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. 

Cheers and do subscribe to be notified of updates.

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

When a 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 stay 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!

An Ex-corporate Director’s view on the Nature of Jobs in today’s world.

I am the corporate guy turned liveaboard sailor. While in a corporate job a few years ago, I was in a senior management level of a multinational company. Widely traveled and having a broad spectrum of experiences in dealing with industries spread over vast geographical regions and cultural differences. No, I’m not advertising myself for a job here but merely sharing on my observation on how jobs and industries have evolved over the last 20 years.

The most profound source of changes over the last 20 years is in your pocket or handbag right now, if you are not using it as I am now, writing this article. It is the mobile phone, which has evolved from a mere handphone only, to a telex machine (SMS) then to a personal computer, entertainment centre, and finally to today’s do it all personal aid. Yet it is still evolving into something which is more and more indispensable.

A recent comprehensive study revealed that through a smart phone today, we have more information available to us than was available to the president of the United States of America, just 20 years ago. That is a lot available at our finger tips. Any jobs that are knowledge based is either obsolete already or well on its way to being so. Mr Google, for example, can make you an expert chef (almost) in a instance, if you already have some basic cooking skills. It can provide you with recipes for almost any cuisine in mere seconds. If you choose not to type, just speak into your phone for a voice search. My personal preference is Swype typing which is as fast as typing on a 101 US type keyboard, or even faster.

In many of my numerous repair and/or upgrade projects on my boat, I have consulted expert views and the collective views of sailors in like minded forums. Be it a repair of my anchor windlass or how to put a lithium iron phosphate battery bank together from individual prismatic cells, or as touched on in one of my recent articles of “Learning the secrets of Marine Navigation Equipment” – DIY chartplotter and autopilot equipment using a Raspberry Pi single board computer. All it takes is time, patience to sieve through the tonnes of information, and a bit of courage to dwell into the unknown or unsure. You do not even need a diploma in electronics and electricals as a basis, as you will be able learn these along the way. If you can follow a cookbook recipe, you too can make up such equipments. Where does that leave people who have a job installing navigation equipment? Well they will still have a job as not everyone has the time to research adequately or the courage to get into something we think we do not know enough of. Although, there should be lesser and lesser work available with more and more people able to do things themselves. In reality, the likely scenario is, the willingness to do these manual jobs will not there. For the lack of time and/or courage to do so.

I do see a comeback of the “trades”, such as plumbing work, house renovation, electrical work and as I’ve discovered in my recent ventures into canvas work, that most people do not have the patience nor time to develop the skills needed (for example) to sew an awning or Bimini well enough. They would rather pay someone with the skills already, to do the job for them. Willingness and courage too play a big part in doing the job yourself. I have recently met another sailor who needed his outboard engine repaired. Talking to him, I discovered that he already possessed enough knowledge of the outboard motor to do the repair himself (I’ve been there and done that) but he simply wasn’t game enough, for the lack of confidence to tackle such a task by himself.

Specific skills which have some component of manual work and skills gained from experience, will be the type of work that will remain in demand over the future.

This will hold true, especially in the Asian culture, where manual work of any sort is considered as inferior or derogatory, shunt by much of the younger millennial generation. This same generation will be starting to carry the weight of their respective national economic structures on their collective shoulders. Such an imbalanced structure will eventually bring about the popularity of job skills involving manual work. Till then scarcity will be the order of the day. To survive in today’s world and that of the near future, having such job skills is a big plus. I have recently helped a friend with some light renovation work on an apartment. More specifically, it was a sort of detailing work for an apartment just like what is being performed on cars to bump up their resale value. To find someone with the necessary skills and patience, who has the desirable quality level of work, is not easy in today’s world. The perfectionist in me with little tolerance for a sloppy job made me an ideal candidate for such a task. The experience gained over the last few years of working on boats, which by default demanded a much higher quality of work level than a normal household’s requirement, was proving to be invaluable. Scarcity means a higher price elasticity!

Since leaving the corporate world, my perspective have broadened immensely. Without the need to be in compliance to corporate policies and norms at all time, your hands and mind are no longer tied. I have since came across many individuals who were making a living in what can only be described as a brave new world from where I came from. A travel advisor, Amazon seller, day trader and writer of trading algorithms, investors of all sort…! It’s not that I had not known about such people and professions, while in the corporate world. Just never took the trouble to look in depth into the whys and how. I read, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki and realised that all my life I had been in the trappings of “Poor Dad”! It’s all in our attitude and our attitude matters!

A few lives ago, I was a farmer. I was much better equipped, mentally, to deal with the changing business world than I was as a corporate guy. Conformity is the killer of creativity. Worse than having your hands tied is having your mindset tied by the needs to conform. Where the mind does not lead you towards, that destination does not even exist!

My recent venture into canvas work for yachts, is a fine example of an evolving a mindset. After that first step into the journey, I was looking for ways to better my sewing skills. This is far more than just needles and threads. To do such a job well, one has to have a good understanding of shapes and structures of the work at hand. The characteristics of the material(s), principally, the stretch characteristics of the fabric material you are working with, both in the weave direction and cross direction. In order to put the pieces together well, one needs to understand not just the 3D structural shape of the underlying object but the interplay of stretches and how the joins and seams affect the compensation for these stretches. When I had a forced few days of break, due to the shortage of snap-on fasteners, I tried to hone my sewing skills by trying to make sling bags out of off-cuts of Sunbrella canvas material. How ambitious! A challenge that was almost a couple of bite sizes too large for me to swallow. It took a few attempts to even get the first one off the drawing board. Since then, the perfectionist in me had not let the matter rest. This has since developed into a fourth prototype, during my off work hours. With that much time and effort having gone into trying to make a perfect sling bag, it would have been a waste of resources to just let it all stop there.

Starting from the 3rd prototype (Mark 3) I have sold some, to sailors locally and abroad.

Bimini bag Mark 3

The marina was having a Garage Sale for sailors and boat owners recently, on a Sunday, and I took the opportunity to create Mark IV (with further improvements) to sell at this Garage sale.

