1. You obviously have a passion for cruising and SE Asia generally. How did this develop as your prefered destination as opposed to, say the South Pacific or somewhere else?
There are probably a number of reasons why we chose SE Asia as a cruising destination. First, I studied Indonesian at highschool and had a long term ambition to one day visit Indonesia and absorb some of the culture. Philip had done some contract work in Thailand and was very taken with the place and the people. I went with him on one of his trips to Bangkok and while there I took a side trip backpacking from Phuket to some of the islands as a sort of recce. The Andaman Sea looked a pretty good place to cruise.
And then there is the food. As you might have gathered from our logs we love Asian food (whereas we can take or leave taro…). And once you start looking at maps of SE Asia – you realise how close are so many other places we are curious about – Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, China, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong – and we felt we could spend years here. We also love looking at and drooling over maps and thinking of the possibilities. Check out a map of SE Asia – there are so many places in a small area compared with places in the Pacific.
Another big factor for us was that SE Asia is an extension of coastal cruising. Unlike the South Pacific, where even the closest destinations take a week to reach by boat, Indonesia is just over 48 hours away and then you mostly just day hop up to Thailand. We reckon, in Australia at least, that weather has a 3 day predictability. Longer than that it gets less certain. We don’t like bad weather and make sure we never get caught in it if we can avoid it. Trips longer than 3 days are not predictable enough for us weatherwise.
And then there’s the fact that S. E. Asia is not on most cruisers’ radar, except as somewhere to be passed through on a circumnavigation. The fact that it is so close and yet you only hear of Ozzie cruisers doing it in the rally….that got my rebellious streak working…
We love the freedom of cruising – being our own bosses, going wherever we decide and making it happen, taking our nest with us wherever we travel, getting off the beaten track etc etc. What we are not hung up on is getting wind/spray in our faces, making our boat perform, going with the wind etc…We are travellers, not sailors. Another reason to take a power cruising boat to SE Asia - little wind!
2. How did you prepare personally and financially for your trip - simply
gradually building experience and confidence and lots of saving or
We first went cruising in 1982 on a 33’, home built steel sailing boat which we bought in Darwin. We bought the boat sight unseen (but used a surveyor to look at it before we bought) and had never sailed a yacht before. (Though we both sailed dinghies as kids and a hobiecat in early married years, so knew how to sail. We had also been reading cruising encyclopaedias, books on navigation like Toghill's and ones like "Best of Sail - Cruising" and "Cruising Helmsman" magazine, which had just started, for a couple of years beforehand. )
We sailed her from Darwin over the top (with crew) to Cooktown, where the crew got off and our kids joined us and we continued south back to Coffs Harbour, where we lived at the time. The trip took 9 months and we lived aboard in the marina at Coffs with our kids for another 15 months. We had bought a comprehensive set of new charts and used dead reckoning combined with an RDF (radio direction finder) across the Gulf of Carpentaria (4.5 days). Along the east coast we became very adept at taking bearings and plotted our course meticulously.
That boat was sold in 1985 when we moved to Sydney, where we harboured the desire to eventually go cruising again permanently (when our kids grew up – they didn’t want to cruise). In Sydney we planned to make more money than we could in Coffs Harbour.
We bought our first motorboat in 1991 – a twin engine, semi-displacement, varnished ex-game boat built in 1971. After boating every weekend and holidays for five years (20nm from Botany Bay to the Hawkesbury was a long trip) we chucked in our jobs in 1996 and took her up north to the Queensland coast for 2 years, cruising.
When we got back in 1998 we found new jobs and began the process of setting up our cruising life. We sold Tantivy in 1999 and started looking in earnest for a cruising powerboat with the features we reckoned were needed for economical, pleasurable cruising for fifty year olds. The next time we went cruising, it was to be permanent. We didn’t want to have to work – but we knew we wouldn’t have a lot of money on which to live (partly because we had chucked our jobs in several times to go cruising and partly because we were not disciplined savers.)
When cruising (even on weekends) we have always kept a formal logbook which shows times, course steered, RPH, speed, tides, weather, comments etc. In 1998, when we returned from Qld, Philip did his coxswain’s certificate by correspondence with New South Wales TAFE (Technical and Further Education) and took the exams with Maritime Services. He achieved an Unrestricted Coxswain's ticket. From our logbook he was able to prove his hours over the past 5 years were 1800 - way more than the number required to qualify. In Australia, a coxswain's certificate is the lowest level ticket that allows you to skipper a commercial vessel (12m or under). The higher levels can only be undertaken by those with commercial hours.
