The Marshall Islands mean a lot to me. That’s where we spent some of the most memorable time together as a family in 2020–2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic. I would certainly recommend it for a honeymoon, as Marcus and I really had wonderful moments there that strengthened our relationship! I also had the most beautiful snorkeling and swimming sessions ever in those clear turquoise waters sheltering an exceptional biodiversity. And of course, we had extraordinary life experiences, very different than anything we experienced elsewhere in the world!
We explored many idyllic uninhabited islets, spent dream nights in hammocks under the stars, picked coconuts, pandanus fruits and bread fruits… We also learned about the harsh and primitive life of the families living on these atolls, isolated from the great civilization…
Some say that we should never go back to places we’ve already been, especially if it were among our favourite, because the second time is always different from the first one and our expectations may be disappointed. My expectations were indeed very high when I arrived here in February 2023. Since then, I have experienced ups and downs, emotions of joy and sadness, euphoric moments and feelings of frustration, but I don’t regret at all our decision to come back!
Camping at Ailuk Atoll in 2020
What first brought us to the Marshall Islands in January 2020?
After our short stop in Kiribati in fall 2019, we felt like spending additional time exploring remote atolls and learning more about the lifestyle of its very endearing inhabitants. Furthermore, we needed to find safe shelter during the cyclone season in the Southwest Pacific. We could have gone to New Zealand, Australia or New Caledonia, as most sailors do. But these countries have very high biosecurity requirements. Thus, going there would have been much more expensive and complicated for us because of our dog Brume. That’s when we found out about the Marshall Islands. These exotic atolls near Micronesia seemed to be the perfect option for us. We ended up spending more than 15 months there during the worldwide pandemic, because all the borders of the surrounding countries were closed. We really enjoyed life, completely isolated from the outside world and safe from Covid-19. By the way, it’s only in fall 2022 that the first case of COVID was diagnosed in the country, which finally caused the borders to reopen! Just in time for us to return after being away for a year and a half!
—Yay! We’re going back to the Marshall Islands, exclaimed Alice and Florence with excitement.
—What? That means we’ll be visiting our friends Ryan and Clarissa, rejoiced Felix and Juliette.
—Yeah! And Thomas will finally see his girlfriend Rese again, said Charlotte to tease him.
Welcome back to Majuro!
As soon as we arrive in the mooring field, Edd from the sailing vessel Aka came to offer his help for catching the mooring buoy. Then, Peter from the sailboat Ahaluna quickly brought us a batch of local bananas and invited us to eat minestrone soup on his boat the next day. What a warm welcome! Everything was unchanged. The smell of the coral, the flowers and the city, the sounds of the waves, the roosters and the barking dogs… Even the boats in the anchorage were the same…
—Look! The sailboats Lucille and Seal are still there. And the South African sailboat Dignity too!
Poor them! They have been stuck here for five years now. One problem after another has been preventing them from continuing their journey to Cape Town. First, it was the torn sails, then health issues, plus the pandemic and now, an engine problem, and their finances that are stretched to the limit… “I just want to go home,” she insists on saying. She feels like this journey is never-ending. Oh dear! This couple, over 80 years old, has been travelling on the seas for more than 30 years! In any case, they have inspiring stories to tell, believe me!
—Hey! I think I see our friends playing on the shore out there!
—Oh yes! They’re waving to us!
—Shall we go and visit them? Please! Please!
—Sure! We’ll go! As soon as we complete the entry procedures!
Their parents came here 14 years ago as missionary teachers. Then, after the birth of their kids, they decided to continue living here for an indefinite period. They’ve always been very kind, helpful and of good company. A beautiful friendship was forged between us!
—Johanne, have you got any news from the immigration officers? Marcus asked.
—Yes, exactly! I just received an email saying they’re waiting for us at the Shoreline wharf, beside the small boat gas station. We have to go and get them. The paperwork will be done on board.
Here we go! I put on my Marshallese dress to cover my shoulders and knees. That is the norm here. And presto! In the dinghy! The agents recognized us and were very cordial with us. They welcomed us back to Majuro and asked us to tell them about our latest adventures since we cleared out in spring 2021. It was almost like having friends on board!
Finally, Thomas gave them a ride back to land. He had only one thing in mind: go onshore as soon as possible to find his lover who didn’t know yet we had arrived. She works at the EZ-Price, so he planned to surprise her in the aisles! I wish I was a little bird to see that! After two years of long-distance love…
What a thrill of excitement and delight it must be!
