Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Making friends in Funafuti

Greetings!

Every night for the last week I have 'intended' to write this email, and every night, I have been overtaken by fatigue, heat, children, chores, school reports, birthdays, etc We are packed and ready to sail away from Tuvalu in the morning, so this is finally the '11th hour' and there are no more excuses :)

We had actually planned on leaving today (which would likely have meant no email for another couple of days, as I don't always manage to sit at the chart table on our first night at sea!) but when we took one last look at the weather when we got up this morning, we decided that the wind looked slightly better to go tomorrow, and that we (especially I) could use the additional time to be more ready and more rested, so we are now 'really ready' and we will go first thing in the morning after a full night of sleep (rather than a 6am start following a 2am bedtime).

After a week of seclusion, we successfully transitted back across the lagoon to the Funafuti's main town of Fongafale last Monday. Sunday had been grey and rainy, and Monday had had a similar forecast, but thankfully, the cloud cover broke long enough for us to make it through the tightly packed bommies of the first half (including the infamous detour around the one that wasn't on the satellite imagery) in bright late-morning sunshine. I could see squalls on either side of us as we approached the shipping lane (wide, well charted, well marked) in the center of the lagoon, and we had steady rain by the time we anchored. Bundled up in my bright pink foulie jacket (a Christmas present from our time in Auckland), and outfitted with my bluetooth headset, I was not bothered by the weather (after all, it was still 30 deg C, even in the rain!). Several other boats had arrived while we were at anchor, so it became a much more social place than the first weekend we spent here.

Funafuti has been hosting a two-week Trade Fair that began the day we returned. This has meant music, people, dancing, and tasty BBQ food (so no cooking!) We are anchored off the main government building in front of the newly created "Queen Elizabeth Park" (which was beachfront last year: sand was dredged and sprayed into a huge rectangular area, and one of the locals we spoke with is crossing his fingers that it actually withstands the upcoming "westerlies"). Small and informal by North American standards, with two rows of stalls separated by a narrow corridor, the Trade Fair has provided evening entertainment and socialization for folks not just from Funafuti, but the outer islands as well. Did I mention the yummy BBQs and the lack of cooking on my part?? We were able to buy huge servings for $5-7 each; typically we could feed all five of us with 2-3 'serves' (or have lots of leftovers with four). People were milling around all day, but the BBQs didn't really get going until 7pm when the grounds came alive with families strolling, children running and playing (cheap plastic trumpets and inflated dolphins have made their way across the Pacific), and crowds of people watching the show on the stage from their mats on the ground. The massive speakers begin pumping out music at about 7am, and wind down around 10pm. Let's just say that we haven't needed a stereo on Fluenta this week!

On Monday afternoon, we spotted a man and his daughter setting up a booth as we approached the Fair for the first time. They were unusual for two reasons - they were clearly 'from away' and the girl was a teenager. We got chatting and found out that they were an American family who had come here to open an Independent Baptist church about four years ago; the dad is the Pastor. When we found out that they had four other children, including two boys a bit younger than Johnathan, we invited them all to join us on Fluenta for dinner the following evening. This quick chat turned into some sort of socializing every day, with their kids coming to play at Fluenta (our spinnaker pole got put to use again as the support for a rope swing), and our kids going to their house. We also participated as a family in their Thursday evening children's bible study and their full day of activities (including two services) on Sunday. It was lovely to attend church in English and to sing from a familiar hymn book! They have started a nice tradition of enjoying a pot luck lunch on Sunday after the 11am service, which means that no one has to move very far before the 2pm service! They week flew by with Victoria enjoying spending time with their 15 year old daughter and Johnathan playing with their 8- and 10-year old sons. In a neat kind of small-world way, they are also dear friends of the niece of the lady we met in Savusavu (whom we had been asking after with every Tuvaluan we met)!

As I mentioned, there were a number of other yachts in the anchorage this week. One of them was a rather unique family - a Tahitian dad single-handing a Wharram catamaran with his eight-year-old son. They are also heading north, so I suspect (and hope) we will see more of them as the season progresses.

There is very little fertile soil in Tuvalu. A number of years ago, a Taiwanese garden was established to teach the local people to grow vegetables in containers. I don't believe many families grow vegetables on their own properties, but every Tuesday and Friday morning, people come before 7am to join participate in a lottery system that lets them purchase a set 'heap' of vegetables. We ended up visiting the garden three times, so I learned a little more each time. The numbers are both assigned (with little plastic cards) and drawn (from the bucket) at random. Based on the number of people who come, the produce is divided into an appropriate number of shares, which are set out on long tables. When an individual's number is called (in Tuvaluan - I asked each time what the number would sound like, and I really had to pay attention to hear it!) it is their turn to approach the table and choose a heap (no more, no less, although some people seemed to have pre-arranged crates), which they then take to a brisk and efficient lady for weighing and paying. As the only source of nice vegetables on the island, I enjoyed the lettuce, cucumbers, spring onions, tiny tomatoes, and a few green peppers; I also enjoyed the chance to socialize while we all waited for our numbers to be called. I learned that sometimes your number is not called; thankfully, I did not learn this the hard way! Max and I met numerous people serving on foreign exchanges programs with the government/police, as well as some friendly local people, and it seemed like a good way for folks to connect with their neighbours. We enjoyed talking to the current intern from Taiwan, who will still be here if we come back in April.

We walked pretty much everywhere we had to go in Funafuti, but we were in the minority: everyone who goes anywhere goes by scooter or motor bike. Unlike Mexico, where it seemed that any number of people were permitted to ride a two-wheeled conveyance, we learned that the rule of two people maximum is strictly enforced here. This has created the need for two-wheeled trailers to be towed behind the scooter, which can then hold any number of people. No one wears helmets, but no one goes very fast, either. The typical image of a mother holding her toddler on her lap (possibly with her groceries at her feet or on her shoulder) is one that will stick with me. A man who recognized us from church stopped to pick us up when Victoria and I were walking back from the other end of town with our groceries: he actually made two trips to deliver each of us to the dock! (His family were also kind enough to send us on our way with a huge stock of Ladyfinger bananas - my favourite!)