Bimini bag Mark IV, still a WIP at this point.
The logo!
At the Garage sale.

I created a logo for them, at the suggestions of friends. It’s called the “bb sailor bimini bag”. “bb” for my sailor dog “BooBee”. Why a bimini bag? Part of the canvas material (the navy blue part) was the Sunbrella fabric from my old bimini! The proceeds from the sales of these bags will help to supplement my sailor dog’s rather high cost of maintenance. She has become a fussy eater. Roast chickens being one of her favourite, she would only finish her meal if it has her favourite. Roasted or fried chicken. Just the day before, the Admiral and I decided to go for a drive through to get a quick bite. “bb” in tow, in the rear seat, she was visibly excited as we neared a KFC outlet. I bought a 3 piece meal for myself. Ate a piece of them and the rest for the sailor dog. The Admiral, decide to get a fish fillet meal from McDonald just adjacent to the KFC outlet. Sailor dog didn’t like those fish fillet as much although fish is her other favourite. The heavy batter encrusting the fish, is my guess for the reason.

The evolution of this corporate (ex) guy’s mindset was:

Firstly, in accepting a tangential nature of work to what was within my comfort zone.

Secondly, to further develop skill competencies in this new type of work. The tasks encountered thus far in my canvas work did not require such level of intricate details but the knowledge of materials and techniques gained from this will produce a higher level of quality in my work, undoubtedly. The underlying philosophy is simple. If I am to do this type of work for the longer haul, I want to be the best that I can be, in this line of work! Some would consider it as a commitment, others, a passion or enthusiasm. To me, it is simply taking pride in my work. If this is to be my work, it better be good enough that the perfectionist in me can live with it.

The evolution process was from mere acceptance, to full commitment!

My take on what jobs will be more in demand in the near future, will be those jobs involving skilled manual work. The younger generation will needs to have a more flexible mindset with regards to a career. In this sense a technical education (i.e. a diploma in HVAC repair and maintenance) is perhaps of more employable value than say a pure academic discipline such as Accounting, just as an example. This change in mindset will not be one that is easily adopted. But Economic will be the major determinant of such outcomes. With scarcity will come the inevitable price adjustments, which in turn will drive how we ourselves will perceive the different types of career choices.

Stay tuned for more updates on the sailor dog’s adventures. In the meantime look at the bright side. There is still so much life to live.

A Sailor’s best friend.

Since the first Lupas Lupas (wolves) hung around the camp sites of our ancestors, their descendants have woven themselves into the fabric of human lives, ever since.  I have often asked myself “what is it about these creatures that makes them seek out human companionship?”.  Some may say that it was the easy availability of food, but if you have ever had dog, you would know that it is for more than food that they are with us.

My sailor dog is not “food motivated” as I was told by the pound owner.  I found this to be mostly true, however, Sailor dog has developed a liking for my snacks.  I have a little cabinet under the dinning table at the saloon where I would keep my stash of nuts, and sweet or savory snacks (chips, biscuits, Chacos, Twisties and other goodies).  I have this unhealthy habit of getting up in the middle of the night to munch on snacks (say around 2-3 am in the morning).  I would get up quietly, and sneak out into the saloon to my secret stash of goodies.  The moment I opened the cabinet door (which is below the dinning table), a snout would stick in there almost before I could put my hand in there to search for whatsoever that will satisfy my palate’s craving at that moment.  Sailor dog, wanted to know too what it was going to be.  This always give me a pang of guilt and surprise at the same time, at being caught with my hand in the cookie jar, literally.  Many a times, we would head out together into the cockpit where we would share a pack of chips, for example, on the cockpit bench.   One for me, one for you, one for me…!  My perfect partner in crime!

As I have mentioned in earlier articles, Sailor dog, does have the intellect of a small child.  She understands our spoken language (English at least).  At times when I wish to talk to the Admiral about the “naughty girl” without her actually knowing, I would speak to the Admiral in mandarin.  She seemed not to have a clue of what we were talking about when the Admiral and I were conversing in mandarin.  At other times we would talk (in English) to Sailor dog directly as if having a conversation.  She would listen and the look in her eyes and the tilting of her head amongst other gestures, tells us that she understood what we were saying and she was thinking.

The Admiral works late at times and sometime takes the MRT (metro) home. I would drive the car out to the gates of the marina to fetch her with Sailor dog in the back seat.  She would stare intensely at the corner where her mummy would first appear.  Tongue half out, eyes unblinking in anticipation.

One evening, I turned to Sailor dog and said “you hear that?” Pointing in the direction of the sound. “That is the train!  The train will come first, then mummy will come!”

The following evening, when out fetching the Admiral, Sailor dog was looking rather relaxed in the back seat till she heard the train coming.  That was when she sprung up and looked anticipatively for her mummy.  She understood completely what I had told her the night before.  Not just understood it but she remembered! 

When neighbours, saw the response to my asking Sailor dog if she wanted to go out, they were amazed.  I know, she would understand far more then just simply words or sentences.  If she can understand what I told her about the train, she can understand a whole lot more than just simple words.

Such complex and intelligent beings will have a need for social structures.  A sense of belonging and a need to interact with another intelligent entity.  That, I would think is why canines are with us and at times forming bonds with us that can only be considered as a family bond.  Sailor dog certainly fits into that scenario well.  She would not go to sleep, for example, if I were up in the cockpit reading.  She would wait till I’m done, gone down into the boat and turn the lights off.  Then she’ll go to her spot on the bed and lie down with a tired moan.

Sailor dog loves roasted chicken.  She doesn’t eat lamb as the Admiral and I do not eat lamb often.  We find the smell a little too strong.  She doesn’t eat processed meat (like sausages) either.  Once we had McDonald’s chicken burger for dinner and we gave her the chicken burger (as she doesn’t eat bread or buns, being the carnivore she is).  She sniffed at the chicken burger and left it well alone!  I’ve not ordered another chicken burger since!  She does however eat curry.  Even spicily cooked ones.  I once went to a friend’s party and when leaving rather late, I asked if I could pack some rice and chicken curry for my Sailor dog.  Yes I may, they said and there were sceptical looks abound.

