Tuesday, January 26, 2010

26 January 2010

Australia Day and we have been back in Darwin now for just over a month. Looks like we'll be here for the rest of this year, while our boat remains in Thailand for the time being. Lex has gone back to Chambers to work, and I'm back at my computer getting to grips with the next book.

We're also following young Jessica Watson on her solo circumnavigation in Ella's Pink Lady. What an amazing young woman she is! We met her in Brisbane, about April last year, when we were still in a profound state of shock and (crazily) thinking we should buy a HalbergRassy we saw there. A small pink yacht with a slip of a girl on board was tied up next to the HR. We had a chat and wished her well, and were both struck by her quiet and gracious resilience. If any 16 year old could do that sail, we felt that she could. Ali would have been so excited to have met Jessica. I can hear her now, saying: "Awesome, omigod, she's awesome..."

It's time for us to stop wandering and being a bit lost. It's almost a year now since we lost our girl, and it still seems like it happened last week. It'll be good to settle in one spot for a while, amongst family and friends, and find ourselves and our purpose again. This will be our last post on this blog.

When we decide to get back on the water, we'll start a new blog with a link back to this one and vice versa. We'll let you know!

We can be reached on Jo's email if you've lost it - jvanos55@gmail.com

Thanks for being part of our travels.

Jo and Lex

SY Malaika, now SY Tramontana

Thursday, November 19, 2009

19 November 2009

I finally managed to take a photo of the whole length of Tramontana - it's hard to fit her in the frame. I had to wait until the pen beside us was empty so that I could get far enough away to take this shot. She has very clean lines, and it's much easier to walk around on deck than on Malaika.

A view of Tramontana from the port side looking aft. Lex is working with a piece of teak on the back deck, making a mounting plate for an outboard motor to be carried on the aft rail.

The blue material covers the new dinghy, which is stowed upright - with a 15 hp Yamaha attached - on the back deck. We lift it out of the water with the boom, swing it around and over the deck, and then lower it into place. Almost as easy as it sounds!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rebak Marina, Langkawi

Saturday 14 November 2009

After almost 9 months of wandering around in a blur, and ditching one plan after another, we have started something. On Tuesday 10th in Langkawi ,we signed a stack of papers, shook hands with Phil and Fay Atkinson, and took possession of SY Tramontana. They in turn, and in an unusual arrangement for boat sales, took possession of Malaika (with a cash adjustment from us).

Photo: On our way to Langkawi - Nick Wyatt and Zara Tremlett, managers of Yacht Haven Marina, casting us off for the first time that Malaika has moved in 8 months. Nick and Zara have been fantastic and have really looked after us both this whole year

We then spent about 14 hours over 2 days swapping the contents of the boats. The logistics of this feat would give you an instant headache, so just imagine you are trying to move out of a tiny little terrace house with a very narrow staircase, while the incoming tenants are moving their stuff in. It's a good thing that boats have forward and aft cabins with holes in the roof to drop bags of stuff through. What came out through the companionway of one boat, was lugged across a very narrow jetty, hoisted up onto the deck of the other boat and dropped through its forward hatch, until all the contents were transferred, moving aft bit by bit.

Malaika (L) and Tramontana(R) side by side in Rebak Marina this week. You can see how narrow the jetty is - at least it meant a short trip each time!

Champagne in the cockpit sealed the exercise, and we helped the Atkinsons cast off and watched them motor out of the marina. They left immediately so that their cat Nobby wouldn't keep trying to come back to his boat. It wasn't as hard as we'd expected it to be. All day while I was cleaning out cupboards and clearing lockers, I felt sad and teary, remembering so many many times with Ali on board Malaika. But as we waved goodbye and watched the boat we'd sailed 5000 miles in with our daughter disappear from sight, we both felt we'd done the right thing. Ali's still with us, I can feel her here in this new boat. She would have loved her cabin, with so much more space, and the flat open decks to move around on. The first thing we'll be doing is putting up some photos of her so we can see her all the time as well as feel her here with us.

