Funafuti forever?

June 4th, 2011

We just realized that tomorrow is the Queen of England’s birthday. By some stretch of history this cherished event is a public holiday among Tuvaluans, and on this day yacht clearances are going to be hard to get, so we’ll have to delay our departure once again. S is hoping for a parade, ever willing to see the rainbow in the rain.

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In the meantime we’ll connect to the internet and try to avoid a spam attack like the one that was delivered to many of you in our name last week due to the dirty servers at the DHL internet cafe. Tuvalu has an unusual level of internet throughput for its size due to the very desirable and lucrative “.tv” domain name.  Everybody on this island has a laptop.

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It’s a fun juxtaposition. You can sit on your elevated dunnage platform and surf the web while your wife cooks tiny reef fish to a stone age recipe on an open fire.

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Chinese motorcycles are the other remarkable technological development on the island. The density is incredible for such a small place.

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We got to recognize many of these busy commuters as they sped around the few miles of island road all day.

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There is no minimum age and some of the delicate riders looked nervous.  Or maybe it was just that we were nervous for them.  

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Another cool development are the new composting toilets being installed by an NGO. Not considered as stylish as flushers, the composters faced an uphill cultural battle until someone made known the recent rumor that Prince Charles has one. This rumor will soon be evaluated and confirmed by a letter from the Governor General to the palace.

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While all this web surfing, motorcycle riding, and poop composting has increased the pace of daily life there is always time for an island-time breather.

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It’s a slow an harmonious pace among the dogs of the government house.

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Tuvaluans between 6 and 60 are nearly as relaxed as they pass the hot hours of the day under a shady blue tarp.

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Besides the two crazy gringos lugging their laptop around in a desperate search for a safe internet connection, only an ambitious overachiever would be found out in the mid-day sun, wrangling the livestock…

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or representing the French government on a quick consular mission from the embassy in Suva.

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We’re hoping to clear out on Tuesday, but if that doesn’t work we’ll probably get one of these breezy little houses…

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… plant some papayas…

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… and spend our days enjoying curry samosas and red palm toddy at the airport snack bar.

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08°31.38′S 179°11.85′E 05-June-11 00:00 UTC

Fishquest Falefatu II

June 3rd, 2011

We were supposed  to be well on our way the the Marshall Islands by now, but we came down with colds the day before we were to leave.   Being sick underway seemed like a bad idea so we quarantined ourselves out at Falefatu for a few more days.

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K had a birthday on Friday and spent a few minutes in a hammock between two palms.

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But 40+ years and a cold couldn’t keep him down when there were foragables overhead. Luckily he packed 40 ft of old spectra in the beachbag.

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Coconut snacks are fun for a few minutes, but then it was back to the reef for a Fishquest Falefatu encore.

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There were a few  primary targets. K had been stalking these Papuan Tobies for several days. Perhaps a little obsessively, according to S.

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They usually come in sets of two, one small and one large.

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A cold may keep the manfish near the surface, but that’s okay because that’s where the good light is – not to mention the needlefish.

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Hours of scouring the shallows along tidal streams of clear ocean water paid off with a few surprises. Like a large moray getting dusted off by a red lipped cleaner wrasse.

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and a huge peacock grouper caught napping just above his lair.

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This Charlie Brown fish (really a juvenile bicolor parrotfish) has been on the wish list for days.

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Some are common but so nervous that you have to surprise them to get a picture.

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Others sit for portraits like old friends.

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The rest are just busy doing fishy things in a hurry.

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and then there are sea cucumbers.  Maybe not so picturesque, but they’re the most cooperative subjects on the reef.

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08°35.20′S 179°06.64′E 04-June-11 22:30 UTC

Ocean Front Property in Funafuti

May 29th, 2011

The island of Fongafale is so skinny that most property is ocean front property. The center is just wide enough for the WWII vintage airstrip.

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We took a boat ride down the lagoon side of town for a look at life on the beach.

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The combination of heat and lagoon bathing forces daily life into the open. 

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Fresh water is only available from the clouds and so Tuvalans embrace the sea.

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The ingenious push their accommodations out over the water…

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and amuse themselves with naked-time and a tire.

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The gentry live in western style homes and keep their custom cabinhouse skiffs out front on a mooring. 

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Kids love this place.

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What could be better than pet pigs and a splash with your buddies?

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Or a swing on the mother of all hammocks?

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The island has more than its fair share of infrastructure and social problems but what man would not be pleased to meet his waterbaby and mermaid wife at the end of  long day on the reef?  

