Latest Update

March 23, 2020 - October 26, 2022



* Loving (and Hating) Majuro

* Cockroaches (and Other Majuro Wildlife)

* Local Journalism Done Right

* Desperate Voyagers

* Friends

* Deserted Islands

* Life Under a Rock: Our Two and a Half Years of Covid Photography

* Escape From the Twilight Zone


Well. Okay. Here we go with a new update. Finally.

Like everybody else in the world, we were trapped in "Covidland" in the spring of 2020. And since we were stuck with nothing to do, we naturally were MUCH too busy to update our website. Now that we are on the move again, and much busier, we have plenty of time.

Of course, it's also easier to write when you have something to talk about...

We have done a little traveling since March 2020. We spent several months in some uninhabited atolls, which we will talk about later. And we finally escaped from Majuro to Fiji in June 2022, and then on to New Zealand a few months later.

But mostly the RMI government shut down all travel to the outer atolls. Because of Covid.


But it's not like we didn't travel. We traveled a lot. Here's our track to prove it… We practically wore a groove in the lagoon between the main mooring field and the "vacation moorings" seven miles west.

(Our tracker only updates every two hours, hence the pointy appearance of these short trips.)

And we did some fascinating diving/critter photography in the cuts between the motu islands. We will have more to say about that below.

Anyway, we won't follow a strict chronology in this update, instead we will cover the major themes and events of our stay (and eventual escape) from the Marshalls.



We sure never expected to spend 2 1/2 years in Majuro, a place which normally wouldn't have held our interest for more than a few months.

But probably most people in the world can say something similar about their "Covid time."


We talked about some of Majuro's issues in our last update –– dogs, lousy sidewalks, constant rain, giant puddles.


And perhaps not always the world's best produce.


Especially during Covid.


But we were damned lucky to be there. Majuro does not get cyclones and Americans can stay there indefinitely.

We can say that of literally nowhere else that we have visited on our 18-year voyage. What a weird coincidence to be there when Covid appeared! Plus Majuro has a US Post Office, so we could order stuff from Amazon!


And, to its everlasting credit, the government of the RMI kept Covid out of the country for 2 1/2 years. Long enough to get everyone (who wanted) vaccinated, long enough for good therapeutics to be developed, and long enough for the worst variants of the disease to burn themselves out.

The RMI has a very sketchy medical infrastructure. And the people themselves are pretty unhealthy –– lots of obesity and rampant diabetes, due to a diet of fried food and white rice. And big family groups with lots of socializing. So we can only imagine what things would've been like in Majuro had the disease arrived before the borders closed on March 8, 2020.

Actually, we don't have to imagine. Because the large Marshallese diaspora in the US suffered hugely from Covid, with a death rate many times that of other Americans.

The health minister, Jack Niedenthal, together with David Kabua, the president who backed him up -- probably saved thousands of lives. (In a country with only about 50,000 inhabitants.)


So when Covid finally arrived in Majuro in August 2022 (two months after we had left), it ended up only killing 17 people in the whole country! That is about 1/10 of the death rate in the US -- just an incredible record for a country with so many health challenges.

And a government which is not famous as a paragon of efficiency.


And we got vaccinated –– with Moderna -- right away. We actually had our vaccinations before any of our friends and family back home.

The US supplied the vaccine, and the Marshallese gave foreigners the same priority as their own citizens –– since the US was doing the same for Marshallese in the US.

By the time we finally left for Fiji we had each gotten four jabs. And we just got a fifth in the US. So you can tell what we think of that debate.


Strategy, Politics, and Marriage

As we mentioned last time, the RMI and the US have a close, but complicated relationship. We nuked them in the 1940's and 1950's –– repeatedly –– with some of the fallout from our nuclear tests polluting several islands and ultimately killing a lot of Marshallese. Plus, we lied to them about the dangers of the contamination.

We have been trying to make it up to them ever since, with foreign aid. But you cannot buy friendship with money. So the relationship remains somewhat tense.

The US and the RMI are now renegotiating the "Compact of Free Association," which defines our relationship. Currently, we get the huge US naval base at Kwajalein Atoll. And the Marshallese get aid plus the right to live and work in the United States –– although they are not US citizens.

But we never did really clean up the nuclear mess, which is quite a sore spot for the Marshallese.

We think the two countries will work things out. We are married –– neither side can get by without the other. If the US were to abandon the naval, missile, and signals intelligence base at Kwajalein to the Chinese (which is exactly what would happen if we do not renegotiate the Compact), our retreat would reverberate in capitals all around the Pacific. Including places like Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Japan. And, of course, in China.

Giving Kwaj to China is kind of unthinkable, given the strategic inroads China has made all over the Pacific.

At the same time, China can't replace the US for the RMI. While we don't have exact numbers, it seems likely that almost as many Marshallese live and work in the United States as live in the Marshall Islands. They go for the jobs, like meat packing, which most Americans don't want. (Keep in mind that the minimum wage in RMI is two dollars an hour. So US meat packing wages look pretty good.) And those workers send lots of money home to their families in the Marshalls.

But those Marshallese are not US citizens, and if the Compact isn't renegotiated, their status would be in jeopardy. They literally could not all come back to live in the RMI –– there isn't room. And they probably would not want to move to China, either.

So the US and the RMI are stuck with each other.


We are stuck with each other too, but that's OK with us. Our Compact of Free Association doesn't have an expiration date!


A Quirky Place

Majuro can feel a lot like a small town...



...A pretty dysfunctional small town.


There are some fine buildings in Majuro –– like the capital building here –– paid for with aid money.


But they often fall into disrepair.

We see that a lot in the islands -- outside aid contractors build big projects. But nobody really takes ownership of them, and they fall apart.


When maintenance does happened, it can be a bit… innovative. We won't speculate what was going on with this toilet. In one of Majuro's best restaurants!


And here is the end of the heavily-used fuel dock. That is rebar hanging out of the concrete –– left over from the original build, God knows how many years ago. It was like this in November 2019 when we arrived, and it was still like this in June 2022 when we left.

And yet…

Majuro can also get a lot done. This is the workshop at PII, a business which services the foreign tuna fleet. These guys can do just about anything.


And we were tremendously impressed by this project to rebuild the seawall in front of an important local building.


Here, in the background, you can see how the seawall looked before the project. Cracked, and deeply undercut by breaking waves, with the whole building in danger of falling into the lagoon.

(This picture also shows a project by the yachties to repair the floating dock. We used giant airbags to move 2000 lb dock anchors underwater. We were very proud of ourselves.)


The seawall work team used homemade equipment –– here is a funnel for pouring concrete, made from a plastic bucket and a big PVC pipe.


They cut holes in the concrete floor, so that they could backfill behind the seawall.


Here's one of the holes.


And here is the beautifully finished project. This wall extends 6 feet into the bottom of the lagoon, and will keep this building intact for many decades to come. There were no Americans, or Japanese, or Chinese advisors for any of this –– this was entirely Marshallese expertise.

Not the easiest thing, forming concrete underwater!

And here is that hole in the floor, six months later. Covered up by a crumbling piece of plywood.

So that's the Marshall Islands in a nutshell. Bursts of competence, punctuated by a certain inattention to detail…


Features of Life in Majuro

Majuro Wildlife: Giant Cockroaches. These things are a feature of life in the tropics in a lot of places, but there just seemed to be an lot of them in Majuro, for whatever reason. And they fly, so they can get out to the boats. They don't breed on the boat (which is a very good thing), but they are so big and noisy that it's almost like having a mouse on board. These two got caught in our ventilation duct over our stove.


