Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It's All in the Details

Yesterday, Erik and I spent the day together in the cockpit. The seas were calm, the sky was postcard-blue with little fluffy clouds, and we were glad. My seasickness behind me, we even shared a beer as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Pretty idyllic, right? Well. Let's add in some details.

Yesterday, Day 8 of our slowest passage in six years of sailing, Erik and I spent the day together in the cockpit cleaning a bad load of fuel. Finally the seas were calm, and the 40+ knot squalls that had plagued us for a week had given way to a sky of postcard-blue with little fluffy clouds. We were glad the cargo ships all around seemed to notice us, and no one had tried to run us down for at least 12 hours. Eight hours of diesel work shook my optimism that my seasickness was behind me. But, by the time we finished, nothing could stop us from sharing a beer as the sun dipped below the horizon.

"So, Amy," I hear you ask, gently skirting past my allusions to pathetic 50 NM days and knock-down winds, "how does one clean bad diesel? And how did that happen in the first place?" (Erik just asked me if I mentioned The Engine Impeller That Shredded Itself And Everything Overheated And We Lost 18 Hours, but I think I'm asking enough of you already.)

I'm glad you asked. Now, I'm not a chemist, so bear with me, here. As I understand it, we ended up with a load of so-called biodiesel in Bali. It looked like nice, clean fuel going in. However, the short-chain hydrocarbons in the biodiesel stripped the nasty tars and sludge from the walls of our fuel tank, and put those nasties into solution. Those dissolved or loose particles proceeded merrily to clog up our fuel filters, plugging them solid in mere hours. Not so good. In fact, an engine killer.

The short version of the story is that we could use our aft fuel tank without any issues (it was scrubbed not too long ago), but the middle tank was no good. That means about 350 L of fuel just sitting there, doing us no good whatsoever. Well. We could hardly let that stand.

So the first calm day that came along (day 8), we pumped a load of diesel into a five gallon pail. And then the testing began.

Method #1: Paper towels in a funnel
We poured a little diesel onto two paper towels stuffed into a funnel. If we had had coffee filters aboard, we would have tried those first. This method grabbed a lot of gunk, but was very slow. We also had concerns about tearing. Bottom line: unless we wanted to dribble-filter for the next six hundred hours, we needed a better method.

Method #2: Paper towels in a funnel lined with accordioned aluminum foil
For the increased surface area, of course. Still not fast enough.

Erik and I sat there, tapping our blue nitrile gloves against our knees, thinking back to our laboratory days and bouncing ideas around.

Method #3: Microfibre cloth in a funnel lined with accordioned aluminum foil
Bigger pores, but not big enough. Too slow.

"I've got an idea," said Erik.

Method #4: Microfibre cloth on an inclined plane
We used clothespins to attach a microfibre cloth to a foil baking tray. We placed the tray at a small incline, then poured diesel in at the top of the incline. It was much quicker, and the cloth, to be fair, did grab some sludge. But later diesel would often bump the sludge along into the collection pot, so X to that one.

"The funnel method was better," said Erik. "But what we need is pressure. Do we have anything we could use as a column?"
"I don't." Tall, cylindrical kitchen implements are too tippy for a boat.
Erik snapped his fingers. "Hose. I've got lots of that." He disappeared into the lazarette and came back with a meter length of sanitation hose. "Now what?"
Hmm, columns. Stuffing the tube full of cloth to mimic a real column was only going to block the flow. "How about we tie a filter around the end?"
"I like it." Quick as a flash, Erik had ziptied two j-cloths onto the end of the hose.

Method #5: Two layers of j-cloth individually ziptied to the end of a 1 m length of hose
This was the stuff. Erik pumped the diesel into the top of the column, and we got a lovely product out the other end.

But during our experiments, we noticed a water layer at the bottom of the product pail. We shook our heads. Not just sludge to worry about, but water, too. No wonder this tank wasn't giving us any joy.

And so, after a morning of trial and error, here was the final method we landed on, soup to nuts:
Method #5b: Decanting step followed by two layers of j-cloth individually ziptied to the end of a 1 m length of hose
1. Insert rigid 3/4" PVC pipe into fuel tank. Use flexible hose to connect the pipe to a custom fitting on the lid of a 5-gallon pail. Attach vaccuum cleaner hose to second custom fitting on the lid. Turn on the vacuum. (This is our patented "yuck bucket" method of cleaning bilges, etc - it sucks the product into the pail instead of into the vacuum. Nifty, no?)
2. Haul the full pail up to the cockpit, trying not to spill. Set on the bench.
3. Use the hand fuel siphon pump to gently suck off the top layer of fluid (diesel) into a clean 25 L jerry can (stage one jerry can), stopping before the water layer begins.
4. Recover the remaining diesel from the pail by hand decanting between two clear 600 mL pots. Pour the diesel into the jerry can, and dump the water into a waste bucket.
[By this point, the fuel was already looking better. A lot of sludge stayed in the water layer.]
5. Rest the filled stage one jerry can on the cockpit combing. Attach the hand fuel siphon pump to the top of the column (hose plus j-cloth bag). Hover the bag over a funnel placed in the mouth of the second stage jerry can on the floor. Begin pumping.
[The diesel pushed its way through the pores in the bag, leaving the gunk behind. And the pump/gravity made sure we kept up flow. Erik managed the top end, and I worked the lower level. If we'd had a hand free, we would have high-fived.]
6. Repeat until you have cleaned as much fuel as you can stand or you succumb to diesel fumes.

