January 21, 2013

Ailinginae Atoll #Marshalls

We've just arrived to Ailinginae Atoll, which is 30 miles west of Rongelap. It was the most pleasant passage since sailing to Tonga, 2011... And we caught the biggest fish A 80 pound Yellow Fin Tuna! The biggest fish since our 300 pound Blue Marlin, Fiji, 2011...

We are anchored next to small deserted atoll and there is so much action :)

It is very beautiful here and reminds me of the Tuamotus a lot!

While Pete was cleaning the huge fish on the back of the boat 20 medium size sharks (3-6 foot) came to say Hello! I did some pics and cool video footage! (I will publish them when we will have Internet).

Pete told me: " I can feed the sharks and you should take our new underwater camera and put your hand underwater and take video and pics!"
I answered him... " I've got better idea, I will feed sharks and you take a video!" :)
Pete: " Tomorrow I will put a stick to the camera and we will take a video!"
I: " Hmmm.. well.. definitely it is a good idea!"

hope to talk to my family and friends in few days from Kosrae, Federation State of Micronesia!

all is good on Downtime,
Daria and Pete

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January 18, 2013

Likiep Atolll

We set course for Likiep Atoll early on January 3 on our first sail of the year! On our way across the 24 mile wide lagoon leaving Wotje we landed two small Skip Jack Tunas that we would give away when we arrived. We left the poles out the entire trip but these small tuna's would be the only fish to bite a lour? It sure would have been nice to land a huge Mahi or Wahoo to give away but it was not to be…. The lagoon was like many others we had crossed previously and was dotted with dangerous coral heads (bombas)that would come to within a few feet of the surface rising up like small mountains off the bottom of the 140 foot deep lagoon. Once we had the charts dialed in we could easily see on the charts where most of them were as we made our way to the pass. While sailing to the pass the wind was directly downwind and the jib could not decide which side it wanted to fly on and after one jibe in particular it popped to one side and I saw a small rip next to a repair we had made in NZ!! Uh Oh! This ain't good! We roiled her up to be dealt with later…..

We exited the NW pass and set the 1600 sq/ft Code Zero sail with a following wind angle of 120 degrees and made good time on the short 40 mile sail to Likiep with a 15-20 knot breeze pushing us along.
Having a sail this big is nice when the winds are steady and it really does the job making miles, but everything has a downside and this sail's problem is that it is a real $%#ch to roll up when the winds get over 25 knots! Approaching the pass the winds did just that but after few tries we finally were able to get everything right by motoring strait downwind and timing it just so and furled just as we reached the SE pass into the atoll.

We had been hearing that Likiep was one of the most beautiful atoll in the Marshalls and what we were seeing as we entered was just that. Once inside the pass we motored east 4 miles along beautiful white sand beach islands and along the shallow inter reef with clear waters glimmering every shade of turquoise imaginable . The small island in the far SE end of the atoll is where the anchorage is located which is next to the main village.

We set the anchor and the children of the village began coming out to see who the new kid in town was and stood waving on the beach. We lowered SD and brought the two fish and some candy ashore and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing.

The first thing I noticed as we got closer to the village was the beautiful white sand beaches that lined the shores. Then I saw that just to the north there was a mile wide lagoon protected by a reef that at low tide transformed itself into a kite surfing paradise! The trade winds blew from the east and across the north/south lying reef which knocked down the surf and left smooth water behind to kite on. The water behind the reef was anywhere from 6 inched to 2 feet deep and a few hundred feet wide and went across the entire lagoon. The only downside was that if you crashed you would land on the hard coral bottom! I did my best to not let that happen and only clipped a few coral head with the fins on the board in the shallow spots.

I spent the next few days kite surfing to my hearts content in perfect conditions with the entire reef to myself! The wind settled down after a few days of kiting and by then I was ready for a break!

