Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas from =?ISO-8859-1?Q?=93SV Astarte=94?=

During language lessons aboard Astarte the other day, we asked, "how do you say "Merry Christmas" in Marshallese?" Our instructor, Kathlyn said, "Merry Christmas." We responded, yes, how do you say "Merry Christmas." She said again, "Merry Christmas." Because in Marshallese, "Merry Christmas" is "Merry Christmas!" So in English or Marshallese, we would like to wish each of you a very happy holiday season.

We want to wish all our family and friends a very Merry Christmas wherever you are on land or at sea. We are reminiscing about Christmas long past, recently past and hoping for many more to come that will add to that memory bank! We wish all your hopes and dreams come true in this special season and please know how grateful we are everyday for being able to do what we do and for having so many special people in our lives. Thank you all for being who you are – you are special!

This has been a very different holiday for us. We spent a week in the outer island atoll of Aur. The wind was blowing a steady 15-18 knots from the northeast and the seas at high tide creep over the reef giving us a decent roll for several hours during each high tide cycle. We have been a ferry bringing Kathlyn, "James Bond's" daughter home for the holidays along with many packages for the mayor, Rudy and James. Once in Aur, it was an eventful first few days which included a trip to Tabal, another island in the Aur Atoll with James and Kathlyn and then a return trip on Saturday with James' family of ten! Michael did lots of land projects for both James and Rudy and Astarte decided to get jealous of that attention and demand some of her own. We had planned to go to Aur on Sunday morning for the start of their Christmas festivities which would include singing and dancing...but we both got the flu and were boatbound. . The flu is epidemic in the Marshalls according to "James Bond", the doctor in the Aur Atoll and he has been giving out flu shots. Too late for us! After a quick visit to Aur to say our goodbyes, we decided to take advantage of the only day that would have winds lighter than 20 knots to head back to Majuro to get all our boat projects underway before our guests arrive. We do need a working anchor windlass! So our Christmas Eve was spent on an overnight passage from Aur to Majuro – but we did keep a lookout for Santa overhead. It was a windy trip and seas were easily two meters plus (7 feet or so) – and right on the beam. But we made it in good time and had to wait for daylight to enter the reef pass. Now we are back on our mooring for Christmas Day and some much needed sleep to kick these germs.

Astarte normally smells like a bakery at this time of year with Barbara baking Christmas cookies...but that hasn't happened between all the ferrying of folks, broken equipment and now the flu Hopefully before Christmas is over at least one batch will be baked.

One last thing – a special shout out to Margie Hawkins, our sister-in-law. She has won the President's Award – that would be the President of the USA – for Educators. We are so proud of her and thrilled that she won this incredibly prestigious award. She and Derek will get to go to Washington DC to collect it and meet the President. How cool is all that! What a great Christmas present for her and a big "woo-hoo" from us.

Marry Christmas to all!

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Aur Island Life

After our two failures aboard Astarte (the toilet and the windlass – both mission critical pieces!!) we determined there was nothing we could do at the moment for either and needed to get the deliveries we were making ashore. You also have to "clear into" each outer atoll with the Mayor of that atoll (or acting mayor). This requires pre-filed paperwork with the internal affairs office in Majuro and then a visit with the approved and signed paper to the actual on-site island official. You also have to pay a fee to visit each of the outer atolls and these run from $25 to $250 depending on the atoll. We wouldn't be visiting the $250 places! You can stay as long as you like at each atoll, but once you leave – if you return you are required to re-file and repay.

So we loaded the dinghy and got it to shore. Not exactly sure where to head, we went to a beautiful sandy beach and carried the dinghy ashore and unloaded all the parcels we brought. Unfortunately it was the wrong place. We met "James Bond" on shore and we had to reload the dinghy with the stuff (luckily we didn't bring the 10 gallons of gasoline on this trip) and go around the reef to the other side of the island to land. This is where the mayor lives. We went ashore with the packages we were delivering for the mayor and our paperwork (and $25). We thought perhaps because we were delivering things for him, we might get a pass on the fee – but no such luck. We met with the mayor, paid our money and got a nice fresh green coconut to drink. Then we went to see James' place (actually his brother's house), to drop off more stuff. Our "crew member" Kathlyn was here as well. We visited here for a bit and were gifted with a giant hand-made palm frond basket filled with bananas. Plus a whole basket of coconuts (already with the outer husk removed and ready to eat/drink). It was really a nice gift. Then we walked down to Rudy's house to make arrangements for delivering his fuel and dropping off a package for him. Rudy and his wife also gave us a bag filled with coconuts.

We begged for an indulgence on a short visit as we were pretty tired from the overnight sail. Michael would make one more trip in with the fuel and a 12 volt battery for Rudy. When Michael returned to the boat, he started working to fix the head. No joy. We ate a nice meal and called it an early night.

While on Aur, James had asked if we could go the next day to his island, Tabal, a few hours trip up the atoll. He wanted us to bring he and Kathlyn back there. We had just found out that Kathlyn was actually the mother of a two year old child and she was anxious to get there to see him. James was working at the Aur clinic, but would be done with patients around noon. Michael had also agreed to help Rudy with his solar panels, regulator, new battery and HF radio. So his morning was booked with Rudy and then we would sail to "Tabal" later that day. That put our own boat projects on the back burner. After Michael worked with Rudy most of the morning, he gave Michael this incredible shell necklace. It is very elaborate and detailed. These very generous people also sent some lovely woven ornaments. The handicrafts are one of the few ways these outer islands make money - along with the harvesting of copra (coconut) – so gifting us with their means for income is very generous.

On Thursday afternoon, Michael and James managed to get the anchor up without a windlass while Barbara was at the helm (a role reversal as Barbara usually does the foredeck work). It was hooked a bit on a coral – but after a bit of maneuvering and lots of human back power, the chain and anchor came up and we were under way. It was nice to have the extra man-power.

We had a great sail across the lagoon with James as guide, keeping us off bommies that seemed to pop up out of 200 feet of water. They weren't on the charts in the correct places either! At one point, James stands up and says I have to look around. And there, less than 1000 feet away was a bommie...he knew. He pointed it out and told the story of how he hit that one with a government boat! So he was well acquainted with it!. As we approached his island we had to turn into the wind so the motor came on. There was another problem on Astarte. Suddenly, water was pouring into the engine room – not a good thing. So Barbara steered us away from the island reefs and Michael went in search of the source of the water. James went below to help bail. Kathlyn sat and listened to music, singing along. A hose clamp had broken on the exhaust elbow and salt water was streaming in. That got repaired and we turned back towards the island and headed to a great anchor spot that James pointed out. It was nestled between two sets of bommies in some nice sand in about 30 feet of water.

Because of a big storm north of the area, the waves in the ocean were quite large so there was a pretty good swell breaking over the reefs and coming into the lagoon. It was more pronounced at high tide so we were rolling pretty good at anchor. Michael got James, Kathlyn and all her stuff ashore and returned to tackle now not just the head, but the water in the engine room. Barbara had bailed quite a bit out while Michael ran our guests to shore. But the head was still a major challenge and not cooperating. After several more hours working on trying to get the clog out, we called it a day. We thought we were coming to the outer islands to get into the water to snorkel, explore and relax a bit. Between helping the islanders with some of their projects and the Astarte projects – it has been anything but relaxing. Michael's been in the water a lot but it's to try to unclog a toilet! Not what we had in mind.

We have agreed to move James and his family (9 people) back to Aur on Saturday. Each year the two islands, Tabal and Aur, rotate where Christmas will be held. This year it is on Aur – and Sunday before Christmas is as big a celebration as Christmas Day. So we'll head back there. Friday was spent getting the head finally working again – but it took another five hours of really hard work. Then we went ashore to see James' home and meet his family. We were gifted with some freshly baked bread, banana bread, some beautiful hand-made earrings (the weaving here is really detailed and remarkable), a Marshallese woven flower, and some additional food. We brought them some newspapers and flour and sugar.

On Saturday, we agreed to leave Aur around 1300 to head back to Aur for the Christmas festivities. There were supposed to be seven people. Saturday morning, we get a call on the radio from James telling us about a pregnant woman who was having a difficult time with a birth. We feared we would be asked to transport her either to Majuro or Aur...but it only meant that James had to work. The woman needed to be airlifted out and brought to Majuro and that would happen at 1100 on Saturday morning so we would have to postpone our departure a bit. Michael went ashore to see if he could work on James' outboard (we had brought a throttle cable with us). He brought a load of "stuff" back with him that we would transport down to Aur later. We did get a call from James asking if we could bring a few more people, they arrived on the plane that would transport the pregnant woman out. We agreed so now it looked like we'd have 11 extra aboard! Starting around 1300, we started loading the people and stuff aboard. It took three dinghy loads from shore for the 11 people and probably 15 boxes/bags of stuff. James was on board, but then a boat came out to get him as he had another patient and would not be making the trip with us. Luckily a strong nephew was on hand to help manhandle the anchor with Michael. We miss the electric windlass!

After about 30 minutes, the anchor came up with a bit of maneuvering and we put the sails up for a great sail down the atoll. Astarte was doing over 6 knots with 12 people aboard and packed to the gunnels. The wind picked up though, and with so many people and stuff aboard, we reefed but still maintained over 5.5 knots. The trip was interesting with the three young boys (aged 9-12) sitting together and singing heartily. They would harmonize in a beautiful way and they were having a lot of fun doing it. They sat on the front deck and just kept singing Marshallese songs – lovely entertainment! The 2 year old was only happy when he had a cookie and several of the others simply slept.

