Thaipusam Celebration in Penang, Malaysia


I remember seeing these images on “Believe It Or Not” or maybe an “In Search Of”  sort of TV show. But that seemed to be in some far away TV land place, yet now, we stumbled right into the middle of it

Thaipusam is a key Hindu ceremony that is held each year during the full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. In 2017 it was held over the 7,8,9th of February. In 2018 it well be held in January.


“The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the month, Thai, January/February, and the name of a star, Pusam. This particular star is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati, the Hindu goddess of fertility, love and devotion; as well as of divine strength and power, gave Murugan, the universal granter of wishes a “spear” so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.”   The motive




of the Thaipusam festival is to pray to Murugan to receive his grace so that bad traits are destroyed or favors granted or to make penance for transgressions.

Thaipusam takes place in several cities in Malaysia but the second largest celebration is in Penang.  From the city streets in Penang, it is 4 miles to Waterfall Temple located on a mountainside outside the city.



First, along the route, stacks of shelled brown coconuts are donated by families or civic groups so the crowds can break them on the pavement. The broken coconut symbolizes the breaking of ones bad ego to reveal purity inside.   But by far, most onlookers have a great romp of smashing as many coconuts as are available onto the street and send the coconut water and shards flying.  It makes a tremendous mess but the organizers come soon behind with sweepers to shove the shards aside.  This makes way for the gold and silver chariots.  The golden chariot is pulled by 2 small water buffalo. The smaller silver chariot is pulled by people.  These chariots carry dignitaries. After they pass, front end loaders and dump trucks follow to clean up the masses of coconuts shards along the side of the street.

Hindus, throughout the day and year, seem to always be burning incense and leaving plates of offerings to the gods, whether in designated offering spots outside their home or on the sidewalks.  On this day, they hand the offerings to the attendants of the chariots where the offering is tipped off the plate into the chariot and the plate is returned to the donor.


Devotees will make the 4 mile pilgrimage walking barefoot on the black pavement. Water trucks move along the route to help cool the surface but in the 90 degree weather, the surfaces quickly dry and heat up again. Asphalt can become 40 to 60 degrees hotter than the air temperature. This is only part of the burden met by the devotees.

“On the month leading up to the pilgrimage, the devotee will have mainly subsisted on a heavily


restricted diet and then completely fast on the last few days before the pilgrimage; naturally, these extremes demand of very high level of mental and physical fortitude.”

The most basic devotee will carry on his head, a pewter or silver pot of milk, a symbol of purity and virtue. Holding a pot of milk on ones head for a nonstop 4 mile march, then trekking up countless concrete steps to the


temple, is no easy feat. Other devotees will become far more extreme in their efforts.

Kavadis, literally “sacrifice at every step”, is a large, heavy, contraption extending out from the shoulders and towering over the head. Some Kavadis rest on pads on the shoulders and around the waist. Other devotees take the excessive discomfort by attaching the Kavadis with countless spears threaded into the outer layer of skin to spread the load. Since there is exposed skin left,

why not dangle shells, beads, or any other sort of decoration from tiny hooks piercing the skin of the chest, back, arms, cheeks, forehead.  The mouth and tongue is an impressive piercing spot leaving little opportunity for a devotee to drink or eat along the marching route. Some devotees prefer to just bite down on a spear rather than piercing it through their cheeks.

Of course, the most notable devotees are those who



harness themselves with many hooks on their backs then have reins held by an attendant. The devotee must lean forward to make progress literally pulling the skin away from their back.

The small temples along the route often have booths where they hand out sweet fruit drinks in small paper cups. Closer to the temple, large vats of noodles with tofu, among other vegetarian meals or snacks, are ladled into plastic containers and handed to the crowds. Otherwise, there are plenty of food stalls where the crowd can pay for traditional food and souvenirs, all lining the streets leading to the base of the temple hill.

The third day of celebrations is anticlimactic. The gold and silver chariots return to their home temple in the city and the cleanup of trash begins.





It is amazing how trash was strewn around the grounds of the sacred temple. Paper cups and all sorts of plastic containers were trampled underfoot and blew in the breeze.  People just dropped their trash wherever. This was not all their fault as the temple organizers provided very few trash cans around the grounds. By the end of the second day, the temple grounds were a trash pit.  Any other festival, during this time of the Chinese New Year, was well organized with plenty of trash cans and a detail of workers always working through the celebration picking what little trash was

littered. There is a lot of cultural diversity in Malaysia butsadly, at times, the diversity has stark differences.










































They Come Out At Night


This is the original, unedited, article which appeared in the January issue of Ocean Navigator. But here we can post far more pictures than can appear in a Magazine.  Sorry if the images seem a bit fuzzy. We had to resize them to small in order to upload them with this slow internet. Plus, how I lay out the post on Word Press is not always how it appears when opened on the internet……


What do people living on sailboats do all day?  There are plenty of days when a cruiser has to dream up a new day’s exploration and make something happen.

