March 11

Here we are at Ailuk Atoll in the Marshall Islands. We've been here about two weeks now and we are enjoying it very much. The atoll is shaped like a pear with a fat part at the bottom and a thin part at top. At the bottom the lagoon (an atoll is an island which has sunk over time leaving only a fringing reef around the circumference, these reefs rise and collect sand which then becomes dry land over millions of years) is about 5 miles wide and at the top only 2 miles wide. In the middle it is about 3 miles wide.

We first anchored at the Southern end of the lagoon off the main village and island of the same name, Ailuk. The village in home to about 300 people and two elementary schools. We met teachers from the government school and from the church school. They are about the only people who speak English there, though the children are supposed to be learning it in school. The people are very shy so it is hard to say how much English they really speak. The island's trademark, for us anyway, are its sailing outrigger canoes which are their mode of transportation. On other atolls these canoes are no longer in fashion apparently and open boats with 40hp outboards are common. Of course, on those atolls gasoline is in short supply and we (and other cruisers) are always being asked for gasoline which none of us has in abundance since we are all diesel auxiliary boats who only carry enough gas for our own little outboards. The sailing canoes here ply the length of the lagoon daily and carry what food they produce on the many little islets which dot the Eastern edge of the lagoon from where they are grown to the villages.

After spending a few days anchored at the main village at Ailuk we went North a few miles and anchored at one of the little islets in the bottom half of the lagoon for a few days. Unfortunately high winds made that spot a bit uncomfortable for us, though by no means untenable, and we moved North to the islands at the top of the lagoon where more protection from the wind (and calmer water) are found. It is here that we have been for the last 6 days or so. The islands at the top of the lagoon are larger then those along the Eastern edge of the lagoon and one in particular sports the most beautiful beach we have seen in the Pacific. It is wide and long with wonderful soft white sand and long sloping shallow sandy flats at least 100yds out making it perfect for swimming. That island has about 8 people living on it, we are told, though we have no seen them. Apparently they are all away at Ailuk village in the South for a while.

We have walked completely around that island, which is called Kapen, and on the Northern side of the island, which is exposed to the ocean, we found an especially high concentration of debris and flotsam. It should be said, if those of you reading this are unaware, that virtually every spec of land in the Pacific which faces the ocean is to one degree or another littered with the debris and junk which floats normally on the open ocean. All manner of junk is out there and most of it is plastic. We have explored numerous islands both inhabited and uninhabited throughout this ocean and have rarely found an oceanfront shore which is not so littered.

This particular atoll seems to be especially well placed in the scheme of ocean currents to collect more then its fair share of sea junk. The islets on the Eastern edge of the lagoon, perhaps because they are unusually oriented in an almost precise North/South alignment seem to act as a "catchers mit". We have found on these islets all of the 'normal' stuff we normally find, most notably, and in order of our estimation of their abundance, rubber thongs or sandals (flip flops), plastic bottles (as in for drinking water) and fishing floats or buoys. On this atoll, and others in the Marshalls, Japanese glass fishing floats are also commonly found, though we have failed to find one.

These are no longer in use among the Japanese, or so we are led to believe, but for decades were the standard float used to buoy fishing nets in the Pacific. These floats (or "glass balls" as they are commonly referred to) are quite beautiful and are mostly hand blown, though more recent ones appear to be made using a more modern process. They vary in size from 5 or 6 inches to well over a foot or more. They are normally encased in a rope mesh which is used to attach them to the net. Many people collect them here and the locals have caught on that they are popular with cruisers and offer to sell or trade them to those so inclined. Jonah was offered one when we first arrived here by a local and bought it for $3. He is quite proud of it and keeps it in his sock drawer.

We have, however, found quite a variety of other items, so more interesting then others. Things like refrigerator doors, large plastic barrels, and even a section of flap from an airplane wing, that being the most unusual and bizarre thing we have seen.

We have been doing a bit of snorkeling and swimming here also. The reef just in front of the island where we are anchored is very nice with lots of lovely fish. We have been trading with the local inhabitants for lobsters which they collect on the outer reefs at night. We got six bugs from a fellow named David the other day in exchange for 2lbs of rice, a can of instant freeze-dried coffee (which Kate keeps aboard for 'emergencies') a packet of curry powder and a jelly jar filled with sugar. We also gave him 4 D-Cell batteries for his light. We gave another fellow batteries as well and the next day he said he couldn't find any, but his boom box was pumping out music when we went in to see him. Interesting. Our friends on "Dancer" also got six lobsters the day after we did from David.

A group of 3 teenage girls have also been coming to visit us lately. They paddle out in a small canoe with one paddle between them. The come bearing cowrie shells which Kate trades with them for lollipops, pencils, workbooks for school and magic markers which they love. They came aboard a few days ago and just sat in the cockpit gawking and then walked around the decks giggling and laughing. David and his wife also came by in their sailing canoe and came aboard. They stayed for about 3 hours. We didn't know how to ask them to leave since they were so quiet and polite. Kate and Jonah were just about to go off to a little islet for a walk and I was working on changing a busted fuel pump for the generator. After an hour Kate and Jonah left and David and his wife stayed. I showed them the new pump and explained my task as best I could - David speaks some English though his wife appears to know none at all. I then proceeded to change the pump while they watched. A half hour later I fired up the genset and they both seemed pleased and were smiling (I would not have minded some applause, but, hey, what can you do).

There are three other boats here at this atoll. Jim and Jeanette on "Dancer", James and Pam on "Rainbow Chaser" and Nina and Peter (I think) on "Arctracer" whom we have only met briefly a few months ago at Tarawa in Kiribati. Each boat is anchored in front of a different islet spread around the lagoon, though Dancer was anchored next to us for a couple of days this week. Nina from "Arctracer" called us last night and said she had heard it was my birthday on Monday (which it is) and wanted to know if we were planning a party! Well, we hadn't really talked about doing anything special, but since she asked, Kate said we might make a bonfire on the beach and have a little one. Nina had heard me on the SSB (long range short wave radio) speaking with a friend at another atoll to the South about my birthday and so I guess she figured we could use some company. Anyway, now we are thinking about inviting "Dancer" and "Rainbow Chaser" as well and making it a real (but small) party. We shall see. Nina suggested she could procure some lobsters from the people at the islet she is nearest (who seem to have adopted them and are treating them as old friends, which is quite common out here).

We shall see what happens. Either way, it is sure to be a wonderful day.