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The Saga of Ursa Minor
Getting ready to depart & saying goodbye!
04/09/2009, Majuro, Marshall Islands


Finally, after almost 1-1/2 years we're getting ready to depart Majuro. We've had a wonderful time here, made many great new friends and had lots of rewarding experiences. Somehow, since it didn't really seem like "cruising" since we were settled in, I got out of the habit of adding entries to this blog. Now that we'll be travelling again, I'll try to be better.
The past few weeks have been chock-a-block full of fun times saying goodbye to everyone. Last Sunday was our last race of the season with the Mieco Beach Yacht Club. The race was followed by a season-end party at Marshall Islands Resort with a big buffet and an opportunity to say goodbye to many friends. Notably, it was our last evening with Liz Rodick who sailed here years ago from the Virgin Islands. We didn't know her there but had good friends in common. She settled in here and has been helping to run one of the local stores, but she is now entering a new phase with a new man in Maui so she'll be flitting back and forth, as well as spending several months each year in Sicily where she is restoring an old house.
We didn't place very high in the race on Sunday, but had a super time anyway. Our prize was a night's stay at a local resort, which we passed on to our super crew, a group of volunteer teachers from Dartmouth (Maggie and Kiersten, both of whom know my nephew Chris) and Oklahoma State (engaged couple Jim and Taleri), who were joined for the last race with a really nice young Fijian named Julian. I'm glad we won't be around to see the hotel management the day after they use the free night! I'm adding some photos of our crew and the races to the gallery. The day before the race we took our crew out for the day to Enemanet, one of the small islands in the atoll, for a day of snorkeling, eating, and cleaning the water line in hopes of making Ursa Minor sail a bit faster.
Other memorable goodbye events included a fabulous party at Wallaby Downs, the Australian compound populated by three Aussie navy men and their families. They have been great friends to all the cruisers here and we will sadly miss them. Several other boats are leaving along with us, heading off in various directions, and so the Aussies had a big potluck for us last weekend. The compound is the ideal party place with a really nice party house and deck on the shoreline of the lagoon. As usual the food was to die for. We'll especially miss Commander Mitch and his wife Robyn. He's been a great friend to Bryan and regular companion on Friday nights at the bar, and she's been a great friend of mine
Last week we went to our dear old friends' Kathy Stratte and Jim Plasman's for a wonderful dinner. I met Jim and Kathy 30 years ago when they arrived on Majuro a little after I came here. Jim worked for the Public Defender and Kathy worked in Special Ed. They've left and returned to Majuro a few years in the ensuing years, but were living in Wisconsin when Bryan and I got married so they were able to come to our wedding in Michigan. Jim is now a judge on the High Court and Kathy is the principal of the Majuro Co-operative School.
Wednesday the 4th grade of the Majuro Co-operative School gave us a nice sendoff complete with pizza, cake, lots of nice handicrafts and some delightful songs accompanied by their teacher, Mr. Savu, on the guitar. We also got some delightful farewell notes from the students. We have been taking turns volunteering in their classroom for an hour or two a day for several months, and have come to know and love them all very much. Helping in their class has greatly enriched our Majuro experience. They have been penpals with my sister's class in Michigan, so it has been an opportunity for them to expand their horizons as well.
Last Thursday Mr. Savu had us out to his house for dinner with his family and a kava ceremony. He is Fijiian, and the kava ceremony is an important part of Fiji culture. When we visit villages in Fiji we will be expected to present kava to the chief, and often to sit through a ceremony of making and drinking it, so it has been a real help to have good instruction ahead of time. Kava is drink made from the dried and powdered root of a pepper plant, and it acts as a mild narcotic. It is not particularly delicious tasting, but the experience is a very special and heart-warming one.
Today (Thursday) was my last chance at my weekly, card-playing with the ladies at the Tide Table Restaurant. I was creamed in the first game by Linda of Hawkeye, but managed to pull out a win in the second. We play Baja Rummy, for about 4 hours every Thursday, with an ever-changing group that includes many regulars who I will miss greatly. Kathy on Po I'm likely to see again as we're both heading south to Fiji, but it's hard saying goodbye to Robyn and Rhondi from Australia, Linda from the yacht Hawkeye, and Trinda from the yacht Katie Lee. Our men all came in early for a last night of drinking with the boys, and it's been another festive evening.
Tomorrow we'll take several of the teacher volunteers, including our race crew, out to one of the small islands in the lagoon where they will camp overnight while we luxuriate in the ambiance of our floating home. It promises to be some heavy partying, I just hope we can keep up. We'll bring them back to town on Saturday in time for one last dinner with Jim and Kathy before we take off for a celebration on Aur, one of the outer atolls we visited last year. (See photo gallery for pictures from last year's visit.) From Aur we hope to depart direct to Fiji, a journey at sea of 2-3 weeks if we don't stop. It means going somewhat easterly so will probably be hard against the wind most of the way - not our favorite point of sail, and certainly not our fastest.
Another special event this past week has been the presence in the lagoon of a very friendly whale. She has let several of us get very close and follow her around (or be followed by her). We're not sure of her identification, but think she's a ginko-toothed beaked whale or a longman's beaked whale.
I know I'm missing some of the goodbye events of the past few weeks, but it's been such a hectic muddle I'm surprised I remembered as much as I did.


