We checked in on Dec. 16th after six days of traveling through the split Inter Tropical Convergence Zone from Kiribati. The grib forecast indicated 10 – 15 knots of wind but it never materialized. Nearly 60 hours of motoring listening to the din of the engine in flat seas, unbearable heat in the cabin, and overpowering diesel fumes left us on the edge of craziness. We could see the thunderous buildups to the far North and South of us but we were stuck in the blue donut hole.
The only reward we had was watching a 4 foot dorado swim in the shadow of the boat, just inches away from our reach. The dazzling fish swam in a circle jeering at us as we watched the fishing line for a hit. We didn’t catch anything but one stinky flying fish. A juvenile seabird landed on the back deck and spent the nite plopped on the floor of the cockpit. John tried to persuade him to fly out with a stick but the poor little thing was so fatigued he couldn’t move. Feeling sorry for him we decided to let him ride along. John managed to get a towel under it but despite sitting on the towel he managed to poop all over the teak cockpit floor. By morning the floor was covered in white slime and smelled worse than the flying fish. Lesson learnt, the next time a bird tries to hitch a ride the boat pole is stronger and can be very persuasive. Finally, the ITCZ closed in and we sailed the remaining distance in rolly seas and rain squalls but nothing more than 25 kt gusts between the oncoming fronts. Fortunately we made the slack high tide to cross the reef and once inside the lagoon the waves calmed down. We dropped anchor in 40 feet of thick oozing mud. Opposing fast current and wind here makes for an interesting dance around the anchor.
Kosrae (Ko-Shrye, like “rye”) is just above 5 Degrees North of the equator so we’re still in the ITCZ. NE tradewinds swoop down the jagged mountains and blow across the lagoon creating choppy water and swells between us and the shore. We’ve spent nearly 6 days sitting on the boat with torrential rain and driving winds pounding us. The steady 80+ temperatures combined with the rain makes for uncomfortable evenings trying to sleep with closed up hatches. Kosrae is the farthest Eastern state of Micronesia and is considerably more remote and modern conveniences and goods are mostly unavailable. Kosraean is spoken here, English is their second language and taught in schools but the kids seem reluctant to speak in English. Most of the adults speak quite fluently but we definitely have some communication issues when asking for directions.
This island is very lush and green with relatively tall mountains, snake free, peaceful, laid back. Kosreans are very friendly and generous. Very conservative clothing is worn- long skirt and T-shirts for women or the traditional moo-moo style dress. You don’t see girls over the age of 10 wearing jeans. The men wear shorts so no problem for John, he looks like the locals and blends in as long as he shaves. There is a handy Ace Hardware store and an Ace grocery store is well stocked with rows of junk food just like home. Even spiral cut ham is available although cost prohibitive, so no doubt it will be here next year as most of the food is from the mainland US and outdated. Dairy products are hard to get. Small packages of cheese is about it. The prices of everything are about double of mainland. Fresh fish is hard to come by, they eat the imported slimy chicken from Arkansas, the same fatty turkey tails found in Am Samoa and Samoa, and beef from who knows where. Pork is the mainstay meat and its locally raised. There seems to be one pig and dog per capita just like Kiribati. Unlike KIribati though, the pigs are at least penned in the backyards and the daily rain shower squelches the smell.
The fertile soil produces abundantly wonderful fresh small cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, eggplant, tomatoes, green tangerines, the usual papaya, breadfruit, bananas and coconuts. We discovered the local bakery and have enjoyed some of the best bakery items since being in the South Pacific. The spry elderly lady with a wonderful heart and her daughter have a great niche and is known for her baked banana pies. A fresh baked pie is $3.00. We eat the entire pie in a sitting, just wishing we had whipping cream. The biscuits and buns are outrageously wonderful and cheap!
Wifi is very expensive and also very, very slow, $10 for 125 mb and only a couple of hotspots around the island, about 3 miles walking distance from the boat. To get anywhere you need a taxi as the villages are stretched far apart. Diesel costs $4.50/gal, the highest price we’ve paid since Portland was Kiribati at $4.90/gal. Fortunately we needed only 15 gallons when we arrived here and a portion of that was used to run the engine to charge the batteries during the cloudy rain days.
Christmas is very unusual here. We were personally invited to the celebrations by the Quarantine officer when he boarded our boat – (another story). He made a point to tell me “no sexy dress is allowed though” as he looked at my ratty flower shorts hanging on the clothesline. And then he glanced at John’s nice black button-down shirt he was wearing with the top button open. “And you must wear a shirt”. Totally closed up to the neck or a white T-shirt underneath, we wondered.
