Moods of Blue

There’s been a constant humming undertone to my thoughts lately, which I recognize from more unsettled and less fulfilling times in my life. It’s a beat that says “I want, I want, I want…” and it doesn’t have a place here. Its lyrics are all about what I don’t have and what I’m not doing and it drowns out the rhythm of here and now. On my bike ride home I took the dirt road that runs along the lagoon to stumble across a sight that turned my thinking from the whiney, over-played wantwantwant sound to a bluesy, soulful wow, wow, wow!

Sunset in wow major

Staring at the water all day, either from above or below the surface, gives me a unique (and ungodly) amount of time to appreciate the nuances and subtleties of the ever changing ocean blues. The million shades that dominate my everyday life settle into my subconscious the way you can’t hear background music unless you really focus. Looking through my photos I was impressed by how often the blues struck me enough to take a picture, and how promptly they were forgotten after. So this is my ode to the moods of blue in the sky and the sea.

Zack and friends surfing a shallow pass, periwinkle, turquoise and steel blue

Since I have my boat license now I was able to zoom Zack out to SAR pass to catch some waves in the early afternoon. He missed a ride on his friends boat because we went for a sail on a boat we might buy (!) in the morning. The wind was calm since it is still the doldrums season so it was more of a putter, but so incredible to be on the water without a Diesel engine blaring out the splash of the water. When we got to the break I dove down to check that we had a good anchor and the current was so strong I had to fight hard for a quick glimpse before floating back to the swim ladder. It held in the swell and I dove into Bernard Moitessier’s “The Long Way”, which will be my 21st book read here (3 months!).

The hot tub and beyond, clear, sea foam, and midnight blues 

Some nights when the low tide isn’t too late we go to the hot tub, which is really just a circle of rocks around the outfall of a cooling line (just warmed up seawater, nothing gross, we’ve worked on too many questionable outfalls to not check). The lagoon is already like bathwater so during sunlight hours the ‘tub’ would be un-refreshingly hot, but at night it’s comfortable and there’s a beautiful view of the stars.

The supply ship looking larger than the islands, royal, jewel, and stormy morning blues

Today I was making an inspection video of the sheets we’ve driven to find any damage to the coating we’ll need to repair. They’re only in about 25 feet of water, but climbing up and down 40 pairs, mentally measuring  and narrating every scratch (there are A LOT) and hauling the 30 pound hat out of the water with your neck to see the tops is pretty exhausting. Not to mention the pressure changes playing havoc with your ears. I’m very fortunate to be able to clear by moving my jaw in the hat (that pop you feel in airplanes), some people have to work much harder at it using the Valsalva maneuver of blocking your nose and blowing. I’ve been wearing earplugs topside with much more regularity than ever before in appreciation of what all that the tiny bones in my ears do for me. I hate earplugs because I feel numb and stupid with them in, like… well, like one of my senses has been taken away! But it’s better to suffer a temporary haze than lifetime impairment.

Turbidity curtains doing their job protecting the blue lagoon from the cloudy sea dust we stir up

The mini-vacation to Roi-Namur didn’t happen because no one was going there for work so they didn’t schedule any flights. A total bummer, but silly and worthless to complain about missing out on a free flight and $15 hotel room. Hopefully we’ll have another opportunity to go in the time we have here. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up sailing there for the weekend one of these days…

Thanks for reading! What are some of the things you take for granted, but bring so much to your life? Share your gratitude and pictures of your favorite blues in the comments!


Plumeria Winds

Maybe it’s only because I know that it’s September now, but I’ve been noticing the smell of autumn in the air. Even though it remains a steady, humid, 85 degrees something has changed, yet no one else can detect it. I like thinking that, even though I’m on the other side of it, the Pacific is still my home ocean and the familiarity runs deeper than the years I’ve spent away. The palm trees and breadfruit certainly don’t have the same fall scents as the redwoods and pines, but maybe it’s more than the flora and fauna that signal change in my subconscious animal brain. The smell of plumeria blooms breeze across the island, and while not a traditional fall flower, it complements the woodsmoke thinness of the near-equatorial close of summer.

Hard to believe she ever floated

We got out of work a little early on Saturday and took a boat to a half sunken cement ship on Carlos, two islands north west of us in the atoll. The rope ladder climb was challenging and the metal rusting skeleton of the deck was skillet hot in the afternoon sun. We were all grateful for our tetanus shots, but no one got wounded, which was especially good because after we jumped off the ship into the water 30 feet below we saw a small black tip shark in the area. The diversity of the coral and fish are an endless amazement to me. This is a special place to be able to support so many species.

