Marshall Islands Constitution Day
15 March 2019 | Majuro, Marshall Islands
Well time flies when you are working on boat projects. We really don't notice the date anymore, but we do notice the change in seasons. Gone are the days of 20/25 kt winds out of the NE. Now the wind has dropped to 15 kts out of the E and the rain has come. Lots of it. Enough to fill the dingy overnight. The rain is a godsend here as Majuro is rationing water and in a draught. Some areas only get municipal water one day a week which has effected local business. My local laundramat was closed for three weeks until the recent rains came. Oh my goodness, was I happy when they re-opened.
David is starting on some rebedding projects as we still have several water leaks. I am continuing my repair of the mainsail. Since there is no sail repair shop in the Marshall Islands, I am sewing the clew ring back on to the sail by hand. Eight strips of webbing are secured around a metal ring and the webbing strips must be sewn back on to the sail using the original sail holes. It took me awhile to figure out which webbing strip went with each hole, the correct zig zag pattern, but I got it! Now it's just a matter of patience and finding the right weather conditions - not too windy and not too wet. I have two strips to go and my fingers will be so happy when I am done. Actually, the sail will be happy as well. There are blood stains all over the webbing due to a plethera of needle pricks.
Recently we went into Delap to celebrate Marshall Islands Constitution Day. May 1st, Constitution Day, is the day the Marshall Islands became the Republic of the Marshall Islands and began governing themselves. It is a BIG day. This year is the 40th anniversary and the island shut down for the party at Delap Park. I mean everybody in Majuro was in Delap that day. Lots of local food, entertainment, a parade, local canoe races and fireworks. There is a local story that a Taiwanese commercial fisherman celebrates his birthday on May 1st. This gentleman has pledged that while he is alive, there will be fireworks in Majuro on Constitution Day. And they were amazing. Twice as long as Lahaina fireworks and better than Honolulu. We were so impressed and what fun to see fireworks again! Not sure what the next local holiday is, but we are looking forward to it for sure.
One Year Anniversary
15 March 2019 | Majuro, Marshall Islands
Kirsten has been on my ass to write a blog. Her entire case is that it is �'my turn�'. I didn�'t realize we were taking turns, but since I haven�'t posted anything since I did a number on my thumbnail, I figured what the hell, I�'m probably about due.
Interestingly, I have had a couple inquiries about the thumbnail. It is doing much better, thank you. I can use my thumb normally, and without pain. The thumbnail has endured a couple of clippings since, and the upper part of the dead zone (which is approximately the left third of the nail, extending from the cuticle up) is starting to see the fingernail clippers. It has been interesting to me how many things I use my thumb and thumbnail for, primarily as a scraping tool or prying tool. I am glad it works again, and am now much better about being aware of how I hold my work piece, how I apply force, and, more importantly, where the tool will go if it slips. I would say I am �'somewhat improved�' in applying this awareness to my actual work practices, the application significantly lagging the apprehension. I believe that this is a character trait of mine; it seems to apply fairly generally throughout my life. Sigh.
I noticed recently that it was our First Anniversary living aboard, which got me looking back at logs and stuff. We moved out of our Luakini Street apartment on March 31. April 2 was the last day of work for Kirsten at the Montage and me at PWF. In the next (approximately) 365 days, we sailed (approximately) 5,624 nautical miles, spent (approximately) $59,260.25, consumed (approximately) 46 liters of rum, and flushed the toilet (approximately) 43,800 times.
Of those (approximately) 365 days, we spent (approximately) 96 days at sea. The balance is accounted for thusly: (approximately) 8 days in Slip 73 in Lahaina Harbor, 10 days on the hard at the Phoenician Shipyard at Barbers Point, 83 days in a slip at Ko�'Olina Marina, 112 days at anchor, and 56 days on a mooring at Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands, where we still are. (I�'ve included the twelve hours aground at Anse Akapehi in Taiohae Bay as part of the �'at anchor�' time.) We crossed the equator twice, and the International Date Line once: my today is your tomorrow. I can remember this because we arrived here on a Monday, when on the mainland it was Super Bowl Sunday.
