August 31, 2012

Mooloolaba: our neighborhood this week

We're in Mooloolaba, a sweet beach town on the sunshine coast of Queensland.

Heading north from the protected waters of Moreton Bay, we wove through sand shoals to come into the Mooloolah river. Humpback whales, dolphins, and one very large turtle. Beautiful company on a beautiful day! We timed the 50-odd mile trip to arrive in Mooloolaba a little before high tide, not knowing what the bar would bring. We would have liked more wind for sailing, but it surely helped with the docile bar conditions, and for that we're grateful!

Most of our time is taken in continued boat projects and preparations to depart Australia, but there's always time to spend a few hours on a pretty beach.

August 27, 2012

Why we aren't taking anti-malarial drugs

In hindsight and after a few emails from my last post on malaria, I think a little backstory will help to paint a more complete picture of the choices we've made. That last post really just focused on the ‘what’; this is the ‘why.’

Malaria deaths
World malaria fatality rates, via Global Health Equity

Longer ago than I'd care to admit, I acquired malaria while living in Indonesia. I had been taking Lariam (and dealing with side effects from hallucinogenic dreams to hair loss), but it got me anyway, and was kind of awful. This has influenced the decision in a few ways.

First, the obvious: taking prophylactics don’t necessarily prevent you from contracting malaria. We received emails after last week’s post that told the same story, of friends and personal experiences with malaria despite taking meds.

Second: prophylactics can give you some wicked side effects. I don’t need to lose any hair; hallucinating and being responsible for a boat don’t go together. Again, input from a RN friend (thanks Linda!) via email, that Lariam can be associated with severe depression as well. Doxycycline causes photosensitivity. When we spent several weeks in Vanuatu in 2010, we did take prophylactics. Not inclined to repeat my Lariam experience, Jamie and I took Doxycycline. This drug is not recommended for children, so the kids took Malarone. The kids were fine. Jamie and I had nasty side effects with the Doxycycline- it gave us a kind of sun poisoning, regardless of sunscreen and protection. We may be more sensitive than most, I don’t know, but it was bad enough that we stopped taking the meds early.  Jamie had residual problems for a year we attribute to just a couple of weeks on the drug.

In thinking  about what to do, it’s hard to escape the fact that malaria is still endemic to a big swath of the globe. But people in these regions aren’t living on prophylactic medication. There are questions about long term use of the drugs, and the cost is prohibitive. Yet our path in the coming years is going to take us through a whole lot of this “red” zone. So we had to ask: does it really make sense to take the meds on an ongoing basis?
Even if we could afford it, I think the answer is no. I’m also pretty sure that without the (false) panacea of the medication, we’ll also be a whole lot more careful. And if we do happen to be unlucky and any of the Totem crew get sick, we have thought through our plan to address it.

August 23, 2012

Heading into malaria country

Papua New Guinea has sobering malaria statistics. It has the highest incidence of malaria in the Western Pacific. Internal problems with infrastructure, resources and funding give malaria victims an unnecessarily high mortality rate. We'll travel from PNG to Indonesia, and continued endemic malaria: it's not like anything we've experienced to date.

So it might seem strange that we're not going to take any anti-malarial drugs in PNG and Indonesia during our journeys in the coming year.

Bay of Islands with Oso
Mosquito tip #432: avoid dark clothing, which attracts the critters. Oh, and don't breathe, because so does carbon dioxide. 

If you know us, you know we're not big risk takers. We recently visited a travel doctor as part of our preparations. We brought our bias to avoid prophalyctics and were expecting to have to "discuss" it. To our relief, was consistent the advice she gave us.

What are we doing, then? Lots of preventative measures.

There's screening:

  • Repellent-treated nets and screens (we got ours in Australia from Buzz Off) on our hatches and ports. We have the screens and nets, and will soak them in a solution of permethrin. The treatment is supposed to be good for about a year, and we have enough to re-treat if it seems necessary.
  • We have additional nets, also treated, to drape our bunks at night. The romantic Out of Africa look is a bonus.

There's repellents:

  • Chemical free is best. We have little ultrasonic devices that are the size of a thumb. Battery powered, they emit a high pitch sound which mosquitoes don’t like. They don't have a big range- just 8 or 10 feet- but that's enough most of the time. 
  • Good ol' repellent lotion. First line of defence is based on essential oils; we have several to use.
  • As much as I hate using chemicals, especially directly on our skin, it's a risk trade off with malaria that we have to weigh. If we aren't finding success with the natural repellents, DEET based lotion is stashed too.
  • Coils. Hate em.... but have them, just hope not to use.

There's basic behavior and smarts:

  • Avoid areas with lots of bugs  (anchor awaaaaayyyy from the mangroves!)
  • Choose light colored clothing, not dark. 
  • No perfume/fragrances. Easy, since we mostly think they literally stink.
  • Stay put from dusk to dawn. This is when malarial mosquitoes are primarily active; we'll plan our activity to try and ensure being inside the well screened boat during those times. Since we'll be in islands without power, I don't think it will be hard.

