Saturday, November 27, 2010


One of our many blessings this year for which we were thankful was being able to spend Thanksgiving Day with family.  It was five years ago that we last had this opportunity.  Usually we fly home for the Christmas holidays; this year our trip home was earlier in order that we can sail to Phuket in December and await monsoon winds to send us to points farther west.  We will miss Christmas with the family this year, but were fortunate to instead spend Thanksgiving Day with extended family.

Tuesday we drove out in the countryside to visit friends at their new smaller ranch.  The autumn leaves with the purples, reds, oranges and all shades of yellow mixed with the evergreens were beautiful on the rolling hills.  New is a relative term, as our friends have lived there for over 4 years; but this is the first opportunity we have had to see their new property.  And a lovely property it is!  Barbara and Bob previously owned a large ranch near Waco that backed up along the Brazos River (usually dry bed area)  to the President George W. Bush ranch in Crawford.  That was also beautiful country -- which required much more work.  Barbara and Bob sold the large spread while Bush was still in office and downsized to a "mere" 15 acres farther east.  In many parts of the country 15 acres would be considered a nice size, but Bob feels confined by too-close neighbors after living on his larger ranch.  I prefer the smaller place.  Who needs all that work with cows and horses and tree clearing and all the other chores attendant to a large ranch.  The smaller place is very comfortable and very pretty country.  The main home is beautiful and comfortable, and the huge covered back porch overlooks the swimming pool, two more smaller houses and horse pasture and that round thing that is used when training horses (can you tell by that description what a city gal I am?)  I hope they are happy in this home for many years.  Their 13-year-old grandson Jake lives with them and he enjoys the local school and church.  It is just a great place to live.  One thing I had forgotten is how very many Baptist churches are in rural Texas.  All religious denominations were well represented in the small towns, but Baptist still predominates.

Bob treated us to a delicious traditional chicken-fried steak dinner at a local cafe.  We couldn't even remember the last time we had eaten chicken-fried steak and cream gravy.  How very cowboy Texas all the other patrons looked!  I miss these down-to-earth people who frankly speak their minds yet are the most kind-hearted and generous folks to be encountered anywhere on this planet.  Bob and Barbara and Jake are lucky to live where they do.

Thursday morning we drove to College Station for Thanksgiving Day celebration with Bill's brother Theo and his family.  Bill's sister Helene and her adult children and grandson drove down from north of Dallas, and his brother John drove up from Houston.  Our 2 sons and their families also drove up from Houston.  So there was quite a houseful of Rouses gathered around 2 televisions for the annual rivalry football game of University of Texas vs. Texas A&M.   Thank God the game was in Austin this year so we did not have to contend with the crowds and traffic.  Every person at our Thanksgiving celebration was an Aggie or Aggie supporter except for one nephew who has not yet learned the true way of life and supports the Teasips.  Needless to say we gave him a hard time when the Aggies beat TU that night.

Back in Houston on Friday afternoon for our final weekend before flying back to the boat in Malaysia.  No Black Friday shopping for us.  Instead we helped our son and grandson decorate their Christmas tree.  That was much more enjoyable than fighting crowds in shopping malls buying things we do not need.  This afternoon we are visiting a gym in Houston to give the young Chinese Kung Fu master a photograph of his parents, whom we met at their home in the Hutong in Beijing when we visited China last May.  This will be a complete surprise to him;  we promised his parents to give him this photo.  Tonight we will visit once again with friends in far west suburban Houston.   Our final night will be spent with our younger son Aaron and his family, and Aaron will drop us at the airport on his way into town for work early Monday morning.   Our flights will take us from Houston to Tokyo to Singapore, crossing back over the International Dateline and jumping forward one day.  We reserved the Transit Hotel inside the Singapore airport for 6 hours, arriving Tuesday night at midnight.  I cannot remember having previously paid for a hotel room by the hour, so this is a first for us.  Then our final flight from Singapore to Langkawi departs around 11:00 Wednesday morning.  Here is hoping all 3 flights are on schedule.