We tend to like the type of food we grew up with.  What our family would normally eat.  It’s no different with our dogs, although Sailor dog does take that notion to a slight extreme.  The Admiral likes to have a nip or two of Moscato dessert wine.  Seeing the mum seeping Moscato, one evening,  Sailor dog indicated that she wanted some!  The Admiral poured a little into a soup bowl and gave it to her.   She lapped it all up.  Likewise, she wanted some of my coffee one morning and kept insisting so.  Not sure if she could handle it physiologically, I’d only given her a few teaspoons and she lapped it up!  The four legged human, her Godma would comment!

She is more then a pet to us.  She is indeed a member of our small family.  It saddens us very much knowing that dogs do not live as long as people do.  We try not to think of it but enjoy our time together for as long as we can.

Sailor dog seldom barks.  If she does, it’s for good reason(s).  A stranger coming too close to the boat, or someone trying to catch “our” fish.  These are the archer fish in the marina, around our boat.  I’ll feed them slices of bread in the morning, when I remember to.  They are smart buggers for fishes.  They’ll spit water at me to remind me they’re there, usually with bullseye accuracy, right in my eye.  I discovered that if I point at them and say “behave” they’ll stop shooting at me.  I was once fixing some electronics in the cockpit and in the midst of soldering some electronics parts I got a shot right in the eye.  Fortunately none of the seawater got into my electronic equipment!  I have forgotten to tell them to behave.  Sailor dog knows they are our fishes.  She’ll bark at anyone who would dares try to catch them. 

Sailor dog is also extremely protective of our floating home.  Someone was talking to me once and his hand was hanging onto the boat’s davit (for hanging up our dinghy) and she grawled loudly at him.  I mentioned to him that Sailor dog doesn’t like him touching her boat.  Hands off, and the grawling stopped!  Neighbours even commented to me that they have never heard her bark.  She seldom does, and when she does it’ll be for a good reason and not at some seagulls or crows loitering around.  One night, when the Admiral was away on a business trip and I was ready to go to sleep, and have only just turned off the lights.  Sailor dog barked in the saloon.  I was alarmed, to say the very least.  Lights on in an instance and I saw Sailor dog barking in the direction of the dinning table.  That gave me the Heebie Jeebies!  What it turned out to be was the air conditioner vent (I had just turned it on before going to sleep) blowing at the newspaper on the dinning table.  It was flipping like someone was reading it!!!  Still creepy when I think about it.

Like all doting parents, we will buy things for her.  A day bed, a life vest and lately since doing some canvas work on a neighbour’s boat, there was lots of off-cuts laying around.  The sewing machine all set up in the cockpit as well.  So I made her a new collar out of Sunbrella canvas.

A Sunbrella collar for Sailor dog. Made with piping (welting) on both edges.

Couple of days later, I made her a bikini bottom.  Godma, nearly died laughing!

A man’s (Sailor’s) best friend?!  Much more than that, I would say.  Sailor dog is a member of our family.  Our child!

Sailors are greener!

What’s important to a sailor?

This is a broad question, almost as infinite as “how long is a string”!  For me, family will comes first!  My Admiral and Sailor dog.  Next on my list will be our home Micasa, our well being will rely very much on her.  Micasa is not only the roof over our heads but the floor on which we stand on as well, amongst other things.

What is universally important to sailors around the world are, water and electricity!

Water to sustain life, to clean and wash.  On a shore based home we would no way be as conscious of our water consumption as on a boat.  The availablity of clean sweet water depends very much on the availability of resupply sources.  At the marina pontoon, the water tap is just a meter and a half away from the boat but outside of the marina, it would be wherever you can get it, if at all.  Some sailors are able to collect rainwater when it rains, if their boat has a large enough catchment area like a roof or Bimini.  Some even off the deck after it has been washed clean by the rain. 

Better equipped boats come with a watermaker, which consists of a powerful high pressure pump capable of generating pressure in excess of 800 PSI, at an acceptable flow rate (above 30 litres an hour, for example).  In a watermaker, highly pressurised seawater is forced through a special membrane in the process commonly know as reverse osmosis.  The sweet water is collected (or plumbed into a water tank) and the concentrated brine is returned to the sea.  This process requires a lot of energy and it is for this reason that Micasa does not have one.  I was given a used but functional watermaker system by another sailor, which did not ended up being installed on Micasa as I do not have enough electrical energy to power it.  The portable, petrol generator on Micasa (intended for emergency use) is only rated at 2000 Watts while that beast of a watermaker requires at least 2,500 Watts to run and much more to start it.  It would also be too draining for the 640 Ah of lead acid battery capacity.  In addition, the space required for it would eat up valuable storage space on board Micasa.  In Asia, where most of the shore line waters are murky and muddy, the pre-filters will be clogging so frequently as to render the system a nuisance to use.  Enough reasons not to have one!

So it will have to be shore watersupply mains and perhaps some rainwater collected off the Bimini when we are away from the marina on extended periods of time.

Micasa’s hardtop Bimini is both a rain catchment area with rain gutter and a mount for solar panels. Serving two of the most important commodities on board!

Even at the marina, water from the main is filled into the boat’s water tank first, for use on board.  One should never plumb pressurised water from the main straight into the boat (although this would mean no more topping up of the tanks required) as a raptured pipe in the boat’s fresh water system can sink your boat!  I have seen a few near disasters from boats around, whereby the boat owner has forgotten he was topping up his water tank and left the marina.  It’ll normally take a culmination of a series of unfortunate events which seemed to happen too regularly!  Even if the boat does not sink there’ll be untold damages on electrics and electronics, water damaged wood in the boat and the subsequent mould infestation and months of smelling like a dungeon! 

