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Logs & Stories -  January 2006

Christmas Island

January 2, 2006

Bill:

We're now at Christmas Island, moored in a roadstead anchorage, protected from the prevailing winds and waves but completely open to the west. Because of the western exposure, we're routinely treated to a view of gorgeous Pacific Ocean sunsets. We're also routinely treated to Pacific Ocean swells pounding on the beach (frighteningly large ones just a few days ago), and Pacific Ocean tradewinds making the boat bob and toss. Fortunately, the pilot charts indicate that the likelihood of getting a westerly wind is about zero, but we're exposed to more swell than we're used to.

Because of the surf, landing a dinghy at the beach is unsafe. Fortunately, there's a freighter pier sticking out quite a distance (locals call it "the jetty") that makes landing possible -- it has a stairway descending two stories to the sea, where you can gingerly exit your dinghy. It's challenging, though: the wind typically blows about fifteen knots, filling in each morning, dying a little at night, and the swell has varied from about a meter to about three meters.

We haven't been very good at provisioning (as in, we didn't buy enough food in Pago Pago, where the water was flat and the food was both cheap and available), so we've had to make multiple runs into the various stores, paying French Polynesia-type prices for what little is available, then dealing with the challenges of getting the supplies back to the boat.

Chuck Corbett, our next-door neighbor, has been incredibly helpful and whenever we've needed assistance he's escorted us to town and led us around dusty roads to tiny, mostly empty stores, then helped transfer things to Seafire by hauling things on his dinghy, a mast-less Hobie cat.

Chuck is a 49-year-old surfer, a native of California who came to Tarawa (the Gilbert Island atoll now overcrowded with 50,000 people) about a quarter-century ago, then twelve years ago found what he claims is a world-class wave at Fanning Island and moved there. Apparently there were complications, though. He was married to a Kiribati national and had two ten-ish kids at the time, and the wife didn't want to move. He ended up moving anyway, and in the process gave up his US citizenship and became a Kiribati national himself.

Chuck now lives aboard a 55-foot steel sailboat with his second wife, a 25-year-old Fanning Island native, and her two sisters. He supports himself by doing surf-adventure charters. Since his boat is fairly spartan, the charters appear to be of the Outward-Bound-for-macho-surfers type. On board he's got a video and a number of magazine articles that resulted from his business. One of them describes sailing an entourage of surfers and photographers to Fanning Island, and the sheer terror of going through what Chuck called a fairly ordinary squall. I guess surfers ain't sailors -- for one group, the ocean looks a little scarier when you're more than a hundred yards from the beach; for the other group, it looks scarier when the waterline's at your waist.

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January 3, 2006

Karryn:

Because we made landfall on December 23 we were able to have an experience many hear of but few participate in: Christmas on Christmas Island.

Our Christmas shopping in Pago Pago wasn't very well planned. I had thought we would be in Majuro before Christmas, but it became apparent at the end of our stay in Samoa that this would not be the case. So Bill and I had to scramble for gifts for the kids.

Naomi is still pretty easy to buy for -- she likes books, makeup, jewelry and clothing, and the last three were widely available there. Bill had found the only decent bookstore in Fagatogo, and we had bought a number of books there for the kids. The local upscale department store was having a pre-Christmas sale, so we bought clothing for the kids and me (mine were considered late birthday presents).

However, giving Jackson clothing as presents wasn't going to fly, but Bill managed to score some magazines at a local video store. So we had a reasonable selection of presents by cruising standards, at least for the kids to receive, and to give to each other and to Mom & Dad. However, I think Bill and I will be waiting until we're in Hawai'i to do any Christmas shopping for each other.

Naomi started pestering us about putting up our Christmas tree back in November -- we have a small electric one we picked up when we were in Oxnard, California four years ago. She got it out of the ama before we left Pago Pago, and it spent the passage in her bunk. The afternoon of our arrival, she harassed Bill until he cleaned up the chart table so she could put the tree there and set out the stockings.

After five Christmases spent on board, we've gotten used to a small number of presents and a pretty sedate celebration. It will be very interesting to see how the kids react to all the holiday advertising (more-bigger-newer-better gifts for your loved ones!) that we will be subjected to in the U.S. I'm hoping that the memories of our small holidays will stay with them, because, for the grownups at least, we've found that smaller is better.

