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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