Saturday, May 23, 2015

Our Favorite Places

Jake and all the local kids on Savannah.
Raroia, Tuamotus, 2011
Everywhere we go, the top question is "What was your favorite place?"  What a hard question!  Sixteen countries, more islands than we can count, beaches, caves, desert, sharks, crocs.  I say again, what a hard question!

But we have an answer...we have three answers.  For the most part Andy and I both agree that the Tuamotus, Micronesia, and Borneo were our favorites.  It's the order in which we would rank them that we differ.  A brief description of why we think they're our favorites.  If you want to relive it with us, just click on the links to go to our previous blogs (don't forget to click on 'older posts' if you want to see the full experience).

Tuamotus
Very hard to get to and extremely isolated, this is the place for lonely loners who love the water (i.e. Andy McKaskle)!  The diving was great, the people were friendly and for us, the weather was gorgeous.  The Tuamotus is a group of 90something atolls in the middle of the South Pacific ocean, technically part of French Polynesia.  We spent six weeks exploring only four atolls and had we not been running out of basic provisions like flour, rice, milk and beer (yes, beer was considered a basic provision), the captain would have stayed much longer (well, that whole visa thing would have been tricky, but you get the point).  Jake got to participate in the French Polynesian games at a local school in Raroia and Andy got some of the best shark pictures of his career in South Fakarava and Tahanea.  This was pretty early in our trip so I have to say I was still adjusting to the life.  While I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I had yet to be inducted into the hermit club, so I was desperately seeking girl time, grocery stores and civilization.

Micronesia
Most people we talked to outside of our little cruising life had no idea where Micronesia was.  I often described it as "half way between Hawaii and Japan."  Micronesia is what people think of when they think of the South Pacific (although it's not in the South Pacific at all).  Small islands, clear water, beautiful reefs, and locals who still fish for their food, pound out their taro and collect their own water.  I wrote several blog posts on our experiences there, so I won't repeat it all, but our time in Micronesia changed our outlook on life forever (we're still wondering why we didn't accept that plot of land in Yap).  And by this time, I was a full fledged member of the hermit club and was thoroughly enjoying the isolation provided by the remoteness of these beautiful islands.

Borneo
Having just visited the Philippines, we were acclimated somewhat to the SE Asian way of life, but our visit to Borneo was our first introduction in to the melting pot of cultures that exist in this part of the world.  Malaysians, Indians, and Chinese... Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus, all living in harmony (somewhat).  And the food.... wow, the food.  But most of all, we enjoyed all of the eco-type activities available up and down the west coast.  Our favorite inland trip was visiting the Deer Caves but our favorite excursion was our 60 mile trip up the Rajang river.  The only downside to Borneo was the lack of clear, swimmable water (crocodiles were pretty much everywhere due to all the rivers).  But the beautiful landscape and people more than made up for that.

So there you have it...our favorite places.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Life after Savannah

We’ve officially been on land almost six weeks now (Andy only 3) and I have to say it’s been a whirlwind.  Things that were supposed to be hard have turned out to be easy and things that were supposed to be easy have turned out to be more difficult than I expected.  Let me explain…
One of the things I looked forward to most was having whatever I wanted at my fingertips.  Would you like to have some blueberries this morning?  Why of course, no problem.  Would you like ice in your tea?  Duh… no problem.  Oh, you need to run to the store real quick? Sure hop in my car.  Laundry?  Just push a button.  What I did not anticipate is the anxiety I would get with all of these things so readily available.   Mom sent me to the store to get her some olive oil and some Tide pods.  There were no less than 10 brands of olive oil and 5 different types of Tide pods.  Now I knew there would be variety, but I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to make a decision.  These situations happened several times a day…literally.  One time, I just walked out of the store empty handed…couldn’t pull it off.  Catching up with friends and family has been harder than I expected as well.  Everyone is so darn busy….slow down people!