We had been anchored on the south east side of the Thailand tourist island of Koh Chang (Island Elephant), in the Gulf of Thailand. This is a desolate coast, no roads, and only a few fishing boats passing by. All the tourists and activity are over the high mountains and rain forest, to be found on the west coasts. In fact here on the south east side, we are the only cruising boat and have not seen another sailboat for weeks, in this part of Thailand.

Today, for something to do, we decided to see where this local stream originated. The expats we asked who live scattered around on Koh Chang could not imagine the cove we described to them. Apparently, no westerner had explored this indention of the coastline and especially the stream.

We had been using the fresh mountain water to fill our water tanks and to do our laundry and getting a good rinse in the quick current. This stream also has a long swimming hole, shaded by trees, just inland from where the stream collides with the ocean salt water.  But where did all this fresh water come from and most importantly, was there a waterfall with a swimming pool at the bottom? We stuffed our back

packs with trekking food and jungle supplies then set out on our mission of discovery.

The stream was wide and shallow. Our feet dragged and trudged as they fought with each step through the current. This trek called for special footing; closed toed sandals which protect the feet but let the water and sand flush out.  There was no way of knowing if our adventure would end within an hour or run into trouble and take all night.  We certainly needed to be back before dark since we had no flashlights and there was no moon and the sky was clouded more often with the monsoons than the stars.

The going was slow and wet and often difficult especially when slippery rocks tried to trip our footing.  If we stumbled and got soaked, it was a pleasure to have the sweat of a jungle swept away and wet clothes act as a clinging

air-conditioner.  At times, we marched to the bank and stepped out of the current.  It seemed, spinning a machete to clear a path across land, would be faster than the water route. In the areas along shore, where the

jungle was less dense and the ground more level, the machete whacked in constant motion like a gas powered weed-whacker  which followed the lead of a branch held in my other hand. This bushy ended branch was constantly bobbing high and low and side to side to clear cobwebs and send jungle spiders scurrying. Still there were invisible strands that were left to wrap around my face and to spit out of my mouth.  All the noise helped to alert long thin green snakes, fatter brown snakes, pythons, vipers, cobras, and scorpions, that something much bigger and heavier than they are, is coming through. Politely I offered the point position to Rebecca but her words of wisdom were “There are times it is best to be a follower, at least 10 feet behind!”  Fortunately the serpents in the jungle are equally afraid of us as we of them. We have seen more snakes flattened on the paved roads and at times trying to commit suicide under the tires of our rented motor scooter, than in the jungle.

Surprisingly, there were few mosquitoes or flying insects to bother us. But just in case, we had carried high concentrate DEET repellent and a small bottle of acetone. Acetone (finger nail polish remover) is very effective for stopping the itch of insect bites and for making those slimy strings of Velcro known as leaches drop from our skin. Once a leach takes hold, they are very difficult to scrape off with a finger nail and in doing so, they can leave a divot in the skin. With acetone, we get revenge.  So far, in this part of the jungle, there were no signs of wild pigs, deer or monkeys, so there were no leaches.  Possibly this lack of fresh blood also explains why we were hardly bothered by mosquitoes or biting gnats. Life in the jungle, during the day seemed sparse. At night however, anchored on our boat ¼ mile offshore, the jungle was fully alive with the full range of sounds of a construction site, buzzing, whirring, banging, screeching, chipping, hammering. Certainly, in the jungle, they all come out at night!

We bushwhacked on, sometimes wading in to cross the stream again when the bank we were on became too steep and the opposite side looked flatter and more promising. At times, a land route was too difficult so the only option was to climb the stream through rapids and hope the ascent around a corner did not become unmanageable. I could not imagine doing this exploring in Alaska or Colorado, where even in mid summer the snowmelt water would freeze up ones hands and body within a few steps.

But we pressed on. An hour and a half of trekking quickly passed when we finally climbed to what we hoped to discover, not just a waterfall but a double waterfall.  It is certainly no Niagara Falls but it was our own fun discovery complete with a pool at its bottom. No other tourist has seen this waterfall and certainly very few natives to this island have been to this remote spot.

Our legs had lost much of their spring so we took a long break and a swim. Eventually, we forced movement upon ourselves and continued the climb upwards.

There was room for problems in all this remote wandering. Rocks were slippery, ankles and legs could get twisted; a damaged body could not call for a helicopter rescue; this was not America, a hiker would have to find his own way out. And that, of course, is part of the challenge.

The waterfall and adjoining rock face was too steep and slippery to climb so we moved down stream a bit then up the embankment. I hacked our way inland to circle around the waterfall and back to the stream.  This was thick jungle. If one were to take a little stumble on the rocky terrain, you had to be careful which tree you reached out to for support. The wrong prop could

give a hiker a handful of impalement on long spikes.  But there are other vines and vegetation which are a little less impaling but equally biting, and are always trying to scratch bare arms and legs. I now go jungle bushwhacking wearing a pair of gloves. Large toenail clippers are part of our jungle gear. They are used like surgical tweezers. Some of those bush spines, broken off in the skin, are like grabbing a sea urchin; the spines are brittle and easily break when they are pulled so they need to be dug out.