Besides socializing, it wouldn't have been a week at anchor without a few boat issues ... we have heard back from Silentwind with some troubleshooting ideas for our wind generator; these will wait for a flatter anchorage in Kiribati. Max supervised, and Johnathan drilled, to put a hole in the handle on our gaff to take a line so that the next time we hook a massive fish we do not have to worry about it swimming off with our gaff :) Max knocked various other jobs off his huge list.

We had some tasty treats onboard this week - Victoria and Johnathan made doughnuts not once, but twice! The first time, they did it as an experiment with some of Victoria's bread dough; the second time, they made enough to share with our Baptist friends when they came for dinner. Yum! (As much as I was chomping at the bit to get into the galley to prepare the main course, I really enjoyed listening to them work together: they were cooperating so well that they were actually commenting on it to each other! This was a good thing, as hot fat, propane flames, and a lack of cooperation would not have been pretty.)

In an entire day of treats deserving (but not getting) its own email, we celebrated Benjamin's third birthday on Saturday. We began with waffles, Savusavu bacon, and 'real juice' for brunch, followed by a nap (of course), presents, mac & cheese, and cake for dessert. Victoria had been asking him for a few weeks what he wanted on his cake and the final request was a pirate ship (which she actually depicted in a count-down chart she made for him, where she and Johnathan helped him to cross out the days leading up to his birthday and the center square was a big pirate cake). Wisely, Victoria made the fondant ship on Friday (complete with toothpick masts and bowsprit, thread rigging, and billowy paper sails) so that when it came time to decorate the cake, and she only had a small window between when it finished baking and it needed to be served (thanks, Mom!), she was able to act quickly without too much stress in the galley. We had a slight 'moment' when we realized that fondant does not hold its shape especially well in a 32 deg kitchen (and of course, if fondant shapes are stored in the fridge here, they attract condensation the minute they are taken out and get all sticky...) but we used dental floss to separate the gooey bottom from the plate, and then slid parchment paper underneath to sling it from the ship yard to the icing ocean on top of the cake. All was well! Benjamin was overjoyed by the whole day, and an injection of toys has reduced his infatuation with the iPad somewhat :) (Thanks for all the birthday messages!)

Our Shade Tree 'covered wagon' tarp certainly earned its keep this week - we took it down yesterday afternoon in preparation for leaving this morning (and while it was still dry between squalls) which meant we were back to the mid-30s in the boat today. It has been relatively comfortable all week (low-30s) while we had it up. We were all in agreement that it would be back in place as soon as possible after we anchored in Tarawa! The heat has not kept Max from paddling - and swims at Fluenta were a welcome reward when he arrived back from his tour of the nearby motus.

The clock is ticking and my bunk is calling. By this time tomorrow, I should be standing my first night-watch (which is always the hardest) so I will sign off and wish you a good week :)

Love to everyone,
Elizabeth
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At 2016-12-06 11:31 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.51'S 179°11.35'E
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At 2016-12-06 8:06 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.51'S 179°11.35'E

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Monday, 28 November 2016

Acclimatizing to Hot Weather at anchor

Greetings!

The theme this week has been all about finding ways to keep ourselves comfortable in the weather as it presented itself. For the most part, it has been HOT and SUNNY, with the exception of today, when we had hoped to return from our anchorage across the lagoon to Funafuti, but we had heavy rain squalls (complete with thunder and lightning) all day instead.

The first step in improving our comfort was to erect our "covered wagon" tarp (aka our commercial "Shade Tree" canopy). We bought it before we even left to go cruising because "everyone needs a canopy". It has shared Victoria's single bed for most of the last four years. It consists of a *huge* rectangle of fabric, long enough to stretch from the mast to the backstay, through which pass several articulated poles (like oversized tent poles) the ends of which rest with special straps on the life lines (thus the "covered wagon" nickname!) The instructions note in highlighted text that the poles *do not* float (and in fact recommend ordering a spare supply with the original tarp!) Until this week, we have never been quite uncomfortable enough to go to the bother of setting it up; with the average daytime temperature reaching into the mid-30's, and the "cool" evenings only dropping to about 30 deg C, it was finally worth the effort! It took some figuring, and a trip onto the boom for each of Victoria and Johnathan, but it will be faster the next time, and we have decided to simply make it part of our "at anchor" routine this season, as it is noticeably cooler inside the boat since we put it up (and it has acted as an extra layer of rain protection during the squalls).

Another aspect of managing the heat has been more swimming than we (I) have done in much of the last season. Our sea-temp indicator mounted on the hull has not worked since Mexico, but we used our hand-held device not just once, but twice (just to be sure). It read 89 deg F and gave us a chance to practice our F/C conversion (which was part of Victoria's math lesson a few days ago). Even I don't need a wetsuit when the water is over 30 deg C!! The kids have been having great fun swinging and diving from Fluenta, and entertaining Benjamin on the inflatable standup board, doing funny little dances and songs that invariably end with one or both of them back in the water. Benjamin has even been brave enough to sit on it or kick his feet at the side. I love watching the games and tricks that the kids think of to entertain each other! Max has also taken his 'proper' board out a few times to tour the nearby motus, giving him a welcome respite from "boat yoga". Combined with swimming laps, he has finally had the opportunity for fresh air and exercise.

Our inflatable stand-up paddle board is theoretically stable enough for yoga, and I managed one "baby crow" without falling in, but I haven't developed much of a practice yet. Now that the water is warm enough that falling off is not a deterrent, I may play around a little more to see what is in the realm of the possible for me. When I am dependent on finding practice space ashore, my discipline tends to fall to the wayside...

Unfortunately, no matter how much swimming we do, or how many showers we take, the fact that the nights are almost as hot as the days has made sleep less than comfortable. We are slowly acclimatizing, but sleep has been fitful. Lack of sleep, heat, and humidity have combined to make us less than energetic (read lethargic) during the days (thus the multi-day gap in sending emails, for instance...). None of this is meant as a complaint; in fact, I keep reminding myself that if I wanted to be cold, I would be in Canada right now, and that we chose to be here in the heat. I find myself thinking, "Oh my, if it is like this here, and we still have a long way to go towards the equator, what will the heat be like as we go North?" We will find out soon enough!