And if we think anyone even MIGHT have malaria:

  • TEST. We have 20 test kits (these are from Buzz Off, too): if anyone shows a sign of fever, they get tested. It’s a simple finger prick that you measure on a card. Pleasantly dummy proof.
  • TREAT. If malaria is indicated, we begin treatment. There's enough Malarone on Totem for multiple courses. In fact, it's probably an overkill quantity. I'm OK with that. 
  • Take off! We’d head for a clinic the second anyone is diagnosed. Just because we can handle starting treatment doesn't mean we think we should play doctor. Our medical kit is oversupplied if anything; the bigger problem then is the distance to a clinic that will have trained staff.

I can't help worst-case-scenarioing on this. What if Jamie and I are both infected? I know from experience it can make you completely non-functional. It's one of the reasons we're hoping to find buddy boats who are also headed on this route, which is a big stretch from the beaten path.

In the grand scheme of things, we don't think we're taking a risk here. Feel free to disagree.

* 2013 update: no malaria, but a few test kits were used during our time in PNG.

August 21, 2012

Our cruisiversary: four years today

Four years ago today, we sailed out of Eagle Harbor and into cruising. Our very dear friends sailed out in company with us, and waved us off onto our adventures. Against the backdrop of  a beautiful August day, the kind only Puget Sound can conjure, it was a heady beginning and bursting with promise.

It is stunning to me how the time has flown. I look back at the little children we had, small enough to still find knuckle dimples. Those have been replaced by gangly kids- a teenager, even- sure of themselves and their floating lives.

Views of Cape Flattery on our departure

We still have (and are asked) many of the same questions now as we were then. Is this always going to work? Are we going to circumnavigate? When are you going home?

No answers yet. Just immense gratitude to be able to live this life.

August 16, 2012

Moreton Bay Islands: our neighborhood this week

We're out of the Brisbane river, although we didn't go far. Totem is bobbing around the islands in Moreton Bay. It's in range of the city, where we need to return in the coming week for postal deliveries and rabies vaccination boosters (ew), but it feels a world away. I loved our mooring with the bridge and skyscraper lights, but it’s really good to be anchored out in clean water and pretty islands again. Bonus: it's humpback season! A few have made it into these enclosed waters.

Siobhan and I did a little paddling to explore our neighborhood today. Peel Island has turtles and dugongs in the sea grass, but we didn't spot any this afternoon. Tomorrow perhaps?

One of the reasons we wanted to get away from our close-in spot in Brisbane is to test our watermaker and HF radio. The watermaker needs clean water (I'll not elaborate on the state of the river), the radio needs to be away from RF interference.  Learning curves and mixed results resulted, but isn’t that just part of cruising?

August 15, 2012

Aussieisms: the Tim Tam Slam

We were first introduced to the Tim Tam Slam by our friends on s/v Mulan during the Pacific crossing in 2010. It’s fair to say that the Australian Tim Tam “biscuit” (as cookies here are called) has become a favorite treat on Totem. A few extra “packets” (only an American would call them packages) are provisioned and stashed away before our departure.
Mairen demonstrates the Tim Tam Slam, a preferred method for enjoying the cookie. It’s best for warming up after a chilly snorkel.

First, bite off diagonal corners of a biscuit.
Next, dip one of the bitten off corners into your tasty beverage. Mairen has hot cocoa.
Now, use that Tim Tam like a straw. Yes, like a straw. It works, mostly.
When you feel the biscuit getting a little mushy, quick, pull it out of the cocoa and stop drinking!
Eat that biscuit. It’s going to be a super chocolatey mushy delight.
You’re welcome.

August 13, 2012

Mapping a route through Papua New Guinea

One of the issues we're facing as we make plans to head for Papua New Guinea is how to choose a path that is sensible and safe. While it's unfair to make the blanket statement that the country should be avoided, there are clearly places here where we do not want to go- it has earned a reputation as a dangerous country.

In an effort to begin planning to point us on a safe path, I've been putting a Google map together, and finding it very helpful for visualization.

View PNG Routing in a larger map

The warning signs are documented incidents of a serious nature in places that we will avoid. Unfortunately, there is violent crime in many parts of the country. The red pins are for "coconut telegraph" reports of places to avoid for less serious reasons (petty theft or harassment, or unsubstantiated suggestions to avoid a locale). The balance of the pins are for places that other cruisers have visited and reported upon positively.

You can view the dynamic map here. If any of our blog readers have information to share that can add to this map, please send it via email (see the Get In Touch! tab) or post to the comments.

Anyone can edit this map! If you'd like to help, send me a note and I'll give you access to add details directly.

Eventually, I'd like to add more detail to this: using more consistent color coding and references in the pins to help identify comment sources or additional details. There are just a few more pressing things to do at the moment!

Because the details in this map can be exported in a .kml file and viewed with Google Earth, we'll be able to reference this even when we have long since left the land of internet. I'm hoping it will be a helpful reference that others can build on and benefit from as well.

Updated in 2013 with actual map instead of a screenshot. Map is updated with pins at places we stopped. There are comments in the pins as well. Note: pins are not waypoints- they are general locations for visualizing a route! We do have waypoints / tracks for cruisers, just get in touch.

