Sunday, December 25, 2005

Photos: Year in Review 2005

Here's a collection of our favorite photos for 2005

Sailing 2005
Continue reading "Photos: Year in Review 2005"...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Location: Majuro, Marshall Islands
Position: 07‹ 06.30' N 171 22.39' E
Next Dest: Nowhere ... gonna spend some time in the
"big city"!

After some relaxing time in Abaiang we returned to Tarawa for a quick check out and then headed on to Butaritari. Butaritari is amazingly different from the other atolls of Kiribati with colors of green that jump out at you and dense vegetation. Of course there is a reason for all the green -- RAIN! We didn't do much while there, as squalls seemed to endlessly travel through the area bringing rain and wind along. We were ready for Majuro.

While the passage to Majuro was not one of my favorites, I think we really lucked out and it truly
could've been multiple times worse. We departed early on Sunday Dec 18th and lucked out with not a single squall hitting us until 3pm. We had 10 foot confused seas, so the ride was a bit bumpy, but the wind had shifted (as predicted) just enough that it was always aft of the beam (so much better than trying to beat into it). Our first night included lots of rain and squalls, with a max wind of 40 knots (YUCK). We couldn't believe our eyes when we woke up to BLUE SKIES! And were even more pleased when a HUGE Mahi Mahi hooked on at 7am ... even I (KT) didn't complain about having to get out of bed to help bring in the fish! We quit fishing until later in the day when we decided to catch extra to share with the large fleet waiting in Majuro. We really didn't expect to catch anything else, and couldn't believe it when a massive yellow-finned tuna hooked on. He was so big we probably would've thrown him back, but due to his weight the only way we could get him on board was to
kill him. Cleaning such a monster of a fish as the sun set and the seas rolled was not easy; it seems
every part of the cockpit was covered in blood and guts. We just managed to finish about 20 minutes
before a squall hit ... lucky again! It was another rain filled night, and unfortunately the wind died
around midnight, so we had to motor-sail the rest of the way to Majuro (about eight-ten hours). On the plus side we were able to crank up our refrig thermometer to keep all the fish nice, cold and fresh!

We ended up sharing the fish with SEVEN other boats, and we've been eating it for three days straight -- now that's a lot of fish!!! We arrived along with Island Sonata and SawLeeAh ..
and with our arrival Majuro hit its all time record for the number of yachts in any one year (somewhere around 30)! We've spent our first two days wandering around in a haze ... so much STUFF! And mostly American! For the first time in two years we recognize the brands and are using the american dollar. In addition we watched NFL Football via ESPN while drinking a cold beer. Christmas music, advertisements and decorations line the stores. We've been shopping shopping shopping. Also the weather has been a bit crappy (rain and wind) so the temperatures have been down at least a bit. All this combined and it finally feels like Christmas. And the best part ... United States Post means we are getting all kinds of yummy goodness sent in from the states -- we are
like two kids in a candy store.

We wish everyone a very Happy Holiday Season and Terrific New Year!

Continue reading "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas"...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Second World War and The South Pacific

I am not a history buff, as a matter of fact history tends to be one of my least favorite topics ... however there is something about World War II that intrigues me.  It leaves me feeling dizzy with mixed emotions of amazement and fascination intertwined with a deep sadness and sometimes even horror and shock.  I know embarrassingly little about WWII, not ever realizing how much the small islands and atolls of the Pacific played a roll, until we began our exploration of them.

It started with an email from my Dad ... Did you know your Grandpa was in the following islands [during the war]...?  For what I wondered, nothing happened out there, on those tiny little islands and atolls ... oh how wrong I was.  Some of the largest D-Days of the war occurred in these remote "paradise" locations.

WWII in the Pacific

Our tour began in Tuvalu.  During the war, more than 6,000 Americans occupied Tuvalu as they set up base on Funafuti and built airfields at Nukufetau and Nanumea.  From this strategic location the US was able to bomb Japanese bases in Kiribati, Nauru and the Marshall Islands.

During our stay in Nukufetau we walked upon the old tarmac, now retaken by the atoll jungle, peered into a deep well dug during the war, now tainted and polluted, and pushed our way through the dense greens to see a downed B17.  None of it seemed terribly real, just old artifacts left from a long time ago.

Then Chris happened upon two cement slabs nearly buried beneath the deep growth of the inner atoll. While one slab was unreadable, the other slab clearly read "Al Zuro  ♥'s Mrs. Mildred Zuro", "USMC", "10-17-43".  That's when the reality hit me.  What entered my mind was an 18 year old boy (perhaps older at 20 or 22), newly married, battling a tropical heat he was unaccustomed to, miles from home, unknowing of what was to happen next ... thinking of his wife and previous life back home.  What worried me most (and yes, I was truly worried, some 63 years later) was that by now I knew that the Battle of Tarawa, an extremely bloody battle, occurred just over a month later on November 20, 1943.  Was the 10/17 date the inscription date or, since it was inscribed twice, could it have been their marriage date?  If the former, was Al part of the Tarawa battle, and if so could he have possible survived?

The next time we had email access we anxiously emailed Chris' dad, Art, asking him to help us research Al and Mildred.  It is amazing what Art can accomplish, he is a very thorough man!  I'm not sure how many hours he put into it, but from the mounds of paperwork he showed us, it appears to be quite a few.  Luckily all his diligent work paid off.  I was extremely happy to hear that Al survived the war, and he and Mildred had four sons.  He died on Friday, January 15, 1999 at the age of 78 (meaning that he was indeed around 22 years of age during his stint in Nukufetau).  At the time of his death he had seven grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and was living in St Petersburg, Florida.  Mildred died a few years later in 2002.  The story was completed when Art was able to contact a couple of the sons to share this piece of family history.

We continued to see reminders of the war as we headed north into Kiribati.  In Tabiteuea a large gun shell hung from a tree, used like a bell and for decoration.  In Abemama pieces of another plane were covered by bush.

Battle of Tarawa   

But the real tragedy of the war hit us when we reached Tarawa (Kiribati).   In December of 1941 the Japanese bombed Ocean Island and took along with it, Butaritari, Makin, and Tarawa.  From the accounts we've read and heard, it seems it didn't take long for the killing to begin.  On October 14, 1942, twenty-two unarmed British Coast Watchers were murdered (supposedly be-headed) by the Japanese.  The British Memorial (pictured right), dedicated to these twenty-two young men seems to be one of the few historical sites that most of the Tarawa locals know about.  It stand beautifully within one of the local cemeteries.

In 1943 the US Marines attacked; the Betio attack was the first real battle of the Central Pacific, the first real test of the American Amphibious doctrine, and the first American troops to attack a defended atoll.  The plan was to land over 18,000 Marines on the northern lagoon beaches.  The landing area had been divided from west to east, into three beaches; Red Beach 1, 2 and 3. Intelligence had estimated between 2,500 and 3,100 Japanese forces.  Interestingly enough these calculations were derived from the number of latrines (toilets) the Japanese had built (the latrines were multi-holed wooden "buildings" built over the water and clearly visible on aerial photographs). Even more interesting was that the estimated number was remarkable accurate! (The Japanese forces consisted of  2,619 combat troops.  However, in addition there were 2,217 labor forces)

It is impossible to grasp the massiveness of the attack and the space it occurred in.  Imagine 35,000 troops, 6,000 vehicles, 19 carriers, 12 battleships, and more; a fleet of warships covering 50 square miles of ocean, and a huge percentage of it was committed to the Betio attack.  Now imagine Betio; less than 2 miles long and approximately 700 yards at its widest spot; its total acreage reaching barely 1/2 of a square mile.  Think about it this way: it is about the size of New York's Central Park.

Blockhouse: A structure of heavy timbers or reinforced concrete used for military defense with sides loopholed and pierced for gunfire and often with a projecting upper story 
Pillbox: A small low concrete emplacement for machine guns and antitank weapons

But even with huge forces, the attack wouldn't be easy.  First, Betio had natural defenses, with 800 - 1200 yards of fringing reef and extreme tides.  Next the Japanese had built a 3-5 foot high barricade from coconut logs, wired and stapled together, along the edge of the beach.  Behind the barricade, machine gun emplacements were connected by trenches.  Twenty-five 37mm-75mm field guns sat in pillboxes, so protected that only a direct hit from a large shell  would be able to disable them.  In total the Japanese had over 500 blockhouses and pillboxes.  The Japanese also had fourteen coastal defense guns covering the beaches.  On the seaward side (where Japanese had expected the attack to come from), the beaches had been mined and obstacles set up to funnel any invasion crafts into lanes covered by the artillery.  Rear Admiral Shibasaki told his troops that the Americans could not take Tarawa with a million men in a hundred years.

Amphibious Vehicle:  A device for transporting personnel and equipment that can operate as a wheeled or tracked vehicle on land and as a boat in water. Two principal types appeared during World War II: the LVT (“landing vehicle, tracked”),  and the “duck” (DUKW), The LVT resembled a tank, whereas the duck moved on rubber tires ashore and was propeller-driven when afloat.

On November 20, 1943 the Second Marine Division began the assault against Betio from within the lagoon.  Due to the surrounding coral and low tide, the American landing craft could not make it to the shore; starting from 300-900 feet out the marines had to make their way in.  125 vehicles were able to make it over the reefs and assist the land assault.  The LVTs (amphibious tractors or alligators) were able to deliver 1500 men to the beach.  However the remaining troops had to wade in, chest deep in water, under fire.  There was a lot of confusion, and a lot of death.

