Abaiang, Our Private Resort

20 miles northeast of Tarawa lies a serene atoll that has all the appeal of a vacation resort island.  The culture is simple and oriented around family values. The clean beaches are lined with coconut, bandanas and Palm trees, fine white sand are adorned with ornate seashells, coral and dried leaves.  Clear emerald water gradually turns dark blue as the massive reef falls away nearly 100 yards from the beachside in some areas.
Homes are built entirely with coconut tree beams and sawn lumber thatched with palm fronds tied with twisted coconut twine. There are no nails or tin used.
Platforms under the thatched roofs are built in various heights – ground level to 12 feet providing a small 2nd story level.  The siding is made from the buttend of the palm fronds – very thick and hard, hand sawn into long thin strips and attached to the bigger lumber.  Some siding has intricate patterns cut away for air circulation, some homes have only Palm fronds laced together, or perhaps fabric hanging down.  All unique and several homes are built in a small group allowing families to live together and still have their individual sleeping abodes.
Babies and toddlers have their own small day maneba similar to the doll houses built at home. With the ocean side being within easy walk of a toddler, the parents are able to go about their chores of fishing, cleaning and drying fish, laundry, gathering coconut fronds for mat weaving.  They are busy all day just to gather and cook their food on open fire pits, and wash clothes in large tubs.  The dish pans and washing stands are next to the “house”.
Unfortunately the toilet – nothing more than a giant stone as a base with a hole chiseled away leading to a pit underneath may be too close to the water wells.  They bathe out in the open wearing a sarong.  At least they understand the consequences and boil their water. There are several above ground cisterns that capture rain water but when those run dry they resort back to the well water.
The school is comprised of several small huts, each hut represents segregated ages and class, with the same home construction.img_1345 The finer coral and shell floors are covered with palm fronds. There is 1 small desk and chair also built from coconut lumber for the teacher, a table for books and papers, a couple of 2 X 3 foot small tables for students to sit at while studying, but they mostly sit on the floor to write or read.
We walked through the school lane and were an immediate distraction to the younger students. They are so eager to latch onto you, give high-fives, girls want to hold both hands.
The last day of school for the term was on Thanksgiving day and we were invited to join their “cultural day”.
There was traditional Kiribati singing and dancing competition performed by the students,  and the parents brought palm baskets filled with only traditional foods. There was no “imatang” (white/foreigner) food allowed. img_1373After the student competition the judges walked around to each group of parents to count the number and ways of food presentation.  I, being a true “foodie” person was very curious to see how many ways to cook taro root, breadfruit, papaya, sweet potato and coconut. I duck-walked barefoot throughout the giant school maneba covered with nothing more than coral and shells – it’s rude to walk when everybody is sitting – to speak with the parents and view their hand woven Palm baskets.  Amazing food!img_1400  Most everything included coconut is some form – cream, water, or grated.  There was boiled scrawny chicken with feet and necks still attached, shell fish, small reef fish and octopus all cooked in various ways.  Bandanas fruit was most interesting to eat.  Looks like giant 3″ candy corn shape but unimaginably opposite in terms of texture. The “fine-thread” fruit is boiled with or without coconut, then chewed and twisted between your teeth to suck out the pulp and juice.  One of those and I had a mouthful of threads stuck between all of my teeth. Not very graceful to pick at your teeth, but I did anyway just to be able to speak again. Not wanting to be in second place, a young girl offered me one that she had helped prepare. Not able to refuse I warmly accepted and she beamed with pride. I chewed and nodded my “delicious thanks” and waddled back to our mat with a mouthful of string.

The head school master’s wife prepared us an eloquent platter  – she won the food prep competition.  We and the other yachtie couple who attended the festivity were the only ones eating with plastic bowls and spoons.  Our food platter had delicious coconut balls very similar to coconut macaroons that exploded with flavor and natural sweetness, crispy taro chips – similar to potato chips, smoked clams on skewers, boiled shellfish, reef fish fried in coconut oil, slices of papaya, chunks of fresh coconut, young coconut spouts, breadfruit,  taro all cooked in coconut milk or just boiled in salt water. So delicious, we ate our fill several times over just like thanksgiving dinner at home.
Unfortunately after sampling the different recipes of all the starchy coconut laden food I paid the price in the middle of the night with a double dose of meds. Cast iron stomach John slept peacefully with dreams of thanksgiving pies.