Tramontana is a lovely boat. She's a 53 ft, centre cockpit cutter, built - by Phil Atkinson - of strip-planked western red cedar, with glass and epoxy. Her decks are clear and flat - Ali would have seen the sun-bathing potential immediately - and the dinghy is stored upright on the back deck behind the cockpit, lifted on and off the boat by the boom. Everyone who sees her and knows anything about sailing recognises what a great sailing boat she is. Phil built three like her - we almost bought her sister ship Pampero about 4 years back - and has built about 30 other boats. The engine room is a proper room, not a crawl-space in the bilge (although Malaika's was pretty good) and Lex can move around freely inside and almost stand fully upright.

The aft cabin - the second most important part of a yacht - is HUUGE. The dominant feature is a king-size bed, which will render memories of Malaika's aft berth a distant jostle for space. The forward cabin is a double berth, with plenty of space and storage. The two bathrooms are lovely, easy to clean and very practical. The galley is great, easy to cook in and well set out, with good high benches to work on. The nav area is opposite, and again is well laid out and spacious. It has a beautiful open saloon with a large fold-down table and long couches either side. The cockpit is terrific - THIS is the most important part of the yacht, because it's where you spend the most time. Yes, all right, sails and motors and stuff are important too, but I'm looking at this from a purely liveaboard point of view here... It's very similar in design to Malaika's with a hard dodger and a bimini overall, but with a lot more room. And did I mention the washing machine?

The aft cabin on Tramontana

All in all she's a head turning boat, built by a master boat builder. She has already completed one and a half circumnavigations in the 9 years that the Atkinsons have had her, and is in great shape.

Terri and Dennis Hart and their girls, our goddaughters, are joining us in Phuket in mid December for a sail, which will end in Singapore. We'll leave the boat in a marina and fly back to Darwin on 5 January, and come back to Singapore in early April to sail Tramontana non-stop back to Darwin.

Our Plan (#792) is to stay in Darwin and work for a while, spend lots of time with our kids and grandkids, and our friends, and go sailing as often as possible. After that, the question of which direction to head in is up for grabs, with a clockwise circumnavigation of the Pacific Northwest being the hot contender for a while now.

Eventually we'll start a new blog with a new name, but will stay with this one for now. A new boat name is in order too, something we'll do when we get back to Australia.

We'll keep updating this - so check occasionally, in case there are further versions of Plan #792...

Love from Jo and Lex

Lex with Tramontana at Yacht Haven a few weeks back

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chiang Mai sojourn, 1st to 6th October 2009

Monsoonal rain in Phuket meant there wasn't much work we could do on Malaika, and we were going down with cabin fever badly, so we decided to visit Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. We'd planned to go to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but the terrible cyclones devastating the Philippines were dumping a lot of rain to the west so we decided to leave the temples for a drier time.

Lex at Bangkok Railway Station - this looks a lot like Platform 9 and 3/4 - is this the train to Hogwarts' sir?

Train travel sounded like a romantic way to get there, so we flew to Bangkok, and boarded in the early evening. We were surprised to find we had a first class cabin and not the carriage of double decker bunks as we'd thought. We may have had a first class cabin, but it wasn't the Orient Express. Our bunks were right over the rolling stock, noisy and bumpy, but it was fun travelling by train again, something I used to do a lot as a kid with far-flung relatives.

This was the coach we'd thought we were in. You'd want to remember which blue curtain was yours if you went off to the loo in the middle of the night!

We arrived about 9am, took a taxi into town to a backpacker hostel we picked out of Lonely Planet, and then went for a walk to get oriented. The old city is interesting, packed with beautiful Buddhist temples and surrounded on four sides by a wide moat. Narrow winding lanes hide some great little restaurants, and eclectic places to stay. There are a lot of markets, in particular the Saturday and Sunday walking markets, where it seems the whole town turns out to wander the blocked off roads, buy stuff, and eat on the street - Mindil Beach markets on steroids. Hundreds and hundreds of stalls selling everything you can think of, (even some really good stuff!) as well as all kinds of food imaginable. I think my favourite sights were the wanna-be boy bands busking in the middle of the streets, and looking like they were having more fun than anyone.

