Post Pandemic Lockdown Conundrum

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We are not free of our home imprisonment yet here in Singapore but China, South Korea, Japan and part of the US and Europe are undergoing an opening or partial opening of their economy.

First thing first, let us not be delusional.  The economy is not going to hit the ground running and picking up from when we last left it.  We will not have a V shape recovery.  We have lost a lot of grounds during the month or two of lockdown and the headwinds we are now facing are quite telling.  The pandemic is not over yet, the disease is still around and will be around until we have discovered an effective vaccine and everyone has gotten their vaccination in the biggest ever mass vaccination program ever in history.  Social distancing will still be the rule of the day and this means that we will not be able to get back  into full productive capacity as long as restaurants, trains, buses, elevators and office spaces and factory floors can only hold a fraction of the number of people, post lockdown.  In one of my previous article “An upside down world” I gave a lot of credit to the timely and strong actions taken by the Federal Reserve Bank of the US.  Yes good stuff if it is a once-off but this is not to be so.  Historically we can see that weaning the economy off economic stimulus is never going to be easy.  Economic stimulus were introduced during and after the last global economic crisis of 2008/2009 in what was broadly known as Quantitative Easing (QE) programs which involved more borrowings and more creation of currencies by governments.  Most just called this money printing.  Prior to the pandemic, the global economy was already slowing down as a result of trying to unwind the borrowings from the last crisis, starting back in 2018.  In short, pulling back economic stimulus is near impossible without creating an economic downturn as the economy has gotten (for want of a better word) addicted to cheap credit and easy money.

The working of an economy is truly complex in that interventions (such as QE) will cause problems in areas which we, in most cases, cannot foresee.  The best solution is to leave it to the free market. I will not want to go into these debates between Keynesian and Austrian economics as these have been raging  on for decades without much conclusive evidence.  Leaving it to the free markets will cause a sharper short term pains but longer term prosperity is all I want to say.

Intervention causes price distortion and prevents true price discovery. This is the present conundrum and without the political will to take the shorter term pains, I am afraid we will continue to climb higher up the debt ladder resulting in a much higher fall when that happens.  This fall is inevitable.  Put simply, there is no free lunch and all debts will need to be repaid one day, in one way or another.  The result of this fall will undoubtedly be severe as we have climbed at a parabolic rate up this debt ladder, in the last decade.  The latest and current scenario has seen governments flying up this ladder rather than merely climbing and this leads many of the great economic minds of our world to come to the same conclusion that this will be the mother of all falls, off this debt ladder.

The end game will be a severe recession or even depression resulting in a likely economic and monetary system reset.  It means we are likely to see a revaluation of the bills we hold in our wallet.  Through the Bretton Woods Agreement of 1944, all of the world’s currencies are tied to the US dollar in their values (with some adjustments along the way).  With the exponential creation of currencies, the value of each unit (dollar, Yen, Euro, etc) will be further debased or having lesser value.  The US dollar being the world’s reserve currency, making up of more than  60 percent of all the “money” in the world, is of big significance and consequence.  The US dollar is being devalued rapidly by the huge amount of “money” creation through borrowings currently, as we speak.  As all other currencies are tied to the US dollar with strings of varying elasticity, we will see the overall devaluation of the bills in our wallet regardless of what currency we are carrying in it.  The issue here is, not every country is willing to let their currency be dragged down into oblivion by the US dollar.  Not surprisingly, as the big spenders are now telling the money savers that they will now have to foot for the bill as well! This of course will be happening on a global scale and the resulting amount of dissent and noises will end up in big arguments (arbitration) and a new monetary system will need to be trashed out to quill this amount of noise.  This ultimately will affect the value of “money” we carry in our wallet.

The big question that nearly everyone will be asking is, “how do I prevent the value of what little I have in my wallet from going to near zero in value?” The answer depends on who you ask.  Almost everyone will agree that hard assets (tangible, finite or limited in quantity, useful or desirable assets) will be the best things to hold in place of currencies while this whole fiasco is taking place.  I am a “gold bug” as I have recently confessed in one of my previous articles.  To me, the asset of choice to hold is precious metals (Gold and Silver).  I would urge everyone to go and find out for yourself what is happening around us.  It seems to me that we are now in the calm just before a big storm.  At least knowing about what is coming is better than being caught unaware.  I am not providing financial advice here as I am merely sharing what I am doing and my thoughts behind what we are going through now.

Stay safe everyone.  Be generous to those who are less fortunate.  God bless everyone.  

Sailor Dog locked down.

The Lockdown or travel restriction meant we were at home most of the time except for when we were out buying food.

The Admiral was working from home. I wasn’t able to do any canvas work as the industrial sewing machines are in the marina, and the sewing room has been turned into a temporary dormitory for the marina’s staff from Malaysia affected by their own lockdown. I was at home most of the time and I chose to educate myself on how the global pandemic is affecting the world’s economic environment and the likely impact and outcome, thereafter. I would spend my time listening to YouTube contents and reading articles by great macro-economic minds such as Raoul Pal, Jim Rikards, Miles Harris, Mike Maloney, George Gammon, Brent Johnson and most recently Lior Grantz. These are not your textbook economists. These are successful fund managers who manage investment portfolios worth hundreds of millions if not billions. Their hugely successful track records are a result of their in depth understanding of the financial economic system of the world and how mostly from experience, they are able to see the likely outcome of events such as the current pandemic through their understanding of this complex system. The understanding of the mechanisms of the US Federal Reserve Bank and its workings with the US Federal Government. The exact workings of monetary and fiscal policies, the REPO market (overnight and short term lending market) and their direct impact on the liquidity of the US dollar, Euro Dollars and inter central banks swaplines. IN SHORT, these are not exactly what you can learn from textbooks and by piecing together what I could learn from each, I can hopefully form a better broader understanding of where we have come from, where we are now and where we are heading. The “when” is a harder factor to determine, but what is evident are the sequence of progressions along some of the postulations. Most of these videos and articles were created way before this pandemic and this in a way provide evidence of whether their thesis fit into the sequence of events which have and is taking place right now. These insights are immensely interesting to me with my background in International economics. Yes that was my major. Frankly speaking, some of the potential scenarios are downright scary. Collapse of the financial system, hyperinflation, and the potential for civil unrest.

My interest in the works of some of the above names started a few years ago, when after my exit from the corporate world gave me time to research and read.  I did become a “gold bug” (those who believe that gold still plays an important role as a store of value and acts as real money) and as a result bought some physical gold as an insurance policy.  That was almost 2 years ago. Gold proved to be the asset of choice in the event of crisis, as we are seeing now. Gold bugs are somewhat suspicious of the present fiat currency system which the entire world’s economies revolves around.  They believe that all fiat currencies will eventually collapse and that gold is the one true money that has survived through the thousands of years of human civilization. Perhaps a biased view but history does concur with their views, to a certain extent.

I will not be doing any preaching here, rest assured.  The next form of “money” is likely to evolve into an entirely digital form which may or may not be backed by gold or having a gold standard.  The later, may be required to instill board base confidence in the new digital currency. Without the confidence that one is able to transact with it in the future, no currencies will be effective as a form of money.  

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused such a disruption around the entire world that we could very well be waking up into a new world, once we are set free of our current home imprisonment. One wouldn’t expect a sudden overnight change but we can expect to see hastening changes and certainly some new social aspects which will become the new “normal”.