We arrived and anchored off Aur and then off-loaded the people and stuff in four dinghy trips. We had given each of our guests a wrapped small Christmas present (which they instantly tore into). We had announced that we would see them on Sunday in church and to watch the singing and dancing after church as part of the holiday celebration.
Sunday came and we were both down with the flu. We stayed on board all day and missed the fun! Between boat breakage and now being sick, Aur Atoll is not turning out to be the holiday retreat we had hoped for – but getting to know the lovely people is still wonderful.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Aur Atoll, Marshall Islands

After getting the boat stocked up for our outer island Christmas trip, we were ready to depart on Tuesday. The weather looked great and it would be a full moon. The amazing thing about heading to the outer islands is that once you tell one person which island is your destination – you suddenly are designated as the delivery boat! We had told "James Bond" and "Rudy," who participate on the HF/SSB "Iakwe" Radio net every morning that we were headed there way. Rudy asked for 10 gallons of gasoline; James asked us to bring his boat parts that had been ordered by and delivered to another boater. Then James also asked of we could bring a passenger. That put us in a bit of an awkward situation as we weren't prepared to take anyone and we have our systems for passages. But we decided it was only an over-nighter and it was Christmas! It ended up being his daughter who is in college in Majuro. Then the daughter asked if she could bring a friend...but we said no to that as we only have one extra passage berth. So arrangements were made to get Kathlyn the next day around 1230. Then, we get a phone call from a woman saying she is the Mayor of Aur's granddaughter and could we bring a package for the mayor. We asked how big and she said (or so we thought) five rolls of floor mats. But, it was Christmas, so we said yes and she would meet us the next morning at 0900 to deliver the goods. We were now afraid to answer the phone.

We also guessed that it was "Marshall Island" time and everyone would be late. On this point we were wrong – Francine, the mayor's granddaughter was early and the floor mats ended up being one bag of fabric. She asked if she could bring one more about the same size as well. We agreed and she'd bring it by around noon. What we thought would be large rolls of woven sleeping mats, was a lot less. Whew! Then, Kathlyn came early as well and we loaded her stuff (she was quite loaded down with bags, packs, plastic containers and food.) We loaded her stuff and she asked if she could still go shopping! We had time and still had a few errands ourselves.

Just as we were about to untie the mooring lines, we got another call and wanted to know if we could bring a package for the Iroiji. This is like the big chief and serves as a senator. Unfortunately, our dinghy was already stored on deck and we needed to get moving so we could get away from Majuro and moor near Enamanet again to check the bottom (prop, shaft, keel etc). So we said if someone could get it to Enamanet by 1530, we'd be happy to take it.
We sailed to Enamanet , tied up, did a quick bottom cleaning job (there were gobs of icky crude oil from Majuro so now the waterline looks terrible!), and we were off around 1530. We tried to sail, but the winds were very light and we wanted to make it out of the atoll, through the reef, in daylight. After a clean exit, we sailed for several hours. Kathlyn, who had never been on a sailboat, was given some seasick meds as we were told that all Marshallese get seasick. We didn't want her to be uncomfortable. It knocked her out and she slept almost the entire way in the cockpit, waking up only when a rain squall would come. The wind which was supposed to be easterly – wasn't. It was right on the nose. If it was just us, we would have tacked and sailed more – but with her aboard and expected the next day, we motor-sailed most of the way. We had a few small rain squalls, but overall it was a calm night with a full moon lighting our way.

At 1800 we had a radio schedule with James and it was fun to see Kathlyn talking to her dad on the radio – you could tell both were excited that they would be seeing each other soon. If we understood correctly, she hadn't been back for about a year.

We entered the very narrow reef cut into the Aur Atoll lagoon after letting a squall pass and the sun get a bit higher. Then we made our way across the lagoon towards the island of Aur. James was on shore (though he is from a different island in the same atoll – he was working at the Aur clinic on this day). We anchored amongst many bommies. We didn't like the spot because we thought we were too close to one bommie, so we would pick up the anchor. As Barbara put her foot on the windlass button – nothing! Michael went below to check the breaker and it was tripped...but wouldn't reset. Uh oh. The electric windlass is a "mission critical" piece of equipment aboard Astarte. It raises the anchor and chain without us having to manually pull it up. We're old and have bad backs! We decided to live with the anchor where it was set and see if the windlass was an easy fix.
But first, we'd get Kathlyn to shore to her dad and we'd take her stuff and us in later when tide was higher and we could get the dinghy to shore more easily.

The windlass was dead but the anchor was well set after Michael dived it to checked, though it was close to a bommie. Oh, one other thing, our guest clogged the toilet – so that was now also unusable and would need some work. When it rains it pours.

Next entry – our first visit to Aur.

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Stocking Up for the Outer Islands

The Marshall Islands have many atolls along two chains – the Ratak and Ralik chains. We have decided to get out of the "city" of Majuro and head to an outer island for a different type of Christmas experience. Majuro is quite festive with Christmas music playing in every store and restaurant; lots of lights on the stores and buildings and people greeting you with a "Merry Christmas." People are shopping and spending on gifts and the post office is packed all day long with folks sending and receiving packages. There will be cruiser events and gatherings here – but we have decided to try something different and perhaps experience the spirit of Christmas in a less commercial way.

Weather permitting, we will head out to one of the outer island atolls for the holidays. We have selected the atoll of Aur which is just 60 miles away to the north. We picked it for a few reasons. It is one of the closer islands and looks to have decent protection. Plus, on the morning "Iawke" SSB radio net, two people who live in this atoll check in so we feel like we will "know" someone on the island. They have invited the "yachties" to come visit them. One guy is named "Rudy" and the other has a radio name of "James Bond." So we'll get to see 007. We understand James runs the local clinic and is in need of a critical boat part – so we will deliver that to him. Plus Rudy has requested some gasoline which we will also deliver.

We have had fun shopping for little items to give to the children on the island – so we'll get to play Santa. We have decided that instead of giving each other anything, we'll give a little Christmas to these islanders. Plus, by going there for a few weeks now, when our guests Dave and Lorna arrive in January, we'll have an idea of what the outer islands are like for their "tour."

The bad news will be that there is probably no phone or internet service on these atolls – so we won't be able to call our families to wish them Christmas greetings – so we hope they'll understand. The good news is that we'll have some new things to report on our log page.

We wish you all a stress free holiday season.

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Christmas Decorations

Like many places, the Marshall Islands are keen on Christmas. The stores are filled with shelves filled with toys, Christmas decorations and trees. The stores themselves are all decked out in Christmas glitter and lights. There are holiday sales and with every ship that comes in "new arrivals" of stuff! We look forward to the fresh (or as fresh as possible) veggies and fruits – but the locals seem to be looking forward to the new array of toys and goods to buy for the holidays. There is only one newspaper (and it comes out weekly), and the ads were filled with special "3-day only" deals. The big difference is there is no Walmart or Target with "doorbuster" specials – so nobody was lining up at midnight to get to the sales. Of course, this is the Marshall Islands and "island time" does prevail. So even if there were midnight deals to be had – the doors probably wouldn't open until 2:38 am or so!

The stores have tons of Chinese merchandise so the array of lights for decorating are enormous (perhaps the same elsewhere) – but we bought a new set of LED decorating lights for $3.98 so Astarte will look festive.

Last night (Friday) there was an art festival called the "Jambo" which included local art, performing art and wearable art including a "Wearable Art" fashion show. A local film-maker premiered to the Marshall Islands his short film "Zori" that won the "People's Choice" award at the Guam Film Festival. It was delightful short film in Marshallese with english sub-titles. The young "star" of the film was also on hand (about a 7 year old boy).

We hope to take off from our Majuro mooring and head west down the atoll to another anchorage for a few days. It would be good to be able to get in the water to clean the propeller, bottom of the boat and water line – and just do some swimming and exploring. This active social scene is exhausting and it will be good to get away from the internet, temptations to buy stuff and the noise of the city. Of course we'll have to come back in a few days to check the post office to see if anymore packages of parts have arrived. So far we've gotten 6 boxes!

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving from The Republic of the Marshall Islands

It is already Thursday, November 28 here in the Majuro, so today is Thanksgiving Day. Though not an official Marshall Island holiday, there are enough Americans here to celebrate the day in a traditional style. We will be sharing a potluck meal with probably about 40 people from cruising boats, live-aboard boats and area homes. The Mieco Beach Yacht Club hosts the potluck by providing the turkeys (volunteers are cooking them) as well as the US Ambassador pays for one as well. All the side dishes are provided by the guests. It will take place in a very traditional thatched roofed building. We'll be bringing some homemade pumpkin pies as our contribution.

Thanksgiving is a time when we get to reflect on how grateful we are to be living this lifestyle. Thanks go to all our land-based support team. Carol, Barbara's sister, handles a lot for us and we are exceedingly grateful. Derek, Michael's brother did that tedious chore for years as well – so another thanks to him. Mom is always there with her unending love and prayers – thank you for that. And then our friend Sandy who always offers to mail things or pack things or handle things for us – we are so grateful. Kathryn and Mark are always on hand to offer fisheries advice and identifications as well as internet shopping support. Richard, Barbara's brother and Matt on Superted V are invaluable with engineering advice, opinions and support. Sandy from Gypsy Heart has helped us save a computer or two and certainly has saved headaches. Tom and his "espousa" - the sail he managed to schlepp to the boat. And we'll apologize, because in our declining years, we're certain we've forgotten someone who did very important things for us!

