December 31, 2014

Emergency Aboard

All is calm this morning, if a bit sombre. Police boats are coming in from the Air Asia crash site—a tragic location we were set to sail through, but then the weather deteriorated and we turned back, abandoning our passage to Malaysia. The solemn parade of boats is matched by a quiet gratitude aboard Ceilydh though. Turning back may have done more than just keep us out of bad weather; it may have kept Evan out of serious harm.

Sailing in bad weather (with a seasick wife) tends to be a bit of an endurance sport for Evan. Sometimes he forgets to do the little things, like drink water. After a busy day of sail adjustments and pounding to windward we were back at anchor and ready to call it a night. The next morning though Evan woke up clammy and dizzy; a short while later, blood drained from his face and he collapsed. Luckily Sarah and I caught him as he went down.

As we steadied him, it was clear he was confused. He complained his heart was racing but when we tried to take his pulse it was so erratic it was hard to find. Pale and lethargic we set him up on the settee with rehydration drinks and began to look at our medical books. We carry Medicine for Mountaineering and two different Ship’s Captain Medical Guides. All pointed to some type of arrhythmia and indicated we should try to get outside medical advice.

Medical care in Borneo is poor. In an emergency the best option is considered evacuation. When you’re a cruiser though, especially in a really remote location with no marinas or other cruisers for backup, evacuation is a last ditch move. I also didn’t have a clear idea of how I would physically get Evan from the settee, into the dinghy and on to shore—if it came to that. Even with three of us—this could have been a difficult manoeuvre.

Our other option was to call for help from one of the Air Asia recovery boats—but we didn’t want to pull a boat off the crash site unless Evan’s condition was truly an emergency.

Fortunately I belong to a really excellent web-group of women sailors who are based around the world. When I put a call out for medical help I was inundated with support, information and advice and put in direct contact with medical experts who walked us through how to get a sense of how ill Evan was and at what stage we needed to get outside help. His pulse had no clear rhythm but stayed between 70-80 beats a minute—which apparently was a good sign. He also made slow improvements through the day—finally being able to sit up after four hours and stand unassisted (if unsteadily) after about six.

As we worked through our crowd-sourced medical intervention, it was clear that our seemly well-stocked medical kit had a few holes. I know how to take blood pressure—but the cuff and stethoscope we used to have became toddler toys and disappeared somewhere along the way. Also our medical-grade rehydration drinks had been used up and never replaced. We made rehydration drinks with salt, sugar and water and multivitamins—but having extra potassium and magnesium would also have been handy.

By dinner time Evan was steady enough to eat. His pulse was still abnormal but the dizziness had eased. Being New Year’s Eve he opted to skip the champagne but did manage to help set off early fireworks and blow the New Year’s horn. Then we danced a dance of gratitude.

Here's to 2015--a year of health and happiness and friends and family
Our emergency was a reminder that our first step in safety aboard is all about preparation and self-care. Evan will be following up with a full check-up in Malaysia—but this morning his pulse is steadier and strong and he feels well. We are incredibly grateful that the women from Women Who Sail were so generous with their time, expertise and support. We’re a very long way from home—but through our scare we felt very close to a network of caring people from around the world.

Visiting the Relatives--Orangutans in Borneo

Our bright green and yellow Klotok slowly chugged up the river, easing past floating islands of water hyacinths and skirting the edge of the dense swampy jungle. This river trip, to see the orangutans of Borneo, is one we’ve dreamed about for years. And with our private boat, friendly crew and delicious meals—the trip was even better than hoped.

home away from home--complete with great meals, crew and a wonderful guide
Even still, station one, our first stop, was a bit of a surprise. All the photos I’ve seen of the orangs give an up-close and personal feel that somehow seems unstaged. What we found was a feeding platform set in the jungle and roped off from a set of benches. The orangutans were called (yodelled for?) by the guides after food was set out—giving the whole thing an animal-show-at-the-zoo vibe. But when the apes began swinging in from the jungle, crossing over our heads and cautiously sussing out the setting before grabbing a handful of bananas, it was clear that while these former orphans and illegal pets were habituated to humans—they’re still wild animals.

juvenile trying to get away from the boar

the wild boars can kill small orangutans--so mama grabbed a stick and whacked this one
Tanjung Puting National Park was first set aside by the Dutch Colonial government in the 1930’s—to protect the resident orangutans and proboscis monkeys. In 1971 Camp Leakey was established by Birute Galdikas as a base for studying the wild Orangutans. But fairly quickly Indonesian officials began bringing her orphaned and seized orangutans and her work turned to controversial efforts to oversee their rehabilitation.

proboscis monkey
Tanjung Harapan, or station one, was originally a village. But when it was absorbed into the park boundaries and chosen as a quarantine and release site, the village was moved across the river. Until about 1995 some 250 wild born orphan and ex-captive orangutans were released here and in Pondok Tanggui, or station two. The great apes that were swinging over our heads (and in our friend Sarah’s case, peeing on her) were all the decedents of these original rescues.

at 5-7 years the little orangutans become independent
Knowing their history made seeing the animals living in the semi wild seem extra sweet. Watching the young ones come out of the canopy and scurry to the platform for milk and bananas felt beautifully familiar--like watching kindergarten kids grabbing a snack. Despite knowing that orangutans are one of our closest relatives (they share 97% of our DNA) it took watching a mama help her baby down form a tree and another teaching her baby to climb to feel the deep connection—right down to my DNA.

watching the mamas felt so familiar
We spent hours watching them. At Camp Leakey we didn’t leave the feeding station until dusk drove us away. And we felt so rewarded—seeing so many intimate moments between mother and child, and then having a breathtaking encounter with Tom, the alpha male as he swept past us, close enough to touch.

