Monday, May 27, 2013

On Our Way to Bikini Atoll

Well, I kept thinking I'd get time to blog at least one more post about Majuro, and then another one on our trip from Majuro to Kwajalein, and then another one on our short stay at Kwaj Army Base. But... if I wait til I have time to write all those posts to catch up to the present, I'll just get further behind. And we plan to re-visit both Kwajalein and Majuro in the next few months.

Suffice it to say that we enjoyed both Majuro and the Kwaj Base--for short term stays. The base reminds me of a cross between Key West and Kennedy Space Center. Key West because of the island atmosphere and the fact that the primary transportation on island is bicycles--primarily "Keys Cruiser" type bikes--fat tires, big seats, and big handles. KSC because there is a minimal government presence and most of the people work for one contractor or another. More on Kwaj later.

We are currently on passage from Kwajalein Atoll to Bikini Atoll. We are having a very fast ride--a beam reach in 15 knots of wind. We are heavily reefed--2 reefs in the mainsail and only half of the genoa out--and we are still doing about 7 knots. We could go faster, but we just don't need the speed that much and are much more comfortable at 6.5-7 knots than we would be at 8 knots. The total distance from Kwaj Base to Bikini Island is about 225 nm. We left at the crack of dawn yesterday and expect to be in by late afternoon today. This may well be our fastest passage ever.

Though we have the windward side of our excellent cockpit enclosure down, and the cockpit is mostly dry, it's very salty out there from the salt spray getting sucked in on the leeward side of the cockpit. And of course, the occasional huge wave that slaps us and forces water in the cockpit around the enclosure.

So I am down below at the Nav station, eating crackers and cheese (breakfast). Dave is asleep in the salon on the couch--he's strapped in with a "Lee Cloth"--a piece of cloth we use to keep us on the narrow couch when we heel and/or the waves are big.

Our friends on s/v Challenger arrived in Bikini 2 days ago, direct from Majuro, but we haven't had a chance to talk with them by radio yet, other than to confirm they arrived safely (Jerry is terrible with radio skeds).

On this trip from Kwaj, we are sailing in company with s/v Panacea. Rick and Sue from Panacea are cruisers we met last year at the SSCA Gam in Melbourne, and they are currently working on Kwajalein. They sponsored us to allow us to get into the restricted area at Kwajalein. This is a big responsibility, as they are totally responsible for our behavior in the regulated environment of the Kwaj Base. If we violate the rules, the sponsor can lose his job and get kicked off the island. Rick and 2 buddies are taking Panacea for a week's trip to Bikini, while Sue saves her vacation time for their next trip off island.

Our friends on s/v Westward II, who we hadn't planned to see until mid-June, came into Kwajalein unexpectedly a few days ago because one of the blades on their 3-bladed fixed prop sheared off while motoring at sea. Rick from Panacea shook the bushes at the Kwajalein Yacht Club, and managed to find them a 2-bladed propeller to use for the short term, while they wait for a new prop to be shipped in. Even though this prop is too small, and spins the wrong way for their engine, it at least lets them move about a little bit. They just have to use their transmission in reverse. (it is a Hurth, so they can just run in Reverse to go forward).

Steve and Selina from Westward II are Aussies, and don't have an official US Visa for the Marshall Islands, so we can't get them on the Kwaj Base. But they are anchored off Ebeye Island, a few miles from the Base, and within VHF and ferry contact. There is also internet (NTA wifi) and cell phone coverage there, plus a decent grocery store. They are staying put this week while we run off to Bikini with Panacea (we have another trip planned to Bikini in June with Westward II).

Bikini Atoll is THE destination that Dave had in mind when he bought Soggy Paws. At least 15 years of his life has been focused on getting us here. Every time we've been diving anywhere, Dave has said to me "Just wait til we get to Bikini, it will be better there." So we are both very excited about finally reaching Bikini. More later...
At 05/26/2013 10:57 PM (utc) our position was 11°01.09'N 165°50.76'E

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Diving in Majuro

Though we did a lot of work in the 10 days that we were in Majuro (repairs, provisioning, Marshalls paperwork), we managed to fit in 4 dives.

