The Green Green Grass of Home

Over the past couple of years, there’s been occasional times when small clumps of grass have sprung up after the rain, only to shrivel and die once the ferocious sun gets to work. But gradually over the last two years, there’s been a bit of a grass revolution and we now have swathes of the stuff growing on the western end of the property.  So much so, that we’re going to buy a push mower next time we go to Sorong.  How crazy is that?!

Suddenly so much grass!

The last time I wrote the blog we were about to pack up and head back to Australia for a short trip so Bruce could see his skin specialist and we could catch up with the kids and their partners. Unfortunately, Bruce’s misspent youth in the sun is catching up with him and in recent years he’s had multiple skin cancers removed, including three early-stage melanomas.  His specialist wanted to see him every three months, but we’ve been able to compromise on every 6 months. It’s too important to miss, and there’s no one else Bruce trusts as much as this guy, so go we must.

After six months or more on the island, I confess to occasional longings for nice cafes and restaurants with delicious food and excellent coffee, wicked ice-creams, or an ice-cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc. The grass is always greener on the other side!

Truth be told, while all those things are lovely and it was fabulous to catch up with the family, each time we return to ‘civilisation’ we’re more dismayed by the exorbitant price of everything, the weight we put on (!), the crazy traffic, the bureaucracy….the list goes on. So it’s always nice to come home to our beautiful, peaceful, patch of paradise.

Home sweet home
Another beautiful sunset

The week before we left for Australia our old friend Murphy determined it was time for a bit of a shake-up. Early one morning I was out near the washing line when I heard a ‘pop’ like a paint can expanding, and then an acrid smell.  Always alert now to the possibility of fire, I raced to the battery house and the electrical smell was overpowering. Luckily no flames, but something had obviously shorted out.  Bruce quickly turned everything off and went to investigate.  It seems our inverter/charger had shorted out (at least the inverter part of it). A major problem when we rely on solar power for our energy. Luckily we’ve learnt to have back-ups of most things, so Bruce installed the old, more basic but still working inverter.  Now all we had to do was get the other inverter sent back as it was still under warranty.  Not so easy when it comes from Jakarta, so it would have to wait until our return.  Similarly, my washing-machine started playing up, giving me all sorts of error messages on the control panel.  As it was also under warranty, I thought I’d try finding out from the manufacturer if there was a service agent in Sorong.  The WhatsApp conversation was very amusing – despite telling them where we lived, I kept getting the same message – “we can send a service technician to your house if you give us your address”. Hahaha – yeah right.  So that one was also put in the ‘too hard” basket until our return. These are the challenges of island life, but of course still only first-world problems.

On our way back from our month in Australia we stopped off in Bali for a week to do an intensive Bahasa Indonesia course. We’ve both been frustrated by not being able to communicate properly with the locals, and our internet is too unreliable to do online study.  But wow – what a challenging week it was for us two oldies!  We had individual one-on-one tutoring for 4 hours every day.  By the end of it, our brains were exploding with information overload and there wasn’t really enough time to consolidate one day’s classes before the next lot started. I think we made some headway but it’s going to take a lot of practice which is challenging when most of the time it’s just the two of us on the island! 

Another upside of our stay in Bali was our accommodation at the Artotel in Sanur, an arty and quirky hotel with many sculptures and works of art from local artists.

Unusual murals on our bedroom wall
The rooftop bar

It was just five minutes from the beach, so our reward at the end of class was to have a couple of beers and dinner at one of the many restaurants on the beachfront before we collapsed in our comfortable bed completely shattered.

Sanur beachfront
If Bruce looks a little shellshocked, it’s because his brain was full of Bahasa Indonesia!

And now we’re back home and re-establishing everything back to where we left it.  We’re now in ‘shoulder season’ with the weather so it’s been mostly windless for the last few weeks, and the heat and humidity have been off the scale. Fifteen minutes of gentle exertion and we’re dripping wet.  At least we have the ocean to dive into, although the water temperature is not much better at a constant 29 C degrees underwater.

