crossing the equator
25 November 2014 | en route to the Marshall Islands
Today's missive comes to you approximately 175 nautical miles SE of Majuro Atoll, in the Southern Marshall Islands. We crossed the equator a couple of days ago and are now nearly 1400 miles north of Fiji, which we left on Nov 15th ...the same date as we did last year. We enjoyed a rather unusual send off in Fiji! Having checked out of SavaSavu, and enjoyed a boisterous day's sail up the coast, we spent the evening anchored off Frank's place in Viani Bay. Frank, you may recall, is the delightful young Fijian we met last year and in whose company, and that of his partner Luigi, we spent three memorable weeks .... including the 5 day funeral. Our stop-over was contrary to government regs for sure, but Viani Bay was only 5 miles off our departure route from Fiji, and not only were we keen to enjoy Frank's company again, but we'd saved some goodies for him. We haven't blogged about it yet, but you may have seen from some of our recent pictures that TabbyCat's helm area has enjoyed a recent make-over. All new cushions & backrests covered in a very smart looking teal ultra-suede.(We've done various tests on a scrap piece with oil, pen, grease, foods, sweat and have not found anything yet that we can't remove.) Early days, but so far we're absolutely delighted with our new look. Anyway, we thought Frank & Luigi might appreciate TC's old cushions, and a variety of other items that we no longer had a place for. That indeed proved to be the case, and he graciously insisted on loading us down with mango & pineapple from his garden. That evening we accompanied them to a local fund raising Kava /grog-drinking session. The idea being that you put a $ in the pot to purchase a high tide bowl of the distasteful stuff for someone of your choosing ... with the proceeds going to the local school. They raised over $500 in a couple of hours, which shows you how seriously these Fijians take their Kava drinking! Did we mention the line used by one of the 'professional' Kava drinkers we met at a post church Sunday Grog session a few weeks prior? "Kava, looks like shit, tastes like shit, but takes you to heaven" When we relayed that observation to Frank he was delighted, laughed uproariously, and repeated it a number of times during the evening. We didn't have much Fijian money left, having off loaded it in the markets of SavuSavu, but while not required to by protocol - this being an informal gathering - we did contribute our last 2 bundles of Kava to keep the party going a while longer. We retired gracefully at 1am, and found our way back across the bay by moonlight, thinking we'd handled our kava quite well. Frank & Luigi totally outshone us by cheerfully greeting us at 7 am the next morning ... having just returned from the party and never even going to bed. Hard core, these Fijians! Our only excuse for being such lightweights was the fact that we were about to embark on a 1600 mile trip, and this was not our usual pre departure routine! Dragging out the morning, we finally said a fond farewell and left the Bay at mid-day. Three and a bit days later, after a very fast 500 miles, the wind completely died away and we motored the last few hours on flat calm seas to Funafuti atoll, the capital of the Tuvalu group. We were very surprised, but nevertheless delighted, to see another cruising boat at anchor. This is quite late in the season for the run north, and neither of us could imagine seeing another boat. Our new friend was Vicky, and her beautiful Siamese cat Chika, on "Inspiration at Sea" a Hans Christian 38. She had been there 5 days having been abandoned by the crew she had engaged to sail from Fiji to Majuro. She was hastily trying to find a replacement, which is a really tough sell given that it's Thanskgiving, and Funafuti is a very remote atoll in the far reaches of the Western Pacific. She gave us the low down on check-in procedures, and where to find the bank and grocery store. Having arranged for her to visit TC for happy hour, we went to check out the grand metropolis. It didn't take long! The most unusual feature, by far, was the runway that had been laid right through the middle of town, courtesy of the Americans during the second world war. A claxon sounds to warn of the impending arrival of the bi-weekly air service from Suva, Fiji. In the meantime everyone uses it like some very grand highway. While no doubt appreciating the connection with the outside world, the runway was unfortunately placed on the only productive farmland on the island! According to Patrick, a friendly Fijian who invited us in for a drink of cool-aid after we'd stopped to play catch with his son, most Funfafutians are on government assistance. The only economic activity we observed was that provided by NGOs from Korea & the EU. No doubt buying voting rights with regard to fishing, and other Pacific matters. Patrick himself was a graduate of what would seem to be one of the few economic bright spots an the island, a Seaman's