There is a long list of friends who have made our life out here more fun, festive and wacky – from sundowners and dinners to mahjohng and games – thank you. From all over the world, you have opened our eyes to many new things and we much appreciate it. And we have to thank all our shore friends/colleagues and beloved log readers...thanks for all the notes, comments and just sharing our adventure. We hear from some of you and not much from others – but we know you are with us. A special shout out to loyal log followers who we do hear from regularly - Matt and Jen, Nina and Kenny, Jim E., Junab, Deanna and Kurban and trivia buffs Barbara and George.
Many, many thanks to our visitors over the years. You have brought joy to us as we shared our adventure with you. You dished out some cash for the trips and made big efforts to get to strange places. You also had to bring a lot of other crap as part of the deal...for that we are also grateful. We hope Dave and Lorna get their sixth frequent visitor stamp soon.

Thanks to our Florida neighbors – for keeping an eye on things and staying in touch.

We always need stuff and because big stores are usually not readily available where we are – we depend on the internet and vendors to help us. A special shout out to a few whose service has been outstanding and who stand by their product. It may have taken us a few e-mails to make it clear where we were and what we're doing...but these folks have come through. Sheri from Transatlantic Diesel is a genius when it comes to our old Perkins...she is a joy to talk to and knows her stuff...she is a legend out here and we thank her for helping us get old "Carl" (Perkins 4-108) his needed bits and parts. And speaking of "Carl", thanks again to NZ mechanic Kim Osborne who put lots of time and care in getting the engine humming. Depco Pumps knows their stuff and their website with old manuals is a lifesaver. Companies that have proved first hand that they stand by their product and warranties include: Gill rain gear (which we just bought more); West Marine; and Keene Shoes. And finally there is Amazon – simply amazing customer service – thank you.

Many thanks to Cheryl Schmidt, John Houser, Sara Malone, Rob Moeller, Bill Bass and all the many others who help us by doing their jobs so well – and that keeps us from worrying too much out here.
So we are a thankful twosome. And today is the best day to say it here.

We are also thankful we have each other.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

President's Day

Monday, November 18 was President's Day in the Republic if the Marshall Islands. Because it is a newly independent country, there have not been that many past presidents to honor. The main festivities include a run (in this heat!) war canoe races and a boat parade to show off two new ships.

The canoes were the traditional outrigger canoes with very triangular sails. The Marshall Islands are known to have some of the finest outrigger sailing craft in the Pacific. The Marshallese canoe or "wa" range from small two man craft to massive high speed voyaging canoes fit for travel across ocean waters. Since the early 1800's, Marshallese have been revered and recognized for their technological advances and refinements on these crafts. These include the asymmetric hull, the lee platforms and the pivoting midship mast. The vessels were each designed for where they would be sailed – the smaller lighter ones were for fishing in the lagoon reefs; a medium size was for fishing in nearby waters just off the islands and the larger one was for going across oceans to get to other islands with people and supplies. The ones in the race were the small two man "wa" and they could move. They were flying across the bay with this single large triangular, colorful sail. The old vessels had their sails of woven plant material – much like the sleeping mats.

The boat parade included two new ships that had arrived the day before from Japan. The ships, the "MV Majuro" and the "MV Kwajalein," left Japan in early November after six years of planning, research, design and building. They were built in Japan and a gift to the Marshall Islands from the Japanese government costing $16.2 million. The ships will be used for shipping and carrying passengers and were designed to serve the spread out outer islands of the Marshalls – which often don't see a ship for months. The other great feature of these vessels is the large water making and storage tanks aboard. The RO water makers can be used to supply emergency water in case of drought or natural disasters. The people were excited about these new boats and along with the Marshall's Island Coast Guard/Navy and several small boats and the other Marshall Island shipping boats formed a parade around the lagoon tooting horns and waving flags. We got into it by making a lot of noise with horns from Astarte.

We have enjoyed some time with friends (new and old) here – many are packing up their boats and themselves and leaving for months. The boats will stay at the moorings and one guy here has a good little business of watching and taking care of them while folks are gone. We were aboard "SV Lady Nada" with Sue and Bill the other night, and several other folks to help "clean out their freezer" before they depart.

Hopefully some of the parts we've ordered from the states will start getting here today (the Post Office was closed for President's Day). Michael has already rebuilt the cook stove burners which was a big project. Lots of big and small maintenance projects and cleaning projects are slowly getting done. It is so warm we have to pace ourselves!
Tonight, Tuesday night, is MBYC (Mieco Beach Yacht Club) yachties night. They rotate it through different restaurants for a social night out. The MBYC is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Majuro Scene

We have now been moored in Majuro, RMI for one week and are getting to know the island. You get around by foot or by catching "shared taxis." These are either minivans that you flag down (50 cents) or cars (75 cents) and they will take you where you need to go – along with everyone else in the vehicle. It is actually a very efficient system as there is one main road that they ride up and down – and take the detours into neighborhoods. It is a great way to see a lot of the island whenever you get into one.

They talk in acronyms in Majuro. Every business or government office or building seems to have an initialed name. For example – the building where immigration is located is called Mako; the phone company/internet place is: NTA; MIR is the Marshall Island Resort; BOG is Bank of Guam; plus there's PII (pea-eye-eye), D-U-D (not pronounced "dud") the three islands Darita Uliga and Delap that make up Majuro town; WAM (the war canoe building place) and many, many more. So it is a bit hard to learn where you need to go to get things done. Because to get propane filled you have to go to RRE to catch a cab to MEC (office) to pay and then head to MECTF near the DD!!! We've already joined the MBYC (Meico Beach Yacht Club). Add learning all these acronyms to get around to trying to learn to say hello, thank you and goodbye in Marshallese and its like learning two new languages.

There are lots of groceries – large and small. Its amazing they can all stay in business. We've been able to find things (like pickle relish) that we haven't found in years (even in NZ). There is a local weekly newspaper – with articles in both English and Marshallese. We've found that the local papers are quite informative about an area's politics and society. A good laundromat is a taxi ride away – and as long as there has been some rain, the washing machines will work. They shut down for "no water" days. The Chinese tend to own many of the shops – including the laundromat.

The harbor is packed with huge fishing vessels – purse seiners mostly – that catch tuna. The "mother ships" stay in the harbor and the smaller (100 plus feet) vessels go out to fish...and then return and offload to the mother ships. Many of these vessels have helicopters on board that hunt out the big schools of tuna. The fish don't stand a chance with the sheer number and size of these boats. At night, the harbor looks like a large city – it is so lit up as most of these mother ships work round the clock.

The weather has been hot and squally. We've gotten some rain most days – some days it fills water jugs, other days its just the annoying rain that makes you have to close all the hatches. Some days we have a very pleasant cooling breeze that make the boat quite comfortable. The average temperature is in the low 80s (F).
Michael has been getting lots of small boat projects done like winch cleaning and rebuilding a sun awning, plus lots of ordering of bits and pieces from the states. Because of US Postal service here and decent internet, we can get some parts in that we need. So lots of time has been spent measuring things, researching items and then ordering them.

There is also a varied social scene here. The MBYC hosts a Tuesday night event each week. This week, Steven and Selena from the sailboat Westward II did a great presentation on the outer islands of the Marshalls. They looked beautiful and now we are anxious to get to see some of them. There is woman's card playing afternoons on Wednesday and lots of friends with whom to have sundowners or dinner. There are several restaurants here – and most have dinner specials.

We are settling in and will decide after we get our parts in, where we'll head for the holidays. Can't decide if we'll stay here or go to one of the outer islands.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Atoll Lesson

The Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) is one of four all atoll nations. Tuvalu, Kiribati and Maldives are the other three. The total land area of the Marshalls is only 70 square miles (171 sq. km) but spreads out over a sea area of 750,000 square miles (1.2 million sq. km). The mean height of the land is only 7 feet above sea level – so these are really low lying islands.

There are two chains of islands that make up the Marshalls – the Ratak Chain (means "sunrise") is the Eastern chain and Ralik (means "sunset) is the Western chain. Each chain is approximately 800 miles long. These atoll and island chains run almost parallel to each other (about 150 miles apart) in a north-south pattern just north of the equator starting at 4 degrees and up through 19 degrees. With a population of around 60,000 Marshallese, many of the islands and islets are unpopulated. Because they cover such a vast area of ocean and are so spread out, it will be certainly challenging to see many of the outer islands – especially because the rules here make it so you have to check in and out of Majuro atoll.

Like all atolls, these are volcanic in origin. The volcanoes erupt, then through the course of 40 million years, they sink back into the ocean and subside leaving the lagoons surrounded by islets. Darwin's theory proved correct!
We are here in what is considered the rainiest season for Majuro – (it ends in November) and the average rainfall is 14 inches a month – and we can attest to that! It has been wet and squally here. The other day we had a squall come through with in excess of 40 mile an hour winds. The mooring we are on held – we were grateful and now confident that it is a good holding mooring. We've been able to collect a lot of rainwater which is also good.
The temperature averages around 81 degrees F annually – so it is a bit toasty here. But most times we have a nice trade wind that keeps things bearable.

Hope this will help you trivia players who might get an atoll question!

For us, we are settling into life on the mooring in Majuro. There is quite the social scene here because of the cruising boats. A small yacht club, the Mieco Beach Yacht Club has been established (which we joined) and gives you discounts at many of the shops in town and offers an event each Tuesday night. It is held at one of three different restaurants each week. This week, we are excited because a boat, Westward Two will do a presentation on the outer atolls of the Marshalls. They have spent a lot of time here and been to almost every atoll in the group.
On Saturday night, we went to a local place where there was some music (including a few cruisers who got up to play and croon). We continue to meet more folks and of course, are trying to also get some boat projects completed.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Iakwe from Majuro

Iakwe! That is the native language greeting from the Republic of the Marshall Islands where we are now moored in the Majuro Atoll lagoon. The greeting is actually translated as "you are a rainbow" and serves as hello, goodbye and love. It is pronounced as "Yag -way." The language is an Austronesian based language and is quite hard to learn – so we will do our best over the next few months to at least learn a few words and phrases.

