As the coronavirus continues to change and reshape the world as we know it, Cruising World is reaching out to contributors, our partners in the marine industry and other sailors to get their take on where they are and how they’re doing. We’re asking five questions to each of them, and in this installment, we’re checking in on Carolyn and Cap’n Fatty Goodlander. He is a longtime CW columnist and marine author. They are aboard their Wauquiez ketch Ganesh on their third meandering circumnavigation.
1. Where are you and Carolyn riding out the COVID-19 wave, and what’s going on there at present?
Fatty: We’re in Singapore, hanging on a mooring at the Changi Sailing Club. Many sailors wouldn’t like this anchorage—there are extreme wakes from speeding freighters passing close by, but we like to think of it as an endlessly entertaining commercial craft show. Another advantage of the CSC is that, although it is located in one of the most expensive cities in the world, living aboard here is dirt cheap.
Right now, the club (pool, bar, restaurant, chart room, and library) is shut down tight along with everything else in Singapore.
Carolyn: The government here is very proactive and transparent. There was no lockdown until cases exceeded 100 in a day. They call it a “circuit breaker.”
Currently all events are cancelled and most businesses are closed except for supermarkets and take-out food stalls. No boating is allowed except for professional fishermen. But we are still living aboard. Changi Sailing Club is not allowed to operate, but the dock is open for dinghies and water is available. Members are allowed to check their boats but no sailing or motoring allowed. Lots of members are visiting their boats several times a week, perhaps to just sit quietly and enjoy nature.
2. What sort of restrictions are you seeing and how do they impact life on the boat and ashore? Are you able to provision and socialize in some way? Find supplies and boat parts? Move about as much as you want?
Fatty: Basically, they don’t want you to leave your house except to get groceries or medicine, or to exercise. We have to wear masks ashore, stay two meters apart, and cannot socialize—even with each other. We can’t even exercise together!
No, we can’t socialize in any way. Even the famous food courts are shuttered. Even worse, we can’t buy what’s called “Hell money” to burn to appease the Chinese gods! (They make foldable cardboard Mercedes Benzes, iPhones, and America Express cards to burn as well.)
We almost never visit marine supplies stores, and besides, the single one on Singapore is expensive, with poor selection.
Yes, we can move about the island, but that requires getting on the buses and Mass Rapid Transit, which are highly suspect in terms of viral transmission. Thus, in the Changi area, we mostly ride our bikes.
The good news is the Singapore government is doing a fantastic job of combating the virus. The only problems they are having are in the foreigner-workers dormitories.
They are also very pro exercise, as am I. I do 100 slow push-ups and chair dips between 6:00 and 6:30 each morning, and later in the afternoon I ride the carbon-fiber 28-speed bike someone gave me for one hour, hard.
The bottom line is that I feel better at 68 than I did at 45 (with a drink in my hand).
Carolyn: There’s no socializing, which is sad. We cannot even visit with our nearby granddaughters. We can only go out to the supermarket or hardware store, get takeout, and exercise. Hardware stores are open but not chandleries. That said, everything is available on line for quick delivery. Groceries and even liquor will be delivered free of charge from any supermarket. (Also no tipping is allowed, so I give the delivery people big candy bars.)
3. What boat (or other) projects are keeping you busy these days?
Carolyn does 95 percent of the boat work while I write four-plus hours a day, seven days a week. She just fixed the electrical foot switch in the galley yesterday and the tool room lamp the day before. She knows her way around an ohm meter. She also does laundry on the dock with the hose, and then we dry it aboard.
Her job is much more difficult that mine—I just write, sail, and look handsome. Nonetheless, I’m very disciplined and highly productive. I currently have three marine non-fiction books in the can, as well as numerous novels.
My next boat job is going up the mizzen mast and determining why my 8-year-old, $125 wind speed meter doesn’t work. I’m sure it is just a loose wire.
Yes, every Sunday I run the engine, wind the ships clock, spin the winches, touch the windlass button, check for chafe, monitor our batteries, check our lube oil, turn on the radar, check out the bilge pump, and check the dinghy fuel. I also have monthly, semi-annual, and annual chores I do. You have to exercise your gear, for instance, spin your headsail roller furlers, or it won’t work when you need it to.
