Monday, June 17, 2013

Another stop in Candyland

We spent Friday night anchored off Ebeye, to socialize with Westward II. They had been stuck in Kwaj while we were in Bikini, to deal with their broken prop. The day we arrived, a new prop was winging it's way via DHL from Canada to Ebeye. Stephen was tracking the progress via the internet on an hourly basis. Turns out it went via Seoul, Korea and Hong Kong, but did arrive in Kwaj and get delivered to them at the wharf on Ebeye by the Ebeye postmaster.

On Saturday morning we pulled into Kwaj Base (about 3 miles south of Ebeye), on another sponsored visit by Rick and Sue from s/v Panacea, who are working in Kwaj. We were again greeted on the dock by the security team, complete with a very eager drug-sniffing dog. But this time we knew the drill and a friendly security guy handed us our badges and we were done.

We were dismayed to find that a few days previously, Rick had severely injured his bicep (while cleaning up Panacea after their trip back from Bikini), and was in Hawaii waiting for surgery. Sue was planning on flying to Honolulu to be with him for the surgery, on the next flight out (Tues). This meant we'd have to check out of the base before Sue left. But Geoff, one of the Panacea crew on trip to Bikini, agreed to pick up the sponsorship for our visit.

We had a busy few days at USAKA (US Army Kwajalein Atoll) pronounced "you-saka" by the residents.

- A few good meals at the Louis Zamperini Dining Hall ($7 all you can eat meals)
- A Burger King meal and a pizza meal at the Food Court
- A windy day of diving wrecks (Asakaze Maru and Prinz Eugen) using a boat hired from Ebeye
- A nice meal aboard Soggy Paws for Sue and Geoff, and exchanging photos of our Bikini trip
- A day trip to USAKA by Stephen and Selena on Westward II, to buy SCUBA gear and eat pizza
- Stocking up at the Shopette, the tiny Exchange, and the Surfway grocery store.
- Trying to catch up and get ahead on our internet banking, etc
- Checking out the mooring we plan to use when we leave Soggy Paws in Oct/Nov
- Topping off our water tanks
- Repairing the leaky closed chocks

The short term plan is for us to spend about 2 months "out island", so I needed to get caught up from our 2-3 weeks away, and then get 2 months ahead on paying bills, and managing tenants at our rental. Dave thinks I'm just doing Facebook when I'm on the internet, but he has no idea how much time it takes to stay on top of our finances and rentals (he hasn't written a check or looked at bill in 7 years). Plus of course, there's the SSCA correspondence, personal correspondence, and keeping track of where our cruising friends are.

For such a high-tech base, the internet situation is ridiculous, and is the only serious downside to being in the base area. Out at Ebeye, only 3 miles away, the Marshall Islands Telco has great wifi at not-too-bad speed. But on base, wifi is probably seen as a serious security risk. So the only wifi available is in the Food Court, and I can't pick it up on the boat. So we have to lug our laptops into the Food Court to get internet. In the off-meal hours, there are more people in the Food Court doing internet than there are eating.

Other than the Food Court, residents get their internet in their quarters by... *gasp* ...dialup!!. Yes, the antiquated dailup system has not been replaced by cable internet like the rest of the United States. It's not that the internet pipe isn't available. There is super high speed internet available on base for work-related purposes--however, there are serious restrictions on using the work network for personal use.

Because we are not residents of the base, we cannot shop at the Surfway grocery store by ourselves. I had to get Geoff to escort me through the checkout line and use his ID. But we could shop at the Shopette (a kind of convenience store/liquor store) and the tiny Exchange using our retired military ID card...this quirk is probably because the government subsidizes one store and the contractors subsidize the other store. (I believe the numbers of people on base are about 20 true U.S. Army personnel and about 2,000 contractors).

Fortunately, we had done a huge restocking in Majuro, so I only needed a few things, plus the fresh fruits and veggies. The base gets a weekly flight with fresh veggies from Hawaii, so it's pretty fresh. (In contrast, Ebeye, a few miles away, is restocked by ship from Guam every 2 weeks). At least on the base, we didn't have to schlep our groceries by hand back to the base.

Transportation on the base is interesting. There are only a few official cars. Everyone else gets around on "beach cruiser" bicycles. Almost every bike has a good sized basket on the handles or a pair over the rear wheel. For big things, people have bicycle carts (like modified dock carts). For even bigger things, you borrow a car or rent a golf cart with a small truck bed for a couple of hours. Some people have carts modified to suit their special purpose... some have dive tank racks built in, some have fishing pole holders built in, and some are made for kids or animals.

Since there is no ATM on Ebeye, Challenger and Westward II handed us their debit cards to get some cash for them. We left the base with our pockets bulging!

Dave spent some time with Geoff, working on Panacea's alternator and starter (had gotten wet with salt water and quit working on their trip back from Bikini). They didn't manage to get either one working, but got them off the engine, thoroughly doused with Corrosion X, and boxed up and sent to Hawaii to be rebuilt.

When Sue left to join Rick in Honolulu, she left us the key to their quarters, and Dave and I spent two pleasant evenings hanging there--hot showers, air conditioning, and Armed Forces Network TV!!

We finally pulled out of USAKA on Wednesday, June 10, and joined our friends on Challenger, Westward II, and Trigger, anchored off Ebeye.

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