This month visiting home was busy and enjoyable.  Now we are ready to get back to the boat and get moving again!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Should receive at least one renewed license

Miracle of miracles; it now looks like we will receive Bill's renewed captains license before our departure back to the boat in Malaysia. And, believe it or not, the USCG is MAILING his new license! That is a big change in procedure. In the past we were required to pick up the licenses in person; they refused to mail them or FedEx to our home address even if we paid for that service. It was personal pick-up only. Now that the USCG has agreed to mail the renewed licenses, that solves our problem with their delay in processing my renewal application. If we at least have Bill's new license, we can make-do with my current license that expires May 2011. My new license should be mailed to our home address after we have left the States, and we can get it by one means or another at a later date -- as long as Bill has his license. Only one of us is required to have proof of competency to operate a sailing vessel when we clear into Greece next May or June.

Our new Certificate of Documentation for the boat also recently arrived in the mail. Our Documentation expired in March 2011 (it renews annually). But Egypt is one of those countries that requires current Documentation and actually checks the date of expiry on the certificate. We should arrive in Eqypt between mid-March and early April; so it was important that we obtain a new Certificate of Documentation. Thankfully, the National Vessel Documentation Center is pretty lenient about dates of renewal and allows one to renew early. We obtained the renewal form online and faxed it in shortly after arriving in Houston. Less than two weeks later the new Certificate arrived in the mail. The new Documentation expires November 2011. Now we will not have a problem with any country next year regarding date of expiry of Documentation. We will have cleared into Turkey for the winter well before Nov 2011, so this renewal date works much better with our usual annual December trip home.

Today we returned the Nook e-book reader that we had purchased last week. We both liked reading books on it, but there was a problem with the WiFi connection going off and on while downloading new books. It probably was simply a defective WiFi controller on the particular Nook unit we had, but that discouraged us from wanting a replacement. Maybe there will be improvements and we will buy another one during our home visit next year. We also looked at the Sony reader today, but prefer the Nook. The Kindle will not work for us because it is not possible to purchase books for the Kindle internationally -- or so we have read. We know the Kindle is supposedly the superior e-book reader on the market today, but it makes no sense to own a reader for which we could only purchase new books whenever we are physically within the USA. With the Nook there is an application that allows one to purchase a book onto your computer, and then load it into the Nook. We could do this anywhere in the world with internet access. Supposedly one cannot do this with the Kindle. The idea of less bulk with an e-book reader is appealing because of the very limited storage space on a boat -- and less weight on a boat is always a good thing.

After returning the Nook for full refund, I purchased even more books. I have a small carry-on bag filled with 30 books, mostly paperbacks but at least half-dozen heavier hardbacks. Hopefully my bag will not be weighed at the airport in Singapore because I am certain it exceeds the weight limit allowed by Malaysian Airlines for carry-on baggage.

Looking forward to visiting with family on Thanksgiving Day. And hoping we will be able to make it to visit our friend's new ranch next Friday. A day or two at a Texas ranch with long time friends would be the perfect final weekend for this trip home before we head back to our life on the sea.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

3 weeks in Houston

Today marks 3 weeks since our arrival in Houston.  Time has seemed to fly as we continue to check items off our "to-do" list.  As previously posted, the first items attended to were the physicals for renewal of our USCG Merchant Mariners licenses (captains licenses) and obtaining the visas for India.   The renewal applications were submitted first thing Monday morning, Nov 3; then we drove straight to our appointments at the TWIC office in La Porte to start that renewal process.  A valid Transportation Workers Identity Card is mandatory in order to have a captains license.  At the TWIC office we learned that we were the first people to renew.  Our experience with the renewal process has helped the powers that be to re-think the process as currently written.  Firstly, nowhere on either website are card/license holders instructed that they should renew the TWIC prior to applying for renewal of the license.  This turned out to not be a big deal for us because both our current license and TWIC expire May 2011.  Secondly, they had the wrong prices posted and no longer offer the discounted price to captains.  The TWIC renewal sailed through the bureaucracy and we picked up our new TWICs last Friday.  Less than 2 weeks processing time.  Not bad.

The captains licenses, however, are turning into a bit of a problem.  As of today it appears that Bill's new license might be ready to be picked up before our flight departure back to Malaysia.  But my renewal application is being held up in medical review, and that department is backlogged right now with  processing time being delayed by weeks.  We have the last appointment on Friday Nov 26 (the day after Thanksgiving---very surprised they will be open that day).  Hopefully, we will at least be able to pick up Bill's new license.  I don't know what they will do with mine -- because I very definitely will not be back in the USA for at least a full year.  I doubt the local office will hold my license for pick-up for a full year, yet they refuse to mail these licenses.  Sort of a Catch-22 in my case.  One thing for certain, I am not spending many thousands of dollars (again) and fly half-way around the world (again) just to pick up my captains license.  As long as Bill has his license, that should be sufficient to meet the requirements of proof of competency for Greece.  I think thus far Greece is the only EU country enforcing this proof of competency requirement.  Assuming both of us receive our captains license renewals, I think this might be the last time we renew them.  The licenses are good for 5 years.  The renewals cost us around $600 for physicals and fees, and I am not sure they are worth the cost and the hassle.