Tom the alpha male at Camp Leakey
Our trip back down the river came with even more wonderful moments: the sightings of six different wild and semi wild orangutans in the trees on the river banks.

Uning teaching her baby to climb--the most important skill an orangutan learns

Ex-captive and orphaned Orangutans are no longer released in Tanjung Putting because of the health risk to the wild and established populations. As we traveled down the river we sighted a mother and baby on the non-park side of the river, on public land which is being ferociously logged by illegal cartels planting oil palms. When I asked our guide, Rini what will become of them she was sadly straightforward with the harsh facts—unless the logging is stopped, they’ll die. The best case is a logger might rescue the baby, which would then go into a quarantine site and eventually rereleased in a safe place.

The problem is the lack of safe habitat. New release sites take community involvement. The village that was moved across the river from Tanjung Harapan, or station one, is developing a new release site on re-forested public lands. Other release sites border the park, but they are at constant risk of being logged.
Uning and Maia make eye contact
The hope comes with Indonesia’s new president Joko Widodo, who has pledged to halt the illegal clearing for palm oil. It also comes with each of us refusing to buy products that contain palm oil—which is found (and often hidden in) more than 50 percent of the goods we use every day, from shampoo to cookies…

The details: Our trip was arranged by Adi. He meets many of the boats that come into the river and his price was significantly lower than the internet quotes we got (and our food seemed better than many of the other boats!)
His number in Indonesia is 0822-5553-1505. The price for the four of us with all meals, guide, boat crew and even a guard for our boat was 7,800,000 rupiah ($618 US) plus tips.
A wild baby orangutan--who was unlucky enough to be born on the wrong side of the river

December 25, 2014

Ho ho ho from Borneo

What happens when three heathens and a Jew set off from Bali across the Java Sea to Borneo in the middle of Hanukkah? Light winds and pleasant days, it turns out. We’ve been worried about being the last boat through Indonesia this season. Perhaps we’ve been lucky, but the weather has been pleasant and easy for most of our trip and our thought is if you’re leaving Australia late, don’t fret too much. The bonus of being later in the season is you’ll have just about every anchorage to yourself and the flies…

colourful boats and spa day
To date our passages have been similar to those we’ve read about; light winds and the occasional rain squall. We dodged one particularly intense squall (lightning but not wind) on our way to Kumai. But most of our days were spent admiring a flat sea and the flamboyant fishing boats that ply the waters. Here and there we got a few hours of sailing but it stayed pretty calm the whole way across. Each evening we lit the Hanukkah candles and Sarah tried to teach Maia the ancient prayers. When it turned dark, we watched the AIS for big ships, and squinted into the dark for signs of fishing boats and tugs.

Rain of biblical proportion greeted us when we arrived in Kumai, making us wonder just how much rain there really is in rainy season. But as we settled into our anchorage and finally started our Christmas preparations (decorating, wrapping gifts and turning Indonesian meat into mince for our Christmas Eve tourtiere) the sun shone. And then we were visited by Adi, who is arranging our tour to Camp Leakey—to see Orangutans and who’s also getting us diesel and having our laundry done. Goodness, we’ll miss Indonesia…

Christmas Eve, on an exotic river, in a far away land was kept familiar with traditions we’ve accumulated along our journey. We added a new movie (how did I miss “A Christmas Story”?!) and Dylan Thomas’ reading “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”. And we ate tourtiere and Maia’s Christmas treats.

Maia, the teen goes to bed later than Maia the kid used to do, so the grownups stayed up longer than planned. Christmas morning we were woken at 4am morning by a chorus of Muezzins calling out across the Kumai River, drowning out the soothing jungle sounds. The Muezzins woke Charlie the cat, who woke Maia the teen (who’s still a child at Christmas), who rewoke us, and by 6am, as the Muezzins began their second call (which we’re guessing had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus), we were opening stockings. By 8am the gifts were open and our 6th Christmas afloat (and our second with our dear friend Sarah) was well underway.

We’re so grateful that we have this incredible opportunity to spend familiar holidays in unfamiliar places; to mix the wonder of the world with the comfort of home. We’re reminded of the friends and family we deeply miss, and those we’re yet to meet, and wish each of you the happiest of Christmases.