We arrived on Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at the lagoon pass entrance around 1000 (10 am) and made our way through the well-marked channel and across the lagoon. Just before entering the pass, the fishing line went squealing and Michael; hooked a nice wahoo. It wasn't huge but it was pretty and enough for a few meals. We got it on board and would clean it as we crossed the lagoon. A few big squalls hit as we were crossing the lagoon and we slowed to under 3 knots at one point heading into winds of 20 plus knots and short choppy waves. We made it to the "north mooring field" where we had secured a mooring ball. We tied up to one (grabbing it on first attempt (yippee)) and found it had a bad pennant line – so we had to move to another. Luckily we had the same luck catching this mooring ball. After getting the boat secure, we had pre-arranged (thanks to the help of another sailboat "Seal") customs and immigration to meet us at the dock for clearing in at 1500 (3 pm). We made it to shore and waited until 1530 and still no customs. We then made the decision to head to the customs and immigration offices in town so we can get cleared in before incurring any overtime charges (after 5 pm). So we grabbed a cab (.75 per person) and got taken to the Government Building. This is a place where, for once in a long , long time, it was a good thing to carry a USA passport. The clearing in was easy, though two different buildings with a cab ride between the two. We were completed with the process by 1630. The last stop was immigration which was right across the street from MIR (Marshall Islands Resort) where a "cruising boat" event was taking place. So we stopped in to say hello to some friends and have a cold beer.

The Marshall Islands (or RMI) is a young independent country. It gained its independence in 1986. It is technically an independent country with a Compact of Free Association with the United States. They use the US dollar and US Postal Service and are protected by the USA military. The US military still has a large base at Kwajalein. The islands have had a varied colonial history. The first western touch came from Spanish explorers in the 1500s. Two centuries passed after those first encounters and in 1788 British Captains Marshall and Gilbert sailed to the islands. Obviously they had small egos – naming the island chain after themselves! After the Brits, the Germans came and set up a government and trading. Then the First World War broke out 29 years into German rule, and Japan sent naval squadrons to the Marshall Islands and started to take over the control. The islands were handed to the Japanese as part of a Class "C" mandate by the League of Nations. Then Japan dropped out of the League of Nations. Then came World War II and there was heavy fighting in the Pacific including the Marshalls. The Japanese were defeated and the US Navy governed the Marshall Islands in 1945. In 1947, the Marshalls were given to the US by the United Nations as part of a Strategic Trust and governance of the islands soon switched from the Navy to the Department of the Interior. The islands sought more independence and in 1986, they became the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Islands are probably best known as the sight of atomic bomb testing by the US on the atolls of Bikini and Enewetok. The effects on the islanders health has been long term and have displaced many islanders from their native atolls.

More later on the culture, climate and atolls. This is one of four all atoll nations (we've visited three!).
For now we are settling in to the new country where we will sit out cyclone season. There are many islands to visit and we hope to see several.

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Tarawa, Kiribati to Majuro, Marshall Islands

We departed Tarawa on November 2, 2013 - Saturday morning at 0730 heading northwest to the Marshall Islands. We will clear in at Majuro Atoll. On Friday, we did the "check out" dance in Tarawa heading to the immigration office in Bairiki and then to customs in Betio. Two of the ladies who did our check-in also cleared us out – so it was like visiting old friends. We did get hit with a $50 "Kiribati Port Authority" fee – that is the minimum charge. That was a bummer – we know some people have had to pay it and others did not. But we also know it is a legal fee and got an official receipt.

We did see some of the "auditors" we had met in Tuvalu at lunch – that was a pleasant surprise as we had tried to hunt them out the previous week and were told they were not arriving until the following week. So we had a chance to at least say hello to John and Kevin which was fun.

Friends from the SY Radiance also arrived on Friday morning and it was nice to see them again. They had a long trip from Vanuatu to Kiribati. We enjoyed lunch with them.

Day one of our trip so far has been terrific – though we hate to write that and jinx it. We sailed comfortably throughout the day and did have to turn the motor on at night when the wind totally died. But we needed to fill the water tanks and run the watermaker – so we took advantage of the engine time. This morning, the sails are back up and we are comfortably moving along.

The seas have a meter swell – and the fishing lines are out. (One was out all day yesterday with no joy).
This trip is about 375 miles- though there is an adverse current. We hear its been very rainy and squally in Majuro – so hopefully that will all pass before we arrive (wishful thinking). We hope to arrive by Wednesday – you must arrive during normal business hours for customs and immigration or be prepared to pay hefty overtime charges. So we will time our entrance into the atoll carefully – it may mean sitting out an additional night doing circles!
The "where are we" page should have a daily position report update through the passage.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Exploring Kiribati

Before we share some more of our Kiribati adventures, a few miscellaneous items. Thanks to Junab and his son Kurban, they spotted Astarte and crew in the November 2013 issue of "Cruising World" magazine. Our friend Nana (Natalie) aboard "Namani" wrote an article about Halloween in Tonga last year. The article is titled "All Treats, No Tricks" and you can see Astarte in the photo getting ready to receive the dinghy filled with young "trick or treaters". Good eyes, Kurban!

Also, we failed to mention the momentous occasion of crossing the equator again. We made our second crossing over that line on October 21, 2013 at 23:19:56 (11:19 pm) in pleasant weather. We honored Neptune and shared a bottle of champagne with him to celebrate re-entering the Northern Hemisphere. We then put a message in the bottle and sent it floating on its way – hopefully to be discovered at some point.

And finally, thanks to the Kiribati Parliament, we were able to put a few pictures on the page – so check out the new Tuvalu to Kiribati folder.

Now back to Kiribati. We took another bus ride to the other end of South Tarawa yesterday. This time we went to Bikenibeu to visit the Te Umwanibong. This is the cultural center and museum. There is a traditionally built Mwaneaba building – this is the meeting house or center of social life in Kiribati villages. This particular building has some of the original stone/coral/concrete pillars to hold up the very large structure made of all local materials and thatched with pandanus leaves. Inside the museum, there is a display of all the various knots used in building these structures.

The museum also had a good collection of mat weaving techniques, displays of fish and eel traps, old hand-woven fishing nets; fishing hooks made from various materials like sharks teeth and wood; plus a display of old shark toothed swords used by the warriors and the netted armour they wore.

It was a small collection but quite nicely showcased and a gentleman was kind enough to walk us through the various displays explaining many of the items to us. There was also an interesting poster display of some "stone warriors" that are trying to be preserved on one of the outer islands. This looks fascinating and perhaps we'll get to visit that island at some point on our return stop here.

We also enjoyed another evening at the Parliament Club, again with Patrick the Member of Parliament playing host. We also met one of the gentleman who works in the Sports' Ministry (a former rugby player), and learned quite a bit about the local sports. They were nice enough to give us a ride later to the local Chineese (their spelling) restaurant for a great meal.

Today, we are heading back to the port of Betio and getting ready to depart Kiribati for Majuro in the Marshall Islands. We need to get some fuel and start the clearing out process. We hope to depart on Saturday (we never leave on Friday).

Happy Halloween – it is NOT celebrated here in Kiribati!

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Partying at the Parliament

Anchored just in front of the Parliament House, the government center of Kiribati, we did some exploring on land on Saturday and Monday. Saturday, we went into town seeking an internet connection to make a reservation for a mooring in the Marshall Islands. We walked about a mile down the very dusty road to a small hotel that had a connection (well it wasn't working at first so we walked some more and came back to a repaired – but very, very slow internet connection for $2 Aus an hour). Then we headed back to an event at the Parliament dock – a traditional sailing catamaran, a vaca, was open for tours. This was actually a newly built, all solar powered vaca that was sailed here from Fiji. The goal is to try to get these boats in use by local fishermen to save fossil fuel. There was a barbecue as well and for $3 a plate – you got tuna, sausage and chicken plus salad (lettuce) and rice. The better news was that we didn't even have to buy our own lunch, as Patrick, a member of Parliament, insisted on buying it for us (as well as several beers and soft drinks). We met some very interesting people, mostly Australians, who are working on projects in Kiribati.

On Sunday, it was a rainy, squally day – but great to cool down and get some rain "showers." Then we invited a couple from a nearby yacht, "Irish Melody" over for sundowners. Andrea and Tony are very interesting New Zealander/Australians who have been living and working in Kiribati for ten months. They had some great insight into the island politics, lifestyle and work ethic here. We enjoyed the evening immensely.

On Monday (today), we decided to head to the town of Bairiki by bus (mini vans that run up and down the road and for $.80 you ride to town). We needed to get our passports stamped (the immigration woman forgot her stamp the day we cleared in), get some more Australian cash and see the town. It is a small town with many government ministry buildings (immigration, foreign affairs, finance, social services, environment, etc.) spread out. We then walked much of the way back to see more of the town – but it was HOT.