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08°31.90′S 179°11.04′E 29-May-11 22:30 UTC

Fishquest Falefatu

May 28th, 2011

We are driven by few things more pressing than the quest for unlimited underwater visibility and new fish. And so it was that we loaded up the dinghy and sped through ocean rollers out into the south pass on a flooding tide.  

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The pass appeared to be about 20 feet deep but was actually more than twice that. The bottom looked near enough to touch in 45 ft of water . 

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The north pass was almost as good.

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After ticking off this box in our criteria for an excellent anchorage we searched for new-to-us fish on the reefs of Falefatu.

We found this fangblenny…

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some chummy goatfish with bloodshot eyes

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chummy milkfish who look like minnows but are a meter long

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lots of redbreasted wrasses…

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a surge damoiselle…

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an arc-eye hawkfish…

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redlip cleaner wrasse…

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a blue-spotted damsel (we made this one up)…

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a red-speckled blenny…

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a yellow speckled grouper (we made that one up too)…

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and a few dotted butterfly fish.

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08°35.15′S 179°06.64′E 28-May-11 22:30 UTC

Kingdom of the Staghorn

May 26th, 2011

Funafuti as been colonized by monopolistic organization of staghorn coral. We don’t really understand it but this staghorn coral is thriving in monoculture over acres and acres of Funafuti seafloor.

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Happily it comes in several colors.

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This fish don’t seem to mind what flavor of coral they live in.

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We were happy to see longnose filefishes are thriving here, pruning polyps like judicious arborists.

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They have no preference for vanilla over blueberry.

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But there were teeth below the blueberry staghorn.

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We saw very few toothy characters in Funafuti. There was one groggy white tip shark asleep on the sand that paid us no mind, and a 1 foot long baby blacktip in the shallows that even S was not afraid of, but she kept her eye out for their gray or tiger cousins.

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The top level predators on this reef were humans. Very nervous large groupers were second

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and these businesslike jacks came third.

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The littler guys showed some experience with fishermen but were populous enough to allow the persistent breathholder some pics.

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08°34.66′S 179°07.00′E 27-May-11 22:30 UTC

Falefatu Island

May 26th, 2011

We thought we’d check out the undocumented chart anchorage at  Falefatu and it turned out to be just our type of place.

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We dropped an anchor on either side of a sandy patch flanked by fringe reef in 20 ft of gin clear water and settled back in a consistent 10 –15 kts of blessed trade wind that makes all the difference between paradise and hell within 10 degrees of the equator.

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The old dinghy made its last trip into the beach after 7 years of trusty service. The patches of Savusavu were re-leaking, signalling that it was time to deploy our new NZ-made inflatable.

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But our Zeitoon’s last trip let us take a look at the beach life.

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We watched our old Polynesian friends the acrobatic noddys wheeling and diving though the palms.

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We walked all the way to the end of the island. The atoll pass in the sunset had lost all the intimidation it held for tired sailors at dawn.   

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08°34.54′S 179°07.38′E 26-May-11 22:30 UTC

The Fishermen of Funafuti

May 26th, 2011

About half of the atoll is a marine sanctuary. The other half is fair game for boat loads of harvesters in brightly painted skiffs and canoes.

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A typical skiff will load up about 10 guys and come buzzing by Khamseen to check us out and wave. The snorkelers bail off and head to the shallows, where we think they’re looking for sea cucumbers for the Asian export market.

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Meanwhile the very fit skiff operator waits offshore, getting hotter and hotter.

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Finally he jumps in to cool down.

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There is a wide range in the fitness levels and fishing techniques of Tuvalan watermen.

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Lone paddlers stalk the shallows off the village beach. 

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We saw the glass balls of a traditional net fishery…

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and warning signs discouraging the heavy handed approach we recognized from the chicken curry.

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08°30.55′S 179°11.00′E 26-May-11 22:30 UTC

Change of Address: Vaiaku, Fongafale, Funafuti, Tuvalu

May 25th, 2011

We arrived outside Funafuti atoll at dawn and found Te Ava Pua Pua, the southern pass, right where the guidebook’s coordinates said it would be.  In fact, we found the area between this pass and the town of Vaiaku to be very well charted with all the inner atoll reefs in place, giving us an easy passage to the anchorage. Actually, K still spent a couple of hours swishing through the sky at the first spreader level because we didn’t know the chart was good until we saw that… the chart was good. 

Funafuti has many islands encircling the lagoon.  The Tuvalan capital, Vaiaku, is on the eastern island of Fongafale. 

