Ailuk Sailing canoe

Exploring the outer atolls Maloelap and Ailuk in the Marshall Islands

And then finally our propeller arrives, the wind is a bit less and more easterly, so we head off for Maloelap, 120 miles further north.
Once outside of Majuro’s pass the waves are everything else than comfortable, we are happy to have eaten already something and we count the hours. Luckily once behind the protection of Aur life becomes a lot better on board.


In the morning at 9 am we easily enter the pass and need a few tacks to reach Tarawa (Taroa) on the other side of the atoll.

Already from far the canon on the beach reminds us that a lot of war history has been written here in WW2.
Morowina, Forever and White Hawk are already here and we are spontaneously invited for coffee and cake on the Forever and extensive “Sundowner” on the White Hawk.

Japanese gun
The first impression of Tarawa in Maloelap 😉
Traditional houses
Traditional houses next to japanese concrete bunkers..
WW2 buildings
….everywhere in the middle of the village..
WW2 buildings
…integrated into nature…
Traditional houses
…the same as the houses from pandanus and coconut
Air plane cemetary
A few minutes behind the village is the air plane cemetary

The next few days we explore the island, tip toe through the air plane cemetary in the jungle and get accompanied by a bunch of kids to see the bunkers on the other side of the island.

Cookie Break
Walking makes hungry and the cookies are well appreciated..
Exploring the Japanese gun
…then we do more exploring of the bunkers and canons..

On Sunday morning we are invited to church, it is a special service with lunch afterwards. We are told it starts at 10 am, but as we approach at a quarter to 10 everyone is still in normal clothes and not in a hurry. Lan sends us to sit in church, where only one man and a few children are already there. It takes a full hour until the service starts!!!

The first songs are a bit squeecky, but after a while the singing becomes quite good and we enjoy it. After the service people come up in groups, sing a song and donate a dollar at the end. Like this the people who sing in many groups donate for sure up to 10 Dollars.

Sunday feast
Every woman contributes and helps…
Sunday feast
…until huge amounts of food are distributed onto the banana leaves baskets…
Sunday feast
and even though we feel one is enough for us two, we have to take one each

The whole ceremony takes a total of 2.5 hours, together with the hour waiting we have sat for a loooong time!!! Then we are asked to wait outside while everyone else goes home to get their contribution to the lunch.

One hour later lunch is served, lucky that we had a lot of cake in the morning. The plates consist of a lot of rice, bread, chicken, fish, a land crab and a thuna sandwich as well as mass from banana and coconut.

I really like the fish and eat some of the chicken, but it does have a lot of bones.

On the way back to the dinghy Reto tells me “I think the “chicken” with the big bones rather was a dog” – I swallow hard, “oh yes, that’s why the bones were so big…”

Pig with club foot
The pig with the deformed foot.

When Lan shows us the boy with the 6th little finger right next to the thumb and we see the pig with the deformed foot we reflect if the effects of the atomic tests also reached Maloelap…

Coming to the village on monday morning we are welcomed “can you please immeditely have a look at the lawn mower? The plane should come but the grass is still high and the mower doesn*t work any more.
Airfield lawn mower
It is a bit late that we are called to repair the lawn mower..
Airfield lawn mower
…so the one of the other small lawn mower has to be searched for…
Air plane landing
….and the plane lands nevertheless with a delay of two hours…
Air plane landing
…while half of the village is waiting with patience.

We are shown to the lawn mower. It is one of these you can sit on and drive around “That’s it”. “Ok, so can you please start it?” “Oh, but then you need the key?” “Well, it would be better”… It takes another half hour only to get us the key…

And of course, it doesn’t even start. It takes a few hours until Reto finds the main defect: the safety switch of the break was stuck in addition to a broken fuse and some corroded contacts.

In the meantime more and more people show up with normal lawn mowers, the plane seems to come nevertheless. Once the electricity is running the original problem appears again, the mower stops after 10 min, we assume the carburator needs some cleaning.

As thanks we get 4 coconuts, we go home and feel exhausted and a bit frustrated.