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January 4, 2006

Jackson:

On Christmas Eve, the day after we got to Christmas Island, we went spear fishing with Chuck at the pier. Once we got there, we discovered a slight problem Chuck hadn't told us about. Where we spear fished in Baja it is rarely more than ten feet deep, so there were plenty of fish you didn't have to dive after. And in Tahiti and Raiatea you only had to dive about a foot down so you could hit the squirrelfish hiding underneath the coral heads.

Here there were only a few small fish around the pylons, and they dived too fast to hit. The bottom was at least fifteen feet down, and most of the fish swam around down there. The only other fish were the six-inch needlefish, which schooled under the pier. Dad was surprised I could hit them. After spearing a couple of the needlefish, we headed closer to shore, fighting against the alternating currents that came from the waves surging in and out. Since I can't dive that deep and the visibility underwater was terrible due to the waves stirring things up, I ended up unsuccessfully attempting to brace myself against the pylons with my spear so the waves wouldn't push me around so much.

Dad got one sturgeonfish, and some of the ones that had been swimming around the pylons, and Chuck got three big sturgeonfish and a live octopus (kept in a bucket). Chuck told us he would keep the octopus alive in a bucket for a day so he could use its legs as bait.

Once in the bucket, the prisoner would occasionally stick a tentacle up over the bucket's lip. When I poked the tentacle with my finger, the octopus would stick its arm further out, maybe hoping my hand was a potential meal.

I eventually took the dinghy back to Seafire because Chuck and Dad were drinking beer and it looked like Dad wasn't going to head back for a while.

On New Year's Eve we went over to Chuck's boat to stay up until midnight and shoot off some old flares he wanted to get rid of. After we had been there in the darkness a few hours I got bored, and went to the boat's transom swimming platform and attempted to grab the needlefish attracted by a light Chuck had hanging. I ended up catching nine of them using nothing but my bare hands. At midnight we went to the foredeck of Chuck's boat and the grownups shot off around ten flares (I asked to fire one off but Mom wouldn't let me). Then we went back to Seafire and fell asleep.

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January 8, 2006

Jackson:

We went on a drive around the island with Chuck, his wife and her sisters, two guys here working on the nuclear clean-up crew (Dominic and Randy), a visiting diver (Justin) and a doctor (George) who had just had two hips replaced. We went all the way to the Bay of Wrecks on the other side of the island. On the way we could tell why the British decided to turn Christmas into a testing spot for nuclear bombs.

The island is dry, the closest thing to Baja we've seen since leaving Mexico. There is less vegetation than in Mazatlan, which during the dry season looks like it has been having a severe drought. Because of the dryness there isn't a lot of potential for agriculture. There is no good harbor, and it is thousands of miles from any inhabited island except for Fanning, which at time of the nuclear tests had a population of a couple hundred. The perfect island to blow up. Except from the inhabitants' and naturalists' point of view (Christmas island has a large population of sea birds).

Since the bombs were all detonated miles above the ground, theoretically there should be no lasting effect on the island. But given the fact that Christmas is in the doldrums during late winter / early spring, there was probably at least one bomb detonated when there was no wind, so there is probably more than the average amount of radiation on Christmas. There were probably a few mutant seabirds born for years after the testing stopped. At least that's better than Bikini in the Marshalls, which is still uninhabitable after around forty years (some of the motus are supposedly safe, but there is probably a fair amount of radioactive material there).

Once we got to the Bay of Wrecks, we went out to the beach for a while, getting sprinkled on by the squalls a few miles offshore and marveling at all the pieces of washed-up coral that made up the shore. Naomi and I managed to catch a few hermit crabs and make a sand enclosure for them. The vegetation reminded me of Baja: gray bushes and semi-trees growing out of the sand. Fortunately there was nothing with spines. We eventually returned to the trucks to head back.

We stopped at the saline ponds in the island's interior on the way back. Christmas is essentially a clogged-up atoll, which gives it the biggest landmass of any atoll in the world. And since it is an atoll, most of the land is at sea level, so occasionally water spills into one of the lower places. So there are ponds of water scattered over the island that have a higher salinity than the ocean because they have been gradually evaporating over the years.

