Indian Ocean Sailing Adventure: Part 1 – Rotting Food & Broken Parts *Video*

About a month ago, I was introduced to a group of new friends via Facebook – we were all joining the Original Delivery Crew for Coboat, a soon-to-be a co-work, co-live-aboard catamaran that sails around the world with full internet capabilities. Digital nomad nirvana.

This intrepid group of 8 signed on (9 total with the Captain) to sail the newly purchased (but 18-year old) catamaran from Male, the capital of the Maldives to the southern Thai island of Phuket.

Here’s a beautiful photo of the Maldives which I didn’t get to see… Looks so pretty and I was so close!

Maldives Beach 2

SMWS (Single Mostly-White Sailors) Seeking Adventure

As we gathered together for very own self-thrown bon voyage party, all 8 of us admitted we were looking for an “adventure,” which we defined as:

  • Something we’ve never done before
  • Elements that would stretch our boundaries
  • Moving toward a destination without knowing how we’d get there
  • An event where you can’t control the outcome

Well, we certainly found the adventure we were looking for!

This is the first article in a 3-part series that provides the day-by-day blows of our 17-day sailing “adventure”:

The whole crew plus Ali who was helping us get the boat ready in the Maldives. Photo by Therese Barber

The whole crew plus Ali who was helping us get the boat ready in the Maldives. Photo by Therese Barber

*Rock Star* Crew

But before we get into the thick of it, let me introduce you to the crew and the real hero of this story: Harry, our First Officer. Harry is an Austrian living in Turkey with a Serbian wife he only gets to see sometimes. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was Harry who saved the day (every day in fact) by fixing every single piece of equipment that broke in transit. (Except the first engine – try as he might it was beyond repair).

Other members of this band of merry men were Lilo, Uwe and Tess, all skilled sailors who took the lion’s share of the responsibility for sailing the boat at night and in rough conditions. They were each level-headed, accomplished sailors and we were lucky to have them on-board.

The rest of us, admittedly non-sailors, Vin, Heinz, Matthias and me, did what we could to support the main crew. Truthfully I was the least useful on the trip, but usually fairly cheery anyway. I spent a lot of time dancing around and trying to organize things like Talk like a Pirate Day and Un-Birthday parties. (Look – you do what you can under the circumstances – I couldn’t just conjure up naval skills.)

Below is our daily log:


Day 1: I arrived about midnight after about 48 hrs and 4 flights connecting San Fran to Male. My new crew mate Vin went to the airport to meet me, but because I wasn’t expecting a pick up, I made my own way to the boat via bus and taxi. We completely missed one another and Vin was stranded at the airport at closing having to find his own way back.

Day 2: Shopping day in Male to buy groceries. With 5 of us selecting produce and bartering, it was a very slow process. I elected to stay put and “watch” our growing pile of purchases, making friends with the Bangladeshi dock workers who fed me watermelon and coconuts all afternoon.

Back on the boat we all did an amazing amount of cleaning and I soon realized that scrubbing is the real definition of sailing. Although in truth, since I was one of the last to arrive, I had already missed out on a boat-load of nasty duties.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADay 3: Shopping day in Male for boat equipment, like a foot pump for the dingy (not to be found), electrical cables, and assorted widgets.

I can’t tell you how exhausting this shopping expedition was. We went to every boat store on the island (sometimes 2 and 3 times) trying to track down the necessary gear. Photos kept flying between the ship and shore in an effort to buy exactly the right bolt and screw and new requests kept coming in.

Part of the reason the shopping expedition was so tiring is that Male is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The island, only 5.8 km2 (about 3.5 miles square), is surprisingly modern and was jammed packed with traffic.

It also may have been particularly busy because the island nation was celebrating 50 years of independence that week. The capital city was festooned with bunting and lights in the flag’s colors of red, green and white, turning the tiny metropolis into a miniature Christmas card (albeit with sweltering heat, sari-wearing women and mosques.)

Harry on the Sails, photo by Therese Barber

Harry climbing the mast to set the sails. Photo by Therese Barber

Day 4: Launch day. We finally set sail about 3:00 pm after buying a new battery. As a devotedly Muslim country run by Sharia law, Maldivians pray at least 4 times a day. In fact, all the shops close from 12:30-2:00 pm for afternoon prayers. As we waited for this one crucial part, we circled the main island, during which time I took my turn at the wheel for about 10 minutes.

That night we headed into open water and at about 8:00 pm we all huddled on the front mats, in total darkness, to receive our 90-second safety briefing. I asked if the not-fully-inflated dingy was the lifeboat, but luckily no – there were two rafts situated at the back of the cat. This question, however, clearly demonstrated my utter lack of knowledge about the boat.

It was then that we received our first shift. Matthias and I were to take the 2:30-5:00 am shift and I was to be the lead sailor. What?! I had only driven the boat for 10 minutes under supervision, I was certainly not qualified to drive the boat at night. (You would completely agree if you have ever driven with me in a car – driving is not one of my finer skills.)

I strenuously objected and so Harry said he would sit the shift with Matthias and me. Unfortunately, it was during this shift that the first engine pooped out and Harry and the Captain spent the entire time try to fix it (on a rolling boat in near-total darkness).

While they were occupied under deck, Matthias and I tried to steer, but no luck. So we just let the boat go in circles…at least three times. After that, Matthias and I were demoted and separated, never to work on the bridge together again. A totally appropriate response to our ineptitude.

I should mention I showed up for my first shift wearing the life jacket from my cabin (because Lilo told me the day before that you must always wear a life vest at night and I wisely decided early on to listen to everything Lilo told me.) I was gently ridiculed, but how was I to know that we had special life jackets to wear while on shift with transmitters or transponders or something in them. Totally out of my depth here.

One time at the wheel, photo by Therese BarberNote: The one (and only) piece of safety advice given by the Captain before setting sail was that if you fall in the water during the night, you’re as good a dead. Duly noted.

Day 5: It was on our second day of sailing that I learned that we were taking on water (and would be for the remainder of the sail). I was told this was no big deal, but at one point Harry opened the hatch and cried “Scheiße” – German for you know what. One of the hulls had more than a meter (3+ feet) of water.

This is also the day that we (Matthias and I who were henceforth grounded in the galley) made a bastardized version of Haluski, Slovak’s national dish. After an intense discussion and despite my vehement opposition, he added eggs, cheese, and chilies. Admittedly, he made the dish taste better.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADay 6: We had to make this Eastern European noodle dish because we needed to eat the cabbages, which were already spoiling. Lunch and dinner became an exercise in what to do with soon-to-be rotten food. I was beginning to think of it as an Open Water version of Chopped.

Food was spoiling because the freezer kept shutting off and the refrigerator was not to be trusted. All the meat and fish that we bought went bad.

As the only vegetarian aboard, this didn’t really affect me much. The entire crew joined me in getting most of our protein from eggs, lentils and peanut butter.

From that point forward, we had set night watch shifts and I was partnered with Harry. And since he normally worked the wee hours, so did I. I admit we had a pretty good time, mostly singing Country & Western songs.

I later found out that the others called this the dreaded “Harin” shift since our enthusiastic singing woke everyone up in the middle of the night. Oops.

Here Harry and I are partaking in an impromptu dance party:

To be continued…

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series. Be sure and read the next two posts:

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This entry was posted on Thursday, August 27th, 2015 and is filed under Asia Pacific.

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