The vendors don't hassle you either, if you don't want to buy anything, and the bargaining is very good natured. Lex made me haggle for something I wanted to buy, and the vendor made his wife take the other side (she looked as if she enjoyed haggling about as much as I do). The two men were laughing the whole way through. The wife and I just shrugged at each other. And I'm quite sure I still paid too much! We also stopped at an interesting looking bar, called 'The Writers Place', for a glass of wine, where we met an elderly ex-pat American woman writer, whose books were in the glass case next to the bar. We guess she must have been there a long time. We were joined at the bar by a couple of lively Scottish women then, who'd just flown in from Sydney and Lyons respectively to meet up and celebrate their 40th birthdays. They were as entertaining as Scots in a bar usually are, and we barely got away with our livers intact.

 We spent the next few days sightseeing, including a day long tour - courtesy of a lady we met at a market - by tuk-tuk up the hills to the elephant 'sanctuary', and a similar tiger establishment. Lots of human interaction with animals at both, which, although I had reservations about what I was going to see, wasn't as terrible as I thought.

Elephant bath time

The elephants playing soccer looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves, especially when they kicked the giant - muddy - soccer balls into the audience occasionally. They also painted pictures - quite an astonishing thing to see. Even if you assume that the mahouts have a certain control or influence over what happens, it's still remarkable.  Like that Gary Larsen cartoon with the piano playing elephant says: 'I'm a pachyderm for pete's sake...'

Put THAT in your pipe, Beckham!

The paint-wielding elephants have to be seen to be believed.  There's obviously a great deal of training involved, but even so...  Just amazing, and very thought provoking.

The tigers were better than expected too, especially seeing these fearsome beasts romping around a swimming pool chasing a tuft of grass on a string flicked about by an attendant right there in the pen with them. They're completely hand reared - no one was pretending these are wild animals -  and the money that people pay to be able to spend 20 minutes sitting with a full grown Bengal tiger, patting it and tickling its belly, or cuddling a cub, pays for the care of these animals and towards conservation in other areas. Ditto with the elephants. Although I still won't ride on one. I just hate the idea of humans wobbling about on the backs of such wonderful creatures for fun. (And yes, horses are totally different!) Understanding how horses actually enjoy exercises like dressage, and learning routines, makes it easy to assume that elephants, who are probably more intelligent than horses, get the same enjoyment out of what they learn in these places. It would be better if we could just observe animals in the wild but that's getting less and less realistic every year. These ones are alive and safe, at any rate.

A visit to a 'traditional' hill tribe village is what you do in Chiang Mai. Obviously it's not a real one as it's in Chiang Mai and not the hills, but it's an effort by the government to resettle Karen refugees from the border areas and provide them with employment. The village we visited is an organic farm, and the women weave and sell handicrafts, notably beautiful scarves and wraps.

We also visited a silk factory, which was fascinating, and I'd like to be able to say we didn't succumb to the shop out front, but I'd be lying. The weaving process is mechanised now but there was a woman patiently hand harvesting and spinning the silk thread, showing exactly how it comes off the cocoons. It's amazingly strong - no wonder they used to make parachutes out of it.

Chiang Mai is lovely, a lot more attractive than Phuket in most ways, except it's not on the sea of course. It's a bit cooler here as well, and prices are a lot cheaper than in Phuket. Our hostel, Tri Gong, in the Old City, is great and only about $18 per night for a comfortable room with bathroom. You can do it a lot more cheaply still but you get what you pay for I think. We relied on Lonely Planet and it pays off, we've discovered, and it doesn't hurt that all the Thais we meet are very helpful in recommending places to stay or eat -and not just their cousin or brother's either!

It's definitely a place we would like to spend more time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In Darwin

The hardest part of being back in Darwin, apart from being here without Ali, has been the rootlessness we're feeling. We sold our house before we left last year, so we haven't had a home to return to. We've been given one unconditionally by our dear friends Terri and Dennis Hart, in their home, but we know the fish rule about visitors (they both go off after three days) and keep feeling that we should move on, but they won't let us. We also stayed at Mike and Jill Baxter's beautiful house for several weeks when we first came back, before moving on to the Hart's after our trip down south.