Life goes on in Majuro
02/05/2009, Majuro

Unbelievably, we're still here, over a year after we arrived. Keeping busy doing things like volunteering with the 4th grade class at Majuro Co-op School, playing cards with the ladies on Thursdays, drinking with the boys on Friday night (that's Bryan, not Judy), racing in yacht races, and doing lots of reading. There was lots of excitement here about the election, and a big group came ashore at 4:30 am to watch the inauguration on CNN. (Can't get TV on the boat.)

Adrift in Majuro lagoon and other excitement
Judy
07/23/2008, Majuro, Marshall Islands

We had an early start yesterday morning when our mooring broke and we drifted about a mile down the lagoon in a big nasty choppy sea before we even realized we were loose. All is fine now, and it's become just another story to tell.

We had lots of squally weather during the night, with wind gusts to 40 knots and above, causing us to miss a lot of sleep. Bryan normally gets up at 6:30 am so he can begin downloading weather information to give the weather report on the daily cruisers' net on the radio at 7:30 am - and I stay abed. But today I got up at 6:30, and Bryan begged for 10 more minutes sleep. It was still howling outside, so I went up top to take a look around - Bryan had done that duty several times during the night and I figured it was time I took a turn.

The wind was still blowing 25-30, and not as it usually does out of the east but out of the south instead. This meant that instead of the nice calm lee we're generally gently swaying in, we had a mile or so of fetch giving us a chop of a foot or more. Our foredeck awning, rigged to catch water, was going wacko. At least one of the bungees holding it in place between the foreward lifelines and shrouds was gone, and it was flapping like crazy. It appeared to be acting as a sail keeping us almost broadside to the wind rather than pointing directly into it. As I hollered for Bryan to come up to help me take it down, I noticed a large dark object maybe mile behind us that I didn't recall having seen before. A minute or two later when Bryan came up to help me, I looked back again and the large dark thing was a large ship mooring buoy and it was right behind us. We were obviously moving and moving fast and no longer safely attached to the bottom!!! We were blown along and up against the buoy, but just suffered the cosmetic damage of a glancing blow. Our dinghy, tied midship alongside was streaming forward from its cleat, and looked like it might get fouled on the big buoy, but when it got there it just did a little skip and jump and went right over it, landing nicely in the water downwind of the buoy.

I went forward to try to get the awning down while Bryan got the engine started. I took a look forward and realized that our 3 mooring lines (one for either side of the bow plus one extra "safety") were all streaming forward from the bow as we were swept backward down the lagoon. I yelled to Bryan that they were there, so he wouldn't start the engine and drive over them and risk getting them wrapped on the propeller. All this time the awning was flapping up a storm and I was most anxious to get it down as I figured it was speeding our downwind travel. I tried and tried on one knot before realizing that I really needed a knife. When I stepped back into the cockpit in search of a knife, I realized that Bryan had the engine going full steam ahead in forward gear. Sh......! Didn't he hear me say we had mooring lines streaming off the bow? Turns out he thought I meant that I'd seen lines on the big mooring buoy that we'd bumped into. He ran forward to pull the lines in while I stood by the helm, now in neutral. He couldn't get the lines in, there was just too much resistance, and he had to cut them loose. Thankfully we hadn't wrapped the prop, and were able to motor back to the mooring area. In the meantime friends arrived in two dinghies to help us out in response to a call I'd put out on the VHF when I first realized that we were probably in trouble. They helped us get hooked up to another mooring and Bryan ran down to get his weather info which he was only slightly late reporting to the fleet.

We're still not sure how the mooring broke, but the best guess at this point is that the huge old ship's anchor that was the mooring's ground tackle parted between shaft and flukes, and we dragged the shaft and attached chain with us as we went gallivanting out into deep water. Or perhaps a shackle broke, but the divers who maintain these moorings had just checked all the gear a month ago and doubt that could have happened..

We then spent the next hour watching two dive boats with 4 divers and 4 helpers upright a dive boat which had turtled at its mooring during the night's winds. They're working on the engine now, but I don't know what the chances are that they'll be able to use that big monster after it was submerged for several hours.

I finally got my computer fixed today - I've gone a long time with no working sound card and finally found a guru who righted the problem so we should be able to start using skype - which means we'll be able to have conversations over the computer and hear all the friendly voices we miss so much. With phone rates to the states over $1 a minute, we've had very few conversations with loved ones for a long time!

I'm going to be headed home August 6 to Grand Rapids, Michigan to visit family and catch up on medical checkups. Because of the limited availability of seats using frequent flyer miles, I'll be there for the better part of August and September, rather than the few weeks I'd rather be away from my dear hubbie. But that just means I'll have lots of time to catch up with family and friends, so if you're going to be anywhere in the neighborhood, please let me know!