The land around the ponds was a crab graveyard. Judging from the bleached exoskeletons lying around, a number of pioneering land crabs had attempted to dig holes and make their home here. The ground around the ponds was hard coral and rock, so the crabs had stayed too long and been roasted by the sun. Some of the remains were very well preserved, others fell apart when I touched them. One lost a couple of legs when I picked it up, so I brought it back and said, "This is one of the ones that fought the Russians in Afghanistan."

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January 10, 2006

Bill:

Christmas Island is a desolate feeling place -- dry, dusty, spare. In spite of being well known (made famous by the Andrews Sisters' "Christmas on Christmas Island", and British nuclear testing done there in the middle of the last century) it's actually pretty remote.

There are few tourists and the accommodations for them are minimal, no real hotels. It has an airplane coming in from Hawai'i once a week with a few guys jetting in to catch bonefish and occasionally a couple of surfers to catch uncrowded waves (I'm told surfing in Hawai'i is a mob experience.

A cargo plane comes in maybe once a month from Hawai'i, and a supply boat makes it in perhaps every four months from Australia via Tarawa if the islanders are lucky. The economy appears minimal, nearly non-existent. The stores are few and have almost nothing in them. Prices in the stores are high, usually on the same level as French Polynesia, if not higher. The only indigenous food source here appears to be fish, and it appears fish and rice are the dietary staples; because of the dry climate, very little produce is grown.

Most places we've been, local guys go fishing in reasonably-sized boats with engines on them; here at Christmas they do it in leaky little canoes paddled into the ocean by brave souls. Each day we look out and see dozens of small paddle canoes in the ocean around us, men spending the day with a line in hand. Fortunately, the sea here is incredibly alive. Daily we're treated to pods of dolphins and schools of needlefish leaping through the air, sea turtles poking their heads up, occasionally large unidentified fish jumping high. I've been spear fishing along the reef a few times, seeing large schools of colorful tropical fish. Sharks, though, are on the local menu, so we luckily haven't seen any.

The remoteness and lack of goods here would absolutely amaze you -- Kim Anderson, another Californian who's been here fourteen years described it as Fourth World. Amid a population of perhaps seven thousand humans, these guys are two of only about six I-Matang (white people) living on the island. Unlike Hawai'i, there's no trace of racial animosity here, only curiosity -- when we go for walks the kids stare at us, then wave enthusiastically when we say hello ('mauri' in Kiribati) and greet them.

Here's a little linguistic aside: whoever they had work on spelling in Samoa also did some work here. There, he couldn't figure out the trick with 'n'; here, he got hung up on 's' -- probably imagined the letter would terrify the natives because they thought it was snake or something, so Kiribati is actually Kiribas. Go figure. Chuck's wife's name is spelled Temoaiti, but pronounced Tem-oh-ise. Confusing as hell.

[Editor's note: I don't know that this is true, but I was told that the missionaries here were from Hawai'i and used the alphabet used in that language, which has no letter 's'.]

Bill's note: When the spelling dude got to Hawai'i, he did some interesting work there, too, managed to turn the 'v' sound into a 'w' -- I've been repeatedly informed that the traditional way to say the name of that island group is 'Havai'i'. Hi ho

Interestingly, in the Line Islands the majority of the population is made up of transplants from Tarawa, the political and economic center of the nation of Kiribati and over 1500 miles from here. The islands were actually unpopulated when discovered by the Europeans, so everyone here either is an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants. The entire nation of Kiribati has around 100,000 people, half living on Tarawa; most of the seven thousand folks on Christmas live in traditional Gilbertese villages, small stick-frame buildings with elevated floors, walls and roofs primarily of thatch. Long distances in combination with the low local population and the third-world nature of the nation of Kiribati makes the economics of distribution challenging -- not a lot of goods traveling great distances in old, unreliable, marginally profitable cargo boats. Their arrival schedule and contents aren't as predictable as we're used to in the U.S.