Hans did a good job of watering my plants while we were away, although they’re still proving too tasty to the grasshoppers and mealy bugs.  I’m definitely not going to get Gardener of the Month any time soon – I’ve managed to kill both my tomato plants, one with too strong a garlic/soapy water mixture to keep the bugs away, and the other by overwatering. You live and learn….I’m hoping to plant some more seeds now that my enclosure is finished so we’ll see what the next few months bring.  Some time ago we also found an old traditional wooden canoe washed up on the beach, and Bruce has been busy plugging the holes and making a stand to turn it into a planter bed for flowers or veggies. Well, that’s the plan anyway…

The grasshoppers had a bit of a feast of my lemon tree while we were away
Our repurposed canoe

Other than that, the only bothersome thing disturbing our paradise is a big fat gecko (or maybe it’s a lizard?) that’s taken up residence in our bedroom roof. Being woken up by a shower of stinky gecko/lizard pee does little for a good night’s sleep and makes a helluva mess of the sheets, so our challenge now is to flush him out and encourage him to move elsewhere. Could be interesting as we have no idea how to tackle this….

Bruce the hunter, armed with spray can on our first attempt to dislodge our unwelcome guest.

Life is never dull, and now that we’re adding Bahasa Indonesia to our daily tasks, the days are pretty full here on Pulau Dayan.

We’ve been back three weeks now, so it’s time to return to Sorong for our regular provisioning trip and try and get repairs made to our inverter charger and washing machine. Wish us luck!

On our way back to Sorong with the washing machine on board. A little more complicated to get repairs done when you live on an island!

What do you do all day?

We used to get this question a lot from non-boaties when we were cruising on Toucan. People assumed we would be bored and have nothing to do. Even now we get the same question, and ironically it’s often from yachties who are visiting the bay, who can’t imagine being confined to a small island.

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Yes, it’s different to constantly travelling and discovering new places, but I can honestly say that so far we’ve never been bored on Pulau Dayan. There’s always something to do.

A typical day for me will usually start about 6.30 am (a bit later for Bruce!). First item on the agenda is a liberal application of mozzie repellant, followed by some yoga and stretching in the beach cabana watching the sunrise and sometimes the juvenile sharks and turtles in the shallows on the back beach.

A beautiful place to start the day

Next is a cup of tea, and if we’re lucky enough to have some internet coverage, a look at the day’s news and a catch up on FB.  There’s the daily check of the meagre veggies and herbs I’m trying to grow and the endless battle to keep the grasshoppers, crabs, and mealy bugs away using a garlic and soapy water spray on the leaves.  We recently finished constructing a bench and a full enclosure to place the more vulnerable seedlings in, so I’m hoping that will slow the invaders down…

The new, improved seedling enclosure – let’s hope it works!

Inevitably, most days we need to do a beach clean-up of the plastic that washes up, from bottles to rubber thongs, toothbrushes, cigarette lighters and sadly even the occasional syringe. It breaks my heart to see the lack of care for the ocean.  Unfortunately, we have to burn the plastics as there’s no other way to dispose of them here.

We have the same regular household chores as any home, just slightly different. The bowls for rinsing the sand off your feet before entering the buildings have to be emptied and refilled with seawater, verandahs and floors need to be swept for the inevitable sand that still finds its way in, and there’s always washing and cooking to be done.  We do a major shop every 3-4 weeks in Sorong for food, fuel, and gas (a six-hour round trip in the boat) and then the boat has to be unloaded and everything packed away when we arrive back at the island. The cooking is a bit more labour-intensive than if we were in the city, as I make our own sourdough bread and toasted muesli, and we often have to make sauces and marinades from scratch. But with a functioning fridge and freezer we never go hungry.

Then, of course, there’s the snorkelling and diving, which isn’t just the time in the water but the setting up of the gear, the dismantling and rinsing of the gear and cameras, filling the dive tanks, downloading the images and editing where necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, it’s just time-consuming and often half the day is gone before we know it.  I’m loving learning how to take macro photos and it’s opened up a whole new incredible underwater world for me. Bruce likes the bigger wide-angle scenes, but sadly just as he’d recovered enough from his rib fracture to start diving again, his underwater camera housing failed which flooded his camera. It’s now been sent back to the States for replacement under warranty (another whole drama with DHL in Sorong but that’s another story), so in the meantime here are some of my recent macro shots…

Cuttlefish up close – how pretty is he?!
A pair of ringed pipefish
Denise’s pygmy seahorses – tiny, tiny beautiful little creatures
one of the many gorgeous nudibranchs in these parts – this one is Hypselodoris tryoni
A hawkfish with a mohawk
Spinecheek anemone

Our watermaker is working like a charm, but we need to run it for an hour or two every other day, and it requires some monitoring during that time. And there are always ongoing projects to complete – our most recent was preparing and installing bigger signs to keep the tourists at bay. It’s a shame we have to do it as they’re not aesthetically pleasing, but they’re a necessity to stop the regular incursions.  Mostly, they seem to be working.