The stream lead us to a torrent of water funneled into a narrow chute of vertical gray basalt. It was impassable. Once again it was back to hacking a trail up the mountain and circle back to the stream. Stepping in a hidden mass of large red ants, which swarmed my sandled feet, sent me into a wild Indian hopping whoop. These ants hurt and leave  terrible itching welts.  Then there was the log to go under. It would have been natural to have wrapped a forearm on top of the log and swung under but fortunately I saw the long line of tiny red ants and warned Rebecca. Their bite is not nearly as stinging as the larger ants but still is a terrible irritant that even the acetone has trouble controlling.

Soon the stream widened out again and we could climb up through the flow. Along the way, little capillaries of water trickled down the hill sides from the left and some from the right as we worked our way higher into a clearer sky far less shadowed by trees and vines. Our legs would not lift and move as easily as in the beginning of this adventure and we began to wonder how much more we should push this situation. The sun was well over the mountains and there were no more shadows. It was becoming a risk of taking too long and being caught in the jungle after dark. It was a gamble, but we pressed on. With each step closer to the 1,200’ summit, the main artery of the stream faded to one little gurgling of water sprouting magically from rocks.  Just a little higher up, the small ravine was a dry bed which obviously in the past had carried torrents of water with a tropical downpour. But this was the end of the stream, the source of our adventure. We could turn around and race the fading light.


Certainly it is easier going down than up a mountain. We slipped, skidded and braked and splashed down the middle of the stream making good time and were able to retrace our jungle trail around the narrow vertical chute. Working down to the waterfall, Tarzan like vines and a bent over sapling of hard wood were our ropes to ease down the rock face saving the

long land route. What had taken over 3½  hours going up, took an hour and a half to return. Our muscles were rubbery, we were wet and our feet hurt but it was a fun day of adventure we will remember for many years to come.

Now the problem is, what to do tomorrow?

Off with the jungle gloves and time to go home.




New Year’s Eve

Save a spot early because later there will be no room to even stand.








The New Year’s celebration on the streets of Providence, Rhode Island and in Boston, called First Night, was always a bitter cold affair in subfreezing temperatures. Inside a restaurant or bar, where fingers and bodies could thaw was a much better place to be, especially if you had a view to the fireworks. One degree, fifteen minutes, 75 miles, north of the equator in Singapore, the place is made for outdoor, nighttime celebrations.
Tripods were set up very early along the water to save a spot.


The blue area is the outdoor stadium. That is not a Ferris Wheel in the background. That is a viewing wheel which rotates very slowly. You can pay a lot of money to have a revolving dinner














Thousands of people payed to fill the tiers of the outdoor stadium to watch a long list of musicians who looked much better on the Jumbotron. Standing off to the side of the stadium, we could just see the speck of a human on stage but could easily see the on screen person.
We settled for free grab seats at the band-shell to watch very good bar bands. As it got dark, every hour on the hour there were teaser fireworks shot from the floating platform in the middle of Marina Bay. As the evening progressed it became far more difficult to walk around the public areas and thread through the crowds. On the hour, Rebecca and I took turns guarding our seats at the band-shell so the other could duck around the corner to see the short burst of fireworks. But near midnight, we gave up our seats to thread into the crowd and find a spot with a clear view to the fireworks. By this time, there was hardly a place to stand along the waterfront but I was able to work my way into some manicured shrubs and hug a tree and use a branch to steady the camera.
The main show lasted only 8 minutes but it was an intense, nonstop fireworks. a display accented with colored laser lights, that we will never forget. And the best part, we were in shorts and thin shirts.

Happy New Year!

Killing time till the fireworks begin. It is amazing how many people have their faces in their mobile devise while riding on the train and walking around in public, bumping into things.





No picture can explain the loud kaboom that goes with the lights. At times, there were so many fireworks the sky was more filled with smoke s lights.


Laser lights were a big part of the show. I’d love to have one of those super lasers on our bot to shine on the wheel house of a fishing boat or ship who does not respect the right of way rules. That should get their attention.





Singapore is not that big of an island especially when you consider it is a country unto itself. It has no natural resources, except people, and people with good management skills. It is amazing how a place like this can work, especially when we consider a country like Cambodia which has a lot of varied natural resources but will never be anything more than a grimy place to stay away from.
We are living on the far north end of the island. It takes a bus 20 minutes to get us to the train station. The train takes 25 minutes to get into downtown. At 11:00 in the morning the train is easy. Any earlier or well afternoon, it is crowded with hardly any room to stand. There are a lot of busses, a lot of trains and it is cheap so getting around the island is fairly easy once you learn the routs.











Tis the season so the colored lights are full on….and in Singapore, we hear and see Merry Christmas everywhere.
At Gardens By The Bay, we listened to Christmas carols at the bandstand. We continued to sit on the grass to catch the spectacular light show. Then we mozied over to the waterfront and listened to the symphony. No Strauss or Bach, but some good upbeat MoTown and other pop songs that few people under 50 would recognize…but it had everyone moving their feet. Then we strolled over to one of the main city streets where there is a decoration competition amongst the big stores. We finally got home after midnight. Tired.




