter doesn't have any physical buttons. Locking the touchscreen means making it inoperable! After some research, the solution seemed to be to get a remote keypad, so, we ordered one, at a very large price.
When the keypad arrived, it did do the job and we were pleased with our solution, but, we had created another problem. There are only two 'network' ports on the back of the chartplotters and we now had more devices than ports. The solution, buy more hardware! So, we ordered a high speed network switch (router) and connected everything through that.

We like to keep it simple, but, unfortunately, we have now ended up with our very own local area network (ethernet) to maintain. It seems to be working ok, for the moment, time will tell.

We also ordered a printed paper manual for the Raymarine plotters as I like to have one available for quick reference. The products don't come with one anymore and I can see why. It arrived at 412 pages and was the size and weight of a brick.

The Lighthouse operating system is full of "feature bloat". Documented in the manual is how to operate connected thermal cameras, fishfinders, 3d downvision sonar, wifi, audio and media player and more. Installing and operating all this "stuff" wouldn't leave much time for sailing. In reading through, though, I couldn't help but be seduced by the availability of two features that looked possibly worthwhile: sailing laylines and AIS target interception graphics. Our installed software was an older version of that documented in the manual, so, a dreaded software update was required to get the new features. Actually, surprisingly, it went off without a hitch.

Our last Raymarine purchase was their Voyage Planner software. Inexpensive, but, clunky to use. However, it allows you to quickly create routes and waypoints on your laptop. Then, the laptop can be connected directly to the router to load the information to the chartplotters.

There were, of course, also a few stumbles along the way, one of which, our Aquadrive installation, almost derailed our plans for starting our cruise at the end of July. More on the "stumbles" in the next post.

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Tuesday, 25 July 2017

We've been on our new boat for a few weeks now. We're at Rebak Island Marina, in Langkawi, Malaysia. Langkawi is also an island just off the mainland peninsula of Malaysia (look for the red 'x' on the map below).

Rebak Island is a private island of 390 acres containing a five-star resort, Vivanta by Taj. Rebak Island Marina is part of the resort, but, is quite separate and feels like another world even though it's only a short walk between the two. The resort is very expensive and probably very nice. It certainly seems popular and is very busy. The marina facilities are not so nice, the toilets and showers are filthy, the hot water is intermittent and only half of the toilets and showers work. You have to watch for frogs, centipedes and small geckos that need to be shooed out before using the facilities. In spite of this, the perfectly protected marina basin is very popular.

There is no swell, or, current and only a small tidal range. The 24 hour security and water access only, from Langkawi, makes it a secure place to leave a boat either in the water, or, on the hard. Langkawi is also a duty-free zone, meaning boat parts can be ordered from abroad without duty to pay. There are lots of Brits and Aussies here, a few Germans, French and some Chinese boat owners.

As marina residents we can use some of the resort facilities, like the restaurants and pool, but, we haven't even been over there yet. This is because we've entered the twilight zone again, not the van conversion one, but, the one known as the 'new boat discovery phase'. All new boatowners are familiar with that one. It's when, after you've discovered a few faults, or, things you didn't see on your pre-purchase visit, that you curse yourself for buying this piece of c...p and paying way too much for the privilege. We've been through this before and we know that after a few weeks things will settle down and we will again appreciate the reasons that we bought this boat in the first place.

We thought the campervan conversion was difficult in the heat of Hervey Bay, Australia. We didn't know how much worse it could get.  Here in Langkawi, we are only about 350 miles north of the equator and living in a very protected basin in which there is very little wind. It just bakes, day in and day out. It's like living in a sauna smothered in a wet blanket. After ten days of no sleep, daytime misery and with thoughts of having to work inside small, hot spaces inside the boat, we couldn't cope and broke down and bought an air conditioner. We've never had a/c before and generally would prefer not to have it, but, it has been a godsend, just a small 9,000 btu 'window' unit is keeping the boat dry and around 25C. We've stuck it in a hatch on deck. It made the thought of working inside the bowels of the boat a little more palatable. It does mean that it will take even longer now to acclimatize because we've become a/c hostages and avoid going outside if we don't have to!

Our 'discovery phase' usually consists of at least the following activities:

  • identify required changes (regulatory requirements etc.)
  • identify desired changes
  • discover and document every item of equipment on board
  • locate or obtain user manuals for each item
  • determine maintenance requirements for each item and make a maintenance schedule
  • decide on what spares should be carried, make a list of what we've got and what we have to get
  • determine what consumables are used by each item and determine quantities to be carried
  • go through every nook and cranny on the boat determining where the wires and pipes go
  • locate and examine all the pumps and through hulls and draw location maps
  • exercise all systems and equipment on board through various scenarios
  • check all safety items are in place
  • make a predeparture checklist
  • make a storage contents map and index
  • draw plumbing, electrical and electronic schematics (including critical fuse locations)
  • organize a ship's library of equipment binders and information
  • make standard operating procedure, commission and decommission manuals
  • prepare a logbook
  • identify and list all charts, electronic and paper

Finally, after getting through the above activities, we make a to-do list, sorted into 'must-do now before leaving', 'do later' and 'nice-to-do in future'. We've given ourselves two months for the discovery phase and completion of the 'must-do now before leaving' items. It may seem a long time, but, we've been working hard at it every day and the days just fly by. We're just about half-way through the 'must-do now before leaving' items. It looks like we'll be on target to be out cruising by the end of July. We'll see...

It's been a slog so far, but, there have been some rewarding results as well. A big job was reconfiguring the electronics and navigation station. We are very happy with the result as we've restored one of the best features of this boat, its 360 degree exterior view while seated at the nav table. Now, we can see over the top again!

