Friday, January 31, 2014

Getting Ready to Leave the Marshall Islands

January 31 - Kwajalein Atoll

We did it! We untied from the Kwajalein Small Boat Marina dock yesterday.

We had a great two weeks at Kwaj. We worked our butts off to get the boat ready (and still have a long list of undone things). And we managed to squeeze in some diving and a lot of socializing.

Our relatively new friend Geoff was a fantastic host. We spent almost every evening after dinner at his "quarters" (not unlike a dorm room, but Geoff has two adjoined), taking hot showers, having a spot of rum, and talking about a wide range of subjects--from life on Kwaj to cruising to boat maintenance to diving to world travel, to retirement plans (in Singapore, Geoff says).

My main tasks in the two weeks were to (a) Get the bottom scrubbed (b) Stock the boat (c) Repair the mainsail cover (d) Help Dave wherever needed. I spent a week laboring over the sewing machine in the picnic area of the Small Boat Marina. Our mainsail cover was built like a tank--with extra reinforcing and a heavy vinyl lining in chafe areas. But, we supplied the fabric for the cover, and, alas, the fabric was defective. (bought at a steep discount, it was definitely not performing like normal Sunbrella). The entire cover had almost turned to toilet paper. Compared to the dodger, built at the same time, it was definitely sub-standard. So I had to make a huge patch on the upper half of the mainsail cover, for the whole length. Big job. I hated it--cursing like a sailor over the sewing machine. It's done now. I hope I don't have to do it again.

I spent lots of time and lots of money restocking. Because of the weird setup at Kwajalein, I couldn't go to the grocery store by myself--I had to have Geoff there to buy anything. But the liquor store...a different story. With my military ID, I was permitted to buy things there. The government/Army subsidizes one store, the KRS contractor subsidizes the other store--the reason for the difference. So when we needed groceries, I'd make an appointment with Geoff, go shopping, and he'd show up with his badge when I was ready to check out. I did pretty well with the 3 opportunities I had to shop. Lots of nice American brand foods at a reasonable price. The last shopping was when the plane came in with fresh veggies, so we're pretty good with vegs for the next 2 weeks.

I made daily runs (by bike) to the liquor store to stock up on beer, rum, wine, and miscellaneous liquor. Trying to not look like I was hoarding (strongly discouraged here), I bought a little bit every day. We're good for about 3 months now.

Dave had his usual long list of maintenance items, including changing the oil in the engine, a very thorough upper rigging inspection (several trips up the mast), working on our starter battery problem, and other similar issues.

On Jan 29th, we finally got the Staysail and the Genoa back up (we take them down when we're off the boat to save wear and tear), and all the running rigging rigged. We're a sailboat again!

We did manage to go diving a few times. We spent the money ($50 each) to get checked out by the Kwajalein Scuba Club. Doing so meant that we had "free tanks" for the duration of our stay. With Geoff's help, we made 8 dives over two weekends. Mostly on Kwaj wrecks (Dave's passion), but also a couple of really nice reef/wall dives. Renting sport boats from the Small Boat Marina, with the free dive tanks, we could do 2-tank dive trips for about $25 per person. In comparison, the going rate in the U.S. is about $60-70 for a 2-tank dive, and the dive spots are not nearly as good.

One interesting social event we went to was the Kaleidoscope of Music put on by the Kwaj Women's Club. It's basically a talent show, centered around musical talents, that is used to raise money for scholarships for the Kwaj High School kids. This ended up being an amazing array of talent and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

We also had an interesting evening hanging out at the Kwaj Yacht Club. A great group of people. Not a lot unlike our Melbourne Yacht Club--they're expanding/rebuilding their clubhouse entirely with member labor. And the current Commodore, Ed Zehr, did us a great favor and hauled our staysail with him to Honolulu, for repairs. Like everywhere else, boaters looking after boaters.

Another highlight of life at Kwaj is the cafeteria--Kwajers have an acronym for it that I don't remember. But it's officially known at the Louis Zamperini Dining Facility. (Look for the book "Unbroken" to learn about who Louis Zamperini is). For $7 a meal, we had access to an all-you-can-eat huge salad bar and cafeteria. This price included drinks and dessert. For awhile we ate both lunch and dinner there, but eventually tapered off to just dinner. I will really really really miss that place. When we were working hard, it was really nice to just zoom (on our Sun Cruzer bikes) at the last minute to the dining hall and indulge in great food--no cooking and no cleanup!

And not just the food... we really enjoyed talking with various Kwaj residents about what they were doing, how they got there, etc. It's a very interesting community... from people who have been working on this tiny island for 10 years, to the doctors who come for a 3-month stint. All interesting and unusual people. Half the fun of traveling are the people you meet.

Internet is quirky at Kwaj. There is no internet out on the boat. The residents here have dialup (yes, dialup) from their quarters. The only place to get wifi at a decent speed is (a) the Food Court and (b) the Coffee Shop. Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time at both. The Coffee Shop opened at 7am, so I'd usually wake up at 6:30 and spend 7-9am there, catching up on email, blogs, SSCA business (I'm still on the Board of Directors), finances, etc. I'd try to stop in the Food Court either before or after dinner, but sometimes we were too busy.

We had a great time at Kwaj, but we're really glad to be underway again.

We anchored last night at Bigej (the Kwajers call it Bee Gee, but it's really pronounced something like Pick-esh by the locals). This is a beautiful spot. Both Dave and I said numerous times in the last 24 hours... "What a nice anchorage!' Wish we had time to spend a week here--great beach, great visibility, and a WWII dive site nearby!

But the horizon is beckoning... We leave tomorrow for Pohnpei. We're anxious to again hook up with our cruising/diving buddies on Westward II and Challenger.


  1. I am curious to know if you saw any very large (>3m tall) Porites coral colonies during your diving in the Marshalls? Porites colonies are the large dome shaped massive coral in the Pacific and they tend to have the shape of large mushrooms when they get older. I extract cores from these types of corals for paleoclimate reconstruction. I am currently writing a proposal to try and get funding to go there.


    Brad Linsley

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