Thursday, 16 March 2017

Updates from Ailuk

We have been in Ailuk Atoll for a few weeks now but have not felt like putting together a long blog update. We do not have internet here but I have attached a few photos representative of time here so far: time in the village, kite boarding, school (not pictured), boat projects (not pictured). For the most part we have been the only boat here but recently spent some time with Tranquilo (who is on his way direct to Alaska from here) and Aorai (from French Polynesia with a eight year old boy on a 35 foot wooden catamaran).

The photos may or may not work so it is a bit of an experiment.

If you want to see our location you can check it out on the top of the blog on the Predictwind banner or on the Yachts in Transit site.

Longer text update to follow at some point and many pictures when we return to the land of Internet at some point.


Friday, 3 March 2017

Warm Welcome at Ailuk - A Feast


Before I get on with telling you about the warm welcome we received at Ailuk, our overnight passage from Aur to Ailuk deserves another mention. After leaving Aur shortly after first light, the forecast was for steady sailing winds that would bring us to Ailuk mid-morning the next day; however, during the night the winds dropped to the point that we were just barely sailing along. We had a decision to make: were we a motor boat, on a schedule, or were we a sailboat which would get there when we got there, recognizing that we might end up spending a second night at sea hove-to in order to enter the pass during the daylight? Many times when these conditions have occurred we have had to choose the motorboat option: we have to start our engine in order to make a schedule or to avoid bad weather that is tracking towards us. In this case, it just felt *wrong* to me to be anything but a sailboat: we had beautiful conditions, the stars were out in their millions, the sea was calm, the
re was no heavy weather coming our way, and we were not *really* on a schedule (much as it is always nicer to be safely at anchor than hove-to outside a pass). We kept sailing, and it was glorious, not just because of the sailing conditions, but also because we had (for once) made a statement to no one in particular (other than ourselves) that we were, indeed, a sailboat, travelling at the whim of the weather, and we would arrive whenever the winds and currents allowed. Max even caught and filleted a mahimahi on his own when he took over the wee-hours watch :)

As it turned out, the winds picked up back to their forecasted strength by morning, and we easily arrived at the pass into Ailuk with daylight to spare. The pass faces North-West; the swell, which normally runs from the North-East, was also approaching from this direction (some disturbance off Japan was supposedly affecting us here). This made the pass both beautiful and exciting: the waves were crashing onto the reef, and we could see the rocky surfaces through the clear turquoise waters with each surge. The last few nautical mile of water approaching the pass alternated between seeming to be unusually smooth (but boiling underneath) and choppy with a mix of waves. It wasn't quite as exciting an entrance as our approach to Mazatlan Harbour over three years ago, where we actually had to time our entrance to coincide with a lull in the sets of waves, but it was certainly memorable! Normally, when the swell follows the trade winds, the pass would be relatively benign. This pass
entry was one of those times when I was reminded of our vulnerability as we passed close to the heaving water rolling onto the reef barely 100m away on either side of us. People often ask us whether we feel worried while cruising with our kids off the beaten path; usually, I compare our life at sea with a life at home driving in traffic every day, and answer that people are always vulnerable, but we are simply more attuned of it and further from assistance, but as we entered the reef, I was well-aware that if we miscalculated any aspect of our approach, we would be a long way from assistance!! I breathed a long sigh of relief when we had successfully navigated our way through the pass, past the intermediary reefs, and into the lagoon. As ever, Max was at the helm and I was on the bow, and we used our Bluetooth headsets to communicate, avoiding shouting or miscommunications. Max had carefully plotted our route using satellite imagery before we left Aur, so it all unfolded ex
actly as we had foreseen.

As if to highlight the beauty of this lagoon, as we were in the middle of the pass, a pod of dolphins came by to play in our bow wave. They seemed to be on their way to take care of important business, as they came close enough to interact with the boat (and let me count them - I lost count at nine, and estimated there to be about a dozen), and then carried on with their day. As we crossed the lagoon, we also spotted a turtle swimming by. It was nice to see some creatures after hardly seeing any on passage.

There are two villages on the atoll, and we headed South East to the larger of them to clear in and pay our anchoring fees. We decided to delay our first trip ashore until the following day in order to glue a leaky area on our dinghy (water has been coming in between the inflatable tubes and the hard bottom), so Max used some of our super-strong adhesive to glue a section of the bottom panel where we could see that the original seal (to the painted aluminum) had let go (For Those Who Care - we used 3M 5200, [something like 700 psi shear vice 300 psi for the more usual 4200 or Stikaflex 291. Max] which we have had onboard 'just in case' for several years. It is purported to be strong enough that, if it is used for any kind of deck fittings, it will damage the fibreglass before releasing its grip. Also For Those Who Care - we were facing a known problem with painted aluminum dinghies: the paint layer separates away from the aluminum layer because of surface corrosion, and the
glued joint then pulls the painted layer away from the main surface, resulting in a leak). The A/Mayor actually came to us that afternoon, to collect our permit, so all we had to do the next day was to go ashore and pay the $50 fee. He came alongside in one of the few open fibreglass boats that we have seen here; most people still use the traditional sailing canoes to get around.

The next day, as we were bouncing around in a relatively active anchorage, given the miles of fetch across the lagoon (and with increasing winds in the forecast), we heard a VHF call for the 'blue yacht, blue yacht'. We were invited to attend a 50th birthday feast that very evening! Of course we said yes :) Anias and Emily are famous among the cruising community because they often participate in the HF "Yokwe" net (every morning at 0745 ... I have to admit that we don't generally join as we are happy doing our own thing and HF reception can be frustrating). Anias goes by the callsign Pumpkin, and he is also the Pastor in the Assembly of God church. We were invited to come ashore anytime after 6pm; the evening was our first introduction to "Marshallese Time" as we were the first ones there when we arrived at 7pm! (I think I am going to like this place, and feel right at home...) We were greeted with Frangipani garlands and invited to sit at a special table: even though it was
Anias's birthday, we were the ones being treated like special guests! All the power in the house came from a bank of batteries charged via a roof-full of solar panels; I am not sure what their battery capacity was, but it was enough to power a massive sound system, which was pumping out music. We were each brought a drinking coconut as we were waiting for the evening to begin, so we had no need of the several water bottles that we had carried. Anias stayed close to us throughout the evening, even eating with his daughter at a small table beside us. He explained the proceedings and chatted in English, and was a delightful host.

Especially on a first visit to a village, it is nice to have a few things in our bag of tricks to break the ice for the kids. Of course, the best ice-breaker of all is travelling with a three-year-old, especially when your hosts also have a youngster :) In this case, Anias and Emily, who have quite a number of grown children, had a 13-year-old daughter at home, as well as a grand-daughter a bit younger than Benjamin. She was delighted to see him, and even more so when I pulled Benjamin's 'bubble sword' out of our bag! Noticing Benjamin's bare feet slowing him down in the crushed coral yard (his shoes still being in the on-passage bucket on our back deck), Emily sent a child running for a pair he could borrow, and that was all it took for Benjamin to engage fully and chase the huge bubbles. Before long, I had handed both Benjamin and the sword to Johnathan, who soon took on a bit of a Pied Piper persona, and found himself surrounded by all the local kids jumping for bubbles. I
just had to encourage them away from the house at one point when a swirling gust of wind started blowing the bubbles over the buffet of food the ladies were laying out! After cooking for two days, I was pretty sure our host's welcome would run thin if the feast tasted like soap!!

And - what a feast it was! We were served two kinds of chicken (boiled whole and roasted in parts), pork (BBQ), breaded and fried fish, two kinds of pumpkin (some cooked in a white sauce and some cooked in coconut milk), rice, delicious raw-tuna salad (similar to cocoda in Fiji, but with a different name here), and a sausage/vegetable stew. For dessert, there was a coconut/milk concoction that was served in a mug with a spoon, doughnuts, and huge cinnamon buns (think of your local shop, add a slight smokey flavour, and you will have a sense of what we enjoyed). We tried to delicately take pieces of the whole Marshallese chicken, but it turned out that we needed to be a little more forceful: Emily brought us a knife and showed us how to cut it entirely in half and then in quarters :) At the table of men beside us, each of them was given his own woven bowl heaped with food (including a chicken each!) At our table, all our food was laid out for the five of us in a combination of
plastic bowls, metal bowls, and woven pandanus plates; we enjoyed it Marshallese style, with our fingers. It didn't take long to get used to eating with no forks and no individual plates :) Once all the people seated at tables had been served individual portions, a long line of children stretched out beside us where they were served at the nearby buffet table. Following the meal, a bucket of water and a bar of soap were passed around; we used a scoop to remove clean water from the bucket and pour it over our hands.