Between 1999 and 2000 we sold our house in Sydney and bought other properties in less expensive places which we rent out. For us the key to affording to cruise is “Sell your house and turn it into income-producing investments ".
3. You wrote of your living costs while in Queensland, did you find great differences in expenses living aboard in Indonesia and Thailand? It is apparent there was some change of lifestyle, e.g. eating out more, catching less fish.
In Queensland we lived a comfortable life on a budget of just under $A25,000/year. In Indonesia costs were next to nothing east of Lombok (not much to spend money on) and not much after that. Since we have been in Thailand over a year (2006/07) where we have access to western conveniences and products, we live much more lavishly on the same budget as Australia or less. We can now afford eating out every day, having our laundry washed and ironed, fresh orchids on the table weekly, paying to have our hair cut, lots of land and air travel, hiring cars and so on. (And best of all, this time on the slip at Satun in southern Thailand, we stayed in a hotel and paid others to work on the boat).
I have now put on this website an article I wrote for “Latitudes and Attitudes” magazine about cruising a powerboat on a small budget and how it compares with cruising on a sailing boat.
4. You wrote some additions to the boat/home - some recent photos of Lifeline would be nice.
Noted. Will do.
5. I note that your log sections are "new" - could you add some comments or simple maps so that other nieve individuals like me can more easily follow your course. Internet maps/google earth are thin on island and maritime names and village locations, and I was often unsure of which direction your course was.
Yes we had a similar problem: charts don’t have many land features such as towns and villages and most atlases are too small to show a lot of the places. The way we solved it was to buy a map of SE Asia (Hema has a terrific one for about $10) from a place called World Maps in Brisbane. We’re on our third.
I will eventually put the GPS positions of all our anchorages on the site. (Unfortunately I have managed to lose those I typed up - computers! ) That way you can find them using any map or software.
6. Other Cruiser's logs I have read make frequent comment on equipment breakdowns, maintenance and parts supply hassles. I have never quite understood why so many things break! You seem to have had good service from most of your instalation - to what do you attribute that (or did you just leave out the yucky bits!)
Yes we have had good service from our instalations and yes we probably have left out some yucky bits. So I’ll give you some information about how we think we avoid breakdowns and try to remember any breakdowns we have had and list them.
(What follows is accompanied by a lot of wood-touching because I’m tempting fate telling you why we think we don’t have breakdowns….)
First, Try to Stay Simple...
The oft stated truism that a boat is a harsh environment for all equipment and systems is true. It’s constantly moving, it’s salty and corrosive. On the other hand boats are full of propulsion gear and systems (engine, hydraulics, steering, shaft and prop etc) and boat/cruise management equipment (electronics, electrics, tanks, deck gear, anchor systems etc) so it’s a case of a passel of breakdowns just waiting to happen. All you can do is try to minimise the number of systems you have to fix and the number of times they break.
On a boat, you have to be your own county council, garbage collector, Department of Works, the Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board etc etc etc – you’re like a city in microcosm but you, yourself, have to keep all your city systems working. (If you want to be free of land based experts).
But, in order to be this jack-of-all-trades, you need to have systems that are simple and able to be managed by a practised amateur. In a boat, you can do things the simple way or the complicated way. Eg you could have an electronic chain counter or you can mark your chain; you can have a watermaker or you can catch water on your roof; you can have an electric dinghy winch or you can heave the thing on the roof with a hand operated trailer winch; you can have an electric sewage pump out or a “gravity fed” holding tank; you can have an electronic anchor winch or a hydraulic one etc etc etc.
Even so, you end up with many sophisticated systems on modern boats – all the “optional but nice to have” electronics for instance. In our case these came with the boat when it was fishing. But Lifeline is relatively simple
Second, Be Prepared for Fixing Things...
Next when we (Philip, mostly, in conference with clever friends and the shipwright) designed the boat’s systems we tried to choose simple rather than complicated and self maintainable rather than needing an expert. Philip also tried to anticipate what could go wrong and mitigate the damage. Eg he had a “day tank” and extra fuel filtering system added before we left Australia because he thought we might get bad fuel; he carries a spare starter motor because our engine can’t be hand started.
