Saturday, 24 December 2016

A few days in Tarawa Lagoon - a Leisurely Lunch and a U-Turn! (Part 2 of 2)

[Part 2 of 2]

We had thought we might be in Tarawa til after the weekend, but with our paperwork done, there was nothing to keep us from heading to Butaritari, so Friday was prep-the-boat day, and Saturday was departure day. For me, part of "prepping the boat" included taking a minibus in the opposite direction with Victoria and Benjamin and checking out the iMart in Bikenibeu, where we had learned that there were fresh vegetables. I wandered the well-stocked aisles (everything from Solar Christmas lights (I'm hoping they will be on sale after the holidays, but at $50/box, they were a bit steep pre-Christmas) to home furnishings to cans to produce) and bought a few things, including some beautiful cherry tomatoes, a couple of cucumbers, and a very fresh Chinese Cabbage. We had heard that the unusual lack of rain at Butaritari had made produce less plentiful there, so we wanted to be stocked up for our ten-day excursion.

Here comes the U-turn: We stopped for cones of soft-serve icecream once we had finished our shopping and I decided that we would keep the Benjamin mess to a minimum by eating it on the landing of the iMart. As we were chatting Victoria said, "Look Mom, an ex-pat family just drove by!" Indeed, fair-skinned folk are more unusual here than pretty much anywhere that we have visited so far, to the point that little children just stare at us in fascination. It seems that they have literally never seen anyone who looks like us before. We marvelled at seeing another family, but didn't think much of it until a few minutes later, when we looked up in the opposite direction and saw the same mom and two kids approaching us!! They had also been so surprised to see visitors ("Mom, Mom - I-Matang, I-Matang - with kids!!") that they stopped their car, turned around, and came back to meet us :) {I-Matang is the I-Kiribati word for fair-skinned foreigner}

With a girl of 9 and a boy of 7 (the ages that Victoria and Johnathan were when we set off) it was really easy to pick up a conversation as if we had known them all our lives. Without having laid eyes on us before, they offered us a ride back to the boat, including a stop along the way for some bananas and some bread :) It turned out that they were an Australian family who had spent the last year in Tarawa. The parents had volunteered here pre-kids and had vowed to come back some day. Thirteen years later, they had made that vow come true; clearly these were our kind of people, and since they were only going to be on the island another couple of weeks, and we didn't know when we would be back, if we were going to visit, it would have to be that day.

Their U-Turn in plans quickly led to my U-turn: rather than going straight back to 'prepping the boat' when we got back to Fluenta, we invited them aboard for a quick tour and a play. I knew that I would need to stow/prep/cook quickly in the late afternoon/evening, but when I meet kindred spirits in this nomadic life, I have learned to grab the moments when they present themselves :) Max was a little surprised to be picking up twice as many people as he was expecting, but he rolled with the change in plan, and back aboard Fluenta, the boys played, the girls crocheted, the mom and I chatted and exchanged email addresses, and an hour later everyone carried on with their day. These are the moments that become the highlights of the trip for me - and it all started with a U-turn!

Once the kids had driven our company back to the Parliamentary dock, Max and I tackled the last piece of maintenance on our to-do list for Tarawa. We don't generally start new jobs at 4pm (the later the start, the less smoothly the job is likely to go) but we wanted to have this particular job done before our upcoming passage. Leaving it until the morning sounded risky, as we didn't know how long it would take or what the winds would be like, and we needed calm wind/sea to tackle it: the job in question was the adjustment of the blades on our wind generator. This involved Max wearing his best climbing sandals and bracing one foot on the bracket for the dinghy hoisting bar and wrapping the other leg around the pole while carefully holding the blades and using the allen key I passed up to him to remove the retaining nut from the blade plate, all without dropping any of the above, including himself, over the side. We had been experiencing some vibrations, and the manufacturer had written to us with instructions to confirm that the blades were balanced. We assumed that of course they were, as the blades were each held by two bolts in a symmetrical plate, but once we got the plate to deck level and actually measured the tip-to-tip distances, it turned out that they were all different: no wonder they had started vibrating the entire mounting tripod! (Aside - the wind generator got a bit of a 'bump' from the travel lift when we hauled out in Fiji, so this issue likely originated then).

Thus began the iterative process of bolting the three blades all on symmetrically, measuring the three tip distances, making fine adjustments to one or more blades, re-measuring, and repeating and repeating until the +/- 100 cm distances were within 1mm of each other. We started out by trying to keep track of the distances and adjustments in our heads, but it soon became evident that a pen and paper would help us to be less muddled. With Victoria as our volunteer stenographer, we had the blades mounted permanently with just five more tries. Carefully repeating the climb/hang on/bolt process in reverse, we managed to successfully test our handiwork just as the sun was sinking on the horizon. What a sense of accomplishment to have not only successfully completed the project, exercised our teamwork, and involved our daughter, but to have done the whole thing with no loss of tools or precious components over the side!! (This was in contrast to the last time we had had the wind generator apart, in Savusavu, and Max had an impromptu dive session mid-repair when one of the little bolts slipped ever-so-quickly out of my hand when I was putting it in my pocket for safekeeping. Nothing says "I love you" like diving in a murky harbour for a tiny piece of irreplaceable metal that your spouse has dropped, without a word of recrimination!)