One of my new years resolutions was to kite 50 times this year and finding a spot like this was going to make that easy! We were able to anchor Downtime right on the edge of the wind window and I could launch the kite from the back of the boat and set out a float on a line to clip the kite to when I was finished. This all worked great when things go perfect but getting 4 -100 foot lines off the back of the boat untangled is still the hardest part of kite surfing! The kite gremlin showed up once or twice and we had a real mess when one line tangled and snapped!

The small village only has around 150 people living in it most of which are kids. There are two churches a Protestant and a Catholic. The only market in town in located in a old converted refrigerated container. Not that that refrigeration works any longer but the container itself is in pretty good shape. They cut a big opening in the side and you just walk up and point to what you need. Most the items are caned or dry goods and once in a while the supply boat might bring a surprise.

We found bringing candy to these kids was like bringing sand to the beach, they were all chewing gum or something sweet already. But when they found out we had tons of it the whole gang followed us around until our supply was exhausted .

The smaller kids did not speak English well and seemed starved for attention. The bag full of toys came out and everyone got a gift and we had 40 new friends following us everywhere we went. Simple things like a bottle of bubbles, a matchbox car or a small ball can bring out the happiest kids you ever seen. Daria had two new friends a little girl about 4 with the cutest smile and the biggest brownest eyes you ever saw and another little boy who would not let go of her hands as we walked around the village. We visited the school and met the teacher Paul who also spoke perfect English and gave him supplies for the kids to color and draw with.

The village reminded me of New Plymouth in the Bahamas with clapboard houses and tin roofs. This island was one of the few settled by Germans back in the day and most the wooden homes are still standing…some just barely but these were the first all wood structures we had seen in the Marshals.

When we first went ashore we were greeted by Joe the owner of a small 8 room hotel located on the lagoon side of the island. This is one of very few hotels in all of the Marshals and like many other business was suffering from the loss of one of the Air Marshallese planes that has been down for service. There is no longer reliable transportation to and from the islands since the airline is down to it's last plane and that one plane has to service the whole country! Customers would come out and get stranded with no cell phone or internet service to even check on flights, it is a very remote place to be let high and dry! The only other transportation is hoping on the 40 foot supply boat that comes once a month weather permitting and taking a 350 mile 2 day trip back to Majuro!

Joe looks like he might be 70 or so but it turns out he is 82 and is one of the few people that speaks perfect English on the island We enjoyed getting to know him and listening to hours of stories about his life. Joe had been born on this small island back before the war and moved to Majuro to find work. He spent 20 years working for the airlines and has traveled all over the world with his employee miles. He has seen many changes in this big world in his 82 years and has been a great honor to have met him and his wife and be able share his island paradise for the week we were there..

One day Joe and I did a bit of trading, he traded me a basket full of 20 green coconuts and I traded a basket full of 48 beers, both items that we found ourselves to have more than enough of…..Joe didn't feel the trade was fair so he sweetened the deal by throwing in a few cowrie shells and two rare glass Japanese fishing floats that are really hard to find… Then I felt bad and evened up the trade with a Downtime tee shirt! Trade done….

Joe is one of the few men that met that has great, great, great grand children! Think about that for one minute…..amazing

Two days after we arrived Bob on Braveheart made his way to Likiep. Bob has a sewing machine and helped us get the jib back in shape for the next few hundred miles. He recommended we glue a patch on the tear since any stitching would weaken the material further and I cut up a old kite and dug out a can of contact cement and went to work. In a few hours the patch was on and Bob stitched the UV cover back on with the machine and she was as good as she was going to get . We put the sail put back up with everyone's fingers crossed that it would last until Palau where we could have a new sail delivered!.

For all of Bob's hard work I made him country style biscuits and gravy the next morning, one of his favorite breakfasts!

You might ask how long does a sail last? The simple answer is: "Until it rips" But seriously this sail is most likely original equipment on Downtime and is pushing 9 years old and has over 50,000 miles on it. Probably many more since I put 35,000 on it myself! So, it has lasted longer than most and will most likely find itself retired on some small island providing shelter for some family for many years to come!