The money spent is a little disconcerting, as it outstrips retirement and Social Security, but looking into it a little further, I see that a big fraction of that went to repairing stanchions and bow pulpit from when Lucile walked away from her mooring in Lahaina, and another big fraction went to drydock at the Phoenician, and the wet dock immediately following at Ko�'Olina. Those are the two biggest bumps in spending. You may recall my rant about the $5,000 watermaker. By the way, the watermaker has been a tremendous investment. I�'ve only had to replace the pre-filter a couple of times, and I�'ve made now some 1,600 gallons of pure water. The ability to make our own water is a huge advantage: we don�'t run out of water at sea, and, we don�'t have to rely on re-filling water tanks at the dock. For one thing, this eliminates a lot of trips to the dock for water. For another, you can�'t get fresh water at the dock many, if not most, ports that we call. So, the watermaker keeps making water, and still does not leak. There are other spending bumps representing Taiohae Bay repairs (rigging, alternator, regulator), Pago Pago repairs (anchor windlass), and Majuro (new solar panels). Groceries account for nearly $8,000 in the last year. This includes the rum, which accounted for a little over $1,000 of the grocery budget. If I eliminated the rum from the operating budget, I would fee up enough for about one half of an anchor windlass, or nearly ? of the chain I use for the anchor. Not worth it, right? I agree. I�'ll keep the rum in the budget. Anyway, we keep thinking we�'re getting out of the woods on big ticket repair items, and we�'re expecting the spending graph to smooth out considerably, and stay in the sustainable range for a while. it will be interesting to see where we�'re at come the second anniversary.
A lot of things are different living aboard compared to living ashore. Every day, ordinary things. And for the most part, I�'d say 100%, they are harder aboard than ashore. Going to the bathroom is a case in point. The toilet mods I did in between the Pacific Northwest cruise and the South Pacific cruise were also a good investment. One mod was new toilet seats. Two toilets, so two seats. Not, mind you, the $20 or $30 seats you buy at Home Depot, but the $50 or $60 seats you buy from a marine supplier, or, as I did, direct from the manufacturer, which also means you pay for shipping and handling in addition to the seat. And if you do what I did, which is to order the wrong seat, you might pay for shipping and handling both ways. Or, you might not figure out you have the wrong size until well after the 30-day return period, which is what I did. So I donated the seats to Ocean Discovery or Ocean Quest, I forget, and bought another set of seats, plus shipping and handling. (Postage, shipping, and customs for boat parts during the first year were (approximately) $2,959.97.) But here�'s the thing about these seats: they have dampeners of some sort in the hinges, so that the seat closes slowly and gently. When you consider that the normal, constant, motion of the boat tends to close the toilet seat, and when you consider how difficult it is to train males to sit (and you must consider that one of us is male), and when you consider that the natural reaction of someone standing to pee is to catch the seat before it slams down, then you can appreciate that there is much less to clean up around the toilet on a routine basis, if the toilet seat and lid are not inclined to close on their own. The other mod I made was replace the �'old style�' piston rod seal with the �'new style�' seal. We have fairly traditional (or �'old style�') marine toilets. They are manually operated. There is a handle alongside the toilet bowl, and a valve. You turn the valve handwheel a quarter turn from �'DRY�' to �'FLUSH�', then pump the handle up and down ten to twenty times. When you pump the handle up and down, you are operating a piston within a cylinder. This gets a good flow of seawater, along with whatever else is in the toilet bowl, through the toilet bowl, out through the vented loop, and out through the seacock and back into the ocean. After you have flushed the toilet and associated plumbing, you return the valve handwheel from �'FLUSH�' to �'DRY�', and pump the handle another four or five times. This evacuates any standing water in the toilet bowl, standing water sloshing back and forth and over the rim and onto the deck and into the cabin being the problem you seek to avoid by this pumping dry extra step. If you figure, on average, each person uses the toilet four times per day (which is conservative, considering one of us is female), at 15 strokes per flush (also probably conservative), then that is (approximately) 43,800 flush pump strokes in the year. I would guess that the poor piston rod seal wears out somewhere around 25-30,000 cycles. To replace the �'old style�' seal, you have to completely disassemble the pump piston and cylinder. You must wear gloves and safety glasses to do this, and you must not do this with a hangover. With the �'new style�' seal, you simply disconnect the pump handle, unscrew the seal cartridge assembly, screw in a new one, and re-connect the pump handle. This mod has had a very positive effect on the morale of the maintenance department, so I am very happy I had this done.
