Friday, April 18, 2014

No Pigs. No Copra.

Those were the two rules for taking cargo aboard the good ship Astarte. As we prepared to depart the Ailuk Atoll group and head back to Majuro, we were asked by several of the folks on the island to take "a few" things back to Majuro for them. We delivered about twelve boxes up, so we figured we could also take some stuff back. However, we did say - "No pigs or no copra!" There were lots of pigs and piglets on the island and we could imagine someone asking us to take one or two to Majuro! Also, bags and bags of copra were piling up on the island (it is there cash crop) and we didn't want to take a simple rule. We are now adding fish! One of the boxes we took contained dried flying fish and we were told "It's dried, it won't smell." Right!

On Tuesday, an open fiberglass boat (the mayor's boat), came out to Astarte with twelve packages to take. We already had the large heavy box of flying fish aboard from Anious. Most of the packages were "handicrafts." These are the beautiful woven-straw goods they make. They really are some of the nicest crafts we've seen – baskets, ornaments, wall hangings, jewelry. We had one large plastic bin filled with beautiful objects, four large odd shaped wrapped large packages filled with goods and two huge baskets filled with other baskets and handicrafts. The baskets were so large – they wouldn't fit through the doorways below on Astarte – we had to drop them through the top hatch into the V-berth for transport.

Once loaded with our cargo, we headed back for a last night in Uliga – our private island. But before we did – we got a few more lobsters from the local fishermen. We had gotten three the day before and they were giant! They cost $10 for the three large lobsters. These lobsters are incredible creatures with longs striped legs, very hard shells, large bodies and hearty antennae. They are almost blue in color (until cooked!). The bodies and legs have lots of meat as does the huge tail. No front claws like the Maine variety – but very sweet meat. We cooked up the three the day before and got the meat out. We froze that and would eat the two fresh lobs that night. So we are in our beautiful private spot, packing the boat for passage and having a lobster feast! Life is good.

We left on Wednesday around noon, sailing across the Ailuk lagoon like the many local craft. We made it through a VERY narrow passage that was quite shallow (13 feet) and through the reef. This was probably the smallest cut we've gone through so far. This south pass saved us a good 20 miles on our trip, as opposed to the pass we entered. The trip to Majuro was about 200 miles once outside the lagoon. Seas were a bit confused once outside the protection of the Ailuk atoll and we were hard on the wind. The wind was not as northeast as predicted and had too much east for a nice reach which we had hoped for. But our new head sail performed much better and we could point much higher – so we sailed on, making good time. The boat was heeled over pretty well so life below was at a slant. Sleeping was difficult at best. But we trucked on with squalls every so often – but not a bad trip.

It was a full moon. Though cloudy, we still had pretty bright nights. Didn't see another boat the entire way as we made our way past other atolls – Wotje, Maloelap and Aur. The protection from the eastern ones knocked the seas down making the ride more comfortable. The last nine hours was incredible sailing as we approached Majuro. We had boat speeds over 7 knots with reefed sails! We entered the Majuro cut around 0900 and made our way down the lagoon. As we approached our mooring – another boat was on it – but luckily, they scooted off as we approached.

Upon arrival, we started calling our cargo recipients to arrange pick-ups (wanting to get the stinky stuff off the boat as quickly as possible!). Luckily, most could pick up that afternoon at four so we took a few dinghy loads to shore and met some new folks! The mayor will pick up her goods on Saturday morning. It was funny when we called her, she obviously had our number in her phone and answered "Hello, Michael and Barbara!"

Our trip to Ailuk was event-filled and we enjoyed our time away from Majuro. On Monday night, Anious, Emily and their daughter Mila came to the boat for dinner. It was nice to reciprocate their hospitality. The hit of the night was dessert. We made chocolate ice cream and you would have thought we gave them a million dollars! Emily said, "I feel like I'm in Majuro eating ice cream. I'm going to tell everyone we went to Majuro last night!" Emily also brought along the crafts we traded for the lights bulbs we bought for them. The baskets she made us were incredible. Then she gifted us with a few more items and best of all – a farewell speech and song!

When we returned, we heard we didn't miss much – it did nothing but rain for two solid weeks here – so our timing was great. Barbara's article for the local Marshall Islands Journal newspaper appeared (haven't seen it yet). Now, we get the boat back in order. Today's agenda – post office to see if our two packages arrived; last (hopefully) of our cargo pick-ups; a few errands to get some small parts and bits; and, more organizing. Then, get ready for the big trip south...the weather watch begins!

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