We rented motor bikes and toured the island yesterday. There is only 1 dirt road that runs the entire distance of the island. We saw only 1/2 of the northern atoll about 10 kilometers. The beaches, villages are the same. All clean and beautiful. Groups of thatched homes, fire pits, wash stands, community manebas.  Families with friendly smiles greeted us as we passed by.  Kids eager to interact with Imatangs waved, yelled and ran after the bikes. Some stood in the middle of the road with their arms stretched out to give passing high fives.

We have enjoyed our stay here at the village anchorage but we’re off to the remote part of the island to paddleboard and hang out with our new cruising buddies from New Zealand. Their boat is very similar to ours and we get along very well. Perhaps too well, we’re being encouraged to move on to the Marshall Islands with them. We had originally planned on the Marshall Islands but the timing wasn’t seeming to work out. Guess it’s better to sit in the M.I. Than in Tarawa for another 4 weeks though. Still thinking it through, we’re not impulsive… Mmphm.

We will keep you posted on our next adventure!

Big Island, Big Hearts

 

The Health and Quarantine group arriving via dinghy. We anchored quite a ways off shore; the ladies weren’t too happy about the wet ride.  img_1126completing all the forms, signing our signatures that we didn’t have stow-aways, rats, infectious diseases, guns and ammo, no dead arrivals, declared the exact quantity of onions and potatoes, literally, we’re all cleared in.  The Quarantine officer then asked for “cold water and snacks, – ‘home made snacks’ .  Still recovering from lack of sleep, no fruits and veggies, I brought out iced tea and cookies from Bora Bora.

We moved from Betio (Besso) to Ambo, about 5 miles east. We anchored in 10′ of water which wasn’t a problem but when the full moon cycle brought exceptionally low tide we were grounded. The tide came back in and we moved into 15′ depths.  A view of the lagoon area from the highway.img_1149 It’s hot during the day but the breeze blows in the late afternoon into the wee morning hours cooling us down.

We’re very happy to have found the laundromat, wash, dry and folded is about $5 – a very cheap price considering water is difficult to make on the boat. Taking a break, waiting for the laundry to be folded. img_1139

We met a gal at a little open “cafe”, her name is Timera (Simera). We invited her and her fiancé, Tenabo, img_1177to the boat for a lunch. They in turn took us to meet their families in the villages.  Turned out to be a real eye opening experience in what life is like in Kiribati.  The village homes are no more than 8′ x 10′ galvanized tin structures with thatched roofs, fenced with chicken wire. img_1183Most of the homes have a “maneba” a platform raised waist high off the ground where family and guests sit during the day.  Some of the homes have fabric draped down for privacy and shade, some are lined with polypropylene rice bags. The interiors are small with nothing more than coral covering the dirt, kerosene stoves, a wash stand as kitchen sink, mats for beds and sitting, solar lights, a community “bathroom”.  Pigs, dogs, cats, chickens all roam freely.  It’s customary to offer water to guests and we were obliged to drink and visit.  The people are very warm and inviting, wanting to hear all about us and where we come from. We found we didn’t want to elaborate too much about our comfortable lives at home when they have absolutely nothing.  We brought our customary gifts of banana bread, jar of jam, candy for the kids. img_1159The children want to be held or carried, a little disconcerting when they are naked and not potty trained, but I happily snuggled and played with them.

More pictures of our new friends’ families and lifestyle sitting in their maneba.

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His parents and daughter. They are from Onotoa, a southern Gilbert island. We were given giant clam meat cured in salt, some fruit “roll up” made from some unknown fruit that was fantastic.  img_1174This is their “kitchen” wash stand.

