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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Atoll Aid 2008
12/22/2008, Equatorial Pacific

We have had a couple of concerned emails after the last post. I can categorically state that Hideko, Roq and I, as well as Swingin on a Star are fine and having a lovely holiday season. We live on a boat and anchor with plenty of chain out. Big waves don't bother us because we anchor in water too deep to break. It is also the case that most places in the South Pacific don't even know that there was a King Tide two weeks ago. We had to explain what happened to the staff of OxFam and UNICEF here. High islands, islands inside a barrier reef and large population centers were not typically affected.

The people who were affected live on atolls in the equatorial pacific, where the low lying islands that are their homes are the only land. Unfortunately these folks are in poor contact with the developed world and get very few, if any, supply ships throughout the year. Yacht visits are rare but often more frequent than any other type of visitor.

Read more:

The yacht Whistler with Eric and Jenique on board, ourselves and the yacht Queen Jane have decided to try to help the people on the atolls we pass heading to Pohnpei. In particular Kapingamaringi and Nukuoro. Jordan, the skipper of Queen Jane is actually in California but knows these atolls well and alerted us to the problems. With logistical support from Jordan and all three of us pitching in we hope to make a little difference during the holidays.

After consulting with the few informed individuals we could dig up ashore, we decided on an aid package we could afford and carry including:

1 x 60 Gallon Bin with Lid (for fresh water storage and collection)
5 x 20 Kilo Rice Sack
10 x 1 Kilo Bag Sugar
10 x 1 Kilo Sack of Flour
2 x Tarpaulins (temporary roofing or water collection)
10 x 500 mg Can of Powdered Milk
30 x Square yards of fabric (for clothes and other needs)
1 x Soccer Ball

There is no real way for us to communicate with the people on the atolls and it is not very easy to communicate with Pohnpei itself. We could arrive at the atolls and find them in perfect health, happy as clams, and recently resupplied by the aid vessel that was dispatched to northern Pohnpei State earlier in the month. Unfortunately our best information is what you find in the article linked above, not sounding too fun for the holidays.

It is easy to lose sight of how lucky most of us are...

The Solomon Islands
12/24/2008 | Clifford
Hi Guys

Still following your progress with interest. I like your postings because they are very informative and descriptive. Look forward to follow on your trail in two years. Merry Christmas and Fair Winds

12/26/2008 | Randy
Merry Christmas Clifford! Thanks for the note. Hope to meet up our on the water soon!!
Our Climate is Changing
12/21/2008, The Pacific

From time to time earthquakes and underwater landslides cause devastating tsunamis. A Tsunami is an aberrant series of waves. Tsunamis are often large but are short lived in the greater scheme of things. That said they can devastate coastlines, washing people and structures out to sea, poisoning ground water and killing crops.

Tidal waves are not Tsunamis, though the terms are often used interchangeably. A tidal wave is a wave generated by tidal flows associated with the gravitational affects of the moon and sun. These flows can last for hours.

Earlier this month a low pressure system thousands of miles wide developed in the northwestern Pacific. At the same time the moon was approaching perigee (the closest it comes to the earth). The reduced pressure on the ocean's surface in combination with the heightened gravitational effect of the moon caused over sized tidal swells (tidal waves) across the Pacific.

For surfers heading to Pohnpei this was great news. For the people living on atolls like Ontong Java in the Solomon Islands, Nuguria in Papau New Guinea and Nukuoro in Micronesia it was devastating. Imagine having all land, for as far as you can, see covered in two feet of water. This is what happened in Nukuoro.

The results are unpleasant and long lasting: houses, schools, churches, and other structures damaged or destroyed; all of the local crops either washed away or poisoned with salt water; marine life washed ashore to rot and pollute the already damaged environment. The matter is complicated by the fact that many of the smaller or more out of the way atolls have little or no way to communicate with their capital cities, delaying requests for aid.

All of this two weeks before Christmas.

We have decided to change our travel plans in light of this development. We are now plotting a route from our current position to Nukuoro via several inhabited low lying atolls along a not too jagged course. We have received donations for food, clothing and school supplies, from Pacific cruisers on hiatus in California (who alerted us to the situation). We will add to this what we can afford and move quickly through the islands, distributing what little aid we can muster aboard Swingin' on a Star.

There are several other boats in our anchorage heading that way so we will try to enlist them as well.

The Solomon Islands
12/22/2008 | Ludwig
I stumbled upon your posting after surfing the net for updates regarding the situation on Nukuoro. It is heartbreaking for all the affected low lying atolls and I want to thank you in advance for you will to do what is right.

When a Nukuoroan say 'thank you' please reply 'mai de aloha' aka ' you are welcome'

De abodonu and thankyou!
12/24/2008 | Randy
Hello Ludwig,
It is an unfortunatle situation but we are glad to help as much as we can. Thank you for the language instruction. We will put it to good use. Best, Randy & Hideko
Yacht Haven
12/20/2008, Gizo Anchorage

When we were at Lola Island, Joe told us that there were no yachts in Gizo harbor. he though this strange this time of year. So did we. We had sort of thought Gizo was a fairly popular spot for boats this time of year.

When we arrived there was one other yacht, Nueva Vida. Then Angelica II arrived. Then Don Henry. Then Whistler, and Polaris, and Kliener Bar and finally Sabbatical II and Dream Hunter. Don Henry has moved on but the anchorage is now packed with 8 yachts. It is turning into a very yachty Christmas spot.

