Monday, October 24, 2011

Checking out...heading to Majuro

Andy and Jake with one of the Japanese WWII guns in
As I'm writing this, Andy is checking out with Immigration and Customs and with any luck, we'll be underway in a few hours.  I won't be able to post from sea this time as I wasn't able to reload the sailmail software to our backup computer.  It needs a special program to load onto the MAC and I don't have that (and I'm not quite ready to pay $90 for it yet).  So we won't be updating for at least another 4 days or so.

After all the commotion the past few days, I forgot to assure you that we are looking on the bright side. I know my post was pretty negative, but we do realize it could have been a lot worse.  They could have taken ALL of our electronics and stripped the boat clean.  Worse yet, we could have been here.  So, we do realize that we're very blessed to have only lost a few things (a few important things).

Andy has spent hours trying to reload our charts to this computer but the connection is so slow it keeps crapping out on the last chart.  Guess what chart that is?  Yep, the one to Majuro.  It looks like we'll be brushing up on our manual navigation skills - paper charts, that is. Luckily, we still have all of our GPS's!!!

I was finally able to get the rest of our pictures to load, so hopefully that will tide everyone over until we reach Majuro.
Our Equator, Dateline, Prime Meridian crossing party

This is what you do when you get bored on a boat...
test out the expired flares. 

They've attempted sidewalks here.  Jake fell through one
of those holes.  oops.

Flat calm...
Two men on a styrofoam float...Andy offered them $200
to find our luck yet.
We bought 5 lobsters off of some local kids....yummy.

This is the big boats we parked behind when we first came in...
no lights at night.  There's lots of these littering the bay...
some of them run aground.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Robbed in Tarawa

I spent the last few days trying to figure out how to describe this place.  I wanted to have an open mind and not be so judgmental.  I wanted to believe that under all the trash, stench and leering there were kind people and a charming atoll.  Maybe there are, but I don't see it.  Yesterday we were robbed.  In broad daylight.  They broke the lock off of the door and went through all of our stuff.  They took two computers   (navigational computer and the computer we do all of our sailmail stuff on), our iPad (most devastating to Jake), some rather pricey binoculars, and Andy's scuba mask.  They left our old MAC with a bum keyboard, so with the generosity of another cruiser, we're able to hook up an external keyboard and get that up and running.  Hopefully, we can reload everything fairly easily.

We weren't the only ones to be broken into.  Before we got here, one boat got his dinghy stolen and he had to pay $100 to get it back.  Another boat was entered via a spare key the robbers found.  And a third boat had locks broke on the lockers in their cockpits.  All in broad daylight.  There are numerous fisherman around here so there is no doubt someone saw each and every incident, but no one is talking. The police are equally useless...they asked us if we had any suspects.  They offered to come out the next day and take pictures (of what, I'm not sure), but when Andy went to pick the guy up, he couldn't find his camera.  The thieves left their tool they used to break the lock, a purple hat, and a large piece of styrofoam (the common method of transportation around here).  But evidently, those aren't very helpful to the police.

It's not the stuff they took that I'm upset about, although it's going to be rather pricey to replace those things.  All of our pictures were on that computer.  I have most of them on this old MAC, but everything from Tahiti to present day is gone (well, Andy has all of his pictures on a separate hard drive, so not all is lost).  I've been trying to do some writing as well and all of that is gone.  We recently wrote out a resume for Andy and that's gone.  Now I know everyone knows what a pain that is!  But worst of all, my little boy is scared now.  He went through his room with a fine tooth comb making sure nothing was taken and he handled it all like a big boy.  But he tells me he's a worrier like me and if he ever finds those guys, he's got his bear spray and machete, because that's what daddy would do...  really?  

If I sound bitter, that's because I am.  We go to great pains not to offend people in other countries, to follow their customs, to smile and try to be friendly, regardless of how we're treated.  You can put up a hundred churches on these little islands. You can make people cover their knees and shoulders.  You can put up signs reminding people it's not nice to rape your daughter.  But I don't think you can take the bad out of bad people.  The lady on the bus taking our money yesterday had obviously been beaten.  The men giving Andy the stink eye and me leering looks (despite my extremely modest way of dressing) as we walk along the streets didn't have nice thoughts on their mind, I can assure you.  