As the week came to a close we took a dive trip to the pass in SD and Daria watched the dink while Bob and I went for a dive. The first thing we saw when we went down was a spotted eagle ray and a turtle! Then the local law came out to see who was in their turf and several varieties of shark came to check us out. The white tips, black tip, and nurse sharks don't bother me much but the grey's and reef sharks get my attention! Especially when they are 6 or 7 feet long and acting a little territorial and get in your face. One grey did not like us there and let us know by getting closer and closer….we took the hint and swam on….. Then we came up to a sleeping leopard shark that was about 7 feet long! More fish and another turtle and the dive was over and it was Daria's turn to do some snorkeling since she was not up for a dive. It turns out the grey shark did not like her either….She hopped back in the dink and on our way saw a group of dolphins that let her swim with them . We finished just in time and found ourselves driving back in a squall.

Bob would be heading back to Majuro on Sunday so we had a farewell dinner the last on Downtime and made sausage pizza on 7 grain crust. I never knew making pizza could be so easy!

See you down the road in Palau Bob! Say hello To James in Tubal when you stop in Aur! Don't sail to Majuro in a south wind like we did! And most of all CLOSE THE WINDOWS when you sail!

Our next adventure will take us to Rongelap Atoll

Until then Peace and get out there and live your dream!!  Pete and Daria

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January 16, 2013

Re: Made it to Rongelap

We set sail at noon on Monday with a great wind angle and quartering seas following us doing 7-8 knots. Then around 9 pm the first squall showed it's stuff. We rolled the Code Zero up after 2 tries, the wind unrolled the top of the sail we had to untangle that mess in the dark! That damn sail is not easy to handle since it has no foil to roll it up on! We left "patches" the jib out the rest of the night and crossed our fingers hoping the glue would hold the repaired sail in a 30 knot gust....It did just fine, a cut up kite for a patch and a can of glue saved the day!
The squalls continued through the early hours of the morning and by 11 am we had covered 160 miles and had the North Pass in site although it did not line up on our charts worth the darn! I was correcting the offset which by my guess we was off 3-4 hundred feet! About that time a serious squall hit with 30-35 knot winds and a driving rain along with it taking viability down to a few hundred feet! I punched the menu button to set the offset and the screen went blank and the plotter powered off and would not restart! Then at the same time one of the poles gets hit and had a big reef shark on the line! So here we are with a fish on, no navigation,being blown at 6 knots through a poorly charted pass by a 35 knot winds soaking wet in the rain! Daria grabbed the Motorola Zoom with our spare charts and drove the boat while I dealt with getting rid of the shark. We some how missed all the bombas as we motored a few miles up the atoll to a small island and set the anchor. And wouldn't you know it as soon as the hook was down and set the skies cleared and the sun popped out just like any other day.... Needless to say I thought this was a great time to pop open a beer and shortly after a few more! these islands still show the effects of the bomb and have very few coconut trees and are mostly are covered in radioactive mangroves! No two headed birds or fish seen yet, but we are looking....

On another topic, We heard there is an extortionist in The kosrae customs office hassling the cruisers and making it expensive clearing in/out. We were wondering if you had the e-mail address to Hero the boat that was anchored next to you since our card was filled under "T" They would know the facts since they were just there.

We hope you are having fun in Aur Atoll!

Peace, P&D

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January 12, 2013

New Years in Wotje Atoll

With just a few days remaining in 2012 we set sail for our next adventure sailing with our friend Bob on Braveheart to Likiep atoll some 200 miles to the NW.  The winds were forecast to blow out of the east at 10-15 knots but we found ourselves motor sailing in little or no wind the first few hours.  We set sail at 10 am and calculated our arrival sometime the following afternoon using 7 knots as an average speed.