The positive aspect of having so much hot weather has been choosing a different site to snorkel each day. The water that pours over the reef near our anchorage has offered the best combination of shallow coral, fish, and clear visibility - and it is close enough to swim or paddle to, even without the dingy. Most of the fish are quite small, but there is a lovely variety of pretty tropical fish to admire. Some little black ones turned to watch me as I swam by yesterday, and they all wore the same tiny expression of curiosity on their little faces, and they seemed to stare right into my eyes :)

The adage "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the galley" does not seem to apply to Victoria or Johnathan: we have enjoyed a steady diet from their efforts of bread (several batches) and doughnuts (a combined science experiment, where they tested various hypotheses for which combination of topping ingredients, doughnut shape, and oil depth would yield the tastiest results, and even correctly identified why any water droplets were spattering as soon as they touched the hot oil). We have promises of more to treats to follow. I extricated them from the kitchen long enough to do their second "Friday Freewrite", so we are gaining momentum with this habit. Two weeks down, eight to go :)

As for me, I am starting to work my way through the squash and sweet potatoes I bought in Savusavu, and which are stored in a mesh duffel bag in the forward head, as there is no room for them in the saloon or the galley. I was grateful that Johnathan loves to steal food from the pot a couple of nights ago, as the sweet peppers I thought I was adding to the Mexican Meat & Squash Skillet (that looked identical to the sweet peppers I had bought in Nadi) turned out to be hot and spicy. Thankfully, I hadn't mixed them in, so I was able to scoop them out and put them directly on Max's plate!

With some advice from my cousin Holly, we bought two brightly coloured resin ukuleles when I was home in Halifax. I am glad to say that they seem to have taken up permanent residence on our saloon benches. We aren't necessarily producing a lot of songs with them yet (we know a few), but they are being plucked and picked (and de-tuned by Benjamin who loves the knobs) on a frequent basis. I unearthed the Christmas music from the cupboard today, so there can be even more "messing around with music" this month.

We have been blessed with a wide variety of movies and documentaries over the last few years, so we began to delve into them this week. We especially learned a lot watching the first episode of "Canada: A People's History" (which is actually part of Victoria and Johnathan's school), but we also enjoyed an iMax movie about the Alps and some Heavy Weather (sailing) training videos, and we have plans for several series that we would like to watch in their entirety.

Of course, the need for maintenance doesn't go on holiday just because we are all feeling lethargic due to the heat. Max spent some time troubleshooting our fishfinder, which had already become lazy about sharing the water temp or boat speed, and has recently begun to have trouble even seeing the bottom (its main role). We had a mystery on our hands at first, as three wires disappeared through the combing towards the saloon, but only two wires (signal and power) could be accounted for on the other side. Removing the electrical tape from a tightly wrapped bundle shed some light on the situation: we found orphaned speaker wires for a speaker we removed the summer we bought the boat! We were kind of hoping to find a corroded connection somewhere in the system that would explain the faulty fishfinder signal, but the wiring all looked good, and unfortunately, our troubleshooting reached a dead end at the sensor under the saloon floor: it is jammed (corroded) into place, and we will not try to force it out until our next haul-out. The fish finder is our back-up depth gauge, so we will hope that our main sensor continues to do its job in the meantime!

Most of the time, when you ask Max what he did during the morning, he will have a long list of items to tick off on his fingers. It gave us both a chuckle that the story was a bit different on Saturday: the significant accomplishment was "downloaded one email". This gives you a sense of our connectivity is like, as the email in question was 200KB, and it took several re-connections to the satellite, and most of the morning, to entice it to join us onboard in little in little 50KB segments. It turned out to be totally worth waiting for however, as it was from Lunasea, the makers of our masthead light, letting us know that they would completely stand behind their product and resolve the situation for us once we arrive in a shipping port. I just about wept to receive word of such responsive customer service after other companies have given us push-back, even for basic warranty claims.

The last two days have been blustery and rainy. We managed to get ashore yesterday, after a massive squall in the early afternoon (I even brought my yoga mat to the tiny beach for a 30 min practice) but we ended up staying onboard all day today due to the constant bad weather. We are so thankful for our rain enclosure and our covered wagon tarp! We used the wet weather as an opportunity for Victoria to paint us an "advent wreath" and "advent calendar" as well as a "count down chart" for Benjamin for his birthday (six days until the pirate cake ...). I enjoyed the immediacy of email when I sent a request for Advent information to my Mom and my Aunt, and had an answer back from both within about 15 minutes. That would not have been so easy during the days of HF, when we had to wait for evening/morning just to send/receive, due to the propagation characteristics of the HF signal.

While I did yoga, the kids and Max were working their magic with Benjamin, who until then had been expressing reluctance to swim ("It's too deep," he would tell us when we suggested swimming from the dinghy.) No amount of assuring him that it was deep for everyone, or that he would float with his life jacket, was enough to convince him. Once they got to the beach, Victoria helped him "surf" with the boogie board, giving him confidence in the water at the edge. By the time I returned 30 min later, Max was helping him to float on his back, kicking his feet, and generally acting much comfortable in the water. He wants to swim "like the big kids" so I suspect that he will advance quickly from now on :)

The wet weather seems set to stay through tomorrow and possibly until Tuesday; hopefully, we will see the sun for a longer stretch on Wednesday. A Trade Fair is set to open in Tuvalu tomorrow, and we were hoping to be there for it, but we will need better weather than we got today to venture through the coral bommies and across the lagoon. The Fair is supposed to run for two weeks, so we will hopefully see some it when we eventually make it back to town. It is looking like light winds for the next week or so, and then the winds should fill in for our next leg to Tarawa, Kiribati.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2016-11-17 2:06 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°36.19'S 179°05.86'E
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At 2016-11-17 8:19 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°36.22'S 179°05.88'E

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Thursday, 24 November 2016

Alone at Anchor

Greetings!