Red Beach 1 consisted of a deep cove easily defended by fire from both sides.  Here the Japanese waited until the vehicles and marines were within a hundred yards of the beach and then opened fire; with the marines in a cross-fire between the arms of the cove.

On Red Beach 2 the Marines encountered the log barricade.

And just beyond the 800+ yards of beach that made up Red Beach 3, stood the Japanese Command Post Bunker;  a 60 by 40 ft reinforced concrete blockhouse, standing 25 feet high, with two 13mm machine guns mounted on the roof.

5,000 men attacked that day, and by midnight more than 1500 were dead or wounded, making it the bloodiest day (up to then) in Marine Corp History.  Even more horrifying was when Chris and I watched some of the video footage from the Tarawa battle; until then I hadn't really put 2 and 2 together enough to imagine what that many injured and dead people would look like in such a small space.  I can't imagine how the survivors continued to function and fight.

Because the US couldn't get their full force ashore, and therefore couldn't get by the Japanese forces, the marines who did make it ashore had to spend the night huddled together on a narrow strip of beach.  On the second day Major Ryan, his troops, and two tanks fought down the west coast and captured a large beach (called Green Beach).  With this capture reinforcements could now land, along with heavy weaponry.

On Nov 23, 1943 the fighting ended.  Betio was declared secured at 1312 on the 4th day.  The battle lasted 72 hours and 42 minutes.  Only 17 Japanese prisoners (along with 129 Koreans) were captured, another 4,690 estimated dead.  There are conflicting totals on the American casualties, the numbers ranging between 3,110 to 3,407 killed, wounded, and missing; nearly 1% of the ENTIRE (390,000) Marine Corps officers and men.  With over 1,000 men in the killed or missing category.  The total death count (American and Japanese) neared 6,000.  All in less than a 1/2 square mile.

The Battle of Tarawa made history in another way as well; the film With the Marines at Tarawa, was the first war footage with dead American soldiers to be released and shown in the States.  While this bloody battle proved that the war would not easily be finished, thereby increasing war bond sales, it had a dramatic effect on military enlistments, causing a 35% drop.

Many other battles occurred in the Pacific, including the fierce battle at Iwo Jima, where the historical flag raising photograph was shot and remains a symbol of the courage and unconquerable will of our Military to this day.  Two great books are; D-Days in the Pacific by Donald L Miller, and Flags of Our Fathers, by James Bradley with Ron Powers.

As Chris and I explored the structures and weapons now deserted for more than 60 years, I couldn't help but think of the young men (and in later wars, women) that fought not only in the Second World War, but in every battle that has occurred in America's short history.  And closer to home, I felt a huge twinge of relief (and very lucky) that so many of my own family members have survived a variety of wars.  There is a huge history of military, especially strong in the Marines, in my family, and as we walked through the ruins of war I had a tremendous urge to call them up and tell them how proud and thankful I am  ... but also how very hopeful I am that the Battles of Tarawa someday cease forever.

D-Days in the Pacific, by Donald L Miller
South Pacific, Lonely Planet
Flags of Our Fathers, James Bradley w/ Ron Powers
Britannica 2003 Deluxe Edition, CD-ROM

Continue reading "The Second World War and The South Pacific"...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tarawa, Abaiang, & Butaritari, Kiribati

November 24 - December 1, & December 12 - 13, 2005

We had heard quite a few things about Tarawa before our arrival ... most of them not very inspiring.  One cruiser described Tarawa as the "armpit of Kiribati".  As much as I hate to be negative, South Tarawa truly was a dump.  But what can you expect when it houses more than a third of the entire Kiribati population?  We're talking over 33,300 people in a 64 sq km area ... and that's for the entire atoll ... I'd guess about 80% of those 33 thousand live in South Tarawa!  It's dirty, crowded, dusty and hot, but if you want to visit Kiribati, you have to stop because it is the only port of entry.  Our goal was to get in and get out, but nothing happens fast in these remote locations!  (Yes, I realize it doesn't look so bad in the picture!)

If you are of the right frame of mind, the bus rides around Tarawa can be a most entertaining experience.  The buses are really privately owned vans and mini-vans ... stop anywhere along the street, wave one down and hop on -- there are no bus stops per say.  If you are extremely lucky you might get one that has air conditioning, otherwise try to grab a seat next to the window, you'll suffer through gagging dust, but at least you'll get a bit of air flow.  And you'll need it, because they pack these buses FULL.  No matter how many times I'd ridden, I was continuously amazed as I'd think no way can anyone else fit, but then sure enough we'd be pulling over and stuffing in two more people.  There is no such thing as personal space, be prepared to get friendly.

The worst part about bus rides (for me) was my constant fear of head lice.  I was (and still am) terrified of getting those little annoying creatures ... and EVERYONE in Tarawa has them.  We'd be driving down the street, look out the window, and see more than one set of women sitting around, picking through each other's hair.  The worse part?  What do you think they do when they pick a lice out -- we saw a lot of hand to mouth action going on ... no kidding!!!  YUCKIEEEE!!!  So I'd be sitting there just wondering, can lice fly?  Can they jump? How fast do they crawl?  And just thinking about it my head would start to itch.  And finally, if you aren't yet enjoying the ride, just look forward, out the windshield, and watch the crazy maneuvering of the driver - oh and remember you have no seat belt on, your very life is in the hands of this foreign maniac who apparently is in a BIG BIG hurry and doesn't know the meaning of oncoming traffic!  The other thing that gets me (there's more you say), is the laziness of many of the bus riders.  We'd stop, half the bus would pile out to let the guy in the back off, pile back in, the bus would travel, I kid you not, all of 15 feet, and someone else would be yelling to get off.  They could've walked faster than the time it took to pile in and out.  Same thing with the pick ups -- you'd think anyone would walk to an already stopped bus (especially if it was close enough to feel the heat coming off the engine), hell no, they'll just wait and flag it down when it is mere inches from them.  I believe I am one of the laziest people in the world, and even I'm not THAT lazy!

There must be more to Tarawa then crazy buses and trash ... and there is, all the comforts of home; internet, shopping, and dining out.  We actually enjoyed a few tasty meals out (be sure to share with the eight foot roaches beneath you, otherwise they get a bit feisty), and really enjoyed the air-conditioned internet access.  The shopping was good, although hardly weevil free, but there were a few good scores like fruit juice, frozen chickens, ginger ale, ice-cream, and a single cucumber!

The real 'attraction' of Tarawa is for history buffs; as Tarawa is full of World War II relics.  Guns, bunkers, tanks, shells, memorials, and more -- you could spend hours trudging through the streets of  Tarawa exploring its history.  Surprisingly, the locals know very little of the history that surrounds them.  We spent multiple days searching for the American Marine Memorial, asking over twenty locals, most of which didn't even know that a single memorial, let alone three (British Coast Watchers, Japanese, and American) existed.  We never did locate it, but did watch a video showing when it was commemorated.  As the WWII history of Tarawa is quite extraordinary (to me anyway), there is a separate journal piece, including pictures; click here (or link down below) to read.

The one thing Chris and I were extremely happy to see as we walked about Tarawa, is that even in this over crowded city tradition is still alive.  In the early evening we could hear men singing as they gathered Toddy from the tops of coconut tress. Most of the people are still beyond friendly and very willing to lend a hand.  Smiles still radiated whenever we said hello.  We'll still never understand why so many people we meet in the outer atolls want to move to Tarawa.  I suppose it is equivalent to wanting to move to a big city (where all the money and opportunity is); however I wonder if they understand what they are giving up?

As we had arrived in Tarawa on Thanksgiving Day, we decided to postpone our celebrations until the weekend, where we'd be more relaxed and have more time to prepare.  On Sunday Island Sonata joined us for a HUGE feast, consisting of a cranberry sauce basted whole chicken (which we called a turkey), stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, home-made rolls, and  individual apple pies served with emergency ice-cream.  Emergency ice-cream was introduced to us by John & MJ; you put your ice-cream base (flavoring, etc) inside a Ziploc bag, you place that bag along with ice and salt into a larger bag ... shake vigorously or 10-15 minutes ... until ice-cream solidifies.  In our case, something happened and we ended up with ice-milk, but it was still cold and tasty.

On Tuesday (Nov 19th), we moved out from the Betio Anchorage, to an outer island (still within the Majuro Atoll).  It was lovely to get away from the city and have some peace and quiet again.  We spent three days doing various chores, and playing games with Island Sonata.  On Friday a nasty little day sail (beating in 20-30 knots) took us over to Abaiang)

December 2 - December 12, 2005

Although Abaiang is only 30 miles from Tarawa, it feels like a world away.  Once again we found ourselves in blue and turquoise waters.  The air felt cleaner, the sky looked bluer, everything just seemed more at peace. We spent four nights at the 'main anchorage' near the village, alternating between village visits and boat time (varying between chores and games).

On Tuesday (Dec 6th) the winds calmed, so we moved over to a small island near the pass entrance, where we celebrated John's birthday.  Here we were dazzled by the blue blue waters.  We explored the local area; a small settlement consisting of less than 15 people, and snorkeled outside the pass.  Chris & John did a bit of fishing, while I enjoyed a number of relaxing swims; usually just floating around in our blow-up water tube.