Kiribati is one of the poorest nations in the Pacific. I remember seeing a report that showed per capita GDP and it was somewhere around $900. That's correct: $900. I think Australia's was about $22,000. These folks have few resources other than fish (pretty limited land area and rainfall on most islands), and the islanders seem pretty laid back. I don't mean that in a bad way, mind you -- these folks don't seem to have a pattern of killing everything in sight to turn it into money. The ecosystem on Christmas seems pretty intact, full of dolphins, turtles and fish. The only real industry appears to be government whose primary funding I'm told comes largely from donations from other countries. The fishermen in the ocean outside Seafire look pretty busy though, always lots of them out in their tiny canoes, paddling in the wind and current.

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January 15, 2006

Bill:

We're still pondering what we want to do with the next year of our lives. When we headed out of Samoa, we were planning on turning left for a trip to western Micronesia, the Marshall and Caroline Islands, but various elements of our experience in Pago Pago and the headwinds we encountered on our way out caused us to turn right and end up here in eastern Micronesia, the Line Islands, about 1200 miles due south of Hawaii.

When we turned east last month, we were contemplating a return to the NW next summer (living in Bellingham), but the thought of returning to the US still makes me cringe. My last decade of living in Seattle left some uncomfortable memories, a product of family deaths in combination with unpleasant work experiences. I'm not yet clear on what I want to do.

I liked Tahiti enormously, and we're pondering a trip back there. Papeete was wonderful, but because of the repairs we needed to make, we never got to the southwestern side where the Gauguin museum, the Botanical Garden, and some beautiful anchorages are located. I feel as though I have unfinished living waiting there, and I'm mindful that the next time I may be able to return might be fifteen years from now, if ever.

Our plan at this point is to stay here another week or so, then head over to Fanning Island (my mother said she found a website with photos after doing a search; perhaps you might find it, too), which is an overnight sail away, and has a much better anchorage but fewer provisions. I expect to stay in Fanning around a month and then head to Hawaii, arriving in Hilo sometime after the middle of March. I figure that'll give us a few months to contemplate what we want to do before the North Pacific passage-making season opens and we're compelled to commit to a direction.

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January 18, 2006

Karryn:

Christmas Island has got to have one of the creepiest anchorages I've ever been in. While we have been in roadstead anchorages before, they've always been in bodies of water smaller than the Pacific Ocean -- the Sea of Cortez or the San Juan Islands, for instance. Places where there was land all around within 75 miles in any direction. Someplace where, if a dinghy drifts off, it's likely to go ashore not too far away. Here, between us and the sunset there ain't nothin' but open ocean. We put extra tethering lines on the dinghies and permanently tied in the oars. Swimming is a bit weird, as there is a fair amount of current -- nothing we can't all out swim, but it's a little disconcerting to jump off the back end of the boat and find the transom further away than you expected as you surface! Plus it means that high winds keep us from going ashore, as we prefer to make our long passages in Seafire instead of the dinghies

Adding to the excitement, the landing on the stairs at the end of the big pier (locals call "the jetty") can be life-threatening and often gets my heart pounding -- the lack of local medical facilities doesn't help (although at least here we can get airlifted out as Hawai'i is a 6-hour flight away). The jetty's stairs, two stories high, simply terminate near sea level, hanging a meter above the ocean when the tide is out and a wave trough is beneath them, plunging a meter into the water during a crest at high tide.

There used to be a handrail almost to the bottom end, but apparently the tenders to the large fishing vessels simply would run their bows up against it and now the handrail starts about 8' above the bottom step, adding to the excitement and uncertainty. A dinghy must be placed parallel to the line of the stairs, as seen from above, so that the person climbing out can hang on to the higher steps as he or she exits the dinghy. As swells take you up and down, timing is of the essence -- if you're not quick, you might go swimming or accidentally end up with a dinghy placed under the stairs as an incoming wave causes the water level to rise. Or at least frustrate the person keeping the dinghy in place.

This is the only anchorage we've been where I have not been able to take a dinghy ashore by myself.

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Bill here.