I have yet another "maintenance in exotic locations" story for you today. We left the town anchorage yesterday mid-morning to transit across the lagoon to an uninhabited motu (small island). As I mentioned last time, when we did our nav planning, we marked Exodus' waypoint on the chart, and then hung back our usual distance to mark ours. I found it surreal to see both little symbols on the chart: if we could have wrinkled time, we would have been here together with plenty of room for both boats. Oh well. The next best thing is to have it entirely to ourselves :)

As we set out out, we found it strange that the wind instruments were showing the wind on the nose while the flag and the mechanical Windex were both showing it from behind. We couldn't stop to worry about it then, as we had more important tasks at hand, such as keeping Fluenta well clear of the bommies and mini reefs that dotted the entrance to the anchorage. We sailed the first several miles across the lagoon, following our track from last week's arrival, then we donned our headsets (have I mentioned how much we love them lately??) and took our places on the bow (me) and at the helm (Max).

This last leg of the trip was a good reminder that no matter how much technology we have available to us, it is still necessary to keep a good and vigilant lookout. I found a significant bommie (ie too shallow for us to have driven over safely) right on our path. Because I had spotted it, we could deke around it. When we inspected the satellite imagery later, even knowing where the reef was, it was nearly impossible to see it on the photo. (If I used my imagination, I could convince myself that I saw a smudge on one of the images. There was nothing but sea-scape noise on the other.) It's not as though the area wasn't covered, either - there were other reefs very close by that were perfectly clear. It was also a reminder of the importance of crossing in good light. If we had been any later leaving, the sun would have been more in my eyes, and it would have been harder to see. (Reiteration for our Moms and others who worry - we were not in danger; I saw the reef in plenty of time and was able to direct Max to maneuver around it; this is why we have one of us on the bow and the other at the helm when we are crossing lagoons and time our crossings carefully to ensure good sunlight; this is also why we are grateful for our headsets, because they let us chat normally throughout the transit without having to rely only on hand signals.) Anyway, most of the bommies were indicated on the satellite imagery, and we proceeded to the anchorage without further excitement.

We anchored pretty much exactly where we had chosen ahead of time, and had a quick lunch of cold food (No one wants a hot lunch in this heat!) In the afternoon we set up the spinnaker pole for the kids to jump from (and Dad, and even Mom!). This is the first place ever where the water temperature is warm enough for me to find it comfortable. We did an informal check today, and found that it was over 30 deg C! [Not too surprising considering that even in the middle of the night the air temp is around 30]

Rather than sundowners in the cockpit, at the end of the afternoon, Johnathan and I winched Max up the mast so he could check the wind indicator. We use our big electric winch and the main halyard, but we never use the self-tailer when we are hoisting someone up. This way, if the motor went out of control, we could still keep control of the line. I controlled the button and Johnathan 'tailed' the line for me. When Max got to the steps at the top, we secured the line in the self tailer and tied some half hitches around it as well. This seems to be a funny anchorage for boat motion - we had quite a pitching and rolling movement that was really pronounced 65 feet in the air, even though the sea looked quite calm from the cockpit.

Just in time for sunset, Max completed not only one but two trips up and down the mast. On the first, he removed the wind indicator, and carried it down, gingerly holding it in one hand while he used the other for balance, and on the second he used electrical tape to close off the wiring in case we got one of the numerous squalls before it was replaced. Thankfully, disassembly and a night soaking in Marine 66 seems to have freed up the mechanism enough that it is now turning again.

Victoria made bread dough at the end of the afternoon, and I took ground beef out of the freezer for dinner. The obvious thing to do (in her eyes, at least) was to combine them and make pizza, so after a little bit of persuasion, I agreed. Victoria made Enchilada Sauce, so we christened it "Enchilada Pizza" and I have to admit that it was very good :)

Every so often, we need to apply waterproofing to our fabric bimini. This has been on Max's list ever since we arrived in Tuvalu, but the solution needs strong sunshine, light (no) wind, and several hours without rain in order to cure. We finally got our dry/calm/not squally day today, so that is one more job "checked off the list".

After chores and schoolwork were completed, we snorkeled on some of the nearby reefs. We found the coral to be similar to what we had seen elsewhere (lots of branching, pointy, narrow bits (they looked to me like snaking tree branches), with a few fans and a few flat varieties (platters?)), with the addition of a few new types that we haven't seen before (light blue and mustard yellow varieties). The water inside the lagoon was actually quite 'hazy', but when we moved and snorkelled on the inner side of the outer reef, it was much more clear. There were quite a lot of tiny fish, but not very many big ones (which is not too surprising for the inside of a populated lagoon).

We passed a quiet afternoon on board, and then as the sun was heading for the horizon, it was Victoria's turn to tail, and Johnathan's to mind Benjamin, in order for Max to return our newly functioning (or at least no longer stuck) wind indicator to the top of the mast. What a relief to turn on the network, and with only two kts of wind see the directions reflected accurately! We also found that we had to do a "remote Google search" when he came down (Thanks, Ian!) as our Lunasea Tri-Colour/Anchor/Strobe light (less than five years old) seems to be malfunctioning and we will need to contact the company.

We finished off a lovely day with a reading from the "In the Beginning" story in my Quantum Theology book (Big Bang through to the evolution of humans in two pages) followed by a family viewing of the first episode of "Canada: A People's History" (15,000 BC to 1800). We traced the history of Canada through the migrations of the First Nations through to the early 1800s. The series took two years to broadcast on television at home, and we will be watching them and discussing them through this season as a kind of social studies immersion. It is interesting to be learning about aboriginal people in Canada while we are visiting traditional villages in the South Pacific. Lots of interesting dinnertime conversations ahead, I think!

We will stay in this anchorage for a few more days. Winds next week are looking very light, so we will continue to wait for weather to begin our passage to Kiribati.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2016-11-17 1:14 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°36.21'S 179°05.87'E
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At 2016-11-17 9:02 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.51'S 179°11.35'E

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Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Fuel, Wifi, and Rugby

Greetings,

I will keep this short as Sunday was long ...

