Monday 22 May 2017

Mid-Pacific Beach Party


If you look at our blog, you will see that our Speed over Ground is just under a knot, in vaguely the direction of Tikopia. After an uneventful day sail, the wind dropped as expected, and we motored until we were about 45 nm short of our destination. With the genoa furled and the main sheeted in, and 4 kts of wind, our boat speed dropped to about 0.1 kts (similar to the movement of the boat at anchor). Thus began what we are fondly calling our Mid-Pacific Beach Party.

Everyone donned swimming gear (except for Benjamin, who elected to stay below). We set up the swim ladder, tied on a long floating line 'just in case', and took turns diving into our private 9800 foot deep swimming pool. Without another boat in sight, there was nothing but Fluenta, the swimmers and the horizon in ever direction. The water was very clear, but we couldn't see the bottom! In case you are wondering, Max and I took turns standing at the helm, prepared to respond if anything should go awry (nothing did). Victoria and Johnathan outlasted both of us in the water, practicing dives and cannon balls.

The water temperature was so warm and welcoming that I dug out a mercury thermometer, that had been provided with our very first 'homeschool science kit' when Victoria was in Gr 4 (and never used since); after a quick lesson on parallax error we sent both kids back to the water to measure the sea temperature and found that it was a comfortable 30 deg C. No wonder even I didn't need a wetsuit!

After our impromptu mid-ocean swim, it was suntanning [or more correctly, hiding from the sun] stations for Max and Johnathan (taking rare moments to read in our portable comfy chairs on the upper decks) while Victoria and I got busy in the galley: burritos for dinner with chocolate brownies for dessert. The brownies deserve a special mention, as the double package of Ghirardelli mix was a gift from the departing Del Viento family [Google their interesting blog] when we connected with them for a short time in Savusavu at the end of last season (when they were on their way to a shore-side existence for a while). The mix has stayed in our easy-access saloon cubby ever since, waiting for just the right moment when we would enjoy a treat that we didn't want to make from scratch. When Victoria suggested making them today, I knew that we had found our moment. With the addition of a package of nearly-end-of-life marshmallows (her idea), they were especially decadent!

I think what strikes me the most about the afternoon was just how unexpected it was: we are usually very strict on the sleep rotation, so that if two adults are awake, it is one too many, and the other goes down for a nap as soon as possible. Somehow today, the timing worked out such that we came to a stop as I was was waking from my off-watch, and Max had a few hours to go before going off-watch after dinner, so the whole family was awake and enjoying our adventure, with (for once) no obligations of 'time' at all. There was no where else to be and there was nothing else to do. There was no need to rush the swimming, because we weren't going anywhere anytime soon anyway - that was the whole point! Even in our cruising life, this is somehow a rare sentiment for two former (ha!) type-As.

As evening approached, the slatting of our mainsail started to prick our shared conscience - every sound we heard was one step closer to a sail repair - so we furled the main, and the calm, pointing-into-waves motion that we had been enjoying for several hours evolved into the 'rolliest-anchorage-we-have-been-in' motion of +15 to -15 (or more) rolls followed by sudden calms as the boat finds its way in the gentle swell. The waves have a lot of fetch out here! If there were more wind, we would have both the main and the staysail hoisted, and we would be properly 'hove to' but there is not enough wind to keep pressure on the sails, so we are just drifting with bare poles. Because the sea is so calm, the motion is not unpleasant, but I am glad that it is only a six-hour commitment to this 'anchorage'!

Once again, we have a moonless (til well after 3am) night and a vast expanse of stars to enjoy. We have only had one squall so far, and it was a rather surreal feeling to realize that there wasn't much we could do to prepare for it: the sails were already furled, and all we needed was to close the hatches and rain panels if we started to get wet. With a max windspeed of 15 kts, it gave us a light sprinkling and a boost in the right direction :)

We will stay like this til the 3am watch change, then we will motor the last 40 nm or so (our drifting has already saved us about 6nm of diesel with more to come!) and hope to approach Tikopia in the mid-morning light. If the anchorage is safe and somewhat comfortable, we will stay for a few days, otherwise we will carry on towards Luganville, Vanuatu.