Life afloat has not exactly been what we expected, but no regrets. We�'re looking forward to the next year, and the next anniversary.
15 March 2019 | Majuro, Marshall Islands
I just finished working on my 2018 tax returns. Good news: refunds will help pay for boat parts.
I have a new appreciation for ripping out fingernails as a form of torture. This is based on a recent experience I had jamming a screwdriver into my thumb.
The fact that I injured my right thumb is peculiar, in that I am right handed, so obviously I was holding the piece in my right hand, and applying force with my left. Not only that, but I was watching myself doing this and was consciously aware that I should account for where the screwdriver blade would go if it slipped. It is also peculiar in that this is the second time in recent memory that I injured my right thumb.
The first time was in Taiohae Bay (on Nuku Hiva, in French Polynesia) when I was replacing bearings and bushings in my Monitor wind vane steering unit. This autopilot is an amazing device. It requires no power, so doesn�'t draw down the batteries, and relieves us from having to constantly steer during our passages of days and weeks. Being such an essential contributor to quality of life, I need it to work, and when I noticed the plastic parts were starting to show signs of aging and embrittlement, I decided to perform preventative maintenance. The purpose of this part of the narrative is to take credit for good judgement.
There�'s a ¾�" stainless pendulum shaft that you have to remove from the pendulum strut (this after unshipping the whole thing from the transom and getting it down below, which it just barely fits through the companionway). The manual says you use a ¾�" wooden dowel to push the shaft through the strut. This is great, because my repair parts kit includes a ¾�" wooden dowel. In real life, however, the shaft and strut live in a marine environment which is constantly striving to demonstrate the point that there just is no such thing as stainless steel, and that entropy rules the universe. In real life, one must rely on the �'judicial application of force�'. Once I discovered that I could not �'push�' the shaft through the strut, by hand, with the wooden dowel, I got out the �'soft�' hammer, and discovered that the dowel would fail before the shaft would move. This discovery was occasioned by the visual observation of cracks forming in the dowel. I gave up on the dowel and scrounged up a ¾�" bolt. I again applied the hammer, first with the rubber head and then with the nylon head. What I discovered at this step was that the hammer heads, both rubber and nylon, were deforming in preference to �'pushing�' the rod through the strut. So I got out the ball peen hammer and applied it to the bolt. Here I discovered that the threaded end of the bolt was starting to deform, which would render the bolt useless as a bolt, per se, but given the general paucity of resources available, I determined to persist with the bolt and ball peen hammer, and I decided to apply more force with the hammer.
Heretofore, I had been limited in the force I could apply by the geometry of the the components and how the pieces were constrained. I had this rather large and cumbersome assembly of tubes and blocks and gears and struts and pendulums and so forth propped on one of the settees in the main cabin, which is to say, the foam padded cushions around the table. The trick is to hold and support the Monitor structure, preferably with both hands, and hold the bolt in perfect alignment with the shaft with another hand, and accurately swing the hammer so that it strikes precisely in line with the bolt and shaft with yet another hand. In real life, there was only room for two hands. Also in real life, the hammer never swings in exactly the precise arc you were hoping for, no matter how many hands are involved, and Newton�'s Third Law, as applied to this situation, dictates that the energy transferred from the hammer to the Monitor will be not go just to pushing the shaft through the strut, but will be distributed to moving the whole Monitor structure, and some of the force will be absorbed by the cushions. It turned out, in this particular instance, that some of the force was also absorbed by my thumb. I have had a dime-sized purple spot in my right thumbnail for months. As I cut my fingernails from week to week, the purple spot migrated to the edge of the nail, and then waned from a �'full moon�' spot to a gibbous and finally crescent spot, and it was just last week that I finally cut away the last of the purple nail. So obviously I was all ready for a new event.
