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Cool Colombia

The purpose for visiting Curaçao was to catch up with a delightful Dutch couple, Robert and Ellen, whom we had met in Hobart several years earlier.  It was our first night of staying off the boat since 30 September 2016 (over 4 months) and we thoroughly enjoyed a beautiful home cooked meal and a bed that didn’t move all night!! To top it off, a shower that you could stand for as long as you liked! Such wonderful hospitality.

Our passage to Cartagena in Colombia took a couple of days and sailing in this area requires vigilance – we were very conscious of not getting too close to the coast of Venezuela and thus opening up  potential risks of piracy. The coast of Colombia is well known for its strong winds and several other OWR yachts had gusts of 40 knots or more and large seas – we were lucky and had a very easy time of it, to the point that we had to motor the last few hours. From the boat, Cartegena looks like the Gold Coast with tall modern hotel buildings and office blocks, but once into the marina we discovered secreted behind its modern facade, one of the most beautiful old walled cities that I have ever visited! Add to that the totally “cool” vibe of the Colombian people and we knew we were in for a treat!!

Overwhelmingly, the Colombians are happy and helpful and welcoming, however sometimes they overlook the finer details! Example…we were requested to move our Marina location on the first morning in – no problem! Soon after Miss T was hard aground in the marina with the Marina Manager watching on and indicating that we should keep trying to get into a berth that was clearly too shallow. Luckily there was a helpful power boat alongside who were happy to assist!
Some years it is hard to remember where you had your birthday, but I will not forget my 59th! We stayed in a small historical boutique hotel, had dinner with some of our Oyster friends who were in town on the night before the big day, and then came the day of pampering that had been prearranged by Sal and Will at the hotel spa…a 2 hour massage, a facial and then 2 hours at the hairdresser to try and tame my over blond, undernourished hair back into a more decent head of hair (if that is ever possible). As an aside, James and I are particularly bad with the Spanish language (no surprises there) and my concern was how I was going to describe colour and style! Amazingly the owner of the salon was a Colombian born hairdresser who had spent 20 years in a salon in Double Bay in Sydney and was very excited to have an Aussie in his shop!

Charlie had told us about a local guy he had met called Henry, who was passionate about his city and a great guide. We organised to meet him near the Old Town to take us on a walking tour that same afternoon for an hour or so. Four hours later we bid him farewell after having been introduced to the history and culture of Cartegena. It was entertaining, interesting, informative and just what I would have imagined a Topdeck Trip Leaders’s walking tour should/would have been like!  We were the ultimate tourists and enjoyed every moment, including a strong gin and tonic/ beer on top of the old city walls. The highlight for me was the story of their own Indian Pocohontis (Aracka Wacka) – my kind of girl!! We downed some tapas on our way back to the boat and witnessed a fast and colourful Zumba session taking place in a local square – hundreds of back packers mingled with the locals to put on a great display!

The work is never done and completing tasks on the boat is a constant….it is very hot and daytime temperatures sizzle in the mid 30’s on most days….it is clear we are getting closer to the equator!

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Kub Kun Ka Thailand

With a “winners are grinners” post racing swagger, we hauled Miss Tiggy out for two weeks of TLC. The growth and barnacles that had joined us since her last bottom wash in NZ were numerous and attempting a spectacular take over bid. Our home was now high up above the hot concrete of a car park with no refrigeration or running water so we opted for an AirBnB condo with own pool, air con and all the mod cons. Heaven!! Time for home-making, some relaxation and behaving like normal people was great for the soul!

The morning coffee addiction has been well catered for over the 6 weeks we have been in Phuket – the task to find great coffee in various locations has been very successful and helped in saving our Nespresso pods for passages. Wine is much more varied and available than had been reported but eye wateringly expensive. Finally a chain of Supermarkets called Villa Market became my favourite haunt to restock the boat and provision for the next few months ahead in places where western type food is not so common.

Christmas and New Year came and went with the speed that only happens when you are having the best time. In a villa overlooking Surin Beach and the Andaman Sea with Sal, Will and Theo as our base, we swam, ate, played cards and enjoyed each other’s ‘ company which only happens on an annual basis at the moment. We found our family favourite London restaurant, Zuma, had a pop up on Phuket over Christmas and New Year so all their special delights were enjoyed at dinner on New Years Eve with music and fireworks to bring in 2019. But time, as always, flies at such speed that now in mid January we are on the brink of continuing our journey west.

