Friday, February 26, 2021

First family trip of the year, Coast Guard comes by

Date: Feb 20, 2021 
Weather: Alternately sunny and cloudy 
Waters: Fairly flat, only around 3m deep where we anchored
On board: C, A, J2, R and Pudding 

J1 and P are on a staycation this weekend, but the rest of us were available, so out to our usual spot we headed. It was past noon by the time we got to the marina, and finding only a quarter tank of petrol left, we decided not to chance being stranded Out There, so we topped up the tank first (causing a bit more delay). 

This is the first top-up since petrol duties were raised at last week's Budget announcement. The tank wasn't completely full and yet it cost $388. That same cost would have bought us a full tank before. 

Pudding stayed fairly calm during the ride
 though he seemed to be studiously avoiding
 a proper look at the roiling waters
churned up by the engine!
This dog really hates water. 

Pic by R. 

We could have gone to Lazarus or any of the further-away Southern Islands of Singapore, but it was a late start, coupled by the delay from getting fuel, so it was back to our usual spot, beyond which we have never ventured. Further north, beyond the fish farms, would be the seaward edge of the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and also the Causeway. 

Anyway, we were nicely anchored about 200 m from the Lim Chu Kang fish farms when a Police Coast Guard boat came by, and asked (in friendly manner) through a loud speaker told us to move further north, nearer the farms, as we were still within the Singapore Armed Forces live-firing area. We hauled up anchor and complied. 

The rest of the afternoon passed without incident. We had beer, music and fed Pudding rather too many treats to make up for the fact that we had forgotten to bring his lunch kibble along...

C going through the post-trip ablutions.
All this rinsing hasn't warded off
corrosion though. Sigh. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Three boys on board - and some musings on the costs of owning a boat

Date: Jan 30, 2021
Weather: Sunny and windy 
Waters: Peak of an unusually high tide, but turned quickly before return trip
On board: C, J2 and Pudding   

The following entry was posted by C, since A wasn't along for this ride. 

There ya go: C with Pudding,
and then J2 with Pudding ...
the three boys on the boat this round.

The first trip out for 2021 was one for the boys, literally - only three males on board. It was a hastily-arranged trip, with much of the usual crew sidelined due to last-minute commitments. The weather was a challenge, too: Who can forget the wet, wet weather that greeted the first two weeks of 2021?

But a break in the clouds emboldened C and J2 to drag Pudding along and go for it, and, as usual, the trip was well worth the price of admission. A late start meant making a beeline for our usual lounging spot off the SAF Live-Firing Area, and a planned dinner at 6.30 pm with the rest of the family meant there was less time than usual out at sea. The boys made the best of it anyway - good music, beers, and a lively conversation were crammed into three hours or so. 

Apart from the future of work, property, and the usual discussion about their beloved Liverpool FC, one topic of conversation in particular might pique the interest of boaters: The cost of owning a boat, and how long we might be able to keep this up.

The chat was sparked by a spate of repairs over the last few months. Having arrived brand-new in December 2016, LW2 is now just a shade over four years old. Niggly affairs, such as peeling paint, mouldy seats, and general cosmetic issues have required seeing-to. 

In our years of boat ownership, however, we have found the occasional mechanical hiccups to cost way more. On one particularly hot afternoon in 2020, the air-conditioning refused to work. It turned out to be a minor issue - a faulty pressure switch, but a hefty, four-figure bill was presented, despite the fact that the replacement part cost in the low three figures. 

An earlier episode of strange power interruptions was fixed relatively cheaply, but the repairs threw up a bigger problem: the exhaust elbows and gaskets had to be replaced.

Leaving aside the issue of the condition of LW2 - it is in almost mint condition despite its age, courtesy of a rigorous maintenance schedule and a generous amount of TLC - this has been puzzling. 

LW2’s engine hours are very low, but corrosion has still managed to set in. We have made only 36 trips on it in four years. (Thanks to this boat log, we are precise about that.) We are not sure of the average among boaters, but if we had made a trip out every other weekend, which seems a reasonable amount for the investment, we would have had to make the repairs in a year or so! 

OK, perhaps that is simplifying it. One has to, of course, account for exposure to the elements and such, but still!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, ordering the parts and getting the latest repairs done forced us to pony up that high four-figure sum that would have been better used on Christmas shopping. A GPS fix and other minor repairs pushed the total into five-figure territory. 