training college. But even that has suffered a downturn, given the recent world economic woes which have impacted the shipping industry. We did manage to find some spuds & milk though. Colin also made a somewhat unproductive visit to the local Met office. Calm, calm & no winds forecast for the next several days. With that we headed back to TC for a much needed swim in the 88° waters, and a very enjoyable evening with Vicky. Despite the forecast - maybe even because of it - the wind blew all night from the unprotected Western end of the island, making for a very lumpy and uncomfortable anchorage. It was still blowing early the next morning so, while it was with some reluctance that we left Vicky on her own, we made a snap decision to continue our journey north. While we did have a couple of days of strong NW head winds, and very light winds when they finally filled in from the NE, we made much better progress than one might have imagined given the forecast. If the present blow keeps up, we should be safely moored in Majuro early tomorrow afternoon. We've been in contact with our friend Rob on Changing Crew, and he has reserved a mooring for us and given us some very useful waypoints. Apparently we'll see a recent wreck on the reef as we enter Majuro lagoon .... a vivid reminder to always keep a sharp lookout. About the only other items of note from this trip are the company of a sooty tern who joined us for a night, and the disappointingly steady stream of plastic rubbish we have seen for the last few hours. Except for the pooping on deck, the tern was a joy. Watching it's landing approach, after a couple of exploratory passes, was quite something. With a 20kt breeze coming in from astern, fluky winds from the boats turbulence, lots of up/down and side to side motion in the 8' swell - not to mention that we were moving away at 10kts - that little fella made micro wing and feather adjustments to accomplish a text book landing on the stb engine hatch cover. Any carrier pilot would have appreciated and applauded the performance. It then entertained us, and itself, with an all over body and wing massage using beak and claw. As with all our previous overnighters, it didn't move from it's original landing spot until it was time to leave. In other news, after Mike left on the first of October (we hope you enjoyed his blog of our time together), we returned to Denerau Marina for the final fitting of our new cushions. They look great, and are SOOO much more comfortable. Thank you Robbie and Nev ( formerly of Catwagon )for the referral to Marshall Sails, and thank you Alan and crew for the great work! At the same time we also replaced the trex seating on the bow pulpits with light weight mesh. They look better, save us 20 lbs off each bow in weight, and are more comfortable than the old ones. After that we enjoyed a brisk 'inside the reef' sail around the north coast of Viti Levu, which included an afternoon/early evening visit from 7 local boys on a bamboo raft at Nggaralase point. We also paid a visit to Makongai Island after an exhilarating down wind sail, reaching speeds of up to 18 knots, where we smoked a couple of 45-50' monohulls. That's healthy competition, Mike! The site of a former leper colony, which housed patients from all over the Western Pacific, Makongai is now home to a research facility raising Sea turtles and Giant Clams. We had a very informative tour of the_ facility from the local manager, including a visit to the graveyard of over 2,000 people. A poignant reminder and memorial to the lives of the island's former inhabitants. Another lovely downwind sail took us to Cousteau point, during which we enjoyed a couple of firsts. Colin got his hair cut while underway, sitting on our new pulpit seats, and we were accompanied for a short distance by a pod of False killer whales. Some what similar to dolphins in appearance, although larger of course, they have a very distinctive dorsal fin and, unlike dolphins, don't play in our bow wave. Probably a good thing when they breach! We spent a relaxing day at Cousteau, scrubbing TC's waterline and hull, before heading over to SavuSavu to do a major re-provision and complete our check-out formalities. We're planning to spend the next 4-5 months in the Marshalls. That will include lots of work on the seemingly endless 'to-do' list, but will also include breaks for visits to the USA & UK. We also hope to take a side trip to Bikini atoll in the Northern Marshalls. Closed to the outside world for a number of years following the l946 atomic testing, it has now been re-opened and is one of the premier wreck diving sites in the world. The lagoon contains the sunken remains of 16 WWII ships that were used as targets during the tests. These include the US aircraft carrier 'Saratoga' and the Japanese battleship 'Nagata'. Until next time, here's wishing you all a belated Happy Thanksgiving. Don't get too crazy during the upcoming holiday madness. In fact, why don't you just skip it all & visit us 'out West' for Christmas?