Calum returned to the freezing climes of Scotland for Christmas and New Year and has rejoined us, as has Kirsty, his lovely Scottish girlfriend, who will be additional crew for Miss Tiggy for the next few months. Our plan at this stage is to enjoy the unspoilt islands of Myanmar for diving and fishing, across the Andaman Sea to the Andaman Islands, an outpost of India (getting a visa for India to visit by yacht is an interesting task in itself ). Sir Lanka, the Maldives and Oman leading to the Red Sea and ultimately The Med…back to where it all started. Not sure what happened to the plan of putting Miss Tiggy on a yacht carrier but that seems to have been well and truly ditched!

Phuket Kings Cup 2018

We have always been cruisers – race sailing has not been on the radar….until we were invited to join Eric and his Oyster 575, Lisanne, as crew in the Phuket Kings Cup regatta. Sounded like fun and was conveniently timed to coincide with our arrival in Thailand. Our crew was international – Eric and Lars hail from Sweden, Matt from the Netherlands, Calum from Scotland and Jimmy and I from Australia.

Lisanne was entered in the Cruising Class – all 33 tons! I looked around the other yachts entered in our category and they all looked significantly smaller and lighter. At this stage I was unaware of the intricacies of sailing around the buoys, wind speed and ratings.

7 days of racing ahead, including a practice race – the unknown.

Down came the Bimini and spray hood (the covers over the cockpit), which meant total exposure to the weather including sun. Off came the anchor which was transferred to dinghy. All unnecessary equipment, which would increase the weight of Lisanne, had already been left on Miss Tiggy.

Each morning we were up at 6.15am, breakfast at 7, cutting sandwiches, repairing wounds (blisters and the likes), covering ourselves in sunscreen and moving out of the bay to join the other participants in the Andaman Sea. At 9 am, the Committee boat would instruct us on which course we would be sailing. There were 5 classes starting at different times so some 50 boats would mill around the line all trying to get the best position.

Eric has raced boats for many years and his experience showed through. There was no time to be sensitive as our Viking leader roared orders. Everything was done at pace. We worked well as a crew – some of us have been sailing these Oysters nearly every day for over 2 years, and the fact that Lisanne is the same design and a similar spec to Miss Tiggy gave us an advantage.

The one blip in the week was a late protest against us on the last day of racing – in the final hour before the presentations, Eric had to attend a jury meeting to face off a potential loss of position or disqualification but no penalty was applied and our number one position was safe.

It was a great week! Line honours in every race and overall number one position after handicapping meant an invitation to the official awards ceremony to receive the Cup replica. This was a big deal – the town was cordoned off for the arrival of the King’s representative, who presented the prizes. There was much bowing and curtsying and military men wearing gold bars.

Of course there were the mandatory parties, dinners and drinks and copious conversations about what if and what was. Thank you Eric for including us – it was a fantastic albeit an exhausting week.

Mythical Myanmar

Farewell Indonesia, one of the most incredibly friendly countries where possessions mean very little. Life is all about family. Smiling and a wonderful sense of community is what makes their world go round while cats, dogs, chickens, goats and children share the streets and backyards.

Farewell also to the Southern Hemisphere – the glorious night skies. We crossed the equator for the second time in 2 years and were back to the hot sweaty nights and steamy days. Strong squally weather meant rain so we were able to get some relief by just standing out on deck. As we crossed that line of 00.000 degrees we were flanked on each side by Calliope and Lisanne all with our Asymmetrics up a looking a treat!

Wondering what is going on here? Pollywogs becoming shell backs – or, in nautical terms, (L-R) Kirsty, Calum, Matt and Ann have been initiated for their first crossing of the equator by boat. Lucky for them, a dousing of disgustingness followed by a shot of some unknown Swedish alcohol mixed with soy sauce.

Our last night in Indonesia was spent in Nongsa Point Marina where we could see the lights of Singapore a mere 16 nautical miles away. Power, water, a swimming pool and restaurant! For months we have eaten in side alleys and local restaurants with no issue but as if to remind us that Bali Belly is still alive and well, I was struck down at the 11th hour. A few hours of playing cat and mouse amongst the shipping channels between Indonesia and Singapore the next day, and a short clearing in process and we were in a marina on Sentosa Island amongst bars, restaurants and all the trappings of the 21st century.

