Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bikini to Rongelap/Rongerik Atoll

July 17-19, 2013

We finally saw a decent weather window coming up for the ~90 mile (as the crow flies) trip to Rongelap. We were anxious to get going at the first opportunity. We were hoping to be able to catch an extended window, make it to Rongelap, get checked in and get permission to go to Rongerik, see a bit of Rongelap, and make it all the way to Rongerik (another 30 miles into the wind), in the same light wind period.

So, we were all ready to go by Wednesday afternoon. The wind was definitely calming down and shifting a little more north of east, but it still looked a bit iffy. Stephen had run out to the point--in the clear, he thought--in his dinghy earlier and said it looked good.

We weren't quite ready when Westward II was, so they went ahead on out. As soon as they did, Dave said "Let's just wait a bit and see what they report." Their first report was "it wasn't too bad", so we went ahead an hauled our anchor. But we hadn't even gotten out of the anchorage before we got another VHF call from Westward II, indicating they were coming back. The wind had moderated but the waves were still big enough that motorsailing into them would be a problem.

So we enjoyed our (hopefully) last sunset at Bikini, and prepared to get up early and get going the next morning. Sure enough, after the dark, the wind lay down even more, and shifted to about 070 degrees. At dawn I got up and collected another weather forecast, and it still looked good. So we finished breakfast and our final preps, and set off from Bikini about 0915.

The direct route from Bikini to Rongelap passes just north of Alinginae Atoll. If the wind was down and the seas flat calm, we would have motored straight to Rongelap, passing norht of Alinginae. But once we got going, the wind and waves were such that we opted to use Alinginae would provide a good wind/wave break. Instead of motoring almost straight upwind on the most direct course, we motorsailed SE to the SW corner of Alinginae, then hugging the Alinginae coast as much as we dared at night, motored upwind in the lee provided by the atoll. It was a great plan, and mostly worked, but we found that the "lee" petered out about halfway up the south coast. Then it was slow-going... motoring into light winds, seas, and a light current. We only made 3.5 knots for a few hours.

We had wanted to stop briefly at Alinginae just to see it, but we had been delayed so long at Bikini that we felt we were running out of time. And the timing to leave Bikini and stop at Alinginae was not good for going on to Rongelap, if we found Alinginae untenable. And we are supposed to have permission from Rongelap to stop there anyway.

We had nearly a full moon and great conditions while motoring along Alinginae. There was enough moon to see the breakers off to port when we got in close. With the CM93 (CMap) chart off by nearly a half a mile, we were relying on the Google Earth charts that we had made, to keep us out of trouble. (The Navionics iPad chart was off too, and the Garmin didn't have much detail).

Finally about midnight we cleared the SE corner of Alinginae, and were able to tack (still motorsailing) up into the gap between Rongelap and Alinginae, where we got some relief from the wave action from Rongelap Atoll. All this time, Westward II was 2-3 miles behind us.

We had all along toyed with the idea of just skipping Rongelap altogether, and continuing on to Rongerik, which it looked like we could reach without too much trouble by late afternoon. For this reason, we had had Challenger, who was in Rongelap ahead of us, pay our $50 fee to the "acting mayor" at Rongelap, and get permission for us to go straight to Rongerik. Westward II, on the other hand, is on a different schedule than we are, and they opted to go to Rongelap no matter what.

So, while we were underway, we got another forecast, and it just didn't look like there'd be another window soon that would let us keep going eastward. The timing and conditions being right, Soggy Paws tacked off (still motorsailing) to head around the SE tip of Rongelap. While Westward II slowed down and headed for the SE pass at Rongelap, planning to go in at first light.

Both of us had mixed feelings about our choices...and still do. It's terrible to come all this way, and then have to skip places you'd really like to see. And neither Westward II or ourselves wanted to split up, as we've found we're very compatible in temperament, cruising style, and cruising speed. But we're starting to feel the time pressure to get moving, to be able to see all the other "important" (ie World War II relic) atolls down the way, and still get back to Kwajalein in time to fly out in early October.

Long story short, the predicted shift from ENE to ESE winds, which would make our tack from the SE corner of Rongelap to the NW corner of Rongerik a pleasant sail, didn't happen. Instead of 12-13 ESE, we had 15-18 ENE... right in our face. So it was a wet and windy day. We actually t-t-t-acked 3-4 times! But we arrived in the anchorage at Rongerik before sunset, exhausted and salty.

