Sunday, August 4, 2013

Beachcombing in Rongerik Atoll

July 19-22, 2013
Anchored at 11-22.63N / 167-30.59E and 11-18.14N / 167-28.64E

Rongerik Atoll is where the U.S. Government relocated the Bikinians, when they co-opted Bikini Atoll for nuclear testing. However, I guess they didn't know at the time that Rongerik was uninhabited for a reason--apparently most of the fish in Rongerik Atoll were "poisonous" (ciguatera or something else, we're not sure). So the Bikinians almost starved to death before they were relocated to another island--Kili--in 1948. Since then Rongerik has been uninhabited. The Marshalese think it is "haunted" and don't like to go there.

An uninhabited atoll is always an attractive cruising destination. While we love to interact with the islanders, it is nice to be able to do whatever we want without worrying about asking permission (ie to go ashore), breaking some village rule, or offending someone. Also, the inhabited atolls are feeding themselves off the reef, so things are much more "fished out".

But Rongerik is seldom visited by cruisers because it is one of the atolls which you can't get permission to visit from Internal Affairs in Majuro. It is also west of the easy-to-reach-from-Majuro Ratak chain of islands. We found, however, that it turns out to be easy to get permission--you just have to go check in at Rongelap, and get their permission to visit Rongerik. That permission seems to be freely given--and includes the warning that the fish are poisonous and it the atoll is haunted. And for us, working our way west-to-east, instead of being out of the way, it was a necessary stepping-stone.

We had been given a waypoint for a good anchorage by another cruiser, and a place where it was easy to get to the windward side of the atoll at night for lobstering. Our friends on Brickhouse has also blogged about their trip there the year before--when they found 7 big glass Japanese fishing floats (aka glass balls). So we ended up there with two other boats--and everyone was hoping to find that magical mythical "glass ball" for themselves.

Opus and Challenger had arrived the day before, from Rongelap. And they had immediately set out to "beachcomb" every windward beach near the anchorage, Challenger heading to the small islands to the north, and Opus to the south. We thought we were probably too late to find anything when we got there a day later. But when we went out the next day beachcombing as a group to a further island, we still found a few things to clutter our boat up with. The shelling was excellent. Though Jerry had already found the only big glass ball that any of us found, we did find several small glass balls--even on a beach that had been "done" the day before. We also found an island where the turtles were laying eggs--with several tracks in the sand from the night before. We talked about getting up in the middle of the night to see if we could catch a turtle laying--but never did.

We did go out one night walking the reef for lobster. It seemed a perfect night--low winds and some moon, and the low tide in the early evening. But I think we got there a little early, and just when the tide started rising (when is supposedly the best time), a squall came along and we abandoned the effort. We did get Opus their first lobster, though. They spotted all 3 of the lobster we found before we retreated to the boats--and Dave picked them up with his net and tickle stick. One was a female with eggs, and we let her go, and gave Opus the other two. We thought we'd go out the next night, but after beachcombing all the next day, we were too tired, and never did go back out there. (We still had lobster in our freezer from Bikini, though).

On one windward rocky shore we were walking, we also found what looked like a recently-wrecked personal sailing canoe. We looked around for signs that someone might be shipwrecked, but didn't see any footprints or anything. Hopefully it just floated off a beach somewhere, unoccupied. We took pictures of the canoe to show to the other islands upwind. We have since learned that each clan has a different color scheme, and this one may have come from Utrik (neither Likiep nor Ailuk said it was one of theirs).

We talked about going diving, but didn't stay long enough. Westward II, who probably would have provided the push we needed, were still in Rongelap. Dave and I and Jerry from Challenger did spend an hour snorkeling the big coral patch within easy swimming distance of our anchorage. It was really nice, and had the biggest "Giant Clams" we have ever seen.

The last night, we moved south to a not-as-protected anchorage off Enewetok island, at the SE end of Rongerik. This is an OK anchorage in E-SE winds, but not so protected in NE winds. But it was a convenient place to jump off in the morning for our windward beat to Likiep.

We only stayed a few days in Rongerik. Again, we could have easily spent 2 weeks there, but another good weather window came up, and we just couldn't pass it up. We are starting to get low on provisions. If we want to see a few more atolls before we head for Majuro to reprovision, we need to keep moving. Next stop: Likiep Atoll.

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