Majuro Wildlife: Staphylococcus. Little bugs can be a problem too... We saw a lot of severe infections, both among the cruisers and the locals. This is probably the worst –– a minor scratch on the dinghy dock which almost cost our friend his leg, if not his life.

Just to be clear, this guy's normal skin color is white -– the dark color is from the infection. And we took this picture after intravenous antibiotics had kicked in and greatly reduced the swelling.


Heat. Majuro is hot. The average temperature on the boat was around 88°F, night and day. And even inside the supermarkets, they turn the air conditioning off at night, so things get pretty warm. That chocolate bar just gave up the ghost, melted, and folded itself in half right on the shelf.

We do have (somewhat wimpy) air-conditioning on EW, but we never use it, because it draws massive amounts of power. The good news is that your body adapts to the heat. The bad news is that you never really learn to like it…


Salt. Surf breaks constantly on the reef outside the atoll. And the boats anchor in the lagoon, just downwind of all that breaking surf on the other side of the narrow strip of land. So the air is constantly full of salt spray.

And we keep the hatches open all the time so that we don't cook in the heat. So everything gets very salty…

Here, Beth soaks one of our rugs in the shower stall, to get the salt out of it. Looks like there may have been some dirt in there too...

And let's just say that electronics -- like computers -- can struggle a bit in the Marshalls.


Shared Ride Taxicabs. You could go pretty much anywhere on the island for $1.50. And sometimes you got a scenic tour, as the taxi made its way to each passenger's destination. Cheap and efficient, with the added advantage that your immune system gets exposed to everything on the island.


Self Reliance. Majuro doesn't offer a lot of for-hire help. If you need to fix something, it's pretty much up to you –– maybe with some help from your cruiser friends. Here Beth does some fine soldering work on an oil pressure sensor. This wasn't a big success, but she did manage to get a friend's gasoline generator controls soldered back together.


Majuro Wildlife: Weevils. There's nothing special about the RMI in this regard –– you get these everywhere in the tropics, every time you buy packaged rice or grain in a supermarket. We took to freezing our packages before we stored them –– which doesn't get the bugs out of the food, but at least it keeps them from multiplying and eating everything in the package..

Good source of extra protein.


Betel nut. A common habit in this part of the Pacific. More or less like chewing tobacco, and just as attractive, since the user has to spit all the time.


Oh, and people spit into bottles. Which can end up on the sidewalk. That ain't tomato juice.


Majuro Wildlife: Jellyfish. Majuro has lots of jellyfish. This type we call "Cauliflower jellys." They can be as big as a basketball, and when they show up there are thousands of them. Riding in the dinghy during a cauliflower jellyfish bloom can feel a bit weird. Particularly when the propeller begins hitting these guys. Bloop, bloop, bloop...



Majuro Wildlife: Fish. Fish heads are considered a delicacy in the islands. But it always pains us a little bit to see reef fish in the supermarket.

On the positive side, Majuro has world-class yellowfin tuna available for about five dollars a pound. As well as a pretty good selection of frozen meats shipped in from the US.


Fruit. The RMI does grow a few types of fruit –– bananas, coconuts, and a few that we had never seen before, like these Hala fruit.


Vegetables. The vegetable situation wasn't quite as dire as we painted it earlier. Sometimes the shelves were full. But the veggies were never really fresh, because it takes a long time to bring them in from the US. Often they get frozen by mistake.

These beautiful looking peppers and tomatoes wouldn't look so perfect on close inspection.

It's tough to grow vegetables on coral atolls, because there's no dirt, just coral sand. Traditionally, people lived on coconuts, and bananas, and fish. And, depending on rainfall, they could grow starch crops like taro and cassava. But you can forget about broccoli…

So the veggies come in old, and frequently frozen in transit. Yuck.


The Marshallese traditionally don't eat vegetables. Cake, on the other hand…

Which helps explain the problems with obesity and diabetes.


Our friend Don Arkin thinks he has a way to grow vegetables without dirt. Don is a former cruiser who works at the "Wellness Center" -- a charitable foundation dedicated to improving health in the RMI.

These are "aeroponics" towers.

You plant the vegetables in the little balconies on each tower, and the roots hang down inside the tower. And a pump runs water and nutrients over the roots every ten minutes or so.


And here is the result... (Life Skills Academy student Gabni Kejjab is harvesting long beans -- Photo by Tanner Smith -- article is at

The technology works great. Getting people to eat veggies is another matter. The Wellness Center was still working on that bit when we left.


Majuro Wildlife: Rats. There can even be problems with imported chocolate, which is EW's most important vegetable. This picture shows some chocolate bars which Beth imported from the US. Unfortunately, they got chewed by rats at the post office.

Beth still ate the the chocolate.

Of course.

Okay, okay, she carved off the toothmarks...


Here's a far more serious rat issue. We're not sure if this guy stowed away on our dinghy or swam out to our mooring. We knew he was on board when we started finding holes in some of our food bags. And then we discovered that he had been making a home in Ken's underwear drawer –– which was full of rat turds! Very gross!

So we immediately set up all kinds of traps and poison, and then waited for him to make a mistake. But he was too smart. We have read that rats are extremely wary of anything new introduced into their environment, and for sure, he avoided all of our traps for a full week.

Meanwhile, we could hear him moving around sometimes –– he got into the overhead panels above the main salon, and we could hear him crawling around above our heads. We left him alone, hoping he would take the bait.

But after a week, we realized we had to do something. So we started removing the overhead panels one by one, slowly trapping him into a confined space. Finally, he panicked, and made the mistake of stepping onto a glue trap. Ken grabbed his tail with a pair of pliers, and squished the trap hard up against the overhead. While Beth ran and got a sharp knife which she used to stab him.


And if this sounds brutal, well, we had our reasons. Rats' front teeth grow continuously –– kind of like our fingernails. So they have to chew on things just to keep their teeth under control. And they really love to chew on wiring insulation.


After a week on board, our rat had chewed A LOT of wires. We think we have found and repaired all of them –– and it's been more than a year now, and things are still working –– but you just never know. Because he could squeeze into spaces that we can't even get our fingers into. What a nightmare.


Rats are also great civil engineers –– constantly making little improvements to their living space. Like, for example, the edge of this overhead panel, which he chewed just enough to make access easier.

We only had one rat during our stay in Majuro, but several other cruisers also got them, and one poor guy had two. Definitely worse than cockroaches…


Christmas in paradise. Majuro proved that Santa Claus has brown skin, at least in the Marshall Islands.


And occasionally has too much to drink.


Small Town Festivals. Getting stuck in one place for years forced us to pay attention to the little stuff –– like this dog show, which featured about five local dogs. Here's the winner.



And there were lots of other cool things, like face-painting.


And bubble-blowing.


The Marshall Islands Journal. You know that you're a big fish when you get one of your pictures on the front page of the newspaper. And you know you're in a small pond when the story is about a five-dog show!

Seriously, you can't talk about Majuro without mentioning the Marshall Islands Journal.

Besides dog shows, the newspaper covers everything that happens in the country, diseases, politics, diplomacy, birthdays, whatever... And unlike the US there is no ideological slant. It just reports what's happening with a focus on community health and social cohesion. Sometimes it says good things about the government, and sometimes bad things.


The MIJ also does investigative journalism to root out corruption. Of which there is no shortage… Everybody reads it.


And lots of Very Important People take out full-page ads just to show that they are Important. Really, it's exactly what journalism should be about. A respected force in the community.


Ken submitted lots of pictures and wrote a number of articles during our two year stay. We really like the MIJ.


