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.

Back Aboard

Jan 15, 2014 - Kwajalein Atoll

Getting back aboard Soggy Paws was another challenge. She was out on a mooring, and the Small Boat Marina is closed during the week. Almost no one keeps a dinghy in the water--they just use the ferry service provided by the Small Boat Marina. Geoff, our "sponsor" on Kwajalein had been scrounging for a rowboat, kayak, or paddleboard, so we could get out to Soggy Paws to get our dinghy launched. Fortunately, the day before we arrived, one of the sailboats came in to the Small Boat Marina dock with dinghy in tow. So Geoff had secured permission for us to use that dinghy to get out to Soggy Paws.

The great news was that Geoff had taken great care of her. The mooring lash-up was fine, the canvas all good, the batteries in good shape, and the bilge dry. The bad news was the calm conditions prevailing in the Marshall Islands when we left were gone, and Soggy Paws was pitching and rolling like crazy. Because of the tidal range in the Western Pacific (4-6 feet), at high tide, the swell comes right in over the reef. Plus with 20 knots of wind, we had a fair chop in the harbor as well.

So the first item of business was to get the engine commissioned so we could move off our mooring and into the inner harbor. We'd "bagged" the prop when we left--wrapping it first in burlap and then in a heavy black garbage bag. This worked wonders--not any growth on the prop at all! With a little coaxing, the engine started right up. Yay!

The next morning, we got permission to take Soggy Paws into the dock, where the conditions were much better.

Over the next 3-4 days, we unpacked the 150 lbs of luggage we'd brought back--some clothes, but mostly "boat stuff", and slowly got the boat systems commissioned... propane stove, refrigerator & freezer, fresh water, toilets, etc.

We'd had a bunch of stuff shipped out to Geoff while we were in the U.S., including 2 (yes, two!) anchors, a gallon of polyester resin, 3 gallons of 303 waterproofing, 2 gallons of Amsoil synthetic motor oil, a big Sailrite order, and some miscellaneous stuff. So once we were settled at the dock, Geoff delivered all our goodies. More stuff to put away.

Our permission to stay at the Kwaj Base ends on January 30, so we have a formidable task ahead of us--get ready to leave in two weeks or less.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Back on Kwajalein

Jan 14, 2014

After a long, but not arduous, trip from the U.S., we are back aboard Soggy Paws. We left Melbourne on Dec 27, and didn't arrive back aboard until Jan 13! We made 2 stops in Florida, spent a few days in Brooks, Georgia, where we left the car, and then flew commercially to San diego, where Dave's son lives. We had a nice few days in San Diego with Chris and Sandy, sightseeing on the Midway air craft carrier, and checking out Jack & Nicole Midence's new catamaran, Let It Be. We also drove out into the desert to see the Planes of Fame Air Museum. There we met up with Tom Cleaver, who has just finished a book on Dave's Dad's exploits in WWII (not published yet).

On Saturday, Jan 4, we rented a car and drove 8 hours to Travis AFB, near Sacramento. We hoped to get a "Space Available" military flight out to Kwajalein via Honolulu. We knew there was a 40-passenger flight that left on Sunday. We thought we'd timed our plans such that the active duty people would have all finished traveling with their families and be back to work. But, alas, when we were arrived at Travis, the Space A list was so full that we were on the second page--priority wise. We started about 100 names down the list, and as flights carried people away and took them off the list, we'd climb higher. But every day new active duty people would show up, pushing us back down. There was originally a 73-passenger C-5 scheduled for Monday, which would have virtually cleared the list, but the C-5s are notoriously cranky airplanes (they are very old and require constant maintenance). This flight got delayed for a couple of days. But we didn't even come close to getting on it. It finally went about Weds, and we were hopeful of getting on the next one. We almost did... on Thursday, another C-5 went to Honolulu. Due to "mission requirements" this one was down to 70-seats. We ended up being #71 and #72. Bumped again. But at least we were now on the first page of the roll call list.

Each time there was a plane leaving (at least one every day) that we *might* be able to get on, we had to be "flight ready" at the time of roll call. This means we had to be checked out of the hotel, rental car turned in, and waiting with all bags and paperwork. During the week we waited in Travis, there were at least 2 0630 roll calls. :p Once all the flights had gone for the day, we'd haul all our luggage back to the hotel and check back in. Fortunately, the hotel was reasonably priced, within walking distance of the Passenger Terminal with a luggage cart, and also near a cafeteria. We had good wifi internet in the hotel and in the Passenger Terminal, so it was easy to stay occupied. We also had a car rental reservation in Honolulu--which we'd have to change daily as we didn't get on the flight. At one point we had TWO reservations I was changing each day--one for the Passenger Terminal at Hickam AFB--most convenient but with limited hours, and one at the Honolulu airport--open 24 x 7 in case we got a flight that arrived in the middle of the night.

On Saturday, there were 2 pairs of KC-135's scheduled, each with 10 passengers (a total of 40 seats). We were pretty hopeful that Saturday was the day. We finally made it on the 2nd set of flights. We were excited to learn that the "mission" on this flight was providing tanker escort (aerial refueling) for some fighter jets being ferried out to Honolulu. Though the entire "passenger cabin" had only one tiny round window in it, the airmen handling the flight were kind enough to escort us to the back to watch an in-flight refueling session. Now THAT was worth a week's wait in Travis!!

We spent Saturday night and part of Sunday night in the Ala Wai Marina in downtown Honolulu aboard Intrepid, a Hallberg Rassy 42 that we had met in Majuro in September. Dan had single-handed Intrepid from Majuro to Honolulu while Cecily flew back to the U.S. to work. They were both aboard enjoying a holiday break in Honolulu. We also got a chance to have dinner with John & Linda from Nakia, and Eric & Sherrill from Sarana, whom we'd first met back in 2009 or 2010.

At 2:30am Monday morning, we tip-toed off of Intrepid, and drove down to Hickam AFB for hopefully our last leg of the long trip home. We were again worried that we might not make it on the flight--we didn't drop off the rental car keys until the roll call was completed and we knew we were on. This turned out to be a 42-seat 757 that does trips between Honolulu and Kwaj a couple of times a week. It was a nice plane, with nice seats, breakfast, and an in-flight movie!

By noon, we'd landed, cleared Marshall Islands customs and Kwaj Army Base formalities, and assembled our luggage at Geoff's (our sponsor for this trip) place.
Sherry & Dave
In the Marshall Islands for the summer.

At 12/01/2013 9:38 PM (utc) our position was 08°43.63'N 167°43.94'E