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Olympic rope ladder climbing champion

On Sunday evening we were treated to another boat ride, this one on a private fishing vessel. It was raining and windy and there were no birds swooping down to tell us where  the fish were. Just as we turned to head home and pull in the fishing lines, one of the hand lines snapped tight with a bite. Zack pulled it in with a nice dogtooth tuna on the hook. We borrowed some soy sauce and wasabi and cut the meat into thin slices and devoured it raw on the beach. I love fresh fish above almost anything else to eat, but I was more effected by the killing and gutting than I hoped I would be. The eyes dilating and fading are particularly sticking with me. It did not die in vain, though, and was very much enjoyed, appreciated, and celebrated.  And the gentle nurse sharks were happy to take the parts we didn’t eat.


Black tip and nurse sharks know exactly where fish scraps are thrown

Work on the pier is going through a monotonous period. We dive to inspect the turbidity curtain and the piles installed the previous day, then wait for the next sheet to get lined up. We watch as the sheet goes through the H-beams and make sure that it doesn’t get hung up on the template. Then we tell the crane to stop before the sheet hits mudline, and get out of the water while they swing the diesel hammer over to drive it. Then we do it again. And again. And again. We will need to burn holes for the tie rods and apply coating to any scrapes on the sheets, but for now it’s just the one task repeatedly. I did get to do four hours of scrapping with lift bags the other day, so that was fun. I think everyone is feeling a little antsy and frustrated with the stage we’re at right now, but we should be done with this part later this week. We just need to have patience. On the upside, I’ve read sixteen fantastic books during the stand-by time, so I can’t complain.

Just hangin’ out

Thanks for reading! Next week is our Labor Day weekend and there’s a rumor that we’ll go back to 50 hour work weeks! Hopefully soon I will have more time for adventures, including a plane trip to Roi-Namur at the north end of the atoll and boat trips to other islands closer by (I passed my captain test so now I can rent boats!)

Coconut Dreams

After a long week of downpours the sky has finally dried out (relatively). The worst day of the monsoon we all packed our work clothes in dry bags and did the bike ride in bathing suits. Palm trees were knocked over in the winds and coconuts scattered the parts of the road that weren’t flooded. Eventually, when it was apparent the storm wasn’t just passing through, work for the day was called off and we were shuttled back to the man camp in trucks for safety.


For some reason unknown to any of us, there are two machetes onboard the dive barge and I’ve been wanting to learn how to open a coconut with one. I kept forgetting to nab one on the way out, so when I was staring out over the water the other day, lost in thoughts of the future,  imagine my delight when one floated straight to me! I grabbed it out of the water and got to hacking. And hacked and hacked and hacked…

The wrong hard way to open a coconut

The thing about coconuts that I’ve realized is that it takes patience, hard work, and perseverance to get to the sweet reward inside. Without getting too abstract or sentimental, I felt like this humble coconut bobbing in the saltwater was a sign from the universe. At the exact moment my thoughts were overtaking me about what’s next and what I want from life and how badly I want certain things to happen, a perfect symbol of   forbearance and tenacity floated over to remind me to be here now and sweet things will come my way at the right time. The smiling nut now sits on a shelf in the shack and we call him Cousin Nelson.

Hard work pays off

Ever since the first one, I’ve been scooping coconuts into the basket of my bike for chopping practice. The inside of the husk is a thick, fibrous protection for the nut, but I’ve also found that the less mature coconuts haven’t formed the inner shell yet. It actually is a hardening of the fibers that form the shells we’re familiar with, and that I now use to demonstrate some of the best Monty Python moments for people who haven’t seen the Holy Grail yet.

They also stain your hands black, I’ve discovered

We’re still doing six tens at work since we’re in a good flow driving sheet pile and Labor Day weekend has been pushed back (yeah, I guess they can do that). I managed to get my orientation cruise done for my captains license (not a real captains license) last Sunday, and on the ninth I’ll do my practical test. If that goes alright I’ll finally (after almost three months!) be able to rent the boats here and explore more of the lagoon and the ocean side of the island. I can’t wait!

Brand loyalty

Just like the coconut, my new boots arrived at the exact moment I needed them most. The old ones tore yesterday and I thought I was going to have to tape what’s left of them onto my ankles to dive. My new coveralls were not such a blessing as it turns out I am about two feet smaller than a mens medium. I’ll have to break out the sewing kit I guess.

Waiting out the storm

Thanks for reading! My world revolves around work at the moment and it’s the small pleasures like learning about coconuts, honing machete skills, and daydreaming that keep that world from feeling too small.