Just what you would have suggested in the beginning, right?

In the end, we cleaned 125 L of fuel. It's sitting in jerry cans tied to the rail, and in a perfect world we'll never need to use it. Is it better? Yes. Is it better enough? I'd rather not find out. Our winds have improved since we reached the South China Sea, so we've been sailing slowly instead of motoring slowly. When we get to our check-out port, we'll stock up on filters and new fuel, and hopefully will never have to try out the iffy stuff we cleaned ourselves.

And that, my friends, is romance on the high seas.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Falling Apart

I can tell the end of our trip is nigh. Not because Stylish is now almost as tall as I am. Not because our visa is about to expire. But because my beloved wetsuit is finally giving up the ghost.

I bought this two-piece wonder back in 1996 - as it happens, for a trip to Indonesia. And, as the years went by, I've dusted it off from time to time for the odd vacation. But the wetsuit really came into its own when we moved aboard Papillon. As the more perceptive among you will have deduced from my subtle clues, we spend a lot of time in the water. We'll jump into any body of water that is clean enough and crocodile-free.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Trying Not To Get Eaten By Komodo Dragons

My mom is in town, and we're trying to show her a good time. And what better way to entertain a guest than put her in harm's way?

Being in the Komodo islands, it would be silly not to try to see the Komodo dragons. (This is where I would normally post a photo of said dragons. Well. Blogger and my iPad aren't playing nicely, so you'll just have to google a photo for yourself.) And if you are going to bother travelling to see the dragons, you might as well go in the early morning when they are feeling frisky.

We anchored off Rinca, and headed off bright and early to the ranger's station to pay and collect a guide. The guides are there not only as experts, but for protection. Not only are the dragons huge, their saliva carries all sorts of horrible bacteria and they have venom glands under their teeth to inhibit coagulation. They bite their prey (deer, buffalo - little things like that), hang around for a couple of weeks waiting for it to die a horrible death, then they eat it it. Charming. So I was expecting our walk would be rather like it is on a Kruger National Park walk: a couple of rangers with big guns in front and running sweep, and tourists in the middle.

A friendly young ranger named Idris picked us up at the entrance. We were lucky - it is the off season, so we had him all to ourselves. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. Our guide picked up a long, forked stick, and off we went.

I took a long look at said stick. It was perhaps as tall as Idris, and as big around as my thumb. The fork was maybe six inches per side. In short, it was a walking stick. Not the most deadly-looking piece of equipment.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Reefs and Mantas aka Komodo is a Dream

Yes, we went back for more, and it was even more amazing than the first time. I am becoming concerned that the girls have a completely skewed view of how life should unfold. On second thought, maybe not.

(Actually stories coming. For now, enjoy the photos.)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

My Yesterday Was Better Than Your Yesterday

Komodo is the stuff, people. I can't believe you're missing this. Book your ticket right now and get over here.

Here is a selection of  photos I took over a three hour period. A selection. Three hours. Neither the entire day nor all I saw.

I mean, look at this:

It's going to be hard to leave when the time comes, and that's a fact. Take it from this satisfied customer:

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Here we sit in lovely Gili Bodo, the prettiest part of Flores we've found so far. In the distance, thunder rumbles over the mountains of the mainland. The monkeys on the island are making the most of low tide to wander over the dried reef to collect their lunch. The girls have rowed off to shore and have set up camp on the beach. Erik and I had a lovely snorkel earlier; he has moved on to dabbing epoxy on Indy's broken sunglasses. And as I sit here, drying off in the sunshine, am I planning a walk through the hills for the afternoon? Am I pulling out the reef guides to identify the fish I saw this morning? Am I using the binoculars to watch a Phinisi boat sail by?


I am psyching myself up to do battle with the oven.

Once upon a time, back in a land of household appliances and other unicorns, I used to love taking clothes out of the dryer. For a few brief minutes my hands would be warm as I folded pants and towels. In the deepest winter, when our furnace couldn't overcome the lack of insulation in our 90-year-old house, I would press my frozen nose into a gently-steaming shirt and dream of summer days.

But not these summer days. This heat is less: "floaty dresses and open-toed shoes" and more: "if I could unzip my flesh and just sit around in my bones, I would." I should have a care label that instructs: "At high temperatures, store in a strong solution of gin and tonic. Replenish ice as necessary." These are the days that suggest the apocalypse is nigh. And what does nobody want to do while the Four Horsemen thunder across the sky? Stand in front of a hot stove stirring the chili, that's what.