While Benjamin and I stayed at Fluenta to play Minecraft (Benjamin) and write Self Design weekly Learning Reflections (me), Max and the kids took the dinghy full of jerry cans to the Customs wharf to replenish our diesel. The fuel facility was a good distance from the wharf and was not a typical gas station - it was the industrial fueling center for all the commercial vessels. This meant that they gave the jerry cans to someone to take to the secure area to fill, paid someone else for the calculated amount, got a receipt from yet another person, and waited about 45 min for the filling to occur. Five 6-gallon jerry cans are heavy, even in Savusavu where the gas station is across from the dinghy dock; returning to the dinghy was a much more daunting prospect here in Funafuti. Thankfully, a truck and a couple of men were dispatched to deliver Max, kids, and fuel back to the dinghy. The heavy load of fuel in the dinghy also confirmed what Max had been suspecting: it looks like water is leaking into the dinghy between the hard bottom and the air tube. So far, it isn't really a problem: we just have lots of water in the dinghy every time we go to leave, but we will try to repair it at the next opportunity.

We spent the afternoon in town using the local wifi service. We started at Filamona hotel bar, where we had gone on Saturday to people-watch beside the airfield, but I had trouble connecting, so I went two blocks away to the Telecom building (leaving Max, Benjamin, Victoria and Johnathan behind). After sitting in the foyer for a few minutes without much better luck, I asked the girl behind the counter where the best signal was. She directed me next door to the space between the government building and the hotel beside it. I stood by the parking area for a few minutes, and then slowly made my way towards the antenna I could see on the hotel wall. Finally, I ended up in the comfy leather seats in the hotel lobby, entering my weekly Learning Reflections and chatting with a man from Venezuela who pilots the little spotting helicopter for one of the fishing boats who was there for the same reason :) I was especially glad to be inside when the heavens opened and the wind came up. None of us were staying at the hotel, but the staff were very friendly none the less. Wifi is much cheaper than 3G at $20/600MB, but it is still more expensive than elsewhere we have been (which makes sense given the sheer remoteness of our physical location, and the tiny size of the local population!)

While I was trying to get the internet to cooperate, Max and the kids were making friends at Filamona's. Johnathan even ended up going out onto the grassy area between the taxiway and the runway (the main thoroughfare for the town) and playing pick-up rugby with some boys. A huge squall hit, and the boys kept playing. I asked him how it was, and he said that even though he couldn't speak the language, didn't really know the rules, and had trouble telling which boy was on which team, he had a lot of fun :) The rain didn't seem to bother anyone - the littler boys were even skimboarding in the wet grass after it flooded. When I returned to the restaurant, I saw that Benjamin had made a friend: he was sitting on Max's lap, and another little boy (also called Ben) was looking over his shoulder as he played Minecraft. Max told me later that he had heard the little guy asking his mom to download it for him too. He already had 'Angry Birds' and 'Little Crane' like we do. I thought that Benjamin's little friend couldn't have been more than four (actually he was six), but already they both speak the common language of iPad apps! As for Victoria, she kept busy continuing to crochet her afghan squares, and she now has the better part of two dozen crocheted and sewn together.

The rain let up in time for us to take the dinghy back to Fluenta. We had one last meal of fresh Sailfish from the fridge (the rest is in the freezer and will compete with frozen chicken and beef for its spot on our table). I tried the same Sesame crust as yesterday, but it turns out that Tuna just can't be beaten!

We are off to the other side of the atoll to anchor in a different spot tomorrow. We did our initial planning this afternoon, using the satellite images and our friends' waypoint as a reference. When Max put our chosen waypoint beside theirs on the chart, we commented that it would be just like anchoring with them, as with our deeper draft, we will be a little further from the shore than they were, and there would be room for us both. The two little marks on the screen looked just like our two boats in real life. Unfortunately, they will with with us in spirit only, as they have carried on with 'land life' in California (we miss you Exodus!).

In the morning we are crossing the lagoon to anchor off a little motu for a few days where there is purported to be good snorkelling and pretty scenery. We will be here in the Funafuti area until the middle of next week (or longer, depending on when our weather window materializes) and then head towards Tarawa, Kiribati.

Love to everyone,
Eizabeth
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At 2016-11-17 10:22 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.52'S 179°11.31'E
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At 2016-11-17 1:29 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°36.21'S 179°05.87'E

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Sunday in Funafuti - Music speaks to the heart in any language

Hello!

After battening down the hatches for a 25+ kt rainy/windy squall (followed by a worry that we might have dragged our anchor [which we hadn't]), and closing the seacock in the aft head because the toilet was leaking and the pumping handle was loose, we managed to dinghy ashore almost exactly on time for a "9:30 for 10:00" church service. You might say that it was just an average Sunday morning at anchor :)

The church was one of the prettiest we have visited. The first thing I noticed was that space was almost empty - other than a few benches for some of the older parishioners, and the raised tables draped in clothes and covered in flowers for the minister, all that was in the room was the woven mats on the floor. The next thing I noticed was how bright and airy this made the space feel - the walls were painted white and accented with the same turquoise of the lagoon we could see through the open doors, while swaths of pink and turquoise fabric were draped around the walls. We were actually amongst the first to arrive, and we were quickly welcomed and ushered inside. At first it sounded like we would be seated according to local custom (men at the back left, women at the back right, boys at the front left and girls at the front right) but then our host decided that we could, in fact, sit as a family somewhere towards the middle. Our seats were ideal as we had the cross-breeze coming from both the side and back doors :)

The room was relatively quiet as we entered, but four people began singing (in parts) almost as soon as we sat down. It seemed at first like a sing-song, with jovial laughter when they made mistakes and had to start over, but soon it became apparent that this was the nucleus of the choir. With each selection, the strength of the music grew, as more people arrived to sit with them or simply sang from their places in the congregation. Finally, a smartly-dressed man in a sulu stood and expertly conducted the last few numbers before the service started. The acoustics of the hard walls, coupled with the choir's harmonies (if my high-school music recollection is in working order, I would say that they were singing lots of 'fifths') caused the music to ring and resonate as if they were a group several times their size. All the singing was acapella. At the start of each piece, the conductor would indicate for one woman to sing the first few notes to set the pitch, then the group would sing, joining in with many layers of harmonies. Once again (as in Penrhyn in 2014) I suspect that the especially moving music near the very beginning was a sung version of the Lord's Prayer; in fact, I again found myself weeping gently as they finished. I even noticed a familiar (three-fold?) "Amen" sung partway through the service. I lost count of the number of times the choir sang; for me, the music was the highlight of the morning.