There are also the odd, unexpected projects. We have hundreds of hermit crabs everywhere and we try very hard to avoid stepping on them, but last week we accidentally trod on one and crushed his shell.  The poor little guy was beside himself trying to piece his home back together, so there was nothing for it but to go on a quest to find him a new home – which proved almost as difficult as finding a rental property in Australia at present, as all the shells we found were occupied.  Then I remembered I had a jar full of small shells I’d collected over the years, so we found a few potentials and laid them out for his consideration.  Before long, he’d taken up the lease on a brand new home and is probably now the envy of all his mates.  The things we do…! Here’s a short video of his re-homing:

By midday we’re usually both a sweaty mess – the humidity is relentless and exhausting so after lunch it’s siesta time for a bit of a rest, a read, or a nap, sometimes in the hammock. And if we have the energy, we hack around on the guitars and ukulele for a bit before dinner and watch the sunset. We don’t have a TV or good enough internet to stream anything, but we can watch previously downloaded TV shows or movies on our laptop after dinner if we’re not too tired, or there’s always the option of thrashing each other at board games. However,  we still seem to adhere to the cruisers’ bedtime of 9.30-ish as by then we’re usually ready to crash.

It’s a wonderful life, albeit challenging at times, but there’s always something new to discover both underwater and above ground. We wouldn’t swap it for quids.

Two Years in Review

It’s just over two years ago that our madcap idea of living on a remote island in Raja Ampat started to take shape. During that time we’ve literally shed blood, sweat, and tears to get where we are now, but I think we’re finally at the stage where we’re really starting to enjoy this magical and spectacular location.

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Big Hearts, Empty Pockets

It all started with a chance encounter when shopping at Saga supermarket in Sorong three years ago. A cruiser friend of ours, Carol, got chatting to a lovely local lady, Nurjannah Nana, a volunteer English teacher at Istianah Foundation school. She was very keen to have some native English speakers visit her students and so Carol agreed and asked me to go along with her.

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It was a fabulous experience (albeit a bit overwhelming) to meet all the students and staff, and we got to hear a little of the history of the school.  It was founded in 2014 as a charitable organisation to assist orphaned Papuan kids whose futures would otherwise have been very bleak.  The founder, Dr Karsiman, was a university lecturer with a big heart who wanted to help disadvantaged kids. He managed to raise the funds single-handedly with only a small contribution from the Government.  In order to raise more funds they opened the school to local fee-paying Muslim students as well, so it’s unique in that it caters for both Muslim and Christian students.

It all started 3 years ago when Carol and I first visited the school. Here we are with the founder, Mr Karstiman, Nurjannah Nana and staff
The kids are always very happy to have visitors

Sadly, Dr Karstiman passed away in 2020, and while the school is still running, they are struggling to make ends meet. 

Many of the staff, including Nana, are volunteer teachers and support workers, and the school’s now grown to include almost 300 children spanning elementary to middle school.  Of those, many are orphans and are given free lodging and education.  But their dormitories are extremely basic and always flood when it rains heavily in Sorong (which is often). A new dormitory is being built on higher ground, but progress has stalled due to the lack of funds. Similarly, many of the classrooms have bare earth floors and require tiling.

The current dormitories are bleak and flood whenever it rains
The girls’ dormitory is overcrowded and very basic
The unfinished new dormitory block
Still a lot of work to do before it’s ready for the students

Since that first visit, Nana has become a good friend and I visit whenever I can to help the children with their English lessons, although their resources are very limited.  On our last trip back from Australia I was able to bring some English reading books, but we were hampered by our baggage allowance so it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what they need. Bruce and I donate when we can, and have recently agreed to sponsor the education costs for one student, which amounts to the very affordable sum of roughly AU $15 per month or $180 per annum.

Mam Nana as she is known to her students is still volunteering her time but is now the Principal of the school, and with the help of Mr Karsiman’s widow they are attempting to find more sponsors for the orphan students, and more funding for the capital works.