The first dive we did was in the South Mooring field. There are a bunch of sunken ships, some of which the moorings were tied to. So after a short talk with Matt Holly, who's mooring we were on, us and Westward II did a dive on the wrecks. We tied our dinghies to an empty mooring, went down the mooring line to the first wreck, and then followed Matt's lines around to several other wrecks. (Matt has conveniently tied the wrecks together with 1/4" line, so once you've found one, it's easy to find the rest. There was a small island freighter, a fairly big fishing boat, a ~50' steel sailboat, and (I forget the other one). In a 40 minute dive we managed to survey all 4 of them. Starting mooring waypoint: 07-06.166N / 171-44.220E.

Those wrecks were interesting, but not "historic". Dave was keen to dive on some World War II era stuff, especially the Hellcat he had heard about. An American guy named Matt Holly had done a document for the Marshall Islands Historic Preservation Office in Majuro, detailing all the wrecks he had found in the Majuro lagoon. We had this document, but the Hellcat wasn't in it (it was found while Matt was searching for a commercial ship's anchor, after the Majuro document was produced). Nobody seemed to have a waypoint for it (at least no one that was willing to give it to us). But Dave had a discussion with Mike Terlep, the Chief Archaeologist for the HPO. Dave invited him to go dive on the Hellcat with us, if he could help us get a waypoint for it. Mike used his contacts with other divers on the island to get the exact waypoint for the Hellcat. Dave and Stephen from Westward II took Westward's dinghy out with a fish finder in it to verify we had the right location. (There are a lot of dive "waypoints" floating around the Marshalls diving community that are plotted off old paper charts and end up being pretty much useless).

So the 5 of us set out the next day--a fairly windy and overcast day--to dive the Hellcat. Matt's research indicates this was a disabled/scrap plane that was probably just pushed off the back of an aircraft carrier. It is nose down in about 110 feet of water, but the tail sticks up to about 60 feet. With the correct waypoint it was easy to locate. We had to use Westward's 22-lb danforth to anchor near it, 200 feet of line. Our "dive anchor" (a small folding anchor we usually hand-place on a rock) was completely inadequate. Dave and Mike both took pictures of the Hellcat. We'll share them some day when we have time and internet. Waypoint 07-05.468N / 171-22.304E in 105 feet. Drop your anchor well upwind of it so you don't damage the wreck.

The 3rd dive was on the Martin Mariner. This is a World War II era big seaplane. Matt's research indicates that it had been bombed and sunk while on it's mooring. The waypoint given in the HPO document plotted in the middle of the street, so we knew that wasn't right. Dave got some directions from Matt (500 yards off a hotel), and in a certain depth water. We dropped anchor where we thought it should be, and luckily ended up right next to part of the wreckage. (Visibility inside the lagoon isn't that great, so if we HADN'T lucked out, it would have been tough to find.) It was just Dave and I on this dive, so we wandered around taking pictures of the widely scattered debris. Unfortunately, this wreck is in an area where fishing boats sometimes anchor, and we could see the wide swath that the current boat's anchor line was making. The "Historic Preservation Office" isn't doing a very good job of preserving these "historic" wrecks. Waypoint 07-05.570N / 171-22.587E -- anchor just N and E of this waypoint, not on it, in about 60-65' sand.

Like everywhere in the Majuro lagoon, we found lots of other debris, and sometimes it's difficult to tell what's part of the wreck, part of another wreck, or just "trash heap".

The final dive we did was on "The Parking Lot". This is a World War II dumping ground, where a bunch of no-longer-needed trucks were pushed off a barge in about 40-60 feet. It is 1.5 miles NNW of the yacht mooring area. Tie to the pole on the reef at 07-07.25N / 171-21.04E, then go out in the sand S and E of the pole--look for piles of debris, or lines running across the bottom. Once you find one, there is usually a line to another. We found a number of trucks, but since we DIDN'T follow the lines around, Matt says we missed a couple. But we did see an old fire truck, and an ambulance, and a jeep or two. There was also a variety of modern-day junk scattered around on the bottom--several washing machines, etc.

