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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Sailing to Kapingamarangi
Randy
01/21/2009, South Pacific

My alarm when off at 4:20AM just as a rain shower hit. Nice, another half hour of sleep. Once the squall passed Hideko and I got the boat ready to sail, then back tracked our way out the pass. The pass exit was no problem but other morning squalls were brewing in the neighborhood. We had to decide whether to exit to the North, by lots of poorly charted reef and a pass between Nuguria and the adjacent atoll, or south around the fairly easy to see Pao Pao, but out of the way a good 10 miles. We started off to the south due to squall activity to the north. Poor vis, and reef scouting don't go well together.

After a short bit of southing we decided to do a 180 and head back north. The sun was coming on strong and clearing things up. We got rained on a bit but not too bad. We discovered that the extent of the Nuguria lagoon and reef was far beyond that charted and that even the shape was quite a bit different. In particular the reef runs north keeping the lagoon narrow in the vicinity of the Akani islands and Wreck island. Then, fairly suddenly, the reef heads due west, running right across the unsuspecting yacht's path (that would be us).

We picked up a bottom in the rain and headed off to port. After a 90 degree turn we began to make out the reef again. The southwest side of the reef often does not break in calm conditions. You can see it with good light though and the large bulb at the end of the lagoon is fairly shallow as well, so the bright greens and light blues of the sandy shallows come out nicely in the sunlight. After legging around to the west we finally cleared the lagoon and made way through the passage between Nuguria and the adjacent atoll. This passage was about one fifth the charted width, but still plenty wide.

In summary, I would suggest staying 5 miles off of this area unless you are planning to make landfall, in which case I would suggest doing so with good light and knowledge of the poorly charted nature of the vicinity.

Once through the passage between atolls and into open water, we hailed Whistler and Angelique. Both were still at anchor, so we gave them the new exit waypoint for the pass between the atolls. We had left early in the day in the hopes that we could make Kaping by afternoon tomorrow. If we can keep 8 knots on we'll do it. The wind was forecast 10-15 from 115 degrees, which is on the beam apparent for us. If the forecast comes true we'll have no problem. That is a big "if" though. If not we'll be standing off over night. We were motor sailing with full jib and main at 8 knots early in the day with 5 knots of true wind.

Angelique and Whistler made their way out of the lagoon at around 8:30AM. They are both committed to a 2 day passage. I am discovering a big catamaran drawback of late, we are always the ones calling back the safe entry waypoints after transiting the hairy passes.

We hailed Angelique prior to losing VHF contact and set up a chat frequency on 4.045MHz USB should we end up out of range, which we quickly were. We checked in with each other every two hours just for fun.

Various squalls were wandering about in the light, doldrum like conditions. We got a lift from a couple squalls but never long enough to shut down the motor. Then in the late afternoon we crossed a line of clouds (several of them raining) and boom, there were the NE trades. We had 15-18 knots from 50 apparent. Off went the motor and we started making 8.5 knots under sail. I hope it holds, things are lightening up after sunset.

As much as I hated to do it, we tucked a reef in the main at sundown. There are just too many squalls about to have to deal with reefing in the middle of the night. We'll fire up a diesel if we need to in order to keep pace. At present we can probably make the pass if we arrive by 3PM, which means high 7 knots for the rest of the way in. We shall see.

170 miles to Kapingamarangi

P.S. Jordan, if you're out there, drop us a line via sail mail (wdd4278).

Federated States of Micronesia
03/10/2009 | lie lechip
you remined me home
07/25/2009 | Randy
Hello Lie Lechip, Are you from Nugarba? It is a lovely place with lovely people. -Randy
Nugarba
Randy
01/20/2009, Nuguria Islands

It was nice to sleep in today. In Green Island we would have visitors knocking on the hull by 8AM at the latest. Here some kids come out to see the strange sailing boats, but they keep their distance and are generally very courteous. Visits here are also not a dawn to dusk thing. We enjoyed the cool breeze in our berth until the sun started to climb into the sky. It was a wonderful blue sky day.

We spent the day visiting folks on the island. The village is Polynesian and it is very beautiful. The main path through town is white sand and has pretty plants and flowers growing on either side. All of the houses are leaf huts up on stilts. What is really amazing is that they are all laid out in the quaintest fashion, with little grass yards and tidy work areas. There's no trash anywhere and everything is clean and organized.

Our fleet brought a bunch of books and school supplies to Sampson, the village administrator, for the school. The kids are on break right now and two of the three teachers were off island while the third was at Pao Pao, across the lagoon, attending a garden.