We again used our Google Earth charts to chose where we would enter through the wide western pass area at Rongerik, and to watch for isolated coral heads on the way across the atoll to the anchorage on the east side. With the sun behind us, it was easy.

Of course, almost minutes after we got our anchor set, the wind eased back to 12-13 knots and shifted SE, only a few hours late.

For a crow-flies distance of 116 NM, we covered roughly 145 NM in 32 hours, unfortunately having to motor at (mostly) low RPM's the whole time. Had we tried to just sail it, we'd have spent probably another 24 hours tacking around.

So we made it ~100 more miles to windward. Only 2 more hops to go before we make it to the eastern Ratak chain of islands. Then all our sailing will theoretically be at good sail-able angles to the wind. (Time for the wind to finally drop to zero, as Dave promised months ago :P).

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Another TWO WEEKS in Bikini

July 6-18

Once we finished diving with the M/V Windward, we wanted to take a couple of days to show Westward II around the rest of the atoll, do a little maintenance, and then take off for "points east".

Unfortunately, during those 2-3 days, our weather window closed firmly. We did get prepped to leave one day, but the conditions were a lot squallier that day than we'd expected, so we opted to hang out and wait for better weather.

While we were waiting, Dave discovered that our staysail stay was pulling up the deck it was fastened to. One closer inspection, he found a welded aluminum bracket under the deck had broken the welds. We think this likely happened during the sustained 40-knot winds on our way up from Wotho the week before.

As we were exploring around the mostly-defunct facilities at Bikini, we had noticed a bunch of aluminum stock on a rack. We also had toured the well-equipped machine shop, and talked with Nario, the acting mayor there. So Dave took some measurements and the old bracket in to Nario, and asked if he could help fashion a new stronger bracket. In a couple of days' time, we had a 2-3x stronger bracket, cut and welded to fit the bracing area, and extended to tie into more strong parts of the boat. In a few hours, Dave had it installed, and we were good to go.

Meanwhile, Selena and I were invited to take our laundry in to their laundry facilities, and we did a couple of loads of laundry.

Nario wouldn't accept payment for anything, but we did reciprocate with some brownies, extra flour, DVDs, and a few other goodies that Nario and the other guys asked for.

The anchorage at Bikini Island is a little swelly, and it was always exciting to land the dinghy, and get it high enough up the steep beach. There is a 4-6 foot tidal range, which made it painful to drag the dinghy up. We finally dug our huge dinghy wheels out of deep storage in the forepeak. This helped a little bit, but was still a struggle in the soft sand. But mostly we took turns--one person staying in the dinghy, dashing in close in a lull in the swell, and dropping the other person off. Much easier than dealing with trying to get the dinghy ashore high up on the beach. The anchorage at Enyu is much less swelly, and there's an old concrete pier where we could leave the dinghy in the water.

During this two week period, we did some bommie diving, lots of beachcombing, and a lot of exploring on the old facilities at Enyu. After talking with Edward (the Bikini divemaster who was on the M/V Windward), we knew that we hadn't yet found all the old buildings and bunkers from the atomic bomb testing days. So we looked more closely at our Google Earth pictures, picked off a few likely spots, and went bushwhacking with a hand-held GPS. We found several more bunkers, some old houses, and old maintenance/construction facility, and even an old explosives bunker.

It was puzzling to see just how much stuff was just left behind and abandoned in one era or another. In what must have been the cookhouse at the bunk area for construction workers in the 90's, for example, there was still nearly a full case of Skippy Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter (among other things) on the pantry shelves. Dave wanted to take some, but I found a date code that said it was out of date in 1994!! Still smelled like peanut butter, but nah... we're not that hard up for peanut butter. But this was small stuff... In the same facility, there were generators, watermakers, 2 different whole machine shops. Out in the airport area, left over from the 2000-2007 "Dive Resort" era, there 3 huge tanks of fuel (diesel, gasoline, and av gas), another big warehouse with spare parts, tractors and tires, etc etc etc. Interesting poking around, but it made us sad (and angry) at the waste.

I spent a few hours snorkeling in the shallow waters we were anchored in, and found 3 big anchors...2 big "Navy" anchors and a hug mushroom anchor. No doubt all left behind after the bomb testing was finally called off.