So you can pay $15 to ride the tourist elevator to the 57th floor rooftop bar. But locals, like us, know to ride the hotel guest elevator to the same elevation for free. There, we walked into the very open aired bar/disco, and found a vacant table overlooking the city. Our waitress was very personable. Eventually I asked her if she thought tourists were nuts for paying $11 for a bottle of water or a can of soda, items which cost no more than $2 on the street. A mixed drink will cost $30. Her response was “that is nothing” then showed us a drink menu, the Champaign page. Regular Dom Perignon was the cheapest at $650, Cristal and some others went up to $2,500 a bottle. “But who pays this?” I asked. She responded, “Oh, the Chinese. They really like to impress each other with their wealth.” She told us of one Chinese woman who celebrated her 23rd birthday and spent $30,000 and gave a $1,000 tip. But the next day she realized she over spent and wanted the tip back! At this same bar, the table we were sitting at was free, for now. At 10PM there becomes a $150 charge, but the table seats up to 8.

There is no charge for standing at the little chest high tables. On New Year Eve, the same sitting table charge is $2,500. But 57 floors up is a great place to watch the fireworks show over the water centerpiece of the city called Marina Bay. Even now, over the weekends, there is lots going on around Marina Bay. Live music performances, light shows…. We couldn’t have picked a better city for the holidays.


Remember when the ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, was all a flutter because a few municipalities had plans to install police cameras on city streets? “It is a violation of privacy and civil rights!” “Big Brother, Orwellian!!” Certainly the criminals in America would agree.
In two weeks in Singapore, I have not seen one police car or policeman on the city streets, bus or subway terminals. So I had to wonder just how safe is Singapore? Whether a cab driver or a commuter on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit, or subway), when I mention my curiosity, they always respond “It is very safe in Singapore. There is hardly any crime here.” Yet Singapore is the second most densely populated country in the world. There are miles and miles of government owned high rise public housing that are clean and well maintained. No one gets stabbed or assaulted in the stair wells. As part of his response, one cab driver pointed out another closed circuit TV along the roadway. “The police are there.” So I ask, “What if the police see something happen on their CCTV, how fast can they get there?” “They will be there in two minutes if not faster. Plus there are plain clothes policemen always patrolling.” And few drivers speed on the streets of Singapore. There are speed cams everywhere and within 3 days a speeder will receive a ticket in the mail. If you become distracted and leave your backpack on a bus stop bench, it will still be there hours later when you return. People have told us this has happened to them. If someone does have a transgression of the law, along with a bit of jail time they get a certain number of strokes with a cane. No time out in a corner here. Singapore is one of the largest, safest, cleanest most pleasant and modern cities we have ever been to.
People who work in restaurants in the U.S. and complain about not making big bucks an hour might want to consider what can happen. It is not unusual in restaurants in Singapore to be handed an electronic menu on which you do your own ordering.




Here is one for PETA. This is a typical alleyway in Singapore. There are no slippery, grungy, perpetually wet spots on the ground, no spilled food, no trash, even the outside of the dumpsters are clean. How can a city rat survive in an environment like this?

Uphill Workout

1-smallThis is not a LED image on an electric treadmill in a nice air-conditioned gym, like we had at an upscale marina a year ago. Cruising on a sailboat, we do far more sitting on our butts than exerting ourselves. In some ways this is not a healthy lifestyle. We are very out of shape. Now, we are hung up in a basic marina, i.e. “low rent”, at Tioman, Malaysia, a tourist island. We can’t plug our air-conditioner into the shore power as it will burn up the primitive wiring on the dock. Our little 12 volt cabin fans whirr all day and night on the high setting. Still it is sweat dripping uncomfortable.
We are here waiting, for what might be days or weeks, for new boat parts to arrive from America. So rather than a pleasant gym with a plug in the 2-smallwall rotating rubber mat, I have a real paved road to tread up in the morning before it gets too hot. But in this real world, there are monkeys in the jungle trees and geckos on the guard rails and hawks gliding overhead, sometimes with something large in their talons. What keeps the jungle so green is the daily rain, which can happen at any time. To get drenched in the rain is cooling and welcome in this land of sweat soaked t-shirts, shorts and sandals. Those clothes have to get rinsed out every day so the rain is helpful in many ways.

For a bit of a daily workout, it is an uphill grade from the marina to a turnoff which winds up and over the mountain. At that

Landslides are common. A very large boulder slammed downhill into this big boulder popping off a heavy chunk.
Even the erosion control gets tattered and washed away.


