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.

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