Now the big stuff…buying a car, getting a job, finding a home….piece of cake.  We applied for a loan online, picked up a big honkin’ check at the bank two hours later,  stopped at a dealership, test drove the first car we looked at, and another two hours later we drove off with it.  And I’m still happy with that decision.  I don’t want to make light of the big decisions and appear like I haven’t done any work here, but getting a job was even a bit too easy.  I have a great friend who was looking out for me and as soon as I checked my email after landing from our 36 hour marathon trip home, I had a job lead.  Three weeks later, I had a job.  And a good one!  I like to think I earned that one, but boy did I throw some big “thank you’s” upstairs!  With a car and a job, the only thing left to do was find a place to live.  In true Andy and Monica style (don’t think too hard about anything or you might get stuck…remember the olive oil?), we hopped in the car, drove to Jacksonville and rented a house.  And that’s how we find ourselves, six weeks after landing back on American soil, sitting in Saint Augustine, Florida staring at each other with big eyes saying “what the….?  How did we get here?”

For all of those cruisers out there who worry about your exit plan, drop the worry…it’ll all work out.  The only thing we did that I am truly thankful for is we made the decision to come home BEFORE we were actually completely out of money.  That allowed us some freedom in buying the things we needed to get re-started (furniture, plates, towels, can openers…whatever) without being a burden on anyone else.

How are we adjusting mentally?  Pretty good, I think.  The quickness of it all has kept us from having time to dwell on everything too much.  We’ve been in Florida 3 days and Jake has already played kickball in the street with the neighborhood kids, caught his first freshwater fish in the pond behind our house and had a playdate across the street with some random kids he introduced himself to.  Andy has discovered that ice comes right out of the refrigerator door on demand and doesn’t really need to think about anything else.  I have re-discovered malls and all that goes with them.  We’re adjusting just fine.
As for Savannah…she’s in good hands with our broker in Langkawi and is officially on the market.  For anyone interested, here is the link to Yachtworld with all the information and details.  


We did get a chance to have some fun in Atlanta the short time we were there and I have some great pictures on my fancy dancy new iPhone (another really stressful purchase) but I can’t get them off…so I’ll keep trying and post them later.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Packing up and Coming home.

I had a follower not too long ago ask me to continue blogging as long as we were more or less closing things out, as not many people do that and the information as to how to "quit" just isn't out there.  I thought that was a good idea so here goes...my first post on the details of packing up and going home.

There are so many things that need to be done and so many emotions that goes with each one.  I tried/am trying to tackle the whole thing like a job.  Make a list, cross them off one by one.  No tears, no emotions, just get it done.  Yeah, right.

The first one we tackled was finding a broker.  I started the process months ago and had decided on one, then we went with another, then we changed our minds again...blah blah.  The point being, making the decision to sell your boat (home) and leave it in the hands of a total stranger, trusting that they will do what you've agreed to do is a very hard thing.  It's a bit different than selling a house, at least it is for us.  We'll be half way around the world with no one to turn to if things go awry.  It's not just the usual price, commission and marketing questions to worry about.  It's location of where you leave your boat; do you trust the locals, will it be more likely to be shown in one place vs. the other, what's the cost of the marina/yard, do you  haul out or leave it in the water.  The answer is different for everyone of course, but the decision process and the emotions tied to it are probably pretty similar.  We've finally landed in Rebak marina and feel pretty comfortable with the final decision.  We'll see what happens.  We may be eating crow in a few months.

The next item on our list was packing up.  Where does one find packing materials?  Do you ship by air or sea?  Who ships it for you?  What's that gonna cost us?  Luckily for me, we had a friend who unfortunately had to sell their boat in Malaysia a few years ago and they were kind enough to share their information, which allowed us to skip a few research steps in the shipping department.  Every person that came by would look at all of our boxes and ask us why we had so much stuff.  The cruising community prides itself in being minimalists and never being tied down, owning too much, etc.  In reality, about half the boats out there are just like us (probably more if I took a formal poll).  They have a lot of STUFF.  Not nearly what we had on land, but my goodness, how in the world we fit all those things in that little boat, I'll never know.  I think it might be a new skill to put on my resume.  Our water line went up well over a foot.  We ended up with 20 boxes and a table top (not the tabletop we were attached to, the one we tried to replace it with but couldn't ever quite get it finished.  In the end, I kind of like it too so I decided to ship it home).  We had to pull up to the dock (we were in the anchorage) and offload the boxes for the shipping company to pick up.  All I can say about that is yuck, yuck, yuck.  What could have been a pretty emotional process though turned out to be not so bad. It was hot, a few things were comical, and all in all, it was nice to get the ball rolling finally.