Just after dark a longboat comes alongside, the young men want to trade two coconut crabs for some kava.
Coconut crab
Two tiny coconut crabs – we feel they should rather live than be eaten already ;-)!!!

When I see how little the crabs are I suggest to them “I give you the kava, but please let the crabs free”. Reto only laughs at me “But you are naive, they only will eat them themselves…” I realize that he`s right, we give them the Kava and as soon as they are gone we lanch our dinghy to set the crabs free in the bush on shore.

The next morning we decide spontaneously to continue further north to Ailuk because afterwards the weather forecast shows a lot of wind for 10 days, we don#t want to stay all that time in Maloelap.

Just outside the pass we catch two nicely sized rainbow runners and a little one that is allowed back into the water.

Once outside the atoll the seas is pretty rough again, we sail almost up wind which is not fun for She San and crew.
Somehow we survive and at 10 am the next morning we approach the southern pass of Ailuk. Though the passes further north are a lot wider and deeper we fear having the sun against us through the lagoon full with coral boomies.

Ailuk South pass
Ailuk south pass is nothing for cowards!!!

The entrance is still easy, both sides of the reef clearly visible, but the end!!! We slowly approach with a speed of 2 knots and 4 knots current against us and slowly go over the shallow part. Uff, we made it – 3 meter was the minimum, so 1.7 meter of “reserve”..


A few hours later we let the anchor down in front of Ailuk Ailuk, the main village of the atoll. The anchorage is not very protected in northeasterlies, we roll like hell and almost feel like being on passage.

Ailuk village
Ailuk Dorf is well kept

But we have to visit Anius and Emily on shore, we bought a dive mask and torch for them im Majuro and they are anxiously waiting to get them.

After a nice chat with them we go back to our shaking boat, but even being super tired we hardly can sleep. The next morning we say goodbye and promiss to come back for Anius’ birthday, then also the wind should calm down.

Ailuk lagoon
Beautiful sailing in the lagoon

Vorbei an den wunderschönsten Inselchen mit türkiesblauer Umrandung segeln wir wie auf Schienen an der Innenseite des Atolls in Richtung Norden.

Ailuk Sailing canoe
The first sailing canoes speed past us…
Ailuk Sailing canoe
…and we are heavily impressed!

It doesn’t take long until two sailing canoes approach us. Ailuk is known for using the sailing canoes for most of the transfers within the lagoon, this is very smart and saves the expensive fuel.

But when the first canoe stears right up to She San I do get scared that the will hit us, see for yourself 😉

In front of the almost northernmost island we find a really calm and protected place, there we happily drop our anchor. First thing we bring the fish that we just caught to the man ashore, it is Jack who lives here and makes copra toghether with two boys and his son Jiko.

#shorts #Ailuk #Sailing #Canoe s #Marshall #Islands
The next day we meet Jiko’s wife Julie and their daughter Julia.
Julie, Julia and Koin
Julie with daughter Julia and Koin (who technically is Julias uncle 😉 ) – all of them love my coconut ice cream
Jiko rowing the sailing canoe
Jiko, Julia, Koin and Dara visit us with the canoe

We are happy that Julia speaks some English. She shows me how to pronounce the Marshallese words that I am trying to learn and doesn’t giv up to correct me.

We ask what she needs but she says she has everything, so we promiss to bring some clothes for her husband and come back with ice cream. Right away she promisses to make 2 hanimonos (local handicrafts) for me for a few days later.

In the evening we go with Jiko to hunt lobsters. With spear, gloves and an empty rice bag as well as our dive masks we follow him in the light of the flash light to the outer reef. But it blow 25 knots and it is high tide, the waves break over our heads, so we decide to postpone the adventure to another time.

On Sunday morning we visit the Sunday service in Enejelar, one island south of our anchorage. There are 7 families living here, the small church is full and we have to sit all the way in the front.

Children Enejelar
The children from Enejelar are happy about the ri-belle (Foreigners)
Sunday feast
On Sundays everyone contributes to the lunch

We are happy to be only half an hour early this time, also the service is only 1.5 hours and afterwards we are spontaneously invited for lunch again.