The Sailor Dog has been a very good girl all through this lockdown. She would be laying down most of the time looking bored perhaps. She will come to me when she is hungry, thirsty (when her drinking bowl is empty) or when nature calls. Apart from that she is hardly obtrusive. Of course, without the need to adhere to some strict work hour guidelines, my daily routine has completely gone out of whack. I have been reading or listening to YouTube videos well into the wee hours of the morning. Sailor Dog has a much better biological clock than I do. Past midnight she would come to distract me from my studies. At least letting me know that it’s late and it’s past bedtime. She will only go to the bedroom to sleep (on her doggie bed, on the floor) when accompanied by me. Just the other day, I was ignoring her distraction when it was very late at night or very early in the morning. When reaching out for my mouse on the coffee table, she gently nudged my hand away from touching the mouse. She did that no lesser than 3 times in a row. That wasn’t by accident. She wanted me to stop. I simply had to stop and brought her to sleep. Every now and then I will need to go and check on the boat. The marina will grant us entry after checking on our temperature. Sailor Dog gets her temperature taken as well although no one would know what her normal should be. Sailor Dog will be all excited when told we are going to the boat. Skipped and bounded her way towards the door to wait for me. She would sit quietly in the car, now much more used to being in a moving car that she hasn’t gotten car sick lately. Once at her marina, she would run around her familiar backyard, like she owns the place. Still observing the rule that her paws needed wiping before jumping onto the cockpit, she’ll wait for me next to her wipe down bucket. She is still the Sailor Dog at heart and Micasa our floating home was the only home she had known for more than 3 years, prior to living on land at the beginning of this year. She knows every corner of the boat and her favorite place is of course the bed. Strangely enough, she has not once jumped onto my bed at the new home. Sleeping instead, on her own doggie bed on the floor, next to my bed. She is still the queen of the marina. Winning hearts wherever she goes. She would greet her Godma, with such a tail wag that her rear end would be thrown from side to side. Yes, she’s our adorable Sailor Dog. She can still bring joy to our hearts in this time of endless sad news and the prospect of an uncertain future. Such a different “person” from when we first brought her back from the pound. She is confident in her demeanor knowing that she has a home and that we are there for her. Likewise, she has and will protect us and her home from unknown strangers, be they the delivery man or new neighbours whom she hasn’t seen before. Sometimes a little embarrassing when she barked at new neighbours, but she will very soon learn that they are our neighbours. She is such a gentle creature that at times I would be surprised by her ferocity when strangers had invaded our space. She is such a joy to have around. If ever you have room in your life to accommodate a furry friend, do not hesitate to adopt a rescued pet. A chance for them to have a life and for you to be blessed with the untold joys they can bring into your life at the same time. This after all is the story of how a pound dog became a Sailor Dog.

Sailor Dog relaxing during this lockdown

Stay safe everyone and look for the beacons of hope and joy in these rather dark hours of history that we are living through now.

Sailor Dog and the Captain ⚓ signing off for now. Cheers!

An upside down world.

It has been a couple of months since my last posting.  I have moved onto my shore based home, the choice of the Admiral.  Sailor dog and I have adapted well and in the initial weeks we were still going back to Micasa on a daily basis.  I, to work on canvas jobs and sail repairs at the marina while the sailor dog rests in her familiar floating home.  That was before the “Circuit Breaker” – Singapore’s version of a lockdown and social distancing.

There is a new terror in town and around the world. Covid-19! This post will be mostly around my thoughts regarding Mr. Covid and the thereafter.

I must admit that I have been a little ignorant of the spread of this disease in the initial weeks.  I was on a flight back to visit my mum in Sabah, Malaysia when I noticed that almost everyone on the flight was wearing a face mask except me and a few others.  This was on 20th January. A few days later I heard about the lockdown of Wuhan City and this was during the festive season of Chinese New Year. It is the equivalent of locking down millions of people during Christmas or ThanksGiving.  There was so much misinformation on social media that it is hard to know what is true or otherwise. Having worked in China for more than a year, I still do have friends and ex-associates there. Through them and a few reliable media sources, I could grasp the scale and magnitude of their lockdown.  Effectively the entire country came to a grinding halt. This disease was such a big deal that it was worth sacrificing the all important economic growth, in the eyes of the Chinese Government. I sat up and took notice!

Like many I looked on in disbelief.  Looking at the statistics, especially the relatively low mortality rate, I failed too to recognise the significance and danger of exponential growth.  A concept that exists only in mathematics and physics text books and we do not really recognise examples of it, in real life. Those who have been in China for more than brief visits would have seen their ability in building mega infrastructure projects in record time.  This capability was put to use in building fully equipped temporary hospitals to deal with the rapidly increasing number of new infection cases each day.

By now, the end of April, every corner of the world has seen the spread of this disease ranging from severe to mild to non-existence. On the last, there is either no one living in those areas or there hasn’t been testing done. We have learnt new terms – “social distancing”, “lockdown”, “flattening of the curve”, “black swan event”, “community transmission”, “herd immunity” etc, etc.

We would have seen the best and the worst of humanity during this period and what is scary is the amount of uncertainty ahead.  We have not had such an occurrence in recent times. Each one of us would have many unanswered questions.

Here in Singapore, where I live, the city state has been going about life as usual with minor adaptation of social distancing despite of double digits new infections each day, in the initial stage. It wasn’t until the second week of April that we saw a spike in numbers going into 3 digits and now the latest was in excess of a thousand new cases a day. This was an oversight I believe in the foreign workers’ dormitory. Singapore is a forward looking, advance planning nation and I still have my confidence in its ability to keep the situation from boiling over. The city state is now under a lockdown called the Circuit Breaker. Most locals, myself included, are law abiding citizens who would willingly heed and observe the Government’s recommendation and advice. Hence there isn’t a need to introduce harsh measures of enforcement. This is a bit of an oversight. There are now many foreign workers and immigrants in Singapore. Many of us would have seen video clips on social media on how harsh measures such as beating and canning were seen in various parts of the world, where such measures were introduced to enforce a lockdown. It hasn’t come to that yet in Singapore and I would strongly doubt that it will ever come to that but Singapore has taken to issuing fines, evoking work visa and potential jail sentences for persistent offenders.

Singapore’s strategy of containing the spread of Covid-19, in attempting to strike a balance between allowing the economy to hum along against the need to prevent the spread of the disease has been winning accolades from around the world and with the spike in the numbers of new infections recently, has drawn some rather harsh criticism on social media both from within its own community and from abroad.

I am confident that the situation can be kept from boiling over. What many do not know is that Singapore is a forward looking nation. A nation that plans well ahead in advance. After having lived through the SARS epidemic, the government would have a well thought out plan to deal with similar occurrences. There would have been considerations taken on potential future waves of infection and potential mutations which could be even more lethal. Let me just stop there with that.

I do stay awake at night, after this circuit breaker has drastically altered my daily routine and I ponder upon those unanswered questions that we would have of this pandemic and the aftermath.

Here are some of my thoughts and opinions.

What we are seeing now is unprecedented. The whole world is facing a common enemy, the Coronavirus, and nearly 6 billion people are under some form of lockdown or travel restrictions. Economically, nearly everything has come to a standstill apart from those deemed as essential services. If this is needed let us all do what is required and get through it with the minimum suffering.

Thus far we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly.  Political leaders, playing a blame game when they should be focusing more on controlling the spread of this disease and saving more lives instead.  I will not want to go there. It is simply ugly.

Being confined to the home, I have spent nearly all of my waking hours reading and listening to some of the best macro economics minds out there, to get a better feel of where we have come from and where we could possibly be heading.  It is a crazy situation out there. We have come close to a meltdown and collapse of the whole financial economic system. There are many economists out there speaking harshly against the actions taken by the US federal government and Reserve Bank.  I beg to differ on this. We would have gone down the rabbit hole if the Fed had not taken such decisive and strong actions. Governments and financial institutions around the world would have closed for a few days. Disorder and social unrest would be everywhere by now.  At least that has been staved off for now. I have majored in International Economics in university and this historical event that we are living through now is of particular interest to me.

