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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