There is a funny story to Max's new 'climbing' sandals: when I was home in August, sitting around a camp fire at my cousin David's place, we started comparing stories of expensive and supposedly rugged sandals that didn't live up to even a season of use, either on the boat (for us) or river-rafting (for his son). I mentioned a brand that I understood to be very popular amongst cruisers, but said that I had never happened to have seen them to try. His son grew thoughtful, and asked what size Max wore. It turned out that he loved this brand, and had first-hand experience of one pair living up to the abuse of many seasons of river-rafting; he had a hardly-used pair in Max's size that for some reason he had replaced. Would I like to bring them back to Fiji? Of course I said yes, and these sturdy sandals have proven just the thing for ladderless climbing of our wind generator pole :) Thanks Cody!!

The following morning, we woke to windy conditions (great for passage making, but not so much for wind generator repairs - we were glad we had grabbed the opportunity the previous afternoon). We hoisted the dinghy and out board and lashed the last of the items into place for what was potentially going to be a bouncy close-reaching ride to Butaritari. We weighed anchor in the late morning for the 2-hr transit of the lagoon, ate a quick lunch and raised our sails just before the pass, and set out for our overnight passage.

It is late, this email is long overdue, and the whole boat is sleeping - that seems like as good a point as any to leave you for tonight. Stay tuned for news of our peaceful overnight passage and our lovely pre-Christmas week in Butaritari.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2016-12-21 12:53 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 03°04.51'N 172°47.09'E
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At 2016-12-21 1:17 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 03°04.51'N 172°47.09'E

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A few days in Tarawa Lagoon - a Leisurely Lunch and a U-Turn! (Part 1 of 2)

[Part 1 of 2]

Greetings!

I left you in my last letter shortly after we woke in the Parliamentary anchorage in Tarawa, having had our first proper sleep in a week.

The previous afternoon, while Max and I had been getting the low-down on the various anchorages in Kiribati from Rod on "State of Mind", Victoria was at work in the galley. Having asked me in detail about my favourite meals, she perused the "Boat Galley Cookbook" (a gift from, and a daily reminder of many happy memories with, our friends on "Exodus") until she found a recipe that suited her purposes, and created a very tasty Creamy Chicken Basil Pasta, followed by Banana Cake with coloured glaze; I think she wanted us to feel that we were dining in a waterfront restaurant :) I especially appreciated the little note she brought to me ("READY") when the meal was prepared so we could wrap up our visit without rushing. Knowing what it feels like to carefully prepare a meal that doesn't seem to be appreciated *immediately*, we quickly thanked our guest for his insights, explained the situation, and suggested a continuation of the conversation the following day. He was quick to invite us to come over to his boat the next evening.

It was a night for company. We had hardly finished our meal, when "Island Girl" came by with bananas from Tuvalu. They had just arrived in the anchorage (and in fact were anchored quite far away because by the time they motored over after clearing customs, the light was too poor for them to make it into where we were, and they had stopped at the first shallows) and had a stalk ripening all at once (which is what bananas invariably do). Having just used the last of our stalk of Tuvaluan bananas in the cake, we were only too happy to receive some of their fresh bounty. Of course, we offered them two pieces of Victoria's cake, which they seemed to think was a fair trade :)

After this this rare lovely, quiet, flat, calm, peaceful, non-dragging, non-squally, social evening, complete with a beautiful full moon, we found ourselves in an extraordinary oasis of green water and blue sky the next morning with only two things on our agenda: the rectification of the issue with our head (toilet) that we had been living with for almost a week, and an expedition to Immigration to collect our permission letters to visit the outer islands. We assumed that the head would be a nasty, all-day affair, and that while Max was up to his neck in plumbing (not his favourite boat-maintenance discipline) I would go ashore with some TBD number of children.

As it turned out, the problem with the head was not only easily identified, but easily fixed (both are rarities; the combination especially so!) A flapper valve at the first layer of disassembly had become loose and had twisted away from alignment between the bowl and the top of the piston pump; a quick moment with a screw driver (and a new spring, just in case, as the old one seemed warped and would no longer enable a proper seal) was all it took to have us "back in business". If only all head maintenance was this easy!!

This quick job meant that we were all free to go ashore, so we decided to make a family excursion of it. Thankfully, there was a channel between our boat and the dock, as we were at the lowest of low (Full Moon) tides. We were met at the dock by three security guards, who in a friendly, but expeditious way, led us to the front gate of the parliament buildings. Parliament was still in session, so they were apologetic that we weren't allowed to use the parliamentary bar for the moment. Neither of us could imagine dinghying up to any other Parliament and nonchalantly leaving our boat at the dock while we traipsed through the property with our three children. We knew we couldn't ask for better security surveillance of our boats while we went ashore!