This time I was working on my outboard motor. (My little Tohatsu continuously brings to mind the outboard motor which is one of the principal characters in Steinbeck�'s Sea of Cortez, and I should no doubt write more about the relationship I am forming with my motor. But this blog is about my thumb.) I had to replace the motor mount brackets because the clamp screws had both lost their pads, so the pointy-end of the clamp screws worked at punching holes through the dinghy transom. And one of the screws had stripped the hole in the bracket, so it wouldn�'t tighten at all and only one of the clamp screws was holding the motor on the transom. This isn�'t as bad as it sounds, as long as you didn�'t try to make a sharp turn at anything above idle. If you do, the motor pivots on the clamp screw that did tighten, and gets all cock-eyed on the transom, so you have to stop, dig your 6�" crescent wrench out of your pocket (don�'t leave home without it!), loosen the only tight clamp screw, re-position the motor, taking care that is was still centered on the transom (helps with going straight), and then start again, while working on your colorful sailor-slash-small-motor-mechanic vocabulary.
So anyway, I was working on my outboard. I had ordered parts, and waited for parts, and parts had finally arrived, so it was time.
Now parts are a big part of working on a boat, and being out in the middle of nowhere, commercially speaking, parts are a big pain in the ass. Majuro has three hardware stores, reasonably well stocked, but not too big in the marine department. Just like anywhere else, if you can�'t find your boat parts at the hardware store, look for them at the marine hardware store. Majuro has none. Majuro does have an outboard dealer and/or mechanic, but I never checked there, probably because of the sign.
In front of the shop, or shack, are two 2 x 4 posts, painted blue, supporting a plywood sign, painted white, with blue stenciled lettering, the letters being 3�" high. If you already cut your plywood, and are working with a fixed width, and you are working with stencils, which also have a fixed width for any given word. You can play a little with spacing between words, but you still end up with awkward line breaks.
BOAT GENERATOR OUTBOARD MOTOR REPAIR JAPANESE FOOD
I�'m going from memory here, and I can�'t remember the other three or four things on the sign, not of which are related to outboard motors, and which may or may not be related to boats, but the point is I decided to just pass by this shop and order my outboard parts online.
You�'re probably used to using the internet wherever you are, whenever you want to. You probably don�'t even think about it. I have to think about it. I have to plan for it. I have to go ashore. So that�'s a dinghy trip, which includes putting the motor on the dinghy, with a single clamp screw, and not turning sharply. Then you walk from the quote dinghy dock unquote to the hotel, where you can purchase wifi access. $5 will get you one hour on one device. $15 will get you 24 hours on two devices. There is no limit on the amount of data you can download, but bandwidth is not that great, so there is a practical limit. For example, downloading one episode of Homeland or Westworld takes about 90 minutes. Right. So, you make a trip ashore, and spend a couple hours at the hotel checking email, ordering parts, tracking parts, downloading TV shows, etc. I used to follow the news very closely, but not so much anymore.