Matt's place--just inshore of the South Mooring Field--has some other interesting stuff on the bottom. We snorkeled a more modern Beech light twin airplane at approx: 07-06.304N / 171-22.429E in about 20 feet of water.

There is a bunch of more stuff to dive on in the Majuro lagoon, but we just didn't have time. We hope to come back later in the summer and dive on the DC-3 (off the yacht moorings at Enemonit (sp?)).

There is a guy that will rent gear and fill tanks, located just to the N of Matt's place on shore. His name is Brian. He also works on the Indies Trader (dive boat to Bikini Lagoon), but I think he has someone minding the compressor when he's away on dive expeditions. Cary off Yacht Seal also will do paid dive expeditions, if you'd rather go diving in a proper dive boat instead of your own dinghy. Contact Cary and Karin on VHF Channel 68, on the Yokwe Net (6224 at 0745 local), or by email at There is also at least one other dive operation I found on the internet, operating out of the Marshall Islands Resort (MIR).

Monday, May 20, 2013

Majuro Arrival

(Note, this post is 10 days late... I'm catching up!)

We arrived at the East end of Majuro conveniently at about 6:30am on Friday, May 10 (the exact day we targeted when we left Fiji in mid-April).

From the east end of the atoll, it's 12 miles WNW to the pass, and then another 12 miles back ESE to the town and anchorage area. We managed to pick up the morning VHF net on Channel 68 (at 0730 am) and introduce ourselves to the cruisers.

The wind had picked up to the 15-20 knot range overnight, out of the ENE, so the trip from the pass to the town was a motor-sail into a fairly brisk wind. But it was in nice calm conditions. We stayed close to the northern side of the atoll and short tacked our way into the anchorage. Our friends on Westward II had picked out a good mooring for us in the South Mooring Field, and met us in their dinghy to help us pick up the mooring.

The check-in was easy. Majuro has an SSCA Cruising Station, Karin and Cary on the sailboat Seal. We had emailed them a few weeks ago to introduce ourselves, and talked to them at least once on the HF net on our way up from Fiji. They answered our call on the VHF (CH 68) and used their phone to call Customs and Immigration, and arrange for the officials to come meet us at the dinghy dock (aka Shoreline) at 2pm. Karin warned us that they may not show, so if we hadn't found them after about 20 minutes, we should set out in a taxi to find their offices. Westward II took the time to describe the process in detail, and pointed out the buildings we needed to go to. They said that the taxi drivers knew where everything was, so just to tell them (however, we did find a bit of a communications problem--we got mis-delivered twice in that first day). It is helpful to know which building you are actually looking for.

The Customs guy was waiting for us at the appointed time. He took our Tarawa clearance papers, and then said we were done. We didn't have to fill anything out, or pay any money. He called the Immigration guy when we were finished with him, and told us that he (the Immig guy) wasn't coming. We should take a taxi downtown to the Immigration building. So we walked out onto the main road, hailed a shared taxi, and told them to take us to Immigration.

The transportation situation in Majuro is yet another variation from the scooters in Funafuti, and the mini buses in Tarawa. Here, there is no bus system (with one exception, mentioned later). Everyone gets around using either their private cars, or via shared taxis. We were gratified to find that most taxis are well air conditioned. The trip from the dinghy dock to the Immigration building is a flat 75 cents per person. And you may be sharing the taxi with up to 2 other people at any given time. The cars are mostly medium-to-small American or Asian cars (Japanese, Korean, etc). It's fun to be squished into the back seat with two large Marshalese ladies!!

The taxi driver delivered us to the "Capitol Building", which is the wrong place. Customs is in the Capitol Building, but Immigration is in a different building. So we had to fork over another $.75 each to get down to Immigration. This was also reasonably quick--we had to fill out a short form, and hand over our crew list and passports. A couple of minutes later, they handed us back our stamped passports.

That was it. We were complete with our formalities by 3pm. So then Dave and I went our separate ways--Dave to the "Ministry of Internal Affairs", to start the paperwork required to visit the outer atolls, and me to the NTA (telecommunications) building, to try to get a cell phone sim and internet.