Yours truly here have been through plumbing repairs in the wee hours of the day due to leakages and/or water pump failures in Micasa’s fresh water system.  I’ve met a sailor who had no excess to the water in the boat’s water tanks after her (yes you read right) water pump failed in a rough storm.  The pounding can break things.  Such punishments to a boat can cause a multitude of failures.  That is why, I would do all repairs required by myself just to know my own boat a bit better.  This will give me a better chance of fixing things when required to, out at sea.  I do carry quite a bit of spares too.  Engine parts, pumps, electrical toilet parts, alternator, filters, etc, etc (never too much spare parts)!.

On a shore based home, we would flick on a switch and expect there to be electricity.  On a boat, you can only expect this, if your electrical system of power generation from shorepower, engine’s alternator (s), generator, solar panels and wind generator are functioning well and the electricity produce can be stored in batteries for later uses.  The health of batteries and their state of charge (how much current is in there) is closely monitored on a daily basis.

On a boat, electricity is used for the boat’s navigation lightings when at anchor, or underway.  It tells the other boats of your position and what your boat is doing.  The marker lights Red for Port side (left), Green for Starboard (right), when underway, tell the other boats what direction you are heading in.  This to avoid collisions at sea.  One may think that this is unlikely when the sea is so vast, however you can also be in a highly congested area.  Not too long ago a US Navy battleship (USS John S McCain) was involved in a collision in Singapore water, with the lost of several seamen’s lives.

Next on the list of importance for the usage of electricity on a boat is for navigation equipment.  I’ve touched on how high tech boats are these days in my previous post (learning the dark secrets of marine navigation equipment).  All these electronics equipment runs on electricity, without which, we will need to fall back on paper charts, analog compasses and sextants.  Sorry, I do not have that last one nor do I know how to use one. I’ll learn to use it, one day.  I promise!

Can you live without refrigeration?  I have to admit, I’ll find it very hard!  I can do without that cold beer but food will spoil too quickly!  My sailor dog’s food requires a small portable freezer – a 12 volt, 35 litres chest freezer which runs off my house batteries. 

I have recently upgraded my storage batteries from lead acid type to lithium iron phosphate batteries.  Batteries have a finite life.  At the end of their lives, they would not be able to hold charge for long.  Making them useless – for later uses!  When replacement time came, I bit the bullet to get these higher capacity and longer life lithium batteries.  Batteries are merely for storage.

For power generation, I do have a healthy amount of solar cells (840 Watts) for a monohull.  They are adequate for my needs when the sun shines bright enough each day.  When you have a few days of rain, which is not uncommon in the tropics, it’ll be down to what my batteries can store.  I’ll have enough for 2 full days, after which if smiley still does not smile, I’ll need to turn on the engine or portable generator, when at sea.

Yes, I am very much more conscious of how much water and electricity we are consuming on a daily basis, since living on a boat.  I remembered when paying my mum a visit one Chinese New Year and I happened to be standing near a sink when someone had left the tap running while doing some washing up, I simply had to turn it off and apologised.  I could not bear to see excessive usage of water!

Likewise with electricity.  Use only what is needed.  Turn everything off when not required.

I’m not someone you would call a “tree hugger”, but living on a boat has made me that much more environmentally responsible.  There’s no two things about it, it’s down to your own consumption and habbits.  There’s no one else you can blame but yourself in this microcosm of a world.  This was the best education yet for me, to be environmentally responsible.

The world can definitely do more by engaging sailors as stewards of mother Earth, for they truly understand the need for moderation in consumption and what conservation is about.  They do not just “walk the talk” but “live the talk” instead!

This is what I have become, subconsciously, in my own journey away from the corporate world.  It’s a different life, but yet so much more life to be lived yet!  This life has brought about a new level of consciousness of the world we live in.

This life has made me more grateful of what life itself has to offer us.  Each new day is a reason enough to rejoice. 

Do take a moment off your hectic and bustling schedule to reflect and perhaps learn to live life as it should be lived. 

Thank you for tuning in, cheers and live happy!





Learning the dark secrets of marine navigation electronics.

A boat is a very high maintenance item.  A sailboat even more so in my opinion.  The miles and miles of ropes, the numerous pulleys, sidecars, track, the sails, etc all consumable items, albeit with some care they can last a long while.  

I’ve just been describing BooBee’s home.  Hence my living on the boat became working on the boat.  A sailboat can be remarkably high tech, ironically.  Although their principle mean of propulsion is the wind they are equipped with some pretty high tech electronics equipment.  GPS, AIS (automation identification system – which tells you of the surrounding boats as far as a few nautical miles away.  Their name, identification, dimensions, speed, direction are visible on the instrument.  Then you have the radar which allows you to “see” in the dark, if you can decipher the image.  Depth sounder, speedometer, wind instrument for wind speed and wind direction.  A digital compass, and finally the auto pilot and course computer.  The last 2 goes hand in hand.  The course computer takes in all the available data and decides if your course needs correction.  Technically you can program in a destination called a waypoint and say, “take me there!”.

Like all electronics (with few exceptions maybe of military nature that are nuclear electromagnetic radiation proof too) their greatest threat is perhaps lightning!  The electromagnetic pulse generated by lightning strikes can desimate electronic equipment in proximity.  This risk is significantly higher in a sailboat.  The mast, usually made of conductive aluminium, sticks about 5 stories vertically towards the sky.  You can think of the mast as a big lightning rod and you are usually the tallest object around.  That, is a formula for a lightning magnet! 

Marine navigational equipment are expensive.  Not just burning a hole in the wallet expensive, but can actually make whole wallets disappear, credit cards and all.  When a storm hangs around, I would bow low to the God of lightning, for this God can make you go broke in just a single flash lasting a mere split second.

Of course, electronics die of old age too.  The navigational equipment on Micasa are more then a decade old.  One by one they added onto my stack of most concerning worries on the boat.  They would start by acting up, throwing me a screw ball every now and then and finally refused to play ball and gave up the ghost!

There are only a handful of marine navigational equipment makers and all play this game of built in obsolescence.  Anything older than 3 years, they would not carry parts for.  When you bring in a faulty piece of their equipment, hoping dearly that the repair would not be as painful as imagined you’d be told to throw it away and buy a new one!  Consumer protection stops at the shores, I would conclude!

