The Marshall Islands provide the perfect cyclone season alternative for South Pacific voyagers with no immediate need of extensive yacht serices available in New Zealand, or those who simply wish to remain somewhere safe in the tropics.
Oceanography and Meteorology
The main features influencing your passage north from the South Pacific include four major ocean currents, the South Equatorial Current, South Equatorial Counter Current, Equatorial Current and North Equatorial Counter Current. Sailors coming from the central South Pacific locations will get a big push west from the Equatorial Current. Transiting the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) as far east as possible will set up a pleasant, off-the-wind run to the Marshalls. Expect to encounter the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) upon arrival to the southern Marshalls.
Monitor the most salient features for this route via the following weather fax broadcasts from station KVM-70, Honolulu Hawaii (frequencies 9982.5, 11090.0, 16135.0, and 23.331.5 kHz): Significant Cloud Features (at 0545Z and 1745Z), Pacific Surface Analysis (at 0600Z and 1800Z), Test Chart, Symbols and Schedule (at 0530Z and 1730Z).
Communications and Mail
The Republic of the Marshall Islands Communications Center monitors SSB 6.802 MHz and 6.221 MHz (USB) 24 hours a day. They can place phone calls and relay emergency or other information. A medical evacuation by air or sea from an out island, for example, would best start here. You may receive mail at: Postmaster, General Delivery, Main Post Office, Majuro, MH 96960, Republic of the Marshall Islands, but wait until you arrive since their recent policy is to return anything not picked up within 5 days.
Some Useful Charts
U.S. NIMA 83010 (Howland Island to Samoa Islands), 505 (Tuvalu to Palmyra Atoll), 506 (Mariana Islands to Gilbert Islands) and B.A. 761 (Marshall Islands) all proved useful. By far the best charts of individual Marshall Islands come from U.S. NIMA, such as 81796 (Mili Atoll), 81791 (Arno Atoll), 81782 (Majuro Atoll), 81771 (Maloelap and Aur Atolls), 81604 (Wotje Atoll), 6017 (Erikub Atoll) and 81587 (Likiep Atoll). B.A. charts 984 and 988, Islands and Anchorages in the Marshall Islands, provide a general overview but lack the detail and accuracy of the U.S. NIMA charts of individual islands.
Voyage Timing and Trajectory
An October departure from the South Pacific allows time for a stop at highly recommended Funafuti, Tuvalu. Some voyagers stop there in November, which carries the relatively low risk of experiencing a cyclone and the somewhat higher risk of 40- to 50-knot westerlies distributed into an anchorage unprotected from this direction from lows passing by to the south. Lingering further north in Kiribati makes more sense. Storm season for the Marshall Islands ends in early December, sharply decreasing the probability of encountering gale-force westerlies after you arrive in Majuro. Expect frequent blustery weather from the east and northeast with squalls in Majuro through March as the ITCZ passes over en route to the south. Voyaging to more northerly atolls is more comfortable during settled conditions in April and May.
The Kwajalein Option
Sailors wishing to spend time at Kwajalein Atoll will required official sponsorship and some advance paperwork, but you will find the hospitality and facilities associated with the U.S. Army Missile Range outstanding. For more information, contact any of the following Kwajalein Yacht Club members: John Ross (commodore), phone 805-355-2250, firstname.lastname@example.org; Jeff Rogers, phone 805-355-2250, email@example.com; Ken Winchester, phone 805-355-4176, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hookworm is endemic to and pervasive in the Marshall Islands. Adults should take one 500 mg tablet of Mebendazole annually which is also effective for pinworm, roundworm, and whipworm and available at the private medical clinic in Majuro for $17. Sailors should avoid eating pork, frequent culprit of severe gastrointestinal and other problems, particularly in the out islands. Be aware that some diseases that have been mostly eradicated in developed countries persist, particularly in poorer Marshallese communities, especially tuberculosis. We also recommend stocking up on tubes of Clotrimazole anti-fungal cream to thwart rashes that tend to flare up in the tropical climate.
The Theft Factor
The Marshalls are fairly benign in this respect. In Majuro you should take the precaution of running plastic-coated lifeline or flexible stainless steel cable that in one run locks your dinghy outboard, fuel tank, and dinghy, and padlock the end to your boat at night. If you plan to be out well after dark, do the same at the dinghy dock, mostly to prevent drunken purse seiner crews from “borrowing” a ride out to their vessels. Don’t turn your back on a handbag with cash, or even set it beside you in the movie theater, as this tempts needy, nimble-fingered kids. Some crews lost deck items when they left their boats unattended on moorings while traveling overseas, a marginal decision we’d say for Majuro.
Further Information and Reading
The Marshall Islands Visitors Authority (MIVA) is a wonderful resource. They’ll send you a free, very complete information packet and answer any questions you may have. Contact: Suzanne Murphy, MIVA, PO Box 5, Majuro, MH 96960, Republic of the Marshall Islands, phone 692-625-6482, fax 692-625-6771, email@example.com. We highly recommend the following: Myers, Robert F. 1999. “Micronesian Reef Fishes”. Coral Graphics, Guam.; Levy, Neil M. 2000. “Micronesian Handbook”. Avalon Travel Publishing, Emeryville, California; Lewis, David. 1994. “We, The Navigators: The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific”. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu; Niedenthal, Jack. 2001. “For the Good of Mankind: A History of the People of Bikini and their Islands”. Micronitor Publishing, Majuro; Hezel, Francis X. 1983. “The First Taint of Civilization: A History of the Caroline and Marshall Islands in Pre-Colonial Days, 1521-1885”. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu; Holly, Matthew B. 2000. “Archaeological Survey and Inventory of Submerged Resources in the Lagoons of Majuro, Wotje, and Kwajalein Atolls” (available on CD for $15 from Matt Holly, Marshall Islands Aquatics, PO Box 319, Majuro, MH 96960, Republic of the Marshall Islands, phone 692-625-3669, firstname.lastname@example.org). Many of these and other resources are offered for sale by Alele Museum and Library, phone 692-625-3372, in Majuro.