The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI).
When Dolce came to a stop after the 21 Day rollercoaster ride I realized my stress about coming into harbour was unnecessary. It was quite simple and easy. I think I was forgetting how slow I would be moving. If anything went wrong it wasn’t going to happen fast (apart from 1; hitting some underwater obstacle which are rarely unmarked in busy harbours 2; a fast moving drunk driving boat colliding with me, more common in busy harbours). Even If I had failed horribly in my judgement of Dolce’s forward momentum and shot past the buoy I would have easily been able to turn around and return to it without issue. It would have been much more dangerous if the wind was blowing very strong.
Either way I was relieved to have successfully completed my first solo open ocean passage. Unfortunately I was unable to go to shore for the next 36 hours as the Immigration charges a fortune for overtime processing on the weekend. Thankfully my neighbours were friendly and came to say hello and gave me some fresh baked muffins! I was happy to talk to people. So happy! I don’t think I got a chance to hug anyone for a few days but I would have loved to hug anyone right there.
I arrived Saturday evening but would have to wait until Monday morning to officially arrive in the RMI. It was okay to have a day to clean the boat, organize my things, and reflect on the passage before experiencing the shock of land and culture. I inflated my tender (the standup paddle board) and got ready to deal with a potential bureaucratic mess.
Monday morning came and I paddled my way to shore. I didn’t want to deal with my bike at that time so I had a bit of a walk to get to the Immigration office. I was looking forward to walking. It was great to be on land and see smiling friendly people.
I walked past the Bikini and Rongelaap Atoll Town Halls. Hmmm. That’s weird why would those atolls which are hundreds of km to the north have their town halls here on Majuro. I soon realized it was because those atolls are still unsafe to live on thanks to the 23 Nuclear devices that that were detonated there between 1946 and 1958 by the USA. The islanders were told they would be able to return to their home after the tests but it has never to this day been safe to do so. The fallout of radioactive debris was well documented across the entire world after these tests. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_testing_at_Bikini_Atoll
As if the Nuclear history wasn’t bad enough, the Marshall Islands are now destined to be underwater in the not too distant future. Thanks to sea level rise due to the melting of the ice caps and global climate change the atolls are already experiencing more frequent flooding events. There is a substantial population of missionaries on the islands and unfortunately some of them teach their congregation that they do not need to be concerned about raising sea levels because the bible teaches that fire will bring the next catastrophe… … …
The city itself (actually three towns on narrow islands linked by small stretches of land) is a bit of a dump. No offence to the lovely Marshallese people. Nobody walks or rides bikes, even though most people only travel a few kilometers to get where they are going. This is progress.
With a population of about 20,000 people there are traffic jams as there is only one two lane road. It doesn’t need more. Similar to most cities on the planet, it needs less cars, less concrete, and more edible gardens. I know it’s easy for me to come and make judgements but having seen the amount of wasted development money I know it would cost a small fraction of that amount to make an island like this completely self sustainable. It wasn’t long ago that this was the case. Sure the people are interested in a bit of outside technology and trade and I think this is a good thing. The problem comes when the population becomes almost entirely dependent on imports of food, fuel, and international “development” money. A sustainable future is based in localization, not globalization. Perhaps the fact that the islands are soon to be submerged is the governments justification for the short term thinking.
I made my way to the clearly unmarked building where I was told I could find the immigration office on the 4th floor. There was an elevator which I was pointed towards. I walked right past it to the stairs as the security guard looked at me curiously. On the 4th floor I took a right turn down a dark hallway where I found a printed piece of paper taped to a door with Immigration on it.
I was ready to be scolded for not checking in sooner and paying overtime fees but it was true that I had only just arrived on land. I waited patiently for about 20 minutes as they eventually got around to getting me some forms and then stamping my entrance into the RMI. I then made my way to the next clearly unmarked yellowish beige building that was down the street and home to the customs department. After a 15 minute wait they took my forms, did some photocopies, and officially cleared me into the RMI.
My time in Majuro was made quite comfortable thanks to the hospitality of many people and especially a friend who I was introduced to by several unrelated people before I arrived in the Islands. Karl was a researcher and diver who shared Scandinavian routes and Vancouver ties with me. He had a spare room in the main resort in town. It was great to have a comfy (bit mouldy) place to sleep off of the boat.