Desperate Voyagers. The Marshalls closed during Covid –– meaning that any entry was illegal. But a few boats showed up nonetheless. This 70-year-old single-hander left Hawaii for Majuro, knowing full well that he was not welcome. He blew out his mainsail and genoa on the passage, and his engine didn't really work, so he ended up sailing under a trysail. He was also very short on water.

And then he misjudged the approach to Majuro, and got swept past the island chain by the prevailing winds and currents, since he couldn't really sail upwind. He would almost certainly have died if the government had not sent a patrol boat out to rescue him –– at the cost of thousands of dollars worth of diesel.

And here's the thing –– the government blamed the "cruiser tribe" for allowing this to happen. Since they assume that we all know each other, and that nothing happens without approval from the cruiser tribal chiefs –– after all, that's how things work in Marshallese society.

Several Majuro cruisers helped this guy get moored and get his sails down –– which he was unable to do himself. Honestly, he was the least prepared sailor we have encountered in our 18 years at sea. And that's really saying something. The boat was a wreck, and it's a miracle he survived.

And he wouldn't listen to anybody's advice –– just wanted to monologue.


The owner with a member of his Marshallese family.

After much discussion, the government allowed him to stay, as he knew a Marshallese family that would take him in. So he joined up with them and kind of disappeared.

That was fine with the rest of us. Cruisers are not usually judgmental, and we were conflicted about it, but this guy was trouble.


Whereas, this Korean boat ("Paulie's Baby") was a completely different story. These three guys –- the youngest being in his 60s –– were sailing from Maine to Taiwan, with no intention of stopping in the Marshalls.

Then they had a genoa halyard shackle break. The captain, on the right, went up the mast to try to recover it. But the conditions were too rough, and he got bashed around, as you can see from his black eye. He also had an injured rib.

They could not sail the boat efficiently without a headsail, and they did not have enough fuel to motor across the Pacific. So the captain called his daughter (in the US) via satellite phone, and asked her if they could stop in the Marshall Islands to buy fuel and repair the halyard. She checked, but looked at an old website. Which did not mention that entry was now prohibited.

So they stopped.

The government gave these guys a very hard time –– fining them thousands of dollars and making them anchor in 145 feet of water, where their anchor became fouled. They had to abandon their anchor to take a mooring.

So the cruisers pitched in to get them on the mooring and to recover their anchor and chain -- quite an operation.


And one of our friends –– Rob on "Morwena" -- made repeated jerry can runs to the fuel dock to fill their tanks.

They sailed away successfully after three days in port.

Considering the life-and-death threat of a Covid infection in Majuro, we can't really fault the Marshallese government in either of these cases. They gave these boats a very hard time, but ultimately saved both of them.



Our two and a half years in Majuro was the longest we've stayed in one place since 2004. That's long enough for friendships to deepen. An unexpected benefit of Covid.

Maybe this section is mostly of interest to us. But throughout our website posts, we may never have emphasized the most important part of cruising –– the incredibly tight and helpful communities that spring up in every port among the cruisers.


The fleet helps raise the mast on "Uno Mas" after a rigging replacement. Kind of like an Amish barn raising...

In the end, it's this community that makes cruising so much fun.

And so here -- in no particular order and missing many important people of whom we stupidly failed to take pictures -- is a small medley of our good friends from Majuro.

(We missed out on several boats that left Majuro before we had a chance to take their pictures, including Rob and Jo of "Double Trouble"; Peter, Michelle, and Marino of "Forever"; Sam and Lucy of "Hijack"; Andrew, Alex, Daniel, and Nathan of "Offshore Haven"; Roger and Hanna of "Hannunah"; and Kimm of "Silas").


Dave and Kirsten on "Lucile." Long time cruisers, and both certified dive masters. Dave had been an engineer on nuclear subs as well as a navy diver. Kirsten has a real pipeline into the local culture. Beth was awestruck that Kirsten cleans the bottom of their boat.

Ken thinks that Beth could learn a thing or two from Kirsten.

We lent them our backup 15 horse outboard after theirs died, while they waited months for a new one. They serviced our dive gear for us. And Dave and Ken worked together to wire up batteries at the Wellness Center for Don Arkin's aeroponics project.

(Don's picture has already appeared, but he's another good friend -- determined to make a difference in Majuro.)


Rob and Rebecca, on "Morwena." Rob sailed into Majuro as a single-handed sailor, expert spear fisherman, and determined bachelor. Rebecca came to teach future English teachers (who, unfortunately, mostly could not speak English themselves.) They both changed their plans.

And if anybody ever needed help, Rob would be the first guy you'd call.


Pamela, a long-time professor in the College of the Marshall Islands teachers' program. She took Rebecca under her wing when Rebecca first arrived, and immediately schemed to match her up with Rob. Bullseye!


Mark and Angie on "Uno Mas." These two were mainstays of the cruising community. Mark is Commodore of the local yacht club, and the two of them represented the "cruiser tribe" in dealings with the authorities.

They were also just very capable people, with a real can-do spirit. Note the odd-looking pontoon on their dinghy. That's a fender, like you would use to protect the side of your boat, which has been stuffed into the pontoon of their dinghy after the original seams stopped holding air. Worked fine, while they waited months for a new dinghy.


Gary and Phyllis on "Apolima." A tough and incredibly experienced cruising couple from Canada. They both served in the military, ran a cattle ranch together, ran a commercial fishing boat together in the gulf of Alaska, and drove "his and hers" 18 wheelers before they went cruising. Phyllis was always great at organizing big social get togethers.

During their many years in Majuro, they tried twice to leave Majuro, only to return after several days at sea with various mechanical problems. (Did we mention that Majuro can be a bit like the twilight zone?)

But they finally made it on the third try –– making a late season run in 2021 across the North Pacific and then down to Mexico. That can be a very stormy passage, and Phyllis is in her late 70's, while Gary is in his 80's, so we were all holding our breath. But they made it, with the help of Bruce Buckley, weather router extraordinaire.


CJ, on "Holiday". CJ and his wife, Giselle, are avid divers, and CJ seems to be an expert at everything useful -- he's a good mechanic, a dive master, an underwater photographer, and a Spectra Watermaker dealer! Among his other useful skills... Plus just a very helpful and friendly guy. Unfortunately, we didn't get a picture of Giselle before they sailed off for Fiji. But they're in NZ now, so we can fix that.


Peter, on "Ahaluna." Peter had the distinction of being the oldest cruiser in the fleet, at 85. Peter could always be counted on to make a produce report after a trip to the grocery store.

That was one of the great features of fleet life –– we had our own private radio channel, which we all monitored, and anyone could jump in with any announcement that seemed important.

Like, "Attention the fleet -- Payless has good vegetables, but no eggplant," or "you've gotta look at the sunset." Or, occasionally, "all hands on deck, so-and-so's mooring has failed."

Peter had a whole woodworking shop on his boat and was always there with a helping hand. We also miss his tasty homemade baguettes!


Dave and Glyn on "Dignity" -- long-term cruisers from South Africa. Dave was instrumental in helping Ken get our old transmission off our engine. He really helped our morale by showing up when things were looking pretty bleak. Dave is the guy who had the bad leg infection, although that definitely does not make him unique in the fleet.


Daryl and Cindy on "Moon Bird." They had purchased Moon Bird –– their first cruising boat –– while the boat was in Majuro. And then got trapped by Covid, along with the rest of us. Plus, they had the usual cruising experience of discovering all kinds of unforeseen problems in their newly acquired boat, up to and including termites. So, they got quite an introduction to the cruising life!

Daryl may have saved Dave's ("Dignity") life, by visiting him on board, seeing how bad his infection was, and getting a doctor friend to come out and make a boat call.