We were looking forward to going to one of the closer outer islands on Monday, Abaiang.  But I think we're just going to head up to Majuro instead.  Although, truth be told, I heard it's not much better up there.  But the sail up there will give us time to clear our heads and open that mind back up so that we can remember why we're doing this... 

I have some pictures still on our cameras but I'm having trouble loading them on this computer.  I'll keep trying.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

We made it to Tarawa!

Jake got in the habit of waking up every morning at
5:45 for sunrise.  This particular morning he was WIDE
After six days at sea, three of them motoring, we finally made it to Tarawa.  We got here late at night and decided to make the entrance at night...not one of our better decisions.  Andy did a great job of driving by radar and electronic charts while I stood on the bow with a giant flash light helping to miss the buoys.  We finally threw the hook down behind a large ship and went to sleep.  We woke up the next morning to find ships all around us...some of them floating, some of the not (i.e. we parked in the middle of a bunch of derelict and sunk boats).  We made our way to the anchorage as two other boats pulled in as well.  There's a total of four boats here now (one left this morning - we'll see them in Majuro).

We've checked in (an extremely convoluted process - simple in theory, not in practice) and gone around town a bit, but the jury is still out.  I'm not prepared to write about it yet...still trying to get a grasp of everything (read into that what you like).  So...I'll share some pictures from our passage and Tuvalu...enjoy!

If you look really close on the right hand side, you'll see a bottle.
They're making their local brew, "toddy" from the sap in the
coconut tree.  You see bottles hanging everywhere.
According to the story our waitress told us at lunch one day, this boat was stolen from Tahiti and was being taken to Thailand when some bad weather came about, so the crew stopped in Tuvalu.  Not only had they stolen the boat, but they didn't have proper passports either.  The government sent them home without the boat.  While a government official was in Tahiti on business, he happened to mention the incident to a local official and it turned out to be his boat!  Not sure how much of it is true, but according to the story, they'll still trying to figure out how to get it back to Tahiti.

A good number of pigs scattered the island.
Our last sunset in the South Pacific this year before
crossing the equator again.

Selling handicrafts in front of the airport ( I use the term "airport"

The local Internet Cafe where Jake gave a little history lesson
to all who would listen on the battles of WWII.  

It's a very crowded island with people packed into every empty lot
you can imagine.

The Tuvalu National Library and Archives

Government building...can you see where all the money goes?

Our view from the hotel restaurant

Andy, enjoying a sunset while underway to Tarawa.
The dinghy after the davit broke

The only thing keeping it from going completely in the water
is that little line in the front of the picture.

Sunrise over a very calm ocean

The reason we motored for three wind, whatsoever.

Our first deep sea creature.  Not enough meat to actually eat.
We have a few more pictures from Andy's camera but haven't loaded them yet...he's outside negotiating lobster prices with the locals so I should probably go supervise :).  The locals don't eat the lobster - they poop in the water, both the locals and the lobster, so they see us as a big target (i.e. Matangs don't know any better).  What they don't know is that lobsters eat poop all over the world and they still taste great.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Crossing the equator - the second time

We're sitting out here on day 4 powered once again by our liquid wind (aka engine). We're back in the ITCZ with less than 3 knots of wind. We were doing good for a while, running about 5 knots. But it's very inconsistent. The sad thing is, we're passing up atoll after atoll. All due to bureaucracy that neither of us understands. As I said previously, in Tuvalu, they wouldn't let us stop at any of their outer atolls. Well, in the Gilbert group of Kirabati, you can't stop at any atolls without checking into Tarawa first, which is almost at the top of the chain. So we're passing them all by. We've heard of people stopping before but we've also heard of stories of captains spending time in the Tarawa jail. At the very least, passports get taken for a few weeks while captain and crew sweat it out.