We hung out and kept watching the weather. Our next planned stop was Rongelap Atoll, 85 miles almost straight to windward, so we needed a fairly perfect weather window.

When we had first mapped out this "counter clockwise" route through the Marshalls, I had questioned the advisability of going all the way to Bikini first. (that was what the scheduled connection with M/V Windward demanded). Dave assured me that it would be mid-summer, and we'd have an easy time of just motoring east in the calms. Well, so far, there haven't been any calms!

But, after 10 days of waiting, we did finally see a window coming up... with light ENE winds forecast. So we got ready to head for Rongelap.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Diving the Wrecks at Bikini - Finally

July 1-5, 2013

Ever since I first met Dave, and he was trying to woo me into sailing around the world with him on Soggy Paws, Dave has been talking about sailing to Bikini and diving the wrecks there. We finally did it this past week.

This was a culmination of years of cruising in this direction, and about 2 years of gathering information from cruisers and online sources about how to dive at Bikini. According to SSCA articles we have saved in our Marshall Islands folder, in 2005 and 2006, groups of cruisers on boats cruised together to Bikini, and dove the wrecks under the guidance of the dive operation set up by the Bikini Council. But in 2007, the combination of the economic downturn, and failure of Air Marshall Islands to maintain flyable airplanes, closed the Bikini Dive operation. I don't know the exact date, but I understand that at least one group of divers got stuck on Bikini for a month, due to a broken airplane. Now the airport and related maintenance facilities, and the Dive Resort, are closed down and falling into disrepair. There is typically a skeleton crew of 4-6 people occupying the main island and maintaining the facilities owned/supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and Lawrence Livermore Labs.

For a couple of years, there was no way to dive at Bikini. But in 2009, a liveaboard dive boat-based dive operation was started. Since then, in the summer months, the M/V Windward or the M/V Indies Trader, have taken dive charter groups to Bikini. It would have been easy to book a dive trip to Bikini with the Windward, from Majuro or Kwajalein. Interested? contact Pete Mesley But this is a pretty expensive option--I think $6,500 USD per person for a 10-day dive trip to Bikini. Since there is no other way for most divers to get to Bikini, they can name their price.

Last July, after going to the Bikini website, (, we contacted "Bikini Jack" Niedenthal, a former U.S. Peace Corp worker, who has become the administrator for Bikini tourism operations. The requirements posted on the website, for diving at Bikini, say this:

The Local Government Council is allowing certain types of vessels to visit Bikini Atoll and dive on the wrecks provided definitive prior arrangements are made with Bikini Atoll Divers.

These vessels or yachts must be completely self-contained, and must include:

*adequate international communications equipment

*housing, dining facilities, and supplies (all food, water, medical equipment, etc)

*all equipment needed to fill tanks and take care of divers, including any nitrox, oxygen or specialized medical equipment

*preferably have a helicopter for medical evacuation purposes

During such visits our local government will send along a diver and up to two Local Government Council representatives--at the vessel owner's expense--to make sure that no artifacts are removed from the ships.

We told him we'd like to organize a group of boats to go to Bikini and dive the wrecks. His response was very discouraging. In addition to the transportation costs and per-diem expense of the "diver and up to 2 council representatives" ($100 per person per day), we would have to pay a "diving fee" of $125 per diver per day. And still supply all our own equipment, boats, air fills, plus feed and house the "representatives". There was ZERO interest in working with us to pull a group together. ZERO interest in negotiating the fees for a group visit to something more reasonable. Dave went back and forth a couple of times by email with Jack, but finally gave up in disgust. We figured we'd have to wait until we got to Majuro to work something out.

Meanwhile, we met Rick and Sue from s/v Panacea, who were temporarily working at Kwajalein, at the SSCA Gam last November. Rick said he was cruising to Bikini in May/June, and that they might be able to get permission to dive at Bikini from another avenue. This turned out to be via some of the contractors at Kwaj working for Lawrence Livermore Labs and the Department of Energy. They worked with the DOE rep at Kwajalein, who is responsible for Bikini, and felt they could get permission from him to dive at Bikini. But that didn't really happen. Hence our first trip to Bikini the last week of May, where we did a lot of "bommie diving", but no wreck diving.