The very fact that things are not many folds worse than they are right now is due to the timely actions of the Fed.  We are not through it all yet. I do believe that the worst is yet to come and I do hope that the governments around the world can keep this house of cards from falling apart.  The alternative will be bad. Very bad. Think of starvation and social unrest on a worldwide scale. The destruction of wealth to the extent that the ability to put food on the table will be questionable.  Going forward, it will become even more difficult to keep things together as the current financial and economic system that we have today, comes under increasing stress. All I can say is that we should hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. I really do hope that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.  Look far back enough and we will see an almost exact replay (minus the Coronavirus) in the past, leading to the rise of dictatorships and eventually war. Let us do our part where we can. The alternative is unthinkable.

I do really really hope that sailor dog and I will be able to fulfill the dream of cruising the seas around us on our sailboat and once floating home, Micasa.

Good night for now and stay safe and sane. God bless everyone.

Moving onshore.

House moving is both an exhausting time and a time of anxiety. Yet it can be an exciting time. I no longer have big bulky furnitures to move as what is on our floating home Micasa is built-in. Beds, dining table, settee, and even the fridge is built into the kitchen cabinet. The kitchen is known as a galley on a boat. When I last sold my condominium unit all the furnitures were given away. No one wanted the washing machine and that ended up on my pontoon alongside Micasa in the marina. It has been there for 2 years now serving my laundry needs. It is a hardy machine being just a foot away from sea water and the sea sprays arising from storms will cover it without doubt. I did make a canvas cover for it to keep it out of the sun. The washing machine will stay where it is as I intend to stay on the boat every now and then.

My clothes, cookware (pots and pans) and crockery, many of which were from my old home were store onboard and these were amongst the first things to be moved onshore. Bit by bit they were moved on each of the trips I have made to the new home. Feeling the weight of what I was carrying to the car gave me a sense of relief to be moving that much weight off Micasa. The waterline on the hull has risen by close to 5 cm. If I have to estimate the total weight offloaded it must be close to one and a half ton. It will make her lighter and faster to sail!

New condominiums in Singapore comes with no lightings although everything else is well equipped. Floorings (marble tiles), built in wardrobes in each of the 3 bedrooms, kitchen with cabinets, bench tops, built in stove top and oven with a exhaust hood over the stove. Lightings are a very personal preference that is why they were not fitted. Not even with the most basic of lightings. Most of what I needed for the new home were bought online. LED lightings from AliExpress, furnitures and electrical appliances from Lazada and even a pre-loved set of outdoor teak table and chairs from Carousell. This last one was a real good buy. The teak wood was looking rather weathered and grey. I now know quite a bit about teak after caring for Micasa’s teak deck and cockpit flooring for the last few years. They will only need a bit of cleaning to remove the surface mould and dirt to bring them back to like new condition. Teak is an oily wood which lasts for a long time even in the harshest of environment. I brought the outdoor furniture set back to the marina pontoon to treat with teak cleaner and brightener. Wow, even I was amazed by the transformation.

The place was only partly furnished when we moved in on 19th January (a Sunday). Sailor dog on a leash, we rode the elevator to the 30th floor to our new home. Sailor dog was both nervous and excited at the same time. She wondered from room to room sniffing the new and old scents. The old scents coming from the belongings we have moved from Micasa. She wondered out onto the balcony while we watch anxiously. She wasn’t frightened at all and even walked to the edge of the tempered glass barrier and looked down. My knees would have gone Jello had it been me but she took it all within her stride. After a while she came to me indicating that she wanted to go back to our floating home. I told her that was our new home where we will be staying. She seemed to digest what I had told her. She was a little distracted by the new environment and didn’t eat much of her dinner that evening, even though it was her favourite. Stewed chicken with rice.

The next day, I brought her back to Micasa before I went off to work on my canvas project in the marina. She was visibly excited to be back and ran towards Micasa. Even before I had parked the car she recognised the place and was whining with excitement, anxious to leap out of the door, once it is opened.

The new home is an average sized 3 bedroom condo unit. It seems very spacious after having lived on a boat for the last three and a half years. So much space to keep and store things. Suddenly the gadget guy in me who had gone into hiding, for the lack of space, re-emerged. Images of relatively large smart TVs, sound systems etc, came flooding in. The Bose multimedia speakers are now mounted onto the forward bulkhead of Micasa and I have no intention of removing them. I will need to get new ones. Hurray! But he has been out of the scene for so long now in today’s fast moving tech world. Much catching up and learning before any buying decision, surely.

I am happy to report that the sailor dog had cope remarkably well to this new home high up in the sky. From zero (sea level) to 30th floor! The fact that she had been able to visit her floating home of the last 3 over years, on each of my working days, helped immensely. There she was fully relaxed and comfortable. Within her comfort zone. Each time when we headed back towards the new home at the end of my working day, she was still visibly excited. A slight bit of nervousness in her but all is better than I could have hoped for. She is still my sweet sailor dog at core. When I was up late, well passed my usual bedtime, tinkering with the new gadgets (TV and sound system), she will come and urge me to go to bed. Coming close and staring at me with her tired watery eyes. She would still refuse to go to sleep by herself.

Day by day, just as she did when moving onto Micasa from the pound, she will get more used to her new home. She will be just as relaxed and comfortable in it as she was on Micasa.

Sailor dog and the Captain, signing off for now. Thank you for tuning in and we shall be back with more in the near future.

Meanwhile, remember to live life as it is meant to be lived. Cheers!

The Sailor Dog is swallowing the anchor?!! 

“Swallow the anchor” is a nautical term for retiring from sea life and settling on land.

What?  The Sailor Dog will be a sailor dog no more?  My fault really! Sailor Dog will go where I go and it is almost time for me to live onshore again.  At least for a while. The condo unit I have bought off the plan is now ready to move in. The Admiral is strongly in favour for that.  Micasa maybe a medium size boat with her 43 foot length but she offers lesser space than a 40 foot container with her pointed extremities.  That is not a lot of space as a home. Regardless, we have been living on board Micasa for three and a half years now and that is not a short period of time by any measure. 

There are some pluses to the sailor side of me.  With more things being offloaded to a shore based home, Micasa will be less cluttered and preparing her for a sea journey will both be easier and faster.  This should allow me to sail her out more often. We shall see!

This dream to cruise the seas is far from over.  If you understand how deeply ingrained this is, in me.   You see, I have spent the best part of my childhood in a small fishing village where our house was literally a stone’s throw from the sea.  The sea was our playground. Even more so than that, my friends, the little boys who I played with, were sea gypsies. Their families have plied the seas for centuries as nomadic seafarers who lived their entire lives on narrow wooden boats.  Children were born on these boats, and normal day to day lives persisted on them. The children have a love for soccer while the elder teens were more into volleyball and both these passions drew them to land each day. That was my encounters with them.  Their knowledge of the sea was simply amazing. I have come to look upon them as living encyclopedias of the sea and all that lives in and on the sea. They knew every living creatures we have encountered in sea, which sea snails that were good eating and which were deadly.  The giant sea worm which we encountered which they said were edible (they were sea cucumbers) and the sticky web which extruded from them when stepped upon were sticky enough to glue onto little fishes even when underwater.