We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet these extraordinary folks and be welcomed into their homes.  We’re invited for a family get together later this month. It will be a potluck meal. Not wanting to be rude we’ll attend but I’ll bring paper plates and bamboo eating utensils, and we always carry our in our backpacks.

We’ve arranged a tour guide to see all the war relics around the island tomorrow. Later this week we’ll be heading off to Abaiang, an outer island 25 miles NE of Tarawa. We will be there for our limited 10 day visit and come back here afterwards.  Our new friends are so anxious for us to come back so we can swim, visit their homes and spend more time with them.  We may bring more of the family out to the boat to have lunch with us. They don’t know what mayonnaise is and eggs being expensive (.70 cents each, much to expensive for their budgets) I will make them special egg salad sandwiches and peanut butter cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing, AMAZING Sail Across the Equator!

It was a hasty departure out of Tuvalu, sooner than we had anticipated but the cyclone season was growing closer and we had already endured a few bouncy, wet, anchor rides. We took turns watching the anchor drag alarm, poking our heads out to watch the lightening and listen to the wind howl through the rigging.

The weather to the north was changing daily. We were watching the weather grib forecasts and the SPCZ was showing up on the forecast with large black blotches of heavy rain headed back our way. As the SPCZ moves northward it also pushes the ITCZ allowing an easier passage across the equator. It’s similar to crossing a 4 lane highway, as the traffic passes by from your left, get ready to run for the median and wait for the opposite traffic to pass by in order to get across the the second half. We realized we had only a day to ready the boat, post a quick blog and check out before the weather rapidly deteriorated and overtake our path to the north. Go when the going is good!

Monday morning we launched the dinghy and headed to immigration and custom to clear out by 9:00 a.m. Mmphm, so much for being early. A tuna trawler had arrived on Sunday evening and got the clearance priority slot so we were forced to wait for an “after lunch” opening. About 11:00 we went back just to see if any of the Immigration officers had come back earlier. Well he was in and rather annoyed that he had to come out of his office and actually perform a task. I believe he gets paid. With departure stamps in our passports we dinghied up to the port office – about a couple miles up the shoreline – to meet with Customs for outbound clearance papers. He was still out on the fishing trawler and not expected back til after lunch. Darn. We happened to be speaking with a Customs import agent and asked her if there was a place we could wait and perhaps get some lunch. Nope, nothing around. Then just as we started to walk away she asked if John knew how to operate a motor scooter. She handed us the keys and offered her personal scooter. We’re foreigners, having met only 10 minutes prior, and here she is very kindly, and happily obliging a foreigner. We were astounded by her generosity and trust! Who and in what other country would offer their personal vehicle to a total stranger? We offered to buy her a lunch, and with many thanks we accepted her scooter. John gave her a liter of gas money and she reluctantly accepted it. We drove 3 miles back into Fongafele. A quick lunch in a “Chinese” restaurant (a dose of Imodium on the side) and drove back just in time as the Customs officer had arrived at the dock and was preparing to leave for his lunch hour. He very graciously completed our clearance. God’s be good, it was our lucky day!

Cleared out, dinghy packed, final boat checks, we made haste. Weighed anchor and headed for the northern 2 mile pass just in time for the slack low tide over a 1/2 mile wide reef with 28′ of chartered water under us. It’s a little gut wrenching to see deep, blue water transition to an emerald green in less than a minute, and see the breaking waves on both sides of the reef. We took turns watching the depth sounder, looked over the side at the passing reef and counted off the distance in 1/4 mile increments according to the chartplotter. Once the depth sounder reached a steady 35′ depth reading and could see the blue water ahead of us we actually breathed a little easier. Looked back and said good bye to Tuvalu.

The first 18 hours was a smooth glassy motor ride. The grib forecast was spot on, a rarity! We welcomed the smooth ride for once but not wanting to burn the diesel since this was a 700 mile leg and the fumes intolerable, we were very pleased to shut down and had full sails up in light winds the following evening nearly 80 miles to the north. We looked back and watched the threatening cumulonimbus (thunder storm cloud streets) build and seemingly chase us. Yes, in fact, they were chasing us. Oh come on winds!

