Our sunrise approach to the Marshall Islands happened just as planned. When I got up for my 5:00 am watch I could see Majuro Atoll and it’s neighbor Arno Atoll on the radar, and as the sun rose I rolled out the jib and we sailed between them. This is a huge lagoon and the pass is in the middle, about 2 hours from where the town is on the east side. As we motored in one of the yachties helped us get settled on a buoy where we’ve been ever since. It began raining off and on about 24 hours before we arrived and has continued pretty steadily since then. We kept hearing from the other cruisers here that the rain was unusual, but it didn’t seem to want to stop. Finally we learned that the rainy season doesn’t officially end until December, so we feel a little better about the constant drizzle. Almost feels like home, except the heat that goes with it.
Yesterday it did clear up long enough for it to get seriously hot. We put up the sun awning and pulled down the jib. The outer layer of sunbrella along the foot of the jib had come loose on this last passage and obviously needed some stitching. With the jib down it was apparent that all the thread that had been exposed full time to UV was rotten. The fabric right at the top near the head was also disintegrating and needed repairs. We moved the jib down into the salon to avoid the heat of the sun and I re-stitched the entire length of the foot and repaired the leech of the sail, along with the corner patches. Along the luff where it hoists into the slot in the roller furling I repaired some wear spots and reinforced the head. I soon learned that wrestling around 40 pounds of sailcloth inside an 85 degree boat will make you work up a big sweat in a big hurry.
After dinner we pulled down the big awning, which was a very wise choice because at about 4:30 this morning the wind started howling as the skies opened up and poured. Unfortunately neither of us was in the mood to go outside at that hour to open the deck fills and let the water fill the tanks, so it was all lost over the side and into the lagoon instead. This morning on the local cruiser’s net we heard that the weather is going to be basically clouds and rain and crappy all week. Hopefully we’ll have a calm period to get this sail out of the salon and back up into the furling before I leave on Wednesday.
It didn’t take long after we arrived to see most of what is in town. The atoll has one main road, and in most places is only two or three blocks wide between the lagoon and the ocean. Taxis drive up and down the road all day and you just stand alongside and hold out fingers to indicate how many of you need a ride. Nobody asks you where you’re going because there’s only one direction to go (hopefully you were standing on the correct side of the road), and you just tell the driver where to stop. It used to be $1.00 to go anywhere on the atoll, but according to an article in the local paper, some Chinese drivers have started a price war and now it’s $.50 to anywhere. Given that we expected to pay a dollar, if the driver is a Marshallese we still pay a dollar.
The yachties that have been here for years tell us that the beauty and appeal of the Marshall Islands lies in the outer atolls. There are two parallel chains of atolls about 150 miles apart with a northwest to southeast span of 800 miles. The 34 atolls consist of 1,150 tiny islands, with a total combined land area of only 70 square miles. That’s like slicing out a piece of the west coast from the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula to Bakersfield, then across to Las Vegas and back up to Central Washington State, with only the land mass of the I-5 corridor between Seattle and Tacoma. Notable atolls here include Kwajalein where the US has a large military installation, as well as Bikini and Eniwetok where the US did their nuclear testing after WWII. The two nuke test sites have yet to be cleared for repopulation and remain uninhabited, although visits are allowed as the diving on the sunken warships – including the aircraft carrier Saratoga – is reportedly quite spectacular (don’t know if they glow underwater or not). There are also some anchorages here within the Majuro atoll about 4 miles away that we’re told are nice remote getaways. We won’t have time to explore those before I head home but plan to after the holidays are over.
We received several emails from friends when we were on our way in here wanting to hear what our first impression was. Honestly, our expectations were low and we weren’t surprised. Wintering in Majuro is probably a lot like wintering in Pago Pago, except that internet access here is absurdly expensive. The harbor is dirty and noisy and filled with Asian fishing boats who come in to offload their catch onto enormous processors anchored in the lagoon. Their work boats ferry passengers and freight between the dock and the fleet all day long, creating noise and wakes in what would otherwise be a very quiet little harbor. The Marshallese at first glance don’t seem very happy. The density of population on this atoll is far higher than anywhere we’ve seen since Papeete, and there seems to be little for the locals to do. Hopefully as time goes on we’ll learn more about the Marshallese and find out we’re wrong about that. There was an article in this week’s paper about the inmates breaking out of the local jail again (apparently they just keep breaking the walls down) and after assaulting someone it took two days for the police to show up and take a report. Not very encouraging news if you’re a local.
The yachties and expat communities here are certainly friendly enough. There are frequent social events and even a virtual yacht club with races and get-togethers throughout the season. This morning everyone is gathered around the dock helping step a mast on a trimaran that someone is rebuilding. I’m at home finishing the jib repairs, opening and closing the overhead hatches another thousand times as the rain starts and stops, and getting ready for a late Wednesday flight home.
Majuro is here.