We crossed a smoothly paved road and waited for a short time under the shade of a medium-sized tree (we found out later that the roads had only just been paved within the last year). Benjamin was equally interested in the leashed pigs sleeping there and the little girl waiting in her mother's arms. English is an official language of Kiribati, but we have found its use to be sporadic; by keeping our statements simple, we managed to ascertain that we were at the correct stop to catch a bus to Immigration, and that if a bus didn't have room, it would beep its horn but not stop. In Tuvalu, most of the vehicles were gently-driven scooters and motorbikes, while in Tarawa, the road was a frenzy of cars, trucks and mini-buses, as well as motorbikes and bicycles (shoes optional; helmets non-existent). Before long, we were being ushered into a surprisingly modern minivan. Most of the seats were already full, but there was room for each of us to have our own seat (we understand that it is not unheard of for someone to sit on your lap). For some reason, Kiribati has maintained more of a tradition of using thatch to build roofs and fences than other places we have visited, so I enjoyed seeing the patterns of weaving on the houses we passed.

We had time to look around the two-storey shopping complex where we were dropped off before heading to a restaurant for lunch and then to Immigration. The most unusual thing I noticed about the Mall was that it had a escalator installed. The next most unusual thing was that it hadn't been used as anything other than a fancy staircase in recent memory: the hand rails were off, some of the gears were visible, and it seemed to stand as a monument to some long ago investment of foreign money. We found a new variety of canned meats in the department store on the ground floor and some shoes for Johnathan in the office-supply store on the second floor. In a moment of timely coincidence, the Crocs (originally bought for my use) that he had been wearing since his shoes were left on a beach in Tuvalu a couple of weeks ago fell apart while we were in the mall. The shoes he found ($8) with soccer balls on them seem far more suited to his feet than either the expensive shoes I had bought him in NZ or the ones I had loaned him. I love it when things work out smoothly like this :)

The town of Bairiki was busier than anywhere I had been recently, but it was much less crowded than Betio, where Max had done his errands the previous day. After picking up a few cans of Curry Chicken, Spicy Pork, Beef Stew, and pre-cooked Ham, we walked to "Mary's" restaurant and hotel. We were pleasantly surprised to see two large tables of diners already there, with food before them that looked quite appetizing; as it turned out, we had plenty of time to admire our neighbours' food, as it took about 90 minutes for ours to arrive!

We passed the time looking at each meal as it was brought out in turn and watching the cartoon TV channel that was playing on the wall above our heads. We had come a long way to watch Scooby Do, the Pink Panther, and Mr Bean !! Even the local I-Kiribati were enthralled and laughing at the on-screen antics :) Eventually, we tried the sure-fire trick for making the food arrive of sending Max to the Immigration office; by the time he walked there and back, my starter had shown up. The good news was that we had no further admin stops to make: the Immigration papers were all we needed, and we did not need to go back to Customs to get paperwork for them as well. This revelation easily saved us two hours, and took all the stress out of our day. In due course (after the big Christmas party beside us had received all their meals, one at a time - it turned out that they had arrived just ahead of us), our meals were served. The beef burgers that had been recommended lived up to their recommendation. Victoria ate the entirety of a burger that was just about as big as she was (when it came, I thought she might manage half, and when I looked again, it was all gone!). Shredded cabbage in the chicken burger made Johnathan's lunch a little less appetizing, but Max and I enjoyed our Beef and Tuna steaks, and Benjamin enjoyed everyone's french fries.

In the small-world way that things happen when we are travelling, we were just about to pack up kids and gear and head out in search of a 3G chip for our iPad, when we met a fellow Canadian - he was in Kiribati to provide under-water videography on a sanitation / coral restoration project. It turned out that he was from Vancouver, and his two colleagues were living in the Marshall Islands, so I left Max chatting with them, Benjamin watching videos, and the two big kids reading their books, while I went back in the direction of the Mall to obtain connectivity.

Mission accomplished, somewhat efficiently (1.4 GB of data good for between 7 and 20 days for $20 AUD), we stopped to pick up a few more essentials (beer, fish, and bread) before flagging down a bus and returning to the boat, a little later than planned, but still in time to join Rod and his wife for drinks. They started cruising the year Max and I joined the military, and this is the third boat they have built and cruised; they have a fourth in their sights after they return to Australia. It was inspiring to speak to them about all they had seen and the lessons they had learned. Max was also grateful to receive tracks and SAS Planet data for places they had already visited.