Because there is only a lackadaisical skeleton crew at Bikini, it IS possible for a cruising boat to show up and basically just flaunt the rules and dive the wrecks on their own (surreptitiously). We know of one or two cruising boats that have done this. But that's not the way we work--that doesn't jibe with our "Clean Wake" policy. Leaving a clean wake is important to cruisers--because we have all experienced the sad situation where misbehavior by a prior cruiser has ruined things for all the subsequent cruisers. No matter how much we wanted to take a peek at the Saratoga, and how unreasonable we thought the rules were, we just don't do that.

However, we are fortunate to have hooked up with the Aussie boat Westward II while we were in Fiji. They are passionate divers, too, and were heading for the Marshalls to dive as well. We exchanged diving information last August, and got them fired up to spend the next summer diving in the Marshall islands with us. Fortunately, Stephen and Selena arrived in Majuro several months ahead of us, and took the time to go talk to the Indies Trader group personally, about organizing some dives on the wrecks in Bikini in conjunction with one of the M/V Windward's summer Bikini diving charters. Stephen spent quite a bit of time working this angle--including several emails and at least one meeting with the owner of the Indies Trader company. He finally got things to the point where he was assured that we would be able to dive if we were in Bikini when the M/V Windward was there. But Stephen could never nail down the price. The Windward had never done this before, and so hadn't really considered a diving package for cruisers. But by the time we got ready to head out to Bikini for the diving, the crew on Windward had gotten to know Stephen pretty well, and they assured him "Don't worry about it, we'll take care of you." So we went to Bikini on the second trip with high hopes.

In the end, it all worked out OK. Not only did the weather cooperate to a "T", but we got to do 5 dives on the deep wrecks, at an affordable price.

What Windward does is pick up the dive groups in Ebeye (Kwajalein Atoll), and then overnight to Bikini. Each night they anchor in the lee of Bikini island, and each day they go out to the wreck area (all the primary wrecks are within a mile box about 3 miles WSW of Bikini island). In the morning, they "live boat" a different wreck each day, and in the afternoon, they moor to the Saratoga. The Saratoga, an Aircraft Carrier, is big enough that 6 or 7 dives are needed to really explore the whole thing. So we arranged to dinghy out to the Windward each afternoon, bringing all our equipment, and do a "No Decompression Recreational Air Dive" on the Saratoga.

We were personally checked out and escorted on most of the dives by Pete Melsey, the owner/operator of Lust for Rust, the outfit that had chartered the Windward for this trip. Basically, since these dives are at the very edge (depth-wise) of the recreational dive limits, he wanted to make sure we didn't kill ourselves. Needless to say, we had the same goal!! So in spite of the excitement about finally diving the Saratoga, we did very conservative dives, staying within recreational limits, and doing much longer than normal safety stops. We were able to see much of the interesting parts of the Saratoga. The only "penetration" we did was a very short excursion into the flight deck, escorted by Pete, to see the Helldiver airplane. (pics later).

Meanwhile, the other divers, sporting mixed gas or rebreathers, and all doing decompression dives, were going all over the ship, at depths to 170 feet, for a couple of hours. Crazy stuff! If we were 40 years younger...

We ended up doing 4 dives on the Saratoga and 1 dive to see the propellers on the Nagato, the Japanese battleship that directed the Pearl Harbor attack. The Saratoga is sitting upright, and the "island" comes up to about 45 feet. The deck of the Sara is about 90-100 feet deep. We spent most of our time in and around the island. The Nagato sunk upside down. The huge propellers are within our depth limits, but the interesting parts of the superstructure that are reachable, are way to deep for us. But the props are huge and even that was an interesting dive.

Anyway, in a long-winded way...We had a great time (thanks Pete to from Lust for Rust, and Chris and Brian from M/V Windward). One more line off our Bucket List!!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Passage from Hell - Wotho to Bikini

The trip from Wotho to Bikini should have been an easy one. The forecast was for 12-13 knots ENE, and "scattered showers". The course was 85 miles NW, and should have have been an easy close reach in moderate conditions. We debated whether to make this a short overnight passage or a long day arrive-in-the-dark passage.

Dave hates overnights, so he was the one advocating the daytime passage. The rest of us (me, and Stephen and Selena from Westward II) prevailed, and we scheduled our departure for late in the afternoon.

We left our protected anchorage mid-morning, and went out and anchored near the island in the NW corner of the Wotho atoll, for a snorkle and a beachcomb. About 4pm, we hoisted the dinghies, picked up anchor, and exited the lagoon through the wide opening on the western side. We angled SW going out, so the sun setting in the WNW wasn't directly in our eyes. It was pretty easy to see the widely scattered coral "bommies" on the way out, and avoid them.