We may head back into the Parliament "club" again later this afternoon or for sure tomorrow. We did find out that the island does NOT celebrate Halloween.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

About Kiribati

The Republic of Kiribati (again pronounced Kiri-bahs), or "Tungaru" as it is traditionally known, is a nation of 32 atolls and one raised coral island covering more than 1,350,000 square miles of the Pacific and straddling the equator. The nation is divided into three main island groups – the Gilberts (where Tarawa is located and where we are currently anchored), the Phoenix and the Line Islands. The name "Kiribati" means "Gilbert" in the I-Kiribati language. I-Kiribati is what the indigenous peoples call themselves, rather than Kiribatians. The origins of the people are said to be a mix of southeast Asia and Samoa. They are distinctly Micronesian in appearance. This is the first Micronesian area we have been to – as most of our Pacific travels have been with "Polynesian" based peoples. Like many of the islands of the Pacific, Kiribati has a colonial past. Formerly a British Protectorate, Kiribati became an independent nation in July of 1979.
The impact of World War II on Kiribati (then known as the Gilbert and Ellce Islands) can still be seen with many WWII rusting tanks and guns as well as bunkers and cemeteries. The Japanese invaded Tarawa two days after the attack on Pearl Harbour. The battles that took place in Tarawa were both historic and very costly in human lives – I-Kiribatis, British, Americans and Japanese.

The islands main source of revenue remains coconuts (copra) and fishing. The licenses to fish the million plus square miles of Kiribati Ocean provide income for the peoples – but they also suffer the loss by the over-fishing of the waters. We saw the many large fishing boats and fish processing boats – the large tuna boats equipped with helicopters to help spot the schools of tunas. The fish don't seem to have a chance. The licenses are bought by Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian and other countries. The Republic of Kiribati has designated the entire Phoenix Island group as a Marine Protected Area and is right now the world's largest marine protected area. It is also a World Heritage Site.

Our first impressions are of an exceptionally friendly people. Tarawa is a very narrow, inverted "L" shaped island with beautiful sandy beaches on the lagoon side. The water is a pretty blue, though certainly not crystal clear. Like many of these small atolls that sit just a few feet above sea level – they seem to struggle with maintaining their cultural heritage and enjoying the benefits of modern living. Plastic and garbage are a problem and each of the islands we've visited are trying to figure out how to rid themselves of trash without adding to the global warming by burning it. Here you can purchase "garbage bags" for twenty cents...but we are still uncertain where the trash goes once collected.

Today, we moved from the port city of Betio to Bairiki and are anchored just in front of the House of Parliament. It is a beautiful building designed after the traditional sailing canoes. There is a nice dinghy dock and we can even go to the Parliament bar after hours for a drink...who knows, perhaps we'll raise a glass with the Prime Minister. The good news is that this anchorage is much calmer than the Betio anchorage so we are much more comfortable.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mauri from Kiribati

That is hello in the language of the island nation of Kiribati. Kiribati is actually pronounced "kiri-BAHS." It's alphabet only contains 13 letters and a "t" followed by an "i" has an "s" sound. It was a very long passage for us for 743 miles. We had every type of weather possible and we covered many, many more hundred miles than 743. We did many miles over and over again – either because the wind was right on the nose and we had to tack and make little headway – or we simply had to drift – and sometimes that was backwards. We did try to sail most of the way and the last few days were good. We also had to play "ping pong" with some big squalls that had a lot of lightning, avoiding them when we could. But we did make it safely – still married and the boat held together.

We are now anchored in Tarawa – for your WWII history buffs – the scene of a very costly battle – off the port of Betio (pronounced Bay-sho). It is a lively port with lots and lots of cargo and fishing boats around as well as many derelict sunk or half sunk rusting vessels. It is a pretty shallow port – we are anchored in only 25 feet of water. We came in on Wednesday morning just after sunrise to some rainy, squally weather. It is a well-marked port though, and pretty wide open – not the narrow atoll passages that really get you nervous.

Soon after we dropped anchor, we had arranged with Tarawa Radio for a "boarding party" of customs and immigration. But there was enough of a communication issue that we misunderstood that we had to go pick them up. Once that got sorted, we had to unroll and inflate our dinghy and get the motor on to go get the boarding party. Michael was met on shore by four women – that was the boarding party. We had a representative from customs, health, immigration and police that came out to the boat. It was a crowded little dinghy. Once aboard, the formalities of lots of paperwork was completed and then we enjoyed some time with these lovely women. We ended up doing lots of laughing, picture taking and exchanging of e-mail addresses. It was quite a nice welcome to the island.

The customs woman, Buaua, offered to take us to quarantine if we came to shore latter that afternoon. That would be the last piece of our clearance process. We decided that instead of going to sleep, we would do that and went ashore after lunch. Not certain where to leave our dinghy, we talked to the very large police boat and ended up tying to their stern ladder. Guess it would be pretty safe there! There was a high wall and ladder to scale to get up the dock. Barbara finds that a bit challenging in a skirt! People here are very warm and we were able to locate (sometimes being walked over to areas by strangers) our friendly customs woman Buaua. Luckily quarantine was in the nearby port office so Michael went there and Barbara stayed in Buaua's office and learned some Kiribati words and more about the island. After a bit, Buaua offered to take us for a brief tour to show us where we could buy some Kiribati handicrafts. It ended up being quite a tour of the Betio area of Tarawa. We saw some WWII rusting guns and tanks, a WWII memorial and cemetery, two large catholic churches, lots of local maneaba's (community meeting houses), residents (traditional thatched roofs) and many, many stores and shops.

After our car tour, we got out and went into a few shops and scoped out fuel prices, cooking gas options and what was in the stores. We picked up a fresh baked bread and headed back to the dinghy. Being right on the equator, it is hot here. We did get entertained by some kids on the way back – they were riding their bike into the lagoon down a ramp. Michael asked if he could take a picture and then they put on a show! Saluting as he rode down the ramp. Then of course, one young boy on the bike caught up with us to see his picture. Kids are the same everywhere we go. We love to see them laugh and smile.

Back aboard, the wind picked up a bit and this anchorage isn't the calmest. We still enjoyed a nice meal, bottle of wine and a good night's sleep.
Next entry – a bit more on Kiribati – your history lesson!

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Turtle's Pace

We are slowly...very slowly, covering miles towards Kiribati. The winds are very light and from the direction we are trying to head. You can't make headway going straight into the wind – so we tack (go back and forth keeping the wind at enough of an angle to keep the sails filled). We have only gotten 180 miles closer to our destination in five full days of sailing (and a bit of motoring). However, we probably have covered well over 300 miles with all the tacks! At times when there is simply NO wind, we just drop all the sails and drift in the Pacific. When there is no wind and there is enough wave and swell to rock the boat, the sails bang around, make a racket and that is hard on the rigging and sails. So we drift and have drifted for hours on end – sometimes going backwards thanks to a current against us as well. Add to that mix – one day we had rain, squalls and clouds all day long. It was wet and we had to change sails regularly – putting more up or pulling some in to avoid the squalls. The problem with the squalls is that you never know which one will have the 30 plus knots of wind. So when we see a big black one ahead, we usually reef the sails down to avoid any surprises. We had a few with big winds – but most were simply rain makers.

So we continue on the trek and luckily have lots of food and books on board. It could take us awhile to get to Kiribati as the predictions continue for light winds. This morning we were are least granted wind from behind us so we can make headway towards the goal (though only at 2 knots). That did require rigging the pole to hold the sail out because of the roll and light winds...and of course that happened at 4 am! But when the wind starts, we try to take advantage after drifting the previous six hours.

Not much in the way of sea life to watch. No whales or turtles...not even many flying fish. We did have two pods of dolphins visit and the night sea has lots of phosphorescence.

That's the passage so far – and we expect more of the same over the next week or so before we arrive finally in Tarawa, For those of you who wonder why we don't motor – two reasons. We don't carry enough fuel for the whole way so we ration the fuel a third/third/third. That works out to 25 gallons (we burn about a gallon an hour and go on average 5 nautical miles per hour) for every 250 miles of this trip. The second reason is that fuel is very expensive out here – we paid about $8 US dollars a gallon – so that is more than $1 a mile. Time we have, money we don't!

Our last week in Tuvalu before we left for passage was quite fun and we promised an update. Our friends John and Jenny from the sailboat "Shark Face" arrived in Tuvalu so we enjoyed renting motor scooters for a day and exploring the entire island from one end to the other. It didn't take long! One end unfortunately is the dumping ground for the island's solid waste. It has heaps and heaps of trash loaded into what are called "borrow pits." These are the dug out coral areas used to make the runway and rebuild parts of the island during World War II. This left massive holes in the ground that used to be part of the island's structure. It is now being used as a dumping ground. It wasn't the pretty part of the island. Global warming is a big issue for these small Pacific Islands so they choose NOT to burn their garbage and add to the problem – so dumping is their answer. They do recycle some stuff – but not nearly enough.

The rest of the island is quite interesting and pretty. Because it is so narrow – from the road you could see the lagoon on one side and the Pacific on the other. We also got good pictures of us on the international airport runway on the scooters! We did stop for a nice swim and snorkel at the other end of the island. Of course, an ice cream stop was also required as was a lunch stop at the local "runway side" vans. It was a fun, but hot day being a biker gang. The bikes were $10 each for 24 hours – a good deal!

On Friday, we cleared out of Tuvalu for a Saturday morning departure. But before we did that, we made our way to the local "Korean Farm" for the Friday morning fresh produce sale. Fresh stuff is hard to get on an atoll - not much good soil and they are dependent on collecting rain water. And it is HOT. But there is this little oasis of a garden – boxes of growing vegetables mostly covered with shades. Lots of rainwater collection tanks are around as well. The key is to get to the Friday sale early(they start selling at 7:00am) – we arrived at 5:45 am and we were number 34 on the list. You sign in and they call your number to get what they have available on any given day. The higher you are on the list – the better choices you have. They also limit what each person can get (based on how many people are signed up and what they have that day). We scored a papaya, some cucumbers, lettuce and a handful (actually seven) small grape tomatoes and three small eggplant. It also was relatively cheap - $7.90 for the above. We hung around after most people went through and also got some extra cukes and lettuce for John and Jenny.