Far be it for us to complain about what looks to be First-World problems, but ad hoc repairs are one thing. There are also ongoing recurring expenditures - the monthly outlay for berthing at Raffles Marina, a boat-washing fee (OK, in a pinch, we can save on this by doing our own washing), marina membership and petrol for this 26-footer Sea Ray Sundancer 260. 

Petrol will cost us more, thanks to the hike in petrol duties. It has normally cost about $400 or a little less than that to top up the tank. The next tankful is going to be way more. 

So all in, even when we don't go out, we'd say it costs about $1,200 a month to be the owner of a boat this size (which is still pretty modest, we think).  

And now, with A and C having fewer sunrises ahead than behind them, the elephant in the room will have to be confronted - sooner rather than later. Retirement, forced or otherwise, beckons, and boating is simply not a leisure activity for those above 65 with modest means. 

J2 derided the idea that we will have to sell the boat soon, promising that the children would pick up the slack, being in good jobs and all. But that would be unfair: Having a boat was our idea. From the earliest days, we wanted, most of all, to give the kids a different experience, and since we are also fans of the great (?) outdoors, a boat seemed just the ticket. I venture that has been achieved, and then some.

Each boating trip has been such a great family occasion. Wading ashore on deserted islands, cooking under the stars, chugging beers with abandon under the azure skies ... that's just the half of it. We have decorated our boats (LW and LW2) with Christmas lights and had parties on them while docked, painted anchor ropes in inclement weather, been aground, hoping for the tide to beat the fading light, navigated by instinct through a horrendous storm, and even been adrift at sea in darkness after engine failure. 

Sure, there has been some fear at times, but those are just some irksome memories in a library of good ones. We’d recommend a boat to anyone.

Alas, as they say, all good things must come to an end. And for us and Little Wanderer 2, each passing day brings us closer to a fateful decision.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Just the two of us

Date: Dec 16, 2020
Weather: Sunny, then cloudy. Rain to the starboard on the way back. 
Waters: Fairly flat, peak of high tide
On board: C and A  

C and A, being the only two in the family who have begun their year-end vacation, headed out today. The younger people had plans of their own. 

 It was cloudy up east where we live, but actually sunny at the marina. 

C picks the music. A snaps a wefie. 

Still, we did expect it to rain buckets at some point, especially in the mid-afternoon; this has been the weather pattern for the past month. This was why we set out earlier than usual - and also, without the younger people with us, we were actually able to do that. If not for the crappy weather, we might have even taken a longer trip, say, to Lazarus island. 

Rain crimps plans, limits options. (It also makes us wary that fresh leaks may be springing in the basement of our home.) 

We dropped anchor and just chilled to a bottle of prosecco, and put Aretha's Christmas carols on. It was mercifully quiet today, except for Gloria In Excelsis Dio

We had only one sighting of a Brahminy kite swooping down to fish, missing the mark, and then flying back to a tree in the army training ground nearby, as C watched the action on the binoculars. 

No decorating of the boat with baubles and tinsel this year. We didn't do it last year either. It feels like we have run out of time to do it. (We did it in 2017 and 2018.) 

It really feels like time is speeding up, like we are barrelling towards Christmas, even though we began our annual leave at the end of the first week of December. A has realised that attending mass through the year, and especially during Advent, is way of marking out the passage of time. It gives structure to the weeks. It's been nearly a year of mass-less Sundays, and this season, we are already in the third week of Advent. Without witnessing the lighting of the Advent wreath a month ahead of Christmas (starting with a purple candle in the first week, another in the second, a pink candle in the third and a final purple candle a week before Christmas), Advent feels amorphous, without structure. It's the same with the rest of the year, when one would mark the start of the week by attending Sunday mass. Watching streamed proceedings just isn't the same.

As we head towards the end of one Very Strange Year, we take count of the ways life has changed. A year (OK, 10 months for A, and about nine for C) of working from home has saved us time commuting to work and preparing to go to work. We've slummed comfortably in home clothes. Where did the time we saved from commuting and getting dressed for work go? More TV, and with that, lots more snacking. 

We have one home-cooked meal each day at dinner. Lunch has mostly been ordered and delivered by GrabFood or Deliveroo or some such. It is expensive this way, as we have found!  In normal times, we would all have lunched separately, as a break midway through work in the office. 