With Mrs Karsiman, who still plays an active role in trying to continue her husband’s good works

We’re so blessed to live where we are, and so fortunate that when our kids were growing up they were able to have such a great education in Australia with state-of-the-art facilities and an education system that we often take for granted.  On their recent visit, Rob and Teneile also came to visit the school with me, which of course was hugely exciting for the kids – they certainly make foreigners feel like celebrities which is a bit embarrassing, but their joy and exuberance is infectious and there’s always time for one more photo!

Rob, Teneile, and I with Mam Nana – we’re all looking a bit hot as there are no fans or aircon in the classrooms
Rob and Teneile were a great hit with the kids
They just love having their photos taken!

We will continue to do what we can to support the school, but I’ve also started a GoFundMe page in order to raise some money for the capital works so please check out the link here:

Also, if anyone is interested in sponsoring the education of one of the orphaned kids (even if it’s just for one year) please get in touch and we can discuss the details.

Thanks guys, any donation no matter how small will be so gratefully received by the school and students.


Having spent some 13 years on our two boats dealing with watermakers and watermaker problems I thought it would be easy peasy to organise a new watermaker for our island project. Should have listened to that voice in the back of my head that was chuckling away.

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Sadly our island does not have fresh water so up until now getting fresh water was quite an expedition. Although just around the corner, our local Mutiara (Pearl Farm) has a never-ending freshwater spring that allows us to rock up to their dock in our boat and fill our water containers from the continuously running hose.

The easy part. Pull up to the dock at the Mutiara and fill from the continuously running hose.

Easy part done. Now return to the island and schlep, hump, or however you want to express it, some 500 litres of water in 20 litre containers across the beach up to the water tank and empty into same. To be fair, Hans and his dad do most of the collecting and schlepping while yours truly does the hefting into the tank.

The not so easy part. Thank god for the family muscles as they schlepped the containers up to the tank.

Not only does it build stamina and character but gives you a wonderful incentive to not leave the tap running too long. So, bring on the watermaker.

It started out sounding rather easy. With a recommendation from our local expat we contacted a company in Bali that specialised in watermakers mainly for commercial use (that should have been our first warning sign) but also dealt with odd people, like us. When we contacted the Bali company we discussed at length our situation: remote island, middle of nowhere, solar providing battery charging, and yes we were running 220v single phase power and no Bunnings nearby, so everything  we need to get the watermaker up and running needs to come with the unit.

When it finally arrived it was very solidly crated and as such we decided since it had to go on a fishing boat to transport to the island we would leave it packed. Our first mistake. When it did arrive at the island due to the size and weight it took all of the muscle the family could muster but we managed to get it ashore without christening it which I thought was pretty amazing.

Landing the version 1 (the beast) without christening it thank goodness

It was a bit like Xmas unwrapping the new present – mind you, we needed a hammer and chisel not the standard scissors to achieve our objective. Upon first glance it looked the money and even came with a “how to assemble your watermaker for dummies” photo. I guess we should have paid the extra for the manual but never mind it’s reasonably straightforward, or so I thought. 

The dummies guide to assembling your very own watermaker

Upon closer inspection we discovered that the great minds in Bali decided we needed a three-phase electric motor regardless of us not having three-phase power and me explaining our power setup at the initial discussions. Oh bugger – another WhatsApp session trying to sort out the issue. The attitude from Bali was it’s signed, sealed and delivered so it’s your problem and just buy a three-phase generator and you’ll be fine. After much to-ing and fro-ing and some online research we discovered we could use a 2.2Kw single phase electric motor and it would drive our unit. Of course nothing is so easy; yes, the motor will drive the unit but it’s bigger than the unit supplied and won’t fit in the frame. So out with the grinder and make a few changes. You gotta love island life!

After closer inspection of all the parts we discovered they had given us a 3-phase electric motor (the bright blue unit in the frame).
Bugger 3-phase wiring and Tom Cruise thought he had problems. Now do I cut the red wire or the brown wire?

With the new motor and some other adjustments it was time to decide where we’d get the water for the watermaker from. My initial thought was that we’d have to pull from the beach, and as such the Bali company threw in an additional pump and a sand filter. In talking with Hans I mentioned my thoughts and before my very eyes he very quickly dug a channel for piping to run to the beach. Efficient  young lad. As I previously mentioned Bunnings is not just around the corner so after digging the channel it was off to Sorong to organise the pipe and fittings that would be needed. Upon return with a boatload of 2” and 1 1/2” pvc pipe (yes they use imperial for some things and metric for others, great for us old guys that still revert occasionally).

