A Travellerspoint blog

January 2014

Back in Asia

So where to from here?

semi-overcast 25 °C
View Liberty Goes East on Zaspirucho's travel map.

I have been trying to explain why I abandoned the Liberty. It's been difficult to tell without making it sound horrible. But it wasn't. The sailing was great. It was an awesome trip fixing the ship then crossing from India to Malaysia... So why did I leave? There were no big incidents. Just a build up of small details. Well, I'll try explaining once more. So let’s start at the beginning.
When we left India we were shaded by the continent, so we had barely any wind. And Liberty is a heavy thing, so it needs WIND to get moving. Leaving the Indian coast, and then sailing southeast past Sri Lanka, that was interesting. India shades the wind, and Sri Lanka too, so in that channel between them… That was the roughest passage we had, with young rambunctious waves, and plenty of cargo ships to look out for. The A.I.S. radar kept beeping all the time. And after that, the deep blue.

I do mean blue

I do mean blue


As we sailed east, the currents would push us south, and so strong they were that even when the compass said we were going full southeast, the GPS would say full South. Rarely would those two agree. Then, once the currents abated, we continued southeast, towards the Equator and beyond. We had good wind, nice weather. For days we didn't need to adjust the sails. We ate pancakes, we read and watched the clouds move. That day came though, when we changed course, avoiding the flimsy equatorial weather and went up and around Sumatra. There we anchored next to an island and made a two day illegal visit to a fishing village, where I had my first good coffee since Kuala Lumpur. After some more days motoring and watching out for cargo ships, we crossed the Strait of Malacca, and then, one month later, it was all over. The wind on my skin, the warm waves flowing on deck, the rain washing the salt off my face, the dolphins playing on the bow, they are were now just memories to treasure, of my sailing adventure on the Indian Ocean.

Dancing would describe it better!

Dancing would describe it better!


When we were nearing departure, when we were docked still, I started looking at prices of sailboats in New Zealand. Maybe I could get my own when I got there! Where would I sail her? What to do? Where to go? I was also wondering though, what could I do different from this Captain? I wasn't learning too much; a trick here, a useful technique there… I was rather applying all I’d ever learned before, and that felt good too. It wasn't the work that bothered me. It was the delays. One week at a time, one day at a time. And we worked in such an inefficient way, that things just didn't get done. We toiled for a full week, well into the night, yet the essential tasks kept getting postponed. And Gerd had openly told us that he gets very nervous before departure. We learned though, he also behaves like a jerk when he’s nervous. But everything would be better when we’re at sea, I kept telling Tiho. Just wait till we’re sailing, and we're relaxed. Everything will be fine then.
And while things DID get better at sea, they never actually got to be fine. Somehow, everything felt like this was the first time ever that the Liberty set sail. Say, for example, how can someone have lived in there for years, yet have no place to keep the food? Gerd insisted upon keeping the potatoes in their sack, in a shelf in the galley. When they started rotting, his solution was to spread them on the floor. So on one side of the table the floor was taken up by his 2 meter wooden statue, on the other we had potatoes… The onions he kept in a crate inside the bathroom; in the least ventilated place in the ship. I took it as my duty to sort out the rotten or moldy ones. At some point ALL of them were moldy. This is just an example of how unprepared we were for the trip.

But the sailing was good. NOW I was learning. A ship is a big mash up of so many complicated systems! The steering, the sailing, the engine and communications... Many new words, lots of new meanings! The metal sheen over the evening sky, the halo around the moon, and the shape of the waves. Some things I learned from Gerd, and some from books. We talked a bit, read some more and slept a lot. For almost a week there is no mention in my journal of the captain’s craziness, most only sunrises, wind and distant lands.
It was around New Year that the mood shifted... “Will the whole trip be like this?” reads my journal, “saying one thing, then doing another?” Two weeks into the sailing, ten weeks since I’d first seen the ship, and I still could not feel at home. Everyday Gerd became more morose, distraught, and openly rude; definitely not a good company. I started thinking of time and money. I wasn't really happy, and spending way too much of both to be in a place where I wasn't happy… I decided first I wouldn't go all the way to New Zealand. It would be New Caledonia for me, then I'd make my own way south. Then it was “wherever we are in July”. Then June. But then disaster struck! We broke the sails, we had no gas, and we turned for Malaysia. I was ecstatic. Such was the feeling of release at having a chance to leave the boat soon; land so close at hand, that I decided to go no further.
I had known from the very start that it would be difficult, I just didn't know how much so. Not the sailing, not the working, I enjoyed those! But being a part of someone else’s story… not having power of decision, having to ask for permission to move or adjust or do anything, go anywhere; not being responsible for myself, being only a character, part of the crew, part of the boat. Liberty just didn't live up to its name, not for me, and I didn't see that changing anytime soon. Then I was given a second chance to explore Asia, and I took it. This is, after all, the first time I've been this side of the world!
So now I’m back in Malaysia, where this journey started last October, that chapter closed, a new one beginning. I pour over maps and visa requirements, I chat with my fellow travelers and learn of routes, tricks and places. Very soon I will move on. I enjoy the anxiety of possibility, of decision. Where, how and when? That awaits so be seen, there’s no rush. No rush at all.

What is to come, will come. In the meantime, Happy New Years everyone!!