Ordering parts for my outboard probably only took about 15 or 20 minutes, but probably felt more like a half hour or two. I don�'t really remember. How long it takes to order something depends on how fast your connection is that day, how much you�'ve already downloaded (I�'ve observed that data transfer slows down after the first gigabyte, always, any time of day), how the vendor�'s site is set up, how far down you have to drill to get a widget delivered to your cart, and how the shipping and payment details are handled. Boats.net opens up on it�'s home page, and you search from there. From the home page, you drill down to outboard motors, manufacturer, year, and model. Each one of those is a separate page, so you have the whole waiting for the page to load thing going on. I drink a lot of coffee while I check email, order parts, track parts, download movies, etc. Once I get down to outboard motors (not anchoring, electrical, accessories, apparel, etc.) to manufacturer (Tohatsu), year (2003) and model (M9.8B), boats.net delivers me to what is, essentially, the Tohatsu outboard motors parts list, complete with exploded view diagrams. This manual is 60 pages long. You drill down to the section of the manual (Cylinder-Crankcase Ass�'y, Piston-Crank Shaft, Inlet-Reed Valve, Carburetor, Magneto, Throttle Mechanism, Tiller Handle, etc.) and then down to your one specific part, and add it to your shopping cart. Then you can �'go to checkout�' or �'continue shopping�'. Fortunately, �'continue shopping�' leaves you in the parts list, so you don�'t have to start completely over. Sometimes I order assemblies, (e.g., tiller handle assembly) not because I need the whole assembly, but because then I can order one assembly instead of 12 parts (washer; wave washer; stopper, steering handle; stud bolt; spring washer; nut; grommet, throttle cable; etc.). Eventually your cart contains everything you think you needed, unless, as sometimes happens, your internet time has exceeded your attention span and you forgot something. If you are a betting person, and they were making book on the need for, and size and cost of, the part(s) you forgot, you�'d want to bet that the part you forgot was 1) critical and essential, 2) small and (relatively) inexpensive), and 3), shipping would still cost as much as for all the other parts you ordered, let�'s say $20 or $30. And no, of course you can�'t combine orders, because that�'s not the way automated order fulfillment process work. I won�'t say much about checkout, except that the shipping address often complicates things.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a �'Trust Territory�' of the United States. It is so because in the 1950s, the UN essentially gave it to the US as a place to test nuclear bombs, provided the US promised to take care of the people displaced and otherwise harmed by such testing. Comment on that �'Trust�' is a whole �'nother blog, if not a book. My point, for purposes of this blog, is that the Marshall Islands, as a Trust Territory, is served by the US Postal Service. The USPS being subsidized by myself and a few other US taxpayers (though I didn�'t help out as much this year as I usually do), it is the best deal going for shipping parts to this part of the world. In fact, t is the second reason I am here in this part of the Pacific Ocean. (The first reason is that I had to go north from where I was before to get out of hurricane season in the southern hemisphere.)
If you were to go to the USPS website and do the �'Click �'n Ship�' thing, you could create and pay for a mailing label from anywhere served by the USPS to anywhere served by the USPS. If you�'re mailing something to the Marshall Islands, you click �'MH�' from the list of states; for Majuro, you type in 96960 for the zip code. So far so good, but you also have to fill out a Customs form. No big deal, work-wise, about the same amount of information you have to fill out for insurance. But, of course, some vendors don�'t ship USPS (only UPS or FedEx) and some don�'t ship outside the continental US, not even to Alaska or Hawaii. And quite a few don�'t ship to the Marshall Islands. Sometimes you don�'t find this out until after you�'ve completed checkout (entering shipping address, billing address, credit card info, etc) and your order is rejected instead of confirmed. I drink a lot of coffee when I�'m ordering parts. Unless I�'m doing an afternoon internet session, in which case I drink a lot of beer. Either way, ordering parts always involves at least one trip to the bathroom. Anyway, if it turns out you can�'t get your parts shipped to Majuro, you ship them to your mail service in Seattle. This way, you get to pay for shipping from the vendor to Seattle, and shipping and handling, from Seattle to Majuro.
Tracking parts is a part of the process, too. Priority Mail, the best deal going, takes 10 to 21 days from the mainland to Majuro. It�'s important to know when the USPS says your package is available for pickup, because the Marshall Islands Postal Authority may not know this. Long story short, thinking your package is available for pick up, it still may take a couple of trips to the Post Office to actually pick it up. And the moral of the story is, once you�'ve been drinking coffee (or beer) for an hour or two, and get your parts ordered, it will still be a while before you get your parts.
But I digress. Back to the thumb.
I was working on my outboard motor mount brackets. I had the parts. I had the old brackets apart, corroded fasteners notwithstanding. I had the new brackets ready, the new clamp screw pads assembled to their clamp screws. I was almost done. Except for one rather recalcitrant spring in the starboard bracket. There wasn�'t much corrosion, and I�'d sprayed it and brushed it. The spring was nice and springy, seemed free to move, just didn�'t want to come off the post around which it rotated. (Yes, it was a torsion spring, for the tilt stopper.) Time for judicious application of force! The bracket fits easily in my hand, so a screw driver is the force applicator of choice. As I was working the blade between individual coils and otherwise prepping for the main force event, I took notice that I was holding the bracket in my right hand and applying the tool with my left. This should have been a red flag and alarm bell moment, as I am right handed. Instead, I was thinking how nicely ambidextrous I am becoming. Self-satisfaction with respect to ambidexterity may also have interfered with recognizing and taking account of the path the screw driver blade would take if if slipped from the point of contact on the torsion spring/post as judicious, or possibly non-judicious, force was applied.