After the food came the music and candies. The huge sound system was switched on again, everyone stood up to sing a Marshallese rendition of "Happy Birthday", and a few of the ladies started dancing through the crowd of about 30 people tossing candies, lollipops, and even huge tubs of potato chips for children and adults alike to catch. The glint of joy in Emily's eye was delightful to see; she loved making all the children shriek and laugh :) Noticing that I was sitting with a sleeping Benjamin on my lap, one old lady carefully placed a pile of candies beside me. When he saw some of the local children eyeing them, Johnathan took his own turn to toss sweets and generate smiles :) Once the crowd calmed down to enjoy its candy, the MC handed the microphone around. Most of the adults took the opportunity to wish Anias well on his birthday. Even Max was invited to speak towards the end. We were quite impressed at the Marshallese ability to offer a lengthy speech without notes (me
n and women alike: this appears to be a traditional, but egalitarian culture). Emily, who had already offered a long prayer before dinner, spoke for at least 20 minutes to wrap things up, and then the guest of honour himself closed the evening.

During a lull in the proceedings before the speeches started, Emily and I had the opportunity to chat a bit; it was lovely to talk to her and she asked about our approaches to breastfeeding, wondering how long I expected to continue to nurse Benjamin. Not knowing much about the local culture, I hedged a bit, simply saying that each child was different, and I would see how it would go. She seemed to approve of this answer, and told me that in the villages, it was normal to nurse for 1-5 years, although people nurse their babies for less time in built up areas like Majuro. She also seemed to approve of Victoria's crochet project that she was working on all evening. A short while later, she returned from the house with a beautifully woven Marshallese basket. These are prized handicrafts that are usually traded for a set price, and we were really surprised and touched to receive one. Perhaps she gives one to all the yachties, but I had the feeling that this was a bit unusual, and
that she had felt a positive connection with us. The basket is round, about six inches in diameter and four inches tall, with a fitted lid with a shell embroidered into the center of it. This is a gift that we will always treasure. At the end of the evening, we made plans to return to Ailuk village after our trip to the north end of the lagoon so that Emily could teach about the baskets, and make us some to order.

I mentioned our RHIB, and I mentioned the feast, but I didn't mention our mode of transport for the evening: we elected to leave the still-tacky 5200 curing on the dinghy (turns out that the '48-hour tacky' also applies in the tropics, where despite what the instructions say, so many other adhesives cure before we can even finish applying them). To get to the party, Max used his stand-up paddle board, and the kids and I rowed ashore in Trickle :) Trickle is generally a sailing dinghy, but she worked beautifully in her alter-ego role as a rowing dinghy. I think the villagers were surprised when I rowed us ashore, especially with Benjamin on my lap for some of it. Johnathan earned his dinner rowing us back with a 20 kt crosswind (and in the pitch dark) while I carried the sleeping Benjamin in the carrier. It was especially entertaining, because not only did we have four people and a dry bag in the tiny dinghy, we also had various woven baskets, bowls and bags: we had been sent
home from the feast with all the remaining food from our table (including the whole chicken), as well as a bag of coconuts! A warm welcome is an understatement for Ailuk, and we are more than grateful that we finally got a weather window to come here!

The following day, we motored up the lagoon to the tiny village of about eight households at Enejelar Island, where we would have better shelter from the forecast winds ... and that is a story for another day :)

Love to everyone,


At 2017-02-26 1:14 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 1026.68'N 16957.23'E

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Surprise visit to Aur - Finally "Kiting in the Marshalls!"


We spent all our time in Majuro planning our trip to Ailuk (including buying 5x10kg each of rice and flour, and almost as much sugar, as we had heard that villagers were sometimes left short by the quarterly supply ship; to give you a visual, picture the starboard bench, which can be hard to see on the best of days, totally out of commission with bags and bags of rice and flour stacked up like sandbags before a flood), but on the night before departing, the new forecast indicated that the second half of the voyage would be increasingly rough, so we shortened our trip by a day and headed for Maloelap, known for its WWII relics, rather than waiting under the ITCZ several more days in the hope of better weather. We left Majuro around noon, and spent the afternoon with the nicest conditions of the entire passage, sailing gently up the lagoon under just our genoa. Just before the pass, we were hit by a "goodbye" squall, nicely bookending our stay in Majuro with the "welcome" squall that greeted us upon arrival.

We had significant swell hitting the pass as we left, and this set the tone for the rest of the night: winds in the comfortable low-teens built through the mid-teens and into the low 20's, with seas that increased accordingly. All night, we were close-reaching verging on being close-hauled (which means the wind was well forward of the beam, increasing the apparent wind, and the discomfort) flying our (newly functional) staysail and nearly a full main [As an aside, we often reef the main more than we did on this passage, and we seemed to have a more balanced helm than usual, so we will be playing with our sail configuration on future passages]. Our course took us into the lee of Aur Atoll, which eased the sea state slightly after midnight, but as dawn was approaching, we were passing the north-west corner of Aur and hardening up to head for Maloelap. The wind had backed somewhat, which meant that instead of being close-hauled, our intended course took us almost directly into the wind and building seas for the remaining 20 nm of our journey. With the winds continuing to increase (as forecast), it didn't take much convincing when Max suggested that we consider stopping at Aur instead of carrying on to Maloelap. It was nice to have a reminder that the lovely thing about cruising is that if we don't like the feel of a passage, we are not obliged to take it!

Given that passes and lagoons are best crossed with bright daylight, and that the sun had just risen, we sailed near to the pass and then hove-to for a couple hours. Having just come off-watch, I gratefully slept the morning away, and we crossed into Aur just before noon. We had noticed friends on AIS as we had passed the lagoon earlier in the night, so rather than motoring to the closer anchorage in the north, we sailed back down the lagoon towards our friends. This also conserved some diesel :) In effect, we did a big U-turn; as with our friends' U-turn in Kiribati, we ended up glad that we had gone the extra miles, as we had a lovely stopover in Aur, and eventually had a beautiful passage to Ailuk :)

Both of us find one-night passages to be particularly exhausting, and for once, we simply slept when we were tired, rather than pressing through on stamina and adrenaline. With both her parents snoring away the afternoon in the aft cabin, Victoria took the initiative to cook a picnic supper of baked beans and grilled cheese, which she served under the stars on the foredeck, using the upturned dinghy as a table.

Tuesday dawned sunny and windy: perfect conditions for kiting. One of our main goals for our season in the Marshalls is to solidify the kiting skills that we began to develop through our few lessons in NZ and Fiji last year, and we were excited to finally be in a location where that looked to be possible :) After a quick trip to the village for Max and Johnathan to pay our anchoring fees, Max and I met the other adults for an afternoon on the beach, while Victoria and Johnathan earned pocket money watching Benjamin on Fluenta. Perfect conditions or not, it felt a little too windy for my nerves, so I was happy to give Max a turn with my medium-sized kite while I drove the dinghy. We were both glad to receive a few pointers from Matt on Cavalo, who is much more experienced (and skilled!) than we are :) Other than receiving nasty stings on his forearm from a couple of bright blue jellyfish (tiny, but powerful), he had a successful afternoon. Thankfully, Arnica, vinegar, and the passage of time took care of his arm, and most of the inflammation had settled down by the evening.

For once, we had the boat with the largest (and as it turned out, driest) cockpit in the anchorage, so we invited the others over for sundowners at Fluenta. By the time everyone had finished at the beach, it was sundowners in name only! We had a lovely evening getting to know Matt & Annie on Cavalo (whom we had first met in 2014 in Tonga when we were all waiting for weather to make our first passage to NZ) and Carley and Grant on Viandante (who had been at Musket Cove and Tarawa when we were there). It began to rain gently early in the evening, but unlike the usual passing squalls, this rain set in for about 24 hours. We finally called it a night when there was a rare lull between squalls and everyone could dash home. It wouldn't be a social evening without food, so we shared a quickly-prepared batch of "Grampy Biscuits", turned into appetizer scones with the addition of oregano, basil, and the Parmesan Cheese we had found (for the first time in ages) while we were in Majuro. Victoria held court with the ladies, sharing recipes and tips, and Grampy's biscuit recipe has now found two new homes :) [It was especially fun to have Carley onboard, as she had the chance to see her own toilet seat being put to good use: she had hand-carried a Groco seat back from the States, only to find that it didn't quite fit the model they had onboard. Meanwhile, we had an aging Groco seat on Fluenta, which we hoped to someday replace. Imagine our surprise to arrive in Majuro and hear on the Cruisers' Radio Net that the very seat we needed was free to a good home across the anchorage!]