Carolyn: Lots of varnishing needs to be done. Right now, the cockpit table is a mess and our teak toe rails need another coat. We’re directly on the equator, so the sun is a huge factor here. And there are always electrical problems to solve. Also, I’ve been sewing lots of masks. (Everyone is required to wear them in public, and it’s strictly enforced. One guy was fined $300 for going out to his mailbox without one!)
4. As restrictions are eased, what sort of plans are you making? Will you be moving on at some point, and what are some of the stopovers you’re looking forward to?
Fatty: Good question. We have dear friends in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Let’s take Malaysia as an example. About 20 years ago we sailed into a Starbucks there. The manager, a woman named Amanda, mentioned she wanted to start her own coffee shop. I asked her why she didn’t. She said she didn’t have any money and was a single mom in an Islamic country, etc. I said lightly, “Those aren’t reasons, those are excuses.” She sat, and asked me what I meant. We became friends and helpers. Less than a year later, Amanda’s Coffee and Tea opened in Langkawi, and I channeled Bob Dylan during her grand opening. Later, she was excited to hire her first employee: a snake charmer (they do, indeed, love snakes in Southeast Asia).
We had fun helping Amanda get her new business off the ground—she put every penny she earned back into it. One day while I was helping out by cleaning and taking out the garbage, I noticed a lovely drawing that was still dripping. I brought it back inside and asked if she’d done it. She admitted that she had, but was embarrassed. She had such little money, she couldn’t afford any artistic supplies, hence her painting in coffee grounds. Fast forward another year, and Amanda was having “one-man coffee-art shows” in Holland, France and Italy. Wow!
And that’s just one of our amazing local friends. We also have Harry in Indonesia, Gimpy in Thailand, and Professor Mani in India. Mani is a world-renowned physicist who invented the offshore acoustical rain gauge.
However, the most honest answer is: we have no idea what we’re doing. COVID-19 has put the whole world on hold.
We want to continue to live boldly, to chase our evolving dreams. We’re never bored. We’re old but we’re not old farts. I have dozens of challenges, both external and internal. We live in exciting times, and if the choice is between being excited or depressed, I’ll choose enthusiasm every time.
Carolyn: For the first time in our lives we are making no plans—not even vague ones! We had planned to sail up to Borneo for the Rainforest Music Festival in July and then cruise the east coast of Malaysia, but everything is now cancelled. Maybe next year—or next reincarnation.
5. You have sailing friends around the world. What’s your consensus of how this pandemic might change how and where people go cruising?
Fatty: I’m afraid I was already seeing an amazing timidity among cruisers in the Caribbean, especially young ones. The first time I heard a request on Channel 16 for another vessel to buddy boat with them between St. Maarten and St. Barths, I almost fell over. Now, suddenly, boaters aren’t wanted (with good reason) in thousands of ports. Global sailors are stuck at the four points of the compass. Some must leave; some must stay; and a few have no place to go that their craft and skill-sets allow. Yikes!
One thing that Carolyn and I always try to bear in mind is that cruising is supposed to be fun. If it ain’t, you’re doing it wrong. Carolyn is a traveler who loves to sail; I’m a sailor who loves to travel. Thus, we both get different but equal payoffs.
But venturing forth is, by definition, an adventure. Adventures aren’t neat and tidy. They have an element of danger to them. Hard work and the ability to be stoic is occasionally required.
Basically, sailing and watching people sail on YouTube are totally different physical endeavors—and the actual sailing part isn’t the lesser of the two, in our humble opinion.
On the plus side, Mother Ocean is completely untouched. She still works her magic on me like she did when I was 6 years old aboard an Opti in St. Petersburg harbor.
Best of all, we truly are all in this altogether. This virus knows no borders—neither should our ability to help and feel compassion for our fellow man. Many of our best friends who we met while cruising together for 50-plus years as a loving couple—our wisest and most intelligent friends who are great parents and wonderful citizens—make around $2 a day. Sure, I’m going to have less dollars tomorrow than I had yesterday—so what? Dollar signs wouldn’t help you in a gale—and neither would the price tag on your boat. Perhaps all this upheaval will make for a more just and equitable world. I’m an eternal optimist. I pray so.
Carolyn: Everything and everybody are in limbo now. Buddhism says: You can’t change the past, so don’t worry about that. You can’t know the future, so don’t worry about that either. There is only this minute to enjoy, so do that as best you’re able.