Even though people arrived not only during the singsong but also right through the service, and rotating electric ceiling fans as well as woven palm fans were in constant motion, there was an unusual sense of quiet in the room before and throughout the service. Even the children, sitting together at the front of the church, were remarkably still (I guess having the watchful eyes of not just their parents but every grownup in the congregation on them had it effect!) We tried to look like we were paying attention to the proceedings (all in Tuvaluan) but sometimes we snuck a look around at our neighbours. Everyone smiled back, especially the children. One little girl, seated behind us, seemed particularly fascinated by Benjamin, and by the end of the service she had scooted closer to him than to her mother :) Given that no one in our family is used to sitting cross-legged on the floor for long stretches of time, the 90 minutes passed surprisingly quickly. I had told Benjamin on the walk over that he would have to be very quiet ("like when Mom was singing in the choir at Berwick Camp") and miraculously he didn't utter a word from when we entered until we were back outside. Yet again, despite how warm he was on my lap, I was grateful that he is 'still nursing' - I'm not sure how I would have managed to keep a squirmy toddler quiet otherwise! Even still, I was relieved when the service was over and we had survived :)

I have been reading two books this week that gave me food for thought as I listened to the service. The first, "Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics" (yes, really - when you have a degree in Engineering Physics, and a life-long interest in theology and spirituality, and you see such a book for sale at your Camp Book Room, you snap it up - or at least if you are me, then you do) was written by priest and social psychologist Diarmuid O'Murchu. In it, he talks about how human history stretches back upwards of 100,000 years, while 'religion' only began about 5,000 years ago. We have been dancing and making music pretty much since the beginning. These were our first sacred acts, and they were our early ancestors' method of connecting with the divine. Scientists are evening beginning to describe the unfolding and expansion of the universe as a 'dance'. The second book, "Resilience from the Heart: the Power to Thrive in Life's Extremes", by Gregg Braden, talks about how we need to connect to our hearts and our hearts' wisdom in order to make the kind of new decisions (personally and globally) that our evolving world needs now. Here I was in a service where I didn't understand a word, but the music was speaking to (literally resonating in ) my heart, and on the dais were written the words "Trust in the Lord with all your Heart" (the only English in the room), giving me something to ponder as I reflected on the experience. Both books came at similar subject matter from a different direction and seemed timely in their own way.

I found it funny that the service seemed to end rather abruptly; there was no obvious benediction, but all of a sudden I realized that there had been a short burst of laughter, the minister had stopped talking, and people were getting up to leave, so we took this as our cue. After the service, we spoke with a couple of friendly women on the front steps. It turned out that one of them worked in the Prime Minister's office (in the same Government building next door as where Max had cleared into Immigration and Quarantine) and that it had been her son who had given Max the ride on the scooter on Friday. She told us that the laughter was because the minister had told the congregation to speak to us, as he unfortunately hadn't been able to speak English during the service. We were touched that they would have considered us in the midst of their worship. True to form, Victoria had pulled out her crochet once we started to chat, and it turned out that the second woman we were speaking with was the mother of the 11-year-old girl watching Victoria so intently. We showed both ladies the name of our friend from the Savusavu market, and they didn't know her, but one said that the niece was the PA to the PM, and that she was in Morocco for meetings this week. We are still curious about if/when we will see our friend. We also learned that the dinghy dock that our friends had referenced had been removed recently, and that the large open park (QEII Park) had just been opened in September. (Deanne - this is the only area that doesn't seem to look like you remember...). This will be the site of a two-week trade show starting next week, so we think we will stay in the atoll until then, and clear mid-week for Kiribati. More to follow ..

We spent a quiet afternoon on the boat. Both big kids jumped into the water as soon as we got back from church. I haven't been swimming yet, but they say that it is warm enough that even I will like it. Without other kids to play with, it is a joy to hear laughter and made-up games from the upper deck :) Given that "bucket and chuck it" is a rather unsatisfactory way to deal with the need for a toilet onboard, we investigated the leak in our toilet right after lunch, and found that it was unrelated to the handle becoming loose: the leak was in the usual place between the porcelain bowl and the pump (the bolts need to be just tight enough to stop leaks, but not so tight that the bowl gets cracked). The handle was loose, not because the shaft was exiting the pump as we had worried, but because the set screw holding the handle to the shaft had come loose. Rather than an afternoon of labour, we were back in business with about five minutes of bolt-tightening. I had added extra bolts to our parts bucket (they were on the table to assist with the job), so when we had a bolt left over, we were worried that we had forgotten the set-screw for the shaft. It seems that we didn't, so all appears well :) When Max works alone, he *never* puts extra parts in the bucket - now I know why! Johnathan and Max (ie Johnathan with Max supervising) spliced a chain-hook into the line for our second anchor snubber. We will continue to use a rolling hitch on our main snubber, and will use the hook for the secondary/backup snubber. Meanwhile, Victoria was reading up on "Heavy Weather Sailing" in the book we were given by Exodus just before Tim went home.

Supper was one of our tastiest meals to date (according to the crew). I tried a new recipe from the Boat Galley Cookbook called "Sesame Crusted Tuna" topped with "Tangy Dipping Sauce" from the same book. I don't think I have heard such raving compliments in four years of cruising, so needless to say, this recipe will become a staple when we have tuna. (If you are curious, it couldn't have been simpler: I seasoned the fish with salt & pepper, smeared it with sesame oil, shook on some sesame seeds, and seared it in a hot pan because it was too windy to use the BBQ. Yum.)

As supper was being cleared away, Johnathan asked if I would read the newest chapters in his book aloud. The last I read it out for the family was back in Feb/March when he had just written Ch 1. Now he has over 15,000 words and he is well into Ch 4. I mentioned heart-wisdom earlier. I think Johnathan has plenty of it, and he was brave enough to subject his creation to feedback. He seemed pretty happy with the honest and enthusiastic compliments he received from everyone in the family. Proud mama moment, for sure!