We hardly moved the following day - the rain didn't let up until well into the late afternoon/evening, so it felt like a February Snow Day at home (especially since family in Halifax were hunkered down for an actual snow day the same week!) It was a good chance to enjoy each others' company by playing games all afternoon, but in fact, we spent the time adjusting and buoying our anchor instead! Max dove on the chain, I controlled the helm, and Victoria and Johnathan were in charge of communications with Max in the water and operation of the windless. We had gotten snarled on a bommie, but we managed to free the chain, and then added floating fenders on about 20 feet of line to the chain in a couple of places to keep it from catching again.

We had a number of avid divers in the anchorage, so Max was able to join them to dive on the outer reef the next afternoon, after the weather had cleared. I understand that it was a beautiful dive with lots of beautiful fish [Note from Max: large grouper, a few sharks and sea turtles, and many different types of coral]. We have three tanks, so unless we are buddy-boating with someone with a compressor, Max generally gets two dives between refills in major centers. We have learned the hard way that we must save a tank for anchor-chain emergencies. Meanwhile, we took advantage of the calm sunny weather to excavate the V-Berth and air out or dry out all the gear that had gotten damp on our passage (we think water came in through the dorade with all of the green waves over the bow). We decided back in October that we wouldn't have additional crew for this northern season; ever since, the room has become more and more jumbled. Johnathan and I re-packed the space in such a way that we created a reading nook for the kids. It is always nice for them to have a little space away from the rest of the family, and I enjoyed collaborating with Johnathan, both to keep a list of everything that got stored under the bunk (for our monster spreadsheet) and to decide how the bulky items would best fit into the available space.

The winds stayed calm for the next few days, so even though we were in an ideal kiting location, we no longer had ideal winds. This lent itself to other water pursuits: visits to the beach to play in the waves, paddle boarding around the lagoon, snorkelling on the outer reef where Max had gone diving [Note from Max: under a two or three foot slightly murky layer from the lagoon there was crystal clear [70' visibility ?] water and many interesting colourful fish], and even a little bit of fishing. My favourite pastime wasn't a water sport, but I enjoyed two rare yoga practices on the beautiful beach. A friend in Majuro had lent me a thick yoga reference, so on one day I put some of those ideas into use, while on the second day, I turned to my tried-and-true podcasts, and enjoyed not just one, but two, Eoin Finn practices. It is surprisingly unusual for all of us to go to the beach just for fun the same time (usually someone has to stay home to fix the boat, mind a napping baby, or carry out some other chore) but we really enjoyed the unstructured time that we spent at the little sandspit, especially at low tide, when it seemed to stretch almost out to Fluenta. At certain tides, little waves broke around the channel and the end of the sandspit: Benjamin loved his introduction to boogie boarding, Max enjoyed playing on his paddleboard, and the big kids spent hours in the waves with and without the boogie boards.

We didn't have to go all the way to the reef to see fish - we just had to jump in beside the boat (or better yet empty our scrap bucket overboard) to see two rainbow runner. Victoria and Johnathan spent most of the week plotting their demise (fishing hooks/lures, spear fishing (how to get the fish without shooting the boat at the same time??), and trolling were all on their list), but perhaps there is a reason these fish are so big: no matter what they did, we never ended up catching them! We also spent part of an evening watching little green dots glowing in the water (yes, really). Victoria was the one who noticed them, just after dinner in the pitch dark of the early evening, and they would start as one dot, grow to three, and then disappear. We couldn't see much with flashlight, but we think they were some kind of sea worm. They lasted for a little while, and then they were gone. Neat.

The light winds and flat anchorage (at low tide, anyway: at high tide the swell poured over the reef and kept our sea legs tuned up) finally gave us the conditions we had been waiting for to re-adjust our wind generator. If this sounds familiar to you, it is because we only just did this job in Fiji! The wind generator has three blades, which are held to the rotating blade disk by two bolts each. One might think that it would be manufactured such that there was only one possible position for the blades, but one would be wrong! There is a tiny amount of play available to each blade, and if the blades get at all out of alignment, then the resulting vibrations can be felt throughout the entire boat. The six nuts need to be tightened sufficiently to hold the blades in place and prevent vibration, but not tightened so much as to crack the blades! If an adjustment is required, the tip-to-tip distances between the three blades must be measured repeatedly, with tiny changes in position made until the distances are the same. We had had a few weeks of perfect operation after leaving Fiji, but by Majuro, our teeth were rattling every time the wind went much above 15 kts, and we were often shutting it down at night just so that we could sleep. As a small reminder, our wind generator is mounted at the top of a tall pole; to access it, Max dons his super-stiff climbing sandals (grateful to my cousin Cody for his spur-of-the-moment gift), wedges one foot into a 'V' formed by the base of the lifting arm for our outboard engine, wraps the other leg around the pole in some kind of yoga posture (Eagle?), and carefully hands tools and parts up and down with the person standing below him on the port dock box, reaching to almost the full extent of his height to access the generator (which has a brake to keep it from spinning ...). The only good thing about doing a job repeatedly is that each time the process goes a little faster; however, this job is always done with the awareness that, as my grandmother used to say, 'more hurry' can lead to 'less speed': none of the parts float, and a man-overboard drill for the retaining nut would have been pretty much impossible where we were anchored. In other words, there is no room for error! Johnathan was Max's able assistant, and I was amazed at how quickly they got the nose-cone and blade disk off, adjusted, and back in place, calling for the brake to be turned off so they could test the system before I had even imagined they would have it apart. It is so nice to be back into the quiet business of making power with the wind, without worrying that it is about to shake itself to pieces.

Our wind generator was not the only beneficiary of a spell of calm and sunny weather. We also took the opportunity to re-caulk an area on our teak deck, where the 'Teak Decking System' (a.k.a. terrible black caulking goo) had lost its adhesion. As usual, this was a chance to clear out part of our adhesives cupboard, as some of the tubes we had bought in Fiji had already completely solidified (as they do in the tropics, even if they are unopened), and Max adjusted the tune of some of the rigging which had seemed loose on our upwind passage.

Sunday morning was quite fun: Victoria invited the other two ladies over so they could learn a bit about Kefir. She has been doing the daily processing of the kefir she was given in Majuro, which generates a variety of tasty offerings including milkshakes and a herby cream-cheese type spread, and she already had enough to share. The morning turned into a bit of a wider information exchange, as the ladies each keep some kind of fermented food onboard: one boat had sauerkraut and the other had kombucha, with some kimchi in the mix as well. It all made my yogourt seem pretty mainstream! All this to say that I didn't know there was so much to know about probiotics, or that it was such a common area of interest!

That evening, we had a case of great minds thinking alike. Early in the afternoon, I had suggested a bonfire, and not an hour later, one of the other boats came on the radio asking if the 'fleet' would like to meet ashore for sundowners :) The kids were happy to go to work gathering sticks and coconut husks, and we had a lovely full-moon evening around our campfire. We even dug out a can of hot dogs that I had bought in Papeete three years ago (and some marshmallows that were a little more recent). We didn't have a goat to roast, but the evening reminded me of our full-moon bonfire in Tahanea, when we were first getting to know our friends on Nautilus, and when the moon was so bright and the water so clear that we didn't even need a flashlight to see the bommies on the way back to the boat. Benjamin is no longer a small baby being handed around to all the big kids; thankfully, having skipped his nap, he fell asleep before he could get himself into too much trouble with the fire, and we even managed to get him back to Fluenta at the end of the evening (off the blanket, into his life jacket, into the dinghy, up the ladder to the boat, down the ladder to the saloon, and into the bunk) without waking him up!

Before long, the winds and seas settled down, and we were able to make plans to continue with our original plan of sailing to Ailuk. Instead of the 20 kts and 3m seas of the previous week, we had the most glorious sail in 6-15 kts and almost flat calm (in fact, we had a strange long-period swell greeting us from the north west). Once again, we were close-hauled, but this time, it was pleasant to have the wind forward of the beam, as it meant that even in the light winds we could keep sailing, and we only motored to enter the lagoon. The moon was still almost full and very bright, the sky was clear of squalls and full of stars (in fact, we have returned far enough into the northern latitudes to see the Big Dipper and North Star), and we couldn't have asked for a nicer passage. We departed Aur at around 0800 one morning, and we were anchor-down in Ailuk the following day around noon.