August 7, 2012

Death, taxes, and laundry

Laundry is still laundry...but hey, you're in Bora Bora
Sometimes it really does feel that way: like one of the guarantees in life! August’s raft-up topic is about handling clothes and laundry on board. It's a good subject for the group, since it's a big question for pre-cruisers and based on questions we've had, I think a lot of people wonder how we manage this on a boat. With a busy family of five (and a pact not to use dry cleaning), we probably did a load of laundry every day when we were living more conventionally on land. It seemed daunting to me, too.

Like everything, you simply adjust to a new reality. Being in the tropics helps a lot: we just don't wear as much. The cruising lifestyle also lends itself to casual dressing. "Didn't you wear the same shirt yesterday?" -said no cruiser, ever.

For doing laundry, there are a bunch of options. Here's how they shake out for us.

Washer/dryer. Some boats have washing machines (and a few even boast dryers). I don't think we ever will. They can be very low water use, which sounds fine; we have a low-output watermaker, and are pretty good with conservation. They require dedicated space and some plumbing, which I am going to get hedgy about (giving up space which could be used for essentials like pesto or rum? I don't know...). The showstopper for me is the additional power need. I don't ever want a generator or to have big power generation needs... we are not that kind of boat.

Laundromats. We've had access to laundry facilities relatively infrequently. For the last month here in Australia, we've had easy access to affordable washing machines at the city-run moorings. They aren't sexy, but they are great for quickly getting a large amount of clothes clean. When we untie our lines tomorrow, there won't be a dirty sheet or dish towel on board.

Laundry services. When reasonable services are available onshore, I am happy to avail myself of the services. The lavanderias in Mexico were a dream! Almost everywhere else so far, it's been DIY.

And... old school: bucket laundry.The MO on Totem is washing in a 5-gallon bucket, with a dedicated (well it better be) plunger. Exhibit A at right: Niall looking a little less than enthused about his role in the bucket laundry process. Kid, you're in Bora Bora, don't complain!

The plunger and bucket method work fine for us. A little soap, a little jiggling around with the plunger or a ride on the aft deck in a seaway. Sea water is fine to wash and to rinse out soapy water, then precious fresh water is used for for a final rinse. Clothes are hung on our (spectra) lifelines to dry.

Laundry day!
I love the smell of line-dried clothes.

Thanks to the virtues of a "swap / giveaway" corner in a marina, we now also have one of those egg thingys, manual washing machines you crank by hand. So far, it lives up to the reputation of having a completely inadequate support frame but we'll rig it up to be functional. Based on about six months of use, it's markedly more effective at getting clothes clean than the ol' bucket. Hot water, sealed inside, builds pressure that just gets the grit out better. It does take a chunk of space, but nothing like an installed washer- and we can stow it in a lazarette, out of sight.

A peek at the Brisbane laundry facilities for boats at the Garden Point moorints. This is actually a pretty nice setup compared to many marina facilities. For one thing, the machines work.

A few "been there done that" thoughts:
  • Wringer. I wish we had a wringer and truly I covet Ceilydh's. Wringing out the saltwater is tough on hands, and you need to get as much of that water as possible out so you can effectively rinse it without wasting fresh water.
  • Clothes pins. People think they need plastic clothes pins because they'll last. I'm going on year 5 with the same wooden pegs, so think about giving that cr@ptastic plastic a miss. Bonus, wooden pins float, so if you do drop one you've got a shot at retrieving it.
  • Detergent. It can be hard to find laundry that meets our standards for 1) sensitive skin and 2) environmental friendliness, so although it's something you can find almost anywhere- consider if you want to stock up. Ingredients that have been outlawed in the US for a reason are still found in Mexican detergent, and no, you do not need "Joy" to wash in salt water. 

Click on the monkey's fist to read others bloggers on this topic.
The Monkey's Fist

August 6, 2012

Doing things for the last time

With our departure from Australia coming up, we're conscious of doing a number of things for the last time. It's something that happens routinely when we are traveling, but stands out now due to the relatively longer stay we've had in Australia. Mexico was our home for a similar length of time, but we weren't based in one place- we were exploring thousands of miles of coastline. Here, we've called two communities home: we've made ties, established local routines, gotten to know people.

One of the things we'll really miss about Brisbane are the ferry masters, a few in particular. Brisbane is built along both sides of a winding river, criss-crossed with bridges and connected by ferries. For most of this year, the girls took a ferry across the river to reach the public school they attended. On one hand, it's just getting you from A to B. But in reality, it's a fun segue into their morning with some great people. Guys like Andrew and Paddy who take the time to know the kids, to make them feel special. They always had a ready line to make the children smile and helped us feel welcomed in this home-away-from home. We will really miss them- their open smiles, and sense of humor.

We were ferrying from downtown over to a park the other day and I asked Andrew if I could take a picture of him with the children. "Oh no," he said, "people only what a picture when they're leaving!"

And so it goes.

Andrew with Totem crew and friends

So Andrew, if you're reading this? We really would love a visit in PNG, just so you know.