[Part 2 of 2 to follow]
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At 2016-12-21 2:52 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 03°04.50'N 172°47.09'E

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Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Tarawa Lagoon - A Tale of Two Anchorages and a Clearance (Part 2 of 2)

[Part 2 of 2]

I mentioned an eventful night. I also mentioned that the anchorage was bouncy. It is not normally a problem to experience 15+ kts of wind, but in this case it was blowing from across the lagoon, making the town of Betio a lee shore with a long fetch. When we returned from doing our clearances and took a look at the rusting hulk of a cargo vessel wrecked on the reef right behind us, we decided to anchor a little further out for overnight, as we no longer needed to be artificially close to humour a non-existent boarding party. We moved to a safer location and set our anchor with over 50% power [of our oversized 84 hp diesel] as we always do, had an early dinner, and hoped for the first full night of sleep in a week. Mother Nature had other ideas, however, and the dream of sleep had to wait for another night. The external alarm on our AIS Anchor Watch began to sound in the wee hours, and for the first time in four years, our anchor dragged. The sea state was short and very sharp, the lagoon was quite shallow, and even with long snubber lines, the bigger waves were causing our anchor to snatch, jerking it out of the fine white silt of the bottom (sand has better holding). The pink and blue designation for boat jobs apparently applies to sounds as well - I generally hear the first snuffle of Benjamin stirring beside me, but the wailing sound of the anchor alarm roused only Max, who by the time I stirred to consciousness, was on the foredeck playing out more snubber line in the hope of taking some of the direct loading off the anchor. Even though the nearly-full moon made the night really bright, we wanted to wait until morning to re-anchor if possible, so Max stood at the bow for ages, watching the two snubbers and the chain loading up in turn, and making fine adjustments to keep it all in balance. Thank goodness we were no longer directly in front of the reef! In reality, we didn't drag very far (10-20 ft) but it was the unknown nature of it all that was unsettling. In the morning, we re-anchored, printed our paperwork (to request permission to visit the outer islands), and launched the dinghy all in time for Max to make his appointments at Customs, Quarantine and Immigration :)

Victoria and Johnathan often do jobs on Fluenta that would be unusual at home, but on this morning, even I was worried. We had decided that Benjamin and I would stay aboard Fluenta, and that we didn't want to leave the dinghy in the inner harbour while Max went to Quarantine and Immigration [Immigration is in another town 30 min away by bus] so that left Victoria and Johnathan as the taxi service. Given the sea state, we reinforced the need for careful operation, life jackets, radio, kill switch, etc, then we trusted them to do their job with care and attention. Max drove ashore, and the kids called when they were heading back. It seemed like an age before they emerged from the inner harbour, and I could see them crossing the anchorage, staying high into the wind as Max had instructed them. Some of the waves looked to be nearly the size of the dinghy, and the two kids looked very small as they inched their way closer and closer. Of course, they were fine, and nonchalant about their accomplishment, but I was proud and grateful anyway! It was the same white knuckle crossing in reverse a couple of hours later when Max was ready to be collected: VHF in hand, I watched them cross the anchorage and then waited with hope until I heard them radioing Max to arrange the pick up location. I felt like I had gained some empathy for our parents who deal daily with their children setting off on a boating adventure a world away from home :)

With hardly a backwards glance at the reef strewn with hulking wrecks, or the dirty waterfront, we set off for the Parliament anchorage almost as soon as Max and the kids were back. Max used a combination of C-Map charts and satellite imagery (on SAS Planet) to plot our route. The Navionics charts on our chartplotter were not as accurate as the C-Map ones on the laptop, and several times, our chartplotter told him we were driving over a reef. I stayed on the bow for most of the crossing; generally uneventful, it was very shallow as we approached the anchorage. We were approaching the Full Moon, which meant that we were also approaching the most extreme tides for the month: if we went aground, we would theoretically be stuck there until the next full moon. This was the shallowest anchorage since Bora Bora: at low tide, Max could have stood on the bottom and touched the keel with the top of his head!

Once we settled at the Parliament anchorage, it was immediately apparent that this spot was as calm as the down-town anchorage had been rough; that this one was as clean as the other had been dirty. Rather than going ashore to a garbage dump and a dirty harbour, we followed a pretty little channel into a sea wall, anchored at the parliamentary dock, and were guided by security to the front gate, while two other guards kept watch over our dinghy! Watching the full moon creep up over the edge of the lagoon, we felt like we had arrived in a completely new world :)

One of the most noticeable features of the Tarawa Lagoon is the striking green colour of the water. For the first time on our cruise, we noticed that the cloud bottoms were tinted by the lagoon beneath them. We wondered if this was because the entire lagoon was so shallow, so there was more green and less dark-blue in the water being reflected by the clouds. The water seems to be particularly silty. This may add to its green appearance, and it also served to hide the reefs at high water. We knew there were reefs near the anchorage based on the satellite images, but as we approached, I could not see them *at all* no matter how hard I squinted and used my imagination. We assumed that the colouring we had seen on the satellite imagery was some kind of variation in the bottom, but nothing of any substance.