I have learnt of the fury of the sea from those early days seeing their boats (put together with wooden pegs rather than nails or screws) being broken apart by storms and their entire worldly belongings strewn into the sea.  Came daybreak they would be scouring the shallow waters, salvaging whatever they could of their belongings. The sea was not very kind to them at such times but their entire livelihood comes from the sea alone. It provided their food and whatever excesses were dried off (dried fish, cuttlefish and octopus) and later bartered for necessities like sugar, tapioca, etc.  A subsistence level of life and yet such happy people. As I grew older, my family relocated to a bigger town but the sea life and my acquaintance with these sea gypsies stayed with me till this very day, a half century later. As I grew older I started looking more into the lives of these sea gypsies and their intertwined relationship with the sea, both a provider and taker at the same time. How despite of so meagre a worldly belonging, they have persisted to live that sea life and may I add, living a happy life.  Much later in my working life, I would sometimes be overwhelmed by work related stress and I would ask myself why I should not be like my sea gypsy friends who could live seemingly free from worries and wandered the seas as they did. Looking back they were indeed living the dream and I have had and still harbours that desire to live as nomadic seafarers just as my Sea Bajau friends did. This desire to be at sea will be calling me back to the sea again, with certainty. Sailor Dog will be sailing again and perhaps much further than she had ever sailed.  Once a sailor, always a sailor!

We do have a question in our heads regarding Sailor Dog, a big question.  How will she take to land? Ever since leaving the dog shelter, she has been living with us on Micasa and that was the only home she has known.  Our land based home will be 30 stories up in the sky. I have had a check around the balcony and the gaps between the tempered glass panels forming the sides of the balcony, are in no way large enough for the Sailor Dog to squeeze through, come what may.  How will she react to the realization of being so far off the ground? This we will have to wait and see. I do not doubt that our being there will be reassuring enough for her.

The view from the condo’s balcony on the 30th floor.

My current work with canvas making for boats will mean that I will be travelling to Raffles Marina each working day.  My industrial sewing machines, the tools of my trade are at Raffles Marina. I will be bringing Sailor Dog back to her floating home on each of these work trips.  As usual she will be left alone while I am at work sewing canvas and before leaving I will be telling her that I will be going off to work and that she has to be a good girl (by not making a mess) and to look after the boat.

With most household stuff offloaded from Micasa, it will provide me with the opportunity to refresh her interior varnish and to dry dock her as well.  Micasa’s anti-fouling is due for renewal after almost 5 years since her last anti-fouling. This will be a major event for Micasa and one which is bound to make a financial dent as well.  

Honestly, I am a little sad to close this chapter whereby my only home was onboard Micasa, but the new chapter which will soon begin, will be yet another adventure but the Sailor Dog and I will not be far from Micasa and our lives at sea.

Life is unpredictable, and we owe it to ourselves to live it to the fullest.  

Cheers, and we shall be updating you on our new adventure.

Making canvas sling bags

I did not learn to use a sewing machine as a kid. I did not have sewing as a hobby. I did not even have a proper sewing machine until earlier this year. what is it about making canvas sling bags, (now on the sixth version) that I have been sewing late into the night?

Well, here it goes! Earlier this year, the awning covering on my boat was giving way. The synthetic fabric (by the tradename of WeatherMax) was tearing as a result of the wind and the sun. The sun has made the fabric brittle while the wind was propagating tears along the fiber weave inch by inch. Mending the tear(s) was pointless as the fabric has gone brittle and lacking most of the original strength the material had when new. It will just tear somewhere else when tightening the awning or when the next blow comes along.

The tired old awning, having seen better days.

Awnings, should be tightened snugly and taut to prevent flapping and flexing. The movement of bending the fabric from one side to another will weaken the fabric over time, destroying the physical strength of the fabric. Much akin to bending a piece of cardboard back and forth over the same spot. Bend it enough times, it will weaken and eventually break off. Just about every boat out there has a different size and layout. A one size fits all awning solution does not exist without a lot of compromises. Either too short, too long, too narrow, too much overhang, wrong colour….. The list goes on. Remember too it should be tensioned tautly. Custom made awning is the answer. That phrase there, “custom made” means big bucks! Here in Singapore, an awning to cover my boat from the bow to the bimini over the helm would mean something in the close proximity of S$ 10,000 or about USD 7,000. That’s too much money for a semi-retired guy!

Why does a boat need an awning? Firstly, if you are in the tropics, the relentless sun on the boat would bring the internal temperature up to unbearable levels. You will literally cook inside the boat. An awning, can bring the temperature down by 5 to 10 degrees Celsius. A difference that can overwhelm the air conditioner or fridge, in the boat. The intense UV light in the tropics will also harden and destroy the window seals, fiberglass gelcoat, teak decks (if your boat has them) and just about everything. If you live on your boat or spend enough time on it, it is not an option. It is a necessity!

A quick tallying on a paper napkin indicated that a new awning is affordable if I were to make it myself. Do I know how to make one? No, but I can learn along the way! Did I even have a sewing machine up to the task? No, but I could buy one if it makes economic sense.

So that was how it all got started. Once decided, I bought a Singer heavy duty domestic sewing machine. That is contradictory! Domestic means it is light duty. So what is a heavy duty domestic sewing machine. Well, it simply means it can handle heavier material “some of the time”. Fingers crossed that the “some of the time” can be extended to completing a whole awning measuring approximately 5 meters across and 10 meters long, shaped to a yet to be erected structure on the deck of the boat.

The Singer heavy duty domestic sewing machine at the cockpit table.

A structure to raise the height of the awning so that one can go to the fore section of the deck without having to crawl on all four. The additional height will also keep the heat further off the deck and allow for better airflow to ventilate and cool the air beneath the awning.

Erecting the frame structure over the boat was the first task and the material of choice for this was 20mm (3/4 inch) PVC pipes. Flexible to work with, strong enough and cost effective. They do deteriorate under strong UV light but being underneath the awning fabric material, they should last a good many years. This entire structure is meant to be removable (when I go sailing), so no permanent fixing. The PVC pipes were joined using screws rather than glue at the connectors. The base was simply tied with strings to the stanchion posts. What keeps the whole thing from being blown away by winds up to 40 knots (nearly 80 kph) which occasionally blows through the marina, will be the awning itself, tied snugly to the toe rails at the rim of the hull. Visualizing the whole process through, it seemed to work, theoritically.

The PVC pipe structure for the new awning.

Once the entire structure was up, it was time to take measurements to know how much Sunbrella Plus fabric ( a synthetic fabric meant for outdoor marine use) to buy. It required almost an entire roll of this material (just 5m short of a 60m roll) and the decision was made to get the whole roll instead. This will provide some buffer for measurement errors. The sewing machine (Singer 4223) as mentioned earlier, some webbings for enforcement, UV resistant threads (Tex 80 size) were on the same shopping list.

Mr Google, was my number one advisor. Next were other sailors and neighbours at the marina, some of whom had actually made their own covers. I had initially started the sewing in the cockpit of my boat. Not a vast area by any measure. I progressed with making the awning starting from the pointed bow end (front of boat) backwards. As the pieces gets bigger the cockpit became more and more confining. To go under the arm of the sewing machine (when the direction of sewing meant that some bulk of the material had to pass under the arm) the heavy fabric material had to be rolled up tightly to fit within the arm of the smallish domestic sewing machine. As the dimensions of the material was starting to approach 5m in length, it started feeling like I was wrestling a phyton in the small confine of my cockpit. Hot, sweaty and bothered, while wrestling that big python of a rolled up fabric in the cockpit. I was starting to ask myself if there was an easier way, when a neighbour walking by and having observed the struggle, suggested that I do this work in the marina (on shore and in an air conditioned environment)! Wow, that sounded like a revelation, like a life buoy to a drowning man. I must try that out.

