Sunday, December 25, 2005

Photos: Year in Review 2005

Here's a collection of our favorite photos for 2005

Sailing 2005
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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"...