This is a picture of Kirsten with Katrina, who was the second ranking Australian diplomat in the Australian Embassy in Majuro. We were also good friends with Brek and Prue, the Australian ambassador and his wife, but we foolishly failed to get pictures of them. Same with Karen, the previous American ambassador in Majuro.

With no photographic evidence, we have missed our opportunity to show how important we are in the world –– hobnobbing with diplomats.

Of course, the social scene in Majuro can be a bit... slow. We suspect the (somewhat quirky) yachties were a welcome diversion for the diplomats!


Curtis and Julie on "Manna" drive a hard bargain at a cruisers' swap meet. These two were important social spark plugs, who organized regular sundowner get-togethers, where everybody would raft up with their dinghies to float around and enjoy a nice sunset and some good company.

We missed them after they sailed back to North America via the northern route.

Ken is forever grateful to Curtis for introducing him to the mysterious art of boat-beer-making. We'll get into that in a later update.


Here's our friend John of White Hawk, on the right, in conversation with the captain of a local (low carbon) island supply ship.


Here's "Kwai", that island supply ship.


And John's wife Lynette with Beth.

John and Lynette introduced us to shallow-water nudibranch photography, and we shared many adventures with them, including our trip to Rongelap.

They talked us into going to the Marshall Islands in the first place. Of course they didn't mention that it was in the twilight zone …


Gary from "Catana," on the left, in conversation with Gary from "Apolima."

Gary ("Catana") was the yacht club secretary, responsible for organizing the weekly yachtie dinners. He also helped with the construction of a small Marshallese racing waka (sailing canoe) fleet.


Cary and Karen on "Seal" -- long time Majuro cruiser/residents. These guys founded the yacht club, and Karen is a key player at the Marshall Islands Journal. Cary is a hard core Marlin fisherman. They know everything there was to know about Majuro.



And, finally, we have to mention the French Canadian family from "Pinocchio." The parents, Marcus and Johanne (not seen in this picture), somehow manage to live on and sail a moderately-sized ketch with SEVEN children and a large dog! And the kids all seemed happy and enthusiastic. Nobody else could remotely understand how they pulled this off.


Part of the "Pinocchio" family singing at the Christmas party (with a friend, front right). That's the mother, Johanne, in the background.


And a couple of the kids playing ninja assassin.


So that was our little community of cruisers. It was like a small town -- you know everybody's business, and put up with their quirks. They were our friends, and we would be willing to put ourselves at risk to help them. As they for us. We are really going to miss that bit of our life.


Maybe no one completely loves Majuro as it is. The Marshallese certainly feel nostalgia for the way things used to be –– as illustrated by this painting, which hangs in the Post Office.


Sunset on the lagoon.

But we are not sorry to have spent 2 1/2 years there.


Life is what happens to you while you were making other plans…


The Outer Atolls

In 2 1/2 years, we had one chance to get out of Majuro and visit some uninhabited atolls. (Which was the reason we came there in the first place.)

Getting approval was more the result of miscommunication among government agencies than an actual willingness to let the yachts travel –– but we took yes for an answer.

So we stocked up with massive quantities of beans, along with as much gasoline and diesel as we could hold, and headed north for Rongelap and Ailinginae.


Unlike Ailinginae, Rongelap is not completely uninhabited. There was a small contingent of maybe 20 caretakers who lived on one corner of the big atoll. We agreed to carry the essentials of life up to those guys -- namely, coffee and creamer.


But for the most part, we were either completely on our own, or just with "White Hawk".

There is a good reason that the villagers abandoned Rongelap and Ailinginae. In a fit of stupidity, the US launched the "Castle Bravo" hydrogen bomb test at a time when the tradewinds were not blowing from their normal direction. So instead of drifting (more or less) harmlessly out to sea, some of that poisonous radiation ended up on nearby atolls –– and Rongelap got hammered. People died.

The US made an attempt to re-settle people back on the atoll a few years later, but that turned out badly because the contaminated soil still made root crops poisonous.

And the US was less than fully truthful in its dealings with the villagers throughout this whole episode. A lot of people died or suffered severe radiation poisoning. Let's just say it wasn't our finest hour, and it remains a major source of bitterness for the Marshallese.


After spending about 2 1/2 months on these atolls, we were a little worried about radiation ourselves, even though everything we read said we should be ok. So when we returned to Majuro, we borrowed this handy portable Geiger counter from the world's most prepared cruisers, Mark and Angie on "Uno Mas". Fortunately we checked out clean!

That's our reverse osmosis watermaker membrane in the background -- we checked that also. It was fine.


Life on an uninhabited atoll brings a real sense of peace. No people, no internet, nothing but us.


And a few seabirds.


And insects. This moth almost looked like he had a few nuclear mutations! We like his eyes.


Although we spent most of our time diving, we took plenty of long walks along the deserted shores.


And found the usual evidence of distant civilization. Most tropical atolls have plenty of plastic garbage washed up on their windward side.


This is a locator beacon from a fishing boat's long line.


Looks good enough to wear, but we don't need it.


And it isn't just garbage that washes ashore. We also found this big fiberglass fishing boat.


The RMI also has a problem with boats full of cocaine drifting in from Central America. Once in a while this can cause real problems when an enterprising islander decides to resell some of that cargo in Majuro.

Seems like anything that gets thrown into the ocean upwind eventually makes its way to the Marshall Islands.


Here is a close look at the fiberglass layup on that wrecked fishing boat. Not really very impressive –– lots of delamination.


Of course, there are downsides to complete isolation. Did we mention that the Marshall Islands are hard on computers?

Over the course of our entire stay in the Marshalls, we had two motherboard failures, two wireless card failures, two SSD hard drive failures and a screen failure.

Fortunately, we had spares.


After months in these atolls, we faced the issue of what to do with our own garbage. It's fine to dispose of cans and bottles by throwing them overboard in deep water at sea. (By deep we mean 4000 meters.) They sink to the bottom and stay there. The cans will eventually deteriorate, and the glass will get sucked down under a continent and melted in the earth's mantle. In a few million years...

That's real recycling!

But what you do with plastic? We create as little plastic garbage as possible, but you just can't completely avoid it.


Of course, we could take it with us back to Majuro. Where it would get added to Mount Trashmore. That seems crazy –– because all of that garbage is eventually going to end up back in the ocean someday when a storm finally sweeps it away. It's all within a few hundred meters of the ocean.

So we decided to dig a pit and burn it. Yes, this puts carbon into the atmosphere. But is that worse bringing it back to Majuro and adding it to Mount Trashmore?

We let it burn down to basically nothing, and then covered the pit with the (radioactive) sand.


But, mainly, we wanted to come to these uninhabited places for the diving. Here Beth investigates a giant clam –– which would've long ago been eaten if there were people here.



Here's what those clams look like close up.


A black tip reef shark cruises by to check us out. These things are puppy dogs –– way more scared of us than we are of them.


A Gold-saddle goatfish, in his fully yellow phase.


A Blackeye thicklip. Gee, wonder how he got that name.


A Checkerboard wrasse. The fish is close enough to be lit up by the strobes, while the background coral is too far away and just looks greenish blue.


An Achilles tang.


A juvenile Rockmover wrasse checks us out from the safety of some weeds.


Here's a better look at a slightly older juvenile..


And a Whitecheek surgeonfish.


A Bluestripe pipefish. Ken felt bad about this guy, as he got gobbled up by a bigger fish almost as soon as we saw him.


A Yellowbanded pipefish peeks out from a bit of coral.


These friendly Steephead parrotfish would probably have been targets if there were people around.


Along with this Napoleon wrasse. These guys can get to 7 feet long!