Lo and behold, such a paradise did exist with vast uncluttered floor space, air conditioned and even carpeted floor to sit on. Seated at the other end of the marina’s members hall, was a neighbour, home schooling his kids, on this first morning of sewing on shore. I asked his permission to sew at the other end and to let me know if I was making too much noises. Permission granted!

Trouble in paradise started a couple of hours into the sewing. Not what you may think, but it had to do with paradise itself. The carpeted floor was producing too much drag on the fabric to move around easily and soon I was huffing and puffing having to fight this python all over again despite of this luxury of vast unimpeded space. Mr home teacher suggested that I should find a place with smooth laminated flooring to sew on. Another kind soul threw me a life buoy! Again, I did find paradise version 2, in a parqueted varnished floor of an unused room next to the gymnasium. A few conversations with the Dockmaster’s office and the Security Department later, I was granted permission by the staff of the marina to use the room the following day. My gratitude to the management of Raffles Marina. Paradise version 2 worked out much better than version 1 and there I was, till the completion of the awning.

The entire awning was made in 2 pieces. There were a few fittings in between to get a better fit on the structure. In total, the two pieces weighed almost as much as I did and even more so towards the end of this project. I had lost a few kilograms in weight from all that exertion of phyton wrestling, the few fittings and in general, manoeuvring the big pieces of heavy fabric material during the process of sewing them.

Standing back for a perspective view of the entire boat after it was finally installed for the last time I couldn’t help but felt reasonably happy with the result. It wasn’t bad for a first attempt. In many ways the perfectionist in me took those extra measures and did a couple more amendments then was absolutely necessary and I was glad he did. It did looked (dare I say) “professional”, and it was all done at a fraction of the cost of the going rate for such an awning, even with the cost of the sewing machine thrown in.

The completed new awning.

Over the next few weeks, friends and neighbours did drop by for closer looks and complimented on it and a few weeks after the final installation, it was tested to the mettle when a furious storm blew through the marina ripping many a boat’s canvas, but my awning and structure held steadfast. I was awoken in the early hours of that morning by the storm and I was on deck to see how the awning was holding up against that storm. It was tied down snugly, quivering in the strong gusts but no flapping at any point. Following that storm I had a request from a neighbour for some canvas repair and some additional canvas work on his boat. Despite being a novice at canvas sewing, I took up the job with an “old salt” (a seasoned sailor) acting as an advisor on canvas sewing. He did tell me that if I do not mind this kind of work, I can forget about trying to find a job (desk bound type) as there is enough of such work around to keep me going. In his own words “he has sewn his way around the world”, back in his days.

In my past articles I have touched on my role now as a canvas maker (so far only within my marina). This work is diametrically opposite to my previous job in the corporate world. After a slow tentative start, I began to accept this as my job and was finding myself committing more and more fully into this role as a canvas maker. On that first canvas job on a neighbour’s boat I had to wrap some wooden structure in Sunbrella fabric. I had to start thinking 3 dimensionally and this was a few rungs higher up that ladder of difficulty. Someone did mention to me that I should make bags out of the off-cuts from the canvas project. On that first project I did run out of fasteners and had to wait for a few days for more to be brought in. During that idle time I had dicided to try to get my mind around coverings for 3 dimensional objects. That was when I decided to make sling bags. I do use one myself, which has a single sling carrying the bag on my back. Not too large and ideal for carrying smaller items like wallets, a small water bottle, a Swiss army knife, a torch or head lamp, doggy poo bags for sailor dog, and some other handy stuffs. It is of a more complex shape than a Tote bag and would definitely help me to understand a little better on working canvas material around 3 dimensionally shaped objects. Right off the drawing board of the first sling bag I found it to be immensely helpful to make a 3D model of the bag to take templates off. Now a good half year down the road from that Mark One sling bag (I am onto the sixth iteration now) I have yet to satisfy the perfectionist in me with the first attempt on each of these iterations. I have yet to master it, but I dare say that they are now of much better quality with a minimal amount of waviness around curved 3 dimensional joins and each taking a slightly shorter amount of time to complete. I was using a Mark Two version myself for a while. The Mark One wasn’t allowed to see the light of day and was salvaged for parts (such as the size 10 bimini zippers).

My Mark Two Bimini bag.

While carrying Mark Two, a neighbour requested for one to be made for him and this started to make Sling Bag sewing, not an entirely futile waste of time. A few have been sold to date and the last one sold was a special request to put on size 20 monster zippers (20mm wide). This sized zippers are normally used for mainsail sailbags on the boom. I had to start a bimini project on a boat and was not able to wait for my size 10 zippers on order to arrive. I used these monster zippers I had on hand for the bimini instead. This led to that special request to have them on a sling bag after seeing them on the bimini. I called my sling bags “bimini bags”, as they use the marine fabric material (Sunbrella) as used on a boat’s bimini and just as importantly, they use the type of zippers normally used on a bimini. Way oversized for a little sling bag. To sailors used to seeing bimini on their boat, this bag shouts “boat”! It is like carrying a part of their beloved boat with them when they are not on their boat. Right from the first version onwards, I realised that special considerations need to be given to those chunky oversized zippers to enable them to work smoothly. They do not like tight radiuses (corners). The radius has to be as smooth and as large as possible. Quite a big ask when dealing with a smallish sized sling bag!

The version 5 Bimini bag with normal size 10 zippers.
Version 5 with monster #20 zippers -still in WIP.

Version 5, has a slightly larger top than bottom, as a result of those size 20 zippers which were twice as chunky as the already oversized size 10 zippers. Still one of the most challenging aspects of making a small sling bag are how each of the panels are sewn together. Unlike a Tote rectangular bag, a sling bag has curved and semi conical shape panels on the upper portion. These still required special care and attention to reduce the amount of waviness or puckering of the heavy Sunbrella fabric at these junctions. Some minor degree of waviness of the fabric is desirable, as these will lend that soft look of fabric to the bag, else it could look and feel like a hard plastic moulded sling bag, totally lacking that softer sensual look of fabric materials. This softness of fabric provides an essential soft look to a boat. It is for this reason that boats with hardtop made of fiberglass or other hard materials have a clinical hard edge look to them. On my own boat Micasa, my bimini top uses a flexible poly-carbonate twin wall roofing material, mainly to provide support for my semi flexible solar panels. While it is strong, light weight and durable, I had to wrap the surrounding edges with a thick foam rubber edge, to bring back some of those soft looks.

I was once talking to a man who designs and builds his own boats (entire boats not just parts of it). He was there to look at my hardtop to try to make better looking hardtops. I didn’t know as much details of designs as he did on hardtop designs. To me it was simply the “feel” of it. It just had to feel right. I had made no lesser than 3 templates on how to cut the side edges of the hardtop before deciding on the final template. He explained later to me how the angles and curvatures of the side edges are crucial to a nice looking hardtop and how certain yachts (which he pointed to a couple of large luxury yachts) have tried to mimick the look of soft-tops for better looking hardtops. He explained to me, “the angles of your hardtop edges are just right… perfect!”. Soft tops made of fabric are crucial for that softer look, in a boat. Likewise, if the bimini bags are to shout biminis, they have to have that fabric look of a boat’s bimini. It still eludes me what that fabric element is as I am no Leonardo, but I do know enough to let fabric looks like fabric. Perfection should not be perfect in this case, if that makes any sense at all. Maybe just the waffling of a canvas sling bag maker having gone to the dogs! Should I ever reach the stage that my canvas sling bags started looking like moulded hard plastic sling bags, I just may have to take a couple of steps backwards and intentionally put some wrinkles back into them. A bit like the story and history of Reebok shoes. The little known brand of Reebok back then, made leather sports shoes, with some imperfections in the leather around the toe caps, creating some wrinkles. It sold extremely well, as the wrinkles around the front gave the look and feel of real leather. When later they perfected the process of making perfect sports shoes, the sales dropped and Reebok had to find a way to put wrinkles back into the toe caps of their shoes! It is strange how we view things and how such seemingly trivial characteristics of a product can have such an impact on the “feel” of it. That should not be a big concern for my bimini sling bags however, as I am no way near making that perfect canvas sling bag with no wrinkles or puckering!

