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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