But that's giving us plenty of time to fish, bake, and read. In the fishing department, we finally caught a fish, albeit one we couldn't eat. Andy put our lines out before sun up one morning and after a little squall, I looked back and we were carrying some sort of drowned deep sea, barracuda-like fish. The thing had huge eyes and was long and skinny. Kind of creepy looking. Andy attempted to filet it, but it didn't have enough meat for an appetizer so unfortunately, it was wasted.

I bought a new cookbook when I was home on baking bread and have been trying out a lot of the recipes. I have finally cooked a very yummy sandwich bread according to my "wonder bread" experts. For two mornings we have had sweet, gooey cinnamon rolls. And yesterday, we were treated to some delicious cheesy bread, if I do say so myself.

As far as reading goes, I've finished 5 books since we left Samoa and Andy has finished 1 (one more than usual, not his normal hobby). But we've both been reading up on Tarawa and it's actually pretty interesting considering some think it's on the edge of the world. It has a lot of WWII history (as does Tuvalu, but I forgot to tell you all about that), with the Battle at Tarawa where the Japanese were defeated by the US Marines being one of the bloodiest battles in history. Evidently, a lot of the remains are still visible on the island and we'll be able to have quite the history lesson with Jake. They have maneabas, or traditional meeting houses, throughout the islands. The best that I can tell, these are much like the Fales we saw in Samoa where all the major business is conducted by the local men in charge. South Tarawa, where we'll be checking in, is home to over 1/3 of the Kirabati's population. Our Lonely Planet guide was updated about 10 years ago and the population was 86,800 people over 811 sq km. That's a lot of people in a really small space. There's lots more interesting facts, but since I've never been very good putting things into my own words (my industry actually encourages plagiarism), I'll let the interested do their own research.

We're getting closer, about 230 miles out now. Hopefully we'll be there in the next two days, with tomorrow being our second equator crossing! Since we haven't been paying much attention along the way, we're going to have an International Dateline, Prime Meridian, Equator crossing celebration complete with cake and champagne and maybe a small gift for the little guy.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Cruising right along - Tuvalu to Tarawa

We left Tuvalu Wednesday morning after checking out with Immigration and Customs. This is the first place we've been to where there was no fee, so that was a nice surprise. It's Friday morning now (Thursday for most of you reading this) and we've had a nice couple of days sailing. The winds have been pretty light, but the spinnaker has been doing her job and we're making decent headway. Our lures are getting mauled but we haven't caught any fish yet. The bright side is that we haven't lost any more lures either. We had a few small squalls last night but for the most part they were welcome. They brought 15 knot winds that helped move us on a little quicker.

Jake is doing good but getting a little bit of cabin fever. School keeps us occupied in the mornings and he's been drawing, building legos, watching movies and playing video games the rest of the time (ah, the modern day cruiser and his toys). We spent this morning planning how we were going to celebrate our second equator crossing. He's planning another elaborate cake decorating project for his artistic deficient mother (remember the angler fish/submarine masterpiece of 2010?)

The most exciting thing that has happened happened just as I was starting to write this. I heard a loud bang and went outside and the davit holding our dinghy broke (the one on the engine side), so our dinghy was hanging on one side with the engine dangerously close to the water. The only thing keeping it from being all the way in was a rope that Andy had tied to the rail to keep it from swinging. I woke Andy up and he was able to get another pulley hooked up so that it could be pulled back in place.

Not much more to report. We have another 500 miles or so to go, maybe another 4-5 days. We took lots of pictures in Tuvalu (and I even took one of our dinghy breaking) so hopefully we'll have internet in Tarawa and I can post them to give you a reprieve from my commentary.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

