Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Closer Look at Ailuk

After organizing the boat and wet gear, having a good chicken curry meal followed by a good night's sleep aboard Astarte, we were ready to unload our cargo and check into Ailuk. We had arranged to meet folks at the dock at 0900 to collect the "Mayor's cargo" and also Bond's packages. We had to get the dinghy untied from the deck, re-inflated and launched as well as the outboard and then load up the many boxes,large tubs and broom! After loading the first batch, Michael was met halfway to the dock with a larger boat and offloaded the dinghy's cargo into that boat and then they came to Astarte for the rest. It certainly saved us two trips to shore which was great. They seemed quite grateful for our efforts as supply ship.

After that we got dressed to do the "formal" clearance and paperwork. First, we found our way to "Pumpkin's" house. This is the voice we've heard on radio for months and who pleasantly greeted us since we've arrived with many welcoming radio calls. We walked along a very beautiful white sandy beach greeted with "Iakwe" along the way. The water is crystal clear, the sun was out and the shades of blue of the bay was incredible. It is a very picturesque island. As we got to Pumpkin's house – we finally had a chance to meet Aenius and his lovely wife Emily. She greeted us with beautiful fresh and fragrant frangipani flower leis. They served us freshly cut coconuts to drink and we sat and visited for awhile. They were so welcoming and gracious and speak English quite well. We left him some Majuro newspapers (they don't care how old they are) and four 12-volt LED light bulbs he requested.
Their daughter named Mila walked us to the mayor's house so we got a bit of a tour of the village seeing the school, two churches and lots of homes. The mayor is a woman named Ready Alfred. She also gave us fresh coconuts to drink (you do have to be careful with how many of these you drink in a day!) and we did our paperwork. The fee seemed to have gone from $25 to $50 here – but she let us get away with $25 because we delivered the cargo! We had a nice visit with her – her English was quite good as well. We went back to Aenius and Emily's to pick up a bag of coconuts (the mayor also gave us a few) and then headed back to the boat for lunch.

The place is really quite beautiful and the kids all seem to play in the water using any device around as a float! They love getting their pictures taken (though they all do the"gang" hands when they pose) and were constantly asking Michael to take their picture. Pigs are everywhere (Lorna – you'd love it). Chickens roam freely and one chicken was even taken on a boat ride by some of the boys! The chicken didn't seem all that pleased.

The sailing canoes are used and one came by the boat with an octopus for us as well as another bag of coconuts! We passed on the octopus though Rashida posed with it for a photo along with the two young boys with him. Then he sailed off and we watched him masterfully put the sail back up and fly away. These small outriggers are amazingly fast and agile - beautiful to watch as they glide along the turquoise water.

Later we went back into the village to see Aenius and Emily again. We brought more reading material and had another nice visit. Emily makes beautiful handicrafts and she showed Barbara some of them along with all the natural materials she uses. They only use all plant material – mostly various parts of the coconut palms and pandanus trees and shells. This island is known for its very intricate and high quality work. Barbara will come in later in the week and help prepare the materials for the handicrafts – and watch as Emily makes beautiful things. Before we left, we got a big chunk of fresh tuna.

It's Sunday and the church "bells" (actually old scuba or propane tanks) are ringing. Aenius is actually minister at one of the two churches. We promised to go next Sunday to hear him – but today we had hoped to move to a different island anchorage. Unfortunately, the beautiful sunny day of yesterday is gone and it is very overcast and breezy. We won't move unless it clears as we do have to avoid lots of bommies along the way (we came mighty close to one on the way here). So we'll wait for better visibility – hopefully still at some point today.
Our first impression of Ailuk is wonderful and we are so very glad we left Majuro to experience this place. It was well worth the rough voyage here.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Postcard from Ailuk

Finally – we dropped the mooring line in Majuro and headed out of the atoll and headed 225 miles northeast in the "Ratak" chain (sunrise islands). Our destination was the "Isle of Sails", Ailuk which is in about the center of this chain of Marshall Islands that run north to south on the easternmost side. It is an atoll known to still use in everyday work the famous Marshallese canoes or "wa." They use them for fishing and collecting copra and materials from the various islands within the atoll. We did see one sailing with a black sail as we approached the anchorage. And we've seen several people fishing from the boats without the sails.

We selected this particular island out of the 29 atoll groups because of its sailing heritage, its beauty and because of "Pumpkin." "Pumpkin" is actually the radio name of a gentleman on the island who participates in the morning radio net on the SSB radio. He is a Marshallese and is always so friendly on the net and always inviting all the yachts to come visit his island. So we decided if we would get to at least one other atoll (we did visit Aur over Christmas), this would be our first choice. Plus, as an added incentive, they are having festivities on Friday, April 4th to celebrate "Liberation Day." We'll learn more about what all that means through the week and will share it here.
We left Majuro on Tuesday afternoon after collecting about nine boxes, four large tubs (one metal and three plastic), some bags of "stuff" and a broom to deliver to Ailuk. Once we confirmed with "Pumpkin" we would leave on Wednesday, the calls started to come in! First the mayor of the island called and asked if we could bring some boxes out here for her (a female mayor Rufina Jack). And Pumpkin asked if we could bring some stuff from a man named Bond. We met everyone at the Shoreline on Tuesday morning at 10 am and they were all there early with the goods. Bond actually works for customs so we felt like we would be okay delivering the stuff. The mayor was exceedingly warm and friendly – so after a few trips out to Astarte with all the packages, we were loaded up. We then headed out to the outer island in the Majuro Atoll to cut off a few hours the next day. It was good to organize out there – getting the dinghy on deck and everything tied down good for the offshore trip.