Thomas & Rese
We had just enough time left to visit our friends before dark. Tears of joy were in their eyes! It was profoundly moving to find them exactly where we said “goodbye” almost two years ago! We thought we’d never see them again!
—Oh, a package arrived for you last week, Marrelie said.
A Convenient Stop
In Majuro, it’s relatively easy to order on Amazon, or elsewhere in the United States. The delivery time is reasonably fast, although it usually will take the double amount of time expected. Plus, there are no exorbitant transport fees with Amazon. These are usually at least the double of the normal fees for shipping to the United States, or more if it’s cumbersome. But beware! If the order comes from elsewhere, such as Europe, the transport fees can rise up to 10 times the price and take several weeks or even more than a month to arrive!
I also really like that it’s impossible to get lost here! There’s only ONE Road in Majuro and it’s easy to go anywhere in the city by taxi, for only US$1.50. I first was surprised to see so many rusted cars (because of the salty air), run-down buildings and stray dogs all along this paved road. Nevertheless, grocery stores and shops are generally very well stocked for a Third World country! Normally, we can find almost everything, unless…
—Attention fleet! announced Peter on the VHF radio. If anybody goes to the grocery this morning, please let me know if there’s any fresh produce, OK!
Peter was getting ready to sail single-handed to Mexico and wanted to stock up on fruits and vegetables. But he’s 81 years old, so he goes to town only when it worth going. He manages his energy reserves! Apparently, the supermarket hasn’t got fresh produce for the past three weeks. That’s too bad for him, but also for us after such a long navigation. We ran out of fresh goods quite a while ago on board. The current problem here is that the Asian Airline company, in charge of all the cargo transport here in Majuro, has had a problem with its pilots’ certification. So those planes have been grounded since January. The situation has greatly complicated the supplying of the country. A cargo ship comes occasionally, but still. In March, the country was declared in a state of emergency. Grocery and store inventories attained a critical condition. The hospital ran out of many medications and medical supplies. Usually, the hospital service is good here, and not expensive at all. But now, be careful! It’s not a good time to be sick, nor to need something urgently…
A Dream Island
We were still lucky enough to find some onions, cabbage and bananas. We don’t really enjoy being in town, but we stayed for a few more days to go to the Ministry of Internal Affairs to apply for cruising permits allowing us to visit the outer atolls. Then, we left the capital to go spend the weekend in Eneko, a resort motu, still in the atoll of Majuro, but 2 hours away from main population centre of Delap-Uliga-Djarrit.
—Wow! It feels so good to be here, said Marcus, lying in his hammock. It’s quiet, it smells good, and the view is splendid…
—You’re right! It brings back a flood of beautiful memories! Hey! I feel like going swimming!
Resting in a hamac at Eneko island
Nothing is more pleasant than diving into this translucent water at 28oC. I’ve always loved swimming. It’s energizing, inspiring, invigorating and good for the morale. Especially after all this time in the city… It’s also my safety valve when I’m about to explode! You know, life in a family of nine on a sailboat isn’t always all that rosy! But what makes me happy most of all, is that over time, swimming has become an activity Marcus and I enjoyed doing together! My favourite romantic outing! So, upsidaisy! In the water we go!
—What’s going on? Why is she suddenly wailing?
Our dog Brume was whimpering and shaking like a leaf.
—Ah! Of course! She wants to swim with us! Come on! Jump in Brume!
She ran to the swimming ladder, made a gliding flight and jumped in the water! Our dog really loves swimming. Especially when we get to shore and go for a walk on the long white sand beach, where she enjoys running like a deer.
Brume & Pinocchio
—Look at that! Our big tree trunk is still lying there!
We sat down and spent half an hour talking about the past, the present, the future…
—I was so eager to be here, Marc! I can’t imagine never experiencing this again once we’ll back in Quebec… It will take me a great leap of imagination to enjoy my swimming sessions at the inside pool. I can’t picture myself following the black line, instead of contemplating coral colonies, coral fish and sea turtles! Oh well, at least there will be no wave, tidal current and jellyfish…
—I’d really love to share this experience with others, Marcus said. Perhaps we could invite Rese’s family on board one day?
The following Sunday, Thomas brought his girlfriend, her sister, her sister’s boyfriend, and their parents on board. They were happy to spend time away from the city. It brought back childhood memories, when there still were many coconut trees, banana trees and beaches in town. The wealthier neighbourhoods still have beautiful vegetation. But the main centre is overcrowded and concrete walls run along most of the shore to prevent erosion during high tides and storms. After a hearty Marshallese meal, a short swim and some relaxing time on the beach, it was already time to leave.