The Rains Win

I know I said I would post the World War II tour of the island, and I tried to wait out the weather, but between a monsoon trough lingering in the area and construction blocking some of the markers it’s been taking too long. Soon, I promise!

After a freak beer-cap-to-the-retina incident we’ve got a new supervisor out here (no, apparently you never stop being a stupid diver even when your time in the water is done). Things are progressing on the job despite many setbacks and sheets are being driven thanks to hard work and innovation from the whole team. Tomorrow we start burning holes for tie-backs to go through and, I have to say it, burning is one of my favorite things to do underwater! When all the electrons line up just right between the rod and the ground the water starts roiling around you and the sound is like another dimension opening up and molten metal is blown away at the squeeze of a trigger. I’ll try to get a video to put up here. It’s pretty cool.

1943 Coke bottle: much smaller serving size

The close rival of underwater burning is underwater amateur archeology. We’ve found hundreds of discarded Coke bottles, old shoes, plates and coffee mugs from ships, a rifle shell, gigantic tires, and coral-encrusted spud-wrenches. Although it’s amazing to find this stuff from bygone days and wonder about the young soldier who tossed this bottle off the pier, I am grateful for the on-site environmentalist who makes sure no one adds to the pile.

Someone keeps drowning the mics

I used to dread maintaining and replacing equipment, although I always was able to see the value in the experience. Now that I’m on such a small team and we all rely on the same equipment to perform our job it seems so much more like a team effort. No one is barking orders or demanding that we do it to look busy: we want to have everything functioning for our own safety and the safety of the three other people using the equipment. It’s not that I didn’t wish for everyones safety before this, but it’s so much more real to me now that I constitute 1/4th of the team and it’s a great experience to have a sense of responsibility to take things upon myself.

Anyway, enough with the work stuff.

Is it even your birthday if you don’t have a crown?

We celebrated Brian’s birthday by the beach, of course (it wasn’t as wild as it looks). We go to a beach called Hamilton almost every day to swim and watch the sun set. We have a whole group of people we expect to see there even though we don’t have contact information for them. It’s just a crew that instinctually meets up to enjoy each others company. There is such a great sense of community here that I really enjoy. Case in point, Brian went to the bar after this picture with no dollars in his board shorts (and refused to wear his tiara to notify people it was his birthday), but did not thirst for a drink all night.

Our spot at Hamilton from the water

Another thing I like about this place is that stateside, once I hit 30, I felt like the old maid anywhere I went (even though I never felt old at all). The 20-somethings I met recoiled when they asked my age, not understanding yet how quickly they’d be here, too. In the man camp as we ride in or out it’s always “hey kiddo!” and “the kids are home!” and “be careful, it’s dark!” Someone (a 24 year old) asked me where the fountain of youth was the other night upon finding out my age and I wanted to say “hanging out with people older than you,” haha!

Pretending to Pooh-Bear (board shorts not pictured)

We work in close quarters on the barge and changing in and out of wetsuits in mixed company can be tricky (oops, back to work stuff!). I use a towel when I change and if the guys shout “decent?” I shout back “enough!” If I need to come in they respond to the decent call with “Pooh-Bearin'”, meaning they have a shirt, but no pants, I obviously wait. No one wants to see the hundred-acre-woods.

Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub

Today was a scorcher, but it was a nice break from the rain. I didn’t understand the meaning of downpour until I got here. I mean really, if you’re outside for 30 seconds it looks like you jumped in the lagoon with your clothes on. After riding to work the other day we all changed into our wetsuits to work on deck and let our clothes dry.

Trying to stay dry = futile 

Thanks so much for reading and sticking with me as I navigate Mother Natures’ limiting moods to my puny human endeavors! We’ll continue working six eleven hour days through August, but hopefully I will have more time and energy in September. I will get the rest of the battlefield tour soon! It’s such an amazing and important subject, I want to make sure I can present it in an immersive and important way. You deserve the best I can give.


Biga**, soggy boots, and Summer reads

We managed to take out one of the rental boats last Sunday morning, which is easier said than done when you can finally sleep-in later than 0530. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a morning person. Sunday is our “Saturday” and Monday is “Sunday” due to the time difference between us and the states, (we’re a day ahead) and I still have trouble wrapping my head around something so engrained in our vocabulary. We went to the north east to an island in the Kwajalein Atoll called Bigej. I have heard that pronounced by the Americans here alternately as “Bee-Gee” and “Big-Edge”, but a welder who came with us cleared it up by telling us his Marshallese co-workers say it almost as “Big-A**”, so naturally we emulate that pronunciation.