We moved again, back towards the main part of atoll, anchoring in front of a different village.  We had a terrific pizza party aboard Billabong, somehow managing to seat and feed eight people.  Ashore we met John Thurston, a white man who lives in Abaiang, helping the locals build their large transportation catamarans.  We were invited to another Kiribati party on the evening of Saturday Dec 10th.  The party seemed to be like the other Kiribati parties we had attended, with beautiful welcome head wreaths and Kiribati performances, until in one performance the women dancing ended her gig with a swift lift of her shirt, exposing her rather large and saggy boobs!  We were flabbergasted.  The entire Maneaba exploded with laughter.  To this day we aren't sure exactly what the deal was; whether just good humor, an attempt to see how the I-Matongs would react, or some kind of inside joke.

We had to return to Tarawa in order to check out and get permission to stop in Butaritari on our way north, so on Monday we had an easy day sail back to Tarawa, where we quickly restocked on groceries, checked-out, and departed on Wednesday.

December 14 - 18, 2005

Butaritari is unique in the Kiribati chain, as they get more rain then the other atolls; making their lands much more lush and green.  It was like entering a tropical rain forest.  We had noticed an increase in parties (or meetings) as it got closer and closer to Christmas ... Butaritari seemed to be in full party mode, with music and dancing heard all along the streets as we explored.  We spent four nights in Butaritari, but the weather was mostly crap, with lots and lots of rain.  A bit tired of atoll exploring (they do all start to look the same after awhile), I spent most of the time on the boat, while Chris went in with John to walk around.

We departed on Sunday December 18th, finally on our last leg for Majuro, Marshall Islands, where we planned to sit out the remaining months of the cyclone season.
Continue reading "Tarawa, Abaiang, & Butaritari, Kiribati"...

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Exploring Kiribati

Location: Abaiang, Kiribati
Position: 01°49.02' N 173°00.90' E
Next Dest: Butaritari, Kiribati

We've been in Kiribati for six weeks now, and are enjoying the
various atolls visited since Onotoa. It's amazing how each atoll
can be so different. Onotoa is known among the other atolls for
their organization and cleanliness, which was quite noticeable.

After leaving the clean, friendly atoll of Onotoa we visited
Tabiteuea (aka Tab-North). Supposedly Tab-North is known for
their knives, but we didn't have any troubles what-so-ever.
In true I-Kiribati fashion, we did a whole lot of nothing in
Tabiteuea. Just tried to keep cool!

After six days we left for Abemama (an overnighter from Tab-North),
where we had a "thrilling" pass experience as our instrumentation
(like much needed depth) continued to go out and 17knot head winds
met a 4 knot tail current creating large standing waves. Chris
(who stands watch on the bow) was SOAKED as the bow punched through
the waves on more than one occasion!!! On the bright side, we were
greeted by a pod of dolphins (although they are hard to enjoy in such

Just as the previous atolls have some sort of reputation (cleanliness
& knives), Abemama is also known for something. But you'll have to
read "Sex Lives of Cannibals" for that bit of information as it a
little to risqué to post!

We had a great time in Abemama, exploring various parts of the atoll
as we moved around utilizing three different anchorages. After
eleven days we pulled anchor and headed for the "big city" of Tarawa.

As we'd heard ahead of time, Southern Tarawa (Betio) is quite dirty
and WAY over crowded. Some have referred to Betio as the armpit of
Kiribati ... but it is not without its good points too. The people
seemed to still be extremely friendly and as we walked the streets
we enjoyed seeing the Kiribati traditions (such as singing and Toddy
cutting) still in practice. Betio is also the site of a major US
and Japanese WWII battle and relics could be seen all along the roads
and beach fronts. We planned on a short stay consisting of check-in,
interneting, provisioning, and WWII relic searching.
Our stay was extended a few days when the wind died. While bummed
we couldn't leave, we took advantage of the down-time and enjoyed a
huge "traditional" Thanksgiving (although not too traditional since
we celebrated on Sunday).

After a few nights anchored out by "the island" (away from the smelly,
noisy main harbor) the winds filled in and we made our way to
Abaiang. It was not a fun passage, the wind filled in quickly
and we had to beat to Abaiang in 20-30 knots ... NOT FUN!!!

But we are here now, and all is calm. We haven't yet had a chance to
explore the atoll, but are looking forward to it.

Continue reading "Exploring Kiribati"...

Friday, November 18, 2005

Back in the Northern Hemisphere

Location: Abemama, Kiribati
Position: 00°24.18' N 173°54.50' E
Next Dest: Tarawa, Kiribati

After two weeks in Onotoa, we made an overnight trip to Tabiteuea (also called Tab-North). Again we were welcomed with huge smiles and many a "Mauri" (hello). In Tab-North they build two story
traditional huts (or houses) that are really amazing. I couldn't help but be reminded of the Tarzan tree house in Disneyland.

After a week in Tabiteuea another overnight trip (where we crossed the equator for the second time in our cruising career) brought us to Abemama. Being closer to Tarawa they get more yachts, so we aren't quite the spectacle that we were in the previous atolls, but we are still treated like Kings & Queens. We enjoyed a great feast and dancing last Wednesday ... by far the best village food we've
tasted to date! We also spent a hot & dusty day motor biking the entire atoll - 36 miles end to end!

You know you are adjusting to the tropical climates when on an overcast day you jump into the water and think "it's too cold" ... only to discover the water temp is 85 degrees! Robert Louis Stevenson spent four months here and liked it so much he built a house here. Abemama was written up as one of the two friendly islands in "Searching for Paradise, A Grand tour of the World's Unspoiled Islands" by Thurston Clarke. He also wrote a book "Equator: A Journey" which describes life here in more detail. To date we have found Onotoa more unspoiled and friendly but we'll see..

There is an other interesting book called, "Sex lives of Cannibals". It is about a man (and his girlfriend) who move to Tarawa (from the states). It can be a bit negative, but mostly in a humorous way. It might be a fun read for those interested in some of the nuisances of the "out there" lifestyle of atoll/Kiribati life! The funny thing is the islands we've visited so far are even more remote.. no power, phones etc.

Continue reading "Back in the Northern Hemisphere"...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Tabiteuea & Abemama, Kiribati

November 5 - November 11

The overnight sail to Tabiteuea was very nice, especially the final 20+ miles once we were in the lee of the atoll. We wound our way through the bommies into the outer anchorage which once again was minimally charted and there appeared to be no inner lagoon. The local police force came out to the boat to check us in. It must have been the entire force because eight men showed up; all with various stages of uniforms, some with home made patches on their shoulders and the more senior men complete with modern uniforms AND hats.

It turned into a much longer affair when the boat that delivered the men lost their propeller next to Island Sonata. I tried to dive down to the bottom in 35 feet but I didn’t have any bottom time to find it and the water was very murky. John even got out his dive gear to look, but it was a bust. I went in with the police chief Acau (pronounced a-cow) to get another one, actually we just sat there drinking coconuts while his wife ran off on the scooter to tell someone to bring one. (I have a hard time with the local names so I thought I had it easy with a-cow, the only problem was I remembered it was "a-farm-animal", so more than once I called him a-goat or a-pig to KT and Island Sonata, luckily I never said anything to his face) The entire time we were gone a local was diving with no fins and almost getting more bottom time than John with his scuba. He finally found it.. and it was white.. both John and I were looking for a black propeller.

The satellite photos showed a potential path into an inner lagoon, so once again we got out our GPS and hand held depth sounder and took off in the dinghy to plot a route into the lagoon. We ended up anchoring in 15 feet surrounded by green water, you can’t even begin to describe the color especially through polarized sunglasses. KT was upset when she found out the water temp was down ... to 85 degrees! During our stay John and I did a couple of exploratory walks to the outer reef and the government center/school down the island. They were installing a huge solar array to power a phone system with a couple of pay phones, unless they were going to call Tarawa, I had no idea what good the phone would do because none of the outer islands had them. We had a couple of unsuccessful fishing trips to the reef, unless you consider cracking up the locals successful. We came upon an anchored fishing canoe, and went over to talk to them about their catch. Well of course we had on our local Kiribati fishing hats, you know “do like the locals”, except they were wearing regular baseball hats. They didn’t speak a lick of English so we didn’t get much more than eyebrow raises, nods and smiles, but after we left and I looked back I thought they were going to fall out of their boat because they were laughing so hard… oh well.. no respect earned there.

All four of us tried to walk along the road to explore the island but we spent most of the time diving into the shade and not getting anywhere. Finally Acau came by (he also delivers the fuel drums around the island), and offered us a ride. It was much more fun to see the island from the back of the truck with the cool breeze blowing in our faces. Every once in a while, someone would yell duck as a branch and hanging leaves swept over the top of the cab. We also stopped at most of the villages to do a delivery so we got to interact with the locals. The village furthest north is on a spit of land with an inner brackish lagoon and a path leading to the outer reef; there were not many trees so it was scorching hot in the mid-day sun. We were all invited in for, guess what, drinking coconuts, as the kids peered around the “church” to stare and giggle at us. I finally got some of the kids to come over to a neighboring hut and tried the telephoto camera trick again. I couldn’t get some of the kids to smile so I pushed my face into a smile with my fingers and next thing you know all the kids were poking themselves in the face. Oh well it didn’t turn out as planned but I did get some good shots.