With Charles and Nicky Manby from Calliope, we winged our way north to Myanmar for a 10 day adventure incorporating a 5 star cruise along the Illawaddy River with an overnight trek from the town of Kalaw to Lake Inle…certainly a big difference in our accommodation and experiences! On one hand to have a few days of pure luxury which was delicious and juxtaposed with an overnight stay in a Monastery high up in the hills of Burma which we had hiked…where showering is equivalent to throwing a bucket of cold water over yourself (the toilets were unmentionable), and sleeping in a row on the floor with just the added bonus of a mosquito net brought us quickly back to earth. Definitely worth it from the “adventure” point of view.

For now our sail continues north – from Singapore along the west coast of Malaysia. For the first time in the last couple of years we are alone and have negotiated our way up the Malacca Strait, notorious to mariners and one of the 3 most likely places in the world to be boarded by pirates. To date we have only encountered a few “interested” fishing boats but nothing too alarming.

We are participating in the Kings Cup Regatta in Phuket at the beginning of December on “Lisanne” (our Oyster group entry) followed by Christmas with our kids also in Phuket – so much to look forward to!

Orangutans in Kalimantan

We are now 4 on Miss Tiggy – Kirsty, Calum’s girlfriend, joined us again in Lombok for the trip through to Singapore. It is very nice to have someone to share the cooking and cleaning and provide some feminine conversation! In saying that, we also assist with all sailing and boat duties! The two other Oysters on our South East Asian Rally are “Calliope” (British) with Charles and Nicky on board and “Lisanne” (Swedish) skippered by Eric with Anne and Matt (Dutch). Great combination – Australian, British, Scottish, Swedish and Dutch….a multicultural albeit small group!

Crossing the Java Sea at night is very different from sailing an ocean and in some ways, far more nerve wracking ! In the dark, with just the AIS (Automatic Identification System) and radar to help and keeping your eyes peering into the inky sea, you hope that you won’t miss one of the FAD’s (fish attracting device) or run into a fishing boat that is unlit. All around are lights but nothing showing on our high tech locator devices – we have no idea how close or far some of them are and there is that gnawing thought in the back of your head about balaclavas and high speed dinghies. At least out in the ocean you have much less of a chance of seeing anyone else let alone running into them!

An overnight stop at Bawean Island was welcome as we were by the locals. We just happened to slip in behind another Rally, Sail Indonesia, who were being treated like royalty on their arrival. Although we were upfront about being non participants the local people were so excited to have more visitors than were expected that they insisted on giving us the same treatment. This Island is strictly Islamic so finding a place to sit and have a cold Bintang was nigh on impossible. Instead we hired scooters and had a look around…we were photographed at every turn either with one or many wanting to have their pics taken with us. Some even popped themselves in as well!!

Our 33rd wedding anniversary was celebrated at sea – an alcohol free day because we were on passage and our lea cloth up to prevent us falling out of bed! Very romantic!!

Kumai, the gateway to the Tanjung Puting National Park on Kalimantan (Borneo) was finally reached in darkness after a soaking rain squall, the discovery of one of the Sail Indonesia Rally yachts hard aground at the entrance to the River and a wait for an incoming tide to get us over the bar way into the Kumai River. Having left Calum and Matt to assist the stricken yacht, it was a slow 11 miles in the pitch black dark up stream to the town and our anchorage.

It was all worth it – the day to follow was quite extraordinary. Our tour guide, Erwin (survivor of the MV Senopati Nusatara Ferry disaster of 2006) took us by speed boat, on a journey into the hot and humid jungle of Tanjung Puting. We hiked a short distance to a feeding platform to watch an awesome spectacle – Orangutans in their natural environment…no fences or cages, just goggle eyed humans so enamoured with being able to be so up close and personal with such magnificent specimens. So human like! The babies, close to their mothers, rolling around and playing in between stuffing bananas into their mouths; one alpha male enjoying his breakfast while scratching his balls and looking very satisfied and young males waiting nearby and approaching warily so as to adhere to the pecking order. Once breakfast was over, and with not so much as a backward glance, they would turn their backs and walk back into the jungle only to be seen shortly after swinging in the canopy of trees that deliver them safely back into the jungle.

A similar afternoon orangutan experience was followed by an invitation to participate in an Islamic wedding – such a contrast! Arriving in walking boots and shorts, apart from James who was head to toe in jungle green mosquito repellant cotton such that he was nicknamed Jungle Jim, and wet from rain and sweat we were made, as always, very welcome. Certainly a day to remember!