Not that there isn't a bright side to life in the kitchen. I mean, really. It's already 40 C outside, so I'm going to be dripping with sweat anyway. Why not partner that with prepping a nice, hot curry? And since the breeze inevitably dies while I'm down there, my clothes and hair get saturated with the scent of whatever it is I'm making so I always smell delicious. As a bonus, the punishing heat means we won't suffer any inconvenience if our oven ever breaks down. I'll just wrap some chicken in foil, tuck a drumstick into each armpit and voila. Dinner in no time.

Even when Erik cooks things get grim. The waves of heat slowly roll from the galley, up the companionway and into the cockpit, where it takes a seat and refuses to leave.

At least we're all fans of raw vegetables around here. And we would never pass up the opportunity to devour a mango or seven. But my carnivores like their meat both frequently and in volume, and I'm pretty sure offering them an uncooked slab of beef isn't going to fly. I've tried to steer our diet towards colder foods, like pasta salad, but my creativity in that department is starting to ebb.

Soon we'll move on to Labuan Bajo, and while I'll miss the monkeys and the quiet, private reef, anchoring near a town will have one big advantage.

Cities have restaurants.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Boatful of Water Babies

We came to Indonesia to snorkel and dive. Full stop. Because, as we all know, Winter Is Coming. Our time on Papillon is drawing to a close, and we need an overabundance of tropical reef memories to get us through the dark, icy, snowy blowy Canadian winter days that loom in the not-quite-distant-enough future. Call me an uncultured cretin, but the traditional village and temple trips can wait for another day. Put me in the aquarium.

Our lives aboard revolve around the water. Yes, yes, sailing, obviously that, but I mean physically being in the water, complete with fins and mask. From the outset, our sailing plan has revolved around: where are the good reefs? From Belize on south, we've been searching for more fish, more coral, more sealife, more, more, more more more more more. Poor visibility? Next anchorage. Unacceptably dangerous sea creatures? Not interested. But give us a clear reef on a sunny day, and you'll be hard pressed to pry us loose. That shines through when people ask us about our favourite experiences. Swimming side-by-side with marine iguanas and giant sea turtles in the Galapagos. Watching thick carpets of fish, stretching kilometers-long, through the passes of the Tuamotus. Snorkelling with a passel of boat kids past black-tipped reef sharks in Tonga. Even splashing in the iron-rich freshwater pools in Baie Prony. Our best memories come with a bathing suit as standard equipment.

Banda marked a turning point in our water life. Erik has been on his own as a diver for years now; I used to love it, but my Eustachian tubes are against me now, so I'm not much good as a dive buddy any longer. But Stylish has been angling to learn for ages now. When we found a good dive outfit in Banda (Bluemotion - highly recommended), and, even better, a teacher we really liked, we signed Stylish up for lessons. I won't say it didn't give me a pang of nerves; I remember when she hardly could bring herself to jump into the deep end of the pool. But that was before she grew a mermaid's tail. And let's face it: she's 12. She doesn't need me to act as a parental leg iron.

Inevitably, Stylish was a natural diver. She also turned out to be an incredibly lucky one. She climbed on the boat after her third dive - her third dive, mind you, in her entire life - and shouted: "Mom! I saw a hammerhead. It swam right at me! It was only 3m away!!"
And I was a good Mom. I didn't die of a heart attack as I imagined my child being rushed by a pelagic shark. Instead I gave her a double thumbs-up and said: "That's awesome!"

(Of course, weeks of diving excellent walls in an idyllic location (complete with volcano and nutmeg plantations) may have raised her expectations to unreasonable levels. I have a feeling Stylish is going to be chasing that Banda high for years; she has already insisted we return there on a future vacation.)

Stylish isn't the only one who has grown a tail. When we started aboard, I'd snorkel and tow 2-year-old Indy along in her big floaty life jacket while she chatted to me about shapes in the clouds. She was such a kicky, flailing noisemaker that I'm amazed I ever saw a fish. This morning, as the two of us did a drift snorkel along the drop-off, she floated effortlessly beside me. She pointed out a spotted eagle ray I would have missed, and hovered quietly over lionfish and sea snakes. Moreover, she acted as the trip's photographer. When I uploaded the photos later, I wasn't surprised to see that several shots were better than anything I've produced. Sometimes, to my delight, she forgot to be so grown-up and would snuggle under my arm for a hug. Then she'd swim on her own again, experiencing the underwater world in her own way.

Last night, while we ate lobster and brownies to celebrate passing the six year mark on our family adventure, we talked about the next marine park we'll hit, and what we might hope to see there. Right now, the girls are playing on their ratty boogie boards off the side of the boat. And I'm wondering if we can fit in just one more quick snorkel today.

Our underwater life continues.

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Diving Banda

Hello, all. I'd write, but we're too busy spending all of our time in the water. Banda is gorgeous. Stylish is now a certified Open Water Diver. Other than that, I'll let the photos tell the tale.