As it happened, the path it took was from the point of contact toward my right thumb. The blade contacted the edge of my thumbnail, on the side away from my forefinger. From there, it apparently transversed the length of the nail, between the nail and the thumb. It exited at the base of the nail, having displaced the cuticle in the process. I could see the bottom corner of my thumbnail. I had never seen that before.
Surprisingly, there was hardly any blood, so the visual impact was only a tiny fraction of the pain impact. Kirsten was in the water. She�'d been on SCUBA cleaning the lower part of the keel and rudder, and, as luck would have it, had just surfaced to clean or adjust her mask or some such. I had exchanged a few words with her as I was admiring my ambidexterity, and, as luck would have it, she was still hanging onto the side of the dinghy when I was suddenly and painfully confronted with the real world. I then with typical coolness under fire said, �"I�'m sorry to make you get out of your gear, but I need your help.�" (Remember, she�'s got tank, regulator, BC, weights, fins, etc.). I then sat down, on the verge of passing out.
As blood flow returned to my brain, I thought, geez, now I know why they tear out fingernails as a form of torture. It really frigging hurts.
Now I know.
I wonder how long it will take before my thumbnail grows out past the damage this time �....
Greetings from the Marshall Islands
24 February 2019 | Majuro, Marshall Islands
Well, we arrived in the Marshall Islands and have been hanging out in Majuro for a couple of weeks now resting and relaxing. The first 10 days were really windy and cloudy, but things have settled down now a bit and sunny again. Now that we have had a chance to rest we can begin working on boat projects again and preparing for our next voyage. But in the meantime it is a pleasure to be tied to a mooring in a lagoon with clean water (much calmer) and not have to worry about expiring visa or cyclones. No cell phone yet as the National Telecommunications Agency is out of SIM cards and they don't know when they will get more.
David and I are getting the lay of the atoll and checking out all of the stores, museums and library. I love walking through the grocery stores and seeing what is popular. You never know what you are going to get. For example, yesterday I had a massage (wonderful) and was so excited that I didn't even mind that the background music was Korean Pop music. You've just got to go with the flow....
I also checked an item on my bucket list by visiting WAM (Canoes of the Marshall Islands). This organization teaches traditional sailing canoe building skills along with life lessons to boys and girls in the community free of charge. With an 80 percent success rate, WAM connects kids with the traditional culture, but also teaches them how to succeed in the modern world. Most of these kids have never finished high school and, more recently, kindergarden. Many kids are from the outer atolls and have no birth certificate or social security card. WAM shows them how to get a birth certificate, signs every kid up for social security and opens up a bank account for them. Kids start building a canoe and realize that math, physics and biology were just as important to their ancestors for survival and decide these are good tools to have. Many kids end up getting their GEDs and attending college via scholarship. Kids also receive medical insurance (for many the first time in their lives), health counseling and group counseling. Started in the 1980s, WAM has become internationally recognized for it's program as well as it's Executive Director, Alson Kalan. Alson is a Master Canoe carver in the same category as Nainoa Thompson. I met Alson in 2005 as a sponsor representative for the Maui International Festival of Canoes. At that time, Alson brought a group of WAM kids over to Maui to participate in the International Festival of Canoes and, as their, sponsor, I spent my days with them. By the end of day 10, Alson and his kids had carved a traditional Marshallese canoe out of one log and launched it via traditional Polynesian protocols with carvers from Tonga, Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Palau and Japan. It was an amazing event and I told Alson that if David and I ever made it to the Marshall Islands, we would connect again. David and I met with Alson at the WAM canoe hale last week and were just delighted to see him again.
Next week it's off the the office of Cultural Affairs to see if I can get a yacht permit to visit the outer atolls. We shall see... In the meantime, wishing everyone lots of aloha!