We enjoyed some amazing sunsets and the lagoon was breath taking, although the locals were not as friendly as Onotoa (or perhaps not as outgoing). I asked the policeman if they would like to get more cruisers/visitors and he said.. “no.. too much work”. I guess I would feel the same if I had to spend the day waiting to find a propeller to get me back home.

November 12 - November 23

It was a relatively easy overnight passage from Tabiteuea to Abemama, especially for me since Chris took over one of my watches!  For the second time since our initial departure back in Dec 2003 we crossed the equator.  Perhaps because it wasn't new, or maybe because we hadn't been at sea for fifteen some days, it wasn't the big event of the first crossing.  We still paid tribute to King Neptune (never want to piss him off), and Chris threw over four more wine bottles with messages.  We were shocked when two of the four from our first year were found, and are now anxiously awaiting news from this year's bottles.  Early in the morning Chris was treated to playful dolphins speedily dashing in front of our bow.

The pass was a nightmare; it was rough, windy and there were huge waves.  The wind was blowing AGAINST the current, creating five foot standing waves.  Of course we didn't notice just how crappy the conditions were until we were already committed to going through the pass, so there was nothing to do but go full throttle ahead and hope for the best (even at full throttle we were barely making 2-3 knots against the wind and waves!).  Chris got soaked as he stood watch (for reefs) on the bow.  In addition our instrumentation (with the ever crucial depth) kept going out.  Luckily we were able to radio Island Sonata and they lingered, letting us follow them in.  Chris and I both expelled huge sighs of relieve when we finally made it through.

On Sunday (the 13th) we made our way into the village to check-in.  We were overjoyed when we came across a little store with COLD cola.  A few of the other boats that were already there had arranged to play some music for a few of the locals and invited us along.  In typical islander fashion, nothing can be 'given' without giving something back, and so they too did a few performances for us, and apologized that they didn't have anything more formal planned.  They insisted we come back in a few days at which time they would be more prepared!  That night we joined SawLeeAh and Island Sonata aboard Interlude for pizza, dominoes and a movie.

The next morning one of the police officers along with a customs officer boarded Billabong for the official inspection; which consisted of a few questions and no search or confirmation that we were telling the truth!  We served apple pie and a fruit drink with just about gagged the poor customs girl as I hadn't tested it and didn't add quite enough water ... they are too polite to say anything, but it was easy to figure out when her entire face puckered up and she started coughing violently!

On Wednesday we once again found ourselves on motorbikes with Island Sonata ... there really is no better way to explore an atoll or island.  It was a hot and dusty day, which we ended with a refreshing swim in the strong currents near the causeway (we had all kinds of fun jumping off the causeway and letting the current swiftly carry us through).  Then it was back to the maneaba for the village party/presentation.  Following the opening dance (by four women/girls), we were presented with head wreaths and once again invited (although saying "no" is not an option) to open dance with the locals.  There were four more traditional dances performed.  The somewhat ironic thing was that three out of the five dances were led or solely performed by the local Peace Corps girl (Kate) ... a WHITE girl!!!  Here we were, miles from home, watching traditional Kiribati dancing, being performed by a WHITE AMERICAN!!!  Too funny!  We were especially entertained by the locals who couldn't take their eyes off Kate ... an I-Matong doing their dances ... probably dances that many of the locals don't know themselves anymore!  After the performances we were served a delicious feast ... by far the best local food we've had to this day.

By Friday the wind had sufficiently calmed down, so we moved to anchor near the pass entrance, where a small, nearly unpopulated island sits.  The waters here were a terrific shade of blue that blended beautifully with the vast blue skies and fluffy white clouds.  We explored the small island, where we were covertly followed by a few young girls, who would giggle and run away anytime we turned to look at them.  On Saturday Chris and John took advantage of the nearby pass and went fishing; returning with a dog-toothed Tuna.  They were also treated to a few dolphins playing nearby while they fished.  I joined them for an afternoon fishing trip (which we came back empty handed).  That night we had dinner with Island Sonata, and then were joined by Hugaley, Navire, and the two Peace Corp women for a few evening cocktails.

More fishing occurred the following day, resulting in another delicious Tuna.  We also did a bit of snorkeling outside the pass where we spotted turtles, an octopus, lots of colorful parrot fish, and giant clams.  Luckily Island Sonata was also out snorkeling because on the way back in we ran out of gas and had to be towed back to our boat!  We shared our tuna with Navire, having another great dinner aboard Island Sonata (catamarans are always the preferred party boat!).

As weather reports indicated that the winds would pick up, we moved to the South anchorage on Monday (21st).    We spent two nights there before making an impromptu decision to depart and head for Tarawa.  On our way out we caught a tiny little fish, but threw him back in hopes for something bigger ... which unfortunately never hooked up!
Continue reading " Tabiteuea & Abemama, Kiribati"...

Friday, November 04, 2005

Onotoa, Kiribati Journal

October 20 - November 4, 2005

As we approached Onotoa, I thought something was wrong with my vision; some of the clouds were a brilliant shade of green. I took off my sunglasses and rubbed my eyes, and when that didn't work, I cleaned my sunglasses, still green!!! I thought I was losing my mind and showed KT just to prove to myself that I wasn’t nuts, but I guess that can happen after too many days at sea. It turns out the large area of shallow water in the lagoon was reflecting off the bottom of the clouds; and it was just a preview of the water colors that would dazzle us during our stay. The I-Kiribati and other atoll dwellers actually uses these reflections to navigate back to the atoll once they leave site of land, which doesn’t take long when the tallest object is a palm-tree. I was surprised that I hadn’t noticed it before but most of the other cruisers I showed hadn’t seen it before either.

One of the main reasons we traveled to Suva was to get our Visa for Kiribati. We also asked for permission to stop at other atolls in Kiribati prior to our arrival in Tarawa. Since Tarawa is further north, a trip back to Onotoa would require a pretty significant beat against the current and wind, therefore they rarely get yachts and it is an unspoiled spot (it’s the only place we’ve visited that isn’t in the Lonely Planet). NOTE: We found out later that the Fijian Consulate does NOT have the authority to give this permission and some other boats that came up later in the season had some serious problems… DON’T DO IT!!

The lagoon is shaped like two backwards C’s stacked diagonally on top of each other, angled to the east. The outer anchorage in the north-west corner and a large reef extends to the west in the middle. If you look at the chart there are very few depth soundings in the outer anchorage, NONE in the lagoon, and the calibration I did with our Satellite photos showed that the atoll was mischarted by 2 miles to the north and 1 mile to the west. I wasn’t very keen on stopping but Island Sonata suggested we should give it a try; we did and I’m VERY glad. After a couple of tries we finally got our anchor to hold in front of a large rusty ship that was delivering supplies into the lagoon. A swell was wrapping into the anchorage from the North West and we were getting some wind chop from the South East but it was better than the open sea and KT was happy that we were no longer sailing. John decided he wanted to try and get into the inner lagoon so we got out our hand held depth sounder (purchased just for this purpose) and GPS and slogged our way into the chop in the dinghy to find a path through the reefs and bommies. It would be a tight fit for both of us; Island Sonata because it was not very wide and they are 26 feet wide, and Billabong because we would only have three feet under our keel at the shallowest spot. It turned out to be much easier than it looked, but only because KT and I have worked together a lot in tight spots before … others who tried later had a few “words” and suggested their marriage might not survive another entrance like that. The local police force who came to check us in was very friendly and we were treated somewhat like celebrities because we were the first boats of the season (some seasons they get none).

We were somewhat familiar with the Kiribati hospitality from our visit to Rabi Island, Fiji (where the displaced islanders from Ocean Island now live), but we hadn’t met any children or enjoyed the full village atmosphere. Once we set foot on shore we were immediately greeted by children with their faces lit up like Christmas trees. They loved to hear our attempts to greet them with Mauri (hello), and laughed at us like we were famous comedians at anything we said. The first village in front of the “Wharf” is the government “compound”. The buildings are all naturally built with an open plan from native trees with thatched roofs and fold down wall screens (no doors, windows or walls). The beams are all tied together with homemade rope twisted from the fiber of a coconut husk, and the floors are bamboo slats raised and covered with different mats depending on the occasion. Each family's compound consists of three separate buildings; a sleeping building with privacy screens, a socializing building (just a platform with a roof), and a kitchen (with vented bamboo walls and an outdoor cleaning area). "Building" is too big of a word, as they are really only single rooms about the size of a typical American bathroom. Some of the buildings use main support beams cut from the coral of the reef and all attempts to “modernize” their housing with donated concrete buildings etc have failed because of the cooling effects their current houses provide. The I-Kiribati people are VERY proud and don’t take well to outside assistance and feel they are now dependant on the outside world because they use Flour, Rice and Sugar. Also available in the “store” are some canned goods and payment can still be made in coconuts in some places.