Left with no other choice I had to seek for alternatives.  To get off main stream and to seek for something (heaven knows what) more affordable.  

Electronics frightens me.  They are like black boxes to me.  They produce an outcome, a result and only God will know what goes on inside these black boxes.  

I had to learn more about them, those black boxes!  Dwelling into the dark arts of those black boxes was petrifying. Before hitting the search button for every key catch phrase, I had almost have to cross myself first, the Christian way.  I read the distasteful scriptures for those black boxes which were brain numbing.  I soldiered on through this valley of cerebral death, reading pages after pages of those coma inducing scriptures.  Only God really knows how long I was on this ordious path as a minute on it seemed like days.  Slowly those words of the devil like NMEA with satanic numbers such as 0183 or 2000 started to gain a modicum of grip on my half comatosed brain.

Most boat owners would not have to suffer such ordeals.  They would simply throw money at it which buys them a less painful path towards navigation narvana.  This option is not in my arsenal.  I am out of a job!

Slowly but surely, the darkside prevailed. This dark art took control of my mind and tongue and I started to speak the language of the devil.  Baud rates and all!

Pardon the satirical view on learning navigational equipment.  It wasn’t an easy journey but one that was a necessary evil for me.  From these I started the search for an affordable alternative to main stream navigation equipment.  It exist!  Residing in the grey world of GitHub, the domain of nerds and hidden geniuses.

Poorer sailors, like me.  Yes, they exist although we do not hear much about them.  After all they are not the immediate targets of flashy commercials and advertisements of the multi billion dollar yacht building industry and the satellites of supporting industries surrounding it.  No sun tanned Greek Gods and Goddesses images associated with them.  This underclass and under previleged group of sailors are subconsciously brushed aside as mere irritations by those sailors and boat owners bearing much heftier wallets and digital numerical values which stretches into eternity!

God is fair, however!  He has endowed many of these underdogs and social outcasts with above average IQs.  This under privileged group has their own community.  They share a common hardship and as strong a zest to sail as any.  They have been facing the very same predicaments as I’ve only recently stumbled upon.  The spirit of willingness to help others, which is typical of the sailing community, is very much the philosophy of this group’s existence.  The objective of becoming rich in dollars and cents through the exploitation of the dire needs of others isn’t on the top of the agenda of the members of this community.  Yes, they are rich however, in their nobility and willingness to help others.  God bless them!

This community is linked through online networks and forums and much of the fruit of their toils are open for all in the open source domain of GitHub.  There you will find scripts and coding which utilizes the processing powers of single board computers and microcontrollers.  The Raspberry Pi which evolved from a toy for school projects is one of the favourites.  Using an Arm chip (from mobile phones) and some elegantly designed computer software architectures, these little computers do garner enough processing power to accomplish most computing tasks with relative ease, albeit with very low investment costs and power consumption in their operation.

Navigational equipment such as chartplotters and autopilots can be created from cheap hardwares and free open-source softwares.  One may think that these are mere toys with little relevance in the real world.  I would beg to differ from this view.  Such equipment can and do rival any commercially available equipment out there but at a mere fraction of what it’ll set you back by, if you are to buy one of those proprietary, limited lifespan navigation equipment.  Some well credentialed individuals associated with the industry have made such statements as “superior in their functions to commercially available units!”, with regards to these DIY equipment.  I am not in such an honoured level of existence, and I do find these DIY navigation equipment to be reliable and bountifully adequate for my needs.

Could this be God’s answer to my prayers?  To provide me with the means to navigate the seas safely and to mitigate the likelihood of Micasa and her crew (my Admiral, Sailor dog, and yours truly) getting in harm’s way?  Yes, I do think so and may God bless those unsung heroes (we know who they are!) who have done so much for the sailing community without much material rewards in return.

Thank you for tuning in.  There will be more articles forthcoming, in future.  Do feel free to comment and like my article, and do share them with your friends and loved ones!  In the meantime, do live life as its meant to be lived!

Living on a boat.

I went back to my journal and found this, written on the anniversary of my liveaboard, almost a full 2 years ago. I had been a liveaboard for a full year at that point and here were my thoughts.

A year of living on a boat.

Today is the eve of my first anniversary as a full time liveaboard. A full time liveaboard is one who lives on a boat as a primary home, in my case the only home. My land base home has been rented out exactly a year ago.

This is a longer than usual write up. I have shared many events of my day to day life on Micasa over the past year and today I would like to share with you some of my thoughts in retrospect on what living on a boat is like.

First thing first, forget for a moment the glamour and “high five” good times impression that you may have of such a lifestyle. Yes sure, I have had lots of good times both living on Micasa and sailing her around. The underlying most predominant thing here is that it is a lot of responsibility. Responsibility for the safety of those on board firstly and secondly the responsibility of making and having your vessel seaworthy, as this will ultimately leads back to the safety of all on board.

The sea with all its beauty and magnificence can be a very scary place for us land dwelling creatures (we would have gills otherwise). A calm serene day can very quickly turn into a violent storm. One that can shake both your boat and you to the very core. Imagine your home being thrown around as if it’s in a gigantic washing machine. You as the captain of the vessel can do little apart from the preparation and precautions you may or may not have taken up until then. Going about on the deck, in the fury of a storm, is far from safe and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Remember one thing too! You are on your own. Anyone who dares come to your aid will be at the full mercy of the violent sea, at such times. There are no tow trucks and no time out (or reset button). This is real life and you’ll just have to pray and ride it out.