Due to the magic of the written word, you've been lingering back on Christmas Island while we've moved on to Tabuaeran Atoll. Don't go looking for the place on your map, it probably won't be there. Written in its location you'll find a place called Fanning Island, a civilized sounding place, no doubt connected to the First World via a stream on incoming freighters and jet planes. You can get there on a cruise ship, one owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Tabuaeran Atoll, though, is a different kind of place. Most of the time you can only get there by sailboat. Occasionally, maybe every few months if you're lucky, a third-world freighter comes in with passengers and some food, leaves with other passengers, copra and seaweed. Much of the time, there's very little or no gasoline, no cars and motorcycles on the roads, fishing boats are sailed and paddled. Basic things like soap, laundry detergent, lighters, and fishing line are hard to come by. But the place is lush with vegetation -- walking down a dirt road you see an abundance of coconut, banana, papaya and breadfruit trees, groves of taro plants. The sea is teeming with life -- fish large and small, turtles, manta rays. Rainfall is abundant.

We'll tell you more about it later.

Right now, though, we're about to set sail for Hawai'i, possibly in an hour. This departure will close a major chapter on our traveling experience -- we'll leave an island group barely impacted by the twentieth century and arrive in the place in the central Pacific most touched by it.

The passage there is likely to be challenging -- 1100 upwind miles. Thirty-five years ago I made a less rigorous passage on Soceress, and we ended up dismasted with 600 miles to go. We know of a boat that made the passage from Christmas to Hawai'i a month ago, got nailed by whirlwind off the Big Island, fractured its headstay chainplate and nearly dismasted.

The passage has several features -- 1) the Line Islands sit on a undersea ridge where the water jumps from 4000 meters to 1500, causing the west-bound current to accelerate as much as two knots; 2) just north of Tabuaeran Atoll is the Equatorial Counter Current, a half-knot stream of east-bound water; 3) the winds at our departure point are easterly, averaging perhaps 15 knots; 4) the winds at our destination are northeasterly, averaging closer to 25 knots.

For those of you who are non-sailors, 25-knot winds in combination with the ocean waves they produce creates a physical environment that can kick the crap out of you.

Our plan is to work eastward in the counter-current band south of latitude 10-degrees until we're actually east of Hawaii (longitude 150 is our target), then turn northward. When the winds clock from east to northeast and pick up to 25 knots, we'd like them on or aft of the beam so we and the boat don't take too much of a pounding.

We'll let you know how it works out.

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January 20, 2006

Karryn:

The fact that I needed assistance going ashore led to Bill breaking two oars as he attempted to row in one very windy afternoon. I had plans to go ashore in the morning with Chuck, as I needed to go to the island's sole Internet cafe located at the government's telecom office. I was going to row myself over to Chuck's boat and then the two of us would paddle his Hobie cat in to the pier. However, he paddled over on his surfboard and decided that he would gallantly row me to his boat in one of our dinghies. We took Bill's dinghy and for some reason Chuck decided we should take it all the way to the pier.

While we were at the Internet cafe, I searched for information on retinal problems, as about a month earlier I had started having flashes in the peripheral vision of my right eye and thought it might have something to do with retinal damage. George (the doctor with the two new hips) had experience with retinal detachment due to an accident, including being blind for a while, a seven-hour surgery to put things back and eventually regaining his sight. He told me I most likely didn't have a problem, but to keep a lookout for more symptoms and to see a doctor when we got to Hawai'i. A new symptom had indeed shown up.

Needless to say, the various options -- having to sail to Hawai'i to see a doctor to find out if there was even a problem (there are no eye doctors on Christmas), having to be airlifted out or even losing vision in one eye -- were not making me very comfortable. Chuck knew there were two eye doctors on the island fly-fishing but due to leave the next morning, so a few hours later I was on Chuck's boat waiting for Bill to row over so we could go find them and figure out what was going on. Given the magnitude of the decision, I wanted Bill to hear what the doctors might say.

We had been cruising with three sets of oars until a friend lost one of my oars while borrowing my dinghy, so I was using Jackson's oars, which are only 7' and lightly built. Bill's oars are 8' and considerably thicker in the shaft. The wind had increased to over twenty knots during day, and between the fact that his regular oars were so much stronger and the wind being really above what we normally would go rowing in he broke two of them. I won't go into the ugly details, but he was justifiably in a foul mood by the time he arrived at Chuck's. Not only had he just been potentially faced with a very long passage in a very small boat, we now had three oars and only two matched.