The other interesting thing we did was get to know some of the folks from the local meteorological office on the island. We met Nick, a New Zealand tech guy who comes up every so often to help fix their gear. We enjoyed a few meals with him and had him to the boat for sundowners. He also shared some good info on tech stuff with us. We would go to the met office to look at the ever changing weather models for our departure and trip. The other interesting thing we got to do(a few times) was watch the daily weather balloon get launched. It is filled with hydrogen and outfitted with a GPS, a radio transmitter and sensing equipment and sent off. It sends back data that is then used by met services all over the world. It was cool.

Before we left, we also spent some time with the tourism office and offered some insight into what is important to cruising boats and how to attract more. It is a great little island, where - as their brochure says - "leave your cares behind an put your happiness on!" They only get 1000 visitors a year and only 100 are tourists! The boaters this year have made up at least 20% of that number. We hope our input helps them and other cruising boats following in our wake.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Taking Off from Tuvalu; Destination: Tarawa, Kiribati

We are leaving the small, but lovely, island nation of Tuvalu today (Saturday, October 12) after a great four week stay in the Funafuti Atoll. We have a 740 mile Pacific Passage to another small island nation of Kiribati. This trip will take us across the equator again and back into the northern hemisphere. Tarawa lies about 2 degrees north of the equator. The passage will probably take us a long time as the winds are currently predicted to be light – especially starting in a few days and the direction a bit northerly (the direction we are headed). But we'll start with a few good days of sailing and the weather predictions seem to change daily – so who knows what it will be out there. We just hope nothing big and ugly. The intertropical convergence zone keeps moving around so it's hard to predict.

We are getting the boat ready (packing everything away and tying things down) so we can get through the pass at slack tide around 1130. We will do a longer log entry later about our last week in Tuvalu which was great fun including a motorbike tour of the island; watching weather balloons launch; meeting NZ Met Service tech Nick: and the bank ID story.

Hope we have a good passage...goodbye Tuvalu – it was fun!

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Unusual Cultural Traditions

One of the best parts of cruising to these various countries is experiencing the cultural events. In just about every country we've visited, there has been something unique and interesting to observe about the indigenous culture. Whether it is the nose to nose touching of Maori's in New Zealand or the hair cutting ceremony in Niue; kava ceremonies in Fiji or banana carrying in Moorea, we have enjoyed experiencing some of the unique sports and traditions of each location. Though Tuvalu is a small nation, it is not without its own sporting events and traditions.

Because we've been here for their 35th Independence Day (week) celebration, we have seen a lot. We've already written about the unique game called "funny." Michael was talking with a local man the other day and asked where this game started and his response: "Nobody knows." Last night, we watched the local dancing/singing competition. The costumes were wonderful – colorful cloth with lots of flowers and plant material and beautiful floral head wreaths. The singing, almost chanting, was mesmerizing and very moving. The dancing all told stories – with their hand, head and body movements. It was beautiful to watch and experience – but here's the strange cultural twist. During the dancing, some people who are watching (and usually its the important people viewing – in the case last night it was the prime minister and his wife, members of Tuvalu's parliament as well as ambassadors) get up and walk through the dancers spraying perfume on them. We're guessing this is a relatively new "custom" as spray bottles of perfume were probably not around these islands centuries ago. But perhaps its an adapted twist. We'll have to do some additional checking to see if we can get a handle on this. In Niue and Tonga, people stuffed money into the costumes of the dancers – the perfume is a new thing and those poor dancers must smell pretty fragrant after a night!

We have enjoyed watching lots of the sporting events from cricket to tug of war. The volleyball was quite good and the outrigger canoe races were fun. We watched the canoe races from our dinghy and had the best seat in the house. We had met a NZ police officer who serves as an adviser here in Tuvalu, and she was on the OPM (Office of Prime Minister) canoe team. She raced in their women's team and the co-ed team – coming in first for both races. It was fun to have someone to cheer for.

The Thursday plane that arrived was waved off its final approach three times... they couldn't get all the dogs off the runway. They also had to stop the cricket finals to let the plane land. Luckily the plane was late, so the tug of war semi finals were already done! It is so funny to have a runway used for so many things – including the twice weekly plane!

We keep trying to rent motor scooters to explore the island further – but because of all the festivities, there are none to be had. The policewoman has offered us hers – but we were hoping to go with our friends from "Lady Nada." Of course the locals would just squeeze all four of themselves on the bike – but we aren't up for that! We have seen just about everything being transported on these scooters – from the tiniest of babies to giant propane tanks.
The partying continues! Live bands, music all night into the wee hours of the morning, fun and games, food and dancing. Can't beat being in Tuvalu for Independence week as long as you don't need to get any business done.

Michael got the sail mended this morning – so its not all play aboard Astarte!

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Happy Independence Day, Tuvalu

35 years as an independent nation, the small island of Tuvalu is celebrating like it is the centennial! October 1st is Independence Day here, but the nation it's celebrating with a week long holiday. All government offices are officially closed for the entire week – and because almost everyone works for the government – just about everyone has a week of paid holiday! Lucky folks.

The celebrations started on Sunday with a church service and a choir competition. On Monday and the rest of the week, sporting events take place – football (soccer), volleyball, ano (a local game we haven't yet seen), "Funny" (another local game – more on that later), outrigger races, and other competitions. Plus there is dancing and singing competitions as well. The teams are made up of the various government ministries' employees. So you have the Department of Treasury competing against the Prime Minister's office and the Department of Public Works vs. Department of Education. They have lots of departments and lots of employees so they can field teams for everything as well as song and dance!

On Tuesday, Oct, 1st, the actual day, it started with a parade at 8 am with the police in full dress uniform (who have been practicing marching for days now), school children in uniform, scout troops, and the uniformed sailors from the Merchant Marine Academy. They all formed up at 7:30 and marched and then stood out on the hot runway pavement for all the speeches. Unfortunately, there were some long speeches and the first aid/Red Cross people were busy helping the kids off the field as they were dropping in the heat. After it was over we enjoyed a tasty breakfast and then headed back to Astarte. We dressed the boat for the occasion with all her flags flying in correct "dress" order. Astarte looks pretty out in the bay.

Yesterday, we went in to watch some of the sports competitions and saw some very good volleyball games and also this game which is named "Funny." A funny name for a game that is quite original. There are two teams of about 12 people each. One team is the defensive team, protecting the "cans" from being stacked up and the other team tries to get to the tin cans and stack them. Yup, tin cans. There are three tin cans of various sizes that sit in the middle of a black circle. The offensive team tries to get close to the cans and stack them all up and let them stand for a certain number of seconds before they get knocked down by the defensive team. There are also other things that happen – like tag or dodge ball, if the offensive team is near the circle and gets hit with the ball, they are "out" of the game. It also starts strangely, we don't quite get this part yet, where the offensive team has to start by knocking the tins down with a ball from a certain distance. Though we don't fully understand the scoring or all the rules, it was quite entertaining to watch and the folks playing were having a lot of fun.

Throughout the day and at night, there is lots of music – they partied 'til 4 am last night – and it will probably last all week. We have seen a few live bands, but they also have large speakers and recorded music. They have one song that seems to get played a LOT!
Last week, we also enjoyed some festivities as it was "trade week" and they had booths of local merchants set up in the center of town selling all kind of goods, food and ice cream! Plus, each night there was music and entertainment. We watched a fair amount of local dancing in costumes and on Friday night there was a special event where people from various other Pacific Island nations entertained with their native dances and music. It was very nice.
It seems that we have come here during Tuvalu's party season. The people have all been friendly and as we've been here longer, we are meeting more and more folks and getting better acquainted with the traditions here.

We did enjoy a day away from the town. We went with some new friends, Bill and Sue, aboard the catamaran, "Lady Nada," for a sail across the lagoon to another island, Funafala. This was the island to which the Americans moved a lot of folks from Fongafale during World War II. After much bombing on this island (Fongafale), they felt it would be safer for the residents to be further from the runway. After the war, some families stayed on Funafala, but most moved back to the capital city. We went there and anchored away from the settlement. The islands here are very idyllic – classic Pacific atoll islands – beautiful turquoise water, sandy beaches and lots of reefs. We went for a nice snorkel and saw some great fish – though we had hoped the water would be clearer. It was a nice sail over and back – and we enjoyed the day away from the town and a chance to see some of the rest of the atoll and lagoon (which is huge). It was the perfect day to go – sunny, clear and a nice breeze.

Monday it was quite squally and after our visit to town, we were glad to get back to the boat in time as the wind had shifted to a more westerly direction (not good for where we are anchored). That put us with a reef directly behind the boat. Luckily the big wind was short lived and it settled to under 15 knots, and overnight, the direction went back to easterly breezes (which is much better!). Today, Tuesday, it is a clear sunny day with a nice light breeze. Hopefully the boat races will take place this afternoon (canceled from yesterday). We have offered to be a "committee" boat with our dinghy if they need help.
We'll celebrate Tuvaluan Independence this week and start looking for a weather window to head north soon.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

It All Happens at the Runway

The Funafuti International Airport is THE center of Funafuti fun. Today (Saturday), we headed into the village because there was supposedly a ceremony to welcome home the national rugby team from the recent Pacific Games on Wallis Island. They have only had a team since 2008 and during this years games, they actually won their first international game (not the tournament – but a game!) So it was a big thing. It was a rainy day and the ceremony was supposed to take place at 10 am so we headed to the airport where the festivities would take place. On the runway (yes ON the runway) there was a cricket match in full swing. The white team and the blue team were playing – and the teams are co-ed with the women playing in skirts. They modify the rules a bit as women only pitch to women – so there are more "bowler" changes. Down the runway a bit, there was a volleyball game going on as well. Along the side of the runway, people were watching and cheering for their various teams. Plus, the motor scooters and cars were zipping about. Soon the fire engine came out with sirens blaring and the cricket pitch and volleyball net were taken down and the runway prepared for a special charter plane that was coming in. (Planes are normally only Tuesday and Thursday).

