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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