Bottom line: waiting for a good weather weather window, and even doing a U-turn, led to a beautiful surprise visit to Aur :)

Much love to all,


At 1899-12-30 10:10 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 10°26.68'N 169°57.23'E
At 2017-02-22 9:09 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 10°26.68'N 169°57.23'E

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Friday, 10 February 2017

Majuro in the rain


We had an optimistic wish when we arrived in Majuro that we would stay long enough to receive the parcels we had arranged while we were in Kiribati, and to buy enough groceries to last us for a couple of months in the outer islands, before leaving for more remote locations. We vaguely knew that the Intertropical Convergence Zone regularly made its presence felt, but we (at least I) hadn't factored in the days of constant wind and rain, over and above the squalls that we have come to expect. All this to say that when we arrived we didn't really expect to become 'regulars' at local events, but for better or for worse, that seems to have happened!

That being said, there is a lovely and organized community of ex-pats here in Majuro. We joined the Meico Beach Yacht Club at our first Tuesday dinner, hardly two days after our arrival, and we have attended numerous functions since then. Our Yacht Club card also gives us discounts at several local stores (including one of the well-stocked American-style hardware stores).

One of the shops where I applied my Yacht Club discount was at the local computer shop, where I bought a headset with a microphone: the kids needed this to start their new French programme. After four years of paying lip-service to the need to learn a second language, we were finally prompted by Victoria to do something about it. On the recommendation of her SelfDesign teacher, we bought Rosetta Stone materials; it works without Internet access, and both kids have started daily lessons with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. Once the kids are established, the grownups will try it as well, and we are all excited to improve our French before we head to Wallis (of "Wallis & Futuna" - a French territory) later in the year.

On that first Tuesday evening, I felt a sensation almost like culture shock when we walked into the restaurant for the weekly dinner gathering and I saw more cruisers in one room than I had seen in one place since the Musket Cove Regatta back in September. We were such a big group that we were moved out of our private room into the main restaurant because we didn't fit! We were seated at four large round tables, and we ended up with two other couples at our table. The kids sat down before the grownups, and as it turned out, there were gaps between them that others filled as they joined the group. It was gratifying to see Victoria and Johnathan carrying on independent conversations with the adults beside them, turning down my offers to change seats so they could sit beside people in their family. After 4 1/2 years of travelling and talking to strangers, they were not daunted by making small talk with new people :)

Our next event was a 50th birthday party for one of our new friends. As soon as Victoria caught wind of an upcoming birthday, she was adamant that there had to be cake! After some initial grownup resistance, we wisely stood back and let her lead the way; the chocolate (wacky) cake was simple but beautiful, and very well received. It also offered Victoria a chance to develop her own relationships with the adults in our group: she interacts with them as her own self on her own terms. It is fun to watch her growing and developing as a teenager :)

We spent one Saturday participating in the Yacht Club's annual Reef Walk. Advertised as a short slosh in shin-deep water followed by a comfortable jaunt along the dry outer reef, we thought it sounded like fun: a good chance to meet some people, and perhaps learn a bit more about the flora and fauna of the area from those who had been there longer. Somehow, the organizers (as they acknowledged after the fact in a commendable email) chose the wrong Saturday tide-wise, and we ended up walking most of the three-hour trek in water at least over our knees, if not at the top of our thighs, against the current that was pouring water into the lagoon through the cuts we were crossing. Thankfully, everyone was healthy and accounted for at the end of the day, with only one minor ankle injury out of a group of about 40. We were amongst the youngest walkers (I heard several of the ladies comparing stories of their grandchildren before we set out) so I was certainly impressed at what a hardy group we had joined!! In case you are curious, Victoria and Johnathan, with another 13-year-old boy who lives here on a catamaran, were amongst the first to finish, Benjamin travelled on my back, sleeping most of the way in his carrier (I figured I would be slow on the uneven ground anyway, and this way I had an excuse!), and Max carried the backpack with water and food (and offered me a steadying arm on a regular basis). We were sunburned but proud of ourselves when we finished. That evening, the kids invited the boy to Fluenta to play Risk. Not to be left out, we invited his parents and older sister to join us as well. We haven't met many kid-boats this season, and it was lovely to connect with some other parents again.

One of the first radio transmissions I heard when we arrived in Majuro was an announcement that there was a group of ladies who did yoga three times/week at the local Wellness Center ( Not only did I finally have a chance to practice in a group setting, but it became a mother-daughter expedition as well, as Victoria decided to join me. I think that she initially came because it was a more attractive way to spend an hour than staying on the boat and looking after Benjamin (in fact, she intended to crochet while we practiced), but after the first day when she just did a few postures, she began rolling out her mat and participating for the entire session. With a group that ranged in age from 13 to 70, we formed an eclectic community of women (and sometimes men) and kindred souls. Since their regular teacher moved away, the two core ladies have been following a practice that they downloaded from the internet, but they were open-minded enough to try a couple of my "" podcasts from fellow Canadian Eoin Finn. I had a bit of a shock the first time I set up the audio podcast, however: one of the ladies did not speak any English at all, so I became the live video feed for the practice, and she followed my movements. We all had a good chuckle as the two ladies (both +/- 70 years old) gamely tried some unfamiliar movements :) If, as Eoin Finn says, YOGA is "You've Only Got Attitude", then these ladies have Yoga in spades!

At the other end of the workout spectrum, Victoria and I went to what we thought was a Sunday yoga practice only to find out that one of the women did *not* do yoga for religious reasons, so we ended up doing an aerobics video instead. Let's just say it was a good experience in jumping right out of my comfort zone!! The following Sunday, I ended up leading the yoga practice so that I could selfishly experience something a little more of a Sunday-morning nature (i.e. for my own 'religious reasons'!!) I also found that when exposed to a video that emphasized the size and the look of the participants bodies (rather than their innate beauty and the internal experience of exercising at the 'intelligent edge' of their own limits) I appreciated anew the more yogic attitude of 'union with what is' whatever shape it may take on a given day.

It wasn't just the adults who enjoyed the social side of life in Majuro. Not long after we arrived, our French Polynesian friends from Tuvalu, whom we had only seen briefly in Kiribati, came and took a mooring right beside us. Johnathan and Tamanui (8 years old) played on one boat or the other almost every day. Their boat was close enough that Benjamin could go (in his usual naked state) onto the foredeck and holler to Tamanui to come over to play: he loved the older boy, and Tamanui patiently doted on him :) Tamanui and his dad have a traditional Polynesian canoe for their tender, so he took Johnathan in it and Johnathan taught him to drive our dinghy. Johnathan, acting as a shrewd financier, also kept close track of my hours off the boat: he earned $1 for every hour that I left him in charge of Benjamin. As a sign of his growing sense of responsibility, he even kept him alone on the boat when all of the rest of us had to go ashore for various errands.

As you can imagine, with access to the US Postal Service, and large hardware stores, our time in Majuro wasn't all about social and fitness excursions. It was like Christmas every time we would go to the post office and come back with some new box of long-awaited goodies (including a replacement Weems & Plath barometer: we loved our old one, but it died, and they had stopped making it. Heeding customer demands, they started making it again, and our new one is now snuggly affixed to our wall; even the old mount was the right size!) Max focussed on progressing a significant number of projects, including some that were not on his list (such as epoxying holes in the saloon ceiling that days of rain brought to our attention!) On the bright side, Max also used epoxy to fill in the screw holes for our ceiling panels so that he and I could re-secure them with new screws. It is the little things that make a difference: now our panels are not falling down at funny angles. Both kids got into the act as well, splicing of a new towing line for the dinghy (Victoria), and a new hook onto our three-strand snubber (Johnathan) and replacing a sheared bolt on an antenna pole (Johnathan).

It turned out that Internet connectivity was much better in Kiribati (where we had 3G in the anchorage) than in Majuro (which is a bigger center), so ordering new items proved a challenge, especially when we arrived and they were reaching the end of a month-long internet outage. We may have USPS, but we are still on a Pacific atoll! This was driven home when we tried to get the forms to update two passports. Not only was there no internet, but no one had a working fax machine. After an afternoon of pounding the pavement looking for a solution, I finally found that the Wellness Center could receive and print them ... just as the Internet was turning back on for everyone! Even with our wifi repeater/antenna, we had no access from the boat, but we managed to do the bare minimum of admin by going to a (very slow) hotspot ashore. Our current plan is to do the last of our seasonal 'shopping' once we return from the outer islands, and then stay in the local area during the shipping/install window. Rumour has it that we will have 4G in Majuro by then, but time will tell. After the outage, we were grateful just to have wifi in a couple of restaurants:)

One project that we have now added to our list is the upgrade of our autopilot drive. We installed a new one before we left Mexico, but even though it was within the manufacturer's specs, and we sail conservatively (something about having kids onboard...) it seems to have worked too hard, too often, and it died a death that same year between Tonga and NZ. It was replaced under warranty, but had to be completely overhauled (seals and brushes were shot) the following year in Fiji. The watercooler consensus here, amongst cruisers who have collectively covered more miles than any other group we have met, is that, given the sea states in which bluewater cruisers typically find ourselves, we all generally need a bigger setup than specified. One couple with a similar boat (in fact, they have a Hylas 49, a newer vessel based on our Stevens 47 hull) has an autopilot that has required *no* maintenance, despite having covered about 70,000 nm! We have chosen our new drive and supplier, and will order it when we return to Majuro after our first trip to the outer islands. Our hope is to install it before heading south for the next cruising season.