When making a good Plan A we find that we must also include a good “Plan B” just in case things go, well….Not like “Plan A”    This trip started just that way… We were going much slower than 7 knots average speed and calculated that at this speed we would arrive way after dark thirty the next day and there is no way either of us were going to attempt entering a poorly charted atoll at night.

Plan B was to stop at Wotje Atoll some 60 miles closer but was also 20 miles further east (closer to the wind).  We changed course with plan B in full force when things started getting interesting.  After motor sailing for 5 hours the winds stared picking up and a series of squalls could be seen in the eastern skies.  Bob had pulled ahead about a mile and had a lot of sail up when the first squall hit.  He thought he would be in front of the system but was caught by 30 knot winds and torrential rains.  Conditions like these cause mono-hulls to lean way over and Bob found himself standing knee deep in the cockpit trying to get the boat back on course while cushions and whatever else was not tied down washed out to sea.  While he was battling the squall I took the hint and rolled up our jib and turned down wind to ease the pressure of the wind on my mainsail because I also had way to much sail up!

The squalls had caught us off guard but the weather forecast had not shown any storms heading our way? Forecast like these are what sailors hate because they tend to allow you to let your guard down.  We have found that the ocean never rests and is always looking for a way to get inside the boat.  Every time we leave a hatch open to get some air in the boat a wave, even on a calm day a wave finds it’s way in!  Bob had just this experience, he had a hatch open when the squall hit and gallons and gallons of water came aboard!  Enough  to fill pots he had stored in the oven and soak the refrigerator controls!  After the squall we both reduced sail and Bob spent the next hours getting thing back in order on Braveheart.

With the sails reefed and the sun setting the winds filled in to the forecasted 20 knots and Downtime was in her element, chewing up miles while charging across the ocean swells at just under 10 knots.  At these speeds it is very noisy and rough aboard when the boat crashes through the waves.  But after many, many miles of sailing her I am confident in the machine we are sailing on and know her limits.  Even though we were on the outer limits of being comfortable I knew the boat would stay together and pressed on. There is no way to describe the feeling of being out on the ocean on a dark night with a fresh breeze driving you to your destination.

We were ready for the next squalls and seen them clearly on the radar as they approached.  Like before the winds would pick up to over 30 knots when they passed but only lasted 30 to 40 minutes.  The last squall of the night was the most amazing storm I Have ever seen. Not so much the storm but how it developed and ended with the full moon.

The moon had been up for an hour or two but was blocked by the clouds,  I could tell this by looking up and seeing the stars in the clear skies over head.  I could see the storm fast approaching on the radar and was ready with the sails reefed and prepared for the blow.  The squall hit and passed like the others with the same force but what happened after the storm was what was truly amazing and something I had never seen before!

The full moon was to my right and about a third of the way up on the horizon. The storm had passed and was about the same height on my left when we saw our first ever “Moon Bow”.  I do not know if that is what they are called but an arc the same size as a rainbow during the day was on the horizon starting at the water and shining a bright white bow that was about a fourth as bright as the moon itself!   I stood in awe at the site of this amazing phenomenon.  We did not know it was even possible, but will remember it forever.

We sailed on with the last of the squalls behind us in 20 knot winds and calculated our arrival at the pass  somewhere around 6 am.  Bob left his sails reefed and got some sleep as we put some distance between each other during the last hours of the night.  We would be passing close to Erikub Atoll  which we found out is the slash down zone for long range missile testing for the USA.  We hoped there would be no testing tonight as we sailed by!

Plan B was working out well and we cleared the pass by 7 am but found ourselves motoring the last 12 miles across the atoll strait into the 20 knot winds towards the anchorage on Wotje Atoll.  Luckily the bombas(coral heads) inside the atoll had been wire drug (knocked down)by the navy years ago because our new charts seem to be off by a few hundred feet!  We figured this one out when our track line went right through the middle of an island on our way through the pass!