Cheers to my readers. Take heart and pride in whatever we do. Give that painting the “feel” it deserves, or that dress the “hang” of a glamorous one, for example. It is after all the toil of our very own labour and it should speak volumes of the desire of its creator to convey that very image or impression, right off the drawing board itself.

Have a great day ahead and remember to celebrate life.

Sailor dog, the boss on our boat.

Sailor dog is now as far removed from her past in the pound, as can be.  For one, she is no longer as timid as she was when she first came out of the pound to live with us on our boat.  She still fears loud noises such as thunder, which make her shiver with fright.  She now goes about with her bushy tail held up high and waving at the slightest provocation from those she is familiar with.

She has become a party girl of sort, running towards the neighbour’s barbecue gathering on Friday nights, when the tables are set up on the dock.  She would wonder around at ease amongst the legs of those seated at the table, taking morsels offered to her frequently under the table, especially by her Godma.  She knows her place now and has become a little more demanding in her requests, giving sharp short barks directed towards the person she is requesting from.  Like when she wants to go for her walk after dinner, or when she is hungry and wants her dinner. One evening when back at the boat a little pass her dinner time, I was halfway through making her dinner when I turned and talked to our guest staying with us on the boat, stopping momentarily on her dinner preparation, she barked at me several times, demanding that I get on with preparing her dinner.  She always gets her way, the way spoilt little children gets their.

I have realised too that she growled and barked more readily at strangers coming near our boat making her presence known with a greater degree of confidence in herself.  It is as though she is aware of her new found fame as the Sailor dog with more than 1,500 views in less than the 3 months that this blog has been started.  Fame having gone to her head?!!  God help me, if that be the case!  A spoilt little child star?  No, I do not think so.  It was a long process of building up her self confidence after life in the pound.  She probably feels like she is the boss in our boat now, with each of her demands being met and we would rather have her as the bossy dog than the timid dog afraid of her own shadow.  She certainly makes her presence known to strangers who walked a little too closely to our boat. 

When our friend also known to Sailor dog as one who would bring her roasted chicken whenever she came to the marina, became a guest on our boat for a couple of weeks,  Sailor dog took it in her stride to be her protector as well.  When an ex-colleague came to visit me at my boat, Sailor dog was a little hostile towards him.  Following the introduction between my ex-colleague and our guest, he reached out to shake our guest’s hand.  That was when Sailor dog lunged forward to snap at his out reached hand.  She missed, and I would think intentionally and just wanted him to know she didn’t like him touching our guest.

Of late I have been at work, sewing canvas for neighbouring boats.  I was either at the marina’s facilities doing my sewing or at the respective boats doing measurements and fittings.  Sailor dog would be at home on the boat.  I would tell her in advance that I was going to work and that she has to say at home, else she will want to follow me out.  I would come back to the boat every now and then to check on her.  She is normally well behaved.  She knows that work is necessary.  If I haved changed to go out and she wasn’t allowed to follow she would occasionally throw her tantrum, pushing and spilling her water bowl with occasions when the newspaper was found stuffed into the waterbowl.  Still defies me, how she actually did all that.  She will of course gets a scolding on my return for spilling water onto the aisle runner carpet.

Sailor dog’s requests has recently become demands and these includes demands for snacks at around 10 pm or chasing us to go to sleep if we are up past 12:30 a.m.  She does not like going to sleep by herself.

Our (Sailor dog and mine) early mornings snack rendezvous still takes place at regular intervals, usually between 2-3 a.m. in the morning.  Of late, the stash of goodies has been ran down to crackers only, as I have not been shopping for a while after having taken on this latest canvas project.  This one involves, the bimini, sprayhood, side clear covers, rear bimini top, rear enclosure and a sunbed on the deck.  Windy conditions made template taking almost impossible and the recent dry spell seems to have ended with sporadic rains coming down nearly the whole of yesterday and the day before, making progress a frustrating act.

The rear enclosure has a high degree of complication with removable doors, removable clears on top of insect screens.  I cannot yet envisage some of the details surrounding the junctions of some of these pieces but I’ll need to work something out when it comes time to cross those bridges.  My old sailor advisor on  canvas works said to me, “you’ll work it out!  I have seen what you can do!”. Not really sure of what exactly he has seen!  These are the sort of thing that keeps me up at night these days.  In the past corporate life, they are things like meeting sales targets, regional tenders, manufacturing issues, etc & etc.  It is a habit of a life time which now carries forward into my canvas venture. 

Must remember to go out to get more snack!  Sailor dog likes those Ika peanut balls (squid flavoured peanut fritters).  She’ll eat the crunchy batter coating and leave the peanut in the center untouched.  She dislikes vegetables of all types.  She’ll eat rice though and fried rice is one of her favourite.  She will eat everything in the fried rice except those few peas and corn kernels which will remain in the bottom of her dinner bowl after she is done eating.  She does however like the potatoes made by her Godma mainly because of the copious amount of cheese in it.  She loves cheese!

Sailor dog seems to understand our sign language as well.  One day while talking to a neighbour, our conversation was on the SB20 class racing sailboats and he pointed to where they were normally kept.  Sailor dog spun 180 degrees around to look at where my neighbour was pointing.  My neighbour was taken aback as well.  Just a day or two ago, the Admiral and I were watching Netflix when I noticed sailor dog laying on the floor matt in the bedroom.  Not wanting to interrupt the movie, I beckoned sailor dog to come out with my index finger and pointed toward the aisle runner carpet next to me.  The next moment sailor walked out slowly from the bedroom and laid down on the aisle runner carpet next to me.  Quite amazing when you actually realise that sailor dog actually understood what I was telling her with my gestures.

Sailor dog can be demanding when she wants or need something, like she is the boss on our boat.  At other times, she is a warm sweet obedient girl.  All these says something about how her confidence has built up immeasurably and that she is very comfortable in her floating home with us.

Just very recently, we came across a friend who had adopted an adult dog from the pound a year or so ago.  They were getting along wonderfully despite some earlier health complications with their dog.  The dog seemed very happy and comfortable now despite having doubled in size!  A direct result of her much improved health I would presume.

We sometimes wonder what would have become of sailor dog’s life if we have not taken her under our wings, from the pound.  It certainly has been as rewarding for us as it has been for sailor dog, having her with us.  If you ever have a wish to do a little something to make the world a better place, try adopting a dog from the pound.  It can be a fulfilling adventure for both you and the four legged child.  Do be aware that this should not be a spur of the moment decision as it can and should be a lifetime commitment (at least for the lifetime of the furry friend) and it need not be a sacrifice at all, for you will reap as much joy as you give, in this family like relationships.  How do I feel about this adoption?  If I have a bigger boat with more space, I would readily adopt another one from the pound, for a bigger family and a companion for Sailor dog.  Wishful thinking for now but things can change.

On this great mystery in life, it has been written “Give and you shall receive…” Luke 6:38.

Our humanity can be extended to beyond the human race, to God’s other creations and a happier life together shall await you with much blessings and joys!  Cheers!

Are you what you do?