It was Friday afternoon and I REALLY wanted to get my internet and cell phone set up. The NTA lobby was full (turned out to be 'last day to pay your bill on time') and it was very confusing as to which clerk could help me and who was in what line. There was a 'Take a Number' machine with no numbers in it. But eventually I got to the right person around 4:30, and filled out the paperwork and got a telephone sim card ($15), and an NTA internet account ($5). I bought $20 worth of cell phone time, and tried to pay for the monthly internet fee, but the lady told me I'd be billed and pay next month (she was wrong, it turned out).

Meanwhile, Dave found the Internal Affairs building and submitted the paperwork to get approvals to visit 17 atolls (pretty much every atoll in the Marshall Islands that could be visited by a private yacht), including Bikini. There is no cost to get approvals to go, but when you do actually go, most atolls charge a fee to visit. The fees range from $25 to $250 (Ailingalaplap). The people at Ailingalaplap are crazy--no yacht is going to pay $250 to visit their atoll. We heard a rumour they were revising their fee, but couldn't get confirmation of this from anyone official.

We met back at the dinghy dock at 5pm--just in time to zoom back out to the boat, take a quick shower, and head ashore for dinner with Westward II.

Just before we left to go eat, Ants (a guy) from s/v Breakfee rowed over and handed us a nice welcome package from the Mieco Beach Yacht Club. This included a number of tourist brochures, a map of the town, a Yachties Yellow Pages, and an application to join the MBYC ($30 a couple). Plus a nice canvas bag (like the Jacklines bags given out at the SSCA Gams) with a Majuro logo on it. A very nice welcome indeed!
At 05/10/2013 1:21 AM (utc) our position was 07°06.22'N 171°22.34'E

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Passage Tarawa to Majuro

Passage recap: 384 nm in 66 hours (2 3/4 days), for an average speed of 5.8 knots. The trip was close on the wind the whole way, but not terrible. We kept up more sail than we usually would, because we were trying to get in in time to check in on Friday.

We didn't notice much current ourselves, but others have remarked on the current.

Our route was to stay east as much as possible, without having to actually go east of the islands on the way to Majuro. The course is generally 345 degrees, but we varied our course from 325 to 360 based on the wind and land situation, using waypoints on the NW tips of Butaritari and Mili as intermediate points. We were worried about the last bit between Mili and Majuro, but the wind swung a little more east (vs ENE), and the last leg we were worrying about was no trouble at all.

We got into the Majuro mooring field about 12:30pm on Friday, and we finished with Customs and Immigration by about 3pm.
At 05/10/2013 1:21 AM (utc) our position was 07°06.22'N 171°22.34'E

Thursday, May 9, 2013


It took us til about mid-day Monday to finally get cleared in. After we moved to the port on Sunday morning, we found out that if we cleared on Sunday, we would have to pay each official in the "Boarding Party" overtime to clear us in... at the rate of $20 (Austrailian ~ USD) per hour. The Boarding Party that was making the rounds on Sunday consisted of 6 officials!! Dave asked if we could just do Customs and Immigration and do the rest on Monday, but they said that wasn't possible. So we respectfully declined and waiting to clear on Monday morning for free. And, imagine that, we only had 3 officials visit our boat on Monday.

We were fortunate that a Canadian cruising boat, Celsius, had arrived from Majuro around the same time as us, and they have been to Tarawa several times before. So they knew all the ropes and guided us around... to the (unmarked) Tourism office, to the banana stand, to the restaurant for lunch, and on the mini-bus to Immigration. That was hugely helpful.

Our first stop was the Tourism office. Dave was DYING to get a tour of the World War II relics. We had heard of Molly's Tours, and had emailed them several days before, but had gotten no response. So we went to the Tourism Office, and the nice girl there tried all day to get in touch with Molly's or any other tour guide, with no luck. Late in the afternoon Dave walked to Molly's house, but Molly wasn't there. He left his email address with the son-in-law. But we never heard from Molly. (turned out that Challenger ran in to Molly on Weds after we left--she was off-island).

In contrast with Funafuti, where the main transportation was scooters. There are very few scooters in Tarawa, and none for rent. The main transportation is mini-buses. There is a Betio route (the main town), and a 'rest of the island' route. You flag the bus down, jam yourself in, and pay 60 cents around town or 80 cents on the island route. With a little guidance from Celsius, we quickly mastered the bus system.