As we walked around EVERYONE invited us in for muimoto (green drinking coconuts) and asked “Where are you going?” because they don’t understand why people would walk somewhere without a defined purpose. We spent most of the day moving from shady spot to shady spot, it was sooo hot, and we ended up meeting a lot of locals and playing with lots of kids. One of the local characters we met was “The Bread Lady” (Tatinia) . She makes and sells great bread from her house and despite being very shy and embarrassed about speaking English, we had a great time getting to know her. She was a main destination on many of our visits to “town” and ended up making us some beautiful baskets and local Kiribati fishing hats. The police chief (Teitiniman) suggested we tour the island on motorbikes and arranged for us to rent them the next day. We decided to start early to beat the heat but it didn’t make much of a difference (at least we could make our own breeze on the bikes). We rode two to a bike with KT and MJ sitting on the back metal grated luggage rack (unfortunately MJ forgot her type IV cushion). The “road” was more like a single lane dirt off-road track which became slightly interesting when the “Love from Taiwan” truck/bus comes the opposite direction (Taiwan donates lots of “gifts” in favor for fishing rights) and your not sure which rules of the road they follow (NZ or US) and how those rules apply on single lane roads. Did I mention we felt like rock stars? Everywhere we went people were waving, smiling, laughing and inviting us in.

There are a couple of main settlement villages scattered around the atoll. The two lagoons are separated by a sandbar/reef and only a very thin strip of land connects the two main islands. The far southern village is on a separate motu which you can get to only at low tide by wading across a sand bar (but they have better access to the fishing to the south). The southern lagoon was a stunning turquoise color, with the most beautiful horseshoe beach. We met a local who was building his house at the end of the beach, with stunning views out into the lagoon and across the cut in the reef to the open ocean. If this was in the states it would be a multi-multi-million dollar piece of land, and he was building his house by hand, by himself. We got to see the intricate knots used to connect the roof supports with the coconut fiber rope and noticed that all the beam cutting was done by machete. It was amazing to see the progress, he figured he would be done in a week or two. We back tracked a bit and continued onto the northern most end where the “airport” was. I guess they only get one flight a week, so the grass is a little overgrown on the runway … but of course we had to race up and down it. Our exhausting day ended early as the heat got the best of us. The gentleman we rented the bikes from gave us some fish which we turned into a great fish curry before falling into bed.

The next day John and I helped Freebird and Camira into the lagoon. The goal was to provide “local” help and guidance but NOT be in charge. Somehow we ended up being responsible for directing the boats through the reef, which I refuse to do again … luckily everyone made it through fine. We had a couple of lazy days alternating between village visits, playing cards and working on some boat/web projects, before John and I decided to go do some serious fishing. We tooled around the outer anchorage and played with a pod a dolphins that seemed to have taken up residence there. We didn’t have much luck until we decided to head to the outside reef, where some of the locals were fishing. I hooked into a pretty big fish on the way out, and when it came to the surface it was nothing but mouth, I couldn’t believe the size of it. It turned out to be a very tasty grouper.

The locals use hand stitched outrigger canoes with upside down triangle patchwork sails, made with everything from old inverted Hobie cat sails to blue tarps, to go out beyond the lagoons to catch fish. The canoes are very basic but the skippers are all master sailors, who have been taught by the generations of sailors before them. They always keep the outrigger to windward and move the base of the lateen sail back and forth to change directions. Most of the time the steering oar is untouched moving slightly as if steered by an invisible force, as the skippers steer the boat using mostly sail trim and weight position on the outrigger. It was always a treat to watch them leave the lagoon on the morning high tide and sail out of sight in search of tuna and sharks. Some of the canoes would sail by in the afternoon to show us their catch, often times covering the entire outrigger support struts with huge seven foot sharks. They use huge baited hooks attached to chain to catch the sharks; I would have loved to see how they do battle in their lightweight canoes once they are actually hooked ... I can imagine some Moby Dick like scenes in my head as I picture the struggle! The tides are critical for them to get the boats on the beaches so they always return a little before high tide and have a impromptu regatta amongst the 10-30 canoes. It’s fun to watch them hoot and laugh as they race back and forth across the lagoon, enjoying the pure fun of sailing after a long hard days work of fishing in the sun.

We spent the following early afternoon filming and playing with the dolphins in the outer anchorage. They were a little bit skittish if you actually got in the water but they LOVED to chase the dinghy. At full throttle they raced and jumped in front of the dingy, dashing in and out with incredible speed. I was amazed that they didn’t crash into each other. We spent a lot of time playing with our aquatic friends during our visit, and got some great underwater footage by holding the video camera underwater off the bow of the dingy while we followed them. It was a little wet for the camera operator, but well worth the resulting footage.

Interlude had arrived in the outer anchorage the day before, with a freshly caught tuna onboard. We scheduled a sushi fest aboard Freebird for the late afternoon (catamarans are such great party boats), prior to our scheduled music jam with the village. The Sushi party was a blast as we gorged ourselves full of fresh tuna only to find out the music jam turned into a HUGE welcome party complete with MORE food. This was our first a many Kiribati social events, and are they ever EVENTS. What started out a jam sessions ended up as a fully MC’d (by Maya) event with a program. I know it sounds a little too formal but it was nothing of the sort. We were welcomed with special introductions and head wreaths of beautiful fragrant flowers. It is custom in the Kiribati culture to describe yourself through your home island and your parents so I had to stand up and introduce myself as “Chris from the island of Ventura California … This is my wife KT and My father is Arthur, my Mother is Sara”. It felt rather strange but that’s how they define themselves. Then they presented us with tons of traditional food, including the joy of fried spam (yuck but considered a delicacy because they have to buy it), and watched us all as we ate (they didn’t eat until after we left). Of course I tried everything and felt like I was going to explode if anyone touched me. Then they had a local do a welcome dance in full local costume, followed by a dance fest where we were responsible for picking a local (by slightly bowing and extending two palms up) to dance with. It was lots of fun and we even danced with some of the smaller children who were laughing the entire night!! KT wasn’t sure if she should be jealous of my 8 year old dance partner that followed us back to the dinghy, staring at me the entire time!!

When we first arrived there were only three other white people on the entire atoll; two Peace Core teachers, and a man from England who just moved back after a 30 year absence. I knew we were a strange site when he almost crashed his motor bike into a tree staring at John and I as he past by. Later on he came by again and asked “what are you doing here?”. His parents were responsible for documenting the land ownership titles and he grew up on Onotoa learning to speak the Kiribati language fluently. He had just married a local consul woman and returned to the island only a couple of weeks before we arrived. The whole exchange was rather entertaining and he was a wealth of Onotoa and I-Kiribati knowledge both past and present. His legs were all bandaged up; which explained his expedition into the bush with shorts on after 30 years of “wearing nothing but trousers in London”, now that’s quite a change.

Saturday we were invited to a woman’s group anniversary celebration at the big tin Maneaba in the northern village. We weren’t sure what we were getting into but it turned out to be an ALL day EVENT. There were lots of people packed under the huge tin roof which felt like a solar oven as the equatorial sun beat down on us. It was a fun event but about twice as long as either of us could handle. Once again there was an MC with introductions, and each of the members of the other local groups and villages made very long speeches to celebrate the woman’s group successes (I think, because I couldn’t understand a bloody word). Luckily the local Peace Core teachers would give us a little play by play and explained things as we went along. We had a huge spread of food that filled the center of the Maneaba and it was funny to watch as the locals picked through the various baskets looking for any treats like spam or bags of chips. The only problem with the local cuisine (and I use the word very loosely) is they have no refrigeration so most fish is preserved by salting and smoking it until it basically all tastes like ashes wrapped in salt. I grabbed some crab thinking that would be great but there was no meat in the legs and they basically suck the juices out of the bodies, which again tastes like smoke and salt (imagine that).

We then entered the dreaded (for me) dancing portion of the day where the locals laughed the entire time. They have a form of dirty dancing that a local woman was trying on the unsuspecting cruisers. They raise their arms above their heads like a roof and try to move the roof over their partners head as in “Come into my house.. wink wink”. It was funny watching Dave from Freebird do it back to one woman when he didn’t have a clue what he was doing … they loved it and laughed hysterically. I got chased around the dance floor by one woman who kept trying to grab my ankles (still don’t know what that was about) and ended up doing a sort of high stepping run that also had them rolling. As you dance, they have a person who walks around dumping (and I mean dumping) baby powder on your neck and spraying your armpits and back with perfume, must have something to with dancing in a sauna. I had a lot of fun playing around with KT’s Digital SLR camera and the telephoto lens. You could smile at someone and they would smile back without thinking they were being caught on film, plus they were so intrigued by what you are doing they actually look right at you. It sure makes a difference because all the kids want to do is see themselves … “photo me.. photo me!!”. Typically they try to pose in very unnatural ways and in a group all try and be THE one in front of the lens. I think it’s the best set of people photos we’ve taken, so were going to keep trying. We finally limped out after they kept extending the party because we looked like we were having so much fun.

KT spent the next day recovering and working on a thank you DVD for the first village. It came out great and we told everyone who was in it that they were now movie stars. We did some more island touring and tried to come up with other ways to distract the rowdy kids so we could get a photograph without just a bunch of scrunched up noses. We tried shooting from our waists, pointing somewhere else but these kids were on it … they wanted to see every picture we took. We also went back to the Catholic Priests (Tetaake) house so we could take a photo of all of us along with he and his wife (Temaroo) in his “church”. He wanted full body shots, and said “no good” after I took what I thought was a pretty good face shot of everyone. I guess he wanted to show off their nice dressy clothes. Then we had a Halloween party aboard Island Sonata, with Freebird and Camira. KT and I were Jack and Nina from 24 (we got EVERYONE hooked on it), John and MJ were little red riding hood and the big bad wolf (yes once again they had full on costumes for the occasion), Mike and Dana were a badly dressed beach bum geek and a sea creature (the funny thing was that Mike had picked out his costume as an honest to God outfit during a males only shopping spree in Fiji), and Dave and Judy were a pirate and Dr Feel Good. It was a fun evening celebrating a very US holiday in the middle of nowhere, with fresh popcorn balls and a carved local squash with candle to mimic a Jack-o-lantern.