23 January 2019 | Betio, Tarawa
When I last wrote, we were ten days and 750 miles or so into our passage from Pago Pago to Tarawa.
After 25 days at sea, we made it to Port Betio, Tarawa, Kiribati.
Those last 15 days were �... interesting. I was reviewing our track the other day, and it still amazes me how much time we spent adrift, with no wind at all. None, zip, nada, zero. And a two-knot current to the east, so we would get set east (our destination was west), about two miles for every hour we drifted. And we drifted for days at a time. We had plenty of food and water, so we can sleep, read, watch TV and movies (from our iTunes library), and otherwise chill.
Not too chill, though, being as close to the equator as we are. Some of those days with no wind you�'d break out in a sweat just sitting still, wake up in the morning and the pillows and sheet are damp from sweat.
The worst part was, we didn�'t stock quite enough rum. Oh, well. That didn�'t detract from the multiple encounters of a cetacean kind. Falsies got prominent mention in the last blog. but our drift zone produced many encounters of dolphins, and our final approach to Tarawa, 20 miles northeast of the Maina atoll, we saw a whale. Species ID is a bit sketchy. Well, the spinners (three or four separate occasions, over a couple or three days) were relatively easy to identify, based on their spinning behavior. The other dolphin species was not so easy to identify. They had falcate fins, and looked very much like pantropical spotted dolphins, except no spots. Our Marine Mammals book says spotted dolphins come with a wide range of �'spottedness�', including none, so I tentatively put them down as spotted. Behaviorally, they did high jumps, including that landing on their shoulder one, so consistent with what I�'ve seen with spotteds off Lana�'i.
The whale is even harder to identify, as all we saw of it was a portion of the back and it�'s dorsal fin as it blew. It stayed near the surface for quite a while, and meandered back and forth Lucile�'s path for the duration of our approach and departure. We saw the blow from the side only, so not a lot of information from the shape of the blow. The dorsal fin was definitely falcate. The closest we can guess, with aid of our Marine Mammals book, is a Dwarf Bryde�'s Whale.
Our landfall was prodigiously fine, if I say so myself. After days of calm and near calm, the weather turned ugly for our final approach. Lots of wind, and right in our face. We motor-sailed into increasing wind and seas, found the channel, and came of the wind to sail into the anchorage. Holding was good, sandy bottom, and the anchorage shallow (25 feet) right outside the �"port�", so got a good set first time we dropped the hook. The wind was blowing so hard, we didn�'t have to back down on the engine to set it. The wind was blowing so hard, it was pulling the chain out of the locker, even with the windlass �"off�". Put the snubber on (three-stand nylon, ?�", spliced to a stainless chain hook), let out 30 feet, and made all fast to a cleat. All good. The wind has been so consistent here that we�'ve hardly moved from our set position. Most places we�'ve anchored, our track makes a circle around the anchor, spending time at various headings depending on the wind. Not so here. One direction, the wind, and mostly one speed: 15 knots. The anchorage is occasionally flat, but we pitch a lot. Quite a lot. There have been days that one or the other of us feels a bit seasick.
Days �... almost a week. If you read cruising notes and guides, you will not find a lot of praise for Betio. There is good reason for this. This place is a real pit. Our primary objectives here were to rest and re-fuel. We�'re doing okay on the rest (pitching ceaselessly on a windy anchorage is not the best way to find your rest). Fueling is also challenging. There is plenty of fuel available, but no �'fuel dock�'. If you want at least 100 gallons fo diesel, you can have barrels delivered to the commercial dock, but you have to make your own provisions for moving the diesel out of the barrels and in to the fuel tanks. Our approach is to ferry jerry cans back and forth to Lucile at anchor. And there�'s a service station very handily located right by the port facilities. But they are closed, pending replacement of fuel pumps. On Saturday, the two new pumps were sitting next to the two old pumps, and work was plainly in progress to complete the project over the weekend. Didn�'t check Sunday, as most things are generally closed on Sundays. Monday, the gasoline pump was installed, and the diesel pump was sitting by it�'s pedestal, with workers busy fishing cables through the conduit in the freshly-poured ditch from the garage building to the pump island. Today, the gasoline pump still stood in place, no sign of a diesel pump, no sign of work or workers, and nobody around who spoke enough English to answer my question: when will diesel be available.