The second day out we were sailing in 15 knots on the beam with 2-3 meter seas, all the sails were up. A great sail despite the side rolling. By late afternoon we were caught in the “squash zone”. This is the air mass between the SPCZ and the ITCZ that gets compressed as the zones push and bump against each other. The wind immediately picked up to 20 knots on the beam. Not too uncomfortable down below but enough that I didn’t attempt to cook. The first couple of days we tend not to eat a lot anyway so no big deal. Sandwiches, fruit, crackers, ginger ale.

It always happens when I’m asleep and John is on watch. For a brief hour, black tendrils dropped out of the quick building cumulonimbus street and pounced on us. 30 knot winds blew, the ocean became a menacing dark blue with white foamy waves all around. I stood up on the lazerette to see farther out to the east. Blackened sky was rapidly approaching with driving rain, the ocean was nearly white with breaking waves. John went forward to put a 3rd reef in the mailsail, having already furled in some of the Yankee. The staysail was fortunately already reefed. We watched our boat speed increase to well over 7 knots, and then we began to surf at 8.5 knots. John still working on the reefing decided to drop the main. Good call. We furled more of the Yankee to a small triangle and we held onto the stainless steel lifelines as the boat heeled well over to port slurping up water. Water repeatedly gushed down the side deck and trickled over the cockpit seating. One good thing about sailing in the South Pacific, it’s hot and we generally sail in our underwear. We learned our lesson coming across from Mexico, don’t bother with clothing unless you want to deal with loads of wet salty clothes down below. And then it passed, over and done with. The front moved off just as quickly as it came on leaving behind 15 knots of good wind on the beam but 2-3 meter waves remained. With that much wind and boat speed dropping to 5.5 knots due to the waves we moved along with full sails once again, just enough that we could walk on the floor, but the pitching and rolling was very annoying.

The miles ticked away and each passing day it just got better. The sun was out filling the battery banks. The wind steadied from the East, mostly 12 – 15 knots, with full sails hoisted. We came up the leeward side of the Southern Gilbert island chain and the waves disappeared. The glassy ocean allowed us to sail with light winds in the moonless nights with such smoothness that we couldn’t tell that the boat was actually moving. There is no sound of splashing as the boat glides over the top of the water. It’s one of those rare moments in sailing where there is no distinction between your body and the boat. A magical, whispering motion, the boat speed is known by the intensity of sound as water passes by the rudder. You can feel the strength of the sails gently pulling, the feel of the helm, the smell of ocean, cool and refreshing wind on your face, your mind and body at total rest with the power of sails and wind. You lose track of time and only the stars moving across the horizon reminds you that you’re not stationary. Four days of bliss and peace.

Saturday, Nov 5 – 4:03 p.m. we crossed the equator – no longer shell backs.img_1115 Awww, feeling a little saddened that we may not pass this way again. We toasted Neptune with a full bottle of rum. We felt guilty that it was an awful tasting rum that was distilled in Moorea.img_1103 Burnt sugar with a strong taste of turpentine, totally unpalatable. We brought out the bourbon, made another toast to Neptune and enjoyed a shot ourselves. So many more adventures in the North Pacific are coming.

Part of the sailing challenge includes trying to time a passage so that the departure from and entry to a pass is near perfect relative to tide and current, and daylight hours only in a reef atoll. We made new calculations every 3 hours the last 24 hours of the passage. The distance to go divided by average boat speed, factored the wind +/- velocity, crossed our fingers for good measure and hoped for sustained wind to keep us going. Not exactly scientific given the various elements. We calculated a sail vs engine for an arrival time of 3:00 p.m at the latest to the Tarawa pass, anchored and sundowners in hand by 5:00 p.m. Well, so far we haven’t been successful mostly due to uncooperative weather, not due to the lack of sailing skill.