Return trip with a load of pipes for an idea that won’t work. Oh well, can’t have enough spares.

So – channel dug, pipe laid (not yet glued thank god) and Hans just happens to mention that it won’t work. Okay, why won’t it work? Hans points out that the weather we get on our shoreline is very exposed and the hard pipe will just break in heavy swells which, although not regular, come often enough to cause problems. It’s about this time I remember that I really should ask more questions first, because the local culture is to say “yes” to any request, however crazy it seems. So upon revisiting the problem and asking more questions I am advised that most villages dig wells. Now the obvious thing would be to simply buy soft pipe to run into the water and problem solved but, we’re in Indonesia and soft pipe the size we need is not readily available. So Hans can you fill in the channel? No boss, I only dig them.  Right, so I guess I’ll fill in the channel and why don’t you start on the well.

Who’s the old guy on the end kidding? This is time for family muscle. The first section of the well walls are formed up on land and then moved into position.
Sometimes you need to revert to old but proven techniques. In this case the square wheel manouvre.
Now the big question. Having gotten the form to the well how to get it into position.
There is no shortage of ingenuity when it comes to solving problems island-style.
A sharp parang (machete) to drop it into position.
Running the pipe for the feed pump to feed the watermaker.
Finished product. Well cover in place and piping to feed pump with stump corner support. Gotta love island life.

The great frustration with Version 1 was the time, the cajoling, the swearing (not much just a bit) (Editors note; actually quite a lot), and the bloody hard work of getting it to the point of being able to be turned on.

Version 1 is ready to rock & roll with the new single-phase electric motor. Thor appears in the early hours of the morning and brings us the storm from hell and the earthquake combo and with one hot flash turns it all to molten metal.

Instead, we were thwarted by the mighty hand of Thor who brought us the great storm/ earthquake combo and the ensuing fire which, in one hot flash, dissolved our beloved watermaker into a molten mess. Bugger, down but not out!

The after-effect of Thor’s intervention. We were able to reclaim the frame which is now a shiny yellow.

Enter Version 2, a slightly more flexible model as it comes in components and can be mounted in varying positions and locations. However, in honour of our fallen first unit we are able to reclaim the old watermaker frame (at least not all was lost but, in all, a bloody expensive frame) which made it easier to build. A big thank you goes out to Matt and Sid on the catamaran “Insouciant” for the great job of transporting the new components to us. Without their generosity it would have been very difficult to achieve.

Version 2 with 3 membranes for higher water production. The Karcher K4 on the right serves as the high pressure pump feeding the membranes.

As it turned out assembling the unit was not too difficult albeit the odd trip to Sorong to source some of the additional components required. When purchasing the unit from the rated output for the configuration was 240 LPH so we were somewhat excited at the prospect of getting it fired up and running.

After the first run and discovering it had more leaks than a kitchen colander it was back to the old “when all else fails RTFM.”

As always with these types of projects there is a small amount of anxiety when the switch is thrown for the first time and this was no different. I wish I had videoed the initial run as after the switch was thrown there was a little dampening of the spirits, as the unit had more leaks than a kitchen colander. Bugger! We have an expression we learned when we spent time in NZ, “do it twice and get it right”. Damn, where did I put the pink thread seal tape?

After a number of leak-tracking exercises, I can now happily report that the new watermaker is living up to its specifications and producing 250 LPH  – more than enough for us to wave goodbye for the time being to the Mutiara and enjoy our hard-won aqua independence.

This little hose delivers 250 L per hour. No more schlepping water containers across the beach. Wahoo!

One hour of watermaking every other day means we can now afford to extend that thirty-second shower. Di is doing a happy dance and you know what they say – happy wife, happy life. Pass me another glass of cold water, please.

Home Sweet Home

Finally, we’re home after 5 months in Australia seeing family and friends and getting my much-needed knee replacement surgery.  It was great to see everyone, and thankfully my surgery was successful – although I needed every bit of those 5 months to feel confident about travelling and living back on the island with my new knee.  It was a slow and painful recovery but I can now walk without pain so it was definitely worth it. There’s still a way to go, but I’m hoping the hydrotherapy of the beautiful warm water of Raja Ampat will speed the process along.

Continue reading “Home Sweet Home”