Imagine our surprise the following morning to come on deck to the lowest tide of the month (Full Moon effect - spring tide) to see all the reefs clearly visible in every direction !! We had safely navigated to our anchor spot by following the track that Max had plotted ahead of time with GPS and satellite imagery, but it was unnerving to see the reefs that had been completely invisible the previous day. The additional six feet of water, and the lack of clarity of the lagoon, had entirely cloaked the reef.

We had assumed that the rest of the cruising fleet would be anchored here: it turned out that it was, and we were half of the fleet! Rod (SY State of Mind) dropped by to give us the low-down. Cruisers for most of the last 26 years, he and his wife had spent the last six weeks in Kiribati, and had loved it. They had been to all of the islands we had listed in our paperwork, so we were glad to get recent first-hand stories of their visits, so that we could choose where to spend Christmas/New Year's. The deciding factor was that Butaritari (the northern-most island in this group) would have the most local fruits and veg, and we would be able to approach the shore in our dinghy at any tide. At some of the other atolls, we would either be stuck onboard or hiking across the reef for quite a distance to reach the shore at low tide, which we felt would be too limiting. In addition, there is no 3G at Butaritari, so we thought it would be a little more traditional.

As dirty and crowded as we had felt in the main town anchorage, the "Parliament" anchorage felt like an oasis. At low tide, the view was spectacular, with turquoise/green water and beige reef, bordered by a fringe of palm trees and the elegant peaks of the roofs of parliament. Perhaps a few days in Tarawa would not be so bad after all!

We will spend more time in Tarawa after Christmas, but for now we will be here only long enough to obtain our clearance for the outer islands (expected in one day) and wait for a weather window to go North to Butaritari (a couple more days).

Love to all,

Elizabeth
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At 2016-12-19 4:24 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 03°04.52'N 172°47.09'E
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At 2016-12-19 4:30 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 03°04.53'N 172°47.09'E

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Tarawa Lagoon - A Tale of Two Anchorages and a Clearance (Part 1 of 2)

[This is Part 1 of 2]

Greetings,

We arrived in Tarawa, Kiribati last Wednesday around mid-day, which is our favourite time of day to enter a new lagoon (the sun is the highest, and any variations in depth caused by shallows or coral bommies are the most visible). The route was well charted; we could soon see why our friends had confidently used the shipping channel to the main town after dark following their first visit.

We had a funny, and apparently typical, experience clearing in. On arrival, we called "Tarawa Radio" on VHF Ch 16. They told us to anchor near the big commercial ships that were anchored off the long wharf and wait for instructions regarding the boarding party (Customs, Immigration, Quarantine) that would come to the boat to clear us in. Another yacht hailed us as we arrived, reiterating that we should anchor close to shore, as the members of the boarding party did not like to get wet, and inviting us to to join them at anchor further along the lagoon near the Parliament buildings once we had cleared. Shortly after we had eaten lunch and launched the dinghy, Tarawa Radio called back to say that there would be no boarding party, and could we come ashore to clear in at the Customs office instead. Given the conditions (short, sharp, big seas, and afternoon naptime for Benjamin), we asked whether we all needed to come, and were told to Stand By while he checked. An hour later, he called back to advise that the officials would come to Fluenta after all, because they wanted to see the whole family; we ramped up the post-passage cleaning/tidying, and continued to Stand By. Finally, after almost another hour (by which time, we had given up any efforts to get Benjamin to nap), he called back: would we please (all) come ashore to their offices? No problem; ten minutes later the entire family, with diapers, documents, etc, in a dry bag, set off in the dinghy.

15 kts of wind from the far side of the lagoon made for a bouncy ride with careful boat handling necessary to keep us dry, then the (somewhat protected) inner harbour required a different kind of careful navigation due to a spider's web of mooring lines, bow/stern anchors and floating debris. Given the state of most of the vessels we passed, the I-Kiribati (people of Kiribati) are a brave and hardy group: all they boats have seen some hard living and the passenger catamaran ferries did not look especially seaworthy, let alone comfortable. We nosed in to a seawall where a man was waiting for us, tied up with a bow line and stern anchor to keep the dinghy from chafing, asked some rather dubious-looking folks sitting there if the dinghy would be OK, and hoped for the best. The first thing to meet us was the smell: the garbage dump is right beside the harbour, literally on the other side of a chain-link fence. Whew! In the tropical heat, it was not Tourism's best moment!