I hope you also had a lovely, heart-expanding Sunday, and I hope you are well,

Love,

Elizabeth
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At 2016-11-17 1:22 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.49'S 179°11.30'E
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At 2016-11-17 7:43 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.52'S 179°11.31'E

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Monday, 21 November 2016

Family chores and family outing in Funafuti

Hello,

I woke early this morning to the feeling of Benjamin using one of my feet as a hand-hold to climb down off the bed and to the sound of Victoria singing while she crocheted on the foredeck (turns out that she had been awake since before dawn and had already done her school for the morning). It was 7 am on a Saturday, and ready or not, my day had started :)

We thought we would go ashore in the morning, but it ended up being a really productive day on Fluenta instead. Max's first job after coffee was to re-run the pullcord on the outboard. We were bracing for taking apart the wound spring inside (described in our new Yamaha book as a "tiger in a cage") which we had just done (without a manual and with luck smiling on us) in Makogai, but thankfully, he was able fiche out the end of the pull cord and re-knot it in the handle. Whew! He also took the opportunity to change the spark plugs and we put more reflective tape on the case of the engine in the hope that we will be a bit more visible at night. The boat was a hive of activity for the rest of the morning, with Victoria & Johnathan helping to clear some of the "little jobs" off our list. Johnathan trimmed, whipped, and melted the ends of numerous rough-looking pieces of line in use around the upper decks (the comment I heard from upstairs was, "Wow, Johnathan! Great job! That's better whipping than I would have done!") Meanwhile, Victoria sewed a patch on our canvas water bucket (learning about mitered corners in the process). We finally dried our poor soggy spinnaker which had been rained on for the last two days by laying it out on the foredeck; like a crop of hay, we flaked it and turned it every so often :)

Our wind generator has been making a funny noise/vibration, so since we didn't have a ladder, Max climbed the pole by bracing his foot in a bracket padded with a coil of lines and hung on for dear life to inspect it and adjust some bolts (possibly more to follow on this one - after tightening the struts that support the pole, and tightening the bolts that hold the wind-gen on the pole, we still have more vibrations than we used to have, so we will contact the vendor with our symptoms and see if they have any insights). Somehow a component of our traveller had been bent, so Max and Johnathan straightened it. Our fridge/freezer have been running a bit warm, likely because of the hot air temperatures (generally hovering around 33 deg C every day) and warmer cooling water temperatures (I would love to tell you how warm the sea temperature is here, but the brand-new sensor that we bought as we left home stopped working back in Mexico, so we have been guessing ever since). This has meant that we lost some sausages that I had put in the upper corner of the freezer that ended up completely thawing before we ate them, so we adjusted the thermostat to see if that would help. Unlike a fridge at home, where the adjustment is just inside the door on the wall of the fridge, this tiny adjustment necessitated taking all the tall bottles of oil/vinegar/condiments from the shelf behind the stove, leaning over the stove, and reaching into a dark little space recessed at the back in order to turn two stiff little adjustor screws.

As for me, after months of being spoiled by "ladies who do laundry", or with self-serve machines, it was time to hand-wash the diapers again. As ever, I sent out thoughts of gratitude to Mom/Dad/Marilyn for the gift of the wringer before we left - and to Dad for the mounting bracket right in the galley! I was also grateful for the time I had spent yesterday keeping the dishes caught up, so I could actually see my sink to fill it with laundry today!

By late afternoon, the chores were done, the Lego good guys had won their special forces battle on our saloon floor, the afghan squares were crocheted, we had given up on Benjamin napping, and it was finally time to load the dinghy and go ashore to explore Funafuti. We had heard that the local people loved their scooters, but nothing had prepared me for the sense of being inside a merry go round with scooters going by in every direction. I had learned a few words from a lady at the market in Savusavu, so we managed to call out a few "talofa's" (hello's). People were generally friendly, but I felt a little like an observer from another planet, as everyone just kept carrying on with their day as we walked through the town. We stopped at a little store, ostensibly to buy a packet of "Timtams" (cookies), but really just to have a look around, and then we made our way past the "Funafuti International Air Terminal" (massive construction site) to the runway (where people really were hanging out and playing rugby, just as our friends on Exodus had described) and found a place with no sign out front, but numerous tables, a bar with drinks behind it, and a woman wiping tables. Yes they were open, and yes, we could stop for a drink. The place was called "Filamonas" and it had actually been our destination, thanks to Deanne's cruising notes from last year :) After we settled at the table with cold drinks, I wandered back over to a group of ladies, and asked about Internet and church. They sell wifi for $20/600MB, which is at least a bit less than $800/8GB on 3G. There are several churches, but we settled on the Tuvaluan church at 1000 tomorrow, which is where the ladies I met would be going. They haven't seen many boats this year, and one of the ladies had been away last year when Exodus was here, so they had a lot of questions for me. One woman looked to be younger than I was; I was shocked to find out that she had five children who ranged in age from a daughter who was married on the weekend to a five-month old baby! She makes our kids look very closely spaced:) We met the owner as well (Penny) and she remembered Deanne, Tim, and the boys from last year. Fun! It feels like we have made some connections that are the beginning of friendship. Time will tell.

Some people (like the young niece of one of the ladies I met) have perfect and fluent English. Some people look at us blankly when we say, "Hello!", and it seems that all they speak is Tuvaluan. It will be an interesting visit from a communications perspective!

We were anticipating the arrival of friends from NZ/Opua days to arrive at any moment in the anchorage, but we received an email from them today to say that they have not been able to come to windward enough from Vanuatu to make it to Tuvalu, and that they are in the Reef Islands of East Solomon hoping to make it to the Marshalls eventually. Their catamaran is really comfortable at anchor, but it doesn't point to windward very well. We hope we will see them later in the season. After reading about groups of boats here in Tuvalu, it is odd to be the only boat. On the other hand, it feels to me a bit like a family vacation, as there is no one to talk to or socialize with (when we are not ashore) but each other, and I am loving this emphasis on being a family.

Yet again, the boat is quiet, the news is caught up, and I will wish you well. Thanks for the emails to our sailmail account this week!

Love,
Elizabeth
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At 2016-11-17 11:19 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.50'S 179°11.30'E
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At 2016-11-17 8:15 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.49'S 179°11.29'E

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Sunday, 20 November 2016

Inclearances, outboards, and more fish!