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We anchored in front of town and went ashore to check in, but were directed to the Customs satellite office at the main wharf a couple of kilometers out of town.  We were warned it would be a long hot walk but after five days at sea we took the opportunity to stretch our legs and take in the sights.  We found the island bright, breezy, and full of people and color.

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Scooters are everywhere, and drivers usually share the ride.

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Moms wait for their kids to get out of school for a tandem ride home.

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Bicycles are popular too.

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In Fiji, nearly everyone you passed on the street offered a friendly “Bula.” In Tuvalu, they prefer a silent respectful raising of the eyebrows, kind of like the index-finger salute you give passing pickups on the roads of rural America.  It’s very subtle and it took us a while to notice that they were in fact acknowledging us.  The children love to wave and say hi, and we got a warm response from their elders when we learned the Tuvalan greeting “Talofa.”

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Judging by the number of hammocks that we saw strung up in the shade as we walked down the road in that sunny tropical afternoon, we decided that Tuvalans must be smart, practical people.

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Every house has a hammock or two in the front yard.

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Its the perfect place to dish away the sweltering afternoon.

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Most houses also have a boat and a couple of ancestors in the front yard.

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Traditional houses are simple raised platforms with open walls.

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There are a few key appliances that come with all the benefits and frustrations of mass produced household goods. Sad is the man with a broken fan.

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It’s deathly hot in the middle of the day. By 1100 every hammock is full

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and every pup is snoring in the shade.

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All family authority succumbs to the siesta and there is a relieving breakdown in child supervision for the urchin in his warm weather uniform.  

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Micronesian life has a simple progression here. Every coconut palm has a set of scary ladder sticks tied up the trunk and if it all goes wrong, the cemetery is never far.

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We finally made it to Customs, and after checking in we stopped for a bite in a quiet curry house with an amazing Obama montage. We had chicken curry with a side of calcium.

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Now we are hardly purists when it comes to meat cutting. K will seek out a primitive chop on principle, but if the Fijian recipe for chicken curry begins with:

1) Rinse a whole chicken, pat dry, and cut into 1 inch cubes with utter disregard for skeletal anatomy…

the Tuvalan version must be:

1) Rinse a whole chicken and pat dry. Ignite explosive in the cavity and retain all the bone chips…   

On forensic reflection, that chicken was processed with either dynamite or a sledge hammer. The effect on the flavor was excellent, but the effort to sieve all the bone chips out had K wishing for some kind of reverse baleen prosthesis.

08°31.45′S 179°11.38′E 25-May-11 22:30 UTC

Fiji to Tuvalu

May 23rd, 2011

We said goodbye to our friends in Fiji and set off from Savusavu at sunset to make it to Somosomo Strait by dawn.   Descriptions of Somosomo conjured up images of swirly Deception Pass back in Washington, but our timing was right and we passed through with minimal drama – though we found that the 1 mile wide pass was offset on the chart by half a mile. K found the east side of the channel with the fathometer in the dawn’s early light and quickly turned back into the deep center of the channel before we met the pounding reef breakers directly ahead.   

It was a slow passage. With light winds on the nose and a current setting us southeast it took us another day before we finally cleared the last of the Fijian islands on our route north.

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Each day found us alternating between motoring, trying to sail, sailing slowly until the wind died again, and motoring.  The days were hot and muggy but our night watches were deliciously cool.  We were treated by shows of ghostly phosphorescence in the depths alongside us, and had the light of a waning moon to brighten the deep hours of the night.  On one such night around 1 AM a booby came in to land on the bimini.  He spent a few hours preening, pooped, then fell asleep with his head crammed under one wing…

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…until dawn when he was rudely awakened by a camera’s flash.

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Intrigue and tension was high in Fiji in the days before we left, as a former colonel charged with uttering seditious comments and inciting mutiny went on the lam rather than appear in court.  He was mysteriously “rescued at sea” in Fijian waters by a Tongan patrol boat and taken to the King’s residence in Nuku’alofa.  Fijian coastwatchers and informants were on high alert as the search for those involved in the escape was underway – which may or may not explain why we were buzzed at mast top level one morning by a strange unmarked military air patrol several hundred miles north of Fiji.

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Thankfully that was the most exciting thing that happened on this passage.  On the morning of the last day out, we finally got a steady 15 kts from the east and Khamseen took off like a horse for the barn. 

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08°34.32′S 179°07.57′E 24-May-11 22:30 UTC

Fiji Videos

May 21st, 2011

We’ve uploaded some snorkling and sailing video clips to our YouTube channel. The link to that is at the top of the blog page, on the right under “Video Channel”.

14°53.93′S 179°51.62′E 20-May-11 02:42 UTC