Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Ailuk and Maloelap - Six weeks of feasting and kiting (Part 4 of 4 )

[this is the final installment of the four part post]

Our passage to Maloelap was as we had expected. In other words, we had 18-22 kts on a close reach with 2-3m seas. Waves crashed over the bow, along the boat, and across the stern. I ended up on Benjamin duty for much of it, holed up in the aft cabin and trying to sleep. When I came off-watch at 2am, I expected to go back again at 6am, but I had forgotten the blessing of having older children! Victoria stood watch on her own from 4:00-7:30, and Johnathan appeared in the cockpit at about 8:30, so Max was able to get 30 min periods of sleep without waking me. I felt like a human being when I woke naturally at 9:15!! Passages like this are not necessarily fun, but it was gratifying to see that very few belongings crashed to the floor (because we had stowed and lashed them into place during the two days before the passage) and the boat (and crew) held up well under the conditions.

Maloelap is a significant site in terms of WWII history. It was occupied by the Japanese well before the war when the League of Nations handed trusteeship of the Marshalls to them, and Maloelap's few square kms were home to thousands of soldiers and air personnel during the hostilities. Upon the loss of Guadalcanal (Solomon Islands), the Japanese tightened their defensive boundary, and left Maloelap outside it. They purportedly evacuated some of their aircrew and left the rest to 'fight to the last man' without external support. The Americans evacuated the Marshallese in secret and then bombed and abandoned the island. Walking through the main village, we found a shopkeeper who volunteered his 12-year-old niece to show us some of the relics. With hardly a word of English other than Hello ... My name is ... she silently led us (and a gaggle of local children) to see what seemed to be a power generating station, a HQ building (complete with impressive stone staircase from the first to the second floors and a double-doored high-security room that was likely either a command or communications center), and a downed aircraft [Max: Japanese Betty Bomber I think] near what we think was the original runway). Prior to that we found an old aircraft drop tank embedded in the beach. Victoria is usually the one to find unique shells on our outings; in this case, it was Johnathan who found (and identified) a '50-cal' shell near the aircraft :) I find it humbling to see massive and imposing buildings, that were built with longevity in mind, reduced to rusted shells that are being slowly absorbed by the jungle and turned into children's play areas. Progress can be such a thin veneer.

A Majuro-based ex-pat has spent many years diving and documenting various wrecks and relics in Maloelap. Using his reports, we were able to examine the remains of a US B-25 Bomber at low tide, identifying the components of the radial engine and finding many pieces of the fuselage embedded in the coral and the surrounding jungle. This site was especially meaningful because six American lives were lost in the crash, and the families only learned of the location thanks to the Majuro man's analysis. The three ships we snorkelled on were former Japanese fishing vessels turned patrol ships, sunk by US bombs or torpedoes during their assault. One was reputed to have live depth charges still onboard but we could not find them. When we moved to Ollet Island we were able to see the remains of two Japanese Zero fighters.

When we left Majuro in January, it seemed like a long time until 'late March' when we expected to return. In the blink of an eye, we have passed two months away, and experienced the beauty, serenity, and hard work of life in one of the more remote atolls. Also in the blink of an eye, our family was reminded of the preciousness of every moment, and of the importance of seizing opportunities that present themselves to expand our horizons. My Uncle Gordon will not walk in our midst again in this life, but I will continue to think of him, his music, and his love of flying, especially every time I launch my kite and push the limits of my own comfort zone.

The time has now come to head for Majuro again, and go 'back to work'. Kiting, fishing, and socializing will take a back seat to maintaining, supplying, and provisioning. In fact, we have already been in touch with the supplier of our Autopilot drive, and are in the process of ordering it so that it will arrive as soon as possible after we get back to Majuro. It turns out that we first met Shea when we were preparing for the Baja Ha Ha in 2012 in San Diego - he gave a lecture then, was quick to answer some emails in the meantime, and now we are placing our order through him for one of our largest single-item purchases in our cruising to date - it pays to make a good first impression and to go the second mile for folks!! Next week will be spent poring over internet suppliers' websites, to take advantage of the USPS service to Majuro to order spare parts. The end of the month will be dedicated to re-stocking our cupboards for the trip South. We will likely spend about a month in Majuro before heading offshore again in early May.

Love to you all,

Elizabeth
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At 2017-03-23 10:53 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°45.82'N 171°10.39'E
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At 2017-04-11 7:45 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 07°06.45'N 171°22.08'E

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