Love to all,

At 2017-05-04 3:06 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 11°42.92'S 169°03.35'E
At 2017-05-04 3:06 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 11°42.92'S 169°03.35'E

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Sunday 21 May 2017

Almost at Tikopia (Days 8-10)


We are sailing under clear skies with lightning (go figure - it's hard to picture, but somewhere ahead of us and behind us there are thunder heads, even though it is very benign where we are) with less than 100nm to go before we might put our anchor down at Tikopia. I say *might* because our stay in Tikopia is weather-dependent. We have left the region of lagoons and atolls and returned to islands where we just nestle up close in a bay. The bay at Tikopia is more of a gap in the reef on the sheltered side of the island than an enclosed nook, so we will just have to see what it is like when we get there.

The last few days have been blissfully non-eventful. The weather has been very cooperative, with light winds interspersed with short periods of motoring when they dropped completely. We have had blue skies during the day and clear views of the stars at night. We have had a few squalls, but nothing like the ones earlier in the passage. The weather models when we left Majuro indicated that we would likely have 'sailing winds' throughout our passage, but that behind us a huge area of calm would be opening up (ie delaying our departure by a day would have meant little wind for most of the trip). This is pretty much what we have seen, and we may find ourselves in this calm as early as tomorrow. We will sail until we run out of wind, then we will motor. We are also now into the speed-time-distance management mode: we need to control our speed (including heaving-to for a few hours while we still have sea room if necessary) in order to time our arrival at the anchorage for around mid-day to have the best light to see the reef. If you check our boat speed on our blog, don't be too surprised if it looks like we have stopped mid-ocean - we may well have!

We had a funny moment two nights ago: I was on watch, and Max was asleep in the saloon. I started to hear a strange noise, kind of an intermittent clicking sound. When it went on for a couple of minutes, I peered into the saloon to see if I could see anything amiss, and was met by an unusual smell; my first thought was that something was burning. By this time, Max had woken up, and he opened the bilge to check the pumps. We were worried that one of the bilge pumps had somehow burnt out. Thankfully, the floor had been cleared of Lego and toys earlier in the day, and all he had to watch out for was one errant airplane. I shone the big white flashlight on the area, and we soon solved our mystery: there in the gap between the bilge cover and the starboard bench was one very startled flying fish!! It had taken the leap from the water, through the open hatch above Max's head, and landed on the floor of the saloon. Many people cook these surprise visitors, but we decided to send him back from whence he had come. The surprise for me was that Max actually expected me to do the honours! He grasped our friend with a paper towel, and instead of brushing by me to head upstairs to the rails, he held it out in my direction! It is well known on board that the fish I handle are well dead and filleted before they reach my hands, but clearly Max was looking for me to make an exception. Gritting my teeth, and mentally crossing my fingers that the 8-inch fish wouldn't get away and start flapping around the cockpit, I grasped it firmly about the middle and flung it to the sea for all I was worth. It gratefully swam away, and we all breathed a sigh of relief :)

Calmer seas have enabled a little more activity. Johnathan and Benjamin have been busy, either building things with Lego or creeping around the boat as 'good guys' sneaking up on 'bad guys' with life-sized Lego weapons in hand (built out of spare parts by Johnathan). Sometimes Johnathan is aided by Benjamin and sometimes he is aided by "Special Forces Spiderman": our friends in Kiribati gave us a hand-me-down costume, and it is getting good use :) We couldn't find the mask for a couple of days, and after hunting in all the usual places, we figured that it would eventually turn up. Benjamin was disappointed that we couldn't find it, but generally nonchalant. Imagine our surprise when it was Benjamin who found it - exactly where he had put it - in the little tool cubby beside the navigation table! For her part, Victoria has been working on various crochet projects, making little sea creatures with patterns she copied when we were in Fiji. Both big kids have been getting ready for their return to the land of other kid-boats by working on some shared worlds they are creating in Minecraft, and Johnathan surprised me the other day by showing me an entire aircraft fleet he had built with his own designs. I love the creativity that unfolds when they are left to their own activities (even if it is on an electronic device!)

We deployed our fishing lines today, but so far our flying fish is the only aquatic life to have come aboard. We re-deployed the water-towed generator just after dark, and it is making 2-4 amps as we sail slowly at about 4 kts. With any luck, we will catch something shortly before we arrive so that we have fresh fish at anchor.