December 17, 2014

Searching for Bali Ha'i

At the risk of offending all the Bali lovers out there, I have to say it; we don’t love Bali. Part of the reason is as boaters we didn’t long to arrive here from a foggy winter somewhere. And our first view of the sky meeting the sea isn’t from a hotel room window in a nice neighbourhood. Instead we come to Bali through a polluted harbour that’s located on the wrong side of a garbage dump.

Garbage in Bali is as much of the landscape as Gunung Agung, as it sticks its head out from a low-flyin' cloud. There was a sign on the beach in Kuta apologising for the trash in the surf and explaining the floating plastic bags were a ‘natural phenomenon’ linked to rainy season… Yesterday we watched dolphins leaping through an island of plastic. When we swim we need to swat bags out of the way.

Bali is a handy place to have guests join us--our friend Sarah has arrived for a few weeks on the boat
But for us, the bigger loss is with the people. We’ve met some of the kindest people we’ve ever encountered in Indonesia, people who continuously make us fee like honoured guests and who seem invested in making us feel like we’ve found something special. We still catch glimpses of the kindness here (the fisherman who came out in the pouring rain to guide us past Lovina’s reef last night for instance) but mostly the saying we encountered on our first day holds true, “Westerners come to Bali for peace of mind, Indonesians for a piece of your wallet…”

We were pretty impressed with our newly acquired Batik skills
Looking past the garbage and the hawkers we still saw some of the Bali that people love so much. We happened upon an incredible driver, Made Sumartana who toured us around for a few days. We gave him our wish list and he took us through the insane traffic to temples that looked over volcanoes, to rice paddies and batik lessons (not to mention massages and grocery shopping).

In the quiet moments he told us about his life as a Balinese Hindu and explained some of what we saw around us. It felt like if we stayed longer and searched more deeply under the surface that maybe the Bali people dream of was still here. We could also imagine Bali before its most recent tourism boom. Not sure when it happened but for Aussies this is the place to come and get stupidly drunk while for busloads of Chinese tourists this seems to be the place to shop and then make the bathrooms really messy.

A huge benefit of Bali is all the options for stuff to do--Maia took a great trapeze class (that's her flying through the air!)
Maybe Bali has called to too many people over the years. And maybe rather than finding their own special island everyone has flocked to the one with an international airport. But for us BaliHa’i has slipped away. We’ll sail on and find our own special island.

Diving the Liberty wreck

We did find a few great things in Bali:

If you are looking for a safe driver, Made Sumartana has a clean seven passenger mini van. For about $50 a day he’ll take you anywhere you’d like to go 0878 6172 5409 or imadesumartana74 at

We loved our traditional Batik class with Nyoman Deking. $45 for a three hour class in his lovely garden. Dekinga at

December 4, 2014

Local Visitors

We’re anchored in the pretty islands off the south western peninsula of Lombok. Sailing canoes regularly glide past, dodging the pearl farms and fishing platforms, and last night we heard at least four competing muezzins calling people to prayer.

It’s very different here than the regions of Indonesia we’ve been traveling through-and not just because it’s green. There’s much more industry; with dozens of pearl farms on the water and illegal gold mining in the hills. There’s also more tourism; each island seems to have some sort of small resort or guest house.

The other big difference is we don’t seem to be a novelty anymore. We’ve seen a half-dozen cruising boats in the distance and since arriving on Lombok the only visitors we’ve had were six customs and immigration agents (somehow Kupang failed to formerly register us) and a dugong.

Visitors are both the pleasure and pain of Indonesia. When kids come after school, they’re the best and funniest entertainment ever, though when one boat comes, you need to be prepared for several more. We’ve also been woken at the crack of dawn one too many mornings with the call of ‘selamat pagi’ from the water. While the early hour can be trying, we tend to rally and rise because the visitors are often charming.
checking out the ships being built in Wera
 One common reason people seem to paddle out to the boat is to get a chance to practice English. In the shipbuilding village of Wera the local English teacher came out to see us twice. He was interested in chatting about politics and learning how other democracies work (Indonesia considered a new democracy and had a dictator until 16 years ago). He was also interested in knowing what we thought about Indonesia—how it might evolve and what steps it should take. When he left we gave him my spare (and very heavy) English Dictionary—a gift that brought him to tears.

Bian was very cuddly with all of us
On the pretty island of Medang a young coconut farmer called Bian was a regular visitor. He showed up early the first morning with a gift of coconuts and eggs with the hope he could speak English with us. Bian’s English was limited but (but not as limited as out Indonesian) so we spent a fun hour teaching each other the words for waves, wind, thunder storms and more.

it's been a while since we've seen this much green in one place
While he visited I wished for the umpteenth time that we had bought spare copies of our Lonely Planet Indonesian phrase book. Every Indonesian who has used it has been reluctant to let it go. If I had it to do again I’d be sure to buy a bulk pack of them or search online for a good phrase book—then make lots of copies.

It’s quieter without the calls of children and a little lonelier too—but I guess like the green hills and rain clouds it’s just a sign that we’ve moved on to another new adventure.