We spent a couple of days playing in the lagoon with the dolphins, and attempting to catch more fish. I finally realized that I was spending about $10 on dinghy fuel and wasn’t catching anything, so I found a local fisherman I could buy some pretty good size tuna (yellowtail and albacore) for $3 to $5 each. We went in to do a farewell tour, taking more pictures of the locals and handing out some printed pictures we took during our stay. As we prepared to say goodbye our friend Tetaake, the local catholic priest, said … “this is not good, can’t you just stay”. It was sad to leave but it was time to move on, so we headed out to the outer anchorage during the morning high tide and prepared for our over night trip to Tabiteuea. Dolphins played around the boat all day until we left just as the sun was setting.
Continue reading "Onotoa, Kiribati Journal"...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Onotoa, Kiribati

Location: Onotoa, Kiribati
Position: 01°49.55' S 175°32.63' E llz=-1.82583,175.54383,13
Next Dest: One of the many atolls in Kiribati

The first big news is that we are officially out of the cyclone area! Safe & happy! We
are currently anchored in Onotoa Kirabati ... our first destination that is not even
mentioned in Lonely Planet! Off the 'beaten track' and loving it! The atoll is
mis-charted by at least 2 miles (scary this day and age), but we think the last chart
was from the 1800's ... so what's to be expected? The lagoon isn't charted for depth,
so we anchored outside and took the dinghy in with the hand held depth sounder and found
a place in 15' of water.. nice and calm.

The village is amazing ... extremely traditional and clean with terrific & friendly
people. We (Island Sonata and us) are the first two boats of the season. We increased
the ematong (white people) population dramatically; there are two Peace corp workers
from the states and a British Guy (who was born here in the 50's) who married a local
woman and just moved back two weeks ago after "30 years in trousers". A few days ago
some of our friends arrived (three additional boats) -- the locals are happily
overwhelmed ... one guy told us they have never had this many boats at one time, and we
think they don't usually get more than this in an entire year! Last night we went in
(w/ all the other boats) for what we thought was just going to be a little music
impromptu, with a couple of locals playing guitars and MJ (Island Sonota) playing the
keyboard ... the locals put together an entire party with food, dancing, and music. It
was a fabulous night!

On our way into the lagoon, and then again when Chris helped two other boats enter the
lagoon, we came across a huge pod of spinner dolphins, who seemed to love playing in the
wake of the boats. A few days later when Chris and John (Island Sonata) went out
fishing the dolphins were still there and loved 'racing' the dinghy. Chris was like an
excited child when he got back to Billabong and told me about the dolphins. The next
day we went out together, loaded up with lots of camera gear. Dolphins are amazing
creatures, and zooming around playing with them from the dinghy makes our top ten list
of cruising experiences! We got some terrific underwater footage and are already
planning our next trip out! Chris did try to jump in the water with them, but as
playful as they are, the were a bit skittish and took off (but not before Chris got a
good look at them in the crystal clear blue waters!).

If you can't tell ... we love it here, and are extremely happy that we 'found' this
little piece of paradise!

Continue reading "Onotoa, Kiribati"...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Playing with Dolphins Video

Playing in our dinghy with a large pod of dolphins outside the anchorage in Onotoa, Kiribati

Continue reading "Playing with Dolphins Video"...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Nukufetau Journal

October 7 - October 16

Due to wind direction (and strength) we decided to anchor in the southeast corner of the lagoon, rather than in front of the small village of Nukufetau.  We were instantly welcomed by the local police officer, Tesio, who checked our paper work and offered to show us the WWII B-17 plane wreck.  We, along with Island Sonata, met him on one of the islets where he was coconut crab hunting.  He took us into a magnificent jungle to the wreck site.  This trek north has really sparked our interest in the second World War.  To try and imagine young men (boys really) landing on, fighting, and defending these small atolls is overwhelming.  To actually see and touch real relics from the war adds a reality to the history.  It's a bag of mixed emotions as we curiously explore the intriguing sites, saddened by the thought of the thousands of men/boys who died.

Afterwards we sat on the beach with Tesio talking a little and enjoying the shade and view of the turquoise lagoon.  He sent us away with two coconut crabs and a huge smile.

Back on our boat Chris got to work cleaning the large Tuna, which I had shoved head first, tail nearly sticking out, into the frig the night before (it was too rolly on passage for us to want to deal with the mess of cleaning the fish).  I hadn't realized just how big the guy was until mounds upon mounds of tasty red flesh started piling up.  We had Island Sonata over for dinner, where we got a little carried away with sesame seared tuna, four different types of tuna rolls, tuna sashimi, tuna sushi, the two coconut crabs, and a cucumber salad (because I was worried we wouldn't have enough food!).  It was YUMMY, and took away all and any guilty thoughts leftover from the act of killing a living thing!

The next morning another local (Famasino) stopped by to say Mauri (hello) and gave both boats some fish!  Barely here a day and we were already overwhelmed by the generosity.  We could also feel a difference between the less populated Nukufetau and the crowded Funafuti ... just in the two interactions we'd had we could sense to higher level of curiosity and felt a warmer welcoming.

Chris went off with John to gather some coconuts and look for coconut crabs while I scrubbed down the cockpit to clear away the lingering fish smell (from the killing and cleaning of the tuna).  Later Chris and MJ grated and squeezed the coconut for fresh coconut milk, which I used to make Kokoda (like Seviche with the fish soaked in lime juice, but served in coconut milk).  We had MJ & John over for another huge feast; more tuna rolls and sashimi, Kokoda, and spicy seared tuna.  About an hour after eating, as we were all lounging around trying to digest mass amount of food, I began to get really really hot.  I tried sitting right in the breeze, but I felt flushed, as if I was having a massive hot flash.  Chris and John took off to check their coconut crab traps (which turned out to be empty) and I went down below to do a few of the dishes ... turning on the light I discovered I was a deep red color - all over my body, as if I had laid out in the sun for 10 too many hours!  MJ and I figured it must be some type of allergic reaction, so I took a Benedryl and returned to the cockpit to lay in the breeze.  My sunburn look continued until about three in the morning, but otherwise I felt alright.

The next morning I took a cursory glance through our medical book, but found nothing describing my symptoms.  I figured it was some fluke allergy, and since it wasn't that bad and the fish was that good, I served leftovers to Chris and I for lunch.  This time I didn't eat very much though (just in case) ... and it was probably a good thing because less than twenty minutes after lunch I was turning red again!  This round was worse, I felt dizzy, a bit sick, and my heart was working overtime -- it was beating so hard and fast I was convinced you should be able to see my whole chest move.  I took a couple more Benedryl (since they seemed to help the night before) and laid inert under our hatch.  A few hours later I was feeling much better, and we had also learned that both John & MJ had had a small bout of stomach problems the night before.  Chris however, with his stomach of steel, didn't have any problems at all.  I hit the medical book again, and this time also used our fish books ... finally I found it ... Histamine Poisoning!  Most likely caused because we either didn't clean the fish soon enough or because our refrigerator wasn't cool enough.  Bummed, we had to throw the rest of the tuna overboard.  We spent the next week monitoring frig temperatures, adding insulation and we added a little fan to help circulate the air and maintain a more consistent temp.  As it turns out our frig is now running a bit less and seems to be cooler.

Starting that night a huge convergence zone hit us, and with it came cloud cover, rain, and lots of lightning.   For three days we kept most of our electronics in the oven and tried to enjoy the impressive show that mother nature put on; blinding flashes followed by crackling thunder, both near and far.  During the rainy periods we played cards with Island Sonata and ate a lot (what else does one do when trapped 'indoors'?)  On the bright side of things we were loaded up with water and ready to do some mass amounts of laundry, should the sun ever surface again!  In between down pours on the 11th, we went in to visit Famasino and his wife Salani.  They are the only locals who live (sometimes) away from the main village (although they also have a house in the village).  Salani  gave us a tour which included dense jungle, a well from WWII, and the airstrip used in WWII -- now so overgrown you'd never guess a plane every landed there!  Afterwards we all went over to Island Sonata where we feasted on coconut crabs, chicken, and rice (all provided by Famasino & Salani).  They seemed to get a good laugh watching Chris as he enthusiastically tore into the crab.  He was also the only Palagi brave enough to try the supposedly eatable intestine thing along with some funky juice stored in the center body of the crab (what we nick-named Butt Butter).  When Chris left to get some fishing supplies from Billabong, Salani laughed and said, "Chris, he likes to eat!".  While they grossed us out with their intestines and butt butter, we did they same when we offered them a coconut-peanut butter balls for dessert ... they were polite enough to try and eat them but they couldn't quite control the nasty faces!  I can't believe it, who doesn't like peanut butter and coconut?

Wednesday the sun finally returned ... the only downside being that now I had no excuse to not do the laundry!