Still in Majuro - 7 months later!
07/01/2008

Unbelievably, we're still in Majuro, seven months after arriving here, and don't know when we might depart. I've been woefully deficient in adding to the blog, partly because this feels so like being "home" that it almost doesn't seem like cruising, which is what the blog is all about. (I have added lots of new albums of pictures to the photo gallery over the last few months, so do take a look there.) We'd expected to be here in the Marshalls only 4 months or so, but with one thing and another, the time has stretched on and on. Fortunately, it's been a very pleasant place to be, with lots of great friends old and new, and lots going on.

The main reason for delay has been our decision to re-rig the boat here, which means replacing the wire and many of the fittings which hold the mast up. The boat is 10 years old, and it is thought to be prudent to replace the standing rigging after 10 years. We had one shroud fitting fail last summer in French Polynesia, which served as a reminder of the importance of replacing important gear before it has a chance to fail. We've heard of several boats which have had serious rigging failures, including some good friends of ours here who lost their mast a few months ago, and it is definitely an experience we would prefer to avoid.

We had originally planned to do the complete re-rig in New Zealand this coming winter, but then had second thoughts about sailing to NZ this year. We also discovered that we could re-rig here, with the help of Ted, a very experienced boat builder who is here on another yacht, and who works very reasonably. So then our plan changed to ordering all the needed bits and pieces to be delivered to be shipped here this summer, and we would do the work after returning here next fall after a summer in Fiji and Tonga. When up the mast measuring for the order, Bryan discovered that another shroud was showing serious signs of wear, and we decided we'd go ahead and expedite the order and re-rig now. Unfortunately, the order didn't get shipped as quickly as we'd hoped, and when it arrived was not completely right, necessitating a second order which we're awaiting now. In the meantime, Bryan and Ted have removed the forestay and have it ready to go back up as soon as the proper new fitting arrived (we have an inner forestay and a halyard doing duty in the meantime) and have replaced the back stay. The shrouds (the wires on the sides of the mast) are awaiting fittings, but should go pretty quickly once the right sized parts arrive.

Our plan to spend the summer in Fiji is now seriously in doubt. Fiji, which has had 3 coups in the last 10 years, and currently has a government that is making new rules right and left making cruising there more difficult. The latest rule is that a boat can only stay for a maximum of 9 months before paying to import the boat, for 27% of the value of the boat as determined by their surveyor plus 12.5% VAT. We don't have a problem with limiting our stay to 9 months or less, but they further decided that once a boat has entered, even if they've only stayed for one week, they cannot come back into Fiji after they leave until at least 9 months have elapsed without paying the import duty. Since we're so delayed leaving here, if we did go to Fiji this summer, we'd only be able to stay a short time before returning here for the winter. Our insurance doesn't allow us to stay in Fiji or anywhere in that neighborhood through the winter as it is cyclone season there. Our best options are returning here, or going to NZ, and we had decided to spend another winter here as we've quite enjoyed it and want to spend more time exploring the outer islands here. Fiji is a wonderful cruising ground, and really deserves several months to properly experience, so it just doesn't make sense to go there this year when we'd only be able to stay a short time, and then wouldn't be able to go back there next year. So.... it looks like this summer will be spent seeing the Marshalls and maybe more of Kiribati which is just to the south and saving Fiji for next summer.

In these days of rising oil prices and falling dollar, Majuro is more attractive as a place to hang out than many others in the Pacific. The currency here is the US dollar, the mail is US Postal Service, and Americans are welcome. Fortunately, we make our own water and power on the boat, although at least some of it is dependant on diesel power, and diesel here is over $5/gallon and rising monthly. But we feel far luckier than folks ashore here - electric rates have gone up over 40% in the last year, and it now costs over $14/month to burn one 100 watt light bulb for 12 hours/day! The rising oil prices have caused many other prices to rise, because they affect shipping costs and virtually everything else. Add that to the rising prices in food caused by worldwide shortages, and these are very tough times for the islanders. Many have elected to give up on electricity all together, or to severely limit their consumption of it, and their already poor diets are likely to suffer as well. While we are experiencing higher prices in the grocery store, the stories we hear about prices in NZ, Australia and the French islands, where currency exchange is a big factor, make us grateful that we do not have to pay much more.






Majuro
02/24/2008

We've been in Majuro now since early December, and have been quite enjoying our stay here. The cruising community is quite active, with weekly dinners, occasional picnics and other parties, monthly races, weekly card games and so on. I've been working as an attorney, mainly on one case contesting the November election for a former member of the parliament, but also helping on a few others. The one case has been going slowly lately, but hopefully it will get transferred to another attorney this week so that we can go cruising to the outer islands with nothing hanging over my head. The weather was very rainy for our first month here, but has lately broken out in far more sunny days than rainy ones, and the colors in the lagoon on a bright sunny day are just mesmerizing. We just spent the weekend anchored off a small island 4 miles down the lagoon, where the snorkeling was great.
I've just added photos from American Samoa, and have lots more islands ready to add, but for some reason there isn't any caption with these pictures, so I'll see if I can figure out the problem before adding the next ones.

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Ursa Minor's Crew
Who: Captains Bryan Lane (callsign NP2NH) and Judy Knape
Port: St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
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