Normally, we can't easily dive outside the reef in remote locations, because there is nowhere safe to park the dinghy. And the cuts that give access to the deep water have powerful currents. And we are all alone...


But Rongelap had one cut that was passable at high tide. And we had these great underwater "scooters" which we had purchased from another cruiser in Majuro. These things can push a person against quite a strong current, with a lithium battery that can last for multiple dives. And one of them can pull both of us in a pinch. So we felt safe using them outside of the protected lagoon.


Life is different outside the reef. A Whitemargin unicornfish comes up out of the deep blue water to investigate us. He was maybe 3-4 feet long, counting his nose.


In general, however we were not all that impressed with the reefs. Here you can see quite a bit of algae growth –– it's that green leafy stuff. Rather surprising in a place with (virtually) no human habitation. Not a good sign.


Life under a Rock –– Our 2 1/2 Years of Covid

Flabellina exoptata

But our real focus was photographing the tiny, exotic creatures living amidst the rocks in the shallow cuts between the "Motu" islands which make up a coral atoll. In this section we will show you some of the results of our 2 1/2 years of photography. This collection includes pictures from Rongelap, Ailinginae, Majuro (and Fiji, after we left the Marshalls).


A tube worm, poking his feathery tentacles out of the hole that he has bored into the coral.


Ardeadoris angustolutea

Most of our subjects here are sea slugs of one type or another. The majority are "nudibranchs" -- which means naked gills in Latin. (Those feathery looking things at the back end of this guy are exposed gills.)

For the most part, these creatures do not have shells, but have instead developed toxins that make them unappealing to fish. And they use their bright colors and weird shapes as a warning mechanism.


Stylocheilus striatus

There are thousands of species of nudibranchs and their relatives, many of which are still unknown to science. Our friends John and Lynette on "White Hawk," who showed us this kind of diving, also introduced us to Scott Johnson, a scientist who specializes in these creatures. Scott has graciously helped us with identification.


Goniobranchus albonares

Nudibranchs typically sport "rhinopores," which are the antenna-like smell/taste/chemical sensory organs at the front end of this very cute looking creature.

We think this species looks like a bunny rabbit.


Glossodoris rufomarginata

One annoying thing about nudibranchs –– most of them don't have common names, just scientific names. Humans don't eat them -- so, aside from dedicated scientists, no one ever bothered giving them names.

We started giving some of them our own names. For example, we call these guys "Crème brûlée." "Pumpkin pie" would also fit. These two are mating -- we will talk about that in a bit.


Elysia marginata ("Taco Bell")


Goniobranchus fidelis ("Carrot Cake")


Platydoris formosa ("Eggs Over Easy")

Most of the nudibranchs we have shown so far are quite small -- under an inch in most cases. But this guy was more like four or 5 inches long.


Jorunna rubescens

And this gal was probably pushing 10 inches.


And she laid this enormous egg mass. It was about the size of a softball.


Dendrodoris carbunculosa

This nudibranch was well over a foot long. Big enough that it was hard to get the entire animal in the frame with our macro lens.


Another view of this strange creature. The biggest nudibranch we have ever seen.

Those mushroom-type things are his rhinopores.


Facelina bourailli

In contrast, this Facelina is only about 1/4 of an inch. A quarter inch translates to about 6 mm, and we will use mm to describe the smaller critters.

Notice that the "depth of field" here, meaning the part of the picture that is in focus, is very narrow –– only a few millimeters. We pay this price in order to get the large magnification. With our naked eyes, we can hardly even see these creatures.


We use a special close-up "wet" lens which attaches to the outside of the camera housing.


The lens can flip out of the way when we do not want to use it.

And if this housing looks like it's been through a war -- it has. Poking around in the rocks raises clouds of coral sand. And the sand contains lime (since it's limestone), which eats the anodizing.

Notice the nice shiny black optic on the back. That's brand new. The whole housing looked like that when we left NZ in 2019.


Samla bicolor

Here is another very tiny creature –– less than 6 mm. Notice that we can get more of the creature in focus by shooting top-down rather than head on.


Gymnodoris citrina

But Ken really loves the drama of the head on pictures. The heck with getting everything focused!


Biuve cf fulvipunctata

Here's another one of those up close and personal pictures that Ken likes.


Roboastra gracilis

In practice –– and especially when we see species that are new to us –– Ken will take dozens of shots from a lot of different angles, to ensure that we also get good identification pictures.


Beth does most of our scouting, while Ken does the photography. She needs the magnifying glass, because these things are so hard to see.


And the magnifying glasses keep getting bigger. This one has the advantage that she can use it to beat off tiger sharks.


And, yes, those are bubbles coming out of the top of Beth's head. She tried for a long time to break her habit of breathing out through her nose underwater. But we finally gave up and cut some holes in the top of her hood, so that the air escaping from her mask did not accumulate there, turning her into a bubblehead.

Those aren't the only holes in our wetsuits...


As you might imagine from the preceding pictures, we do a lot of crawling around on the bottom on our hands and knees. That can be kind of hard on the gear...


Siphopteron nigromarginatum

Here is a good example of a creature that requires the magnifying glass. This little guy was no more than maybe 3 mm long. Those big "boulders" around it are fine bits of coral sand.

This fellow is not actually a nudibranch, but rather a member of the Siphopteron genus -- so named because of the siphon tube that stands straight up at its head. Members of this genus have a hard shell under its soft fleshy exterior. Looks like a swan to us.

A "genus" is a grouping of very similar species -- it's the next step up on the classification ladder from the individual species.

The first part of the scientific name indicates the genus, and the second the species.


Sagaminopteron psychedelicum

And here is a swan on an acid trip.This guy is 10 to 12 mm (around half an inch) long. Good species name...

This guy looks like a close relative of the swan, but he's actually a member of a different genus.


Oxynoe kylei

Like the swan and the psychedelic slugs, he also has a shell under his fleshy (and flashy) exterior.


Berthellina martensi

A much more subdued creature which also has a shell under his exterior.


Gymnodoris sp e089

And here's a guy who lets you see exactly what's going on under the covers.


Chelidonura hirundinina

This is another very small sea slug –– maybe 4 or 5 mm. And, again, this is not a nudibranch –– notice the lack of rhinopores and exposed gills. This guy is part of a group known as "head shield slugs" –– a reference to their flattened head shape.


Plakobranchus ocellatus

This devilish looking guy can make some energy from photosynthesis, so we often find them crawling around in the open, where they can get sun. They get to be 2 inches (50 mm) long.

Scientists think that these plakobranchus are able to eat algae and preserve the photosynthetic cells from the algae for their own use -- without digesting them. Scientists call the cells "kleptoplasts," since they have been stolen from their original owners.


Doriprismatica atromarginata

This guy looks like a wolf!


And here the wolf finds another nudibranch, a Halgerda albocristata. Despite his wolf-like appearance, the Doriprismatica atromarginata doesn't eat other nudibranchs.


Gymnodoris ceylonica

Whereas, this guy is a lethal predator, despite his jolly appearance. Most members of the Gymnodoris genus eat other nudibranchs.


Pruvotfolia rhodopos

Nudibranchs get their toxins from the food they eat. And some have developed the ability to eat the stinging cells of sea anemones and "hydroids" (a relative of coral). And then, somehow, transfer the stinging cells –– undigested –– into the tubelike "cerata" on their backs.

So if a fish takes a bite out of one of these creatures, the fish gets a mouthful of stingers. Ken refer to cerata as "missile silos."


Eubranchus sp e133

This guy could hardly fit any more missiles on his back. Actually, they kind of look like carrots.