We hitchhiked up to a little fly-fishing resort and eventually met the two eye doctors, Paul and Paul, who have a practice in Medford, Oregon. They come to Christmas every year for the fly-fishing; they said that most of their patients are snowbirds who at this time of year are somewhere warm and sunny, so they're able to shut down their office and spend a week catching fish together.

In about twenty minutes, they were able to fill us in on the details of aging eyes and, while they couldn't be certain without diagnostic equipment, it was likely that my eyes were just experiencing normal aging. The significant piece of new data was that, with serious retinal damage, usually the symptoms show up quite rapidly, within a week or two, and since I was three weeks past the first symptom I ought to be okay. I still need to get it checked out in Hawai'i. I've spent most of my life seeing an ophthalmologist every year, but since leaving Seattle nearly five years ago I haven't had an appointment with one.

This was good news, but now we had two dinghies, two kids that have become too big for all of us to fit in one dinghy and only three oars.

Fortunately, Chuck had a pair of oars that were slightly bigger and heavier than Bill's. Because of their size and awkwardness he wasn't using them much when paddling his Hobie cat and wasn't on planning on needing them for a rowing tender for the next year. Bill was able to turn the two broken oars into two very nice paddles, lighter and easier to handle, particularly for the women on Chuck's boat. And the really fortunate thing is that a barge is coming down to Christmas from Hawai'i in April to retrieve some heavy equipment and, due to Chuck's friendship (and favors to) the people whose barge it is, he can have things shipped on this barge, like a pair of oars that need to be returned.

So the trade was made, and we once again have enough oars, sort of, but only one spare that doesn't match anything and now both of us have oars that are too heavy. And to think I thought three pairs of oars was overkill! Still, I'm exceedingly happy that Chuck had oars we needed and that we were able to give him something in return.

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Bill here.

We're still on our passage to Hawaii, now at something of a turning point. The straight-line distance from Fanning/Tabuaeran Atoll to Hilo, Hawaii (our destination at the windward-most end of the chain) is around 1100 miles. And based on another straight-line measurement, we've traveled 720 miles to the location where we are now; because of the headwinds, requiring that we tack upwind, we've traveled over 1000 miles through the water and over the ocean floor. Because we expected wind velocities to double as we approached Hawaii, we felt that making more easting early in the passage would be important so that we could minimize physical discomfort for us and potential damage to Seafire -- beating in rough ocean swells and waves is a bit abusive to body and boat. One of the things we've been able to work to our advantage has been the counter-current. Most currents in this part of the ocean are west-bound, but there is a thin band in this region running eastward. We've been able to stay in favorable water much of the time -- our distance over the ocean floor (measured via GPS) has been 1022 miles, while our distance through the water (measured via the knotmeter) has been 1055 miles, not much different. We actually found the counter current right as we left Fanning, but lost it after a day and were challenged by a 1.5 knot current against us. Fortunately, we found the counter current again about a day and a half later.

Our passage strategy was to make all of our easting to longitude 150 W (Hilo is about 300 miles west of this, at about 155 W)south of latitude 10 N (Fanning is at about 4 N; Hawaii is at about 20 N), when we thought the winds would be a civilized 15 knots. The Pacific High had been in full force for quite some time, pumping 25-knot NE winds at Hawaii; by going this far east early we'd intended to be able to reach in the stronger winds as we approached the islands and avoid beating the crap out of us and Seafire.

A bit of good luck has come our way, though. A low pressure region has appeared near Hawaii, dumping rain on the islands, but causing the winds where we are to stay easterly at 15 knots, and they're expected to remain so for the next three or four days. At this point, we're about 500 miles from Hilo, making about 100 miles a day, so it looks like our ride is likely to be civilized.