I am no hero and neither do l have a great appetite for risk taking. Everything that I do on the boat is directed towards this one important factor. To reduce the risk of harm to those on board and the boat itself. To ensure that Micasa is seaworthy and that all her critical functions work well enough that when called upon, she will be able to get us out of harm’s way. Much like a chess player, I tend to look many steps ahead these days when it comes to anything on Micasa. Be it a simple repair or alteration, I will, in my mind, run it through the scenarios of potential harsh conditions and question the ability of the repair or alteration to put up with them for years to come. When things breakdown or come undone, it will most of the time, happen during such punishing times. During such times, your plate will already be spilling over the sides and you would want to ensure that lesser is being heaped onto this very plate. This is not meant to scare anyone but to share with you the gravity of potential situations one is likely to end up in, when at sea. Well, It did happened when on one cruise when we were anchored at a river mouth near Tanjung Pinang in Bintan, Indonesia (one of my earlier “share” in Facebook – 1st Nov. 2016). One simply does not blissfully and gaily set forth into the blue sea without good preparations. The sea will very quickly teach you humility and respect for her.

Alright, serious stuff out of the way. Once the boat is kept at a good level of seaworthiness you should go and enjoy what the sea and land reachable by sea has to offer. The thing that always amazes me is the sight that I see when I open my front doors in the morning, when away on a cruise. I am in the comforts of my home, though small it may be relative to most land based homes, it offers me all the conveniences of a real home. Yet, this home can take me to beautiful and exortic, off the beaten path destinations. You literally take your home with you on a holiday. The freedom you get from this, is one which is hard to put down in words. There are many cruisers out there enjoying this on a daily basis. Weather permitting, when you feel you have had enough of a place, you would simply set sail for your next destination without having to sacrifice any of the comforts of home. On each shore, a new adventure awaits.

The boating and sailing community is the other amazing thing. On a shore based home, we would hardly know our neighbours. But not so on the water. It is a true community in every sense of the word. I once wrote that a neighbour offered me a dinner of pasta, fearing that I might go hungry that evening. When help is needed I need not even ask for it at times. Help can offer itself right at my doorstep, at the time of need. It is a close knit community. One that I am truly happy to be a part of. On my dock, a neighbour is always having a barbecue on Friday nights. Invitation is always open to the neighbours. Just turn up with some food or drinks that you can share, is the general rule. Even if I am sometimes caught empty handed, I am still welcomed to share their food and drinks. The warmth and friendliness amongst the neighbours is something that I have not seen in any neighbourhood I have been in, barring none.

So those are some of the highlight moments, but what of my day to day living? Space is always limited. It’s something which I have grown accustomed to. Before buying anything the questions are always, do I have space for it? Do I really need it? Can I do without it? More often than not, it is a resounding “Yes” to the later! A big plus to having a smaller home is that it’ll just take me a fraction of the time to vacuum and mop the floor. In fact I do not even use a mop, just a piece of rug and a small bucket. It is easier to keep clean and tidy, yet at times when something goes missing, it is almost impossible to find despite the small space. Why? Every bit of storage space is stacked to the bream. To take the stove kettle out (when no shore power is available for the electric kettle) for example, I will need to remove half a dozen things before being able to reach it. Every now and then, especially in the earlier months, I will repack some of these storage cabinets and lockers. Placing the most commonly used items within easy reach as the routines become more set. There are dedicated storage for household items and clothing and some are for tools, spares and emergency equipment like spare anchor and chains, emergency tiller and even a sea parachute (this last one you would hope not to have to use). I have always been pleased with myself for having chosen Micasa with all that she came with. She is only a medium size sailboat and yet has a good layout which makes her space very livable. She came well equipped enough to cross vast seas. One of her previous owners has been a seasoned sailor and has equipped her well. Going through the things on the boat even months after I have bought Micasa, I realised how much thoughts and planning have gone into gearing her up. There were many things which I had no idea about when I first saw them during the initial “cleaning up” process. I did not grow up in a sailing fraternity. Despite of the vast amount of materials I have read, consumed and digested in the year or so it took me to find the right boat, there were still much I did not know about when it comes to boats and sailings. I have also taken some Royal Yachting Association courses which included five days out at sea on a sailboat before becoming a liveaboard. After a year of living on Micasa and occasionally taking her out for short cruises, there still remain much to be learnt. This learning process has been an interesting adventure in itself.

Living on a boat has made me very conscious of my own consumption. Water for example, is precious. Electricity is the other that I have become very conscious about. Simply because these things are finite and depend on the availability of resupply sources, which are not always there. I am also buying my groceries in smaller packing size (like toothpaste and coffee for example) simply for the lack of space to store the excess. Strangely, this has also made me more aware of what and how much I am consuming. As of now I am even embarking on a project to go off grid on my electricity requirement. To be self sufficient. Living on a boat has made me a much greener person simply out of necessity.

Yes there are a few more chores and precautions needed on a boat. The water tanks will always need topping up, the air-conditioner needs maintaining for example, and when away from the boat for more than a day, it’s always a good practice to turn off the seacocks (inlet or outlet for water), after all, this home can sink. After a while these become second nature. It’ll come automatically, like taking your shoes off before entering your home. Which I do on Micasa, and BooBee my sailor dog – she gets her paws wiped with a wet piece of cloth soaked in Dettol, after each time she’s been out for a walk. More to come about BooBee the sailor dog, in another write up.

Most other maintenance, such as the engine, the windlass (anchor winch), general plumbing or even servicing of the air-conditioner can be done by professionals. However this being a boat (some refer to it as a yacht which I dare not) everything will cost double if not triple of what a car servicing would cost for example. There are fewer people doing these for boats and they are of the impression that boat owners are able to afford it. True for some but not for all but that is hardly an excuse for robbery. I tend to do all of the work myself, for a few reasons. I do have the time and I am also not afraid to get my hands dirty but these are not the main reason why I do do them. I need to know as much about the boat as possible, as I have mentioned earlier that out there, you are on your own. If your engine breaks down for example, no one can repair it for you until you came back to shore. Knowing your boat better will give you a better chance of fixing thing out there, when required to.

Will I still choose this way of life if I get a reset? Absolutely! Despite of all the hazards and inconveniences, I have had a blast of a year. A year of interesting living where I have looked forwards to each day. Despite of the few extra ounces of responsibility on my shoulder, the highlight times are simply too good to be missed. One year is a long enough period of time to say that I now know what life as a liveaboard is like. For the foreseeable future I will choose to continue having a boat as my home.

