Friday, 10 February 2017

Majuro in the rain


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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