By now it was 4:15, and the Customs building looked dark and deserted. We were not filled with confidence when our escort (not the man we had spoken with, but a guard) told us it was closed; however, we relied on our instructions from Tarawa Radio and hoped for the best. Sure enough, we were met by young and friendly staff from both Immigration and Customs, and ushered upstairs to the board room for the paperwork. Benjamin stayed calm and awake (hooray!), Victoria worked on her crochet project, and Johnathan waited (somewhat) patiently, becoming the reason Benjamin stayed calm and awake as the process wore on (not only did Johnathan use a pen to draw airplanes on Benjamin's hands, but there was great excitement when he drew missiles too :) Every clearing-in process has its own quirks. In Tarawa two of the forms we filled out were actually blank sheets of paper on which we wrote our information: our last five ports, and our 'don't have' list (don't have weapons, plants, animals, large sums of money, etc). Both of these are usually standardized forms, so it gave us a bit of a chuckle. Given the time of day, the Customs officer told Max to come back in the morning and he would escort him to Quarantine.

Our stern anchor was a mixed blessing: it had worked as intended to keep the dinghy from chafing, but it had become totally fouled on who knows what in the process. Looking at Max in his best (clean) shirt and his best (clean) shorts, and at the murk of the (anything but clean [worse than Halifax Harbour even]) water, I sent out a silent request for some kind of help. Hardly a moment passed before we saw a man, who had already been swimming, coming towards us with goggles in hand. He had seen Max struggling with the anchor, and had arrived to help. Without a moment's hesitation, he dove down and handed us our anchor. Full of gratitude for the kindness of strangers, we thanked him effusively and braced for getting wet as we headed back to Fluenta.

The following morning (after an eventful night ... read on) Max presented himself at Customs only to be met with blank stares when he asked for Quarantine - our officer was not there, and it was obvious to the rest that if he wanted Quarantine, he should have gone to that building not to Customs! Given the language barrier (English is spoken, but minimally) Max didn't try to explain, and just went down the block (and then up the dirt alleyway) to Quarantine. When he got there, the woman was *not* impressed to find out that we had arrived the previous day and had already cleared Immigration and Customs: her office was supposed to be *first* and only because it was Christmas would she not fine Max for our transgressions! When he explained that we had simply followed the instructions from Tarawa Radio, she said that her phone wasn't working, so they wouldn't have been able to call her to join the boarding party anyway. Having made her point, she completed our clearances and authorized us to take down the "Q" flag.

[Part 2 of 2 to follow later]

At 2016-12-19 4:24 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 03°04.52'N 172°47.09'E
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At 2016-12-19 9:53 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 03°04.51'N 172°47.09'E

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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

"Our geckos are Shellbacks"

Greetings!

At about 2:30 last night we crossed the Equator and passed back into the Northern Hemisphere! Max was going off-watch, I was coming on-watch, and Victoria was awake in the cockpit (for once, the only child sleeping there). There was a sense of excitement as we watched the tiny numbers on our Chartplotter counting down to 0' 0.000S. Victoria's comment: "Now our geckos are shellbacks!" We celebrated this morning with a bag of chips (which we open rarely, but they are our 'Fluenta-standard' when we have any excuse for a party on passage). Since we couldn't find our geckos to ask them any skill-testing questions, we decided not to bother with the costumes and King Neptune impersonation we had played with on our passage from Mexico to the Marquesas in 2014, and simply had a quiet morning. The ocean scenery was pretty similar to that of the Southern Hemisphere yesterday :)

After such squally weather at the start of the passage, it was rather surreal to enjoy calm (and ever-calmer) seas, steady winds (10-14 kts) and steady progress towards Tarawa for the last few days. As with my afternoon watch the previous day, I kept looking to windward throughout the rest of last night to check for squalls, and being pleasantly surprised to find none brewing :) Max and I have actually been able to read books and watch videos while on watch, something that we had heard of cruisers doing, but almost never done ourselves! {Aside - we still set our timer for 10-15 min intervals and check the horizon/instruments, etc each time it goes off. It makes for rather disjointed movie watching, but it is a fact of life on watch}

If we were on a long road-trip, we would have pulled into a lay-by tonight in order to arrive in the daylight in Tarawa tomorrow; in our case, we 'pulled over' and anchored off an island approx 35 nm short of our destination late this afternoon. There is a shelf outside the lagoon with an anchorage marked on the chart, so we hoisted our "Q" flag and stopped for the night. A couple of local boats (including a traditional catamaran canoe) have waved as they went by (fishing, we think) but we seem to be passing through without much official fanfare . We expect to be gone in the morning shortly after first light. After our experience anchoring off Taveuni before our main passage from Fiji, Max swam on the anchor as soon as we set it. As we suspected, there is hardly any sand beneath us, and the anchor is hooked on a piece of coral. We have buoyed the chain and have a plan for our departure, but it may also be necessary for him to swim again in the morning. Thankfully, the water is only 40 ft deep here!

Just in case you thought we would be relaxing upon our arrival in Tarawa, you will be glad to know that our head (toilet) has foiled those plans. That same head that we just overhauled in Fiji has been acting up all week, and we will be taking it apart at the first opportunity (in fact, we thought at one point that we would have to take it apart mid-passage, but we have made it this far by flushing gently ... I won't go into further details, but suffice to say that it appears to be working and doing what it needs to for now). It is a solid and simple piece of kit, for which we have stocked plenty of spares, so we are crossing our fingers that it won't take long to rectify.