Well, this is Kwaj, but I didn’t take many pictures of Bigej

We had a perfect, slightly overcast day and Bigej seemed somehow to have even clearer water than Kwajalein, which I didn’t think was possible. There were so many reefs and a whole jungle and waves and shells! It definitely warrants many more trips, which I will gladly take. Check out this movie trailer I made from our trip in iMovie, I think it’s going to be a blockbuster!


I should take a moment to correct my former mistakes by saying that my morning bike ride is most definitely not three miles (though it often feels that far). In actuality, the islands’ total square mileage is only 1.2!!! The entirety of Kwajalein Atolls’ land mass, 97 individual islands, is 6.3 square miles, a fact that completely blows my tiny mind! How small we humans truly are, and how amazing that is! I plan to do more research on the area so that I can write with better authority about this amazing place in the future.

Come join us for a stormy sunset

We are lucky to have many hours to read while at work, as there isn’t much to do topside while one diver works for two hours. We all pass around books and analyze and refer to parts easily between us. So far I have read five books. “The Old Man and the Sea” took the least time, but but sticks with me the most (a couple tears shed for Santiago, I’ll admit). I brought “The Rum Diary” by Hunter S. Thompson and we all agree on the undeniable similarities of his 1950s Puerto Rico with our modern day Kwajalein. I guess island life is sometimes universal in its uniqueness. We joked that our stories from here could be titled “The Hamilton Diaries” after our favorite and most frequented beach.

Sittin’ stand-by

July seems to have passed by in a minute. I have the schoolchild instinct, still, to fear and hate the dying of summer (warmth and freedom), but this close to the equator all I need to worry about is slightly more rain. We’ve had a very wet dry-season, with more than 200 percent of average rainfalls for the last few months. When the rain and air are so warm, though, it’s only slightly inconvenient on the bike ride to and from work, but one day my leather work boots actually FILLED with water and couldn’t dry for two days. I don’t know what I was thinking bringing only one solitary pair of deck boots with me. Overall, I did well packing, but I had no idea really what to expect of working here. I hope Xtratuf will ship out here (my bottom boots are finally and unfortunately falling apart, too).

Waaaaay back on Independence Day we found a beach swing before the fireworks

My phone is stuffed with sunset pictures, each day seems to get better and I hope that I don’t lose that feeling. I understand how the island could start to feel two sizes too small (1.2 sq.mi.!!!!), but it still seems so much bigger than I expected it to. And there are other islands and tons of interesting people and many activities I have yet to explore. Also, there cannot be enough said about enjoying my work. We’ve essentially been vacuuming the sea floor for weeks (no woman jokes!!), but I am warm and comfortable and learning and improving every day, and that feels good. I wish everyone the same for their days.

Never forget what comes after, and only because of, the rain.

Thanks for reading! Next week I’ll take you through the battlefield tour to see some of the World War Two history of the island. I’m looking forward to learning about it!

No-Sleep Island

Oh man… so much for the weekly post goal. I cannot believe I’ve been here for a month already! So much has happened, but it feels like time has gone so quickly. I guess I was waiting to feel “settled in” before writing again, but everything seemed so temporary at first, like a vacation I would be home from in a week with nothing to show but a sunburn and sand in my luggage. I kept feeling that everything would be taken away as swiftly as it came and that I would be left feeling like such a fool for believing that anyone would actually pay me to be in this place. Now that I have fallen into a predictable routine and decorated my room, I can finally relax and share.

Rain over (but not on) Carlson, the next island in the atoll

This routine I speak of involves getting up at 0500 (well waking up) getting dressed for work, and riding my bike to the mess hall. Someone told me it’s a three mile ride, but I’ll have to verify that. We ride on the paved road next to the air strip and we always seem to be riding into the wind. Some days it’s so strong I’ve had to get off and walk. If you think this means I’ll at least have a wind pushing me home at the end of the day, that’s what I thought, too, and we’re both wrong. Somewhere in the afternoon the wind switches to completely the opposite direction and I have to fight it back as well! I need to have grandkids so I can tell them how easy they have it; your granny had to ride her bicycle 3 miles, in the tropics, in 100 percent humidity, against the wind both ways!

The first diver is in the water by 0700 and we rotate every two hours or so. Then back to the galley for lunch, then back to the barge, back to diving, then back to the galley for dinner around 1730, then the long ride home. There are three beaches close to the man camp, so I choose one and go swimming. It stays around 86 degrees here so I try not to get too far from the water (as if I could if I tried haha!). I bring a couple beers or some wine and stay for the sunset; I swear each one is better than the last.