Victoria has been working on a new hobby for the last couple of weeks. One of our neighbours in the anchorage shared some Kefir grains with her, and each morning at about 7am she carefully separates out the pro-biotic product from the Kefir grains and the whey. It requires strict attention to hygiene and timing, so I think she is enjoying the rigour of the process, especially as she is naturally an early riser, and she has the galley to herself when she is processing it! I am happy to stay warm in my bunk until she is finished :) We have been enjoying Kefir smoothies as well as Kefir spread (which she makes by straining the product to remove even more of the whey and then mixing in some salt and some herbs: it is similar to flavoured cream cheese, and is very tasty!) The same neighbour gave her a slip of basil, so she has been exercising her green thumb as well, and soon we are hopeful that her harvest will show up in our Italian food :) She loves having new projects to work on, but she is also maintaining her commitment to her crocheted afghan, and she set up a little bag of wool and supplies that came with her whenever she accompanied me on my (long, boring) errand days!

An Alele is a Marshallese basket in which a family would keep its treasures (mainly tools and handicrafts) and hand them down through the matriarchal line from generation to generation. The Alele is also the local Marshallese museum, where we took a field trip as a whole family. In the space of two rooms, we saw displays that covered traditional navigation, body art, domestic handicrafts, boat building, and weapons/warfare, as well as the more recent history of Nuclear Testing by the US military. We loved the displays, but we found ourselves wondering how long the traditional skills will be maintained.

Once it seemed that we might have a weather window opening up, I turned my attention to provisioning. Even though the boat was still pretty full from Fiji, I loaded up on canned and dry goods to prepare us for upwards of two months without seeing a grocery store. We did most of our shopping at the Pay Less and K&K Island Pride, both of which reminded me of shopping in North America, with lots of familiar brands. Of course, looks can be deceiving, and many of these familiar cans are dated for some time last year! These items are generally offered at half price, and it is funny to see how most of the past-date food is generally fine to eat. When I showed up at the checkout of the K&K with my two full carts (with my flat cart from the warehouse Annex waiting by the security desk), the manager actually called for his car to be brought around, and sent two men to drive me back to the dinghy dock! I had assumed that I would take a taxi (which ply the streets like buses, taking people up and down the town for $0.75 per person) but I had begun to realize that perhaps this was not the preferred model from a taxi-driver's perspective. To clear my conscience, I would have had to pay the fare for three extra people just to fit my groceries into the car!

After being chauffeur-driven back to the boat, the challenge was to make everything shipshape for an imminent departure (not necessarily to stow all the food in its 'forever cubby'). Lots of cans simply went into dry bags and under the saloon table to save time. I had a good reminder that no matter how much the stores remind me of North America, I was still shopping in the tropics: I went to remove some food from one of the cardboard shipping boxes in which they had kindly packed my groceries at the checkout counter, and half a dozen beady little eyes stared back at me. Thankfully, as they scuttled away, I found that my cockroach-killing instincts were still intact from our passage from Mexico to Pape'ete, so it seems that I killed all my little friends before they could scatter and reproduce. Heart pounding with the adrenaline of the chase, I removed the rest of the packing cardboard from the boat quite promptly! We are provisioned for another couple of months; I feel a bit like a bear who has been eating all fall, and now is going to live off these hoarded stores throughout the winter. While we are in the outer islands, I am hoping to empty my cupboards and use all the strange one-off cans and packages that have collected over the last few seasons :)

It turned out that we were lucky to have had as calm of a passage to Majuro as we did. We were met by a squall as we approached the lagoon, and we had variations of squally/rainy weather most of the days we were there. One evening as we were preparing to leave the boat for a concert of live music (in fact, Benjamin was already dressed in his 'blueberry suit' (MEC Rainsuit) and lifejacket) the sustained wind began to blow well into the 30's, with gusts to 37 kts. We had already decided that Max would stay aboard, other than for the short periods when he would drop us off and pick us up at the dinghy dock, but in a moment, we realized that we would rather all stay on board and have a games night than venture out in the dinghy. Although we heard later that the concert was lovely, we (especially the kids) decided that we had more fun playing "RummyKub", a fast-paced game that we had inherited from our friends on Exodus when they went home last year (Thanks Deanne!) It felt a bit like staying home on a wintry evening in Canada when the forecast is for stormy weather and it is a certainty that the roads will be a mess :) We found out afterwards that our mooring had a few spots in need of reinforcement, but thankfully it held through all the heavy weather.

Tired of the bad weather, we grabbed a short window on Sunday (it would have been Saturday, but somehow the schedule slipped and provisioning took longer than I had alloted) and headed North. Right up until the evening before the passage, we were headed to Ailuk (in fact there is 50kg each of flour and rice, and somewhat less of sugar, on our starboard bench at this very moment for the nice people of Ailuk who rarely see the supply ship) but given the forecasted winds on the nose for the last half of the trip, we decided to shorten the journey and head for Maloelap instead. As we rounded the corner between Aur and Maloelap, ready to bash into 20 kt winds for the next 4-5 hours, we reminded ourselves (as we had done on one memorable passage in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico) that this was supposed to be fun! The passage had already been quite lumpy (close hauled in 15-22 kts), so it was easy to convince everyone that it was a good idea to turn at the upcoming pass entrance, sail back across the lagoon, and anchor in the south corner of Aur instead. Maloelap and Ailuk will still be there in a couple of weeks!

This pretty much brings us up to date ... news of Aur to follow in a few days :)

Love to you all,
At 2017-02-07 10:10 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°09.28'N 171°09.79'E

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Friday, 20 January 2017

First Days in Majuro

Greetings -

I am sure you are shocked to see another email from us already - hopefully this one won't take so long to read as my last two epistles!

We arrived in Majuro just before sunset on Sunday evening, and Max went ashore to clear us in on Monday while the kids and I did a "Saloon Blitz" to restore the main living spaces to some semblance of order after the passage. By the time Max came back, the kids had cleared the benches, swept the floors, polished the table and were working on their Life of Fred Math at either end of the (almost never) folded-open table. [Aside - I have to say that this is what I thought Homeschooling would be like every day, and after 4 1/2 years, I can count on one hand the number of days like this that I have experienced! It was lovely! I have slowly learned that learning takes place in many shapes and forms, and it doesn't always require a swept floor or a big table.]

With the big table opened, Victoria was able to lay out all the squares of her afghan, which she had spent some time that morning taking apart. She has decided that a diamond pattern will be much more satisfactory than stripes, so now she has stacks of squares and she is beginning again to stitch them together. She is pretty cheerful about re-working her project, and even made a crocheted plastic basket in which to keep her long yarn that she will use to sew her blocks together!

The big table again proved useful a couple of days later when the 13-year-old boy from the one other kid boat came over to visit. With more open space than normal in the saloon, it was easy to suggest playing a board game. He played Risk with Victoria and Johnathan for a couple of hours, and they made plans for him to come back and finish the game sometime soon. Johnathan actually thanked me after the boy went home that I had encouraged them to play board games :)

The main reason many people gravitate towards Majuro is to take advantage of USPS service and use the internet to deal with the backlog of administration and logistics that builds up while cruising more remote locations. I was shocked to discover when Max came back from clearing in that those people have been out of luck for the last month! Majuro experienced an internet outage in late December, and it is still not rectified. High on our to-do list was submitting a couple of passport applications, so we ended up doing a 'remote Google search' for the contact info for our Canadian High Commission (ie we asked my brother to send it to us via email!) He also gallantly sent the forms to our Iridium GO! email address, but the file was so big that it would have taken over three hours to download, and our connection never lasts more than a few minutes! After walking all over Majuro the next day and finding that no one had a working fax machine, I discovered that the local health clinic (where I was thrilled to practice yoga) had working email, and the Director was kind enough to let the Canadian High Commission send the forms to her for printing. Such is the exotic life we lead!

