The Marshall Islands
We are sitting on the deck of our boat sipping a cold beer. It's already dark when we see a dim light behind the island. What is it? We wait a while and then we see the moon rise from behind the palm trees. It's like a picture from a book: a full moon with the palm trees in the foreground. We don't even try to photograph it and simply enjoy the view.
We have fled the hustle and bustle of DUD (Djarrot, Uliga and Delap), three villages which have grown into one big village on a small piece of land with lots of people and activity. For about an hour we sailed across the lagoon which is like a huge lake among the small islands of the Majuro atoll. Now we are anchored near the island of Anemanot and behind the island we hear the ocean roar against the reef. It's a fascinating idea to be on this tiny piece of land in the middle of an ocean which is thousands of metres deep.
Three families live on Anemanot and each weekend a couple of boats arrive with Marshallese who come here to relax. Other than that, peace and quiet reigns. We use this anchorage to work on our list of chores, which never seems to get any shorter. We repair a leak in the engine's cooling system. Hans climbs up the mast for an inspection, a spreader needs to be moved up a bit and the stay needs to be tightened. And those are just two chores of a long list we need to work on. But in the meantime we enjoy watching the tropical fish around the boat, the coral that is everywhere so we can snorkel to it from Happy, and we paddle around to stay fit.
A big scare
We prepare to leave for other atolls of the Marshall islands. Most chores have been completed and little by little we replenish our supplies. We want to visit three islands for two weeks each, and we plan a bit of extra time in case the weather turns bad and we can't sail back, so we need supplies for about ten weeks. The people on the other islands live a simple life and their staple food is fish, rice and coconut, so you need to bring everything yourself.
We want to replace a salt water hose because it has a minor leak, and this means we need to remove the floor of the kitchen cabinet. Beneath this floor is the sink's drain, which leads through the hull via a valve and a thru-hull fitting. To our amazement, the valve, the handle on the valve and the thru-hull fitting are terribly corroded. Hans struggles to pull the handle down, which closes the valve. When he tries to open it again, the handle breaks off and the valve can no longer be opened, which means we now have an "obstructed" sink. We try to unscrew the hose connection above the valve, but it breaks off. All the bronze has become brittle. All the other valves and thru-hull fittings turn out to have serious signs of corrosion. How can this have happened in just six months?
In Opua, New Zealand, someone helped us with an engine problem, and at the time he asked us whether everything in our boat was electrically bonded, in other words, whether all the metal parts were interconnected with electrical wiring. If this is not the case, he said, an electrical current will run around our boat which can affect engine parts and other metal parts on the boat. He could even measure that there was a current around our boat and on his advice, Hans worked hard to electrically interconnect all valves. Unfortunately, this advice turns out to be wrong and has now created a huge problem. The only solution is to hoist Happy Monster out of the water and to replace all thru-hull fittings, valves and hose connections.
Rats and a stupid lady
We start organising our orders. First we need to find out which sizes and types our parts are. Fortunately, someone on one of the other boats knows everything about this and within seconds he can tell us which sizes we need. We discover in time that all parts are measured by their inside measurement. When we finally have a list of the forty or so parts we need to order, we send it to a West Marine engineer who checks it and finds that we did a thorough and accurate job. He sends our list to a lady who is responsible for international sales. In the meantime, it turns out we accidentally ordered too many hose clamps. We send an email and ask to be sent the full order, and to only change the order for the hose clamps. We want our order as soon as possible, so we can have the boat hoisted out of the water here in Majuro before Christmas.
Cary from the boat "Seal" has been here seven years and has offered to help us with the crane. In the past few years, he has helped other sailors hoist their boat out of the water. We check out the location where our boat will be hoisted and where Happy will be put up. There are no real boat supports and the plan is to keep the boat up with palm tree stems. This does not sound very encouraging. In addition, the ground on which our Happy is to stand is soft and consists of sand. Won't this be washed away when it starts raining heavily? Our hearts have sunk below our knees by now. We look around for a bit longer and try to convince people to create proper boat supports. During the endless wait for one of the employees of the company which is going to arrange all this (keeping appointments is never a given here), we see a family of rats scratching about. Which is very nice for these little animals, but they are certainly not welcome guests on board of Happy. Our hearts have now sunk into our socks. We haven't thought to ask yet what the toilet and shower will look like when we talk everything over again in the cockpit on Christmas Day. We are both terrified that something will go wrong and that Happy will not survive the operation. Our hearts have now sunk way below our boots. We both have a bad feeling about this and we have learned to trust our intuition. As long as we don't touch the other valves, they will probably last another six months, especially now that the electrical wiring has been removed from all parts.
Why don't we sail to Fiji and have the boat hoisted out of the water in a more controlled way? But our sink no longer has a drain. We can't set out to sea with a bucket in the kitchen cabinet! We don't know yet how we are going to solve this, but it does feel a lot better than taking the boat out of the water here.
Shortly after Christmas, the parts arrive. What a small box! It turns out that the stupid lady has only sent us the hose clamps. Via Skype we explain everything again down to the minutest detail. During this call she mixes up everything and makes things needlessly complicated, but eventually she does get it and she will send us everything. Fortunately we are no longer in a hurry. We can relax again.
Warm shower and airco
A "learn sailing" day is organised: people who live here are offered the opportunity to learn a bit of theory in the morning and to sail on one of the yachts in the afternoon. We put our names on the list and in the afternoon, Joe and Joon join us on board our boat. They are from Alaska and they are here for two years to teach at a primary school. They want to buy a cheap sailing boat to use while they are living here. We spend an enjoyable afternoon together and invite them for a weekend to Anemanot. Joe is crazy about diving and thinks it's a great idea. He brings along a couple of dive tanks, so Hans will have the opportunity to breathe under water again. We all have a fantastic weekend. Joon has a wonderful time snorkelling and fortunately the weather is wonderful.
Joe and Joon will visit their family in the US for the holidays and their apartment will be empty while they are away. They offer us the use of their apartment, as long as we regularly switch on the airco to prevent moulding, something which happens a lot in this climate. We can take a warm shower, watch TV, sit in an air-conditioned room, use unrestricted internet in the evening and we don't need to open and close any hatches when it rains. Because despite all the stories about drought in other years, it rains an awful lot here, almost every day. In three months' time, we haven't had more than three days in a row without rain.
Our departure to the other atolls is cancelled again
After Joe and Joon return from their holiday, we start preparing again for our departure to the other atolls. We have filled our boat again with lots of delicacies for the next few weeks and we are anchored at Anemanot, waiting for the right weather. Tomorrow we will have the right wind to depart.
Today we return to DUD to refuel with diesel and to pick up our new GPS and VHF at the post office. To be able to quickly go ashore, Dory puts the mainsail halyard back while sailing to attach it to the boom, so it doesn't make any noise. There's a strong wind and we generate a lot of energy with our wind generator, until the halyard is caught between the blades. The blades are damaged and this unbalances the wind generator. We immediately order new blades and again we decide to postpone our departure.
We go to the post office to pick up our package. What a big box! Surely, a GPS and a VHF fit into a much smaller package? Again, a stupid lady has sent us the wrong stuff.
We swallow our disappointment and start making new plans. We sail back to Anemanot and paint our Mini bright yellow! We spend a couple of enjoyable days and maybe one day we will be able to visit the other Marshall islands.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)