10/12/2011 - Funafuti, Tuvalu

We arrived yesterday in Tuvalu. Check in was a breeze and we spent the afternoon
relaxing and napping on the boat in the wonderful breeze. It is awfully hot here, but the wind is blowing so perfectly that you almost don't even notice the heat.
So, today we did Tuvalu. I think. Well, we gave it our best shot. It's not a big place. We walked all over town. We found the "Tuvalu National Library and Archives." We found the internet cafŽ (well, more than one, believe it or not). We ate lunch at a local restaurant, pretty nice. We exchanged money at the bank. We even saw a New
Zealand Airforce plane land and unload some aid equipment (Tuvalu recently ran
out of water...yes, water).
We went to the local Town Council and attempted to get approval to anchor
Savannah at the Conservation Area on the West side of the atoll. For a small fee of
$50 (how much does it cost to go to Yosemite?) and another small fee of $100 to
take pictures (yes, TAKE pictures, even after Andy offered to give them a copy of
everything for their own use), we decided against going over there. There were
supposed to be turtles and mantas, but for $150, we decided we could just look at pictures of them.
So, tonight, I sit, playing video games on the iPad. Everyone is asleep. Why are you not asleep Monica? Well, I hear chanting, singing, drums. There is a celebration going on! I can hear it. I don't know what it is, but I am certain they are roasting a pig! It is all I can do not to lower the dinghy and find out for myself. But no, I cannot. My boy is asleep. My husband is asleep (in the net, no less. I get the whole bed to myself tonight). We will not be celebrating. Of what, I do not know, nor care. We will not be having pig tonight.
We're going to check out in the morning and make our way to Tarawa. We found
out that we aren't able to stop at any of the outer islands. You can, but you have to come back to Funafuti to check out if you do that, about 200 miles against the wind. I don't think so.
Reading through this, it sounds like we didn't enjoy ourselves too much, but that's
not the case. The people here are the friendliest we've met so far while cruising.
While the island is also the trashiest we've seen (yes, even worse than Pago Pago and fortunately for all, we didn't see anyone going to loo in the ocean like we had read about - not saying they didn't do it, just saying I didn't see it.), it has a certain sort of charm to it (probably due to the people). It's not a place you want to spend a lot of time, but it is a good place to stop over and rest a bit. So, off we go tomorrow on our 8-day trip to Tarawa. Wish us luck!
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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Just a quick little update for the family... let you know we're ok. We're about 125 miles outside of Funafuti, Tuvalu. The lost fishing lure count is now at 5. These fish are huge. We have 200 - 600 lb test on and they're either snapping it in half or taking the whole thing. I have a 600 lb test line out now and if they take this one, we're going to quit fishing because I'm not sure what we would do with a fish that size anyway (assuming we could get it on board...Andy almost had his fingers sliced open by trying to pull in one of the lines yesterday without gloves on).

We tried to pull the spinnaker out again today for the third day in a row, since she was behaving so nicely. Then, oops, premature deployment. Andy was pulling the halyard to get the sock up getting ready to deploy the sail, when the sock just took off. If you're not familiar with it, the sock is like a long, well, sock, that keeps the sail tucked up all nice and neat until you're ready to pull on it's lines and SLOWLY lift the sock up, letting the sail take off. Today, no one was pulling and it certainly was slow. The bad part about this is that the lines you use to pull up are the same lines you use to pull it back down and guess where they were? Flying about at the top of the mast. While the spinnaker was out and we were doing a nice 7 knots, we had no way to take it back down. Andy climbed the mast and with much effort and ingenuity, he managed to get the lines down. As soon as we had it all worked out, the wind shifted forward to 75 degrees and we had to bring it down and put up the jib. Oh well, we'll be in Tuvalu tomorrow morning so we can leave her in the bag while my heart gets back to a normal pace.

Not much else going on. It's been such a nice passage that we've considered skipping Tuvalu and continuing on, but that's not really the point of cruising now is it (or is it?)?

The email is rather unreliable out here and often takes up to an hour to send, so updates may be a little scattered, don't worry about us...the weather is beautiful. I'm not sure if Tuvalu has any sort of internet, but I'm guessing no since the latest news is they're out of water (no water, chances are, there's no internet) no pictures for a while. I'll update as soon as I can.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Crossing the dateline, fishing and spinnaker sailing -it's pretty busy out here