Tenellia sp e637

And this nudibranch has some pretty good silos of his own.

Notice the provisional species number, rather than a name. An indication of a newly cataloged, but unnamed species.


Dermatobranchus fortunatus

This guy is ready to strip polyps from some unsuspecting coral.


Eubranchus unknown

And speaking of missile silos, here is one of our best finds. As far as our scientist friends have been able to determine, this is an unknown species –– reported for the first time by the team from Eagle's Wings!


Here's another look.


And another, since we are particularly proud of this guy. We saw several of this unknown species on a reef in Fiji near Musket Cove.

But we will not be able to get our names in the history books unless we collect and kill about 10 individuals and submit them for DNA testing. We are not up for that, so we have decided to pass up our chance at worldwide acclaim...


Bornella stellifer

And then there is the Bornella genus, with their weird rhinopores that look like a claw holding a fern.


Here is a better (if less dramatic) look at the same species.


Bornella anguilla

Another flamboyant species in the same genus.


You can see the similarity in mouth parts (oral tentacles) and rhinopores. Same genus.


Marianina rosea

You can see a vague rhinopore resemblance to the previous nudibranch, but the oral tentacles are way different -- so he belongs to a different genus.


Another look at the same critter.

Nudibranchs use some strange color combinations -– orange and pink, for example. But they seem to make that work.


And if you had to pick just one color to go with -- is this it?


Godiva sp e032

Whereas, we think this Godiva has a very tasteful color scheme.


Goniobranchus e533

So far, this species is known only from the Marshall Islands.


Goniobranchus geometricus

A bit lumpy, but still attractive.


Goniobranchus geometricus (juvenile)

Obviously the rhinopores grow before everything else!


Cyerce sp e501

And finally, we have to talk about the Cyerce genus of nudibranchs. These guys are usually about 10 mm long, and they carry around an absolutely enormous array of cerata shaped like inflated butterfly wings. We feel bad if we startle them into motion, since they expend a huge amount of energy just to move.


Here is a close-up of the same individual. Those little dots that look like eyes actually ARE light sensors. Many sea slugs and flatworms have similar organs for detecting light and shadow. These are not fully formed eyes with lenses, like ours, but rather an evolutionary precursor.

Which we think is a pretty good answer to the creationist argument that eyes could not have come about through evolution, since they would be useless without all of their elaborate components parts. Actually... no. If all you care about is finding a dark place to hide, a simple light sensor does the trick.

And moves evolution a step further.


Cyerce sp e841

Another species of Cyerce.


Cyerce elegans


And another .. a particularly beautiful member of the same species.


Gymnodoris sp e583

We promised to say some more about mating. Here are two individuals, caught in the act.

Note the starboard to starboard docking maneuver. That's standard with nudies.

We are always amazed that nudibranchs are able to find other members of their own particular species on top of a big reef. We can sometimes search for an hour without seeing any nudibranchs of any species, so it's not like the population density would make it easy to find a mate.

Probably they send out chemical signals. Except that, with a strong current flowing, those signals would wash away quickly. There are lots of things that we don't understand about these ecosystems.

But it helps that nudibranchs are hermaphrodites -- so any member of their species will serve!

Or, as those old sailor-men from the British Navy used to say "Any port in a storm."


And here is an egg mass. Nudibranch egg masses take a lot of different shapes, depending on the species, although they often tend to form coils of one kind or another.


Pseudoceros goslineri

In addition to nudibranchs, we see a lot of other creatures. Flatworms, for example. These guys are scavengers and carnivores, and are related to tapeworms and liver flukes. They typically measure 1 to 2 inches, although some get bigger.


Bulaceros porcellanus

Unlike Nudibranchs, flatworms are not generally poisonous. So they are much quicker to move if we expose their hiding place. They also crinkle up the fringe of their "skirt" at their head in imitation of rhinopores. We think that this is a defense –– they are trying to resemble poisonous nudibranchs.


Pseudobiceros damawan

Here is a clear example of that behavior.


Another individual of the Pseudobiceros damawan species, where skirt ruffles get turned into fake "rhinopores."


Maritigrella eschara

Flatworms move with a kind of rippling motion, undulating their skirts.


Phrikoceros katoi

We think that this flatworm is particularly pretty.


Thysanozoon sp 6

Looks like he is covered with gemstones.


Pseudobiceros bedfordi

But this is our all-time favorite flatworm. Gorgeous. He was maybe 2 1/2 inches long.


Hexabranchus sanguineus egg mass

There is a particularly spectacular flatworm -- over a foot long and often seen free swimming along the reef. It's so big and pretty that it actually has a common name –– it's called a "Spanish dancer." The picture above is an egg mass from a Spanish dancer. So we know they are around on the reef in Fiji, where we saw this. But we never managed to find one.


Other Creatures

Over the past 2 1/2 years we've spent a lot of time crawling around on our hands and knees in shallow water on top of reefs –– typically between a meter and 3 meters deep. At those depths we can stretch a tank of air for over three hours, whereas a normal dive would last 40 minutes or so.


Gnathophyllum americanum

And when you spend that much time in the water, you end up seeing a lot of strange things that you weren't necessarily looking for. Like this "Bumblebee shrimp," for example.


Saron sp 2

And this Saron shrimp. These guys get to maybe 3 inches long.


Shrimp are definitely fish food. So they're very wary. This guy is hanging out inside the spines of the sea urchin for protection.

Sarons, as with most shrimp, have two speeds. Very slow -- hoping that you don't see them. And warp speed, when they snap their tails and disappear like a bullet.


They are such elaborately complicated animals that Ken couldn't get their whole head in focus with our close-up lens. Here you can see his eyes –– those bulges off to each side, along with the target-like mark on his gullet.


And here we have some of his mouth parts in focus.

Strange looking creatures. He's probably thinking the same thing about us.


Stenopus zanzibaricus (aka "Banded coral shrimp")

This cleaner shrimp has a complicated relationship with fish. Cleaner shrimp will often set up so-called cleaning stations, where they offer to pick parasites off of fish. Usually the fish don't try to eat them. So these guys are cautious, but not totally paranoid.


Ciliopagurus strigatus (or "Halloween hermit crab")

And then there are crabs, which come in endless colors and sizes. This is a type of hermit crab -- meaning crabs that take up residence in a discarded shell, and use it for armor. These guys can often be seen crawling around in the open, as they feel well protected.


Dardanus megistos ("White-spotted hermit crab")

Here is another brightly colored hermit crab. Obviously, these guys are not afraid of being seen.

This fellow was busy making a meal out of a dead shell, and wasn't about to back off just because a creature a few thousand times his weight was staring at him from 6 inches away.


Unknown crab

Whereas this little gal is totally vulnerable out in the open –– and dashed for cover as fast she could. We say this is a female because of the collection of eggs that she is carrying on her belly.


Naxioides taurus

And then there are Bull crabs -- so named because of the pointy horns coming out of their heads. They are annoying because those horns are very sharp, and it is easy to put your hand on a well camouflaged crab -- they are typically an inch or so in diameter, and are masters of camouflage.

This one was particularly annoying, because he came up attached to some of our gear, and Ken sat on him. Not for long, however…


Unknown Bull crab

Here is a moderately well-camouflaged bull crab. Bulls (also called "Decorator crabs") stick small animals and plants all over their body, creating a disguise.

You can still see his legs, and his eye in the center of the flower arrangement. We picked this picture to show you, because when these guys get fully camouflaged they just don't look like anything at all. We aren't quite sure how they make all this stuff stick.

Bull crabs and and Decorator crabs in general don't usually run away, at least not very fast. They really depend on their camouflage.