On Monday night, we looked at the weather for the 3-day trip to Majuro, and decided we'd better leave on Tuesday (to arrive in Majuro on Friday). If we didn't leave Tuesday, we'd have to wait til Friday (to avoid arriving in Majuro on a weekend and it costing us $150 USD to clear in). If we waited to leave Tarawa on Friday, we'd encounter strong winds in the 20-25 knot range on the last day of the trip.

So, on Tuesday morning, armed with a couple of books, and the Tourist Map, we did a self-tour of the World War II relics, including the Japanese Admiral's bunker (smelled like it was being used as a bathroom), a pile of rusty bits that used to be a tank, on the flats on the lagoon side of the Admiral's bunker, some big guns (decorated with graffiti) on the ocean side, and the 'Coast Watcher's Memorial'. The Japanese had gathered up all of the Aussie/Kiwi Coast Watchers and beheaded them (22 of them), and there was a memorial for that. Dave didn't take me to any American memorial--there was something like that on the map--but he may have already seen it while he was walking around town, and felt it not worth revisiting. Around 1,600 American soldiers died in the assault on Tarawa.

On our way to the gun emplacements, we stopped at Immigration and cleared ourselves out. Then we tried to clear with Customs, but they sent us to the Port Authority to pay our "port fee". We got to the Port Authority and the cashier had no idea what we were there for. It took them about a half and hour to come up with the amount of $14, and when Dave questioned what that was based on, it changed to $10.70. (Celsius had told us that boats had paid anywhere between $50 and $5 and $0 in the past). We got an official receipt for our money, and took it to Customs and they cleared us out.

We went back to the boat, loaded up the dinghy, and left at about 4pm for Majuro.

After reading The Sex Lives of Cannibals, and several cruiser's reports about Tarawa, I expected worse. But I found Tarawa on par with many of the other under-developed islands that we've visited. Trash disposal on such a small island is a problem. Most people had limited English, and we got really blank looks when we asked questions.

Dave was, on the other hand, very disappointed in Tarawa. He thought it was trashy, and that the neglect of the "World War II Relics" was criminal--after we expended so many lives to liberate them from the Japanese. Hardly anyone on the island even know where the bunkers are or any history regarding the battle at Tarawa.

Challenger didn't leave when we did. Ulyana wanted to stay and see the place more, and the Quarantine guy told him he needed to give 24 hours notice before he left (because of his dog). I think Jerry's going to regret that when he's slogging to weather in 20-25 knots--it's been challenging enough for us in 15-20 knots.
At 05/08/2013 9:31 PM (utc) our position was 05°12.84'N 172°11.86'E

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Made it to Tarawa

We arrived in Tarawa about 2pm this afternoon. Unfortunately they have declined to clear us until Monday. So we are quarantined aboard until then. Not really a bad thing, we'll have a leisurely day tomorrow, sleeping in, having a big breakfast, and cleaning things up.

Officially, we should be anchored off the main town of Betio, awaiting our clearance. But that place is a commercial port, full of big fishing boats and a few big freighters. It is also completely exposed across about a 10 mile fetch across the atoll, to the NE winds that are blowing right now. So it would be a miserable, and perhaps dangerous anchorage for us. So we have opted to anchor for the next 36 hours in the 'Parliament' anchorage (approx 01-21N / 173-02E). This isn't perfectly protected from the NE winds, but much better than out at Betio.

We will have to retrace our steps about 7 miles back to Betio on Monday morning, to get properly cleared. This means that Dave's original plan of 'clear on Saturday, tour on Monday, and leave on Tuesday', ain't happening. So much for schedules...

Our friends on Challenger won't even arrive until tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon. Since we can't get out of here by Tuesday afternoon, we'll probably stay til Friday, so we don't arrive in Majuro on a weekend (and incur $150 USD weekend clearance charges).

