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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