Our motto that day was "There's no turning back now, it's all over but the crying."  It's funny, the whole crying thing.  It hits you out of nowhere.  I'm not a huge crier (Andy might laugh at that, but that's because he's a man and once a year is too much), but my eyes would well up out of the blue when I thought about leaving.  When I would look around the boat and it was empty, I would be relieved one minute and the next I was grabbing a tissue.  I thought I had it all together until we put our suitcases in the dinghy and started pulling away.  What did me in was watching Jake.  He was trying so hard to suck it up and just deal with it, but he couldn't take his eyes off Savannah.  "It's the last time we're going to see her,"  yep.  He stood up in the dinghy and tried to watch her as far as he could before we got out of sight.  My heart broke for him.

Coming out from customs in Atlanta's International Airport.
That's my dad to the left. 
It's amazing what 10,000 miles can do for one's mood.  Once we landed in the good ole US of A, Jake started looking forward and with the exception of one little moment, he hasn't looked back.  I'm taking his lead and just pretending it's not happening and living our life one day at a time (if it happens on the other side of the world, did it really happen?).  The obvious positive of it all is that we're back with our family here in the states.  Chick-fil-a is just as I remember it, as is Target.  The Bass Pro Shop here in GA is a bit smaller than the ones Jake was used to in OK and VA, but they had what he wanted all the same.  Dishwashers and washing machines are just as magical as I had imagined.  All is going well.

I think that's probably enough throwing up on everyone for now (I don't even have cute pics to make my rambling easier to handle).  More to come...buying our first smart phone, finding a job (you mean I can't wear flip flops to the office?), Andy comes home (he's still with the boat), buying a car (I need a car?), etc.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

And we're back in the water!


I never thought this day would come but for the love of Pete (and some understanding immigration officials in Malaysia) we are finally back in Telaga.  After an uneventful launch from G&T we discovered our anchor windlass (with the new $800 motor) needed replacing.  We discovered this when it decided to quit working at 10:30 at night with the moon not yet risen.  Anywhoo…nothing a well placed mooring ball and a reliable credit card won’t fix (can you get a credit line increase without a job????).  Our trip was uneventful except for the strange emotions passing throughout the boat.  Knowing this was our last “cruise” together was bittersweet.  Thailand, not being our favorite place in the world, was a weird way to end it.  But I think we did our best and thanks to some McKaskle style provisioning and a goofy kid on board, we pushed through just fine.

So today we checked in to Malaysia (some day I’ll tell the story why that was a big deal) and tried to rent a car to do all the work horse type things we need to do, but no cars were available so we decided to be tourists instead.  We took a taxi (too much walking in Phuket made us quick to jump in the car) to the Oriental Village not too far from the anchorage and we did all the silly things we put off last time.  We rode the skycar up the hill to a beautiful view of the anchorage and marina and well, all of Langkawi.  We experienced a silly 6D film that had us riding a roller coaster through the desert.  Jake got to fulfill his dreams of running with the hamsters by zipping himself up in a plastic ball and running around a pond.  Don’t ask me the draw, but I’m glad he did it because I haven’t laughed that hard in awhile.  And finally, we rode the paciderms (aka Elephants!).



A great view of our anchorage
and the marina.  Andy tried to show where Savannah is.