I will continue to share my adventure and life aboard and maybe someday even write a book about it. In the meantime, stay tuned and thank you all for tuning in.

Remember to live life in the present – the present will not be around for long!

https://www.facebook.com/benedict.chin.3/videos/10213268095958037/

BooBee’s caretaker.

Till now, it has been how BooBee went from the world of a dog pound to what most people would have considered as living the dream!

The journey for me as BooBee’s caretaker, “daddy”, captain of our floating home Micasa, Jack-of-all-trade in keeping Micasa in a seaworthy condition, had been just as contrasting.  I have mentioned briefly, somewhere in the introduction in this blog about my previous life.  I was a corporate executive director.  A top pen-pusher or keyboard tickler for many years in a multinational company based in Singapore.

In my previous, previous life (not quite the 9 lives of a cat!) I was a farmer, a plantation manager in some far out of reach corner of the world.  There are much more closer analogies between a farmer and a sailor, than to a corporate slave.  You see, being a farmer, my job was to keep things going  and ticking along despite of the remote location and distance from civilization.  It meant that if a water pump, for example, was not working, I would need to find some ways of fixing it, if possible, rather than to lug it 50 miles into town to get fixed.  This thing about fixing things in remote locations (some call it exortic places) will ring a very loud and clear bell to those cruiser sailors. 

Of course, at the other extreme corner was the guy in a crisply ironed white long sleeve shirt, half strangled by a fabric noose around his neck!  This guy would have a pale complexion and an almost guaranteed condition of vitamin D deficiency from the total lack of exposure to direct sunlight.  He would take one look at the broken water pump and proceeded straight to filing up a maintenance requisition form.

A boat is usually in a very harsh environment, especially those in a salty abode.  Closer to that imaginary line which divides the globe into Northern or Southern hemisphere, the sun would be at its fiercest and relentlessly putting out a zillion watt of UV energy to reduce everything to crumbly bits in no time.  Things will breakdown frequently and maintenance requirements simply off the chart.  A boat is a very high maintenance thing, per se.  Put that corporate guy on that boat and you will be seeing a B Grade movie remake of the Titanic which always end with the captain going down with his ship (boat)!

So as you can imagine, the ex-corporate guy that I was did struggle on the boat and was trying desperately to find my farmer’s hat thinking “if that guy was around, he’d know how to fix this!”. The mindset and habbits moulded by more then 20 years in a corporate environment was my greatest hindrance.  I did eventually find my farmer’s hat and gradually those skills that were of second nature to me started to surface again.

I was retrenched from a company that I had put twenty over years of my working life into.  It was as if that company was mine – I helped build it, didn’t I?  As much as I had wanted to see things in a more positive light, that was a bitter pill to swallow and it certainly would require some strong medicine to remove that enormous chip on my shoulder.

Yes, I did move from living in a high rise apartment to sea level, literally.  I rented out my apartment for a bit of income (trust that corporate guy to keep thinking in dollars and cents!).  The boat was a high maintenance item and living on the boat became working on the boat.  And unless I would be doing most things myself it would have been a very fine line between living the dream and going broke!  Where’s that darn farmer?  Can’t he come around a little sooner?!

It was hard physical work (at least to that ex-corporate guy) and I would either had to gunk myself up in sun cream or live with the consequence of painful sunburn.  I had decided for the later till my skin was dark enough that I would burn no more under the hot tropical sun.  As soon as the farmer in me stuck his head around the corner, I took on ambitious tasks like refurbishing the entire boat’s floorboards from stern to bow.  I had to remove each piece of floorboard for sanding and revarnishing on the pontoon outside.  That way it would make lesser of a mess inside and my sailor dog was inside the boat. 

She was always curious and inquisitive about whatever I was tending to.  If I would open up my tool bag for example, she would immediately stick her snout in there to sniff around.  On a freshly varnished floorboard, she would have no hesitation towards trampling over it.  I once was doing some gelcoat repair on a patch of the fiberglass deck.  BooBee stood watch nearby and when her inquisitiveness got a better hold of her, she marched over for a closer inspection.  Of course it created some commotion involving panicked shouting and waving arm! Then seeing that I was a little upset, she marched on to go into the boat, leaving a trial of white paw prints on the teak deck.  A couple of those prints are still there on the teak deck today, a good two years after that fiasco.  I could remove them easily, but I thought, why not just leave them there.  This being her home as well and this is her Hollywood walk of Fame imprintment.

All that boat work was therapeutic to me.  It required elbow grease and much patience on my part.  Waiting for varnish to dry had been rather testing at best and my mind wandered into asking why UV cured varnish for the DIY man had not been created.  The technology is not new and with China’s manufacturing might today, the LED UV curing machines are even used for DIY manicuring.  A thought for some of you enterprising folks, perhaps!

I am a perfectionist by nature.  For example, if a piece of floorboard wasn’t varnished right, I would have little hesitation to sand it all off to start over again.  So I got better at it.  Practice does make perfection!  The list of boat projects was never ending.  There was a chipped veneer door that needed tending to.  An interesting 2 days project involving water colours to blend the repair in.  At the end, I myself couldn’t really tell where the chip was initially.

The therapy was great and over time I could tell that the enormous chip on my shoulder was deminishing in size.  A sort of detox for the mind.  I do keep a sort of journal on Facebook both as a mean of record keeping and to keep my friends and family informed.

I was looking out for a job initially, the sort that I used to do in the corporate world.  The suitable ones that came along would require me to relocate to places like China, Vietnam or Myanmar but then I had to decline.  I’ve got 2 girls (my Admiral and sailor dog) and a boat to look after.

After a while, I had simply stopped looking. Strangely too the headhunters have also stopped calling.

Over the last few years of maintaining and upgrading my boat I have became good at it too.  Be they of woodworking nature, mechanical, electrical or even electronics  (all boat related), I’ve tackled them all to the extent that even the perfectionist in me was satisfied with the outcome.  Micasa, is certainly one of the better maintained boats around.  I am now more the farmer turned sailor than that ex-corporate guy who would struggle at manual work. 