Our wind was pretty good until last night. We did 125 miles in one day, which is not great, but pretty average for us. After the sun came up, I decided to put out the fishing lines. We were going over a bank that Andy had been talking about and he thought there might be a good chance of fish. And he was right...but they weren't meant for us. Andy was still asleep and I was making Jake breakfast when I heard the line buzz. I ran out to see the fish flapping in the water but when I pulled on the line, it was gone. And it took with him, one of our brand new lures. So I pulled in the line and decided to put out another one, seeing as we were right over the bank. You would have to be on the boat to see the position I was in, but I was trying to secure the line in the bungee we use to show when we have a fish on and I didn't have a good grip on the spool. You guessed it. A fish hit and snagged the line, spool and all, right out of my hand. Jake heard a few words mommy usually doesn't say and watched me rant around the cockpit about how stupid I was for a few minutes (I should have secured the line before putting it in the bungee) when he asked me "Mommy, are you going to CRY?" Not in the worried, sentimental way, but in the 'I can't believe you're going to cry about a fishing line' kind of way. It was only 30 minutes before Andy was supposed to get up anyway and I thought he might be interested to know that we were crossing his precious bank with only one line out and it had the cedar plug on it, not getting much action. Or so I thought... As he rigged up a stronger lure for the first line, I pulled in the cedar plug so he could put something new on it as well. No cedar plug. In 15 minutes, I had lost three lures and an entire line. Not a good way to start the day. Lucky for me, Andy just laughed at me. So after eating spaghetti last night for dinner (instead of tuna), the winds died and we met our threshold (moving less than 2 knots) and fired up the engine.

Today is a new day. The squirrel (i.e. spinnaker) came out of the bag, but is behaving herself by giving us a respectable 5 knots in 8-10 knots of wind and we are about to cross over another bank. Andy had more line, so he's rigged up another "spool" which is really just a piece of spare wood that he's put a handle on and we now have three lines out. We're not thawing anything out in the hopes of some fresh sashimi tonight.

While he was playing McGiver, I asked him if we had crossed the dateline yet. Our electronic charts don't notate it and neither does our paper charts, but according to our decorative map on our table, we apparently crossed the dateline sometime yesterday...somewhat uneventfully. So, if you would like to know what the weather will be like tomorrow, send me an email and I'll fill you in. We were -10 hours from we're +12 hours from GMT. It's all very confusing as it's not even a 24 hour difference. With daylight savings thrown in, who knows what time it is. I guess we really don't care what time or day it is until we get somewhere near civilization. And even then, I think these people mostly go by the weather...they do all their work in the a.m., lay around during the hot hours of the day, and then pick it all back up once the sun starts to go down. We're already in tune with that program, so all is good.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Northern Bound - Tuvalu and beyond

If you take any one day out of our life here cruising, you will find that it can be
remarkably mundane or just plain remarkable. Take passage making, for example.
Here we are on our way to Tuvalu from Samoa, with 10 knots of wind, making about
4 knots ourselves with the Samoan island, Savaii to our port side for the last 13
hours. I mean really, are we ever gonna pass this thing? The boat is rocking to it's own little rhythm and unfortunately, due to some power issues, we had to turn on
the engine. So you can add to the rocking that soft - or loud, depending on your
outlook on things - drone that comes with the iron wind. Pretty monotonous.
Pretty mundane.

If, on the other hand, you take your glass half full, you could look at it from the
perspective of adventure, traveling great distances - well, not great, but definitely
long, 658 miles - with our one and only, 6 year old son. No doctor in case one of us
gets sick or hurt. No mall or park to go to when we have cabin fever and he can't
play outside (or needs new shorts, for that matter). No babysitter so Andy and I can
go out to eat alone or watch a movie. Just the boat, the water, and us. He plays all day with the few toys we let him bring along, pretending that the Death Star has just been completed and Darth Vader is taking over Savannah. We, together, must unite and take the evil lord down before Savannah sinks on a planet full of lava. We do this for five or six days before arriving at a remote little - well, not so little - atoll where only 10-12 boats visit a year. Quite remarkable if I do say so myself.