Clouds over man camp
The man camp neighborhood. Homely, but homey

I’ve had a really hard time sleeping here for some reason. The beds are comfy, work is going well, the air conditioning is strong…. I. Just. Can’t. Fall. Asleep. Or sometimes I wake up hours early and can’t fall back asleep. My thoughts race and get stuck in loops about certain things. They’re not negative thoughts, though, thankfully, just never-ending thoughts. Song lyrics, lists, plans, what I should write about in the blog, bizarre hypothetical situations, about how I really need some sleep… Things get so jumbled I almost think I’m dreaming, but I can still feel my exhausted eyes and limbs aching. And then it’s so hot in the afternoons that I can’t keep from feeling irritated by EVERYTHING and everyone. Which is not good. There are multiple yoga classes around the island and I know at least two focus on meditation, so that is definitely on the list of things that must be done. What helps you when you can’t put your brain to bed?

Laps in the saltwater pool also help a manic mindset

We’ve been looking for an old concrete pile that sheered below mudline during extraction for over two weeks now. Daaays of nonstop water jetting and air lifting. We knew it was down there, we just didn’t know where. I’m the hero for finding it today (just kidding! We were all digging the same hole, it just happened to be my dive) so my boss brought me a case of beer as a reward. We had to stand-by for a turtle in the work area as well. If you can’t tell, I’m loving my job.

Off to work!

I missed getting a picture with the turtle, but I think I found the thousands of jellies he was snacking on:

Thanks for reading! If all goes well I will get to go on a boat this weekend and see some of the other islands finally! I can’t wait to share what I find.

The New Adventure – Day 4

My boyfriend and I found out just about three weeks ago that we were both being offered year-long commercial diving contracts in the Marshall Islands. I had the idea of documenting our once-in-a-life-time adventure year early on, from start to finish, but between packing up our rental house in Ocean City, figuring out our lease, selling our Hobie cat, selling/storing the cars and motorcycle, shipping boxes and surf boards, a last minute trip to New Orleans, paperwork, doctors visits, and saying goodbye to so many amazing friends and beloved family members (and the resulting hangovers from goodbyes), I never got the time to put everything together. Nevertheless, day 4 1/2 on the island isn’t too bad in my opinion. So here we go.

Almost off the screen of the flight tracker

We had a layover in Honolulu after about twelve hours of flying, then flew the remaining seven hours the next day. I read somewhere that if you were to draw a triangle between Japan, Australia, and Hawaii, right in the middle would be the Marshall Islands. We are far, far away from other places. Even though my back was on fire from sitting in what apparently pass for airplane seats these days, the star-strewn nights and crystal-clear water make the trip well worth the pain.

Flying over Majuro

Getting off the plane felt very surreal in my hazy jet lag. The island feels like a tropical snow globe, small and isolated and perfectly made. Old buildings stand next to the newly built, old bikes rust next to the freshly assembled, deeply tanned expats smile at the pale, sweating new arrivals. After settling in to our rooms at the man camp, we walked into town, which made us blister and realize why everyone rides bikes. We bought some in boxes just as the store was closing and impatiently put them together in an alleyway. We greeted an old friend and made new friends of the rest of the crew drinking scotch on the steps of their rooms. We went to a bar named something else, but only called the snake pit. In the dark we talked and drank cheap beer and asked every question we could think of. On the ride home my backpack strap caught in the back wheel and I did a slow sideways tip over onto grass and used the chance to look up at the millions of stars visible in Pacific pitch black.

My trusty, murdered out ride

The island is only about six square miles shaped like a crescent, but it felt much bigger than that when we rode from end to end the next morning. Atrophied bike muscles were screaming as we pedaled against a strong headwind, but excitement and curiosity drove us forward. Every new white and turquoise beach, every rusted piece of machinery spending years in the waves, every palm tree dropping coconuts, every person we passed on the golf course next to the air strip, everything is new and shiny and amazing. The sun is strong throughout the day and it burns through sunscreen as you sweat it off.

Ocean side oxidation

I didn’t want to start work as soon as we did, but even that was perfect and island-mellowed. But even great jobs are still jobs and I have a long list of things to do this year and so few days to do them all. That is my only complaint so far, so I think this is going to be a good fit. I hope to write at least once a week to share pictures and adventures with whoever will read. Bear with me and I’ll get a better grasp on posting. Thanks!