The monkeys look cute but they can be mean. The only thing to feed them is a fist size rock to send them scattering before you walk by.


turnoff, the grade greatly increases, which would be a maximum setting on an electric treadmill. This paved exercise road is used by a couple other sailing friends to help stay in shape. A vehicle on this road never leaves first gear on the way to the top of the island where the elevation is 1,750’. It is a steep first gear, brake pad heating, down grade to the other side. Although traffic is infrequent, around tight bends, motor cycles and cars lay on the horn to warn of their approach with the hope to avoid a head on collision and as a

It took a lot of heavy equipment and concrete to stabilize this washout. But already there is settling and cracks so future repairs will be soon.
Isn’t this a cute little……Where is a rock??!!
The only view to the large cove is through this landslide. The marina is to the right behind the trees.

warning for a walker to hug a tree. On these long hot tramps, you can’t sit and take a break for too long as the tiny red ants will find you but the mosquitoes always arrive first. No matter how many you splat against your skin, there are soon plenty of replacements. You can’t find that motivation to keep moving in an air-conditioned gym.
Who knows how many miles long the winding road is but as the mynah bird flies, it is 3.3 miles to the village on the other side. Each day I make sure to pass my previous days mark on the uphill road and just today made my destination at the summit. That was 1.5 hours up. Now to do it with no rest breaks.
The other morning, as I was treading my way up, a European man with a broad smile, and about my own age, jogged down. He must have turned around at the bottom, from where I had come, because we passed again as I had turned around and was on my decent. Geez, he is a tourist and had come all the way from the east shore village and does this each morning of his vacation. That same distance would take me all day, if I could make it at all. At least seeing him is motivation and is evidence I might survive if I keep pushing myself.



The old sign reads “Carful. Machinery Heavy Moving Downwards.

In any case, being stuck on this tourist island is getting me off my lazy butt. It would be better if our repair parts don’t show up too soon.

Open A Coconut

Open A Coconut

They make it look so easy to go up a tree for a green nut.



With a sharp machete, it is easy to whack open a green coconut and eat the soft interior of white meat. In Thailand, only the green coconut meat is used for cooking. In most of the Pacific, it is the firm meat from the brown coconut that is grated for food. Many people think the water from the green coconut is better for drinking than that from the brown. The water from the brown nut is thicker and oiler. But none of it tastes in the least like coconut. In fact, there is little flavor unless the nut is too young and green then the murky liquid tastes

When a brown coconut falls from a tree, it is ready to eat. To make sure it is not too oldopen-2-small and deteriorating on the inside, shake the nut. If you can hear the water inside, you are usually good to go. If the nut is just sprouting a green shoot upwards and a few roots are coming out the bottom, it is usable but the inside will have uto, which is a white fibrous mass often called an “apple”. The uto can be scooped out and thrown away or eaten. It is a bit sweet and rich but does not taste like coconut or like an apple!

Traditionally, South Pacific natives would use a pointed shaft of hardwood set firmly in the ground to pry away the husk of the coconut. Modern technology gives natives nice steel spikes. Going in from a 90 degree angle, the nut is rolled on the spike to pry the husk away, starting on the wide stem end. For a cruiser, with the coconut resting on the ground, the pointy edge of an ax will work to pry away the husk. For us novices using an ax, it is easier to first perforate two lines longitudinally on the coconut about two inches apart. Then go back to the area of the coconut at the largest end, the open-6-smallstem, and begin prying away a small part of the husk. The ax is not used as a chopping tool but a pry tool to remove the husk. No matter what method is used, once a part of the husk is pried away from the nut, the rest of the husk removal becomes easier. Whatever method is used, a native can open a coconut in about 20 seconds. A Pelangi, (white person) will take 4 minutes.     open-8-small

Once the nut is free from the husk, notice there are 3 eyes on one end. One eye will be softer than the others. If you can push you finger into it, the nut is most likely rotten. There should be no strong odor. This happens sometimes when buying a husked nut at a native market and the nut has sat around for a few days. Husked coconuts last only about 3 days before turning. Normally a sharp pointed knife can be used to carve out a hole in the softer eye and drain the liquid for drinking. I simply put a 3/8 inch bit in my drill and save dulling my knives.

open-9-smallRunning, equidistant between each eye, is a hard longitudinal line. Take a machete or hammer and give a solid whack to that line in the middle of the nut. Most often the nut will split perfectly in half.  If it only cracks, pry the nut open with the tip of the machete.

Traditionally, natives used a serrated clam or other shell to grate out the white meat of the nut. Now, there are galvanized graters attached to long, flat, wood arms. The person doing the work sits on the wood arm and grates out the white meat over a bowl or basket.     open-10-small

open-11-smallIt is surprising how much cream can be wrung from grated coconut. The fibrous open-12-smallstrands from the husk are extremely strong and are traditionally used to wring the cream from the grated coconut. Now cheese cloth or even an old t-shirt is an easier option for cream squeezing. In the islands, nothing goes to waste. The left over white meat goes to the pigs, chickens and goats. Just split a brown coconut in half and throw it on the ground and all the animals, including the cats and dogs will attack it. Everyone loves coconut.  And now, with the fresh cream squeezed from the coconut, you are ready to make a great Pina Colada!

Who Needs Yamaha, Mercury or Evinrude?