The most unusual thing I have done this week is to try out my skill as a barber/hair dresser. We have had a kit aboard since last April, but this was the first time I had been brave enough to use it. We started out on the side deck, but with wind and blasting sun, we soon moved into the cockpit, using an upside down 5 Gallon bucket as a chair. Victoria had me cut of 8" to donate, Johnathan got a trim (although he was tempted by my clippers to get a buzz cut), and Max got "#3 on the sides and scissors on the top". Benjamin is in the 'before' picture, but he changed his mind and had a nap instead. He is still sporting the 'curly tangles' look, but hopefully, the sun will come out and I will get him into an 'after' picture before too long... I had a lot of fun trying out a new skill (slightly less scary than kite boarding!) and was pleased that no one looked too terrible when we were finished. Even a few days later, I keep smiling when I look at them, because I am so happy that they are pleased with their result, and because they look so good!

Tuesday nights in Majuro are Cruiser Dinner nights: the local yachties go to one of four restaurants for a meal together. After being on the ground for only 48 hrs, I had a sense of culture shock when I saw the size of the group. We haven't seen that many cruisers in one place in months! It was a nice introduction to the wider community, and we are now card-carrying members of the Meico Beach (Marshall Islands) Yacht Club.

Even without Internet, Majuro is a place where we will be able to do a good deal of re-provisioning. Walking into one of the grocery or hardware stores is like walking into a little piece of North America. The brands are the same as at home (Triscuits! Ziplocs! Doritos! Chocolate chips!) and many of the staff even have American accents :) Without the credit card machines working, it has taken great restraint to spend only the money in my purse as I see familiar items for the first time. I have taken to marking down the things I am drooling over in my notebook so that I can go back later in the week if they really do turn out to be 'needs' vice 'wants' :)

Now that we have been here a few days, we are getting the hang of travelling in Majuro: there is one main road, and dozens of taxies spend all day making their slow way from one end to the other and back again, waiting for someone to flag them down. Much like the I-Kiribati bus system, for 75 cents/person, riders will be taken where they need to go (or close - Max asked for Customs, and he got delivered to the Parliament next door!) If their destination is beyond the main town, the fare rises to $2 for a trip that could take upwards of a half hour. After our yoga yesterday (followed by green smoothies and stirfry in the Wellness Center cafeteria) Victoria and I spent the rest of the day driving and walking up and down the town doing errands. Johnathan and I did the same today to fill our propane tanks (taxi to the Energy office, pay your money, take another taxi to the "gas field", fill your tanks, then flag a third taxi to go home!)

While I have been gallivanting around town, Max has been working flat out, checking items off on his maintenance list. Sometimes he has to add them so he can check them off, as happened this morning: he turned on the 'network' switch at the chart table so we could see wind speed during a squall, and just as quickly, it flipped itself back off again. Troubleshooting wiring that snaked from the saloon to the aft cabin to the galley hadn't been on his to-do list for the morning, but it immediately became his top item. Thankfully, the main network seems fine, and the fish finder wiring (which had already been blowing fuses, and for which we have a new plug coming) can now wait for another day.

We have been eating well in Majuro - we enjoyed the last of the mahi mahi last night (soaked in limes from the Plantation in Taveuni, then cooked in coconut milk, ginger, garlic, tomatoes and onions and served with rice) and a pork loin tonight. The pork loin was originally destined for our freezer rather than our fridge, but after I bought it, I remembered the ex-pat advice from Tuvalu not to buy square chickens. I figured that the same advice applied to pork, and given the rather rectilinear shape of the narrow loin roast, and its nearly thawed state when I got home from the grocery store, I decided that it had better be eaten immediately. We haven't had roast meat and mashed potatoes on board for months, so it was a very popular meal!!

We have a squally/rainy/windy system sitting on top of us at the moment (ICTZ - once we got the network back, I saw winds up to 27 kts this afternoon). I understand it is going to stay put for a couple of weeks, so I am not sure when we will be able to head for the outer islands and the sunshine... in the meantime, at least it is not snow that we have to shovel!

Love to all,

At 2016-12-26 1:54 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 07°06.15'N 171°22.41'E
At 2016-12-26 8:20 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 07°06.16'N 171°22.41'E

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Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Happy New Year with other families in Tarawa ... then on to the Marshall Islands!

Greetings and Happy New Year!!

I hope you have been enjoying all the photos Max has patiently uploaded. Kiribati has 3G internet service, but our coverage and connection have sometimes been hit and miss. We set sail on Thursday afternoon for Majuro, Marshall Islands, and arrived on Sunday, so it seems about time to write and give you the narrative version of our second visit to Tarawa :)

We arrived back from Butaritari on the Friday before New Year's Eve. The passage was an uneventful motorboat trip on flat seas with mostly no wind, but the anchoring marked a milestone: Johnathan and Max anchored by themselves! It was mid-morning when we entered the lagoon. I was sleeping off-watch when Johnathan brought Benjamin to me, and told me that we would be at the anchorage in about 15 minutes; this usually means that I have that much time to be on deck, equipped with shoes, gloves, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, and paired Bluetooth headsets, ready to anchor. I settled Benjamin to sleep as quickly as I could, and came up on deck -- just as Max was shutting down the engine at the Parliament anchorage ! Max had put the anchor on the bottom and Johnathan had done his usual job of setting the anchor-watch button, then they switched places and Max reversed the engine while Johnathan eased out the chain with the deck-mounted electric switch. I was pretty surprised and pretty proud to find myself out of work!

Our ultimate destination was a point a few miles further up the lagoon that we had scouted on the satellite imagery as being off the Tabon Te Kee Kee resort, but we waited until we had the afternoon sun behind us to move. As with many anchorages in Kiribati, the lagoon was very flat and shallow nearby, with 750m of bare reef at low tide. This meant anchoring quite a distance out, and being prepared to accommodate our schedule to the tides. The water was high enough when we arrived that Max and I could go ashore to check out how and where we would leave the dinghy, and to confirm that they sold cold drinks with a sunset view: they did :)

Loaded down with dry bags as if we were moving ashore for a week, we met our friends the following afternoon. It was such fun to reconnect with the mum and kids who did the U-turn to meet us when we were first in Tarawa, and to meet her husband, a friend of theirs, and another Australian family with two kids. Forming spur-of-the-moment friendships with like-minded souls like these is definitely one of the highlights of cruising for me.

After getting to know one another over a potluck of snacks and drinks (and sharing many funny stories of provisioning these treats in Kiribati and other exotic locations) we enjoyed a simple, but tasty, meal of local foods put on by the resort: two kinds of fish, chicken legs, taro, squash, rice, and a plate of cucumbers and tomatoes. With three buias (thatched huts) ashore and two on stilts out over the water, Tabon Te Kee Kee was a lovely spot at which to spend New Year's Eve. We were the only guests that evening, so we felt very spoiled to have a private resort to ourselves!! Since we left to go cruising, we have celebrated NYE in Mexico (twice), Canada, New Zealand, and now Kiribati. Once again, the combination of friends, family, food, and room for kids to run and play proved magic in creating an enjoyable and memorable evening.

Since the forecast was benign, and the rising mid-tide was not until 3am, we decided to treat ourselves to a rare overnight ashore in one of the buias. I decided that it was just as well that our friends had the over-water ones, as I didn't want Benjamin to fall overboard through any crack between the floor and the wall! Our buia consisted of a thatched roof and half-walls with a three-foot-high wooden platform taking up most of the space. On the platform, the staff had placed several mattresses side by side and enclosed them with mosquito netting. It was quite lovely, and it marked the first night that we left Fluenta unattended at anchor since we moved aboard in 2012.

A side benefit of being in Fiji for Diwali earlier this year was that we were able to stock up on fireworks before we left. With the bare flats because of the low tide in the late evening, Max was able to go well away from the tinder-dry buias to put on our show. We had some small sparklers and some larger proper fireworks that went of high in the sky with an enormous sound. When it was finished, we could hear exclamations from other spectators across the bay :) Other than our fireworks, our group was pretty quiet and low-key, but our neighbours across the small channel partied well into the wee hours !

The following morning, we were treated to real coffee by our well-prepared friends. They brought their own pot from home, and made up the coffee in the resort kitchen. Yum! A lazy morning and a tasty brunch (including pancakes topped with a special coconut syrup distilled from coconut sap in the same way as we make Maple Syrup in Canada) were followed by just the right amount of exertion: they had brought enough bikes for the kids (and one prize-worthy Dad) to do a little trek along the dirt road up the island. The rest of us formed a walking party and sauntered along a little later. Victoria elected to enjoy the peace and quiet at the resort, while Johnathan rode a bike that looked bigger than he was. I enjoyed walking through traditional villages (very similar to ones we might see on the outer islands) after the congestion and paved roads of South Tarawa.