Strangely enough, what we do for a living does normally define what we are.  Take for example, when you meet someone, names are the first to be exchanged.  Not far down this list of exchanges will be the question, “what do you do?”. It is a norm to try to form an impression of someone by what they do.  Yes it is stereotyping and we are all guilty of it at one time or another.  Recently, a friend from overseas came to stay with us for a couple of weeks.  During this time some of her friends came to visit her at the marina and of course the usual exchanges took place.  To THAT question, I answered, “I’m semi-retired!”. The next question that followed was a little more arresting.  “So you don’t do anything at all?”.  To that, I had to come up with a bonefide answer, as I have never been one to be able to sit idle for long.  In fact, one of my secret fear is that I will become lazy over time, at being “semi-retired”.  Hasn’t happened as yet as the number of boat projects in the past has kept me very busy and now with the canvas jobs that I have taken on, it doesn’t even leave me time to do my own boat’s projects.

To that question, I turned around towards the marina, swept my finger from left to right and said, “see the boats out there and the canvas on nearly all the boats?”, “That is what I am doing now!”. Of course it led to more questions, as most will not be aware of just what is involved in such a job.

It does not bother me much of what others may think of what I am, from what I do.  I am comfortable in my own skin and silently confident that I will make a good sailor knowing that I can handle most problems that will arise in a sailboat.  Why is this so important? As mentioned in my earlier posts, when you are out at sea, there are no tow trucks and not even mobile phone signal reception if you are far out enough.  It is for your own well being and that of your crew (everyone’s safety to be explicit) that your boat can maintain the necessary functions to get out of harm’s way.  It can be as simple as the fresh water pump failing, leaving you without means to get fresh water out of your water tanks. The bottled water will be consumed fast enough, then what?  Unnecessary anguish, if you can fix that pump or have a spare.  Worse case scenario, is to open the inspection ports in the water tanks to access the fresh water.  Don’t laugh, but there are those who sailed and never knew where the fresh water tank(s) is.  It is scary in a way when so many things can possibly go wrong in a boat.  So why do it?  Well, we love the sea.  Love it enough that those potential issues are mere inconveniences.  It is like commuting to work on the dangerous freeways.  We would still do it as it is a way of life for some of us.  I have a sailor friend, with grown up children who could never quite fathom why their father has such a dangerous pursuit.  One day he told his children that if he should ever perish at sea, they (his children) should rejoice, for he has lived the life that he wanted.  But, if he is ever killed while crossing a road (maybe even as a result of being knocked down by a bicycle), they should wail loudly for him, for he has not lived the life that he wanted!  Make sense?  It does to me.

Back to being a canvas maker.  It can be a tough physical job.  Canvas are heavy and if they are large enough, it could weigh as much as myself or even more.  The sensible thing is to make them in smaller manageable pieces and assemble them on site.  Working with canvas requires a certain amount of brawn.  Even the sewing machine(s) used and the threads are proportional to the task.  Fitting a bimini (an awning over the cockpit of a boat) can be a tough job.  A task that involves much pulling and stretching of the canvas to ensure a snug fit.  It has to be made to fit snugly as flapping is not just irritating but it will lead to the weakening of the canvas and its eventual tearing when the wind blows.  Quite a bit of grunting is involved, not unlike a tennis match.  This basic requirement of a snug fit is not an easy feat, considering that these are not mere flat surfaces.  They run over arches and bows wrapping around the stainless steel bows at the extreme ends.  Measurements and templates has to be precise as those are your starting points, and compensation for stretches may be required depending on the size.  I am still a relative newbie, having only started doing this sort of work for the last 2 to 3 months and without a hands-on guru to teach me it was mostly trial and error. I have tried to omit as much error as possible (as it is rather time consuming to have to fix errors) by watching as many YouTube clips as possible on the subject but more importantly, by thinking and visualizing each steps ahead.  What I lack in experience, I have tried to compensate by having more thoughts put into each step of the way.  It does work to a certain extent and in some cases even came up with innovative solutions to deal with issues.  Errors however still happened.  These are dealt with, with amendments.  Most errors and oversight can be fixed and hopefully without having to start from scratch again.  Being a perfectionist, meant too that there will be more amendments.  Yes, I do take pride in my work and I will want to hand over a good piece of work to my customers.  The work will have to satisfy the perfectionist in me first. 

Canvas aside, there are flexible transparent windows about 2.5 mm thickness, made mostly of UV resistant treated PET. I found them to be extremely challenging.  Getting them taut and snug, with a minimum amount of waviness could mean a few millemeters difference over a distance of 3 to 4 meters.  Over the front portion of a covering, these will be like a windscreen with curved slanting edges.  One of the first thing that I have learnt is that the stainless steel bows and arches are seldom ever truly symmetrical.  These structures are hand bent or handmade, subjected to all known and unknown human errors.  Each part has to be carefully measured and treated individually.  A friend whom I have met recently, dropped by for a chat while I was working on a bimini/dodger (flexible windscreen).  This was a man who has had successful businesses in truck and ship manufacturing.  His comment after some observations at my work was, “This is something no one can teach you.  You will just have to learn it by doing the job!”.  I found this to be quite true.  Some of the issues encountered, are even hard to articulate in words.

The mileage for this work is accumulating day by day and without doubt, I am getting better and better at it.  Each job has its own challenges and with more experience, each is tackled a little more proficiently and in lesser time.  My old sailor friend who got me started on this sewing business (who has sewn his way around the world, literally) and my adviser and mentor in a way, just told me that at this rate, he will be asking me for advice soon.  I was flattered but never complacent.  He is still someone I will consult when faced with a major obstacle. 

One of the frustration of such work is the reliability of your tool, the sewing machine.  Working on such heavy material will mean that it is frequently out of tune.  Skipping stitches, presser foot not lifting high enough, sometime not stitching at all.  Most people who sew would send it back to the dealer for fixing.  I bought my semi-industrial sewing machine from China, and I have that sailor’s attitude of fixing it myself.  Yes, I did fixed all those things and I have become good at that too.  Don’t even need to refer to the service manual any longer.  Some issues are not even covered by the service manual, like the presser foot height modifications!

Back now to the question of “are you what you do?”.  I don’t think so.  I may take pride in my work and I will commit to focusing on doing the job as well as I could.  It may not even be my forte, I would like to think that I am better in marine navigation electronics.  At least fewer people would know how to do what I have managed to put together as my primary navigation equipment.  The irony is that the DIY electronics is just that.  A cheap way towards electronic navigation equipment.  It will be hard to make it worth your time doing that for a living.  It is meant to be cheap.  Of course, in my past corporate life, there were things I was doing well for more than 20 years.  But a past life is just that… history, unless I would go back into that again, which is very unlikely.  Truth is, I have no desire to go back to the corporate life again.  So little life there, ironically!

As a canvas maker, it has its own challenges.  A different challenge each day making life more interesting.  More importantly, I am working with boats in the sea.  I am closer to my elements.  Working with things meant for the sea.  The salt, sun and wind which are both your friends and foe at the same time.  These are things that I understand well enough having to deal with them all these while on the sea.  Being a boat canvas maker makes me a better sailor as that is one additional thing that I will be able do well enough.  Most important of all is the fact that I do enjoy this work.  I am comfortable in my own skin and I do know for a fact that I can do a lot more than sewing canvas. 

Being happy with your life is what matters most.  The rest are just diminutive pursuits.

Do remember to take a step back and view life from a broader perspective.  Remember to live a little fuller and chase after that dream which will make you a happier person at the end of the day.  Cheers!

Toilet training, on a boat.

No, not for dogs but for people!