Nugaria Islands (the charted name for this area) are having similar problems to the other low lying atolls in this part of the world. Romano, a really nice guy who spoke great English, told us that for the past five years in November and December, the tides had been coming in very high. At times sea water would flood their small warehouse (wood shack with a tin roof) where they keep the Trochus shells and other marine products they trade for gasoline and other goods. Two islands bordering the atoll, previously covered in coconut palms and other vegetation, have been wiped out and are now just lumps of sand.

Pao Pao is the largest island in the group and has the highest ground. This is where the villagers have their gardens. Their main staple is taro, a common denominator in Polynesia and many remote islands. The sand flies on Pao Pao are apparently pretty vicious and thus no one lives there. The only village, with about 500 people, is on Nugarba. At least we think it is called Nugarba. Nugarba is charted as the southernmost of the three Akani islands just across the pass from Huhunati.

When we were talking to Romano in the warehouse we learned that the village has several cash crops. They collect sacks full of Trocus shells for sale to China. Trocus shells are used to make buttons and other clothing accessories. The villagers eat the Trocus critters first so the whole animal is being put to use. Not surprisingly the shells are harder and harder to find, and the divers must go deeper to keep filling the sacks.

They also sell sea cucumbers to Asia. These are coming in shorter supply as of late as well. The fishermen in the Galapagos not only killed a police officer when an embargo was attempted on sea cucumber harvesting, but they continued fishing until at least one species was eliminated. The people here are aware of the fact that if they wipe out the population there will be none in the future, but they seem to be unable to institute measures strong enough to create a sustainable situation. They have a genuine interest in succeeding though and that is the first step. They now have rest cycles for certain species of sea cucumbers that are overly pressured.

They also harvest sharks. They sell the fins to Asia and and often just toss the rest of the shark overboard. Shark fins for shark fin soup bring a very high price, and the buying network seems to reach even the remotest islands in the South Pacific.

Nuguria is an elder council run component of the new Bouganville Independent Government within Papua New Guinea. They stay in touch with Buka and Green Island via HF radio. A ship from Buka comes in once every three or four months. There was an airstrip at one time, but no more. An Asian business was buying lobster from the island and using the airstrip for freight until the lobster population crashed. No lobster, no airstrip. We are the first yachts they have seen in four years. Peter, a man who helped us find our way around the village, told us that sometimes it is six or seven years between yacht visits.

It is a beautiful atoll with wonderful people and the loveliest village I have seen in the South Pacific. You could easily spend a week or more exploring the islands around the perimeter and enjoying the company of the villagers. There is a lot of water flow in the lagoon, perhaps sadly due to the diminishing barrier of islands. On the up side, the water is crystal clear here and the reefs and coral heads are beautiful. It is a great place for snorkeling and exploring by dinghy and looky bucket. There are no bugs in the anchorage or the village, though we hear that some islands are plagued with sand flies. Many of the islands look fantastically inviting with beautiful beaches and lovely coral heads here and there for snorkeling. There are also plenty of large 40 foot deep sand patches around to offer perfect anchorage.

Some of the villagers use solar panels to charge batteries for lights and other purposes. The villagers also use fiberglass canoes and outboard powered boats made in the Solomons. I was surprised, because we had seen nothing but wooden canoes hewn from bread fruit trees and canoe trees since Gizo. As remote as it is, the village seems to be industrious enough to provide for itself fairly well.

After looking the pass over in the day time, I can safely say that it is one of the easiest passes to transit that I have come across. If you are looking for a heavenly place to drop the hook outside of the SoPac cyclone belt, this would be it.

We are happy and sad that we will be leaving tomorrow, early. Happy because we are looking forward to seeing Kapingamarangi, and we feel some urgency due to the significant damage incurred there during the big tides last December. The sooner we deliver our small, but hopefully helpful, aid package the better. We are sad though because Nuguria is a place we would happily stay for several days. The wind has finally changed from north to east though, and we we be under sail by 5AM.

Papua New Guinea
Nuguria
Randy
01/19/2009, Nuguria Islands

We had a green light for departure on the VHF at 4:30AM today. Shortly thereafter we all proceeded out the pass in fairly thin light. Things were very settled and we had all made our way in without difficulty. Spear fishing for two hours in the pass had given me great reassurance of its open nature.

Once outside we made our way around the west end of the Green Island Atoll coming between it and its sister island to the west. What ensured was a fairly boring motor sail. We had the jib up here and there but most of the time the wind was too close to the bow to set it. Wind was often boat speed and the ocean was glass. We caught no fish and saw very few birds.