With the afternoon high tide came time to say good bye. We headed back to Fluenta in our now-floating dinghy, while our fiends took an open I-Kiribati boat across the channel to South Tarawa, where they had parked their cars, and then drove down the one paved road to their homes.

By the time our weather window for the Marshall Islands materialized, we ended up staying in Tarawa a total of another week and a half, dividing our time between socializing with our friends (our house, their house) and taking in some of the cultural and historic sights.

We invited both families to come to Fluenta for swimming and dinner, but when they very politely declined our offer of swimming in the (as it turned out very polluted) Tarawa lagoon, we didn't even bother to put the spinnaker pole up ! We stuck with dinner, Lego, card games, and movies, sharing a trevally that their NYE friend had kindly dropped off at Fluenta following their sport-fishing expedition the previous day. In addition to fish and rice, we had home made bread (for once, not made aboard Fluenta!) and a salad with lettuce, home-made croutons, and hard-boiled eggs: since we hadn't seen fresh eggs since Fiji this was a particular delicacy! The supposedly fresh refrigerated eggs that I bought before Christmas were the worst eggs I had ever sampled. Each family had a boy and a girl, so by the end of the evening, we had the boys watching action movies in the saloon while the girls elected to enjoy the Sound of Music in the aft cabin. Even the dads and the moms drifted into separate conversations in the cockpit.

We got a bit of a surprise the first time we went ashore after our return to the Parliament anchorage: in the week we had been away, the rules had changed, and yachties could no longer use their dock! We pleaded our case and got a one-day exception, but we chose to move once more before our next shore excursion. We anchored off the 'Chatterbox' Cafe, which was owned by the same family as the Tabon Te Kee Kee, and through whom we arranged our WWII Relics tour. They are hoping to make some improvements to encourage more cruisers to visit; a welcome change would be the potential installation of a dingy dock, because even though this anchorage is one of the few with a channel through the reef to the shore, the dinghy still ends up drying out for several hours each tide, and it was challenging to secure it to the available hard points for an entire day ashore. We sure missed simplicity and security of the all-tide access at the Parliament dock!!

We ended up with what was effectively a private WWII tour in an air conditioned van, that included a stop to visit Sister Margaret, a Catholic nun who had been in Kiribati for over 50 years. To put the rest of our day into perspective, the WWII relics were barely ten years old when she arrived in 1955! Her office had been entrusted with holding the Declaration of Occupation, posted by the Japanese when they arrived in 1941, as well as a copy of the Notice of Surrender from 1943.

Sister Margaret also gave us an overview of the Catholic mission to Kiribati, which began in the early 1890's. One of the three founding priests was alive in Kiribati there when she arrived as a young nun. The nuns and priests operated schools on most of the islands in the Gilbert group. As I listened to her speak, I couldn't help but wonder if there had been similar damaging stories between the churches and the I-Kiribati as there had been at the church-run residential schools in Canada; however, she made no mention of such a history, and told a very positive story of caring people leaving their home countries as young adults and spending the rest of their lives reaching out to minister to and educate the I-Kiribati. Sister Margaret was well into her 80's, and one nun lived here until the age of 99 years and eight months! A key difference between the church-run schools in Kiribati and Canada was that there seemed to be less of a focus on 'educating' the culture out of the students: the schools were located in the villages, and almost all the children went home to their own families at night. They did not seem to have the model of forced evacuation to a foreign residential experience that we had in Canada. I noticed during the Christmas service at Butaritari that there was still a strong I-Kiribati flavour to the processions, singing, and dancing, even after over 100 years of missionary influence.

The rest of the morning was a little less emotionally murky. Our tour guide (who, unlike many I-Kiribati we met, spoke perfect English after spending 18 months in Oklahoma as a young Mormon missionary) took us to a variety of WWII sites. Johnathan, Victoria, and Max examined the mechanisms of the large ocean-facing cannons, where the Japanese had assumed the US Navy would line up in their sights. Instead, they approached from the lagoon side, where the Japanese did not have the same level of defences. We visited the various beaches where marines had had to walk significant distance under Japanese machine-gun and cannon fire because the tide was too low for their landing craft to deliver them to shore. We walked and drove past numerous Japanese bunkers, most of which are now being used as basements or latrines. As dutiful tourists, we asked about taking pictures, and our guide assured us that the villagers liked having their pictures taken as they went about their daily lives, living with a normal wood and thatch buia upstairs and a WWII bunker downstairs. We felt a bit self-conscious, but we snapped images for posterity anyway. It was sobering to stand in front of the two-story Japanese headquarters, very near the spot where their Commander was killed as they attempted to evacuate their HQ. The I-Kiribati seem to have made their emotional peace with the Japanese, and there was a photo of this man's daughter and grand daughter visiting Tarawa in Sister Margaret's office. The Japanese have since built the causeway which joins the main city of Betio with the next island in the chain. One of our last stops was to see the monument erected in memory of the almost 3500 US Marines and Navy personnel who were killed or wounded in the three days of fighting. The message to the I-Kiribati on the same monument to "Enjoy your Independence and Guard it Well", in memory of the gallantry of those who fought and died, are words that all communities are wise to remember.

Everywhere we went, whether in our tour van or by ourselves, we were quickly surrounded by children who were unbearably curious to see the I-Matang. We had an especially funny time the one morning we went ashore for diesel (unfortunately, I didn't bring the camera). We pulled up on the beach, and Max took the Jerry cans across the road to the fuel station, while I stayed with the dinghy. Almost immediately, I had six little boys (in various states of dress/undress ... clothing seems to be very optional for children when swimming in the lagoon) come running over to look at the dinghy. I was pretty sure they had never seen anything like it. They kept touching the tubes and laughing. One of the older boys (probably about Johnathan's age) seemed to be trying to figure how how it all worked so he could explain it to the others: he pointed out the various filling points, handles, etc and explained each of them. As usual, they were shooed away when the men from the station came with our Jerry cans, telling them off for 'bothering' us. What the grownups rarely realize is that we love these smiling no-language interactions with their children!

We spent a couple of enjoyable hours in the little museum and cultural centre in Bikenibeu; however, I was wishing that a few more of their signs were written in English as well as I-Kiribati! On the other hand, it was nice to visit a Center that was more focused on meeting the needs of its local visitors than of English-speaking tourists. Ironically, my favourite part of the visit was when I found a commemorative book which showed photos of relics and artifacts collected by Captain Davis of the HMS Royalist when he claimed the Gilbert group for Queen Victoria in 1892: it felt like a virtual tour of the museum as I looked at the photos, as they were of items similar to the ones in the room, but all the descriptions were also in English :)

We had only met the Australian Navy family on New Year's Eve, but in a true measure of friendship, they invited us to bring our laundry and our shower gear when the three families reunited at their house for lunch and swimming in their pool on Saturday - they had electricity, air conditioning, and plenty of fresh water. Six loads later, I could hardly find words to express my gratitude as I inhaled the scent of clean sheets and towels, that hadn't seen the inside of a washing machine since Fiji, after they were dried in the breeze on their wide airy deck! To top off the gesture of friendship, they made hamburgers for everyone, even though we all knew how hard it was to get red meat replenished in Kiribati. Their son was celebrating his birthday, so we had a lovely afternoon of food, games, and socializing. For our other friends, it was the day before their flight back to Australia and 'regular life' in Tasmania. This short period for our three families of overlapping in Kiribati, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, strikes me as a microcosm of the cruising friendships are formed quickly and enjoyed intensely, making the most of the available time that we have together.

We spent our last few days in Tarawa back at the Tabon Te Kee Kee anchorage, enjoying the peacefulness of the area, the chance to do some long-awaited yoga, making water (hoping that since we were near an opening in the reef, the water on the incoming/high tide would be cleaner than elsewhere in the lagoon), and enjoying ongoing visits with the owner, who was always considering new ideas to help cruisers enjoy Kiribati.

The highlight of this short period was our visit to the nearby giant clam farm. All we knew was that we should walk about ten minutes along a path by the water from where we left our dingy and we would get to a place that raised clams, with an excited ex-pat owner (and former boat builder), who, if he was home, would tell us something about them, and it would be worth the visit. What we received was an in-depth description of the life cycle of the giant clams, a description of the four kinds which are indigenous to Kiribati, and a detailed tour from tank to tank so we could see the changes in the clams from the time they were too small to see until they were big enough to go to the outer island villages (for six months' care and custody in the lagoon waters), until they were finally big enough to export. We learned about the CITES treaty which states that only farmed exotic species may be sold (ie no wild clams can be sold) and we learned that the biggest giant clams are probably 200 years old. Most of the pigs we saw in the villages were drinking out of giant half-clam shells that would have been this age!