1 IMG_2888 (Small)Who Needs Yamaha, Mercury or Evinrude? Like in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, they only need, what we think of as, a lawn mower engine of any horse power, or if they are running a tourist boat and really have the financial resources, a 3 or 4 cylinder car engine.  The engine is mounted on a gimbaled bracket so it can swing sideways 360 degrees and move up and down. But also the bracket has to balance the engine so it is easy to maneuver.  With a little imaginative engineering, a long tube is attached to the engine, inside of which, the slightly longer prop shaft rides.  Two bladed props are sold locally to fit common drive shaft sizes…..or a machine shop can make it fit.   “Long Tail” is a common name for this home made outboard.3 IMG_2892 (Small)

When not in use, the long drive shaft is swung forward to rest inside of the boat.

Some of the fishing boat engines run with no muffler or just a straight pipe. They can be heard like a Harley a half mile away. Obviously that fisherman says “What??!!” a lot, to his wife.

A similar sort of arrangement is used to make an inboard drive.

5 IMG_2907 (Small)

The pictures of the big car engines were taken of boats that never leave the confines of narrow fresh water canals. There is no room to really open up the rpms and get much more than an idle speed. It is like owning a Ferrari and never getting out of the city limits. The men who really work hard out on the ocean fishing, have the more practical engines.

4 IMG_2897 (Small)6 IMG_2921 (Small)

8 IMG_2569 (Small)7 IMG_2596 (Small)


Bridge On The River Kwai

The first bridge was a low level wood bridge later removed after the primary bridge was built.
The first bridge was a low level wood bridge later removed after the primary bridge was built.

Bridge On The River Kwai was a hit movie released in 1957. It won 7 Academy Awards.  The World War 2 movie was about the constructing of a tall wooden bridge over that river. I saw the movie and read books about the “death railway”.  If you think the Nazis were despicable because of their Holocaust, the Japanese were far worse as their focus of abuse and cruelty knew no bounds.  Hundreds of thousands of prisoners died working as slaves for the Japanese military, and many of them, on the “death railway”.   Anyway, the movie turns out to be fiction and has nothing to do with the real bridge.  The book, from which the movie was based, was written by a Frenchman. Apparently the book was a way to show the authors displeasure of the pompous, elitist attitude and unwavering bent to follow rules, when common sense would have been a better option,  by the British military officers. 

The first bridge over the Kwai was a quickly built low level wooden service bridge. The primary bridge was actually a bridge from the island of Java in Indonesia. The spans were disassembled and shipped to the Kwai river near the city of Kanchanaburi, Thailand.  POW slaves constructed the concrete supports while the spans were in route. When the arched spans arrived by barge, they were lifted into place and fit perfectly. The movie portrays the Japanese engineers as inept. 2 The primary bridge (Small)

Another thing, the movie has British soldiers whistling a merry tune as they march into the POW camp and, assumably, as they march off to work on the bridge as though they were happy elves.  Most POW slaves were little more than skin covered bones, from starvation, and could hardly get to a job site.

Eventually the two arched center spans were bombed by U.S. aircraft. The Japanese built box beam spans to replace them.  So Hollywood has always made entertainment, not documentaries.

The Japanese made the box beam center spans to replace the arched beams destroyed by bombing.
The Japanese made the box beam center spans to replace the arched beams destroyed by bombing.
Get ready to board.
Get ready to board.
Ride or walk across.
Ride or walk across.
5 Crossing (Small)
The Kwai is not the deep gorge shown in the movie.

Turtle Swim

Scores of stingrays swarmed around us, their soft smooth bodies slithering around us and obscuring our vision in a cloud of gray.  That was in only 6 feet of lagoon water on the north side of Moorea, the island just west of Tahiti. Tourist boats come daily to feed the stingrays and give their snorkeling guests a fun in the water experience, up close and very touchable.  But I never would have guessed the same could be done with sea turtles. 


Here on the north side of Redang island, in Malaysia, boats come in the morning full of snorkeling tourists and chopped up fish and squid.  The turtles had a fascination with the silvery glint in my camera lens. When they approached too close, I had to turn it away or they would bite at it. Once when I was not looking, a turtle came up from my side and bit down on the camera but catching more of my pointer finger. The turtles are not used to their food pulling back so he let go without much of a struggle but leaving a slightly bleeding laceration.  The tour boat drivers are constantly warning the snorklers  not to wave their fingers around in the water. 

There are people who would be disturbed to hear turtles have become a tourist attraction and are hand fed. Feeding wild animals is not always a good idea but for sea turtles, I agree with the Malaysians;  the turtles  have been decimated by over fishing, egg poaching and disappearance of habitat. They need all the help they can get, including some extra grub.  Plus, the encounter gives the tourists a better understanding of what cool animals they are and so, are more inclined to help with their conservation.



IMG_1533IMG_1522  This morning, the white beach had fresh turtle tracks leading to the brush line. There is where the turtle spent a lot of effort digging a deep depression then burring its eggs.  Even though I was on the beach at first light, human foot prints were already planted around the new nest. I couldn’t really tell if the nest had been disturbed.  It would be helpful if we had a heavy rain to wash away the tracks and help obscure the newness of the nest.