By noon we had the anchor set and spent the rest of the day napping and taking it easy after a rough sail.  Bob arrived a few hours and did the same.

We woke refreshed the next morning and put SD down to go find the Mayor (they don’t call them chief any longer?) and give him a white out and island name changed copy of our permit paper since Wotje was not on Plan A which had official documents……

Wotje Atoll was occupied by the Japanese since the early 1920’s. Wotje is one of 74 islands that make up the atoll and the largest isalnd.  By the 40’s the Japanese had sugarcane plantations and had heavily fortified the island with many large concrete bunkers and even built a air strip down the middle of the island.  Thousands of square yards of concrete were poured and now serve as the town center and are used as roads.  Roads? Yes we actually counted 3 pickup trucks on this 3 mile long island!

The concrete along with the bunkers is riddled with pock marks left from bombs dropped during the war.  The bunker that protected the generators took a direct hit on the roof and the blast had the force to buckle 3 foot square heavily reinforced concrete columns but the 3 foot thick roof is still intact although resting on an angle over the buckled columns.  The bunker next to it has a tank battery inside and you can still smell the fuel oil inside after 70 years!  One of the generators was in the middle of a rebuild with pistons the size of 30 gallon drums lined up in a row next to the cylinder head when the bomb was dropped and is now one of the longest engine rebuilds in history! And you thought your mechanic was slow!

We had one of the locals show us the other war remains and saw several 5 inch guns slowly rusting away.  One gun was amazing  in the fact that it actually had bullet holes through the barrel!  You have to wonder what kind of gun has the power to shoot through another guns 2 inch thick steel barrel?  Toward the south end of the island is the Generals Quarters which we also found heavily bombed but still standing.  The heavy steel doors were full of bullet holes but the thick walls stopped anything that struck them.  A few hundred feet through the coco nut trees is a cemetery with  two markers covered in Japanese writing.   Walking down the path we arrived in a the village of London home to about 40 people and had a coconut to drink.  Continuing down the path we came to the end of the island and a small bunker.  I went to look inside the 4 foot high door and to my surprise came face to face with a fully grown pig who came charging out towards me!  Apparently this is his place to get away from it all and take a nap.  Way on the south end of the island is another battery that the big guns were placed at.  The guns are long gone but the bunker remains in an amazing condition considering it was built over 80 years ago!  The people from London keep the weeds down and the floors swept.  There is an unspoken respect for what happened here on these islands.  Many peoples lives and futures were changed during this war and we would be living much different times if the war had the opposite outcome……

While we were on this island we had intermittent but slow internet to our amazement.  I posted where our location was on Facebook and one of my best friend Phil’s dad,  James Odem sent a message that said “ I was there on Wotje in 1944!)   James was born in 1927 and was only 17 when he was stationed here all those years ago!  I can only imagine what it would had been like to be 17 and thousands of miles from home serving in the war.  I want to say thanks to Jim and the countless other brave souls that made a stand and help make America the country it is, The land of the Free and the Home of the Brave!

New year was spent on Downtime eating a roasted duck with Bob, We had planned to go ashore and celebrate with the locals but the weather had other ideas as it continued to be stormy.  The duck was my idea and Daria did good job, but it was pretty tough to serve three people on…  Daria saved the day and fried up some yellow fin tuna and then she brought out a seven layer Medovik cake with layers white cake and creamy lemon sour cream which was amazing!  New years found us with sleepy faces and ready for bed.

 We hope 2013 is as amazing as 2012 has been and we wish every one of our fiends and family the best in 2013.

HAPPY New Year from Downtime!

Pete and Daria

January 6, 2013

Christmas in Majuro!