After a full night's sleep for all hands, we are looking forward to arriving in Tarawa tomorrow.

Love to all,

Elizabeth
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At 2016-12-12 11:22 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 00°56.41'N 172°55.90'E
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At 2016-12-12 9:20 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 01°22.12'N 172°55.75'E

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Monday, 12 December 2016

Half way to Tarawa (Kiribati)

Greetings!

If you have been following our Yachts in Transit posts, you will know that we left Tuvalu on Wednesday. It is now the wee hours of Sunday morning, and this is the first time I have been brave enough to sit at the chart table. On most passages, I am sending emails home by about the 2nd night .. I suspect that tells you something about the conditions we have experienced this week!

We had lovely weather for leaving the anchorage. Our friend Pastor Charlie, out for a jaunt in his Hobie trimaran with his two boys, dropped by, and it was nice to have a last visit before we weighed anchor - which we were just about to do. Dishes washed, counters wiped, eggs boiled, snacks ready, upper decks lashed: we were ready to go.

As we transited the pass, we saw hundreds of beautiful birds - black ones and white ones - right in front of our track. We passed right through the flock. Birds usually mean fish, but in this case, it was fish for them, and not for us.

We weren't far out of Funafuti when we had a visitor - we looked up to see a little helicopter coming to say hello! Max and the kids were in the cockpit and I even popped my head up from the hatch in the aft cabin and we all waved madly. They were close enough to see the smiles on their faces and the binoculars in the fishing scout's hands (looking for flocks of birds like the one we had sailed through). I had met a pilot the previous week when we were both taking advantage of the comfy leather chairs in the hotel lobby for our wifi connection, and it was fun to think that perhaps we were waving at my friend Luis from Venezuela :) Later in the afternoon, Max and the kids watched them land on their fishing vessel, and Max was in radio contact with the skipper to ensure we would pass each other with plenty of clearance. They had been watching us on AIS, and were unconcerned. Sadly, neither the proximity of the fishing fleet, nor even the fly-past of the helo, led to any fish aboard Fluenta.

Most of the jobs we do on board seem to fall into the traditional pink/blue divisions - e.g. I do most of the provisioning, and Max does most of the maintenance. Sometimes, however, the most interesting jobs need both of us, and this was the case on Wednesday afternoon. I was woken from my first off-watch (still sunny, no squalls in sight, beautiful conditions, feeling fine) by one of the kids telling me that "Dad needed me up top". I went up to find that the weather was changing and we had a jam in the furling line for the main sail, which meant he could not get it down. {Aside - The height of the sail is controlled by two lines: as the halyard raises the sail, a line is being wound onto a drum at the mast; this line is then pulled out with a winch to furl the sail and roll it (like a roller blind) onto the boom 'mandrel'.} When the sail had been raised, somehow the furling line had not been wound tightly enough, so that when the line was pulled, instead of turning the drum and rolling the sail onto the mandrel, it was just cutting through the coil and jamming. The line was well stuck, but I found that with Max in the cockpit easing the halyard and taking up slack on the furling line, and me tethered at the mast using the winch handle to rotate the furling drum 1/2 turn at a time, we were able to lower the sail almost all the way - we got it to the point where the furling line had sufficient tension to control the sail from the cockpit. We had to take breaks a couple of times, as we were meeting our first squalls, so it was a relief to have the sail working properly again when the worst of the weather hit!

The forecast was for light winds (<20 kts) for the whole trip, so I had it in my head that it would be as benign as our trip up from Fiji. Well, the area north of Tuvalu had clearly not received the memo: shortly after this episode, squalls had developed in earnest, and we had rain, wind, and lightning on and off for the next two days. No matter how often Max downloaded new GRIBS (weather) the conditions we were experiencing did not correspond with any of the forecasts or computer models. It turns out that the convergence zone had formed south of Tuvalu, and it was likely sharing its unsettled weather with us, over one hundred miles away. We simply hung on, ate crackers, apples, Victoria's bread, and those hard boiled eggs, and endured our watches until these systems passed. In terms of sea sickness, everyone was pretty lethargic, but I was the only one physically ill. The medication finally did its thing after a couple of days, and I am feeling hopeful that I have my sea legs now.

One particular squall deserves mention all of its own - it was even christened with its own name: Mordor. When Max came up to relieve me on watch in the morning (Thursday? Friday? The days have blurred together) it was a black line of clouds on the horizon. It seemed like he and the kids would never actually reach it. Then when they did, it seemed like they would never get out of it, and Fluenta followed the band of squalls for most of the day! The wind shifts were so extreme at one point that instead of just bearing off a bit from our course and then coming back again (as we often do), they found themselves bearing off so far that they were headed back to Tuvalu, so they had to tack and then tack back to regain our track. All of this happened while I was off-watch, and when I came back on, we were already back on track, and we haven't tacked since!