As we rounded the NW tip of the atoll, with all our sails set, the conditions were good, we were making our course, and congratulating ourselves on picking a good weather window. By early morning, our GPS said we'd be in Bikini.

But, about 9pm, on the "girls' watch", we started getting squalls. Selena and I got about one squall an hour for the rest of our watch (until 1am). Mostly the wind would go up to about 20-25 knots for a few minutes, switch a little more on our nose, it would rain a little, and then the wind would die down to 5-10 knots. At one point, the wind died out enough that I let all the sail out, and then turned the engine on, and of course 10 minutes later, the wind was back up to 20 knots and we were overpowered again. Frustrating conditions, but not terrible. I didn't get much book reading done, as I was too busy winching the genoa in and out in response to the wind changes.

"The boys" (Stephen and Dave) took over around 1am, and I was sure that Dave would have a much easier watch than I had. The forecast hadn't been predicting that much weather activity, and it should be just about over.

After a trying watch, I fell sound asleep below. About 3am Dave logged that we were sailing direclty toward our waypoint at Bikini, now 40 miles away, at 5 knots. That was the last log entry he made. Sometime between then an my next log entry 5:30 am, all hell broke loose. I logged at 0530 "Mother of all squalls--30+ knots, motorsailing with just a double-reefed main and staysail". The wind and commotion of getting the last of the genoa in in the increasing winds had woken me from a deep sleep around 5am. I never got a chance to go back to sleep.

At 0745, we checked in on our SSB on the Yokwe Net, reporting that we were 17 miles from Bikini, squally conditions and "wind still 20+ knots". But right after that check-in, things got much worse. For the next 3 hours, we had winds in the 30-40 knot range, and the seas quickly built to 10-15 feet. It was really scary. It's the worst weather either Dave or I had been at sea in in any cruising sailboat... after many years and many miles of cruising.

We considered heaving-to, but being relatively close to Bikini, where we knew we had a a sheltered anchorage with good holding, we carried on. We kept the engine on to maintain control, rolled in about half of our staysail, and eased the double-reefed main. We felt fortunate that the wind had shifted a little more to the east, so we weren't really hard on the wind, and we were still making our course to Bikini even in those conditions. We trimmed the sails to maintain about 5-6 knots. We tried to keep our forward progress as high as we could, to get in as soon as possible, but not too fast, as we'd start crashing through the big waves instead of sailing over them.

Amazingly, Westward II was right beside us through all this. We always try to stay reasonably close when cruising in company, for companionship and someone else to talk to, as much for anything else. But when the stuff hits the fan, it tends to be "everyone for himself". The crews make different decisions about sail plans and course changes, and the boats tend to spread out. But after an hour or so of the horrific weather, I looked out and there was Westward II a quarter mile away. It was comforting to have them right there--though they wouldn't have been much help in those conditions, if something had gone really wrong. They were happy to have us there, also, especially since we'd been in to Bikini before and knew the anchorage pretty well.

Just before noon, we went through the wide opening in the reef at the south end of Bikini Atoll, with Westward II right behind us. The wind was still in the 20-25 knot range, but inside the atoll, the seas were down to a manageable "heavy chop". We were only a mile downwind from the anchorage we'd left at Enyu Island a few weeks before. Whew! We made it!!

Just then, Westward II called us and said their engine had quit. Stephen has been fighting fuel filter issues ever since taking on a bad lot of fuel somewhere in Fiji or on the way to the Marshalls, several months before. He had just changed his filters again before we left Wotho. We offered to come back and give them a tow in, but they felt it was safer and easier in the conditions to just sail on in.

We dropped anchor in a nice sandy spot, and left a big area for them to sail onto anchor behind us. Fifteen minutes later, they came ghosting in under mainsail, and dropped their anchor.

Throughout the rest of the day, the wind eased and the sun came out. We had a big breakfast, and a nap, before we started cleaning up the boat and sorting things out belowdecks. Since we had expected an easy passage, stuff wasn't stowed as well as it should have been. But nothing was lost overboard, nothing broken down below. (Thanks mostly to Dave's always-meticulous preparations).

When I got a chance, I collected the weather forecast again, and nothing in the forecast, either the night before or the morning after, hinted at anything like the weather we had experienced. But the next day, the Discussion from Guam for the Micronesia atolls west of us, talked about a TUTT.


