Utirik Atoll, Utirik Island
04 February 2018 | Marshall Islands
3 February : travel day again. With strengthening winds from Sunday we are heading for Utirik a day early. The sun doesn't raise its head until 6.45 am so ready to go by then to make the most of the day light hours. These atolls are not places to enter at night without good local knowledge, especially as with Ailuk, the charts were 1/2 mile out with sunlight preferably high in the sky astern of you helps seeing the uncharted coral heads. Radar and eyes were very important then (the radar surprisingly shows up the atoll passes, even though there is no coral above the sea but the lack of surf gives no radar return). Andy had also downloaded Google satellite pictures of the atolls and entrances we did not have good chart detail for and imported it into Open CPN. He put these on Bud's laptop so he can get familiar with another useful tool while Andy is around to help him (Google earth satellite images are converted to a geo referenced file so your ship is shown in tr ue position over the image - Google Earth is 100% correct unlike many nautical charts in remote areas of the world - we can even make out shallow coral heads this way!). Utirik was also out by about a mile (mostly to the East) so good experience for all of us. It is never too late to learn new skills or systems or equipment.
From here onwards we are entering areas where nuclear fallout was experienced. The advice from locals on Wotje is not to eat produce but we had come to this conclusion ourselves from the research we have been doing. Definitely not going to listen to 'Uncle Sam' that the area is 'safe'! So no coconuts.
Sunday 4 February : we are anchored in close to the main village of Utirik in 15 feet of water at low tide with coral all around us, so snorkelling is real close. We found a good patch of sand to drop the anchor in. The locals went to church at 10 am and we heard singing lifted across to our ears on the gathering breeze. We have done cleaning chores this morning as well as making french baquettes for lunch and vanilla ice cream for pudding later. This afternoon we went ashore to see the Mayor - Walder. His kids had drawn 'Welcome' in the sand for us. Where we came ashore, we were met on the beach by Dallas who asked if we had any flour, rice or coffee they could buy. Their last supply ship was December with the next one not due until March sometime and they have run out. As custom dictates we visited with the Mayor and his family. There has been no fee set for Utirik so we plan to pay with a sacks of rice, a bag of sugar, some coffee etc. We left a tub of coffee wit h Dallas at the end of our trip as the church were having a gathering to pray for his sick mother. A member of Walder's family gave us a tour showing the Japanese buildings (this was a commercial venture not military for them). In the process Andy and I lost sight of Bud while we spent time with the kids who took us to the north end of the island to their beautiful swimming beach. I went in with a couple of girls but there was a strong tide. Andy played throwing with a rugby ball with the boys on the walk back.
This is the first time we have been directly asked for anything. There is a feeling of desperation and also an under-current of a power struggle here. Bud met several of Dallas's brothers and also the sheriff.
The snorkelling was sad; there is a lot of dead coral but a few signs of new growth. No big fish just colonies of small fish. Not a lot of colour at all.
5 February : this morning we went ashore to again visit the Mayor Walder and his wife Laureen. There was no Visitors Fee set for Utirik. As we had been asked for rice etc, we raided the boat supplies and put together supplies of rice, flour, sugar, coffee and lollipops for the kids and offered it as our fee to be shared amongst the residents by the Major. We had a great interaction with Laureen and Walder going through phrases such as "how are you?" and the reply. Realising that we will be transferring from the Ratak (eastern- Sunrise) chain to the Ralik (western- Sunset) chain they gave us the answers for both dialects. After we wandered to the south end of the island. It was nice to stretch our legs. Today the kids were all in school. We left with Walder 2 photos Andy printed off from yesterday's excursion with the kids plus lollipops for the 19 kids in the photos.
PICTURE : Janice with the kids at their beautiful swimming beach