Thursday we took off for a walk around the south side of the islet.  It was HOT!  After making our way around and to the outside (or ocean side) of the atoll the debate as to when we should cross over (through the atoll jungle) began.  No one was 100% sure of just how far we needed to go in order to come out at the right spot on the other side!  Chris would pop into the jungle on occasion to scout it out, and on one such occasion made a very neat discovery.  He found two slabs of concrete buried under layers of bush where Marine Core men from WWII had carved their names.  We could only make out the names of one of the carvings; Al Zuro of the U.S.M.C. dated 10-17-43.  He had also carved what appears to be his wife's name and a heart with A.Z. and M.Z. carved inside.  Standing there images flashed through my mind; a young man maybe 21 max, probably just married before being shipped off to some unheard of atoll in the middle of nowhere, sweating away in the jungle, a cigarette in his mouth, a picture of his new young wife in his pocket.  Probably hadn't had children yet.  I can almost see his face, his smile.  And then what?  It was November of 1943 when the US marines attacked Betio, Tarawa  -- with horrific losses --  was he sent there?  Did he survive?  We hope that perhaps we can find out, who knows what we'll discover.

Finally, still not sure where we should head across we just went for it ... and more or less got lost.  A bit embarrassing to admit if you consider that from edge to edge across the atoll was no wider than a few hundred feet -- But this was some thick jungle ... and we had no compass -- all we had for our sense of direction was the pounding surf that marked the outside of the atoll (which we were trying to go away from).  After turns and loops, we literally cut our way through (via machete), finally finding the white sandy beaches that marked the lagoon side of the atoll.  We had cut across WAY too soon, no big deal as we could easily continue walking on the lagoon side, but farther down we came across the narrow part of the atoll - the part where you could practically see across from one side to the other - the part with a PATH!!!  Well, at least we had an adventure!

On Friday (the 14th), Camira and Freebird arrived.  We all gathered for a swim under Island Sonata's boat.  A local boat was passing and pulled close to say hello -- strange glances from all of them as they puzzled over the crazy laughing white people floating around (on water/pool toys) under the boat!!!  (We call the area under Island Sonata's catamaran "the pool"; we swim there because it's shaded from the hot tropical sun).  After our swim the men went off hunting for coconut crab. Unfortunately they came back empty handed, lucky for us I stock up on all those canned goods!!!

Saturday it was calm enough for a trip to the village.  All eight Palagi's piled aboard Freebird and we motored across the lagoon to the village.  We spent the day walking around the small village, escorted (or surrounded depending on how you look at it) by a large group of children.  We sang songs, skipped, raced, and played games.  For such a small village in such an out-of-the-way place we were surprised at how modernized it was (compared with other such places).  One family keeps their coconuts in the freezer -- what a refreshing drink that is!  Some of the modernization was a bit disappointing.  Camira had brought an old sail courtesy of another boat to be given to one of the families in the village.  The donator had figured they could use it for their canoes or homes, but as we were leaving the guy said, "and thank you again for the sail, it will provide good shade for when my family goes on a picnic".  Well, not quite the functional, practical, necessity type of use we had figured on.  Later Camira remarked that he wished he had saved the sail brought it to Onotoa (Kiribati), where they actually used sails for their canoes which they fished from.  Anyway, the people were once again beyond welcoming & friendly and we really enjoyed the visit.

Sunday we prepared for our upcoming departure.  We also had a goodbye visit from Famasino & Salani and their children.  Then early Monday we departed Nukufetau and Tuvalu, making our way to Kiribati.
Continue reading "Nukufetau Journal"...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Nukufetau & A Fish Story

Location: Nukufetau, Tuvalu
Position: 08°02.88' S 178°22.79' E
Next Dest: Nanumea, Tuvalu

We arrived in Nukufetau yesterday morning. Nukufetau is the next atoll north of
Funafuti (about 50n.m.). We are very happy we got permission to come here
(Funafuti is the main port, so we had to check out of the country there, and
normally they don't want you stopping anywhere once you've checked out).

It was an enjoyable overnight trip. We left Funafuti around 4p.m. for a slow
relaxing sail. Just after dark, Chris checked our fishing line and sure enough
something was on it!! We thought it was a bird at first, as there was one
nearby squawking away. Then as Chris pulled in the lines, I turned on the flash
light and we had caught not one, but TWO yellow finned tuna!!! After 5 months
of not catching a single fish aboard Billabong I was beginning to think we were
doomed! Hooray that the curse has been broken. We got the first one aboard,
and I (who HATES watching fish die, let alone be a part of the killing) had to
hold it down while Chris went after the second fish. We weren't sure if we
should keep the second one or not (too much to eat) when the fish helped us to
make the decision as he flopped from the transom step into the water. Chris
probably could've held onto him, but we figured we had enough anyway. Not to
mention we were doing all this underway, in the dark, and I'd prefer to loose
the fish overboard then have Chris fall in after him! One of these days Chris
and I will have a good method for bringing aboard and killing a fish, but for
now it seems all we manage to do is create a bloody mess ... you'd think we'd
slaughtered a cow in our cockpit. With the boat rocking & rolling it's not easy
to accomplish much ... so we basically just bagged the entire fish and I managed
to shove the whole guy into our frig. All night the fishy smell lingered in our

I spent my second watch (2am-5am) dreaming of all the fish dishes I was going to
make when we arrived. I was like the shrimp guy in Forrest Gump who recited all
the various shrimp dishes!

I also enjoyed a huge lightening storm. It's fun to watch when they are off in
the distance and not right over you (that's when fun turns to scary and
pain-in-the-ass). We luckily skirted squall after squall as the convergence
zone just missed us.

The next morning Chris got to enjoy a huge pod of dolphins that surfed along at
our bow. He thought about waking me up, but decided it was too early and I
probably needed sleep (gee am I THAT bad in the morning?, hee hee).

We easily navigated the pass entrance, and due to wind strength and direction
opted to anchor in the Southeast corner instead of in front of the village.
After setting our hook, a very friendly police official came over to check our
papers (Funafuti had faxed them the okay for our arrival).

An hour or so later we went with Island Sonata (who made the passage with us) to
meet Teseai (the police official) and his son. They were coconut crab hunting
near an old WWII plane wreck. He showed us the B17 crash and also gave us two
coconut crabs. Back on Billabong we swam (in 87 degree F water) and napped.
Then it was fish cleaning time. This guy was huge ... I couldn't believe how
much meat we got off him. We are very glad we didn't keep both, because even
with Island Sonata's help there is no way we could've eaten both of them before
they spoiled. Another bloody mess in our cockpit - more fish smell on top of
the existing fish smell - but well worth it when we sat down to a huge feast.
We had Island Sonata over for dinner, and as usual I made too much ... Tuna
Rolls, Spicy Tuna Rolls, Cooked Tuna Rolls (MJ isn't a huge fan of raw fish),
Tuna Nigiri Sushi, Seared Sesame Tuna, Oriental Cucumber Salad (made before I
realized how much fish we had, as I was afraid we wouldn't have enough to eat,
ha ha), and of course the coconut crabs! Served with melted butter, wasabi
mayo, wasabi & soy, sweet chili & mayo, and fish sauce & mayo for dipping.
Yummers! I am so excited that MJ bought me sushi plates for Christmas (Chris
still can't believe we are carrying a set of sushi plates & bowls on aboard) ...
but it all looked so pretty served "properly"! We ate until our belly's
protruded, and then topped it all off with brownies! It was sickening how much
food we put away last night!

This morning a local stopped by to say hello, and in the usual friendly local
manner, gave both us and Island Sonata a fish! It's not proper to say no, so we
gratefully accepted!

We can already tell in difference between the small village here in Nukufetau
versus the more largely populated Funafuti. We are excited to go into the
village tomorrow and get a closer look!

Continue reading "Nukufetau & A Fish Story"...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Funafuti, Tuvalu

September 21 - October 6
Position: 08°30.94' S 179°11.57' E

Our passage from Savusavu, Fiji to Funafuti, Tuvalu must've been okay, because I don't really remember it much!  We made good time and there were a couple of squalls, but on the whole the four nights passed quickly and without much ado.  It was nice buddy boating with Island Sonata; always reassuring to see another set of sails nearby.  Not being able to slow down enough we arrived at the Funafuti atoll around four in the morning and had to heave-to outside the atoll while we waited for enough light to get us through the pass.

We already knew the two other boats that were there, and they provided us with lots of great information about the atoll and surrounding area.  The first thing we noticed was the dramatic increase in temperature!  Even the water temp was up, hovering around 87 degrees.

We were anchored near the main part of the atoll, Fongafale Islet.  The Islet is only 12 km long and between 10 and 400 m wide with well over 4,000 residents.  Our Lonely Planet Guide reported a density of about 1600 people per sq km on Funafuti!!!  The entire country totals only 26 sq km, making it one of the world's smallest countries.

Toddy:  Although known as Kiribati's local brew, it is also popular in Tuvalu; filling the niche of the kava drunk on other Pacific Islands.  Toddy is basically  fermented sap tapped from the coconut tree.