Earlier this year, I’d realised that the canvas awning over Micasa, needed replacement.  Instead of relying on professional services I undertook this huge project myself.  First building a structure around the boat out of PVC piping material, then wrapping the entire structure with heavy marine canvas which I sewed myself.  Trust that the perfectionist in me would have done a decent enough job at that. 

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Decent enough that I have gotten requests from boat neighbours to do some of their canvas work.  I’m okay with that and I’d realised too that I can supplement some of my expenses from boat work alone.  That corporate guy is no longer around and I’m fine with it.

Taking on that first odd job was a turning point for me.  It was a closure in a way to a corporate job, which I’m Okay with.  I’ve realised too over the last couple of years, that being away from the corporate environment had allowed me to broaden my horizon to a vast extent.  I’ve recently mail ordered for a large invertor for use on Micasa (after installing some lithium batteries) which did not work (the inverter).  It was from China and the 1 year warranty was not entertained at all.  Instead of throwing it out I had repaired it by changing a few resistors and a MOSFET.  Never in a million years would that ex-corporate guy ever attempt something of that nature.

So these few years had been a journey of sorting out my priorities in life.  I am comfortable in my own skin now, walking around barefoot in a pair of shorts and a tank top. 

The Admiral still holds a full time job on shore, in Singapore.  I would wish that she will say “enough”, soon!  That would be the signal to cast off our dock lines and we will be sailing off towards the horizon as true cruisers with BooBee our sailor dog on board.

Part of the journey has ended for me and I am looking forwards to the second part of it. BooBee the sailor dog has become a big part of our daily lives. I’ll continue to share my experiences of living on a boat with a sailor dog both in the present and in retrospect, in this blog.

Goodnight for now and do tune in for more in the future.

Cheers and remember to live life.

The making of a sailor dog.

BooBee was certainly exposed to a lot more than what she had experienced at the pound, till then.  She had never seen  television before.  The first time we turned on the TV (I remember it was a Saturday night, around horror show time) the image of a creepy man appeared and BooBee barked at him.  It only took her a little while to realise that it wasn’t a real man but just an image.  From then on she hardly ever took more then a glance at the TV.  Yes, we have a TV on Micasa, albeit a 32 inches TV mounted on a swivel arm.

One day, during the first month that BooBee was with us, I happened to turn on the stereo which has a pair of waterproof speakers in the cockpit.  She was up in the cockpit at the time.  She immediately walked to the companionway doors while glancing back towards the source of the noise, with a very puzzled look on her face.  Like everything else, she learnt extremely quickly, that it was only one of my gadgets!

We would every now and then take the boat out to spend a night or two at nearby Islands.  Lazarus Island, which is linked to Saint John Island by a land fill, was one of our favourite (and BooBee’s too).  The first time I started the engine, BooBee ran out of the boat, not knowing for sure why the whole house was rumbling.  Again she learnt!

When sailing, the safety of the boat’s crew rest with me, the captain.  Everyone, including myself must dorn a life vest. No exception, even BooBee!  She felt uncomfortable in it, initially, but soon gotten used to it.  She never liked riding in the dinghy and refused to get in by herself.  Always had to be carried on.  When anchored near Lazarus Island, the dinghy was the only mean of getting onto the island.  It was like Treasure Island to BooBee.  She loved exploring it. The next morning, as soon as I pulled the dinghy nearer to the boat, she was the first one on it.  All by herself!  She wanted to go exploring on her Treasure Island.

BooBee off to explore her Treasure Island (Lazarus Island).

On some stretches of water even within Singapore waters, on the more exposed side, the sea could get rather rolly.  To the extent that the Admiral would get seasick.  But not BooBee!  I have never seen her getting seasick.

Surprisingly, though, BooBee would get car sickness if the ride is anything longer than 10 or 15 minutes. One day after she threw up onto the back seat of the car, I commented to her, “You really are a sailor dog, aren’t you?”.  And that became her nickname of sort from that point onwards.

On one of the boats, a half dozen boats further along the pontoon, lives BooBee’s godmother.  She dotted on BooBee.  Occasionally bring her roasted pork knuckles or roasted chicken.  My Admiral too would sometimes buy KFC for BooBee.  When she told BooBee once that she was going to buy KFC for BooBee, she would lick her mouth just thinking about it.  She understood what KFC was.  BooBee’s dinner now usually consists of cooked rice mixed with a whisked egg, then microwaved to cook.  To this, strips of shredded deboned roasted chicken was added and mixed evenly into. She does eat better than we do but we would not have it any other way.  She loved fish and the occasional crab as well. We will have to peel or debone for her first. We do spoil her in this sense but then why not?!  Didn’t we agreed to regard her as a member of the family when we decided to adopt her?  Is she not like our child to us, an only child!?

In many ways, BooBee does not think she is a dog.  She had very little contact with other dogs as there are no dogs nearby, only on weekends, a nearby neighbour would bring their dog to the marina.  She was with humans only, nearly all of the time.  One morning while drinking my coffee, she even indicated to me that she wanted some. I ignored her…. It’s coffee after all and dogs do not drink coffee!  She persisted and when I kept ignoring her, she nudged me with her snout!  So I gave her a few teaspoons of coffee in a bowl….. She lapped it all up!!!

In some ways it’s my fault that she does not know she’s a dog.  Especially when it was raining outside I would give her, her dinner, on the saloon aisle.  At times she would eat a little messily with grains of rice sprinkled all around her bowl, onto the floor rug.  I would pick them up grain by grain, else the rice would be sticking to our soles. In my annoyance, I would say to her, “BooBee don’t eat like a dog!  You give me work to do!”.  Her godma thinks it’s my fault!

I know, it’s mostly our fault that she is such a fussy eater now.  She has also become a little costlier to maintain too!

That’s BooBee, my Sailor dog who was from the pound!