Lybia tessellata ("Pom-pom crab")

But for our money, Pom-pom crabs are the cutest. They pick up tiny bits of stinging sea anemones and brandish them as a defense. Looking for all the world like cheerleaders.


But the crabs don't seem to think this defense works very well. Because they scamper for cover as fast as they can. We have seen dozens of these things, but have only gotten a few pictures, because they move so quickly.


And here's one more picture, interesting because again you can see a female carrying eggs on her belly.


Leocrates Sp 2

Besides flatworms, we see a lot of segmented worms.


Nereididae sp 2

Some real convergent evolution resemblance to centipedes.


Amphinomidae Sp 2

And many of these creatures, like this fireworm, can give you a nasty sting if you lay a hand on them.


Eunicidae unknown

And then there was this guy... He was over a meter long, and pretty aggressive -- chased Ken around a bit while he was shooting pictures.

Ken thinks he was a bobbit, although Beth (based on input from the experts) says he's just a cousin. Bobbits have giant, bear trap-like jaws, which they can retract into their shells. They hide under the sand and lie in ambush -- they can take pretty big fish. (And do a number on a surprised diver.)

Bobbits are named after Lorena Bobbitt -- who famously got revenge on her abusive husband by doing some transgender surgery while he was asleep.

So you can probably see why Ken was staying out of this fellow's way.


Scorpaenopsis diabolus ("Devil scorpionfish")

And, of course, if you poke around among rocks long enough, you are going to run into creatures that are trying to look like rocks.

Can you find the scorpionfish in this picture?

As a hint, he takes up almost the whole center of the picture. The serrated-looking bulge top center is his dorsal fin, his eye is a dark spot toward the left side of his body, with some black streaks pointing toward it from below. And his pectoral fin extends from his body almost down to the bottom of the frame.


Here is a head-on view.


Taenianotus triacanthus ("Leaf scorpionfish")

You can see the tail of this guy on the right side of the picture, his elaborate dorsal fin above his body, and his mouth off to the lower left. He is trying to look like a bit of greenish coral, possibly covered by some weed.


A close-up of his face.


And a head-on view.

And here's the thing –– all these scorpionfish, along with the similar stonefish, are extremely poisonous -- armed with spines covered with a toxic mucus. They aren't aggressive, but it's pretty easy to bump up against one without noticing him. We are very careful, and so far we have been lucky, knock on wood.


Echinothrix calamaris ("Banded sea urchin")

Another occupational hazard of crawling around underwater -- sea urchins.


Here is a closer look. The big blunt spikes won't hurt you, but those thin pointy ones with the black tips are really nasty.

The disco ball is used to eject poop... Very elegant, as such things go.

Sea urchins are easy enough to spot, but they sometimes start crawling around if you disturb them. And so if your attention is focused on something else, they can be kind of dangerous. Again, we've been lucky…


Exaiptasia diaphana ("Brown anemone")

Sea anemones can sting, but they are really not much of a threat –– easy to see, and anyway our gloves and wetsuits can deal with them.


Unknown sea anemone

We just saw the second Avatar movie, which is full of strange, imaginary underwater creatures. But Hollywood can't really improve much on the weird and beautiful reality of the ocean.


Unknown sea cucumber

Sea cucumbers, the vacuum cleaners of coral lagoons, are particularly weird, for example.


Unknown sea cucumber (at least we think this is a sea cucumber)

Some are equipped with long extension tubes that feel around on the sand for tasty bits.


Holothuria hilla ("Tigertail sea cucumber")

Or are covered with spikes.


Lentigo lentiginosus ("Silver conch")

And everybody knows what a seashell looks like. But did you know that they also look back at us, like this conch?


Hesione paulayi ("Blood-Mouth conch")

We're definitely the weirdest things this guy has ever seen!


Cribrarula cribraria ("Sieve cowrie")

And did you know that many shells can cover their hard exteriors with a retractable "mantle" –– a fleshy blanket covered with spike-like sensory organs (like this cowrie)?


Talostolida teres ("Tapering cowrie")

A close-up of a related cowrie species.


Limaria sp 1

Even creatures you thought you knew can look pretty wild in the flesh. This is a type of scallop.


Phallusia julinea ("Yellow sea-squirt")

And then there are tunicates (or sea-squirts), simple cousins to sponges, which draw water in one opening, filter it for nutritious treats, and then expel it through a different opening.


Rhopalaea sp 1

Tunicates come in thousands of weird varieties.


Here's another look at the same species.


Polycarpa unknown

This variety has developed spikes to help keep small critters inside. Sort of resembles land-dwelling carnivorous plants.


Conus leopardus ("Leopard cone") egg casings

And we see lots of egg cases from seashells –– there are thousands of varieties.


Here's a close-up, where you can see the eggs.


But we don't have a clue about what creature produces these.


Again, a close-up, where you can see that each one of these pods contains thousands of eggs.


Yellowmargin Triggerfish

Eggs come from a lot of different sources. A pair of triggerfish having sex (in separate bedrooms). The female lays eggs, and the male follows her around to fertilize them.


The female, in breeding colors.


And the male, looking very turned-out in his mating finery.


Unknown mantis shrimp

Here's one of the weirdest reef creatures of all –– a mantis shrimp.

This is a tiny one, no more than 2 inches long. He is giving you a good look at his primary weapon. Unlike a praying mantis insect, mantis shrimp use their folded arms not to grab prey, but as hammers to stun them. The clubs at the end of his arms are drawn back under tremendous tension, and can snap forward with the force of a .22 caliber bullet.

In 1998, a 4-inch mantis shrimp at the SEA LIFE Centre in Norfolk, England, shattered the quarter-inch-thick glass of its aquarium.

And they get bigger.

Unknown mantis shrimp

This guy was about 4 inches long –– big enough to break glass.


Odontodactylus scyllarus ("Peacock mantis shrimp")

And here is a full-grown Peacock mantis shrimp that we found out in the open in Fiji. He was at least seven or 8 inches long.


He was wary of us, but not about to retreat. He knew he could break our bones, and we knew that too, so we kept a respectful distance.


And he wasn't so nervous that he was going to pass up lunch. At one point during our interaction, a large shrimp stupidly wandered in front of him.

The mantis kept one eye firmly on us, pivoted the other eye toward the shrimp, popped him, and calmly proceeded to eat him, while still keeping us under observation. You can just make out the other shrimp under the front of the mantis in this picture.


Those eyes are more like radar -- able to see wavelengths and types of polarization invisible to humans.


Lysiosquillina lisa ("Spearing mantis shrimp")

But normally you don't see these guys out in the open. They prefer to stay in their burrows, which they line with a thick rubber-like substance -- maybe for comfort.

Then they just keep their fabulously complex eyes above the sand to scan for dinner.

And if one retreats down his burrow –– don't get tempted to reach in after him!


Boat Issues

We've had way too many boat repairs over the last 2 1/2 years to mention them all here. So we are just going to hit a couple of highlights.

Ken has always been worried about a few potential problems that would be really tough to fix in the field.

The first was changing out the transmission on the main engine, since our installation made that very difficult. But of course, we had to do that as soon as we arrived in Majuro (see our previous update for the gory details).

Also, very high on the list, was dealing with a leaky fuel tank. Eagle's Wings has two aluminum fuel tanks, each of which holds 125 gallons of diesel. And the boat was built around these things, so there is no way to get them in and out. Without removing the deck, that is.

So, you guessed it, we developed a leak in our port fuel tank. Ken went down in the engine room one day and discovered about 20 liters of diesel in the bilge!

Fortunately, the leak stayed in the bilge and didn't get into the water. Unfortunately, in the excitement, we didn't take a picture of all that shiny petroleum rolling around under our feet.