The 25th isn’t observed as the “Christmas Day”. The celebration spans for a week with singing and marching in the churches. There are four main villages and each village hosts a performance with all the attending “groups” (choir). The choirs sing sans musical accompany. Their strong soprano and baritone, children’s voices filling in with gleeful singing, beautifully echoes throughout the church and carries beyond the windows. Each group has about 100 people comprised of both children and adults all elegantly dressed in “uniforms” as they call it. Locally sewn dresses with varying unique designs for the women and complementing shirts with black slacks for the men. They carry decorated stars and sing as they wind their way through the large church. The audience sit and sing along or clap and wave at the performers. Each performance lasts about an hour. At the end of the performance the singers walk by the very large open windows and throw candy, clothes, miscellaneous items out the window to the gathered crowds -mostly children and women sitting outside on bleachers and chairs. This year the main celebration was on the 29th. It’s called “the Gathering Day”. Anyone who is Kosrean or has ties are welcomed to attend. Families from other Micronesian islands, Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, and the Phillipines were in attendance this year. Judging from the crowds of families there were about 2,500 people at the church. The performances started at 9:00 a.m. and ended at 2:00 a.m. the next morning. 13 groups sang this year, a record.
The banquet that goes along with each church performance was amazing. The traditional Kosraen rice soup was served first. Rice boiled down in coconut water, with either fish, chicken or pork depending on who made it. I have to say it was substantial and very delicious. A bowlful Is traditionally eaten before and after church service on regular Sundays. At least two roasted pigs were served. Large coconut frond baskets held baked breadfruit and taro root. Ongoing storage containers (seriously 18″ X 24″ x 12″) full of BBQ’d chicken, rice, salads, and desserts. The banquet was prepared twice on the 29th as the performance ran longer than expected. We had to get back to the boat before dark so left around 4:00 p.m., pleased to have attended two days of performances in our finest clothes and new sandals. I purchased a hand-made, multicolored flour sack skirt for the occasion and saving it for my sister. It’s really a beautiful work of patch art done by a local villager.
We invited a young man from the grocery store for Christmas dinner a couple days prior to Sunday, the 25th. He was excited to come out. Locals are curious about the yachts and appreciate an invitation to visit. We agreed upon an arranged pickup time at the concrete steps. Well of course, the wind howled, gusted 35 knots, standing waves from wind and opposing current made the boat swing and pitch wildly. We ‘re used to it so it wasn’t a big deal. We launched the dinghy in the wild winds, got out a rainproof blanket for the guest and John splashed through the waves. The young guy didn’t show up. We went over the pick up plans and agreed that maybe he arrived and was too afraid to come out to the boat after seeing Konami bucking in the water. We had also invited a Canadian sailor on the boat next to us. We enjoyed our Christmas dinner and played board games anyway. Two days later, I went to the store to ask if we had miscommunicated on the time and date. He only nodded and apologized. “It was Sunday and I stay at home after church” was his polite, nonchalant response. But don’t you eat dinner, I asked. “yes but I eat at home, no go out after church”. Okay, so maybe another day, I told him. I think he was too shy to refuse our offer and didn’t know how to say that it’s customary to not engage in social activities on Sunday. Not wanting to hurt our feelings he accepted just to be courteous. Oh well, we had wonderful leftover chorizo lasagne.
What else have we done besides relax and sweat in pouring rain? Our comprehensive electronic library consisting of 12,000 books and has been our main source of entertainment since a cruising boat passed it on to us in Am. Samoa. We also play board games, eat and be merry. And being US territory, they have bagged icecubes here! Something that is rare is ice sold in the stores in the So. Pacific. John replaced the engine exhaust valve, yep, they had the proper size, bronze ball valve we needed at the Ace Hardware store. I cleaned and polished the stainless steel. Cleaned out the garage (V-berth) re-organized the food cupboards, checked for bugs in the grain products. Konami is looking good.
Sunday is a quiet day, no leisurely activities are allowed so we observe their custom and try to stay below dressed only in our shorts, especially since we’re anchored in view of the church. We went to the Lelu ruins. The Ace grocery store is built on top of some of it. It’s overgrown with the jungle which is too bad and local kids hang out there with their spray cans of paint defacing the colossal size, perfect basalt stones. Garbage is thrown about and some homes back against the rocks with their garbage pits. We walked far back into the jungle and climbed up the burial mounds. The mounds are about 50′ long and 20’ feet high. It’s amazing to just sit at imagine how the chieftain and villagers lived their lives nearly 600 years ago. It’s “young” for ruins compared to the European cultures but it’s all very interesting nonetheless.
We dinghied up the mangrove maze to Bully’s restaurant. Numerous river turns and secluded. Rather creepy with the dark brown water from vegetation and lowlying bushes. You could swear alligators are lurking in the water waiting to have a meal should you fall in. We thought we heard duo banjos playing but it must’ve been just the wind blowing through the tall banyan and coconut trees.
The weather never cooperated enough to allow snorkeling on the outside reef, too bad, it’s beautiful and enticing! The Japanese war caves are a ways off and you need a guide for the day. If there were more time…
It’s now January 1, 2017 as I complete this blog. Happy New Year to All! May 2017 be as blessed as last year. Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu! Saku nen iroro osewasama deshita. Kotoshi mo, dozo yoroshiku oneigai shimasu – Dear Sister!
Our 30 day cruising permit expires in a couple of days (we were shorted by 12 days of actual visitation, another story of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, typical of over-inflated government employees) so we’re preparing to leave Kosrae bound for Pohnpei, about 350 miles to the NW. The ITCZ is still very active and boisterous, it won’t calm down until later in the month. We’ll start out with good sailing according to the weather forecast.
Blessed be, dear families and friends!