The festivities for the rugby team were taking place in the large meeting room on the side of the runway and there were lots of speeches in Tuvaluen, so we moved on (though the food being prepared looked pretty darn good). We walked all over the town, stopping into the library and many small shops. What is really fun is that if you met a person once, they seem to remember your names. A few young kids that we met earlier that day when they kayaked out to our boat and then we gave them a tow back to shore with our dinghy, were yelling "Michael" as we walked by. And another woman in a small store that we met earlier in the week, excitedly called out "Barbara," "Michael" as we approached again.

After three tries at the bakery, we finally got some bread and made our way, between downpours, back to the boat.

You have to love a place where the locals call the runway their playground!

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tales from Tuvalu

So what is Tuvalu? It is one of the smallest independent nations in the world - fourth smallest by some accounts. It is a remote island nation made up of nine islands/groups (though the name Tuvalu means "cluster of eight") - five are atolls and four islands. The atolls have clusters of smaller islands within their lagoons. Tuvalu, pronounced too-VAH-loo, is not the hotspot tourist destination. In fact they only get about 1000 visitors a year and only 10% of those are said to be tourists – so we are definitely in a minority. Located relatively close to the equator at 8 degrees, 31 minutes south and 179 degrees.11 minutes east, it is a very warm location. The sun is hot!

Funafuti Atoll, where we are anchored, is the largest and most populated of the Tuvaluen groups and the government center. It is a small chain of islets 24 kilometers long by 18 km wide. The sheltered lagoon sits in the center and the Pacific Ocean crashes around the outside. Fongafale is a boomerang shaped island in the atoll and is a is a mere 12 km long and at its widest point is only 400 meters. It sits at 2.5 meters above sea level. That's less than 9 feet! At very high tides or in storms, the runway for the Funafuti International Airport can sit under water. In fact, the biggest fear for this small island nation is that it may simply disappear – be eaten by the rising sea level. It has slowly lost more and more of its land and where people used to be able to play volleyball and games on the sandy beaches – the beaches are barely wide enough to walk.

Like most of these Pacific island nations, their cultures were changed by the coming of Europeans and the missionaries. Great Britain governed the islands, then known as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Tuvalu was part of the Ellice group). It claimed its independence 35 years ago but still retains Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state, represented by a governor general. The country is now structured much like the British government with a Prime Minister and parliament. The country is dependent on foreign aid and it seems that most people work for the government in some capacity. Unfortunately for Tuvalu, they sell (or trade for aid) much of their fishing rights to foreign countries.

World War II changed the islands dramatically. The Japanese bombed parts of the islands, the US built an airstrip along the length of the island (taking the most fertile land), and many people were moved off Fongafale to a smaller island settlement nearby. Though most have returned to Fongafale, the small settlement remains with about 30 families. After the war, many people moved off the islands to Fiji, Kiribati or Tonga.

Two flights a week land at the international airport – the US built airstrip. The airport is the place where all the action happens – when planes arrive or even when there is no airline action. You can walk across the runway and motorbikes race up and down it. Games are played on the runway and the islands main road runs right alongside.

We have enjoyed exploring the island and have seen the comings and goings of several flights. Yesterday, some "donors" (a large Japanese contingent) was feted with dancing, singing and drumming before they left on their flight. They had arrived a few days earlier and the island got all spruced up for them. We understand that one of the dignitaries was the Minister of Energy for Japan (though we think he actually left on a special flight the day before – this was a big week with three planes!). We got to watch the festivities and see the beautiful traditional dancing and costumes.
The people here are quite friendly when you get to know them and they do all remember your names. It is quite funny to walk into a restaurant and have people call you by name. The meteorological station here is across from the airport, and yesterday, we stopped in to meet the weather guy. We hope to get some good insight from him before we start our trek north in a few weeks.

The map you get at the "tourist bureau" (a desk in one of the offices in the government building), has the headline "Take your wants off and put your happiness on." It goes on to say, "One of the smallest and most remote nations in the world, this unspoiled corner of the Pacific offers a peaceful, and non-commercialized environment that is ideal for escaping the globalization." Now that's an interesting marketing approach!

So far, we like Tuvalu!

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

“Talofa” from Tuvalu

We have left "Bula, Bula" (the Fijian greeting) behind and have entered into "Talofa" territory. But it is amazing how different the two countries are in the simple style of greetings. Where the Fijians are outgoing, gregarious and very open, the Tuvaluens are quiet, more reserved and perhaps even shy. However, once you have a bit of communication, they will remember your name and be very friendly and talkative.

We arrived late Saturday afternoon and couldn't clear in to the country until Monday. So we took advantage of catching up on some sleep and getting the boat cleaned up a bit. Barbara had attempted to bring additional fresh fruit and vegetables along from Fiji (as we knew we wouldn't see that stuff for quite some time). She came up with a new storage plan – using a hammock in the forward head. There were four green papayas (pawpaws, locally), a cabbage, and a big stalk of green bananas. They seemed secure. However, in all the pounding and heeling over of the five day passage – the forward head became a mess of mashed papaya jam and seeds (that instantly grew fuzzy mold), moldy cabbage and very bruised bananas. It was a mess. Of course the papaya mash got on all the clothes also hanging in the forward head. It took all day to clean this one small room (and we still need to launder the clothes and towels). Michael rebuilt the aft head as well. The weather was still squally – so we hung out, took in, hung out and took in wet clothes from the lifelines several times as well. We had hoped to get the clothes and towels and seat covers at least dried – even though they still needed to be washed.

On Monday, we headed into Fongafale and Vaiaku to take care of customs, quarantine and immigration. We had to dinghy quite away to Fongafale and the customs dock. Once there, we located the customs office but nobody was there. We waited. And waited. An waited. Finally, a man on a motorcycle arrived and he was the custom's guy, but it seems that today (Monday) was a semi-holiday. All government offices were closed as it was deemed "clean-up" day on the island. Everyone was supposed to be helping to get the island all cleaned up. Luckily, he was willing to complete our paperwork – which actually meant that we filled out a form, handed over our clearing-out papers from Fiji and that was it. We didn't get any paperwork nor did we have to hand over any money!

Then we were supposed to go to quarantine, but that was also closed. We then had to dinghy back to the other end of the island and Vaiaku to the government building for immigration (but we were warned by customs that it would also be closed). It was indeed closed. The bank was luckily open and we managed to exchange some US dollars for Australian dollars (the currency of Tuvalu). This was the first time in our four and a half years however, that we got back less than we gave. By the time the exchange rate was determined, the US dollar was worth less than the Aussie dollar. (For $300 US we got $291 Aus.)

We met some interesting folks in town and sat by the "runway" where all the action is for lunch. We enjoyed a great fish and chips meal while watching the folks of Tuvalu "clean-up" the runway. They were using weed-eaters to cut very large areas of grass! Others were literally sweeping the runway with brooms. And when we say runway – that's what it is - the Tuvalu International Airport's runway which runs down the center of the island. In fact, it takes up most of the island itself.

Next entry – a little history and information about Tuvalu, one of the smallest countries in the world.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fiji to Tuvalu: The Passage

You probably noticed that there were no log entries during the passage aboard Astarte from Vuda Point in Fiji to Funafuti Atoll in Tuvalu! We departed Monday, September 9th around 1130 from Vuda Point Marina after doing the official clearing out with customs and immigration. With our clearance papers in hand, the marina bill settled and spending the last of the Fiji dollars on ice cream, we pulled out of our tight quarters in the berth and started on our passage. The first several hours we had to motor into the wind to get through a passage in the reef and out into the "big" water. As we made the turn northwest to get around the Yasawa group of Fiji, the wind simply died. That was not the forecast. This was not a stellar start to the trip. We turned the motor back on and motor sailed until around midnight when the wind picked up enough to shut down the "steel drum band."

The wind for the trip was predicted to be southeasterly in the 18 to 20 knot range. We knew it would be a bit boisterous, but we thought it would be a nice beam reach. Unfortunately, there was little to no south in the wind and, in fact, for the first few days a bit of east northeast winds were what we experienced. Because of this, we couldn't keep to our course line. Instead of a nice reach we were fairly hard on the wind, heeled over and taking water over the bow steadily. It was a wet ride...and unfortunately, we discovered it was also getting wet below decks as well. We realized that in all our cruising over the last several years, we have had downwind runs or at least wind aft of the beam. This was the first time we had five days of being upwind. Several of our overhead hatches have leaks as do some of the side windows. The cockpit floor also somehow drains water into the galley. And taking so much over the bow meant a lot was getting down the anchor locker and working its way into the shallow bilges of Astarte. This meant we had lots of drips, puddles and salt water in lockers, on walls and on the floor. Add to the dampness of the boat – we were getting soaked in the cockpit when the waves would decide to slap us on the hull and splash aboard. We were finding it difficult to stay in dry clothes and find places to hang the salty wet ones. This time it was Michael who was having the harder time. Barbara's new rain gear was doing a better job. We know what we'll be buying at the next opportunity!