Freighter Fright

Over the years of crossing oceans, I have had to dodge ships while at sea. We have friends who actually did collide with a ship. They were not dismasted nor did they take on water but the damage was extensive, not only to their boat but to their psyche. They put their boat up for sale.

This is the original unedited version of Freighter Fright which appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Ocean Navigator.   But here I can add links to the proper sites to report errant ships and so anyone can easily find the identity of the owner of a ship.  Also, here I can thank Timothy Farley of the U.S.C.G. , Office of Investigations and Casualty Analysis,  in Washington, D.C. and  Max van de Kemenade at Netwave Systems (they sell VDRs), for all their patience and answers to my endless emails to help with keeping the enclosed information accurate.  Also, other Valiant sail boat owners at the Valiant Owners web site were a big help. Additionally, it took days of reading through endless IMO documents to finally figure out how to report the negligent operation of a freighter.





Hollywood would like to make believe that steel containers, fallen from ships, bob around the worlds oceans as numerous as Arctic icebergs ready to sink the dreams of unsuspecting world cruisers. But if this were so, shipping containers would be washing up on every shore far more frequently than beached whales.  It is not semi-submerged containers an ocean crossing cruiser needs to be overly concerned about, it is the cargo ships from which they fall that is the far greater menace.

Anyone who has sailed across oceans for a while certainly has dodged a large ship.  On the bridge of most ships, the OOW (Officer On Watch) and the crew are vigilant and do what they can to avoid a closing situation with a relatively tiny plastic sailboat.  But there is the percentage of ships crew who are either not doing their job of keeping a proper watch or prefer to push their size difference and expect everything smaller to scurry out of the way.  That requires the crew of the smaller sailboat to be constantly vigilant, which is required anyway by international law.

There have been numerous incidents where neither the offending ship nor the sailing yacht yielded resulting in serious damage to the sailboat. In at least one instance the sailboat was macerated, the bits and pieces washing up on a nearby island.  Certainly other sailboats have disappeared without a trace.  But these collisions can happen without the OOW on the ship even realizing a sinking had occurred. During an obscuring rain squall, a behemoth Japanese car carrier cut a commercial fishing boat in half and continued on its way, the OOW never noticing anything unusual.

When the weather is clear, it is especially annoying and dangerous for large steel freighters to fail to follow the COLREGS (International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) which are internationally agreed navigational rules as published by the IMO (International Maritime Organization).  But the failure is frequent.  So when I saw the cargo ship Pulau Layang (which means “island floating” in Indonesian) registered in Jakarta,  thundering across the ocean at our 40’ sailboat from our port quarter in a converging, rather than an overtaking situation, in the late afternoon with good visibility, I wanted irrefutable proof of what was happening.

Pulau Layang  is required to display a Class A, AIS signal (Automatic Identification System).  Most recreational and fishing boats are not required to transmit AIS but they often do use the less expensive and less powerful Class B, AIS signal.  On our AIS transceiver, the only signal showing was from a tugboat far to our south.  We were in offshore waters in Indonesia traveling south west from the city of Tual to Dili, Timor Leste; a passage of 500 miles.   As the big freighter was closing rapidly, I had time to make only one call on Ch16 to “The ship heading S.W., this is Brick House, the sailboat dead ahead of you.”  With no response I grabbed my camera and quickly climbed back to the cockpit.  As the autopilot steered, I worked fast to take evidential pictures of the approaching ship in the background and what parts of our cockpit would fit in the foreground.  This would be one time I would try to turn the tables on a dangerous freighter violating several international regulations.  I wanted the close proximity pictures to prove the closing situation, the clear visibility conditions and the wave height.  Eventually, with Pulau Layang’s hull becoming frighteningly close to my port side, I turned hard to starboard and jybed to complete a 360 degree turn and snapped a few more pictures with the ship now passing on my stern.  All the while it was best to leave a sleeping beauty lie so I did not rouse my wife, Rebecca, from the aft cabin till the ship passed, the tense situation was over and Brick House was back on its course.


As Pulau Layang passed, stacked high over head with green containers,  I could see no one on deck or in the windows of the bridge or the bridges wing deck.  The ship’s continued silence to my repeated calls on the VHF stoked my irritation causing forth a bit of sailors verbiage directed at an imagined crew relaxing in the bridge.  Possibly that crew understood little English but certainly the voice tone would convey the message of my displeasure.  However, it is an IMO requirement that any person standing watch on a ship must have a solid grasp of English and to be able to speak it clearly. They must also answer a call if they are called by ship name. In the past, attempting to converse with passing ships some times called up a jumble of friendly sounding words of a language we couldn’t even guess its origins. But they did respond to the call. From Pulau Layang, there was no response for the full hour I continued calling.  But some of those early emotionally charged calls would later worry me.