In March we had a wonderful few days in Kuranda with Elizabeth Desailly and Garrett Gundry, and with Julia Christensen who came over too. Even managed a balloon flight on the last day up on the ranges. A few weeks later we travelled south to spend Easter with Lex's daughter Sophie and her family in Adelaide, including four lovely days at Kangaroo Island.

Following that, we stayed at Mark and Wendy Day's 160 year old National Trust farmhouse near Yankalilla on the Fleurieu Peninsula. That was like a week in Tuscany - the classic wooden table under autumn-leaved grapevines outside the back door, white-washed walls and bright red geraniums, and more peace and quiet than we knew what to do with. We picked pears and apples off the trees behind the house and ate them with local cheeses, a glass of red and fresh bread under the grapevines.

We drove a hire car over to Victoria via the magnificent coast road to spend a week in Jo's sister Leonie's house on Phillip Island while she and Craig were away. A couple of trips to Melbourne to organise our Thai visas and see Jo's parents - we were able to get a 6 month 2-entry visa each which gives us a bit more flexibility. We had plans to see many people up the east coast but in the end just found it too hard seeing people and we went back to Darwin, stayed a week, and then returned to Phuket together.

In late May we flew to Phuket to check on Malaika, and to organise some repairs and maintenance. The boat was in good shape apart from some superficial damage sustained in a gale that tore through the marina in March. It was difficult going back to Yacht Haven where the accident happened, but it was something we had to do eventually. We've decided to sell Malaika, and have listed her with an agent. In the meantime we've arranged for some minor repairs and maintenance to be carried out by some good local operators. The marina managers are looking after things for us and they've taken good care of Malaika in our absence.

We'll start looking for another boat back here, or perhaps in the US. We don't know what we're doing in the long term, but a few months back in Darwin has made us realise we'd rather be sailing, although the price we have to pay is being away from family. We may yet decide to restrict our cruising to Australia and SE Asian waters, so that we're not too far away from family and friends. We're now back in Darwin at the moment, and will stay in Australia till at least late August, for Shaun and Jennifer's wedding.

On Monday 15 June, the day after Ali's birthday (she would have turned 17), her old school, Darwin's Essington School, planted a tree for her in the school grounds. Principal David Cannon conducted a simple ceremony attended by family, friends and staff members as Ali's brothers Shaun and Tom planted the tree beside a piece of Kimberley rock bearing a bronze plaque. It was a beautiful gesture by the school. The tree is a Syzygium armstrongii, a flowering NT native.

The framed photo of Ali you can see in the photo above was later hung in the school library where we had lunch. When the new library is opened next June, they are going to dedicate the Early Childhood section as the "Ali van Os Collection" and hang Ali's photo there. It's so lovely of them to do all this, and to have a permanent physical memorial of Ali in Darwin.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

21 March 2009

Most people who follow this blog will already know that we lost our beloved daughter Ali in Phuket last month. She was watching a superyacht berth at Yacht Haven marina, where we were visiting a friend on his yacht. It’s too hard to write about this so please check Neil and Ley Langford’s web site www.svcrystalblues.blogspot.com where Neil has written a very clear account of the accident. I am also going to copy in parts of letters that I’ve written in the last few weeks to let you know what has been happening if you haven’t already heard.

After a swift and expert first aid response from surrounding boats, as well as from three German doctors who arrived on the scene and worked on her all the way in the ambulance to Thalang clinic, Ali was taken to the Bangkok Hospital in Phuket, where she received the very best possible care and treatment, but there was little that could be done. We have nothing but the highest praise for the doctors and nurses who cared for her. Dr Len Notaras, CEO of Royal Darwin Hospital, was liaising with Ali’s neurosurgeon Dr Lersak Leenanithikul in case it was possible to bring Ali home, and he assured us that we were in the best hands, and that everything that could be done was being done.

Family arrived quickly – Jo’s sons Callum and Shaun, her sister Leonie, Lex’s daughter Sophie and son Tom, and Lex’s brother Ian and his son Peter were all there within a few days. We rotated in shifts during the nights so that there was always someone with Ali, talking or singing to her. During the day we were all in her room most of the time. But tests carried out over several days only confirmed the initial diagnosis of no brain activity or brain stem function. Ali received the best possible care, but she had lost too much blood, and the trauma was just too great.