Go Dees!

Miss Tiggy sailed out of Antigua in January 2017, over 18 months ago, and one thing we did not factor in was the friendships and sense of community that we would experience on the Oyster World Rally. Many thousands of sea miles sharing the ups and downs, drinks, parties, triumphs and frustrations with (I quote Rory McGrath from Dalliance) “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” has been life changing. Now we are a party of 3 (Miss Tiggy, Calliope and Lisanne) known jokingly as the Wong Direction, staying in Asia to continue the exploration of the region knowing that, as we waved the fleet off on their way across the Indian Ocean, we would miss the comradeship that has been intrinsic to our group of seafarers. Sail well and be safe OWR 2017-2019!

Attention now turns to the Melbourne Demons, in the AFL finals for the first time since 2006. Anyone who has known James for any length of time knows his passion for the Dees is a driving force and our arrival in Bali to meet Sal was beautifully timed with the first Elimination Final. Our 6 days in Bali turned into a flight to Melbourne (our Indonesian visas needed to be renewed also) and a big night at the MCG to watch them succeed in making the Preliminary Final, unfortunately in Perth! A flight and ticket was booked with the outcome to decide our flight date back to Indonesia.

Although we had planned to complete the Rally in Indonesia, we are still part of what has been deemed an event for “fixing boats in exotic locations”. As life would have it our watermaker, which turns sea water into useable drinking water through reverse osmosis (desalination) has stopped working which would have disallowed us continuing across the Indian Ocean. Why would that stop us? Not only does it provide drinking water (yes we could buy bottled water) but it provides us with showers, washing up, clothes washing – every day activities that we all take so much for granted. Forget all the other stuff, can you imagine my hair after weeks of being washed in salt water? Eek!

The Plan? Well…Plans are meant to be changed (and it appears that we have become particularly good at this!) is to continue our journey north to Kalimantan, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. We have entered in the Phuket Kings Cup on Lisanne at the beginning of December followed by Christmas there with our kids. With fellow Oyster 575 Calliope and Lisanne, we hope to sail to the Andaman Islands, Sri Lanka and the Maldives where the boats will be taken by ship back to the Mediterranean.

Even though we have left the Oyster World Rally you can still track us on this link:

http://my.yb.tl/misstiggy

Volcanoes and Vistas

Indonesia is beautiful, bountiful, and challenging – far from a typical run of the mill tourist destination. Time is of little consequence, and supermarkets are a strategic challenge, the language is like no other but there is an underlying friendliness with each and every “Hello Mister” that is called out to you as you pass by, regardless of your gender. Some love it and some are not so sure – this normally depends on personal experience with Bali Belly, ease of using “starter block” toilets, or the generally chaotic nature of day to day living. There are no marinas, so no fresh water (we have to desalinate using our Water Maker on a daily basis) and diesel has to be syphoned from jerry cans that have come from the local service station via dinghy and brute strength.

There have now been several more Earthquakes severely damaging areas in the north of Lombok and the Gilli Islands. Tourists and locals alike have been moved from badly hit areas and we are unsure at this stage of how we can assist in the clean up. At the time of the first earthquake (of which we were unaware), we were enjoying a beach BBQ when we noticed the tide had receded well beyond its normal limits but thought nothing of it. Later we realised that it could have been as a result of a very small tsunami. The subsequent number of earthquakes and after shocks (5 in Lombok and Subawa subsequently and in one day) is concerning and a number of the fleet felt the tremors even while onboard and at sea. Almost daily we sail past active volcanoes and at night enjoy a sundowner while they huff and puff in the distance.

One piece of advice we were given was “never rent a car without a driver” – nothing truer!! The road is crazy and the drivers, plus millions of motor bikes and mopeds, are crazier. There are few rules and a copious amounts of horn honking. A visit to the the three coloured lakes of Mt Kelimutu, 3 hours of driving each way, was a demonstration of how to survive on the roads. In addition, an extensive amount of road work at the approach to the National Park meant that we had to walk the last 6 kilometres uphill in the rain. The thought of hiking back down to meet our car and driver was very unappealing so we hired a motorbike and driver each at the parking station and had a nerve wracking ride slipping and sliding down the mountain.