Pulau Layang receded over the horizon as Rebecca and I tracked the ship on RADAR. From the cockpit I could clearly see the ships superstructure at what the RADAR showed to be 6 nautical miles. This was just part of the evidence which had to immediately be recorded.  The actual latitude and longitude of the incident was noted.  There was a tug boat named Draco Best showing on the AIS and all the particulars for that boat were noted. This would prove our AIS was functioning properly.   The true direction of travel of Pulau Layang was noted as well as the direction of travel of Brick House and it’s speed over ground.  Wind direction and wind speed as well as cloud cover was noted and the time of day in local time.  Anything that might be useful in an investigation of the incident and to support my contentions was recorded. When the final report was written, it would include all documentation particulars of our own boat.

But now the problem was, who to report this situation to. Who would care? IMO does not have an enforcement arm so the responsibility rests with the Flag State, the country in which the offending vessel is registered. The Flag State is the only one that can discipline the crew and affect their licenses. Since Pulau Layang is flagged with a home port of Jakarta, Indonesia,  Indonesia is where I would have to hunt down the proper enforcement entity.

I discovered when one Googles, “Global Integrated Shipping Information System”it  will bring up an IMO site.  Click on the “Log In” at the far top right corner ( ).  After logging in as a public user, clicking on the icon for “Ship Particulars” I could find the ships “Flag State”, the registered owner, and IMO number. (Another site for finding the owner of a ship is at )  Clicking on the icon for “Contact Points” then the radio button for “Flag State contact points for PSC matters”  (PSC stands for Port State Control) then where it says  “–Please Select—“  I could then scroll down to the Flag State of the ship of interest so that the name of the person in charge of enforcement and his contact information is given for filing a report about the ship.1D

It might be a requirement to have ships’ watch keepers to be fluent in speaking English but what about the people working in the foreign government offices of which I would be contacting?  It would seem reasonable to send a report in their own language along with my English version and copies of the most pertinent photographs.  After we docked in the city of Dili, at the first upscale waterfront hotel I walked into, the two front desk workers were very conversant in English.  They were more than happy to put my English report into their electronic translator and spit out a version in Indonesian.  I checked the print out for obvious errors like where the electronic translator  changed the name “Drako Best” to “Drako terbaik”, I changed back to “Drako Best”.  My new friends changed other electronic irregularities into what I hoped was a good mirror of the original report.  If the hotel option had not worked, then the next stop would be the local college where certainly a bilingual student would be willing to work a quick side job.  But not only is it desirable to communicate in the language of the flag country but to make sure all measurements are stated in metric.  Feet, inches,  statute miles are not understood by nearly all of the world.

My report in Indonesian and English, was emailed to the two most promising titled offices on the IMO, Indonesian, contact site.  Since there was no email address for the owner of the ship, printed out copies were mailed to the owner of Pulau Layang as certainly, they would want to know how their ships are operated and being  put in a libelous situation far out to sea.

If the Pulau Layang incident happened in waters of the United States, the nearest Coast Guard station would receive my report and pass it up the chain of command.  The U.S. Coast Guard takes their enforcement capabilities very seriously.  If a violation occurs on any foreign vessel within the U.S. Navigable waters of the U.S., or on board a U.S. vessel anywhere in the world, the Coast Guard can seek and impose enforcement actions including civil and administrative penalties.  Depending on the outcome of an incident, the Coast Guard can also refer a case criminally, such as where one’s negligence leads to death.

If an incident takes place in International waters and does not involve a US vessel, whatever investigative effort done by the U.S. Coast Guard would be forwarded to the Flag State.

But the U.S.C.G and foreign Flag State authorities investigates to complete a finding of facts and corrective measures and does not get involved with civil disputes.  So if there is an actual collision,  the owner of the damaged boat must quickly call an experienced maritime lawyer.

Investigators will take statements from the relevant crew members, review various ship’s documents and in  some situations, the information from the ship’s Voyage Data Recorder. The VDR is a brightly colored box that can withstand high temperatures, explosions, and sinking. The VDR records GPS position and heading, speed, RADAR,  depth, and other operational data . There are 4 microphones installed on the ceiling of the bridge and one on each wing deck to capture conversations and ship sounds.  Those microphones, along with the recording of VHF transmissions, would have certainly captured my repetitious calls and that irritated call made at the ship. Like mom says, “Always speak politely as you never know who is listening.”  VDR information is ultimately stored on a backup drive for at least 30 days before being overwritten.  Some more expensive VDRs record for 60 or 90 days before overwriting. The VDR is required equipment on internationally operated ships.  Pulau Layang, being a domestic carrier, might not have a VDR.

So after my reports were sent, I never heard back from the authorities in Jakarta who’s business it is to investigate such incident reports.  According to the IMO, this is not unusual as some Flag States put enforcement low on their list of priorities.  But I did hear from the General Manager of the company which owns and operates Pulau Layang.  The GM was extremely appreciative to receive the report. He would investigate the matter to determine further training or discipline of the crew.

As more ocean crossing yachts report the errant behavior of commercial ships, this will motivate the ships crew to give a greater consideration of those little plastic sailboats on the horizon. For those little boats, there are avenues for payback and to make our ocean passages safer.