After spending a few action packed weeks in Aur Atoll we set sail back to Majuro with what looked like to be a good weather forecast. The winds had been blowing out of the NE for days and the weather report showed one more day of this wind direction as we raised the anchor sailed towards the south pass of Aur. Approaching the pass I could see this was not to be the case the wind had already clocked way south and had somehow already generated a nasty swell to go along with it! To make matters worse we could see a series of squalls stacked up on the horizon! We cleared the pass trailing a few lines and landed nice yellow fin before the first squall hit and that was the end of the fishing for the trip.
The pass into Majuro lay 65 agonizing miles to the south and I found myself furling and unfurling the jib sail for the next 5 hours as squalls would pass by blowing at over 30 knots and dumping tons of rain as they went by. For Daria the rougher the seas get the sleepier she gets and in these seas it was not long before she was sound asleep leaving me to drive the boat alone. After 5 or six squalls passed I have had enough of it all myself and left the jib most the way rolled up and started the engine. I set the auto pilot and radar alarm and then took a nap. By dawn the skies had cleared and we found our way through the pass into Majuro and motored our way towards the anchorage while beating into a 20 knot SE wind the last 12 miles.
Anchored safely we wondered how we could have had such crappy weather in both directions visiting this amazing atoll? 

Bob on Braveheart was anchored a few boats away and had recently returned from the states with bags full of boat parts and other stuff…and one bag full of stuff was ours! We thought this would be much faster getting parts delivered to us than trusting the mail system but as it turned out it saved little or no time since our plan was to meet Bob over a month before in Tuvalu…. But the nice part about the delay was it made it a little like Christmas after all. As we opened packages we ordered months before, some of which were surprises since we forgot what we ordered them so long ago. Other packages were delivered via US mail (Majuro even has a US zip code) began trickling in and by Christmas we received all our packages except two lost packs of fishing lour’s. Santa was nice enough to send me a few new kites for Christmas and Daria got a box full of girlie stuff and some new clothes.  One special gift Daria received was a pit of Burberry sunglasses she found on e-bay that turned out to be fitted with her prescription.  They were not listed that way but hey small miracles happen!

 The Tide Water Restaurant was close by and located right on the wharf and served decent food most the time and a place we could get on the internet. Daria spent many hours talking to family and friends while posting tons of pictures and stories on our blog while eating bowl after bowl of ice cream! While Daria sat in air-conditioned bliss eating ice-cream While I spent the day filling the diesel and propane tanks. 

While doing our last minute shopping we checked out every store in town and to our amazement found one store with a icebox full of Hagen Das Ice Cream! Needless to say every square inch of freezer space was stuffed with Hagen Das when we set sail!

Christmas was fast approaching but with 90 degree days it did not feel much like Christmas to either of us. We would hear the holiday music playing on the taxi cab radios and in the stores in Marshallese and did not understand the words but recognized the tunes. In the supermarket we found a whole turkey and all the fixing for a Christmas feast as we stocked up Downtime. One of the other boats Bluebird with Bonnie and Richard aboard were organizing a party and on Christmas day and about 20 of the World Teach teachers and several other cruisers got together for Christmas dinner. These teachers were fresh out of college and volunteered to teach for a year on one of the remote atolls. They came here from all over the US, Canada, and Europe, one was even from Riverside Ca. 10 minutes from where I grew up. This was their first school break since arriving in August and everyone was happy to be back in civilization with warm showers, flushing toilets and air conditioned rooms.
Daria did an amazing job cooking her first ever whole turkey! And even more of an amazing job afterwards making it disappear! She had to try a wing, a leg, some breast meat, and some more breast meat…….soon it was all gone!

After Christmas we did our last bit of shopping loading up the boat with carts full of basketballs, soccer balls, volley balls, crayons, coloring books and lots of other toys for the island kids. 

My friend Mark at Pacific Trading brought another order of Heineken and Miller light out while Daria went vegetable shopping and by the end of the day we found ourselves ready to sail.

With Downtime loaded with enough supplies to get us to Palau and 4 months down the road we set sail for Wotje Atoll with yet another great weather forecast! Ya right! But that’s for another story…….

Merry Christmas all our followers,
Pete and Daria