I hadn’t planned on staying very long in Majuro but a number of things ended up changing those plans. I was still looking for crew to sail with me through Micronesia so I was waiting around a bit to hear from them. I also organized presentations at a middle school, two high schools, and a college in both Majuro town and Laura which is about a 50km bike down to the far end of the atoll. I was warmly welcomed in Laura by some teachers from Fiji who I am fortunate enough to still be in contact with. Hi Selina!
I had planned to go explore and surf at some of the neighbouring and non cement atolls but while I was in the midst of my planned couple of weeks on Majuro I fractured my foot. I was playing basketball in minimalist shoes with my heel bones that hadn’t experienced much compaction or cement in recent times. I came down hard on my heel and it cracked under the pressure. It wasn’t serious enough to go to a doctor but it was serious enough to be gentle with it for a couple weeks.
In the meantime I met many friendly folks around town. The Mieco Beach Yacht Club was very welcoming and had a weekly dinner for all of the yachties and friends. The club was small and did not have a clubhouse. It did however, have awesome people running it and organizing socials and occasional sailing events. I was happy to have Thanksgiving Dinner with a group of about 20 folks from around the world.
My search for an inspiring local organization to support led me to Waan Aelõñ in Majel (Canoes of the Marshall Islands). I soon realized they didn’t need any help from me. They have done amazing work with local youth in reviving the skill of canoe building and sailing. The manager was kind enough to offer me the use of some tools so that I could build some extra bung plugs for the boat (Plugs to stick in the through-hulls (holes) of the boat if any of the pipes or hoses were to fall out). I also discovered and was gifted a beauty boat specific gimballed four burner range and oven that was abandoned and not being used. Dolce’s makeshift range was rusting and falling apart. It was a bit big for Dolce but I couldn’t find anything else in Majuro that would do the trick. I figured Dave could sell it, trade it, or cut it apart to his liking in Hong Kong. It wasn’t easy getting it in Dolce and finding the necessary parts but after a few days of juggling it settled into place. It wasn’t worth the effort in the end. For all the work, added weight, and loss of kitchen space, I think I baked one pizza and some cookies, but that’s about it. Two burners is enough for the majority of cooking I ever do, especially at sea.
After six weeks in and around Majuro my foot had healed and I was unsuccessful in finding any crew to sail with me. Several people expressed interest but nobody could pull the trigger in the end. It was December and I made plans to meet a friend in Pelau at the end of January and another friend and my sister in the Philippines a month after that. This meant that I would not have time to visit any more of the Marshall Islands. It was tough to leave without exploring more and scoring some surf but I did have to return the boat to Dave in April in Hong Kong. I was also happy to have meet ups with friends and family in the near future.
Dolce was ready to go and loaded up with some lovely parting gifts from the friends I had met in Majuro. Some rough weather prevented me from setting sail for a couple days. I wasn’t in a rush and was happy to have more time to say goodbye to my friends and meet new ones. When the weather settled I untied from the buoy, raised the Main and unrolled the Genoa to coast out of the mooring field. I made it about a mile through the maze of giant tuna boats and tacked to head out into the open lagoon. As I did this the boom dropped from the mast and smacked to a rest on the top of the life raft container. I quickly dropped the main and realized that the gooseneck (attachment between the boom and mast) was broken.
I was stressed as I would now have to maneuver my way back through the ships to the mooring field with only my Genoa. I didn’t know how Dolce would handle with just the foresail. She was fine in the end. I managed to sail her back somewhat smoothly to the mooring ball I had just left. I needed to steer Dolce to as close as possible to the ball and then run forward to catch the mooring line with my homemade boat hook. I did this successfully but I scraped my knee on the deck of the boat in the process. I was relieved to be back on the ball. If this breaking of the gooseneck connection had happened out on a long passage it would have been a much bigger issue.
Thankfully a neighbour saw I was in a bit of trouble and came over soon after to offer assistance. He was great and was able to find me some more help from another friend from the yacht club who had many tools and the knowledge I needed to make a solid and quick fix. In the process we discovered that the solid brass gooseneck was designed for a roller furling reefing system that was not in use on Dolce. We ended up cutting that function off in order to fix the break that had occurred. It was a much more solid mcgyvering that gave me confidence in the attachment point for the rest of the journey.
A few days later I was able to set sail without issue. Little did I know that the little scrape on my knee would end up being the biggest issue of the journey to date.
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Here is another interesting video about the Marshall Islands. Click here.