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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