We've actually only had one period of ugly sailing, two nights ago. During most of the passage we've had the boat going about 4 knots, not very fast, but fairly comfortable. The boat is capable of higher speeds, but the motion gets really nasty, bouncing and crashing into waves. Two days ago we had one of our most pleasant days -- we'd reached our target longitude turning point (150 W), and spend the day headed north in 10-15 knot easterlies under sunny skies. As the sun descended, though, the sky darkened with clouds and the wind increased to about 25 and we spent the night blasting along at 6-8 knots, too fast to be comfortable. The impact of the waves hitting the dinghies lashed to the deck managed to break four of the chocks and put a split in an aft seam on the leeward dinghy. None of it a huge deal to fix, but a minor pain in the ass nonetheless.

At this point we're reaching along nicely, going about 4.5 knots under staysail and the main with a single reef in it.

Geez... I just read over what I've written above, and it reads a little roughly. I'd like to sit here and edit it a little, possibly restructure it a bit, but this fucking PC screen is bouncing around in front of my face and making things a bit hard to read, hard to keep my eyes tracking along the sentences from beginning to end. So you're just gonna have to read it as I wrote it.

Hi ho...

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January 22, 2006

Karryn:

Despite the pitfalls, I'm very glad we came here, as this is by far the most remote place we've been to. After going through two welfare states (French Polynesia and American Samoa), I think I understand why the islanders put up with not being politically independent -- it appears to have great paybacks in terms of the standard of living. Jackson and Naomi have had fantastic exposure to existence outside the US and I'm hoping their sense of appropriate material desires won't change too fast once we're living someplace that has more stuff.

We've been here long enough that I've gotten used to the hassles here, although it's still frustrating to make plans and then not be able to get ashore to follow through on them. The sunsets are absolutely marvelous, although I would trade that for 360 degrees of land protection. I'm looking forward to being in the lagoon at Fanning, and I'm really looking forward to a short passage that should end somewhere under in 28 hours!

Since leaving Seattle we've traveled nearly 13,000 miles, with 7,000 of that on open ocean transits since departing Mexico, and I have to say I'm not fond of the long passages. The stereotypical cruising couple usually has the man liking the macho parts of sailing while the woman puts up with them to get to interesting places. However, both Bill and I feel the same way about going for days and days: we're proud of having overcome the challenges of voyaging, but would prefer it if the long passages were in our past. We really aren't looking forward to more, and the two that are left for sure (Line Islands to Hawai'i, Hawai'i to the Pacific Northwest) loom over us and I get tired just thinking about them.

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January 24, 2006

Bill:

We're still at Christmas, awaiting a weather change until deciding where to head -- Hawaii or Fanning Island. We were prepared to move on to Fanning Island two days ago, but the Intertropical Convergence Zone (a band of light air, squalls and lightning, aka "The Doldrums") expanded to about 300 miles wide (north - south) and engulfed Fanning. One of the passage issues is that Christmas and Fanning lie on an undersea ridge that raises the ocean floor from about 15,000 feet below sea level up to 5000, causing the current to increase to about 2 knots westbound. We noticed one of the engine mounts looking a little odd, and, while we haven't had any problems at this point, I'm aware we could.

The risks of lightning (which we learned so much about on the Sea of Cortez) in combination with the possibility of an engine problem during light winds and a strong westbound current caused us to stay put. Fanning Island is only about 160 miles away, but the idea of leaving on an overnight passage, having the wind shut off and the engine act up and turning it into a longer experience with the possibility of the current causing us to jet by the island simply makes me uncomfortable.

Things on the boat are going pretty well. We came in here with a list of projects and had a few bits of gear that needed attention. Once we got into Christmas Island, we noticed that one of the spreaders had fallen about four inches at the outboard tip, increasing the likelihood of a mast failure. Lucky we decided to stop. The anchorage here is quite rolly, so going up the mast to fix things was a bit challenging, took a little finesse to keep from getting slammed against the spar as the swells came through. I think I may have been a little bitchy when I was hanging up there.

[Editor's Note: That's an understatement.]

We've been here a few days over a month now. We arrived on December 23, and had the rare opportunity to spend Christmas on Christmas and join the short list of folks immortalized by the Andrews Sisters.

