Thursday, 23 February 2017

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

Greetings!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much love to all,

Elizabeth

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

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