Once again, I have spent much of this night-watch (2am til morning) just watching the bowl of stars above us. Sometimes, something like mist creeps up towards the boat (when it is black, it can herald a squall, but when it is white, it is generally benign; tonight it has been benign). I am reminded of night travel in times past, before the advent of headlights and street lights, when this encroaching and enveloping dark would have been the norm. After off-watches, where I can turn my back on everything and sleep, quiet night watches are my favourite time on a passage. They lend themselves to a sense of reflection and peace that is otherwise rare. As I feel the gentle breeze on my cheek and look up at the stars that guided so many generations of Pacific Island navigators over the millennia (wishing I knew the legends they told about them) the calmness and vastness around me seem to invite a similar calmness within. I am left with a feeling of immense gratitude - for the opportunity to be here in this place at this time, and for the family and friends at home who are in my heart as I voyage. We are all connected; we are all under the same moon and stars.

With love for your journey,


At 2017-05-04 5:38 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 10°55.58'S 169°08.47'E
At 2017-05-04 10:12 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 11°15.49'S 169°07.27'E

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Saturday 13 May 2017

Passage towards Vanuatu

Fluenta has left Majuro and is now heading towards Vanuatu. Only 1420 nm to go ... We will keep a good watch to see if any more out of season cyclones form before we get too far south.

Nice start to the passage with Johnathan and I sailing the boat off the mooring and then Victoria and I sailing out through the pass. Engine hours so far zero but we will see how the ITCZ treats us.

We will update Yachts in Transit as we go and likely blog posts as everyone regains their sea legs.

Thursday 11 May 2017

Majuro Photos

Things can be so relative.  Majuro seemed so nice after Tarawa but now seems too busy and crowded after our two months in the outer atolls.  Still, it is a good place to work on boat projects, catch up on administration (tax time !) and reprovision (plus a bit of playing too)

Majuro is a busy commercial harbour as you can see in this photo from the cockpit - mostly tuna boats and cargo ships taking the fish to other ports.  For the Sea King guys reading the blog, check out the yellow help on the bridge top.

Majuro was a time to catch up on boat jobs - Lunasea was nice enough to replace our "out of warranty" trilight that lives at the top of the mast with a new and improved design at no cost.  I wish others in the marine industry were so responsive.

Speaking of masts, here is the view from the mast while I was doing the usual pre-passage inspection and replacing the trilight,   The little ketch beside us is SV Adele singlehanded by Moon from Korea.  He was going direct from Hawaii to Korea but had some boat issues and diverted to Majuro.  Unfortunately without an autopilot and a lack of charts we fell asleep and went up a reef.  Super nice guy and have enjoyed having him over to Fluenta for dinner (Benjamin likes him because he brings gifts !)

Hmm ... 10.5 volts ?

Replacing the windlass battery bank was not on the "to do" list but the batteries are not holding a charge so needed to be replaced.  Of course, you cannot get the same size batteries we originally had so adapting was required.

And time of course for some school ...  Very cheery about that too it appears.

Time for a trip to the barber.  Johnathan and I got our hair cut.

and time for cakes too.  One for one of our new friends in the cruiser community here.

Pool has not been a large part of the kids education - like not at all - so Tamanui, Johnathan and Benjamin work on their pool skills.

Tamanui, Johnathan and Benjamin playing in Fluenta's saloon.

Hmm ... this does not look right either ...  something else for the "to do" list.

We also had the chance to meet the "sea gypsies" of Infinity.  A truly different model for going to sea.  We were hosted on board a few times and enjoyed getting to know the family that owns and runs the ship. (This is a photo from Infinity's site and not taken here in the Marshall Islands as I neglected to take a  picture of the ship)

One of the Infinity crew took this picture of, what a surprise, Johnathan climbing the rigging on Infinity

and of Victoria rightside up on the boom of Infinity

The Easter Bunny found us !

Looking for eggs.

That crafty Easter Bunny put an egg in the dorade.

The church put an Easter Egg hunt on too.

Oh, and I got a year older too.  Victoria's cake.

I tried to go sportfishing for my first time but we had engine issues once we got to the fishing area (injector pump stuck at low revs).  We did get a strike from an approx 200 lb marlin though.  This is sunrise as we leave Majuro.

The winning marlin was 430 lbs.

