As the saying goes there are two sides to every story. The sides are determined of course by the perspective of the story-teller, which in this case consists of only myself; but nevertheless I have two stories, or at least two perspectives of the same trip to tell.
I’ve probably made it clear in the last two logs that the Marshall Islands have been most impressive. Our itinerary on our third and final trip in these waters would mirror the last, another jaunt to the outer atolls. Why mess with perfection? We begin however in a world far-removed from the ones we have been exploring. It is what some have described as the “armpit of the South Pacific”. Anyone who has had the distinct displeasure of visiting would agree and likely expound on the description. It’s called Ebeye and it is most certainly not a place you will find in the brochures. It is an island with 14,000+ residents squeezed into clapboard shacks in a living space you can circumnavigate on foot in 15 minutes. It is more densely populated than Hong Kong. Thousands of dirty children roam the two streets that circle the perimeter like a dilapidated Indy track. Water costs 3 dollars a gallon (it rains a lot here but there is no infrastructure to hold the free stuff) and there are only about 1400 people on the island who have paying jobs. The hospital is shut-down, there are 5 schools in bad need of repair. Those who are employed mostly work for the US military base at nearby Kwajalein (workers take a ferry over to the island 7 days a week), earning a fraction of their ex pat co-workers. The garbage dump burns 24 hours a day; a plethora of trash- diapers, plastic sacks, and god knows what else floats downwind past our hulls like a ruined river.
Incredibly the residents, living in what would be a personal hell for me seem content. We’ve learned that to the Marshallese the family reigns supreme. Nothing else is more important. So while Ebeye is destitute, filthy, overcrowded and grossly lacking in basic goods the people are with their families so life is tolerable, if not enjoyed. I cannot but provide the most basic and probably adulterated glimpse into their lives. We used Ebeye as a provisioning stop for the trip and spent a total of 72 hours there mostly wanting to be somewhere else, so we hardly gave it a chance. I am likely taking gross journalistic freedom with my rash words, but nevertheless we couldn’t leave fast enough.
We learned from Guy, the harbor master in Kwajalein (one of the many, many people who went out of their way to give us assistance and guidance in the Marshalls) that a short distance from Ebeye is an anchorage and potential kite spot. Our new guests, Brien and Michael arrive and join Bruce and Scott, who have stayed on from the pro trip I wrote about in the last log.
The anchorage proves spectacular. Just six miles from Ebeye and we are in a different world. Palm covered islands, long wispy white sand beaches, brilliantly clear water. I shuttle everyone to the beach to launch their kites and return to Discovery and curse my blown ear drum. I can not enter the water for the duration of the trip without risking another infection and possibly lasting damage. Considering the wind is pegged at 25 knots and will never once go below 20 for the next 10 days and nights I’m not in the same jovial mood as our guests. These guys are in kiteboarding heaven, and I’m a poor spectator.
We sail all night hard on the wind in steep, uncomfortable and wet seas. Discovery as usual handles herself with grace but she’s been taking a beating for us lately. Boats are not unlike humans. They begin to fall apart when they are tired and run-down and for lack of a better simile, she and I are in the same boat. My ear problem is throwing my balance off, I feel like shit and to make matters worse I’ve got yet another staph infection taking root in my forearm. I’ve been battling the bacteria for a year since I picked them up in Panama and I’m not winning. The infection starts like a small zit, grows into a nasty abscess, and is proceeded with a horrific fever, sweats and considerable pain. It’s disgusting and it takes a hell of a toll on your mental and physical health- especially when you get one after another, as I have for the past few months.
Thankfully I’m the only one on the ugly side of the fence. Our guests have 25 steady knots of wind to play in. The sun is shining, waves are peeling, fresh fish is caught and eaten. Our new crew is getting well and truly up to speed. Pia has learned the intricacies of launching and landing kites from both Discovery and the dinghy while Sole has become one with her galley. The two banter in harmonic Spanish and their laughs and smiles make my own pain a lot more bearable.
Brien has lived near the ocean his entire life and if his large tattoos of the underwater world (he has a veritable aquarium in intricate detail covering his shoulder) weren’t enough of a hint, we all learn quickly that he has an insatiable love affair with the sea. On past trips the focus was so much on the kiting and surfing we didn’t take much time to look around at the underwater world. Brien changed this. One day between kite sessions he returns to the boat and declares the coral reef the best he’s ever seen. Given that he’s from Florida where the reefs are in poor shape this doesn’t surprise me much. There isn’t a soul around, there are no sources of immediate pollution, it follows that the coral should be good. Jody decides to take a look so I take her to the reef in the dinghy. She sticks her head under the water for one second and looks up at me and says “its the best I’ve ever seen.” Now I know it’s for real. Jody compares everywhere we go with her childhood memories of the Maldives and not one place we’ve been in the past 5 years has impressed her as much.
I can only spectate so much. This I have to see. We fashion an ear plug from surf board wax and I get wet for the first time in two weeks. Every square inch of coral is perfectly in tact. Not a single broken or damaged piece. All colors of the rainbow, dozens of different species, sharks and fish in every nook and cranny. Apparently 3% of the world’s reefs are in a “pristine” state; that is untouched and therefore undamaged by man. It is both heart wrenching and extraordinary to witness a living thing so beautiful and yet so rare.
By the time we reach the next atoll, and a village we’ve visited on two prior trips I’m in sorry shape. The staph infection has exploded and is oozing blood and puss. My head throbs and all I want to do is sleep, but I have to say hello to the village or risk offending the chief, which would bode poorly for the final days of our stay.
I take the SUP (stand up board) to the shore towing a good-sized mahi-mahi as a gift we’d caught earlier in the day. I’m received as we have been, with smiles and warm greetings. All the kids ask if we will be kiteboarding again and they scream with excitement when I say “of course- we’ll be here tomorrow!”
I’m not really too sure what happened in the final days as I was pretty much wrecked, but I know if you asked me and you asked anyone else taking part in this wicked journey you would get two very different accounts. One story would belong in the realm of dreams. It would undoubtedly contain emphatic detail of great company, superb kiting, fine dining, majestic locations and vistas shared as usual with not a single other boat. The other would resemble the stuff of nightmares. Sometimes we see things through a different lens.