Chuck Corbett has been continued to be an entertaining host. Most of the month we've been here, he's been without customers, but last week a charterer arrived with an outboard for the mast-less Hobie cat he and his harem have been paddling. Suddenly Chuck has surfing companionship and transportation to the spots along the western coast of Christmas Island. I've been able to tag along on a couple of these outings, even surprised myself by catching a few waves. My ankles are getting better steadily, so standing on the board is doable, but I'm really chickenshit about getting hurt, especially since the island's medical facility looks so limited. I try to avoid big waves, shallow water and coral heads. Chuck was downplaying the coral heads, but after one of their sessions together Hank, the charterer, came back with a big, ugly, macho-looking dent in his skull.

Hank has been good to get to know. A resident of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, he's able to close his window washing business in the winter and travel the tropics looking for surf. He's been to many places -- Moorea, Fiji, Western Australia, Hawaii, Baja -- and this is his second stay with Chuck. He also likes to play poker. Naomi had been asking me to teach her to play, so we took advantage of his presence and spent an evening gambling. She's got some ability -- good at reading other people's faces (particularly mine), but could get a little better at folding when she's got a worthless hand.

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January 26, 2006

Bill:

We'd been planning to leave Christmas, but a few days ago another boat, Aka, rolled into the anchorage, just having made the upwind passage from Samoa (as we did), and having a master boatwright and his wife aboard. The guy was really amazing, he appeared to be able to do anything on a boat: construction, rigging, sailmaking, engine installations and rebuilds, plumbing, electrical, had served as navigator and tactician aboard ocean racing boats before the advent of GPS. He can really navigate, as in is able to use a sextant.

About the time of Aka's arrival, I actually got motivated to relearn how to use a sextant. I'd taken a celestial navigation course just before we left Seattle, got reasonably proficient at it, but after spending three years in Mexico had forgotten everything. The methodology is pretty cryptic: lots of table lookups in a couple of nautical publications.

Anyway, I managed to relearn it the week before last, and got a sun fix (as opposed to a moon, planet or star fix) that put us within a couple of miles of our real location, and in the process gave Jackson and Karryn a lesson in taking fixes and making sight reductions. Doing the sight reductions on paper seems to take an hour, but in Mexico we were able to download Starpilot, a PC program that reduces it in seconds with greater reliability. Just enter your estimated position, the sun's angular distance off the horizon and the time of the sight.

The collective result of the experience is that we now have three people aboard who can probably figure out how to navigate with a sextant should our GPS's lose their abilities.

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Months later, in Hilo...

Since we're now in the proximity of broadband Internet lines and can more easily send photos, I decided to end our Christmas Island comments with some pictures. Here they are:

 
Sunrise at jetty Fanning Island Trader, Seafire and Aka at Christmas Island's roadstead anchorage Fanning Island Trader at jetty  
   
The staircase -- a gnarly beginning to any stroll   The jetty deck  
 
Bill and Chuck Chuck's family with future son-in-law, Dominic Chuck's wife Temoaiti, with sister Bintonga  
   
Bill and Chuck in transit   Chuck's dinghy  
   
Walking in town with Chuck   Main drag, Christmas Island  
   
Chuck Corbett   Chuck and Karryn in front of Internet cafe  
 
"The Mall" Shops "The Mall" Shops Gas station  
   
Shopping   Karryn holding her breath  
 
Naomi Naomi again Naomi even one more time  
   
Jackson with crab   Jackson out the window, looking suspicious  
   
Christmas tree aboard Seafire   Kids' Christmas stockings  

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January 27, 2006

We're on our way to Fanning Island.

The convergence zone is retreating northward and tomorrow has two slack tides in the afternoon when we can enter the pass, so we decided we should be on our way.

I'm looking forward to the change. Based on my study of the chart, Fanning Island has the best anchorage of any atoll in the Pacific. The lagoon is only three miles wide, with the anchorable part a mile wide, most likely limiting the wave action (many atolls are more like fifteen miles wide, lots of fetch). Also, it is comfortably shallow -- lots of spots ten to forty feet deep. Christmas, by way of contrast, was about three feet deep in much of the lagoon, too shallow to be useful. At the other extreme, most of the atoll charts I've studied have been eighty feet deep or more, challenging to anchor in.

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 Last Updated: 
     05/08/06
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