As part of this process we removed a lot of old equipment and wire. 'Chasing wire' as I call it, is actually a very satisfying process. It starts out as an omg! moment, when you first open it up and look into a pile of looped spaghetti. After a few days of going through it, wire-by-wire, playing detective, it starts to make some sense. There are always lots of surprises along the way: wires that have been spliced to a different colour half-way through the run, wires that lead to a dead-end, or, connect to dead equipment, wires that aren't connected, or, poorly connected, wires that have been cut-off and left hanging etc.

Generally, though, we were impressed by what we saw. This boat is built like a tank and it definitely showed everywhere we looked.

The insulation all looked extremely well done. Almost too well done, as it was impossible to run any new wire anywhere.

The discovery phase is a lot of detailed work, but, pays off in the long run. When you know your boat, its equipment and systems you start to feel somewhat confident you'll at least know where to start looking when there's a breakdown, or, systems emergency on board.

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Thursday, 13 July 2017

It was an uneventful drive to Lakes Entrance, about four hours east of Melbourne, where we'd be leaving our van while we headed to Malaysia to take possession of our new boat. Lakes Entrance is the name of the town and that's exactly what it is, an entrance from the sea into Australia's largest series of inland lakes, the Gippsland Lakes,

The entrance (exit?) was originally a natural feature that only flooded from the sea occasionally. It is now open to the sea permanently. This allows direct ocean access for Australia's largest fishing fleet. In the photo above, you can see a dredger parked in the middle of the channel. This work is ongoing as the entrance continually silts up and there are treacherous sandbars reaching outside the entrance to grab unwary mariners without local knowledge of the constantly shifting seabed.

It's a pretty spot and a very popular in-season holiday destination.

The town has a long, somewhat tacky seafront parade, but, there are also some sophisticated and interesting dining spots.

We enjoyed a lovely, but expensive, fresh fish and chip lunch at another over-the-water establishment and soaked up the sunshine of a beautiful day. The outside dining room was upstairs and the fishing boat pulled up and unloaded the fish downstairs, can't get much fresher than that. We followed lunch with a walk on the long, beautiful beach that had sand the consistency of a fine, soft powder. Then, we headed back to the van and our lakefront campsite where we had to start picking through our possessions to decide what was staying and what we'd be taking to Malaysia and the boat, our new home.
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Thursday, 6 July 2017

We were now heading southeast, on our way to the Melbourne area, having just left Adelaide. We'd seen a lot of coastline and there were a few highlights, but, the much-hyped 'Great Ocean Way' (you know, the famous one where they show the collapsing seastacks called the 'Twelve Apostles') was unfortunately, a Great Disappointment.

This picture isn't of the famous view, it's a little further along from here. The famous view was so crowded you couldn't even get into the parking lot for all the tour buses. From the road we could see a huge mob of selfie-taking people on the viewing platform and we just kept driving!

There were other interesting things to look at, like this group of pelicans, which were fascinating to watch as they preened themselves on the seashore.

Having enjoyed ocean views for a while we were looking for a change of scene. We read about an old gold rush town, Walhalla, in our guide book. It sounded interesting, so, we went inland and up into the hills for a look. It was a typical gold rush town, most of the original buildings had been quickly built of wood and haven't endured, but, there was enough left to get a feel for what was once there. The town had done a good job with interesting historical plaques and we spent an enjoyable morning just walking around the town and soaking up the historic ambiance.

Gold was discovered here in 1862 and the town was quickly built in the surrounding, steep valley. The population soared to 5,000 at its peak and there wasn't much room to expand. A lot of the buildings, like this one, which was the original hospital, had to be built higher and higher up the side of the vertical slopes. It would have looked very different during the town's building phase as the hills were stripped totally bare of trees at that time.

The population dwindled to just ten people in 1998. Many of the original founders can be found in the local cemetery, also built on the side of a hill, so steep that the graves seem to be barely hanging on!

Now, a day out just wouldn't be complete without having a look at the local birds we encountered. Here are two we hadn't seen before.

The best part of the day was finally seeing a kookaburra in the flesh. Since arriving in Australia, we'd often heard the kookaburra's maniacal 'laugh' off in the woods and it always brought a smile and spot of brightness to the day. However, we'd never seen one. Walhalla seemed the most unlikely place to get a closeup view, but, this one just sat and seemed to pose for us. What a charmer. Surprisingly, it looks rather like a fluffy kingfisher with a brushcut. Although I don't think this is a particularly good example, you can listen to a kookaburra's 'laugh' at  laughing-kookaburra (click on the audio file at the bottom of the page) or, you can listen and learn about many other birds at the same website, Birdlife Australia):

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Thursday, 29 June 2017

From this gorgeous tree in blazing fall colours you'd think we were home, in Ontario, in October. Well, we're not, it's May and we're in Clarendon, South Australia. Having stumbled upon this place, through serendipity, we were delighted by it and it did make us feel a little homesick, but, in a good way.

Clarendon is a small town in the Adelaide Hills, about 25–30 km south of the Adelaide city centre. The Clarendon Weir is located in the town area on the Onkaparinga River. We were on our mini road trip from Brisbane to Melbourne, via Adelaide and had just whizzed by Adelaide, promising to revisit and look at the city in more depth when we return this way later on. We were heading for one of the free campsites shown on our camping app and were stunned to find this little enclave, resplendent in colour and scenic beauty.

The weather was slightly cool (we had long sleeves and long pants on for the first time in months), but, sunny, dry and great for walking the small main street. There were only a few shops, including a wonderful bakery with a bench outside that was perfect for sitting on while stuffing your face with the old-fashioned, home-baked, goodies purchased inside. The houses were very unique and charming. These are just a few examples.

And hey, the birds weren't bad either!

We strolled back to the van, past a hillside vineyard and along the riverbank. It was a wonderful respite from road travel and one of the nicest places we've been to so far in Australia.

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