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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