I had high hopes as did the rest of the crew, but in the end, I felt sorry for the poor old elephant.  He looked run down and rode hard.  We took an extremely expensive 10 minute stroll through the “trail” and enjoyed the view from above and the whole novelty of it.  But in the end, it didn’t hold a candle to our 5 minute ($7) trot with the camels in Australia.  To be fair, we’ve been blessed with a lot of time with elephants…we used to live near and were very good friends with the elephant trainer in Norfolk, VA.  So we’re not new to the gentle giants.  But I kind of felt like I should apologize to the old guy for making him walk in circles for our enjoyment.  But we did “ride an elephant in Malaysia”  so CHECK on that box.




Speaking of boxes, tomorrow we pick up our first round (and hopefully ‘only’ round) of boxes to begin sending our stuff back to the US.  I don’t know if we’re sad or excited or anxious or just want to get the damn thing over with.  At any rate, it’s going to start tomorrow and be done in a few days.  In the meantime, Jake has met a few new friends and been enjoying the beach close by.  It’s cool being a cruising kid… a few kids come by in a dinghy, they say hi, you jump in, you tell your parents “we’ll be on channel 8” and off you go.  Andy and I actually circled the anchorage tonight wondering which boat he actually went to.  I think they’re now calling this “free range parenting” at home.   You don’t know how long I’ve been trying to fit that into a blog. 

I hope you all enjoy the pics.  We did.  More to come soon…packing out, shipping out, flying out and heading to the marina for the final listing.  Stay tuned.

Some pics of Jake for the grandparents and some updated pics of Savannah with her new lipstick on.






New Trampoline, wood, and fresh deck paint.

More new paint.

and more paint...

Shiny new transmission, the reason for all the woe.

New upholstery.





Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grasshoppers...it's what's for dinner.

One of the best things about Thailand is its food.  Everywhere you go, things are fresh, spicy, and just down right delicious.  The curries are amazing, the seafood is cooked perfectly, the veggies are fresh from the market.  For cruisers, the grocery stores carry everything anyone could ever want….fresh local food, imported meats, a variety of cheeses, seafood, you name it.  Out of all these choices, guess what Jake wanted for dinner?  Grasshoppers.  To be fair, the freezer he was making his choice from had much grosser things – water bugs anyone?  Or perhaps you would like to split a giant toad with your partner (complete with head)?  If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you know we indulge his inner Bear Grylls and buy these nasty things from time to time.  So that’s how we found ourselves having oysters and grasshopper po-boys for dinner tonight (I’m guessing folks in Louisiana aren’t cringing as much as the rest of you guys).

The oysters here in the Makro market come in the little round plastic tubs for 30 Baht per tub (about $1 USD) and they’re extremely fresh, so we eat them quite often.  The grasshoppers on the other hand were closer to 425 baht per kilo and of course you can’t get anything less than a kilo.  Jake has been asking for them every time we go to the store (although I’m not sure why…he had them fresh in OK and thought they were disgusting).  Since we were already going to have the oil hot tonight for the oysters, we relented and spent the $15 USD or so on the frozen grasshoppers (and I balk when Andy buys a ribbye at $15/pound). 

fried grasshoppers don't make a very pretty picture, but you get
the idea.

 When Andy opened the bag, we had to open the door to the little bungalow here to keep from gagging.  But he trudged on….into the oil they went.  So there was our table set…baguette, coleslaw, fried oysters, and big plate of fried grasshoppers, eyes and all.  Guess who didn’t like the grasshoppers?  Of course he didn’t!  He never likes these things…when will we learn?  Guess who cleaned their plate?  Yep…Andy and I…crunchy with a little bit of a smoky, burnt taste.  Not bad.  I hear that we can’t sustain our eating habits at the rate this world is procreating and we’ll all be eating bugs in a few years anyway.  We thought we would just get a leg up on everyone.  Cheers!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Hauled out in Thailand