We were honoured with a visit from Anious and Emily from Ailuk.  They are trying to get to Wotje to see their son's high school graduation so they need to go come to Mauro first to get a ship to Wotje despite the fact that the closest atoll to Ailuk is Wotje ... The whole trip will take them about a month,

A trip to the canoe musem

This model was made with the same materials the Marshallese would have originally used.  The hull is breadfruit wood and the rigging and sails from pandenus.

Rigging details - all natural materials.

Sail detail - all natural materials.

Tuesday 9 May 2017

Maloelap WWII Sites - Underwater

In the previous blog post I showed some photos from our time on land Maloelap.  Of course, below the surface there are various ships and, rumour has it, aircraft.  Using Matt's 2006 report we dove on three Japanese ships that had been converted to warships.  All three ships are within free diving depth so I did not bother with the dive gear. 

The ships we dove on were:

- Tarushima Maru: it was rumour to still have live depth charges but as much as I searched I do not think they are still onboard.  I did find the depth charge track though and checked in the hold below the track to no avail.
- Seisho Maru:  Either this ship or Kaikou Maru was rumoured to have a carried Zamperini, an American Olympian turned airman.  He was a  downed US pilot who drifted in a liferaft for 46 days, only to drift into Japanese hands at Maloelap.  His story is chronicled in "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption."
- “Kaikou Maru

Johnathan diving down for a closer look
Deeper down ....
Depth charge track and exit point off the transom.
Matt's photo showed a depth charge right here but I did not find them
Well secured on the bollards.
The steering compartment of the Tarushima Maru
And the other end of the steering compartment - the rudder and propellor

Stairway to nowhere.
Lots of natural life to see as well.  A giant clam.

Victoria checking out a Christmas Tree worm she spotted.  How she spotted it I have no idea. I have a good video of it that someday should find its way to the blog.
Of course, anchoring with the coral bommies around we buoy the chain to reduce the wear and tear on the reef and our anchor tackle.  Reduces dramas when it is time to leave too !
Bye !

Monday 8 May 2017

World War II Relics at Maloelap - Above Water.

On our way back from Ailuk we stopped for a week at Maloelap Atoll.  It was a major Japanese air base during WWII.  It was not invaded by the US forces but was rather rendered ineffective by airpower and naval bombardment and then bypassed as the USN moved closer to Japan.  According to Wikipedia, of the over the over 3000 Japanese personnel, only 1041 survived.

On the main island we asked about the airfield and were taken on a tour, by the kids, of the massive Japanese command bunker, generator station and the airfield.  Then, using the Matt Holly study, we took the RHIB to see the downed B-25 he discovered and finally moved Fluenta to Olllet Island to see the Japanese Zero's on the beach.

Photos below but if you would like more information about the history and the items left behind I recommend reading Matt's 2006 study.   We also have a more detailed version which appears to not be on-line.   Matt is still here in Majuro (we rented a mooring from him) and interesting fellow to talk to.

This is one of the engines from a US B-25 that was shot down attacking Maloelap.

The other engine is about 200 ft further away in deeper water.

On the island itself there are lots of parts of the B-25.  This is a, still lockwired, cover for the gyro.

Further along in the atoll is a Japanese zero fighter.

This is another Zero has what we think is a bullet hole in the prop.

Big carburetor on the zero.

Figuring out how the parts go together

A little hard to see but the purple things are jellyfish. 

Drop tank ?

Ashore, we asked about the airfield and were taken on a tour by the children.

The Japanese infrastructure was impressive.  This is one of the large generators.

The old airfield has Zero fighters and Betty bombers.

Looking at one of the engines of a Betty bomber

Betty bomber

Japanese Betty Bomber

The dials on one of the radios.

Ammunition is strewn around

Placards are still legible (if you can read Japanese)

Massive tanks.  I should have had someone stand byside them to understand the scale.  They are at least two stories high,

One of the smaller cannons with Fluenta in the background

I suggested to the kids that digging up unexploded ordnance is maybe a bad idea.

The whole ocean side of the island is a complex of shore batteries and bunkers.

and more generators.  Look at the size of the flywheel

More cannons.

and bunkers

and old shells.

The interor of the island is full of bunkers.  This one is about three stories tall.

To be continued with the "below water" portion of the visit ...