We visited the periodontist one morning.  Bill got a clean bill of health but they discovered a crack in one of my molars.  So next week a general dentist will fix that before it causes any problems.  That to-do list just keeps getting shorter.  One day we had nothing scheduled so we spent the entire day driving along the Texas Gulf coast.  We drove down to Surfside near Freeport, then headed east to Galveston, took the ferry across to Bolivar, through Crystal Beach, then north through High Island to Winnie, then west back to Houston.  We wanted to check out how re-construction was progressing after Hurricane Ike 2 years ago.  West Galveston is covered is overly-expensive huge beach homes.  We would want nothing to do with that area during our retirement years.  The entire Bolivar peninsula was extremely heavily damaged during Hurricane Ike; it looked like it had been bombed when we drove through there in December 2008.  Today it looks much, much better.  Construction is on-going everywhere.  Maybe there is still hope for us to find a small retirement beach house one day when the sailing gets boring or too much work as our health fails with old age.  One thing we noticed on this little road trip was the complete absence of dead armadillos on the highways.  We did not see one single armadillo.  Saw several dead raccoons and one dead wild boar on the side of the road, but no armadillos.  So where have all the armadillos gone?  And what has caused the proliferation of wild boars? 

It has been great visiting with family and long-time friends.  My elderly cousin Cora was in Houston one weekend and we met her for breakfast.   Enjoyed catching up after several years.  We have been hosted to dinners at homes of several friends in the Houston area.  Our friends Donna and Bruce have a beautiful new country home.  Tomorrow I am meeting another old friend for a ladies-only lunch where we will gab to our hearts' content while enjoying Greek salad, gyros and those fabulous lemon potatoes for which Nikos Nikos is so well-known.  One evening Bill's brother John treated us to a wonderful dinner at Ruggles, our favorite restaurant, to celebrate his starting a new job.  We have enjoyed all the foods that one craves when out of our home country -- seafood gumbo, shrimp and oyster po-boys, Mexican foods of all sorts, real Texas barbeque, prime steaks, Whataburgers with jalapenos and plain old country southwestern cooking.  Nikos Nikos will complete the food craving "must have" list for this home trip.

My brother John wanted me to come to visit him.  But he resides in a northern part of Texas and that won't be possible this trip.  We will be going to College Station for Thanksgiving with Bill's youngest brother's family.  His sister Helene and her children and grandson will drive down from north of Dallas; and our whole brood will drive up from Houston.  College Station seemed like a central meeting point for all of us.  We planned to visit the next day with another friend at their newest ranch  but the captains license snafu probably has nixed that trip.

This weekend we will be staying with our younger son Aaron and helping him with some swimming pool equipment repairs.  I will be taking our 17-month-old grandson to his gym class Saturday morning.  Why a very active 17-month-old needs a gym class, I do not know.  This might be a trying experience for both of us because he doesn't know me and does not appear to like me very much.  He has seen me several times each week for the past 3 weeks but still is not sure who I am.  To him, I am just a stranger that the rest of his family seem to know.  In his little mind, the rest of his family might know me; but he doesn't know me.  Who is this old lady with lots of curly hair who bosses everyone around?  My sister from Michigan also is in Texas and hopefully will visit us this weekend.   She and her husband have moved back to Texas in search of employment.  She isn't the only one from Michigan who is in Texas these days.  

It is like shades of the early 1980s as one drives around Houston these days.  There are so many out-of-state license plates!!  As most everyone knows, unemployment rates are very high in some states; however, Texas has done better economically than most states.  Might have something to do with the fact that Texas does not provide a lot of assistance and benefits.  Back in the early 1980's there was a large migration of folks from Michigan to Texas in search of employment.  Looks like that is happening again.  Only this time in addition to Michigan there are also lots of folks moving here from California, Florida, Louisiana and Alabama.  Those are the license plates we have noticed most often, although other states are also represented.  As much as people from other states like to criticize Texas, they don't seem too darn reluctant to move here to work.