We are looking forward to a day of touring the WWII battle sights here in Tarawa.
Sherry & Dave
On our way to the Marshall Islands

At 05/04/2013 8:51 AM (utc) our position was 01°21.36'N 173°02.01'E

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sailing Across the Equator One More Time

The last 2 days have been pretty uneventful. The wind has been light--barely sailable. We've spent half our time motoring and half our time sailing slowly. But with the exception of one or two afternoon showers, the weather has been exceedingly nice. Just not very much wind.

One highlight has been occasional visits by a large pod of small dolphins. These guys are about 2/3 the size of the dolphins that hang out in the Indian River in Florida. They are zippy and playful, and fun to watch. But hard to get pictures of.

After another 12 hours of motoring, we finally reached some steady sailable wind this morning. And now the wind has picked up to 12-14 knots (as forecast), and we have had a really nice sail this afternoon.

We've been dragging our fishing lines for the last 2 days, because the seas have been calm enough that it would be feasible to boat a good-sized fish and clean it. But we haven't had a nibble. Yesterday we weren't going fast enough, but with the wind picking up--maybe tomorrow morning before we arrive in Tarawa.

We crossed the Equator this evening at 6:56pm local time. We held off dinner and watched the sunset and the GPS, and then had a little ceremony as we crossed. First we toasted Neptune and thanked him for keeping us safe--we shared a shot of Fiji's finest "Bounty Rum" with Neptune. Since this is our 4th crossing in Soggy Paws, we are both already "Shellbacks" and there was no need of the first-timers shenanigans.

Then we ceremoniously spread some ashes on this sunny portion of the Pacific equator... first my Dad's ashes, and then our friend Henry "Mike" Mikelait. I also had a short sniff over other departed family members that I am missing (Mom, brothers Larry and Jimmy, and cousin Fred), all travelers and sailors and whom would have loved sailing across the equator with us.

As the seas are still fairly calm and the wind reasonable, we had a great dinner--pork chops, real mashed potatoes, and green beans.

We are now less than 100 miles to Tarawa, with an expected arrival tomorrow about mid-day. We are threading our way between two atolls tonight, to have a nice off-wind sail into Tarawa tomorrow morning.

Our friends on Challenger are about 100 miles behind us now. Jerry has opted not to run his engine much, and so they are still in the wind-less area, drifting along at 2 knots, hoping the wind we have found will someday reach them too.

We are already looking ahead to the next leg, from Tarawa to Majuro. There's always a problem with logistics--not just the weather, but timing departures and arrivals around weekends, and trying to avoid overtime charges. Ideally we would be ready to leave Tarawa probably on Wednesday, but that would put us into Majuro on a weekend. So we may have to either hurry up and leave on Tuesday (and then make sure we keep our speed up so we can get into Majuro and get checked in by Friday afternoon), or hang out in Tarawa til Friday, and arrive on Monday. But I see some fairly hefty winds coming in the forecast if we wait that long... *sigh*
Sherry & Dave
On our way to the Marshall Islands

At 05/03/2013 8:35 AM (utc) our position was 00°09.86'N 173°47.86'E

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Still Struggling with Light Winds

I guess we should have just kept going (past Funafuti) when we had the good winds.

But we didn't. And now we are stuck in a big wind hole. When we left, the GRIBS said we'd only have about a day of light winds and then we'd reach stronger winds, but the wind hole has expanded and now we are on the second day. We have been able to sail some, but yesterday evening was filled with squalls (lots of wind, then no wind), and about noon today the wind went basically to zero.

So we are slowly motoring NW, hoping that the promised winds will fill in. It looks good the day after tomorrow... :(

At least it isn't blowing 25 knots!

At least the engine is running, and we have a good supply of diesel (purchased in Fiji at $5.80 USD per gallon *cough*)

Meanwhile, we've been getting a lot of reading done--studying up on Tarawa and on the Marshall Islands.

One thing that's nice about almost no wind is that it's easy to cook, so we've been eating well.

Our ETA in Tarawa is Saturday morning--we have about 315 miles to go now.

Hopefully we can get cleared in on Saturday. We are hoping to schedule a tour of Tarawa for Monday, and then leave for the last leg--333 miles from Tarawa to Majuro--on Tuesday.
Sherry & Dave

At 05/01/2013 7:53 AM (utc) our position was 03°12.97'S 175°38.62'E