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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