Once we had learned about the clams and seen the sea cucumbers that they also farm for export, we went to the other side of the facility to learn about boat building. They use a fast-growing Fijian hardwood (similar to kauri from NZ with which we were already familiar) for the struts and then several layers of marine plywood and epoxy for the walls. Both big kids were fascinated by the clam tour and very interested in the boats (Benjamin was asleep, which was just as well given the tools and machinery we were stepping around). Victoria spent some time examining the way that the forms were made so that she could potentially copy the technique one day. It was unfortunate that we were leaving the anchorage the next day, as they were just starting to form the shape of a motor-catamaran, which would have been taking shape on each visit if we had been able to come back again. The owner employs a number of women who have graduated from the local technical college, so it was interesting to see them in very non-traditional I-Kiribati roles! In another small-world connection, the same little shelled creatures that Victoria helped to collect in 2014 in Penrhyn (for use in necklaces and jewelry) are used (alive) by the clam farm to clean the clam boards in the tanks. Since the 2008 financial crash they have been diversifying into other wood-construction projects, and are currently building 'kit schools' for the I-Kiribati government, as well as boats for their own (delivery) purposes. I loved introducing Johnathan and Victoria to someone who has experienced adversity and found creative ways to carry on: after the collapse of the pleasure boating market in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, they branched out and started doing other projects that would use the skills of their staff; he also works part of each month on a Fisheries project in Somalia. Throughout these hard years, they have continued to employ all their staff !

For once, we actually left on the day that we told our weather forecaster (Bob McDavitt) that we were going to! We have often decided at the last minute that another 24 hours would make a big difference to our preparedness, the weather, our health, or some other factor, and we have delayed a day, but this time, we left as planned, on Thursday 12 January [leaving on Friday 13th seemed to pushing our luck].

Our weather on the 72-hour passage was a little bit of everything. We started with fantastic winds of 12-15 kts, flying along like a proper cutter on a close reach with our genoa and our staysail, reaching boat speeds of 8+ kts, especially in the relatively calm waters in the lee of Tarawa and Abiang atolls. That night, we enjoyed the brilliance of the full moon with hardly a cloud in the sky (and no squalls, yeah!) By the second day, the winds had dropped and shifted, so we just kept the boat moving at 3-4 kts, trending more and more off-track to the east, but at least still under sail. Sometime in the middle of the night, with a boat speed dropping below 2 kts, Max finally started the engine, and we motored well into the next day. There followed a mixed-up day of light winds, turbulent skies, and rainy squalls (as we sailed along, I mentally described the sky to myself as something a sculptural artist might have created with grey and black clay - it twirled and tumbled in every direction up and across the sky - gone was the brightness offered by the full moon the night before). The squalls built in intensity as the night wore on, and we saw short bursts of winds into the 20's, but thankfully we didn't see the dramatic lightning of previous passages. We always reef the main at night, but throughout the evening/midnight watches, we found ourselves constantly changing the genoa, furling for squalls and then bringing out the full sail just to make progress in the lulls.

The forecast had been for steady strong winds that would let us sail the entire way, but the mathematical models have trouble with the irregularity of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ - our old friend from the 2014 crossing to the Marquesas), and so we had what we have since found out to be a typical maddening passage with many hours of motoring :) As if to make up for the middle of the trip, the last day was quite lovely: the sun came out, the wind was a strong enough to sail, and we did a circuit of the atoll, under sail until the approach to the pass (which is on the north edge about 13 nm from the town). We even caught a mahi mahi that Victoria filleted on the back deck as we wallowed deep downwind in a following sea. At this point, we got the Marshall Islands welcome of a squall with pelting rain and winds again into the 20's. Thank goodness for our rain enclosure! We simply furled the main a few minutes early, closed the clear rain panels, headed away from the lagoon, and waited it out. Before long, the sunshine was back, I was on the bow chatting to Max over my headset, and we transited the pass (despite a strong current) without issue.

I began this letter with the milestone of Johnathan helping to anchor the boat; I will finish it with the milestone of Victoria taking her own watch :) She announced that she wanted the dawn watch, and she proactively made sure she was in bed early each evening so she could greet us with a cheery "Hi Mom" or "Hi Dad" when we woke her at her chosen time of 4am. At first we thought she would just keep us company in the long pre-dawn hours, but we soon realized that she was capable (and alert) enough to watch for wind shifts, traffic, squalls, and other issues on her own. We stayed in the cockpit with her, but it was lovely to sleep on the bench, comfortable in the knowledge that she would shake us when she needed to. I am sure that Johnathan will not be far behind in requesting his own watch (perhaps during daylight or during the evening when our night owl is most awake), as even now, we are quite comfortable informally leaving either of them 'watching for traffic' while we go downstairs for a few minutes. Transitioning from a 1-in-2 watch rotation to 1-in-3 or even 1-in-4 will make our longer passages much more enjoyable (and sustainable)! Benjamin is a great help, but it will be a while before he is standing watches on his own :)

Majuro is the gathering ground for the cruisers who have 'gone North' from the Islands for cyclone season, as well as many who stayed once they got here. As we arrived, with sunset approaching on Sunday evening, it felt strange but good to look around and see a multitude of yachts gently secured to their moorings, after so many months in only our own company or sharing anchorages with a small handful of boats. We were warmly welcomed by SV SEAL, who host an informative website on Majuro and the Marshall Islands, and who were kind enough to come in their dinghy to show us to our mooring, even helping us to secure the bow lines (much easier to do from a dinghy than by hanging by the waist from the lifelines with a boat hook!)

Majuro will be home for a few days while we sort out some logistics and arrange our permits to visit the outer islands, then we will head further north for the rest of the season. Theoretically, this means that we are heading out of the rain and squalls of the ITCZ and into the sunshine :)

Much love to all,

At 2016-12-26 9:19 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 07°06.15'N 171°22.41'E
At 2016-12-26 9:28 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 07°06.15'N 171°22.41'E

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Thursday, 12 January 2017

Battle of Tarawa, Cultural Museum and Giant Clams

Throughout Tarawa there are relics of the Battle of Tarawa from World War II.  The battle was the first US amphibious assault against against a fortified position.  The US Marines were successful but a great cost of lives over 76 hours of battle. Lots of details about the battle here (with a high level description) or here (with much more detail).

In addition to the battlefield tour we also visit the Cultural Museum and Kiri Craft (a boatbuilder and giant clam farm).

One of the guns (37 mm ?) facing towards Red 2 Beach (also where we were anchored in December).  The conditions around the relics make you appreciate the European World War I and II battlefields that we have had a chance to visit over the years).

The original Japanese declaration on their seizing of Tarawa 10 Dec 1941 (just a few days after Pearl Harbour).  The declaration is under the care of Sister Margret.

The 84 years young Sister Margret from the Catholic Mission in Tarawa.  She has been here since 1954 and also the mission's archivist.

One of the Japanese 8" guns facing to sea from Black Beach.  Ironically it was provided to the Japanese by the British during the Japan-Russia war.

Johnathan on one of the 8" guns.

Damage to the guns.

One of the smaller guns - on Black Beach but facing back towards Red Beach on the lagoon side.

Recycling - some of the I-Kiribati have adapted the bunkers to their homes.

High tide so hard to see but this Sherman tank is visible at low tide.

Red Beach 2 - the wreck is not from World War II but rather just the last set of westerlies to come through Tarawa.
One of the many bunkers on Black Beach.

The local kids came out to see us wherever we went.

Johnathan in front of the Japanese Command Bunker.  The Japanese Commander was killed as he and his staff evacuated the bunker.

Benjamin on the other hand thought that the best of the trip was playing in the air conditioned van.

Map of Betio - Red Beaches are where the main landings occurred and face into  the lagoon (from Wikipedia)

Checking out the traditional armour and weapons at the Kiribati Cultural Museum.
Mike breeds and grows giant clams for the aquarium market.  It is an amazing process and involves the outer islands thereby them giving them the islanders a cash crop to manage.  Here Victoria is seeing the few month old clams.

Mike is actually a boatbuilder by trade.  Here he is showing the kids how to loft from offset tables and the naval architect's drawings.  With the downturn in the boat building market they are making kit form schools with their local labour force.  When not working in Kiribati, he works in Somalia with the UN helping with the development of the Somali fishing boats.  He very graciously gave us a lot of his time and patiently answered our many questions.