We have just begun to sail "the path not taken." All of our friends and acquaintances went south to either Tonga or Fiji and we've turned north to head our way up to the Marshalls for the cyclone season. Why, you ask? Well, it took me a while to remember why, outside of "because we wanted to," but there is a reason. You see, we didn't want to rush through Fiji and Tonga. We hear they are both incredible all by themselves and people get there wishing they had more time. Not to mention, we want to hit Vanuatu and New Caledonia before landing in Australia. Most people go to New Zealand and then make their way back up the next year to spend more time at their favorite spots, or perhaps the spots they missed. I, for one (and the captain is with me on this one), think New Zealand is going to be very cold, never mind that it is a 10 day trip with 7 day weather windows. I've only heard a handful of people - and they're out there - that enjoyed themselves during that passage. "But you don't want to miss New Zealand!," everyone tells us in a panic when they find out we're not sailing there. You're right, we don't. Calm down. We're going to fly there from Australia at some point and do it by land (after I buy a few sweaters).

Another option for cyclone season is to go up to Hawaii. Andy and I have both been
to Hawaii and don't feel a great desire to sail there either. Not because it's not
beautiful, but again, from good sources, we hear it's not the best cruising ground. If we had intentions of leaving the boat and heading back to the states for a few
months, it might be a great option, but with our budget and spending habits, we
couldn't survive in the states for more than a few weeks, let alone a few months.

Many people leave their boats in Tonga or Fiji in a hurricane hole. Literally, a hole dug out of the land with your boat in it. As cool of a picture as that would make,again, we have the problem of where would we go for that amount of time. Not to
mention, the captain isn't too keen on leaving our boat alone...anywhere (hence, all
the trips back to the states sans Andy the last year and a half).

So, after much research, we found the Marshalls to be an option that grew more and
more appealing.
1) It's off the beaten path - as much as we love the friends we've made, we
really didn't come sailing to meet more people like us. Andy and I both can
be rather introverted at times and after 6 months of traveling with the same
people, we're ready to fly the coop, so to speak. No offense to those we now
call our friends. We really do love you.

2) It has some great diving - World War II debris is scattered far and wide in
this area. Combine what we know about, with what we don't know about
and the crystal clear water, and it makes for some of the best diving in the world
(so we hear). That's number one on my underwater photographer captainÕs

3) Meeting the Natives - While we have certainly met many different people
and learned about many cultures along our way, we've been on the Milk Run
and they have grown quite accustomed to seeing us cruisers. Some of them
are still enjoying having us, but most have learned that we're a very
profitable people to have around. While I'm somewhat scared of some of the
places we're going - yes, I did decide to download that copy of The Sex Lives
of Cannibals - we are a "glass half full" kind of cruiser and have seen time and
time again that you can't judge a place until you see it for yourself. If we
listened to all of the people that told us the Sea of Cortez was too hot in the
summer and it was miserable and we were crazy, blah, blah, blah, we would
have missed out on one of the coolest adventures of our lives (remember
those whale shark pictures?).

4) Lastly (and no, it's not the most important, but is kind of nice), There's a
military base there - Kwajalein is an Army base in the Marshalls that is used
to collect the ballistic missiles used in testing. You have to be sponsored to
go there by someone who lives on the island, and we're in the process of
working on that. But the real draw is the ability to use the commissary,
hopefully the medical and dental clinic and be back in a comfortable
environment for a few weeks (I know, I just said I wanted to meet the
Natives, but by the time we get to the Marshalls, we will have had two
months of meeting the Natives. Give me a break.). And hopefully, Jake will
meet some kids who speak English. He's really getting the hang of playing
with the little kids who don't speak English and w're trying to teach him all
the different ways to say hello, but my heart goes out to him sometimes and
it feels like it would be a nice Christmas present for him to get to say "Hi, do
you want to play with me?" and be understood.

So, for all who were wondering, that's why we're heading north, instead of south
this year. We know all about the pooping on the beach in Tarawa and the butterfly
size cockroaches in Majuro (that incidentally, have been known to make their way
out to boats) and even the petty theft that happened there earlier this year. But
we also know about the wonderful, friendly people with a goofy sense of humor and
the gorgeous outer atolls waiting to be explored. I'm hoping the latter will WOW us
enough to ignore my most feared insect and MOVE us enough to smell the roses
instead of the, well, you know. Stay should be interesting.

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