The toilets or heads as they’re called in proper nautical term, on most sailboats are below sea level.  Water, usually sea water (fresh water is too precious to wasted flushing toilets), is first pumped in from the sea, then this is subsequently pumped out.  This process flushes the heads.  This can either be a manually pumped toilet or an electric ones (running off the boat’s house batteries) as in the case of Micasa’s two toilets.  Either manual or electric, they are proned to blockage if toilet paper is used.  Clearing a blocked toilet is highly unpleasant and a thing to be avoided, almost at all cost! 

No toilet paper?  Use water, in Micasa it’s courtesy of a bidet spray.

If a guest on Micasa is not familiar with a boat’s toilet (head).  I would teach them how to use the electric toilet switch.  Shorter pumping time for just liquids (5 seconds) and longer (10-15 seconds) if solids are involved.

Now, if it is a gentleman, there will be an additional instruction……Sit on the bowl to wee wee!  It doesn’t matter how sharp a shooter he may be, a boat rocks and the target becomes a moving target and the shooter himself could be stumbling about!  So this whole process can get very messy (and wet). Hence the need for this additional instruction. 

For the ladies, it’s business as usual, hence that last instruction isn’t required.

Next to Micasa’s main toilet is the shower cubicle.  Not a big one by any means.  Built only for up to L size.  If you’re an XL or larger, forget it!  The shower cubicle floor is below sea level too.  The water drains into a sump underneath a grate and this will have to be pumped out when the cubicle floor starts to flood, by pressing on a momentary toggle switch. 

Sailor dog didn’t need toilet training. She knows better then to poo poo or wee wee in the boat. If away from the marina for extended period, there’s a synthetic tuff mat that I would lay out on the foredeck for BooBee, for both types of business.  Thus far, sailor dog has not been away from land for extended period of time yet.  She had wee wee on this mat before and I have no doubt that she will know where to do her do do.

Life on a boat has a different set of rules all borned out of practicality.  After a while, they do make sense.  BooBee picked them up fast enough and she listens and remembers.

There is a silver lining in every cloud, they said and so is there a life to be lived to its fullest, in any walks of life. 

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When your boat speaks to you and your dog doesn’t.

When an seasoned sailor and friend helped me sailed Micasa from Langkawi (in Malaysia, where I first bought her) to Puteri Harbour, a stone’s throw away from Singapore, he told me, my boat will speak to me.  I was a little puzzled.  Months later I understood what he meant.  Every boat has its own rhythm, in the sounds and vibrations (that can be felt) they make.  When you get to know your boat better, you will start to get a feel of what is normal and what is not.

Yours truly refuel Micasa on route from Langkawi to Puteri Habour.

The bilge pump, for example, at the lowest point of a boat’s body cavity (hull), in Micasa, is a reciprocating diaphragm pump which thumps when it runs, not unlike a Harley Davidson!  Condensation from the air conditioner drains into it.  When the float switch reaches a certain level the bilge pump will operated to pump the water out.  When the air conditioner is running you will expect the bilge pump to run every now and then to pump out the condensation.  That sound can be alarming to those not used to it.  That sound is normal, when the air conditioner is operating.  If the bilge pump runs and the air conditioner isn’t running, you have a problem. There’s likely to be a leak of some sort somewhere.  My first course of action will be to taste (just dip your finger) the water in the bilge.  If it’s salt water, you have a big problem.  Somewhere, sea water is getting into your boat.  If it is fresh water, you would most likely have a leak in your fresh water system, or if it is also raining, it could be leakage from above.

The fresh water pump which pumps water from the storage tanks has a different noise.  More whirring than thumping.  When water from one tank is depleted it will draw in air and run continuously until you switch it off and or switch to another water tank with water in it.  If that doesn’t stop it running, these are the possibilities:

1. You have a leak in the system and the threshold pressure could not be reached.
2. There’s dirt or foreign particles lodge in the valve(s) of this diaphragm pump.  Open and remove.
3. There is air trapped in system.  This can be purged by draining half a bucket or more of water from the lowest faucet – the one at the kitchen sink.

In the main stateroom (bedroom) of Micasa, which is the aft cabin running the full width of the stern, it is quite well insulated as far as sound is concerned.  When the boat is rocking, it’s either from the wake of passing boats or there’s a storm blowing outside.  It’s hard to hear even if the wind is blowing strongly, but there’ll be a hum coming from the boom, which can be felt, even in the well insulated stateroom. 

When you get to know your boat well, it speaks to you by the sounds and vibrations that it makes.  What is normal or out of the norm, you will know.

My sailor dog speaks too.  She hardly barks but usually whine, growl and yelp.  She is normally very expressive by the sounds that she make and by her movements and gestures.  There are times when she’ll sulk and chooses to ignore you.  Like when I’m going out and I’m not able to take her along.  I’ll need to tell her in advance that she’ll need to say at home.  Else she’ll be following my every steps.  That’s when she sulks and head for the bedroom.  If she felt strongly about it she may throw a tantrum when I’m out of the boat. It does not happen often and there were a few occasions when I returned to the boat to find either the newspaper or a floor matt, had been stuffed into her water bowl, spilling water all around.  She’ll normally gets a good scolding in a stern voice, for making a mess.  She’ll then have that remorseful look about her, for as long as half a day.  Those are the times when sailor dog does not speak much at all.

When an alarm in the boat goes off sailor dog will be visibly distressed and there are numerous alarms on the boat.  Gas leak alarm, fire and smoke detectors, carbon monoxide alarm, navigation alarms such as AIS proximity alarm, anchor drag alarms, engine critical function alarms and the recently added lithium iron phosphate battery bank has alarms for, overcharging, over discharge, low capacity (under voltage), etc.  I have probably missed out a few but these are the ones that comes to mind.  Sailor dog will have that frightened look in her eyes when an alarm goes off and usually head for the bedroom.  She is timid in her demeanor indeed.  And I would often wonder where that fury or courage came from, when she barked and growled threateningly at strangers coming too close to our boat or worse touching our boat.  Someone (unknown to sailor dog) once stepped onto our transom with the intention to walk up to our cockpit, while sailor dog and I were in the cockpit.  She charged forward and attempted to bite this person.  She may have indeed if I haven’t gotten a hold of her collar. 

Dogs are both intelligent and complex creatures and when you start to understand them better, they are every bit like a person with their own unique character.  Sailor dog has her own character and it’s a strong one as well.  Strong as in, set in her ways – her stubbornness or determination to do things her own way.  We often have to navigate around that just as you would do with a child.  We would some times want her to get off the bed.  She would defy commands and attempts to lead her by the collar, short of manhandling her.  What works better is that I’ll tell her, “come on down from the bed, yes that a good girl…!” all with a pleasant tone.

Sailor dog sleeping comfortably on the comforter and my pillow.

She’s expressive to the extent that you can tell there are thoughts going on in her head.  Yet when she chooses to she can be ignoring you completely when she doesn’t want to speak to you.  She come as a package and the above are some of her querkier part of her character. 

Mostly, however, she is a sweet little girl.  Her highly held tail would wave at the slightest provocation.  When we’ve been out and upon coming home, she’s sometimes in the cockpit to greet us.  She’ll be waving her tail so hard that the back end of her body is thrown from side to side and her tail would sometimes be hitting against the large stainless steel steering wheel at the helm.  Ringing like a welcome home bell!  She’ll melt your heart, and wash away all your worries, guaranteed!

That’s our sailor dog and our floating home Micasa, which also has a character of her own just as those she provides shelter and passage over water for.

Do keep stock of life!  Be aware and relish those priceless moments that fleet by.  Life is so much better and happier for those moments.  Cheers!