We had not been offshore since Christmas, so it was also going to be a good trip to check out the systems on board and give the new headsail a proper trial. This would be good before we leave the Marshalls for good in about a month and head on a longer passage. The forecast was a good one with the wind coming more from the east than the southeast which would give us a better sail and because the wind had been down for a few days, we had hoped the seas would also settle a bit as they had been quite "boisterous" for awhile. So we headed out on a beautiful sunny day leaving the anchorage about 10 am.

Getting through the atoll pass was good and we then started sailing – but seas were still a good 2 meters and confused. We convinced ourselves it was because we were still close to the atoll and the waves were stacking up as they approached more shallow ground. But they didn't change the entire trip – so guess we were wrong about that. We did sail most of the way. We had to keep reefing the head sail and then letting it out as the wind was very up and down with speed. We did have a lot of squalls – with changing wind direction and speed and a lot of rain. But we kept plugging away, crossing off the miles. At one point the wind went very northerly – right at the point when we were passing another atoll Wotje and had to actually turn the motor on to motor sail and get around it safely. Then we sailed again after a few hours. At daybreak, we approached Ailuk in very overcast and wet weather. Rain and lightning were all around and some downpours were torrential. The boat certainly got a good rinse. Of course the forecast was for much lighter winds (10-15 from the east) and we had 15-20 from the northeast.

We at one point were not sure if we would be able to get into the atoll. These entrances are quite narrow with no range markers or any markers. You really have to use eyeball navigation to safely negotiate your way into the lagoons. At some points we had no eyeball navigation. But as we approached the waypoint to the entrance of the cut – the good karma for carrying all these goods to the islanders kicked in – and the sun came out and the entrance was clearly lit. We made it into the lagoon before the clouds came again and several rain squalls hit us as we made our way all the way down the lagoon (about 10 miles) to the village of Ailuk.

At 0630, we got a radio call on the VHF from Pumpkin, checking on us to see if we were close. He warmly greeted us to his island and and then checked in with us a few more times. We will actually get to meet Pumpkin and his wife Emily tomorrow when we go and drop off the cargo, clear in with our paperwork to the "acting" mayor and meet folks. We are looking forward to that.

Tonight, we are relaxing at anchor. Michael snorkeled to check the anchor and reported that it is some of the clearest water we've seen yet. We are in a nice sandy spot – but surrounded by "bommies." We did see several bommies (one a bit too close for comfort) as we crossed the lagoon towards the village. They kind of pop up out of 150 feet of water – and one that we passed was mere inches away from the hull – eeck! The wind is still howling outside and rain squalls keep us opening and closing hatches. Rain jackets and pants are dripping dry and we finally had a meal. Hopefully tonight we'll catch up on some sleep and start the adventure in Ailuk tomorrow.

On a technical note, thanks to Tom, for letting us know the "where are we" page on our web page is not working. We think we got it back up and running, finally.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gave Up on Waiting!

Michael decided that the "lost in shipping" missing connector for the SSB radio was a lost cause. After a long conversation with an ICOM technician, he bypassed the connector. With lots of swearing (the stupid connection wire they provide is not tinned – so he had to cut it way back to find good wire), he finished the installation of the repaired (hopefully) SSB and a new ground plane/counterpoise system for the radio. The test came that afternoon when he did a radio check with the Pacific Seafarers Net. Unfortunately, propagation wasn't great – so we weren't sure if all was well. We also checked with our friends on "Radiance" who were in Majuro and we were in Anemwanot for a test. Mark was nice enough to let Michael connect and disconnect the new counterpoise system to see if there was a difference. But because we were so close it wasn't a great test – but at least we knew the radio was indeed working again. The next morning, the SSB "Iakwe" net (the local Marshall Islands cruisers/islanders net) gave better results. We could hear and be heard all the way to Bikini Island. Another project done! The part did arrive several days later after we returned to Majuro.

Being back on the SSB radio nets has also reconnected us with our island friends on Aur and Tabal where we did make it during Christmas. It was nice to hear both Rudy and James again on the radio and we were able to help James out. Kathleen, his daughter who was our guest aboard for the trip to Aur and Tabal has a son that James and his wife Anako take care of. He's one and a half and was very, very sick. So we were able to finally get to Kathleen(her phone was broken) and get her out to the boat so she could talk to her mom and dad and they could inform her about her son. Luckily he does seem to be doing better. What is always amazing to see is how comfortable these folks are talking on the SSB radio. No lessons needed – Kathleen just sat down and chatted away with her dad, mom, sisters etc. We know cruisers who aren't that comfortable using the radio. Everyone felt better after the long chat – and we were happy to be able to help in that small way (and happy to have the radio working – it was a good test.).