We did some shopping in town today and then enjoyed a game of Risk with the Whistler crew. Jennique tromped us. She didn't just win, she crushed us. She brought popcorn though so we forgive her.

The Solomon Islands
Gizo Customs & Post
12/19/2008, Gizo

We took care of all of our business today. The customs office in Gizo is right next door to the Gizo Hotel. The officer was going on holiday at close of business Friday so there would be no customs until January if we didn't handle things now. The officer was happy to clear us out for the 28th though, a week in advance. It is very laid back here in Gizo.

Hideko had packed up the carvings we got for some family members in Marovo Lagoon. The trick was not shipping them, it was finding the post office in the first place. After some investigation it turned out that the post office was the non-descript building in the middle of the market with no windows or signs. We got the carvings out to Japan and the US for only about $50 US, not bad for the size boxes in question.

The Solomon Islands
PNG Visa
12/18/2008, Gizo

So we're here in Gizo. Last I discussed matters with the US Consulate in Honiara, my passport should have been waiting for me when I arrived with a PNG visa ready to go. Not the case.

Instead I was confronted with your typical inane bureaucracy. I expected it from PNG but not from the good 'ol USA! I had filled out a form to get new pages in my passport (US passports have few to start with). The passport had to be sent to the embassy in Port Moresby PNG to get the new pages (much to delicate an operation for the Solomon people I guess).

This has nothing to do with the PNG visa, it just so happens that the Solomon Islands fall under the jurisdiction of the PNG Embassy, not having a US embassy of their own.

When I arrived in Gizo, instead of a passport I got another form. And the strange thing is that it requested the exact same information. I called the acting consulate in PNG and asked if he could just use the form I sent (given to me by the consulate). He said nothing doing, send me the correct, new, form or no new pages. I told him the data was the same and asked if he couldn't fill in the new form himself and staple the signed old one to it? Then he began to chastise me for not getting it done before! He was dead set on getting form A instead of form B, same data or no.

Bowled over, I raised the roof a bit. The bureaucracy here has managed to spend lots of US tax dollars flying a one sheeter around the south pacific just so I can get a few new pages in my passport. The guy I talked to in PNG was so caught up in the system that he couldn't even see how idiotic it was to waste so much time and energy just to get a form that was formatted differently.

In the end it took no less than five officials to manage this desperate situation. Hopefully I'll have my passport back next week (three weeks after surrendering it). And he wonders why I didn't do this sooner?

The PT109 hot spot (PT109 pictured) was key in helping us deal with the red tape.

The Solomon Islands
12/17/2008, Gizo

So now that we have a generator again keeping a good stock of diesel is more important. We visited the PT109 bar, also billed as the Yacht Club, and while it is hard to scare up food there, they do have good internet and a bar. In fact we can WIFI to the PT109 hot spot from the boat with no antenna.

The yacht club part offers showers and laundry and the usual yacht club stuff. No mooring though from what I can tell. There are only two moorings in the harbor and one recently was taken up by a Police boat and the other is a rusting steel hulk that only a rusting steel hulk would tie up to.

The PT109 dock is nice, which is saying something around here, most are little more than wreckage. We were interested in the fuel dock situation but couldn't find it. When we did find it (by land) I realized why. It is barely above water post tsunami.

In the Spring of 2007 there was a 8+ earthquake in the area and it did some damage but the wave that came after really tore things up along the coast, which is where everything is.

You can not tie a yacht up to the fuel dock today. It is a few inches above water and the boards that make it up are not secured to the pilings. You can tie up a dinghy but not a yacht. One guy was rumored to have med moored to it to take on fuel, but even then they have to hand pump i from barrels rolled down the boards.

Too bad. This was supposedly the best place to fuel up in the north western part of the South Pacific, per the South Pacific Anchorages Book. Guess we'll be running a lot of Jerry Jugs.

(note the photo is of a smaller fuel depot up the water front a bit that just struck me as remarkable, though the main fuel dock is not much more elegant)

The Solomon Islands
Dominoes in Gizo
12/16/2008, Gizo

We had a "stay on the boat day" today. We fired up the genset in the morning and had several yummy lattes. I hate the Westerbeke when it is not running right, but we love it when it is. We ran the AirCon and watched the temperature outside go over 90F with 95% humidity. The Oregon Scientific weather station said "Danger".

This was about all the incentive we needed to stay inside with the AirCon blasting. With the shades closed and the blinds drawn we can keep the boat comfortable in even this kind of heat, though not cold per se. I think Saint Francis selected just about the perfect size AirCon units for the boat.

We did a lot of cleaning inside for the first time in a while. Every once in a while you need to get rid of junk that collects, magazines and the like, and just get everything in its proper place.

Every once in a while I would look out across the water at Kolombangara in the distance. It is a big volcano sticking up out of the water maybe ten miles from Ghizo Island. Its high summit often generates towering cumulus clouds and booming thunderstorms in the afternoons. Usually the storms dissipate as the sun sets or they pass to the south, but every once in a while they drift over to Gizo. Today it was just picturesque.

In the evening we invited Nuevo Vida over for drinks and dominoes. It was a fun night with Tom, Karen and their three kids. Hideko made some yummy brownies and the Crafton's brought over a bag of pretzels that gave me a serious case of hand to mouth disease. The Crafton family have been cruising for a long time but originally hail from Alaska and before that Florida and, of all places, my birth town of Bel Air, Maryland. A good time was had by all.

The Solomon Islands

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