September 23, 2004

As I write this we sit anchored off Goat Island at Wotje Atoll. We arrived here at Wotje about 3 or 4 days ago. We spent 2 days at Wotje Island, the main island of the atoll, and met many interesting people. But first, we had to visit the Mayor and present our permit and pay the fee for visiting yachts. The system they use here is a bit frustrating for us cruisers as each Atoll (the Mayor and Island Council) can decide what fee to charge. In practice (in all cases I have seen and heard of) the fee is paid when you arrive and you are permitted to stay as long as you like.

However, the permit has dates on it – specifically the date you plan to arrive and the date you plan to leave. To even request dates like this from us cruisers is silly since none of us know where we will be next week. In this case the permit we have for Wotje was issued in December of ’03. We had intended to visit back then but ended up at other atolls and finally decided to come here now. At other atolls we have dealt with assistant-Mayors or Council members and they have never looked at the dates, but here, the Mayor seemed to be making an issue of the dates and said our permit was expired (though there is no “expiration” date on the permit, I guess he was referring to the fact that it is now 2004 and the permit was issued in 2003, and, it was well past not only the date we said we would arrive, but well past the date we said we would leave). His English was weak and we couldn’t understand if he was telling us to leave and go back to Majuro and get another permit, or, if he was telling us we should go to Internal Affairs (the agency which handles issuing permits) when we got back to Majuro and post-actively (?) get another permit. The second seemed silly to us since 1) we had already paid him the fee, 2) once we got back to Majuro we had no intention of coming back to Wotje again, 3) once we had a new permit back in Majuro what would we do with it?

I asked him directly and he said “please stay”, so we figure everything is fine and he is just a stickler for paper work. We then walked around the place and found our way to the High School, of which there are 4 in the Marshall Islands (one on Majuro, the capital, one here on Wotje, one on Kwajalein Atoll and another on Jaluit. Each high school handles kids from different atolls (presumably based on geographic closeness) and kids who go to high school come to Wotje (or Majuro, etc.) and stay for 10 months living in dormitories at the school. We were very impressed with the facilities and met several of the teachers who invited us to dinner at one of their homes that night (which was fun).

Wojte Atoll has a power plant. It is one of only 4 islands in the Marshalls with a power plant. Presumably the entire island of Wotje is wired (the island, not the entire atoll which is made up of about 20 little islands, Wotje Island being the largest and main island). We see many lights at night on Wotje Island and many homes with air conditioners. Majuro of course has power, so does Killi one of the few islands in the Marshalls which is not an atoll. Killi is the island where the Bikini residents were resettled in the 1940s when the US was conducting nuclear bomb tests there. The island is still not radiation free and so the Bikini people live on Killi. The USA essentially pays reparations to the Marshallese for all the nuke tests we conducted here (not only on Bikini though that was the main test site) to the tune of millions a year. Much of that money goes directly to Bikinians and thus Killi Island, a little inhospitable rock of a place no bigger then a few miles square, has an up-to-date power plan, telephone service, and other amenities not normally found in a third world country. Jaluit also has a power plant, and, though I have not been there (nor have I been to Killi) I understand the people there are quite well off compared to the majority of the country. Jaluit was also the capital of the country during first the German and then the Japanese occupations of the Marshall Islands.

Anyway, so the school is well set up, they have a computer room and a “library” which have been built inside an old Japanese bunker (Wotje was a major Japanese military HQ in this part of the Pacific before and during WWII). Both are air conditioned. The computer room has over 20 computers in it and was filled with kids all learning to use MS Word. Of course, they still have no internet connection. Compared to other atolls we have visited, Wotje is in a class by itself in terms of its prosperity. More people speak English here. They have power. They have air conditioning. This is progress!

Now the foreign teachers (we met 4 Americans and 2 Japanese) were mostly very young and fresh out of College on a teaching adventure in the third world. But LO, they live in brand new houses with 2 bedrooms each, modern kitchens and air conditioning. Plus they have a view of the ocean you would kill for in the US. We have met other teachers on other atolls (Aur for example) who live in shacks or in the corner of a shack with a local family! Air conditioning? Yeah right. So Wotje has it all over the other atolls and the teachers here have a great setup.

We first met Tony when we visited the high school and he invited us into his class to say a few words and talk about who we were and what we are doing. That took about 3 minutes. The kids are very shy and had nothing to ask or say. Before we left he invited us to dinner and at 5:30pm we met him at the main wharf and we walked to his place. Tony is from Bayshore (I think) Long Island, in New York, and is 22 years old. We met his roommate Peter (also 22 and just out of college) and had some drinks (we brought the rum) and some cheese and crackers and then went next door for dinner. I should add that Tony and Peter were graduates of Dartmouth and were part of a program run out of that school to send teachers to the Marshall Islands.

The apartment next door was occupied by Sarah and Lewanda who both taught English to 11th and 12th graders. Both were there independently (not through some program). Sarah is from Minnesota and Lewanda is from Florida. Lewanda told us that many years ago she was a delivery skipper bringing new CYCs (sailboats) down to the Caribbean charter bases from the factory in Florida where they were built. We also me the two Japanese teachers, Miki and Masa (female and male respectively) who were very nice, though limited in their command of English (how are they teaching high school students who only speak Marshallese and half assed English – fortunately they teach math so presumably they converse in that language). We invited them all aboard the Queen Jane for the following night for dinner but for some reason Tony and Pete did not show and we had only the women, including Miki who said she would not come and that she doesn’t like boats and is afraid of becoming seasick. We had a nice time with them and had a great dinner of lasagna.

Today we came over to the Western end of the lagoon to anchor at Goat Island, an uninhabited island among a string of uninhabited islands along the North side of the lagoon. Unfortunately the anchorage is very rolly and exposed to the SE swell. We are not very happy about it and will probably leave tomorrow. However, it is amazingly beautiful and the water is as clear as any I have ever seen in the Pacific. Coral is abundant and the snorkeling is supposed to be excellent. But again, the anchorage is not great with coral heads sticking up everywhere (please don’t drag Mr. Anchor) and sandy patches here and there which are mostly coral crust with a thin layer of sand. Tomorrow we will probably head to Ormed Island which is in the NE corner of the lagoon. It should provide excellent protection from the swell and the wind although it does have a small village.

Right now, we are desperate to get working on the woodwork. We have not done a complete varnishing (in fact we use a paint-like product called Cetol not varnish) of the Queen Jane’s exterior wood since Australia almost 18 months ago. We did do some touchup work in January or February but it was not enough by far. After that we may have some time to explore Erikub, the uninhabited atoll just to the South of Wotje. Then we have to be back in Majuro to begin preparations for leaving the Marshall Islands.