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"...