This time I manage to only get one plate for the two of us, it is rice with porc and a yummy mass from pandanus and coconut. The porc is very well seasoned and cooked, even I have some less greasy bites and like it. Lynne explains to us, that usually they would have fish, but currently it is too windy to fish.

Education week
Auftakt der “Education Week” in Enejelar – also Reto has to give a speach with translation from Lynne
Education week
All the kids stand in a queue to get a piece of my chocolate cake 😉
Education week
Reto earns some big laughs when he joins in the “dancing contest” 😉
Class room poster
We are amused about this poster here in Enejelar – even bicycles are not really present and cooking is still done in a pit on coconut husks (which makes sense because they are there anyway 😉

The following day is the start of the “Education Week”, we are invited again. After a lot of speaches it is also our turn, we learn that not only in church but also in school speaches are important.

Afterwards there is a small lunch and I am happy to have brought a chocolate cake cut in 48 pieces.

Mid week we move again down south, since we have promissed Anius to be back for his birthday. Also we would like to see the end of the Education week in the main village.
Generator repair
In Ailuk Ailuk we invest one day to rapair the generator from Anius

But the waves in the anchorage are even worse than the first time…
We spend the whole Friday at Anius’ house where Reto repairs the generator which has a burnt through coil. Then we realize that Education week final presentations only start after dark. We go back to the boat to get a flash light and almost capsize the dinghy in the waves.

So we decide to skip this adventure, stay on board and spend another night with little sleep.

In the morning of the birthday party a pig is butchered…
…6 joung men open coconuts for the dessert…
Chicken BBQ
…and a whole pot of chicken is ready for the BBQ…

So the next morning we congratulate Anius, admire how busy everyone is in the preperation of the food for the party, say good-bye and head back up north in our quite little anchorage.

Kitchen Sink
The sink is made by a cut open boye which are wiedly available on the winward sides
Anius and Emili
We say good bye before the birthday party

And it was a good decision, the next two days it blows between 25 to 30 knots that wouldn’t have been good for both boat and crew…

Plastic pollution
The outer winward side of the atolls shows generations of plastic rubbish..
Plastic pollution
…especially plastic bottles, shoes and boyes…
Plastic pollution
…but we also find an almost “new” rope which we happily save from the beach 😉

We are busy with works on the boat and walks around the islands. There we one day find a ball of rope which we decide to rescue.

Piece after piece we disentange it and 2 days later we have it on board of She San.

We are happy about the new set of ropes and give our old ones away to Jack and Jiko.

Ailuk Sailing canoe
Sailing canoes stopping right in front of the beach…

and directly in front of She San

Copra production
Jiko shows us how he makes copra
Beautiful Marshallese Hamimono Handicrafts
Julie made 2 beautiful handicrafts “hamimonos” in the form of turtles for me
Small house
Jiko and Julie’s little house – it cannot be more simple but it seems to me that are amongst the most happy and content people I have ever met!

Then we definitely have to say good-bye to Julie, Jiko and Julia and exchange a last time presents, ice cream and coconuts.

When I see the tears flowing down from Julie’s eyes my heart feels like breaking, it feels so hard to leave these lovely people…

I wave until I cannot see them any more but I still here little Julia crying out “Bye, Bye!”

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Marshall Islands Outer Atolls - Maloelap and Ailuk
Marshall Islands Outer Atolls - Maloelap and Ailuk

2 thoughts on “Exploring the outer atolls Maloelap and Ailuk in the Marshall Islands”

  1. Hi Angela, hi Reto

    we are two enthusiasts and in the process of writing a book about the “Proa” (Outrigger Sailing Canoes) sailing system. The scope of this technically specific work describes the Proa from its historical beginnings to boats of the modern age.
    We have seen nice pictures of outrigger boats/proas on your blog. Can you perhaps provide us with some photos of these boats or give us permission to use pictures from the blog for our book?
    Of course we will specify the source and also the reference to the author is a matter of course for us.

    With many thanks in advance
    Othmar Karschulin

    1. Dear Othmar, we are happy to hear that you like our pictures from the Ailuk sailing canoes. We get in contact with you per email.
      Best regards Angela and Reto

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