Now we are waiting for weather to improve so we can hopefully leave the Majuro Atoll and head north to some of the other outer atolls and islands. It has been very, very windy here and the seas are quite dramatic (8-10 feet) so we will wait until things settle. Because we want to head north, we are hoping for the winds which are currently northeasterly to head more east as well. We don't want to crash into it. Our friends on "Radiance" left this week for Aur and had a rough trip hitting 25 knot winds, 10 foot seas and all on the nose. Ick!

We are sitting at one of the other Majuro Atoll Islands – Anemwanot. It is much prettier here than Majuro and you can get in the water to swim, snorkel or clean the boat's bottom. We face a pretty sandy beach with palm trees and piggies running on the beach. There are good moorings here and as long as we have enough food we'll probably just leave from here and head north. That is unless someone on the radio from one of these outer islands needs something brought out!

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

And STILL Waiting...

It has been more than frustrating aboard Astarte. We are anxious to get to the outer islands – at least a few – and out of Majuro. But we are still waiting for a small part that was NOT included in the return shipment of our SSB radio. It is a connector that is critical. It was shipped two weeks ago from the Seattle area via Priority Fed Ex and has managed to "get lost." To say this is frustrating is a gross understatement. If it was sent along with the radio in the first place we wouldn't still be in Majuro. But it wasn't and we wait and wait and wait. We burn gasoline heading to shore to make phone calls or check with the Fed Ex office here. At this point, we don't know if another part has been shipped or what – and we feel stuck! We can't – or won't – head out without the SSB as it is our only way to get weather info in the outer islands and to receive e-mails.

The good news is our Aussie friends from "Lady Nada" have returned after several months in Oz. So it is nice to have Sue and Bill back in the neighborhood. We went ashore this morning (to check on the missing part) and there they were getting out of a cab! What a pleasant surprise (we had also just gone by and checked on their boat this morning – not knowing they were headed back!) So Michael ferried them and their luggage back to their catamaran.
On Saturday, Barbara participated in the International Women's Day walk. Lots of various countries were represented, some in costumes from their homelands. It was a nice walk and a chance to meet some local women as well as other "ex-pats." It was a pleasant day for a stroll from the College of Marshall Islands (CMI) to Delap Park. Only four women walked from the US so we didn't have great representation which was surprising with a US Embassy here!

Tomorrow we'll check yet again on the part and if it is not here – we'll at least head out to one of the Majuro islands and clean the bottom of the boat and test out the new sail. For now, we entertain ourselves with the radio broadcast from Australia and found ourselves listening to a rugby match on radio yesterday between the Tigers and the Dragons (The Dragon's won). It was funny as we don't even quite understand the game!

Start saving your pennies to buy the May issue of "Blue Water Sailing" Magazine. Barbara will have an article in that publication about the trip from Fiji to the Marshall Islands.
It remains warm and breezy here.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Waiting on Shipments

Our time in Majuro seems to be a waiting game. We make a daily trip to the Post Office waiting for the arrival of parts. This routine entails heading to shore in the dinghy, tying up and walking across a parking lot to the Majuro, Marshall Islands Post Office. You look on a list to see if the boat name is on it – if it is you then head back to the customs office behind the Post Office and wait in a long line. You hand them a note with the boat name and your name and sooner or later, they will find your package. Recently, we have been waiting for the SSB radio to be returned from ICOM after it was sent in for some repairs. It did arrive, but they left out one critical connector. A tiny bit that we clearly asked for and had the e-mail to prove it (and they replaced the other end on the radio!) So we are now waiting for that connector to re-install the radio. We really can't leave the Majuro area without this "mission critical" piece if equipment. When out of internet range it is the only way to get e-mails and weather. So we wait. We are also waiting for a replacement camera and have no idea when that will come. It hasn't even been shipped yet as far we know.

We did a sail project the other day on the "stage" in an area near the boat. It is a large, relatively clean and covered area that we got permission to use for a day. Our new genoa came without a foam or rope luff so after talking to lots of folks and doing some internet research, Michael figured out how to install a rope luff and we worked on that on Sunday. It took most of the day . It has been too windy to get the sail re-installed though, so we are also waiting to get that back up and off the deck.

It was laundry day today at the local laundromat. That trip took us through an area of town that was quite damaged from high tides, known as "king" tides around here and heavy waves on the ocean side of the atoll. Water had clearly crossed the atoll where it is quite narrow and we understand a few homes got destroyed. There was a lot of debris, trash and household goods in yards and across the road. These narrow atolls that merely a few feet above sea level really take a pounding when high tides and big seas occur. On the lagoon side, where we are moored, you could feel the impact as it was much rollier in the anchorage throughout the night. The laundromat got crowded as the morning went one with people who had clothes, towels and bedding that was soaked from the salt water intrusion.
We are anxious to get away from Majuro – but we wait...trying to be patient.

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