In the town of Labuan Bajo, amongst the many backpackers, diving shops, cafes (where you can even get a great flat white) and local stores are power lines that hang down to shoulder height. Navigating through the streets is precarious enough with traffic and pedestrians vying for space in the narrow road and sadly a local man was electrocuted while attempting to fix a live wire and was left hanging for 20 minutes upside down before he could be brought down.

On Komodo Island, where dragons thrive, we were entertained by a young male devouring a black piglet. With throat open and teeth crunching the last we saw of its prey were two tiny hooves disappearing downwards into his stomach and with 2 large gulps and a lick of the lips he was off to find his next meal. They are fearless reptiles with huge big padded talons and a long yellow forked tongue – best viewed with a local ranger.

The diving and snorkelling is out of this world – water visibility and treacherous currents have created some of the world’s most stunning coral gardens. Layer upon layer of coloured coral hug the coast of the islands offering such a varied choice that at times it is almost too much to take in. Then their are the tropical fish and marine life including Manta Rays that wallow and flip and feed all around and invite you to join them as they imitate a stealth bomber in flight. 9 dives in 3 days and we have now completed our Advanced Diving certification. Thanks Kevin and Uber Scuba!

Still so much to do and see but there is an underlying feeling of sadness – in just a couple of weeks we farewell the Oyster World Rally fleet as they head off across the Indian Ocean towards South Africa. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel – as we wave goodbye to our friends and sailing companions of nearly 2 years , our lovely Sal arrives to spend some time in Bali with us. Our fleet will be reduced to just 3 boats – Miss Tiggy, Calliope and Lisanne – the Phuket 3.

Sailing north

Weeks have flown and our cruising time in home waters is now in the past. Hundreds of nautical miles from the Whitsundays, to Magnetic Island, through the Hinchinbrook Passage, Cairns, traversing Cape York, Thursday Island and across the Arafura Sea to Indonesia has delivered some of the best sailing conditions we have experienced on the whole trip. Flat seas, 25 knots of wind and a poled out genoa and Miss Tiggy humming along at over 10 knots was exhilarating and exciting sailing! When the wind dropped we put up our spinnaker and sat back to enjoy the ride. We have witnessed some truly spectacular sunrises and sunsets, cloud formations, starry nights – too many to remember and so hard to capture in a photograph. Thanks to Henry on Tianelle who sent his drone up high over our heads to take this wonderful footage of Miss Tiggy as we sailed up through the Coral Sea inside the Great Barrier Reef.

The highlight of our week in Cairns was certainly not the weather (it rained for the entire week) was catching up with some of our wonderful Topdeck Crew some now with partners and kids in tow! It was so special to see Katie Montgomery, Sarah “London” Clark (Murphy) and Brooke “Poodle” Bindley and hear about their lives post Topdeck!

Right at this moment we are anchored in a tiny atoll in the east of Indonesia with time to reflect on the past weeks. A rescue at sea – we located and assisted 2 men off Yorkys Knob near Cairns with no water, lights, VHF or common sense; completed our last long passage from Thursday Island (a true outpost) to Kupang in 6 days on which our only excitement was being flown over and buzzed by Australian Border Force; stayed overnight in the village of Boti on Timor where the modern world has yet to enter, and men don’t cut their hair after marriage for fear of losing their connection with the trees and therefore their strength and scuba diving in and around the island of Alor amid some of the most spectacular coral reefs, pinnacles and underwater walls that we have yet to experience. The colour, fish life and variety of soft and hard Coral is difficult to put into words….

We are woken every morning by the Muslim Call to Prayer and extremely noisy outboard motors attached to the back of the slimline homemade fishing vessels. The fishermen do not seem particularly bothered by our arrival and will give us a toothy red beetle nut grin as they approach to sell their catch. Our time on the Island of Alor allowed us a great deal of hope – here with a vibrant and mixed racial group as well as intermarriage between Muslims and Christians, we were lucky to witness integration of all kinds at its best. We were told by our Guide, Ahmed, that Family is the most important key to a happy and successful life and their inner joy is reflected in their incredibly friendly and welcoming behaviour. With our friends, Nicky and Charles from Calliope, we visited a local school and spoke to the children about our journey around the globe – so unused to visitors were they that we were treated like movie stars.

Our sail along the islands of eastern Indonesia has afforded us wonderful scenery and a number of live volcanoes spewing smoke. Sadly we heard yesterday that there was a sizeable earthquake on the island of Lombok, where we are headed, with a number of people killed. Such is the compromise of living on an idyllic island group sitting on top of the world’s most active volcanic region.