Anchored in Chuuk Lagoon
02 February 2009 | North Pacific
It was yet another nasty 24 hours but we are happily anchored in Chuuk Lagoon off of Uman island. We had total overcast last night and constant squalls. I have never seen this kind of weather before. The atmosphere literally pumped out new squalls constantly. We had a hit or a near miss every hour or two. As soon as one would pass we would either see the next immediately upon us or it would materialize after a short break where the wind would go light and variable in the dense overcast.
Once used to the process I think I preferred the constant squalls, at least that way you're moving. We got good at slowing down to let the leading envelope go by, then sliding into the rear curtain to catch the wind in the 20s. Drier that way too.
We tried to avoid the really hot spots if possible. We never saw more than 35 knots steady but I'm sure some of them had more at the inner envelope. The problem with wind over thirty is that we were trying to make a beam or close reach. At 35 knots on the beam you go so fast that you are crashing through the steep 9 foot seas and launching the boat like Evil Kenival in Las Vegas. You can sail like that, and I know that some do, but this is our house and when you are in the middle of no where it is good to avoid breaking things. One shackle or block giving way would create a big headache.
When it got too hot, I pinched the boat and crabbed along at 3 knots until it let up. We got to the point where we put reef two in the main and just left it in. We would have made better time if we'd gone back to full main, reef one and down but it is just too much work on a long passage with constant bad weather. Swingin' on a Star sails quite nicely under double reefed main and jib so even when things were lighter we move out ok.
As we got within 50 miles of Chuuk we began to make contact with Angelique on the VHF. We had just seen the barometer drop 3 points in the last hour and I wanted to know what was happening where they were. We were at 1006 but Angelique reported 1010. Nice to know it was local only. Very very rare to get a TRS here at all, much less this time of year, but good to know what is happening around you regardless. The weather had continued to deteriorate from our perspective and the lulls were blowing at 20 knots now and the seas were keeping in time.
We had departed with a pretty good forecast with decent wind and minimal convection. The problem with forecasts in the south pacific, and this part of the equatorial pacific, is that there are no developed nations here. If you are in waters of interest to the USA you can get a pretty solid forecast. The satellite coverage in this part of the world is not on a par nor is the talent interpreting the data from what we have seen. I would rate the forecasts here at 50% of the accuracy of those in the Caribbean or Hawaii area. As an example, our forecast from yesterday night for the waters surrounding Chuuk was "partly cloudy and isolated showers". The reality was well beyond "mostly cloudy and scattered squalls", into the "total overcast and continual squalls" zone. Even 12 hours out the forecast was not even close.
Kuop atoll is just south of Chuuk lagoon and we were looking forward to getting behind it. We would sail much faster without the big sharp seas, not to mention increasing comfort aboard. We were doing 9 knots and close to the atoll when another squall formed up and came sliding down between us and Kuop. There was nothing to do but head up and slow down. It blew by in a half hour or so with wind in the 30s. We took care to keep plenty of sea room between us and the atoll. Our charts were good but apparently not perfectly aligned for WGS84 when compared to radar. The squalls were so full of rain that you couldn't see through them with radar and the atoll had a vary light leeward return anyway because it is just submerged reef for the most part.
It was getting close to sunset and we really needed to make Chuuk lagoon or find an alternate. Anchoring at the atoll was a possibility but the south pass was not looking good given the seas rolling by. There are two passes on the chart located along the west side of the reef but they are both narrow and shallow as charted. Doable though perhaps.
We pressed on and got rerouted or slowed a bit by two more squalls. Things seemed to be getting nastier. Perhaps the higher islands in the Chuuk lagoon were launching even more convection or perhaps the weather was just going that way.
We came out from behind Kuop a little more than an hour before sunset and the seas came up quite a bit. We were behind Chuuk at this point, but the channel and the now 20 plus steady wind was making a mess of things. Two more squalls passed in front of us and we were now sailing in 30 knots apparent (probably 23 true) steady. As we got close to the pass we rolled up the jib and started the engines. Both Yanmars came up, so down went the main. Our course through he south pass was dead to weather and we didn't want the hassle of sails flogging about. If you have only one auxiliary perhaps it would be wise to leave the main up in this sort of situation.
We came in the pass on our charted track and finally got in contact with Whistler. He had made the port around 15:00 and indicated that the track was good through the pass. As we came in through the pass the seas were big. Steep three and four footers came right at us. It was hard to see the shoals to port and starboard as the pass is deep and wide. It was also close to sunset and very overcast. If this wasn't a ship caliber channel (very wide and deep) we probably would have had to stay outside. Staying outside here would require sailing well off the surrounding reefs.
Angelique had anchored two miles outside of the pass but pulled up to follow us in. We had though that perhaps the lagoon would be calmer than outside, but it is a very large lagoon. It was as bad or worse as the area outside the pass, smaller waves but steeper. We bashed into big head seas and 20-30 knots of apparent wind for another hour to reach Uman island, which seemed like the best and closest place to anchor for the night. It is 20 miles inside the lagoon through shoals and many ship wrecks to the port but it was only 6 miles to Uman.
As we approached the leeward side of Uman the seas went flat and the wind relented. It is a nice little harbor. It was getting fairly dark but we came in close to the island until we found 60 feet. We made a circle around the spot to ensure that there were no hazards in the swinging arc and then dropped the Rocna. The anchor set instantly, and then I heard the unpleasant sound of coral scraping the chain. It doesn't hurt our chain but it is no good for the coral. I don't like to damage coral bottoms. Our chart gave no indication of the bottom type here but given the scuba reputation Chuuk has I would guess that pure sand is tricky to come by.
Angelique arrived shortly afterwords and anchored farther out. Everyone was glad to be out of the weather. Hideko made us a wonderful dinner, then we took hot showers and slept like logs.