Sunday, July 7, 2013

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.

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