Here we are about to come out of the water (pulled
by a tractor attached to a large cable).
We’ve been hauled out now for almost a month and with the exception of waiting on a new transmission, things seem to be going pretty well.  Before we came to Thailand, we did a lot of research on boat yards both here and in Malaysia.  We heard nothing but horror stories about Thailand – things taking twice as long as quoted, twice (or three times) the amount quoted, and even so much as holding your boat hostage until you pay more money – so we put a fair amount of effort into trying to find a yard in Malaysia.  Unfortunately, no one would respond to our emails and phone calls.  We decided that wasn’t a good sign and could be an indication as to how they ran their yard.  We had an appointment with a yard in Satun, Thailand (at the recommendation of a fellow cruiser) but then we met up with a couple that tipped us off to G&T.  Owned by Gerry and Toi (hence the ‘G&T’), it’s located in Phuket, just south of Apo Marina and specializes in catamarans, mainly because there is a huge mud flat that you have to cross at high tide.  We only had a meter under us when we hauled.  We emailed Toi and immediately got a response so we decided to go for it.

Halfway through powerwashing...dirty, dirty, dirty

So far, I’m impressed.  Immediately after we were out of the water, the guys went to work on the pressure washer and we met with Toi with our list of things we needed.  She’s a project manager type and got to work right away on lining up people for our needs.  We had an upholsterer and woodworker show up the same day and an appointment with a mechanic within the hour.  She directed us towards someone who would make us a new trampoline and immediately ordered our bottom paint.  




The primer is on...looks better already.

More primer for the front deck.  Jake likes the red.  He thinks
we should paint the whole boat that color.




Engine, sans transmission.  Still waiting.
A few weeks later and everything is pretty much finished with the exception of our transmission.  It took a week for the guy to show up and another week for him to tell us we needed new parts.  It took us nearly another week to find anyone who would call us back, only to find out it’s cheaper to get a whole new transmission than 6 tiny little parts.  So here we sit, waiting on a part to get from Holland to the US (MA to be exact…aren’t they snowed in?) and then from the US to Langkawi and then finally here to Thailand.  I have nothing good to say so I’ll just move on.

The only other bad experience we had was with the woodworker.  We had two fairly small projects – replacing the middle strip on our front deck (10 planks of hardwood) and a new table top (we’re quite attached to ours and want to take it home as a keepsake).  They quoted us 16,000 baht (over $500 USD) for the 10 planks and 16,000 baht for the table top (we didn’t even ask for legs!).  We said no and Gerry took Andy to a local wood shop.  We ended up getting the 10 planks for 3,000 baht ($100 USD).  Later, we found out they had tried to snow over some other folks as well.  They ordered (and charged them for) teak cabinets and they showed up painted.  When they made them take the paint off, they found out it wasn’t teak at all.  Oops….  So I say, if you’re in Phuket and looking for a woodworker, avoid Nai – I believe their shop is near Yachthaven Marina (for full disclosure, our friends seemed happy with their work...I think they were just here too long and expectations fell).  As for the table…we found a really cool piece of wood for 450 baht ($15 USD) and we’re sanding and refinishing it now.  I think it’s going to look really nice.

As for any other review…I’ll post them on my notes over in the Cruising Notes section so as not to bore the general population.

Other good things about G&T…they have “bungalows” for you if you don’t want to stay on your boat.  Bungalows is in quotes because it’s actually a small trailer, but they’re pretty nice…clean, air conditioning, satellite tv, bed, and hot showers.  There’s also a small fridge, hotplate (that burns everything) and sink for washing dishes.  We’re actually feeling quite spoiled.  Jake said he could live here for a year.  I think we’ve raised a son with low expectations for his living space…we should be ok when we get home!  Andy sleeps on the boat at night because the mattress here is killing his back, but he’s certainly enjoying the tv and air conditioning.