Carrying lots of spares for things that might let you down or need replacement is another way not to be held up. (We also have boxes of fuel and oil filters, belts, etc)
Philip is the ship’s engineer but he doesn’t see himself as particularly handy – though he had stripped a car engine as a teenager and helped his dad build sheds etc and he understands the mechanics of boat propulsion – that sort of boy stuff.
At first he got experts to do stuff to the motor, equipment, electronics etc but he watched and asked questions and had a go while we were still in Qld. The 3 years we cruised the Qld coast in Lifeline allowed him to get familiar with how to service and maintain our systems and know their little foibles. And, being (he says) conservative, and (I say) conscientious, Philip is always checking and maintaining.
Third, Maintain Stuff...
One of the advantages of a motorboat for cruising is that most of your systems are accessible – in a large engineroom for instance, instead of buried in the bilges – so it’s possibly a little easier to make sure the systems get plenty of attention – maybe preventing breakdowns.
If I have learned one thing while cruising it is that a large part of doing it successfully and stress free comes down to good engineering practices – maintenance, regular inspection, constant awareness of the systems and the sounds they make etc. If you're not good at that ( and I'm not) you need to bring along someone who is. Luckily for me, Philip is happy to take on this role. I think this is a little discussed factor in cruising – the need for someone on the boat (sail as well as power) to take the role of engineer. Otherwise, cruising life becomes a series of meeting interesting tradesmen and fixing things in exotic locations.
Fourth, Fifth and Sixth....
Three more things that help account for our relative lack of breakdowns: our stuff is comparatively new; our systems and gear are over-engineered so that they are mostly working well below capacity and are therefore less likely to break; and we avoid bad weather, which gives your systems a harder time.
We've never had a breakdown (in the sense of "having to stay in one place because we can't move") but we have had some equipment malfunctions.
These are what I remember (in no particular order):
Anchor winch didn’t work properly on our first trip into Moreton Bay; (Cable not adjusted properly so the hydraulic pump didn’t “turn on”)
Two electric salt water pumps that re-fill our toilet cistern burnt out (We upgraded to the more expensive heavy duty model and have not had a problem for 3 years now but we carry spare motors just in case).
Starter motor stopped working Gladstone in 2002. (Philip was able to get us going. Had motor reconditioned back in Brisbane – again! And bought spare brand new one. Problem turned out to be the ignition switch.)
Our nav computer – brand new in 2003(?) was a lemon from the beginning. (So far we’ve had 2 new motherboards – 1 under warranty, the other from Langkawi - and 3 lots of replacement RAM (2 Brisbane and 1 Penang) and a new power supply (Langkawi). Floppy drive and CD reader/writer have also given up the ghost. Fortunately we have 2 laptops as backup so have not been held up by it.. Also we chose a PC because we know we can get bits and pieces fixed anywhere there are Chinese students)
GPS screen dodgy and slow to acquire data. (Still working but annoying. Eventually had fixed in Darwin and we carry 2 spare GPS)
HF radio not great signal and noise when motoring. (We have lived with this because we are not “radio people” and use the HF only for weather when we are not motoring.)
Hose came off salt water inlet in the engineroom and filled the bilges with salt water as well as spraying the engineroom air intake fan, which quit working. (Had lip welded to salt water inlet pipe more regular checking of hose clamps; new bilge water alarm system so we know when the automatic pumps are working; new engineroom fan).
New 12/24 volt portable fridge we bought just before leaving Australia would not get cold when we went to use it 9 mths later. Re-gassed. A year later it wouldn't work again. Again re-gassed but no-one can find the leak. As we only use it occasionally, this has been solved by Philip buying a cylinder of gas and being shown how to re-gas it himself (they let you do that sort of thing over here.)
7. When you planned your trip what intentions had you regarding its length and what comes after? Do you consider yourselves retired or just enjoying a sabbatical?
During the first couple of years cruising in Australia Philip did some sporadic consulting work for a company he used to work for (maybe 3 – 4 weeks in a year or less). Since then we’ve called ourselves “retired”.
The trip to SE Asia was always open ended depending how we liked it. We knew it would be an absolute minimum of two years even if we got to Thailand and immediately turned around and headed back to Australia. We are currently en route to Malaysia, Borneo and the Philippines, which will take care of the next 12 months at least….but there is still plenty to see).
We have no plans for “after” – though I wouldn’t mind finding a lovely little place somewhere that I could go back to and play house and garden when we’re not cruising.
Return to 'Cruising Life'