It was a little too still. In the late afternoon the obligatory squalls started setting in. Lucky for us, they formed off of our track, for once, and we ended up getting an 18 knot lift that scouted us along over the last bit of water at 8-9 knots.

The only problem was we didn't know exactly where to go. It was an 85 mile trip from Green island and we were arriving at about 16:30. Not optimal for running an atoll pass. The real problem was that the chart provided the most incorrect representation that I have seen to date. The Navionics chart had the atoll about two miles or so away from where it really was. This is a bummer because you can only put a half mile offset into the Raymarine E120 chart plotter. So even though you would like to use the chart image as a reference it is plotted in the wrong place and get confusing to look at. Worse the radar showed that not only was the charted position wrong but the actually shape of the islands and their location was off, substantially in some cases.

As we closed on the island group I ended up switching to radar only and ignoring the chart. The US Sailing directions do not describe the pass at all so the only reference we had was the South Pacific Anchorage guide. The SPA reported a pass north of Huhunati, which is the first island from the east on the south side of the atoll. We came in on the Akani islands to port of the supposed pass and then ran the mouth. The pass was pretty easy to make out but it was the first time we were attempting a pass without even a sketch chart or some bearings.

As we entered the pass the bottom came up to 30 feet pretty quickly. At this point I noticed marker buoys (like you might find in a swimming pool, so not lit) to starboard. These turned out to be marking the western extent of the reef running west from Huhunati. We left these to starboard and had an easy entrance. The atoll has lots of opening so there are not likely to be very strong currents in the passes.

We reported waypoints back to our friends on Whistler and Angelique. Both would be arriving after dark. As we were chatting on the radio a nice guy named Jack paddled by. I couldn't help but notice that he was of Polynesian descent, not Melanesian. We have heard that scattered islands in Melanesia and Micronesia are inhabited by Polynesians but this is the first atoll where we have run across these folks far from home. Jack was very friendly and gave us some coconuts in addition to pointing out a good anchoring spot near the pass.

After looking over the anchorage at the inside of the pass, we decided to make for a sandy island on the other side of the lagoon. Anchoring off of the beach over there would not only be more pretty but much more out of the chop given the wind direction and large fetch inside the lagoon. It was two miles to the other side. The water was very clear on the way over ranging from 35 to 100 feet deep. Within a half mile of the beach we ran across some menacing coral heads merely feet from the surface. The light was failing and we didn't want to run our friends aground with complex waypoints to follow two miles across the lagoon, particularly when they would probably already be very tired after 16 hour sailing days.

So we made our way back to the first anchorage just inside the pass and set the hook in 60 feet of sand, great holding. Just then Whistler asked us if we saw the waterspout. Wow. Right between Whistler and the pass a good sized squall was spinning off a water spout. This was my second sighting of one of these beasties in three days. Me no like. It didn't last too long and Whistler ended up being able to hold his track. We are still waiting for both boats to come in but it is time to grab the weather and update the blog...

Papua New Guinea
Green Island Lagoon
Randy
01/18/2009, Green Island

Everyone in our three boat group was up at 4:30 AM today to make the, go/no go, call. It was a no go. Squalls and Thunderstorms were about and the wind was stronger than forecast and from the NW, the worst case from a pass exit in the dark stand point. In consideration of the fact that the forecast indicated a motor sail today and a beam reach sail tomorrow, we decided to postpone our departure.

Hideko and I relaxed on board and watched some more of our best picture marathon. The Life of Emile Zola has been our favorite to date. My friend Jeff gave me program sheets from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts, which he received when he attended a multi night program for the 75th Anniversary of the Academy Awards. We have greatly enjoyed reading them and watching the films. We started with Wings, the first best picture in 1927 and have gone on from there. It is a real cultural trip through the past.

Of course visiting Green Island is a contrasting cultural trip. We had a great chat with a school teacher today. She brought us some Green Island Oranges, which are not oranges and are unlike anything we know. They are citrus though. She told me that Green Island felt no real impact from the struggles in Bouganville. They were facing another problem though, which we have found in many places throughout the Pacific islands, not to mention the rest of the world. Overpopulation. She told us that there are over 5,000 people living on this atoll. Things are ok for now but soon gardens will be pressured to produce enough food, and we have already seen that the fish in the lagoon are far from plentiful.

Eric played volley ball with the local crew today. They used to play every day at 3PM but they lost their volley ball. We have volley balls as part of our aid package so Eric was a hit.