Tomorrow I guess we will look for another service station. We have been told there are three, although in our initial exploratory foray ashore, we only found the one. I am fifty gallons short of getting the flock out of here. Wish me luck.
Next stop, Majuro, Marshall Islands.
Close to the Equator
30 December 2018 | close to the equator
Everybody knows what you do with a drunken sailor�--keel haul him �'til he�'s sober. But what do you do with a sick sailor? Keep him in his bunk, mostly; keep him as cool as possible, make him drink plenty of fluids. And hope for a quick recovery and return to strength.
Conditions are good for keeping to my bunk, couldn�'t ask for better, not without tempting fate. We are ten days and 775 miles from Pago Pago, sailing northwest close hauled, with a light but remarkably constant breeze off the starboard bow. We passed through, or more like drifted through, three days of light and variable winds a few days ago, but since finding this wind, haven�'t touched a sheet, and are making 150 miles per day. The daytime sky is strewn with cumulus in every direction, and the nighttime sky with stars and planets. Last night I saw Cassiopeia, which I have not seen for some months, and I am quite certain I saw a part of the Big Dipper. We approach the equator!
We had the most amazing encounter yesterday morning. Kirsten used her command voice to summon me out of a sleep on up on deck. Since her command voice usually implies imminent disaster, I am am usually aided in awakening by the jolt of adrenaline which seems to accompany the command voice. Pavlov�'s dogs salivate, I get an adrenaline rush.
Turns out this summons was not to imminent danger, but to an escort of false killer whales.
They stayed with us for about an hour. A cluster of three to six or eight zigged and zagged across our bow, and several animals ranged alongside, both port and starboard. I�'m guessing the group numbered at least a dozen, and more like a couple dozen. Lucile�'s freeboard is only a two to three feet, depending on the heel, so the animals were right there, right underfoot, as it were. You could easily see the movement of the blowhole during exhalation and inhalation, and you could easily hear the different sound of exhalation and inhalation. They exhibited classic dolphin behavior, keeping in close proximity, touching each other frequently, and vocalizing. Vocalizations were all of the squealing or squeaking variety, no clicking, and were audible through the hull and in the air above the water! The biggest of the group was probably longer than 15 feet, and showed what looked like two small flesh wounds just to the left and slightly aft of the dorsal fin. The exposed flesh was what we humans would describe as flesh color. There was another animal that showed a small puncture wound, which was dark pink. One animal had the raggediest, gnarliest, most tattered dorsal I�'ve seen on a dolphin or whale. I�'d say the average length of these animals was 12 to 15 feet, the one big guy being 15 to 18, and four or five animals about 8 to 10 feet. There was one pair that always maintained close physical contact and stayed in tandem. The larger animal was 12 feet or so, the smaller about 6 feet. I presume this was a mother and juvenile pair.
We took no pictures or videos, as usual. But we do have beautiful memories.
As fine as the sailing is, I�'m keep a weather eye open over my left shoulder. Kirsten said it was time to look out for a depression to form to the west, conditions were �'just so�', and sure enough, we�'ve started to see it develop, at least in the forecasts. It appears likely to whip up winds in the 35-50 knot range. It also appears likely to pass to the south of us. Nothing we can do at this point, though, other than keep an eye out. Lucile moves steadily northwest at 5 to 6 knots; the system moves steadily east to southeast at 15 to 18 knots. There is no outrunning her. Our �'active defense�', if the storm shows signs of veering any north of it�'s currently forecast track, is to turn Lucile north to northeast, and go as much perpendicular to the storm�'s path as possible. If we are to feel any effects of the storm, it will be on Tuesday or Wednesday.
In the meantime, Lucile keeps sailing smoothly, 595 miles to Bikeman Island, in the Tarawa Atoll, capital of the Kiribati Islands. This is our planned rest stop on our way to the Majuro Atoll, capital of the Marshall Islands.