Ali officially left us on the 23rd February, but I think she had gone well before that. In a way I hope so because I hated to think of her lying in that bed for 5 days the way she was. The thing we draw some comfort from is that at the moment she was knocked unconscious, she was excited and happy and planning to get an invite on board a big flash yacht, and chatting happily away to the ship’s agent, Adam Frost, standing next to her. She didn't experience fear or pain or anything like that. It just all happened too fast.

We were offered a Buddhist cremation ceremony in Phuket. It was a very soothing and calming experience, spread over three days at Wat Rattiwanaram Temple in Ao Chalong. Ian’s wife Ellen and son David, and Tom’s partner Jessica arrived a few days before the funeral. Dennis Hart flew in from Hong Kong, while Caroline Barker (Lady Guinevere) and Lisa Sampson (Claire de Lune) caught the ferry and bus from Langkawi to join us. All our family were involved in the ceremony, and on the third day we scattered most of Ali's ashes into the Andaman Sea on the outgoing tide. The rest we've brought home to Darwin, to take up her favourite barramundi creek.

We donated Ali’s organs because we knew without a doubt that she would have wanted us to do that. The Red Cross board, who also attended the funeral, told us a young girl in Bangkok about the same age as Ali received Ali's heart. She would have died without it. Five other people also got another chance at life because of Ali, so we feel as if her death wasn't a total waste.

There was a memorial gathering in the Darwin Supreme Court foyer on March 5, and over 400 people came to it. We always knew Ali was special, but we had no idea so many other people knew it too. The response here and the outpouring of grief and support have been overwhelming. She touched a lot of people and caused a lot of delight in her 16 and a half years.

Now we just have to work out how we live without her. I know that time is the biggest healer, but it seems like such a hard road to travel. Still, other people have lost their children in much worse circumstances, and we have to remember how happy she was that day. We're lucky that we have such a great family, here in Australia and in Holland, and so many good friends, who are helping us to get through this terrible time.

On behalf of all our family, Lex and I want to thank some people for their tremendous support during all of this:

John Beale of Cloudy Bay, who we’d first met on the Ambon Rally and sailed with several times since then, was with us at Ali’s side from minutes after the accident, and helped carry her up to the ambulance. He then followed us to the hospital and spent the next 36 hours there, and many hours after that. John is keeping an eye on Malaika for us while he’s in Yacht Haven.

Jerry Petite, the Canadian who took Ali for her first scuba dive a few weeks earlier, met us at the hospital that night, and also spent the next 36 hours there. He and John sat with Ali the following afternoon while we tried to get some sleep, and they both continued to help us by collecting family from flights and in heaps of other ways.

Adam Frost, of SEAL Corporation, the agency looking after superyachts in Phuket, was standing beside Ali on the jetty talking with her when she was struck. Adam managed everything from that moment onwards, and made sure we had everything we needed and liaised with the owners and crew of the MV Jemasa. He looked after all of us with incredible thoughtfulness and consideration, as did his assistant Jim, a lovely Thai woman who arranged the funeral details with the Buddhist temple and so much more.

Dr Len Notaras, CEO of Royal Darwin Hospital, liaised with the surgeons in Phuket, and clarified the details of the treatment and prognosis for us where language difficulties confused us. He was available for us to speak to whenever we needed extra advice and gave us great reassurance.

Senator Trish Crossin, Member for the NT, responded to our pleas for help when three family members didn’t have current passports. Passports were issued in less than a day enabling them to reach us as quickly as they could.

Larry Cunningham, Australian Honorary Consul, visited us several times at the hospital and the hotel, and attended the funeral. He gave us invaluable advice and support. The Australian Embassy in Bangkok stayed in touch with us by phone, and both offered help and support. It’s good to know that the systems in place to help Australians overseas actually work when you do find yourself in trouble far from home.