Because the wind didn't quite have enough of a southern component, and there is a big western pushing current, we struggled to make the easting we needed to to stay away from some sea mounts. Now these are deep sea mounts – nothing we would "hit." But going near them or over them, does make the water "crazy." The seas get bigger and come from various directions. We hit a few of these areas on our way north. As it was, we had a good 2 meter sea the entire time and the swells were close together, often causing the boat to crash down one wave and get hit with next making a horrible noise. We tried everything from speeding up, slowing down and changing course to settle the boat into a more comfortable ride.

There was good news though! We were making pretty good time, covering more than 100 miles a day. On Friday morning we had 150 miles to go and had hoped we could make it in on Saturday afternoon and save an extra night at sea. We had to maintain 5 knots to do it and it became the challenge aboard. Luckily the wind finally went east-southeast and gave us a great beam reach. Astarte liked it and sped up, the ride became more comfortable and we were ticking off the miles through Friday night. We gave ourselves the time of "1430" to have to be at the pass to make it in with good enough light to see the reefs. We cheered with every ten minutes we gained when we sped up! We made it to the southwestern pass by 1230 – BUT the squalls started. We lost all visibility. We had several squalls over the last three days, and we learned that they did pass quickly. Some brought heavy rain – others just an increase in wind. But they went by quickly. This one didn't. We had a break and started to make our way to the pass and another squall hit – this one with 30 knots of wind. So we backed off again and circled. Time was ticking away. It started to clear again and we made another run for it and the third time was the charm. Unfortunately though, the tide was now running more strongly against us and the wind was still blowing a steady 20 knots on the nose. We made it through the pass, but Astarte had a hard time making headway through the narrow part – slowing to less than 2 knots. Waves were breaking over the bow and then we were inside the atoll. Whew. We made it on Saturday – we wouldn't have to spend another night out.

We made our way across the atoll which is about 10 miles towards the main town where we would have to clear in. The good news is that the government offices close down at 4 pm on Friday and re-open Monday morning. We would have a few days to get the boat in shape and rest up. Another boat we had chatted with on the radio net, "Barefoot" was already here. They were very nice about contacting us on VHF radio and giving us some great info. We joked with them asking if there was room in the anchorage. This is not exactly a hot spot and the atoll is very large. We arrived at the anchorage around 1530 on Saturday, September 14 making the passage in 124 hours. After anchoring in 45 feet of water, another squall hit giving us a great fresh water rinse. Roz and David from "Barefoot" came by after the squall and brought treats from the local bakery – very nice welcoming! A few hours later, another bigger squall hit – this one with torrential rain and 35 knot winds (Barefoot says it recorded a 45 knot gust). Astarte started to drift a bit at anchor so we had to let out more scope which was challenging with two tired people in heavy wind. But we managed and now feel well anchored.

We made it to Tuvalu. More on this interesting, small island nation later. We are glad to be settled in a nice place with good protection as long as the wind doesn't come out of the west.

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Farewell Friendly Fiji

Monday, September 9, 2013 – we will depart Fiji once we clear out of the country when the customs and immigration officials arrive. Then we will make the 630 mile trek to the small island nation of Tuvalu. It is a nation of eight small islands known for its .tv designation (that it sold for 45 million to a company who resold the .tv designation to various television stations and networks around the world.) It is a country not used to a lot of tourists or yachts – so it should be both interesting and more challenging. But, we are excited about getting into new territory.
We will be without internet and phone now for probably at least two months. So...the best way to reach us is through our sailmail e-mail address which, if everything works properly, we'll check daily and also update our position report so you can see our progress. We'll also try to update the log if the seas aren't too big and nasty.
It looks like a good weather window so far – but it is a six day trip – so it's hard to predict for the whole trip. The boat is ready – or so we hope. The dinghy is all rolled-up and tied on; the decks are cleared and below decks the shells are put away and the ditch bag with EPIRB is easy to grab.
Now let's hope the two of us are ready!

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Still in Fiji

Thursday came and went and we did NOT depart. We are still squeezed into a spot at Vuda Point Marina. We managed to wash our bimini and dodger canvas on Monday, thanks to the fresh water at the dock. But then it rained on both Tuesday and Wednesday so we could not re-treat it with water-proofing so we decided to wait. We did make a run into Lautoka on the local bus which is always an interesting way to see an area. We did some last minute provisioning and picked up some fresh fruit and vegetables at the produce market. But knowing we weren't leaving on Thursday, we held off on the BIG fresh purchase. Now it looks like Monday will be the planned departure. It did clear off on Thursday – or at least with no rain – so we retreated the canvas.

This extra time is allowing us to do some other projects and get the boat in good order for the big passage. Our route will take us from here directly to Tuvalu. Its about 640 miles. We'll spend approximately one month there and then continue north towards the equator to get to Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas). After about a month there, we will make it to the Marshall Islands. That is the plan and we hope it will be a good trip. Michael is learning a lot about the various "convergence zones" that create the weather patterns for this part of the world. There is the ITCZ and the SPCZ – and both create either big, bad weather or no wind. So learning to read where these things sit is helpful in picking weather windows to make the passages.
We have enjoyed our time in Vuda Marina. This place does a great job at providing services and "entertainment" for the boats. There are three movie nights (the movies played on an outdoor screen after dark – weather permitting); two nights of live music – reggae on Friday nights and a good band on Sunday afternoons/evenings; Thursday night is $2 beer hour followed by "prop night" (we came in second with team "Dragonfly"). The staff is very friendly here and the facilities are great. So it has been a nice stop for us before passage. We are making up for the lack of "cook's night off" while in Fiji and doing the whole four months worth in one week here. But the prices are certainly reasonable.

Once we clear out on Monday – we won't have access to phones or internet for quite some time.

But we have posted the last of the pictures from Fiji. So check them out.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Nadi, Port Denarau, Vuda Point...

After the big birthday bash in Musket Cove, we headed to what in Fiji is called the "mainland." This is the largest island, Viti Levu. We had hoped to immediately get into Vuda Point Marina (pronounced Boonda Point) to do some of the last provisioning and boat projects...but they were "chock-a-block." That means full. So we headed to a nearby bay near the town of Nadi (pronounced Nandi). This ended up being a terrific spot for a number of reasons. The holding was terrific in less than 20 feet of water (shallow by recent standards); it was free; and, most importantly, we had lots of company. The folks we thought we said our "final" goodbyes to – were here! Superted, Chapter 2 and Gypsea Heart were all at anchor when we arrived. That meant more fun...and it was definitely that! We enjoyed an evening of shoretime fun at the local beach resorts (backpacker style resorts – so not quite as "upmarket" as Musket Cove – and better prices!). It was quite an entertaining evening – thanks in part to Villy, the waiter at one of the beach bars.

The girls all went into Nadi Town for a day's outing on Saturday which included: visiting the impressive and colorful Hindu Temple, hitting the giant fresh produce market, buying some handicrafts (which did include drinking a bit of kava!) and doing some grocery shopping. A few beers at the beach bar on the return was also on the agenda. Meanwhile, the guys got together after their individual boat projects (Michael changed the oil and filters – hurting his back in the process) then they gathered on Gypsy Heart to watch the Louis Vitton Cup (pre-America's Cup) sailboat races. The sad part was having to say goodbye yet again to Jean and Matt on Superted and Mike and Karen on Chapter 2.

The next day, Chrissy and Dave on Chrisandaver Dream (CD for short), joined the Nadi anchorage and we enjoyed a dinner out with them and Rankin and Sandy on Gypsea Heart and another evening of dominoes.

We then moved out to another anchorage so we would be closer to Port Denarau. This is a Super Yacht, cruise ship and sailboat marina and hotel complex with tons of high end shops. We fueled up here (by dinghy) and took advantage of the good local bus system to get to the local butcher to order meat and do some more shopping for engine oil, transmission fluid, groceries and fishing gear (as gifts for the islands ahead). We stayed out at this anchorage a few nights and then headed into the Vuda (boondah) Point Marina.

We had to stay on a mooring ball in the center of the marina for a two nights until a spot opened up. Another boat was already there, so we rafted up to it and tied to the mooring. This is an interesting marina. It is an old quarry and in the center, there is a sunk heavy object to which many mooring floats are attached. You tie up to a concrete wall and then stern anchor to two of these floats (or some boats do it opposite – stern to the wall and bow attached to the floats). They keep putting more and more boats into the circle of boats – all with as many fenders as possible on each side. They are jammed in and getting in and out is amazing. You don't think you'll fit – but like dominoes – the boats just tighten up – bumping into each other to make room for just one more.

We got a spot on the wall, squeezed in and were able to have a good water supply top wash all our canvas so we could re-treat it with waterproofing before the trip. After it all got nice and clean, we'd let it dry and treat it. Of course, it rained the next day (we hadn't seen rain in weeks!). We have to be out of the spot by Friday – and hope to clear out of the marina on Thursday.

On Tuesday afternoon, the marina had a ceremony to establish the location as an official clearing in and out port of Fiji. This is a big thing and it means that now, we can actually clear out of the marina instead of making the trek to Lautoka which is a main commercial port. The ceremony was quite the occasion with many officials on hand for the signing ceremony. The "number two" of the country – the attorney general and minister of tourism, trade, immigration etc. (a three line title) was on hand along with all the chiefs from the surrounding villages. There was a formal kava ceremony (the most formal one we had seen) along with speeches and a signing ceremony. Not many of the boaters at the marina came – and we were certainly glad we did to support the marina's efforts on behalf of the cruising community. We also did get a chance to talk with the Attorney General about our Fijian experience. Many of the police on hand had the official sulu (skirt) on – it has a series of points on the hem of the skirt and is quite impressive. And the best part, the owner of the marina then opened the bar for a few free rounds for the few cruisers that did show up for the ceremony. Bula!

We are waiting on weather to depart – it looks like we may leave on this Thursday.

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