Sunday, Nov 6, sixth day out. A 17 mile span of ocean lies between the islands of southern Tarawa and northern Maiana. The ocean floor depth rises to about 800 feet below the ocean surface and on either side of this 800 feet lies depths of over 12,000 feet. Imagine a giant dam between the two islands and the tremendous amount of water that flows over that dam with tide, eddies and current all influenced by the moon and wind. The wind lightened in the early morning hours as we began the crossing. The adverse current was pushing us west of Tarawa, our distance made good to destination dropped to 1.5 knots. We ghosted along on calm water constantly trimming the sails and tiller windvane. At about 10:30 a.m the wind nearly died, we had another 17 miles to go and the arrival time at the pass was looking to be 8:30 p.m.

Choices: arrive at dark and stand off for 10 exhausting hours.

Second choice: Time to motor.

Let me say, nothing goes to plan, don’t ever expect it and you won’t be disappointed.

John opened the rear lazeratte hatch, reached down and began to turn the engine exhaust valve. He turned the handle once, then it began to spin. It’s an the old gate valve and what came apart in his hand? “Oh, it’s made with an “acme” screw, and it’s stripped” stated matter of factly while holding up a knob attached to a spike of bright twisted bronze.

My interpretation: “Oh, it’s a ‘We’re screwed’ screw” .   The nice way of saying it here. My heart firmly attaching itself to my lower gut.

The Exhaust Thru-Hull Valve: The engine exhaust hose comes off the back of the engine and is connected to a through hull valve embedded in a bronze housing. The entire assembly is in the side of the boat that is suppose to open allowing exhaust to escape while the engine is running. In the closed position it prevents the sea water from flowing in when the engine isn’t running.

Layman’s explanation. You gotta go real bad but there is a needless “out of order” sign indicating on the obliviously plugged toilet.

Examining the options: John got out the screwdriver to pry it open from the outside. No Joy. Next came the hammer and chisel thinking he could possibly force the gate open. Leaning out over the side of the boat he tapped and grunted. Hrumpff.

Next option: Disassemble the entire through hull but that would leave a hole in the side of the boat and the exhaust hose couldn’t be connected to a gaping 2″ hole. I looked at the life raft.

My first option: launch the dinghy with 5 hp motor and have it ready to pull or push us as we try to sail the channel. But with the wind on our nose, a long narrow channel through the maze of reef and coral bommies lurking under the surface I wasn’t sure the dinghy motor would be able to keep up. Maybe we could hail the Tarawa harbor master and have a fishing panga tow us in.  Second option: Continue sailing to the Marshall Islands another 400 miles until John came up with a fix.

John is really smart though, and he’s always calm and nonchalant, “it’s not a worry, I’ll fix it”. With a kiss for reassurance.

He removed the packing, (the handle was already off), drilled and tapped a hole into the bronze valve then screwed the appropriate sized bolt into it. Grabbed the bolt with vise gripes and removed only the special valve leaving the housing in the ‘open’ position and allow the exhaust hose to remain attached. Why the manufacturer used an “Acme” bolt is beyond me. We now have a wooden plug on the outside of the boat to keep water from coming in when the engine is off. (We won’t sink) Very clever, that guy. An hour later he started the engine and we motored up the west coast of Tarawa atoll.

5 full days of perfect sailing; 18 hours of engine time out of Tuvalu;  4 hours getting around Tarawa and to the anchorage

The boat hummed along the 700 miles on the same tack, with only the one exciting hour of sail dousing, and tweaks of sails the remaining days.

We entered the pass at 2:00 p.m, an hour motor through the winding channel and by 3:00 we dropped anchor in 45′ of water amongst large steel skeletons, floating Asian fish canneries and rusty old wrecks on the reef.

Tired but still pumped with adrenaline we tidied the cabin, hung up the sunshades and gave our ritual high five, hugs and kisses for our AMAZING sail across the equator.

And yes, thanks for the emails, we did in fact see the incredible Super Moon.  An incredible view with a clear sky and billions of stars.   And it was on my birthday, perhaps a fortuitous year ahead.