It’s not all perfect.  Thai time is in effect which means that every appointment or conversation happens at least an hour past what time you expect it to happen, or even a day or two. Internet sucks, so I have to either stand on the other side of the boat yard in one particular spot (in the hot sun) with my iPad in my hand, or walk up the street to the internet café.  We’re not really close to anything so we have to borrow someone’s truck or rent a car or walk (that actually hasn’t been much of an issue for things we need, but it’s kept our touring down quite a bit).  While the materials here are cheap, if you’re dealing with someone who specializes in yachts, you can bet they’re going to stick it to you.  I’m pretty sure we’re getting screwed on at least two items, but there’s really nothing you can do about it when it’s the only option you have.  But whenever we get frustrated, we just look at our neighbor and see all the issues he’s having and count our blessings.

In general, living in a boatyard sucks, but it doesn’t suck so bad here.  With that said, we’re all ready to get back on board and back in the water.  Counting down the days…  "After" pics to follow!



Thursday, January 15, 2015

Big News...and a little bit of nostalgia


Savannah at anchor in one of our favorite places
in Palau
When we sold our house, all of our stuff and bought Savannah, it was the hardest, scariest and most exciting thing we’ve ever done.  After 10 years of planning and saving, w were finally realizing our goal of a five-year cruise around the world.  Looking back, I guess we were kind of naïve on the timeline…after all, it is a great big world.  Anyway, I agreed to six months in Mexico to see if I could, indeed live on a tiny boat with my husband and son 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Six months turned into a year and soon enough we found ourselves crossing the big scary ocean to tropical islands far away.  At some point, Savannah became home and our little life of traveling from place to place via the ocean became normal.  When asked how long we would sail, we quit quoting our five-year plan and instead said “when one of us isn’t having fun or we run out of money.”

The morning we left San Diego.

3 days later, our approach to Isla Guadalupe





Fast forward five years and we find ourselves only half way around the world.  We’ve traveled to 16 different countries visiting some of the most remote places in existence and crossed the largest ocean in the world.    We have seen and done some amazing things.  While it’s not always an easy life, for the most part, we’re still happy and having fun.  However, after many long hours of discussion and doing some math, the sad fact is that we have finally run out of money.  It’s something we knew would happen one day, we just hoped it would be later and we’d be closer to home.  We could probably get to South Africa, but then we’d be stuck without many appealing options.   We’ve both stopped and worked before and while we could do that again, we don’t want to be separated again for so long (or in Andy’s case, get shot at).  In reality, with the travel involved and living expenses, we really don’t ever save as much as planned and it ends up just being a long time apart. 


Our first bonfire in Mexico

Pirates in La Cruz, Mexico

Crossing the equator for the first time

Island kids (and Jake) in the Tuamotos

Jake, participating in the French Polynesian games
at a school in the Tuamotos


In our effort to pretend to be responsible adults and avoid that ever growing population of people receiving gov’t assistance (Andy says we have a taste for fine cheddar, not gov’t cheese! Which may be part of the problem…), we have come to the very hard and sad reality that we need to put Savannah on the market here in Malaysia and go back to the United States to take a break.  We’ll get jobs and settle down somewhere on the south east coast while we save up for our next adventure. 

It’s been a hard couple of months.  Jake “refused to allow it” when we first told him and there have been tears all around.  But just like in the beginning, this is the hardest, scariest and most exciting thing we’ve done.  They say the two happiest days of your life (aside from marriage and children, of course) is the day you buy your boat and the day you sell it.  We’re trying to focus on the good things about selling, like being back with family, dishwashers, washing machines, The Big Green Egg, and Chick-fil-a!

I believe this was in the Mortlocks in Micronesia

Christmas celebration in Lamotrek, Micronesia with the locals.



Our first anchorage after arriving in the Philippines
I’m sure this won’t be my last post on the subject, but I’m going to try and not dwell on it all too much.  There’s no point.  In the meantime, we’re on the hard here in Thailand getting her all fixed up (being reminded of what BOAT stands for….Break Out Another Thousand) In between working on Savannah, we’ll try to squeeze in a little more fun before we actually list her.  It’ll be a few weeks before it all happens so don’t abandon us just yet…I promise lots of honest, if not exciting posts on the trials and tribulations of wrapping things up.


Feeding giraffes in the Philippines

Amazing vacation in Australia

Sailing to Thailand