The dog can't believe his good luck. Scritches and pets on tap all day, every day. 

We have to count our blessings, in that we don't seem in immediate danger of losing our jobs. 

After two hours on this day near the Lim Chu Kang fish farms, the sky began turning dark, so we left our spot. It began raining to starboard, where Puteri Cove, Johor Baru is, and also over Forest City, that mega mixed development built on a man-made island off south-western Johor. 

What torrential rain looks like from out at sea. 
We were dry where we were, though the tiniest 
of droplets could be felt. Puteri Cove.

Forest City being pelted.

After this trip, the boat goes in for some fixing. The risers need to be fixed. We turned on the AC below deck to check on it, and it seems to be working fine, despite having been on the blink on the previous trip out.  

Monday, October 26, 2020

Air conditioning on the blink

Date: Oct 24, 2020
Weather: Cloudy, then blazing hot 
Waters: Flat
On board: C, A, J2, R, Pudding and a guest, C2 

It was a late start, near 1pm, so we went for our default destination near the Yio Chu Kang fish farms instead of the longer trip to Lazarus Island. After we dropped anchor and through the afternoon, a hired boat which had set out from Raffles Marina with wakeboarders shattered the peace of our spot and sent us bobbing in its wake repeatedly. A nuisance. 

It was a smooth ride out and the waters off Tuas were otherwise like glass. Today, we had C2 on board, the older brother of D, who joined us on the last trip out. C2 is 15, skinny and restless, talks fast and jabs frenetically at his iPhone. He asked lots of questions too, about the features of the boat, and also why other boaters waved at us. A told him it is a maritime tradition. More about that here

At our anchored destination, his keyed-up energy found release in leaping and somersaulting off Little Wanderer's bow and swimming around her. 

C2 catches up with his aunt, R.  

The cool, cloudy day turned into a broiler soon enough, and Pudding responded by retreating below deck. We wanted the air-conditioning on but ... nothing happened. A short consult by phone with Eric of SGBoating later, C got instructions to open the hatch below the rear seats to do some trouble-shooting. Turns out the air-conditioner was low on coolant - either from neglect by the marina maintenance crew, or a leak, which could mean another bill to pay! (Repairs were done in July for separate problems. See entry here.)

Pudding had to lean in for a look
 to see what was wrong too.  

Back at the marina later, Capt C roped in C2 for the after-trip ablutions. It's become a sort of tradition on board Little Wanderer 2: Her young guests are asked to help hose down the deck to clean away the dirty footprints, spilled beer or random globs of doggo saliva. As Capt C says: "You've had fun at sea, now get to work. There's no such thing as a free lunch."  

And so C2, like the young guests before him, obliged. He had no option, actually. In truth though, our little "tradition" is a recognition of the fact that kids like to play with water. So this bit of "child labour" is actually fun for them.  

After the boat was hoisted out of the water (below), C was reminded that it was time to book this year's grooming. Dry berthing has spared us the curse of barnacles, but the hull needs protection from a polish with glazing so that stains don't stick.  

LW2 is a little over three years old. 
The wake by LW2 on the way back to the marina,
just below the Tuas Checkpoint (Second Link).
A fine Saturday to be out at sea.  

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Two guests on board

Date: Sept 26, 2020
Weather: Cloudy, slightly overcast, cool and windy 
Waters: Choppy (after a morning of threatened rain)
On board: C, A, J2, R, Pudding, and our guests, M and his grandson, D

The entire week has been rainy, so even on the morning of this supposed outing, we weren't sure if it would happen. This intended trip had been planned for last week, but was cancelled then because of threatened rain. In the end, the rain didn't come, but it was too late to head out already. Call it arse luck. 

R's dad, M, had been invited last week, so when we decided to bite the bullet and go today, he was asked again and he could make it, and brought D, one of his five grandchildren. 

The waters in the marina and just outside it were an uninviting brown and choppy. Without the usually-seasick J1 with us today, we had planned on a longer trip, to Lazarus, perhaps, but with it being so choppy and windy, we chose safety and headed for our usual place near the fish farms.