Repairs in far-away places

From the Chief Engineer   November 16, 2010

One of the things that worried me before we started our circumnavigation was how was I going to find parts for repair or find replacements in some out-of-the-way place.  I have found that it has been very easy to find things like bearings, seals, O rings, capacitors, etc.  Let me tell you what happened in Malaysia:

The salt water pump for the heat exchangers (condensers) on the A/C units began to fail…water leaking and lots of noise.  We were stopped in Penang for a few days.  I removed the pump and disassembled it.  I found the bearings on the motor/pump shaft to be shot and the mechanical seal between the pump and the motor was also worn out.

I took the shaft with the failed bearings and the mechanical seal to the dock master.  He spoke very little English, but understood what I needed.  He tried to give me some directions which I did not understand.  I asked him if he knew someone who could take me to where I could buy the parts.  He yelled at a guy cutting the grass to come over.  He showed the guy my failed parts and he and the guy exchanged some words.  Then he told me the guy would take me on the back of his motorcycle to a place where I could buy the bearings.  Next thing I knew we were weaving between cars and driving down alleys.  We stopped at an alley shop that had no front wall.  My escort grabbed me by the elbow and pulled me into the shop.  The shop owner and my escort exchanged lots of words and waving their arms came to me to look at the failed parts.  The shop owner carefully measured the bearings and then scampered up a ladder.  He returned with a smile on his face and said 7 Ringitt (1 dollar = 0.32 Ringitt).  The only English this guy knew was his numbers. 

I pointed to the mechanical seal and the shop owner started talking with my escort.  They jabbered back and forth for a few minutes, then my escort grabbed my elbow and off we went on the motor cycle.  Again weaving through the traffic and zipped into another alley.  My escort pointed to another shop…this one had a front wall and a door.  Inside was a Chinese family of eight eating their noon meal.  I showed the failed mechanical seal to the husband and he started digging in boxes.  He dug around the shop for twenty minutes and finally found the size I wanted.  He asked me “how many” in plain English.  I had been so impressed with low price of the bearings that I said “I will take three.”  They were 10 Ringitt each.  Since this guy seamed to speak some English I asked him where I could get the old bearings pressed off the shaft and the new bearings pressed on.  Most of my asking was sign language using the shaft and the new bearings.  He started speaking in Chinese to his wife and I went outside, grabbed my escort and brought him in.  They all were jabbering for a few minutes, when my escort grabbed me by the elbow and out the door we went, climbed on the motor cycle and started weaving down alleys.

We stopped at a motor cycle repair shop which was covered in at least ¼ inch of grease – floor, walls, tools, parts, and workers.  My escort jabbered with the shop owner and in a few minutes we were all in the back room where the owner had an antique hydraulic press.  In a few minutes he had the old ones off and the new ones pressed on.  He got a calculator and pressed 4.00 in the machine, meaning 4 Ringitt.  There was the departing jabber-jabber between my escort and the shop owner, then we left zigging and zagging down one street, detouring on a sidewalk to get around traffic; then somehow we arrived back at the marina where we started.  I paid my escort 10 Ringitt.  He looked as though he had just won the lottery.

I returned to the boat and in 15 minutes had the pump reassembled and the A/C (known as air-con to the Brits and Aussies) cooling the boat.  My total cost excluding the extra seals, but including the motor cycle and driver, was 31 Ringitt or about $10 USD.

Judy and I are in Houston for a few weeks visiting family, doctors, dentists, bankers, friends, etc.  Our youngest son told me that he has a problem with the circulation pump on his pool.  He said that it was making lots of noise and leaking.  I told him, “…no problem, I can fix it…”  Today I removed the pump and found bad bearings and a worn out mechanical seal.  I tried to locate the parts in a great American city with a population of 4 million.  I had Google, the Internet and even the old-fashioned paper Yellow Pages at my disposal.  I struck out because we are a throw-away society.  When something breaks, you buy a new one.  After driving about 80 miles around the city I found a water well repair shop in the barrio.  The guy told me he would try to get the parts to repair it, but was not promising anything…I will let you know the outcome.

The moral is:  Don’t worry about such things in what you may consider backward countries.  They do not have the money to throw things away and buy new…someone there can help you rebuild or repair what you need repairing.