If we hadn't been thankful for our rain enclosure before (which we were) it earned its keep on this trip! No matter how rainy and stormy it was outside, we were relatively dry and comfortable inside. We closed the windward side panels, and this was enough to keep us protected, while still enabling us to trim sails, etc. The only tricky part was reefing the genoa: either we turned the winch handle back and forth in half-circles, or someone else held the rain panel out of the way to allow the full rotation. Although this seemed a small price to pay for comfort, it was awkward when reefing short-handed.

Looking out at the clear sky now, it is hard to believe we passed through such conditions. For two days, the view of seas and sky was of angry, monochromatic shades of dark grey punctuated by flashes of lightning; now we have stars at night and deep blues during the day.

I had one interesting moment on watch in an otherwise uneventful nightwatch yesterday - I looked up on our AIS display, and there was not just one vessel, there were two. One of them was simply crossing our track and never getting any closer, but the other was coming straight for us, doing the reciprocal of our trip (destination Funafuti). Thank goodness for AIS, which provided me the ship's call sign in the first data message and eventually the ship's name and particulars in a subsequent one. It was a 292 ft cargo vessel called SURUGA 1, and our closest point of approach would be in about 45 min. Before AIS, I would have had to rely on spotting the lights on the horizon (dead ahead of the bow) which would only have provided about 15 min notice. That would have spoiled our day if we hadn't been watching out for one another! In this era of AIS, I simply called them by name to confirm they saw us. I was told, "Don't worry, I'll give you a good CPA". Since I needed sea room to port to bear off in a squall, I asked the cargo ship to pass starboard to starboard. By the time they passed, we had chatted a few times: I knew they were headed to Funafuti and then north again, while they knew we were going to Kiribati and then the Marshalls. A sense of camaraderie had developed on the open-but-not-empty ocean. Of course, in this modern era, this means asking the ship that passes in the night if they have a Facebook account! I gave our blog details; perhaps my high-seas friend will leave us a comment one day :)

We celebrated the half-way point on our trip this afternoon (360 nm to go to Tarawa). We are already in Kiribati waters, but we need to go all the way to Tarawa to check in. For the last two days, we have been pinching ourselves because the winds have been so steady: 11-14 kts from a consistent direction, and we have hardly adjusted our sails since yesterday morning! We have a deep reef in the main and generally a full genoa. Every once in a while, the wind creeps to 15 or 16 kts, and we think about reefing the genoa a bit, and then it falls back again, and we put the winch handle back in its pocket.

I glanced up last night, and I could see the big dipper ahead of me for the first time in recent memory - I felt a rush of warmth at our 'homecoming' to the Northern Hemisphere. It seems to me like we are in a magical location surrounded by familiar constellations - we still have the Southern Cross behind us, and Orion crossing the sky over us. With the moon waxing, we have a longer stretch of brighter moonlight each night, and even in the moonlight, I have spotted shooting stars most times that have checked the horizon. This makes up for the lumpy conditions earlier, and reminds me why I enjoy smooth night watches on long passages :)

Victoria and Johnathan were pretty flat for the first couple of days, spending most of their time sleeping and reading. While I was off-watch, Victoria managed to bake some "Grampy Biscuits" yesterday morning. They didn't last very long! Benjamin has graduated from playing on his motorbike in the cockpit to playing with the new puzzles and Play Mobil he received for his birthday. Johnathan has spent many hours acting out good-guy/bad-guy scenarios with him on the saloon floor. All three of them are currently harnessed, tethered, and sleeping in the cockpit; Johnathan is on one bench and Victoria and Benjamin are both on the other. Benjamin starts out in the aft bunk, but I have to pay attention when I am on watch for the curly blond head to appear at the top of the companionway stairs: when he wakes up and finds that I am not in the bunk, he silently makes his way to the top of the ladder, gets my attention, waits to be lifted over and connected to his tether, crawls into my lap, and nurses to sleep again in the cockpit, completely unperturbed by the change in location.

It likely goes without saying, but we are really appreciating Victoria and Johnathan contribution to the operation of Fluenta, especially since we haven't brought additional crew with us this season. We are now able to leave them 'on watch' in the cockpit, and either take a nap or do chores down below. When it comes time to reef the genoa, we even have a voice-activated system: with one easing and the other grinding, the sail is adjusted as soon as we ask for it :) This was especially helpful on Max's watches when it seemed the weather was changing every few minutes!

Four days later, I think this pretty much catches us up. With any luck, we will continue to have benign conditions, so we can send additional updates as we progress through the outer islands and onwards to Tarawa.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2016-12-11 5:04 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 00°11.17'N 173°16.83'E
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At 2016-12-11 8:44 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 00°26.67'N 173°05.76'E

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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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