M, we were told, isn't a big fan of doggos. R says Pudding
probably sensed this and deliberately planted himself close. 😜  

With the weather so cool, the dog seemed a lot happier. He spent most of the time with us on deck. As usual, he whimpered when J2, R and D leapt off the swim platform into the water, but this time, he barked for good measure as well. We have often wondered what his whimpers mean. Is it that he was transferring his dislike/fear of the water onto his humans and concerned for their safety? 

This Web site here suggests it may be so. 

C pointed out, though, that the doggo seemed really excited (in a good way)  - his tail was wagging happily as he barked and whimpered, and as he alternated between clambering on the seat and going to the swim platform for a better view of what was going on in the water. 

The "Yacht Rock" playlist was on, beers and wine were drunk, and conversation was had. 

R catches up with her nephew, D. He and his
siblings miss R, now that she doesn't live with them. 



Sunday, August 16, 2020

Dead fish... and rain

Date: Aug 15, 2020
Weather: Sunny, then rainy, and then clear
Waters: Slightly choppy, but looked clean - except for the fish kill
On board: C, A, J1, J2, R, P and the dog 

Hundreds of milkfish flashed their bellies of silver on the surface of the water as we approached our usual mooring spot north of the SAF firing range. 

What happened? The water looked fine today, quite clean and clear, so if it was some kind of algae bloom that sopped up the oxygen from the water and killed them, it wasn't apparent. We were wondering about the fish in the floating fish farms just 80m from where we dropped anchor. 

A similar thing happened in May 2019. Here's the news report

We used our boat hook to bring a fish on board for a closer look, and Pudding was curious, his nose probably in overdrive. Our human noses, however, didn't pick up any odour. After J1's droll idea of bringing them back for dinner was roundly rejected, the sport of fish flinging (using the boat hook) gave no more than a few minutes' amusement. Now you know why it's not going to make it as an Olympic sport... 

Nobody was going to swim in these waters today; memories of a resident croc and box jellyfish provided other good reasons not to.

We don't know when these fish died. Their bodies were beginning to bloat. 
There were fewer of these where we dropped anchor, perhaps about 100
 near the boat. Most were further south, nearer the Second Link.  

The day's outing had begun in sunny weather, but about an hour after we dropped anchor, the skies above distant Johor Bahru turned gloomy. It began pouring there and the skyscrapers disappeared. Soon enough, a drizzle began where we were. 

J1, P and the dog had retreated below deck by then. Only C, A, J2 and R stayed out, with J2 giving his Very Expensive Raincoat, a Musto, a try. By appointment to Her Majesty, The Queen, and also to the Duke of Edinburgh, he sniffed, reading its label out.  

A video of the stormlight just before the rain came. 

Those awesome Orlebar Brown shorts.

Fresh from repairs to flush a choked manifold, the boat purred today. 

The journey back was uneventful. 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Sea trial after repairs

Date: July 31, 2020
Weather: Cloudy
Waters: Slightly choppy, absolutely filthy and brown-foamy within the marina 
On board: C, A, Rodriz (the repair technician) and Eric of SG Boating 

Little Wanderer 2 has been giving off really loud warning beeps when the speed hits 22 knots in the last few trips, though it hasn't given any serious mechanical problems. It's not like we've been stranded at sea or anything... 

So into the repair shop it went. Turns out the manifold on the starboard side needed to be chemically flushed because it was choked, and water couldn't flow through it. Result: an overheated engine which tripped the sensor, hence the beeps. 

The portion that was choked (arrowed).

The repairs turned out like the worst nightmare for any hypochondriac who goes to see a doctor for Problem A, and finds in the course of scans and checks that there's also Problems B and C: The repairman also found the two batteries on board in bad shape, literally so - their sides were bulging out. They will need replacing. 

There was also an issue with the risers. They will need replacing, perhaps in six months or so. The replacing is in itself a two-hour job. It's the process of ordering the parts and waiting for them to arrive that takes a while, no thanks to Covid-19 disrupting shipping and delivery lines. So we made arrangements to get the parts ordered now, before replacing these parts become a matter of urgency.  Sounds like a kerchinggg business, what with manifold + batteries + risers. 

After today's fixings were done with the manifold, Eric took the wheel and we went out for a spin. He hit 22 knots and beyond in the waters outside the marina and things looked fine. 

All A did was sit out back for a Friday wind-in-her-hair ride. 

From left: C, Rodriz and Eric at the wheel,
gunning the engine in the waters
just outside the marina. 

A gets a Friday afternoon boat ride.