Finally, as soon as they had word of the accident, Julia Christensen, Elizabeth Desailly and Terri Robson(Hart) swung into action and set up an email tree keeping hundreds of people informed of what was happening in Thailand. They thought of all the things that would need to be done, and started calling people and organizing things for us. We could not have coped as well as we did, without the support they gave us. Mike and Jill Baxter contacted the Embassy, putting advance preparations in place for bringing Ali home. Jane Fishlock in Katherine organized the flights to and from Thailand and brought us all home together.

Thank you all so much for the constant flow of love and support we’ve had ever since the accident. We’ve been inundated with offers of places to stay, cars to drive - both in Darwin and in Phuket – and everything else. We are so lucky to have such great friends and such a wonderful family to help us through this sad time.

For now, we are staying in Darwin, spending time with the grandbabies, our children and friends. It’s too soon to make any real plans, but we think we will probably return to Thailand towards the end of the year and continue the voyage. Ali told us many times that she really wanted to sail around the world, and we think that’s what we’ll do.

Lex will return to Malaika in a few months and start some of the maintenance and upgrades we’d been planning to do, so we’ll update this blog with the progress from time to time.

Jo and Lex

Saturday, January 31, 2009

31 January 2009

Now for something completely different - a film review! We watched 'Australia' about three weeks ago...

Well we finally got to see the film, "AUSTRALIA" today in Phuket. If Baz had wanted uncritical howls of support, all he had to do was conduct his pre-screenings in a country with a heap of ex-pat Aussies in the audience. It might have been cliched (David Gulpilil on one leg everywhere), full of potentially embarrassing moments, but somehow it just worked! Even with Thai sub-titles.

In the beginning I couldn't decide if it was a send-up of the epic genre, an odd kind of comedy, or too many categories in one box. After those cattle were pushed across the desert (and who cares about the geography, for pete's sake), I was right in there. The wonderful shots of a handful of stockmen holding a mob of 1500 shorthorns (and bless Baz, he got the stock right for the time - not a bloody Brahman in sight, or a Hereford) against the backdrop of that Western VRD country, all those table top hills and the dry spreading plains, had me in goosebumps of memory. And the cattle RUSHED! They didn't bloody STAMPEDE!! And the men were riding around the mob at night singing to them to keep them calm and half awake. He got so many details right, that I'll forgive him all the criticisms by the filmerati. The first third was pretty much a caricature of character and story, but it was allowed to develop into something a little less slapstick after that.

As a piece of tourism propaganda, it was so good I was thinking, What the heck am I doing in Thailand??? However the CGI in-fills were a bit amateurish for 2008, especially the Darwin port scenes that looked like Baz had just photocopied that painting about the Bombing of Darwin and cut and pasted it in the appropriate places. As for the bombing of Darwin itself, it was the part of the movie where I actually did have tears in my eyes. I suddenly thought, 'My God, this is my home being bombed! This is MY town!" I could feel Lex beside me reacting the same way.

And finally, could any discussion of "Australia" be complete without a reference to our boy Hugh. The scene where Nicole watches The Drover having a bath out of a waterbag was the Antipodean answer to a soggy Mr Darcy striding out of his weedy pond (and I LOVE Pride and Prejudice!). It was an hilarious scene, overplayed to the hilt, Jackman's very own Manpower moment. Great stuff! Nicole's Sarah seemed a bit overplayed at first as the caricature of English Duchess in the Outback, but even her role settled down into more drama than dramatics eventually.

David Wenham did such a good job as the bad guy, I almost cheered when Gulpilil skewered him with the iron bar from the top of the water tank.

All in all, it was as if Baz just had a lot of fun in the first half, and in the second said, come on guys, be serious now, we're supposed to be making a movie. It won't get an Oscar, and neither will Nic or Hugh, but that wonderful young boy who played Nulla should get a nomination for sure, and the cinematography. Yes it probably could have been tightened up in places, and perhaps it could have been a lot shorter, but it was great entertainment on a lot of levels. Can't ask for much more than that.

Finally, no one in the theatre had a clue why there was cheering and clapping coming from our row in the opening scenes of the film. The real hero of “Australia” was our very own Tom Silvester as the Qantas pilot!