Happy year of the Horse!

Happy year of the Horse!

Posted by Zaspirucho 07:12 Archived in Malaysia Tagged travel malaysia sailing equator liberty crew desertion crazy_captain Comments (1)

The turnaround

Fifty miles off the Equator

all seasons in one day 25 °C

“No more coffee??” You could almost see the blood leaving Gerd’s face. We were fifty miles north of the equator, yet still far from the coast of Sumatra. It was a fine day, gentle wind blue sky. The date, January the 3rd.

One of those days

One of those days

Since morning, Gerd had been in what Tiho and I had taken to call ‘the mood’. That is, when he gets haggard, quiet, and tries to do everything at once. He becomes very rude and difficult to be around. During this spells of inefficient activity he uses very few words and barks directions at everyone, with always a sneer and a smartass reply at the ready. But after ten weeks with the guy we were used to this; we just stayed out of his way, of did as he said. This day turned out different thogh. This day his musings led him to do the one big thing he had postponed for almost a month now: he decided to weigh the gas bottle.
Our 16 kilo gas bottle had been refilled in India, after two failed attempts at getting a good local cooking device. It had done a good job. But we were six people back then, and there’d been cooking aplenty. The original estimate had been that the full bottle would last eight weeks. By this the 3rd of January , seven of those weeks had already slipped by. So neither Tihomir nor I were the least surprised when we found out we had around two kilos left of propane. We had urged Gerd to weigh the bottle while still in India. We had strongly advised at getting a second one. The Captain had dismissed our concerns, “It will last, it will last” he would say. Yet we weren't even nearly half way to our destination, yet less than a fifth of the gas remained. That day at sea, when confronted with the facts, for once Gerd became speechless.
We the crew had long since made our minds to a life of rice and explained thus to Gerd. How, if we wanted to make last ten days’ worth of gas into another forty, drastic changes would ensue. One big pot of rice a day, maybe pasta or potatoes on the pressure cooker, and specially, he would have no more coffee. “I just make hot water! And everyone benefits from it!” he cried defensively, knowing it was not true. Tihomir could very well live without his tea, and it’d been at least a week since I’d given up coffee... After some more talking and thinking, he came up with a solution. “I don’t want to go into full survival mode. Rice like a monastery, and no coffee! No. I think we change course, go to Malaysia...”

Now THAT caught us unprepared. This would effectively cut the journey by half, the new estimate being ten days! Our minds filled with swirling images or land, people and pizza. Merely ten days!!

Weather changes quickly down there!

Weather changes quickly down there!


But Gerd’s decisions are as stable as the equatorial weather. By that very evening he called us out to the pilot house. It was squally outside, on and off showers and sudden gusts of wind. While he steered and we stood in the bleary, wet cabin, he monologued at will. After much thought it turned out, he had decided that having no means to cook our food ‘could’ actually be considered an emergency. No matter he'd nearly call me an idiot for mentioning that earlier, huh? He now saw no real reason to leave our course, especially with this wonderful wind we were having. In fact we should try to make the most of it, go as fast as possible. We should probably reef the sails, go the safe way and have a pleasant sail. Or better yet, set a watch and hand steer through the night! Thus I was left at the wheel, mood as dark as the weather, cursing our lack of cheese for the hundredth time.
A squall passed. Another came. Then there was no wind. Slowly the wind came back. We gained speed: 1.1 knots, 1.3, 1.7, 2. Then it picked up, from three knots we jumped to 4 and five. I had just eased the mainsail a bit when a gust brought us up to a good seven knots. We heeled so suddenly and heavily that there was no need for me to call out to Gerd and Tiho. As I fully released the main, Gerd tried to steer downwind, to ease the pressure on the sails. But no, the wind was to strong, the sails had to come down. As Tiho steered Gerd released the halyard, and I ran to the bow, caught the sail and brought it down, lashing it to the deck, trying not to get blown off the ship by the wind or flooding waves. We brought the mainsail down as well, just leaving a small foresail on. Even then, with almost no canvas up, we were making a good 3.8 knots. So we set the self-steering and went to bed, thinking all was fine. Yet morning had another story to tell.
With the first light, we tried hoisting the sails, but the main had a big hole where a baton no longer stood, and the foresail was even worse. Two big gashes looked back at us, each a full arm's lenght (the pictures died with my iphone, but that's another story). It tore as soon as it was released... We could temporarily mend the holes by hand, we could, but to properly fix them, a good sewing machine would be required. Even a sailmaker maybe. The thing is, Gerd had spent a good six months in Dili and found none to speak of… So we looked at each other. It was decided for sure then. We set up the reserve mainsail (which was the better one anyway), and turned north. We never reached the Equator.

And we rounded Sumatra...

And we rounded Sumatra...

We had no more technical issues, and plenty of pancakes, potato salads and noodles. We rounded the tip of Sumatra and crossed the Strait of Malacca. A good 17 days later we arrived at the Malaysian port of Lumut, after much toil and motoring. And on January the 20th, after a night anchored in quarantine, Gerd got up and put the kettle on. But surely, as expected, there was no more gas.

Posted by Zaspirucho 18:53 Archived in Indonesia Tagged food boat sailing plans wind equator liberty emergency Comments (3)

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