Greetings,

Just when I think we will have a day that doesn't "give us much to write home about" something interesting happens. Such was the case today.

We went to bed under clear but turbulent skies; we woke in the wee hours to shut every hatch and window in what we thought was a squall but turned out to be a big system that dumped rain and blew 25 kts on and off for the rest of the night. The funniest moment for me was leaping up the companionway stairs to untie the wind scoop on the starboard side in order to close the saloon hatch; it had been tied by Johnathan, who loves to climb the rigging, and it was all I could do in the wind and the rain (and the middle of the night needing to pee) to reach the knot to release it from the shroud. The rain was just starting to come down heavily, and it sounded like pellets landing on the water around us. It quickly became the kind of downpour that drenched me by the time my small task was accomplished; on the bright side, in the 30-deg heat, being soaking wet was cooler for sleeping! Since Johnathan had been sleeping in the cockpit, he was awakened as well, so between him, Max, and me, we quickly battened the hatches and got everything closed up. Later in the night, another squall caused the rolling hitch on one of our snubbers to release, so Max had his own gymnastics evolution to reach beyond the bow roller with the anchor hook to replace it, again in 25 kts of wind. I tell you this story just in case you think we lead a glamourous life ...

It was still raining in the morning, so we elected Max as the family representative to go ashore for the last two stops on our Tuvaluan clearance circuit. When he came back, he described meeting people who were friendly, but rather baffled by the whole idea of someone coming to Tuvalu in a yacht and therefore needing to clear in. In his search for the Customs officer, whose office was unmaned, he asked several people and finally found himself being given a ride by a stranger (recruited in rapid-fire Tuvaluan by the kind Marine office lady) from the Customs office nestled into the sea of sea containers to the main Government office building, where he happened upon the harried customs officer, his hands full of files, in the foyer. They arranged for Max to come back to the Customs office later in the afternoon, and in the meantime Max wondered how he would get to the Health office at the hospital to clear in there. When he asked for directions, someone introduced him to the Medical Officer for the entire area, who was just on his way there with a driver in a 4x4, and was more than happy to give him a ride. As he was walking back to the Customs office to retrieve the dinghy and come to Fluenta for lunch, the same scooter that had taken him into town picked him up and took him the rest of the way.

Shortly after Max came home and regaled us with this adventure, a longboat came by full of fish. We think the five men aboard were from the town, but as none of them seemed to speak English, we couldn't be sure. They gave us a Pacific Bonita (a kind of Tuna). I am sure that they would have given us more, but we gestured emphatically that one was plenty:) We gave them one of our bags of meat from the Sailfish, and showed them our Mexican 'Fish of the Pacific' photo card so they would know what it was. It was lovely to be welcomed like this, especially since I haven't even set foot ashore yet! Interestingly, the fish was frozen, so we think all the fish came from one of the big Chinese/Korean fishing boats that are anchored here in the lagoon.

After a quick lunch, Max went to meet the Customs officer, and was ready to head back to Fluenta within 15 minutes, with Fluenta officially cleared into Tuvalu. We had no idea how quick his meeting was, however, as he didn't return until almost an hour later! The pull cord detached when he went to start the engine, so he rowed the 2.5 km back in the RHIB. Let's just say that this boat is not designed for speed under oars. Well-cooked after his exertion, as by this time the the rain had ended and the sun was blazing, he spent the next while with a glass of water and our 1" thick Yamaha manual; this will be the first job on the agenda for tomorrow morning.

The kids and I had a productive day as well. We have been in possession of a "Brave Writer" language arts package for almost a year without much engagement, but today we did the first of our "Friday Freewrites". I can't say that the exercise was met with a lot of enthusiasm, but at least both kids completed it, which was my only goal. Our aim is to do a Freewrite every Friday for eight weeks (ie they will write for a set number of minutes on any topic they like, keeping their pencil moving the whole time). They can read them to me, or not, and then I will I put them away in a folder. At the end of eight weeks, we will look at all their sheets and see if there is one piece that they would like to polish; if so, we will do some revision, if not, we will carry on with some more free writing. We have been doing 'Tuesday Poetry Teatimes' already this term, but they will take a backseat for the next eight weeks and we will focus on the writing side of things.

The rest of the day was very peaceful. By the time I woke up this morning, Victoria had set bread to rise and was finishing her Life of Fred math chapter for the day. In the midst of the post-passage stowing and sweeping that I was did once I got going, Johnathan (and sometimes Benjamin) managed to play with Lego on the saloon floor, mostly games of good guys and bad guys. The soundtrack of this play regularly gives me a chuckle, both for the detailed special forces lessons that Johnathan imparts to Benjamin (I am sure that every two year old is getting lessons in sniper rifles and anti-aircraft guns, yes?), and for the insults that fly when Benjamin acts his age (2) instead of Johnathan's (11) (J: "No you knucklehead, not like that" / B: "I'm not a knucklehead (or what ever insult he has just received) I am Benjamin-George-Shaw-Brown"). Benjamin is learning early to stand up for himself! Insults aside, it gives me joy to watch all three kids spend so much time together, expressing opinions, sharing their belongings, and collaborating on their ideas. Without even knowing it, they are practicing vital skills of negotiation, patience, teamwork, and cooperation. (Of course close quarters also breeds its share of squabbles, insults, and raised voices ... which returns us to the need for negotiation, patience, teamwork, and cooperation!!)

Of course dinner tonight was fish, in this case, seared sesame-soy tuna with rice and Asian slaw (Thanks again, Deanne, for the Boat Galley cookbook!) followed by Banana Cake (Joy of Cooking app) using the last of our well-past-ripe bananas from Savusavu. We will have fresh fish for a few more days, and I put four massive bags of sailfish in the freezer this evening for later in the season. Max is going to turn down the temperatures of the fridge/freezer tomorrow as now that we have moved north, the freezer isn't quite keeping the food at the extremities of the box frozen. This will cost us power, but save our food from spoiling.

We are hoping that the rain will stop and we will all go do some exploring tomorrow.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2016-11-17 11:33 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.52'S 179°11.32'E
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At 2016-11-17 3:22 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.49'S 179°11.30'E

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