That's a weather term I have never heard before (or since). Our friends on Carina in Pohnpei emailed us this definition from the National Weather Service site: "A TUTT (Tropical Upper Tropospheric Trough) is a trough, or cold core low in the upper atmosphere, which produces convection. On occasion, one of these develops into a warm-core tropical cyclone."

When we were in the middle of it, I had been thinking it seemed like a tropical storm suddenly brewing up. But this never did develop any further, apparently. The atolls east and south and west of us never reported anything near as strong nor as sustained as what we experienced.

So, bottom line, when the Weather Guessers start talking about Upper Level Troughs, especially near the ITCZ, pay attention!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Wotho Atoll for a Couple of Days

June 26-28

After breakfast and some after-passage cleanup, we went with Westward in one dinghy to shore, taking the jugs of water and some bags of clothing donated for distribution in the outer islands by a group in Majuro. We found the acting chief, Hiram, and the others at their family complex, and exchanged names and pleasantries. Hiram spoke pretty good English, as did a coup

The village is a small but sprawling village running along the shore. There is a beautiful beach with turquoise water, and the village is shaded with palm trees and breadfruit trees. Most of the houses are small, from what we saw they are mainly used to keep things dry... cooking, sleeping, and eating are done outside in outbuildings. Most of the houses are equipped with a small 220-watt solar array on a pole, with a small charge controller/inverter/distribution panel.

One of Westward's contacts in Majuro works for the Marshall Islands Public Works department, and they had asked Stephen to check up on the Wotho watermaker. It had just been installed for the village a few weeks before. So our first stop on our "village tour" was at the watermaker. It was an interesting affair, "a watermaker in a box", built by Spectra, powered by 2 large solar panels and 2 L16 golfcart batteries. The "salt" water supply was being taken from the old village well--a brackish well. The output was a long thin plastic tube that they ran into the big plastic tank, equipped with a faucet. They run the watermaker every day until the tank is topped off. Anyone in the village needing drinking water, just brings a jug and taps the tank.

A quick taste test on the water coming out of the watermaker, and a listen to the pump going, and both Stephen and Dave felt that it wasn't quite operating properly. After a round of emails with Majuro, and second visit to the watermaker, Stephen confirmed that something wasn't quite right. But it was making water that was a lot better quality than the brackish well water they had before. He spent a couple of hours with the guy who was in charge of the watermaker, going over proper procedures for running and flushing the system. He relayed the info back to Majuro, with some suggestions on what might be wrong, and suggestions on proper training of the islanders, and a simple manual in Marshallese.

Meanwhile, Dave and I got asked to take a look in Hiram's family radio shack. Their radio had been "acting up". A quick look at the knobs revealed that the mic gain was really high. We dialed that back and got a good radio check from someone on another atoll. The outer island Marshallese have quite a radio network going--basically an open party line on 8113.5.

As soon as they found out that we knew something about radios, several more decrepit radios were produced from around the village. We tried to see if there was something easy/obvious that was wrong with them, but basically we're not electronic techs, and couldn't help them with their broken radios. The did ask us some questions about the proper length for an inverted V antenna for their 8113.5 frequency. After a look in our reference material in my computer, we drew a diagram for a proper inverted V, and gave them the formula for proper antenna length based on the frequency they wanted to talk on.

Our limited information on Wotho indicated their were about 80 people on the island, but right now there is only 23, and they are expecting a plane from Majuro to take a few more of the villagers to Majuro. We didn't get a good grasp of whether this was normal summertime "vacation", or actually an evacuation of the vulnerable people from the drought-stricken northern atolls. Nobody seemed to be too concerned, one way or the other.

The day before we left, we spent an interesting morning in the village trading for glass fishing floats and shells. We had seen the glass floats in Majuro for sale in the $50 range, so we knew that was what the "city" price was. But we got ours for a couple of squid-type fishing lures, a jar of instant coffee, a can of Corned Beef, and an old snorkeling mask. It was a little confusing as to who owned what thing we were trading for, but in the end, us and Westward each had a big glass ball and a couple of nice shells, and Westward had a couple of small glass balls. Everyone was smiling and felt they had "made out" in the trade, plus all felt it had been an entertaining morning.