We had less than half fuel on board, so we were able to pump all of the remaining fuel from the port tank over to the starboard tank. And then Ken spent hours sponging diesel out of the bilge into old oil containers.

We decided not to try to fix this problem in Majuro. It was just too daunting. We could wait until we got back to New Zealand to figure out a permanent solution.

In lieu of built-in tankage, we bought six new fuel jerrys to add to the six that we already carry. Plus we pressed our four gasoline jugs into diesel service -- for a total of 80 gallons.


New and old jerry cans.


Beth made sun covers out of silver tarp material for 12 jugs.


Ken built supports to lash the jugs to the stanchions on port and starboard sides.


And we rigged up a system, using our fuel polishing pump, so that we could just roll out a hose and empty the jugs directly into the fuel tank, without needing to worry about lashing and unlashing jugs, moving them around, and siphoning diesel out of them at sea.

This arrangement gave us more than 80% of our normal fuel capacity (and ultimately worked fine for two long ocean passages).


Here's another problem that Ken always dreaded. The black box in the center of the picture is the "Clark pump" of our Spectra watermaker. Over the years, Ken has repaired practically every piece of this watermaker, but the Clark pump has always remained a mystery. It's a fiendishly clever piece of engineering with lots of moving parts and very tight tolerances.

We've had it rebuilt professionally, twice, to avoid ever having to deal with it in the field. Well, it failed on us.


So Ken got to pull it apart. CJ from "Holiday" provided invaluable advice.


Here's the piece that failed –– a little plastic sleeve about the size of a golf ball. If you peer closely at the picture, you can see a hairline crack on the near edge. That little crack was enough to completely disable our system.

Anyway, Ken put the thing back together with the new sleeve –– we had the spares kit, of course –– and it's been working fine ever since. In fact, better than it has worked for years.

Ken says it was pretty easy to fix, now that he's done it once.


And here is one more watermaker issue. This is the power pump for the Spectra watermaker.


For years now, we have been running through brushes in this motor about every 100 hours. On the left are the two used brushes, obviously very (unevenly) worn. With a new brush on the right for comparison.

A brush life of 100 hours is just stupid –– these things should last 10 times that long.


And here's the answer –– right in front of our eyes. This pump has a duty cycle ("TIME" -- meaning maximum time for one run) of 120 minutes. But Spectra tells you that you should run the pump for as long as possible to maximize efficiency, since flushing the system when you're done uses a lot of freshwater. So we typically ran our system for five or six hours at a stretch.

Ken had asked questions about this duty cycle several times over the past few years, but Spectra had always assured him that he shouldn't worry about it. But finally he talked to the actual pump manufacturer (Bodine). And the Bodine engineer said "yeah, that means you can't run the pump for longer than two hours at a stretch without overheating it." Duh!

So Ken installed a fan to blow cooling air over the pump, and then decided to upgrade the pump to a 24 V model, using a voltage booster (to convert from 12 V). Heat is primarily caused by current –– electrons moving through the line. And a pump that operates at twice the voltage will draw half the current to do the same amount of work. This might not cut the heat in half, but it will help a lot.

Anyway, the new pump and fan have now run for hundreds of hours, and the brushes look like new. So it only took us about 10 years to sort that problem!


Okay, here's the last issue we'll talk about.

By the time we arrived in the Marshalls, our solar panels were in the process of failing -- AGAIN. (Remember, we had just replaced them in Vanuatu.)

Ken was ready to give up and go with hard panels, but Beth persuaded him to go with Italian-made Solbian panels. Much higher quality, but also four times the price of our cheap Chinese knock-offs.

Probably it helped that Dave and Kirsten from "Lucile" had the Solbians, and loved them.

Let's just say the Solbians have been great -- hugely powerful, and no problems (so far).

But we may have figured out why our Chinese panels kept failing.

"Ocean Planet," the Solbian dealer, was very detailed with their instructions. And when we described our existing installation -- including the Lexan panels which provide insulation for the bimini top -- Ocean Planet told us NOT TO WALK on the panels. They said the Lexan would flex enough to break the glass wafers in the panels.

Oops. We had always walked on our Chinese panels. And they lasted four years, until we installed the Lexan in 2018, after which they just started failing constantly.

An expensive lesson, for sure. In total we've purchased 33 soft solar panels since 2015. Hopefully we're done now.


June 9, 2022 - June 21, 2022

We Escape From the Twilight Zone

With Covid subsiding worldwide, and countries reopening their borders, we finally got the chance to make our escape from Majuro and sailed to Fiji in June 2022. Almost exactly 2 1/2 years after we arrived.

Sailing across the equator can sometimes be very pleasant.


Ken mans the helm with the autopilot controller. It's strenuous work, so he has to strip down to stay cool.


Beth enjoys breakfast at sea.


But there is a downside to the equator –– unstable air which gives you lots of squalls.


These things don't generate dangerous waves, but they can take the wind from 10 knots up to 30 knots in less than a minute.


And they are particularly frequent at night.


Yeah, nights can be scary.


But radar gives us a whole extra sensory power, which makes everything less scary. Because we can "see" what's going on.

We use a "course up" orientation on the screen, which means that the vertical line running up from the center of the display shows our course. The split screen just shows two different magnifications.

So in this case, we are two miles ahead of the squall, and going like crazy to stay out of it.

If you play your cards right, you can dodge a lot of these things.


Of course, sometimes the radar just says "you're screwed."


In better conditions -- we get a visit from a friendly pod of dolphins.


These were little guys –– Pantropical Spotted Dolphins -- And there must've been at least 20 or 30 of them in this pod. Only a few could actually surf our bow wave at one time, so they seemed to take turns. They stayed with us for close to an hour!


Our fuel transfer system worked like a charm.


June 21, 2022 - October 26, 2022

The Charms Of Fiji

And after 12 days at sea we tied up to a dock in Denarau, Fiji. First time at a dock in 3 years! (We had spent a season at anchor in Vanuatu before going to the Marshalls.)


So for 3 years, we had made all of our own electricity and water.

It felt pretty good to plug in our power cord and let somebody else motivate those electrons.


We instantly went from being the biggest yacht in the harbor to being a very small fish indeed.

Denarau hosts lots of superyachts. This giant ship, for example is actually a "tender" for an even larger boat. This one hauls the toys. Like the helicopter.


And here's the most important thing of all –– we got bottom painted. After 3 1/2 years, our bottom paint was used up. And for about the last two years Ken had been spending more and more time under the boat cleaning it. By the end, he was spending four hours underwater with scuba tanks every two weeks.

Ken says that he warded off despair by repeating "Fiji, Fiji" as he scraped our 60-foot hull.

The only time EW ever feels like a big boat is when you are cleaning the bottom. Or squeezing into a tight dock.


In the past, we have turned up our noses at the rather touristy scene on the west side of Fiji. But this time around, the prospect of good food and easy living seemed pretty nice.


And the restaurant scene around Denarau was just awesome.

There were at least 10 restaurants within a block of the marina, any one of which would have been the best restaurant in Majuro.

By a lot.


So we settled in.


And we met Alex and Genevieve, a fantastically friendly and energetic French Canadian couple who live onshore near the marina. Alex flies seaplanes for the local resorts and Gen teaches English, French and Spanish over the internet to clients all over the world. They were great company... and they took us grocery shopping... because they own a car!!!


And that's where we will leave things this time around. We have since moved on to New Zealand, and we have plenty more to talk about. But we will never post this if we wait to get totally caught up.

So goodbye until next time –– which hopefully won't be quite as long a wait.