—Oh, what’s that strange noise again? Marcus said, while trying to start the engine.
The engine hesitated a little, yet it started on the second attempt. Same thing the following week, when our friends had their turn to come on board and spend a few days camping on the motu Eneko.
But the following Friday, tic, tic. Engine failure. Thomas and his friends were all sitting on the deck, ready to go camping for the weekend. Another family, who had just arrived in Majuro by sailboat, was also waiting for us to go visit this small dream islet.
—Did you try hitting the solenoid with a hammer? asked the captain as he was trying to help.
Eventually, everyone went to Eneko on their boat named Alice, while Marcus and Raphaël continued to struggle with the starter.
—Vroom! It finally started!
Back in town, we met Mike, a missionary navigator who arrived from Hawaii and was heading to Tarawa in Kiribati with a wooden sailboat that had a water infiltration… He was planning to use that boat to transport food and medicine between Tarawa and the other atolls of the Gilbert Islands.
—It makes me think, our permits to the outer atolls are probably ready. Let’s take a look at the Home Affairs Office.
Obtaining these pieces of paper requires patience, as the secretary must seek permission from the mayor of each atoll. Sometimes, she quickly reaches them by phone. Other times, no. Then our request falls into oblivion. So we have to go back to remind them about our existence!!!
—Sorry, it’s not ready yet. Try again next week.
We take this opportunity to remind her to tell the mayors we’re volunteering to transport supply to the atolls. It’s a way we can help people in remote areas. Delivery by small ship is only made 3–4 times a year, so sometimes it’s not easy for them.
In the meantime, we meet Mike and John, two other missionaries who work a few weeks a year on the sailboat Glad Tidings. They have the same project: to transport supply, doctors and teachers to the isolated atolls. The Mission purchased this sailboat in 2019, but they were only able to make 2–3 trips before the borders closed due to the pandemic. For more than two years, it was impossible for them to return to Majuro from the States. The boat was left without care and is now in a poor condition. Our crew offered them a little help with cleaning, but the magnitude of the maintenance task is beyond imagination. What will happen to this boat? And to this beautiful mission?
Broken Down Again
Well, now, the troubles began. The starter was down again. Was it our turn to have stretched the trip a bit too long? The costs of this last year of travel have been much higher than expected and our finances took a hit… We’re happy with little and we normally make do with what we have. But now, it’s getting harder. Not to mention the ever-increasing entry fees into the countries of the Indo-Pacific. It’s completely unaffordable for us. And now, the starter…
Marcus didn’t lose heart. He searched for advice on the internet to buy a new one. It’s difficult, because our starter doesn’t have an external solenoid, and it’s hard to find one similar to ours. There is one at Startershop.nl, but it’s expensive and it would be $300 in shipping fees. Marcus tried to order a cheaper one on ebay.com. But the order was cancelled by two different sellers, without explanation. I keep believing that everything happens for a good reason. We must keep hope…
The Starter Came Back to Life
Meanwhile, Marcus discovered that it’s sometimes possible to give a second life to a starter by cleaning the brushes. After a few tries, he managed to get them out of there… Eureka! After sanding the four brushes and cleaning all the accessible interior space, VROOM! The engine was purring like a kitten again! What a relief!
The next two weeks, we went back and forth to Eneko and Enemanet, another islet where there are several wrecks: two planes, a helicopter, and shipwrecks. The whole family was happy! Swimming, beach time, freediving. During our short visits in town, teens enjoyed the library’s internet and air conditioning. The younger kids were invited to gym and dance classes with their friends, while I offer swimming lessons to some local children…
Beach and Sailboat Pinocchio at Eneko, Marshall
Free Diving at Ememanet
Juliette jumping in!
The starter was still working perfectly! We abandoned the idea of ordering a new one and therefore saved over $1000!
Our Cruising Permits!
We now had just enough time left to go and spend a few weeks in the outer atolls before the end of our visitor visa! We quickly went to stock up on groceries and picked up our permits at the Ministry of Internal Affair office! We’re on our way to the dream atolls, the uninhabited motus full of coconuts, the beautiful coral reefs, and the long endless beaches…
—Yay! It’s time to go!
Shall we visit Aur Atoll, Maloelap Atoll, Wotje Atoll or Ailuk Atoll? So hard to choose!
Watch a short video on our time in the Marshall Islands in 2020-2021
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