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.

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