We spent one evening with an old guy from the village, out walking on the reef for lobster. Stephen set this up, and didn't question the time that the guy said we were going to go. When I heard about it, I didn't think it was the right time, because it wasn't "low tide rising" as we'd been told on other islands. But the old guy assured us it would be good, so we went anyway--2 villagers and Dave, Stephen, and I motoring out with our tiny 5hp motor, in the dark, to an island about 2 miles away. We beached the dinghy, made our way around to the windward side, and faithfully walked the reef with gloves, nets, and headlamps, and saw nary a lobster. We surmised later that the islanders would normally go out just before dark, and just hang out waiting for the right tide. But in our case, the right tide would have been about 1am, and we weren't interested in sitting in the sand waiting for 3-4 hours. But we all enjoyed the excursion anyway--once we were back safe and sound on our boats.

Though we would have enjoying hanging out at Wotho and exploring some more, we had a date at Bikini to go diving with the M/V Windward, so we moved on--leaving Friday afternoon for another easy overnight to Bikini.

Kwajalein to Wotho Atoll

June 28, 2013

We left the North Pass at Kwajalein (the closest one to Roi-Namur) at about 11am on Tuesday morning. The conditions, finally, were GREAT for diving, and not so great for sailing. Isn't it always that way??!! We briefly discussed staying another day to take advantage of the calm conditions, but all our dive gear was packed away, and we're on a mission to get back to Bikini by Saturday.

Challenger had sailed south back to Ebeye a few days before--with plans to hook back up with us in a week or two.

So it was just us and Westward II. While in Majuro in May, in the midst of a severe drought in the northern atolls, Westward II had volunteered to carry a bunch of water to distribute to islands in need, in 1-gallon jugs. They had packed their aft head with water. They also were given several large bags of clothing by a ladies group in Majuro. They had thought they'd been able to distribute these items within a week or two of loading them onboard, but their prop problems changed their plans, and they ended up in Kwajalein. Now 6 weeks later, they were anxious to get the stuff out of their aft head.

So we scheduled a stop in remote Wotho Atoll. Wotho is about 100 miles WNW from Kwaj--just a short overnight sail. Because of the light conditions, we left in the morning, hoping for a morning landfall at Wotho. Our first hour on passage, the wind was light enough that Dave and I hauled out the Code Zero sail from the forepeak and got it all ready to go. Our ETA at Wotho was about noon the next day, and we wanted to get in earlier than that.

Not a half an hour after we got the Genoa furled and the Code Zero set, the wind started picking up to a steady 10-15 (from 5-10 knots). We held on for a few minutes with the Code Zero, surfing down the face of the swell at about 8 knots. But it looked like the wind was there to stay, so we furled the Code Zero and put the Genoa back out. We enjoyed a nice evening of steady breeze and were making 5-6 knots. By the middle of the night, the wind had picked up another knot or two, and we were doing 7.5 knots, with an ETA at Wotho about 4am. We kept taking in more and more of the genoa, trying to slow down. But if we reduced sail too much, we'd roll a lot. And besides, it was beautiful sailing conditions--the seas were laying down and we had about 12-14 knots on the beam, and a full moon.

So we rounded the southern tip of Wotho about 5am. It was Dave's watch, and he rolled in the genoa and sailed slowly in the lee of the atoll, arriving at the "pass" about 7am. That was still too early to head in to an unmarked pass, with no real charts, looking straight into the sun. But we did it anyway.

We have a fairly good Google Earth picture of the area (converted to a chartlet by GE2KAP and pulled into our Maxsea/OpenCPN charting programs), and felt confident we could get into the village anchorage safely. It just so happened that Westward II got there ahead of us, so we had the novel experience of following someone ELSE in. It was easy--the pass was a wide opening. The bottom jumped from "bottomless" to about 60 feet in the space of one boat length, and then it gradually shallowed up to about 45 feet. With the sun low on the horizon to the east (roughly the direction we were going), the visibility wasn't great, but we went slowly and could see well enough in the clear water.

An hour later, we dropped anchor off the beach south of the small village, on the island in the NE corner of the atoll. An hour or so later, the "acting chief" was alongside in a small boat, along with a couple of his brothers. He checked our paperwork, to make sure we had the appropriate permission from the Marshall Islands Internal Affairs to stop in their atoll. There is no charge for stopping at Wotho, so no money changed hands. The acting chief, Hiram, invited us ashore to look around.