We spent our first two days in Funafuti relaxing and getting a feel for the town and area.  There are two main roads, running parallel for about 1.2 km before joining up on either side and then continuing along a single, narrow road.  Although there are three main markets, a bakery, and one restaurant, fresh food of any sort is practically nonexistent (it's an atoll after all!).  We did enjoy a few decent meals at the restaurant though.  It didn't take long before our favorite thing to do was visit the Government building.  An impressive three story, mostly glass building, hosting a variety of official offices ... but most importantly the building is air conditioned!  The people of Funafuti were quite friendly, although we noticed they tended to keep to themselves more so than the Fijians and other South Pacific Islander's we had visited.  It also seemed as though the local drink, Toddy, might be a bit of a problem here; we ran across many a drunk man at all hours of the day.   (Extracting Toddy pictured right)

The most activity seemed to occur in the early morning or late afternoon (outside the hours of the heat of the day); where we enjoyed watching the locals zoom around on their mopeds.  The other thing that stood out to us was their grave sites; most existing in the front of people's homes and extravagantly decorated with flowers, shells, fabrics, tinsel, and even flashing twinkle lights that glowed through the night!

On Friday (Sept 23rd) we rented bicycles (called pushbikes here) and road the entire length of Fongafale Islet along with MJ & John from Island Sonata.  While the flat paved roads made for easy riding, the blazing sun wore us out.  By the end of the day we were ready to collapse.  Along our bike tour we enjoyed the stunning turquoise waters of the lagoon along with the sounds of breaking waves coming from the ocean side of the atoll.   We looked for a few of the sites pointed out in our Lonely Planet Guide; finding the rusting Japanese fishing boat that was wrecked during Cyclone Bebe (1972) and the borrow pits (small man-made lagoons where coral material was extracted for the construction of the airstrip during WWII) -- now stinky with pigsty drainage.  Chris was determined to find David's Drill, a drill site from 1898, where Darwin's controversial theory on how atolls are formed was proven true (in 1835 Darwin proposed that coral atolls were built on slowly sinking volcanic rock, which at the same time was being built up by coral, whereas others believed that the reefs grew on underwater platforms that had been raised by volcanic action).  We looped and we circled and rode and rode without finding this 'famous' hole in the ground.  We received many strange looks as Chris continued to ask local after local (none of which had heard of the site of course).

Finally, three days later, we found it!  And oh how uneventful; a concrete base with a small hole in it, surrounded by weeds and bush!  Well, it was fun looking for it anyway!  On our bike trip we also discovered one of the huge problems on Tuvalu ... trash.  With their growing population, limited space, and trend away from subsistence agriculture towards a cash economy, their environmental issues are mounting.  A throw-away mind set still seems to exist, but the increasing dependence on imported packaged food is leaving them with an uncontrollable rubbish problem.  The north side of the road actually ends at a sea of trash that seems to run to infinity.  In addition, the rising sea levels due to global warming could eventually wipe out the entire atoll.  It's sad to see such deep environmental issues in such a lovely place.

Saturday we discovered a major downfall to the increased temperatures (besides sweating all the time); our refrigerator was running non-stop and sucking up all our battery power!  Lucky for us Chris had purchased two additional solar panels in Fiji.  We didn't have the proper materials for a permanent mount, but Chris saved the day with temporary mounts along our railings.  We also cut up some foam and lined the inside of the refrig for better insulation.  We are loving all our new found power; enjoying more movies and computer time!  That afternoon we went with the other yachties to watch Futi (Australian Football/Rugby).  Craig and Jijet from Kipona, both ex-navy, had hooked up with the visiting AU navy folks and they had invited everyone over.  Using sheets and tarps they had enclosed a little outdoor hut and hooked up a projector, using a white sheet as a screen.  It was the most unique 'football' party we'd ever been too!

Tuesday we motored to the South East anchorage off of Funafala Islet.  During WWII most of the villagers were relocated to Funafala for the duration of the war.  Most moved back afterwards, but there is still a small community of about 30 or so that live here.  The water colors in this area were truly amazing, although due to suspended algae & plankton the visibility wasn't real great.  We spent two nights; enjoying a walk along the outer reef, a bit of snorkeling, and a quick visit to the settlement.

Saturday, October 1st, was Tuvalu Independence Day.  We got up early to attend the 7am parade.  Which really didn't get going until 7:30 am (typical Island Time).  And which really wasn't a parade as we know it.    Five groups stood standing (at a somewhat weak attention) facing the large grandstands.  Next the prime minister 'inspected' the parade (basically walking around the various groups), and then the parade began ... the five groups marched along the outer edge of the field.  And that was about it.  So much for floats and fireworks!  The parade was followed by young children races and food & drinks.  Afterwards we returned to our boats to cool down, coming back in around one for the soccer tournaments.  By now the sun was burning full and sneaking its way into the grandstands.  There was nowhere to hide!  We watched all of the Division B game and then part of the Division A game before the sun did us in and we had to leave, seeking out shade.  Apparently these where huge matches; Funafuti was playing their neighboring atoll, Nukufetau.  The crowd was rowdy and the event was fun to watch.  We don't know how the players managed to not pass out running around in the heat of the day like that!

After a rest and cleanup, we came in for the evening festivities.  M.J. and I followed the location tradition and wore head leis.  We started with dinner out, and then crossed over to watch the dance performance that was taking place at the local meeting house (maneaba).  The dancing and chanting was a bit mellow, especially compared to the hip shaking dances of Tahiti, but fun to watch nonetheless.  We especially enjoyed watching some the crowd;  a few joined in, smiles proving the pure enjoyment received from these local dances.

When we first read in Lonely Planet that waiting for and watching planes land is a big thing "to do" in Funafuti, we laughed out loud.  But before long we were joining the rush of locals to watch the planes land and see who would be arriving next!  We're actually surprised planes still use the old airstrip at all; in its current state I'm not sure it would even be considered a good road in the states!  We laughed too when we thought of all the strict safety violations of the States that were being broken.  On approach a single fire track parks facing the runway and sounds its siren for a minute or two;  this is the cue to clear the runway if you happen to be playing or walking on it.  We stood less than a couple hundred feet from the runway as the plane touched down and barreled passed us.  There are no fences, security, or it seems general safety measures!

Besides visiting the government building to take advantage of the air conditioning, we were also continually checking on the status of their wireless internet installation.  We couldn't believe it when Chris first read that Funafuti had free wireless internet (think of all the emails & updates we could do!), but sure enough they are trying.  Of course who knows when it will actually work, everyday that we checked, we were told "tomorrow"!  It wasn't too much of a disappointment however, as there was more than one internet 'cafe' and they were air conditioned as well!  Chris worked a deal with one of the owners who allowed him to download large files for minimal cost ... Chris was working on his satellite photo collection which are great navigational tools (sometimes better than the outdated charts we own).  (You can check out some of these photos here ... they are really cool to see!)

On Monday (Oct 3rd) we enjoyed a terrific dinner with a fresh catch provided by Mike & Dana (Camira), who had just arrived the night before.  We topped it off with an awesome cheesecake dessert!

By Thursday we were ready to move on.  We departed Funafuti at four in the afternoon enjoying a leisurely [short] sail to Nukufetau.  We were quite surprised when we went to pull in our fishing line for the evening and discovered not one, but TWO yellow-finned tuna!  The excitement of the catch led to stupidity as Chris struggled with the second fish; while standing on our itty bitty transom step, at night, underway, WITHOUT A HARNESS!!!  Afterwards we severely chastised ourselves, and promised to never let that happen again.  We only kept one Tuna as they were quite large and we didn't have that much room in the frig.
Continue reading "Funafuti, Tuvalu"...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Heading North -- Tuvalu Arrival

Location: Funafiti, Tuvalu
Position: 08°30.94' S 179°11.57' E
Next Dest: Kiribati (in 2-4 weeks)

We departed Savusavu, Fiji early Saturday morning. After four days of rocking and rolling we arrived at Funafiti, Tuvalu (arriving before sun up on Wednesday). The passage was uneventful, which we figure is probably a good thing. After 4-1/2 months filled with only day trips (in Fiji), it took us a bit to get into the groove of a passage making!

We enjoyed buddy boating with Island Sonata on the way up ... it is always nice to see another boat out there and know you aren't alone!!! We spent our first day in Funafiti checking in, and then talking around the town. Atolls are always interesting to explore, considering they are long and narrow strips of land (in about 20 seconds you can walk from the inside of the atoll to the outside!).

The people seem super friendly and we are very excited about spending some time here. Our first night (as typical after a passage) was heavenly (solid sleep in an non-moving bed!). More to come as we explore our first atoll on the way to the Marshalls!
Continue reading "Heading North -- Tuvalu Arrival"...

Sunday, September 11, 2005

New Route for Billabong

Current Location: Savusavu, Fiji
Next Destination: Funafiti, Tuvalu

We find ourselves once again in Savusavu. Not much new to report; we have been busy visiting with old friends (from our first season of cruising), and preparing Billabong and ourselves for our next passage (including a side trip via airplane to Suva).

We have FINALLY confirmed our plans for the remaining months of this cruising season. Instead of continuing west to Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Australia, we will head North to the Marshall Islands. This will include stops in Tuvalu and Kiribati. We should be arriving in the Marshalls around Dec/Jan and will sit the cyclone season out there. By going north we will now have an extra season in the South Pacific. Next year (April/May 2006) we will head back down to Fiji and then west, ending in Australia around Dec 2006. We should be heading out of Fiji by the end of the week (hopefully before our Visas expire on Sept 18th).

We'll continue to stay in touch via the website and Blogs. Stay tuned!!!

Continue reading "New Route for Billabong"...