My friend Max came to see if I wanted to go night fishing with him. While I really wanted to, we decided to have a quiet night before our early departure tomorrow. It has been another lovely day at beautiful Green Island.

Papua New Guinea
Green Island Lagoon
Randy
01/17/2009, Green Island

Everyone in the fleet was up early today. At's call came on the radio at 4:20. Groggily we all reported in good to go and the weather looked fine. Fine is not a good thing in sailor's parlance because it means no wind except in squalls. That is basically what we had all day. It was a beautiful day, blue sky and fair weather cumulus, but there was little wind.

We made our way out through the easy exit in Queen Carola Harbor before sun up. Angelique discovered a canoe already out fishing. We were the last boat out the pass but ended up in front by Green Island. The trip was uneventful. We didn't even catch any fish, which was surprising.

As we approached Green Island I could see that the chart was pretty far off by the radar. As it turned out the charted position of the island on our Navionics charts was a good nautical mile east of where the island really is by WGS84 datum. Another way to say it, is that the island is a mile west of the charted location. A turn to port was required because our track line approaching the pass from Buka went over land in the real world.

As we approached the island we could see cumulus building over the island. It seemed to focus right on the pass. Of course. We zig zaged our way in to give the rain some time to let up and improve our visibility, but also to get a feel for the pass and the breaks on either side. Like most passes, it is not too bad after you've done it once, as long as you don't go when the current is ripping. It was, of course, our first time.

Hideko was on the bow guiding us in and I was glued to the sounder and watching the water color up ahead. The good news was that the sun had come back out and the water in the pass was crystal clear. The closest tide station was back in Buka but we expected to be in during a long mid day slack with no more than a tenth of a foot change between low-high and high-low tides. There wasn't more than a knot of current as we came through and the visibility was great. I later snorkeled the pass and can report that it is fairly wide and without any obstructions if you stay off of the edges.

The shallowest bit is a 20 foot bar and that comes at the very end, once you're inside, just before reaching deep water (100 feet). Once in the lagoon we called back waypoints for the entrance to the other two boats since our route was useless here (due to the chart offset). We turned to starboard and came in on the lovely beach, just inside the pass, and anchored in a comfortable 40 feet of water with great holding sand.

This is one of those anchorages where you get mobbed by kids and young adults on canoes when arriving. They all want to look around and see this crazy contraption that you live on. It is tough after a long sail to have not a minute of peace until sunset, but it is the way of things in Melanisia. We did trade for some nice fruits.

I also met a guy named Max who was on the way to go spear fishing. I asked him if I could join him and he said sure. So I kissed Hideko and hopped in his canoe with my spear and mask. I asked him how many folks lived on the atoll and he said 3,000. Wow. That's a lot of people. I asked him if there were still fish in the pass. He said yes.

He told the truth, but the size of the fish was left out of the response. I saw perhaps one Doctor fish and one Hind that were eating size. The only other things big enough to eat were two black tip reef sharks, one white tip and a nurse shark, which I found sleeping under a reef. Max speared four aquarium sized fish and assured me that the pass was better at night with lobster and bigger fish. I believe him but I think the people here just don't realize the pressure that 3,000 folks can put on two passes in such a small lagoon.

The coral are healthy though and the water is beautiful. The water temperature is 88F and the visibility is 100 feet. I didn't get close enough to the two terrified fish I saw that were eating size to even take a shot, but I had a lovely time snorkeling about. It was also fun to be the only white guy in a duggout canoe.

An inter island freighter came through the pass (it comes once a month) while we were out paddling, and all of the PNG guys on deck gave me a funny look. I just kept paddling. They threw some Betel Nuts out into the water on their way by, which the locals swooped up quickly.

Hideko held court back at Swingin' on a Star and ended up with some tasty grapefruit, oranges, coconuts (for drinking), pineapple, some kind of potato, and snake beans. Poor Hideko was very tired when I got back.

Eric ran about on his kayak during the day, but later ended up at Angelique in the engine room. We didn't realize it at the time but they lost all power right in the middle of the pass! No sounder, no plotter, no nothing. They made it in fine of course but were intent on figuring out what had happened. Eric tightened their alternator belt, which seem too loose for comfort, and the charging system seemed to be working much better there after. This would not be a great place to have to get parts for electrical! The fix seems to have them going again.

After a quick chat late in the day we all decided to make for Nugarba tomorrow first thing. It is another atoll 82 miles closer to Kapingamaringi. Kaping is our real destination because we have an aid package to deliver to them ASAP. If we make Nugarba (it is an atoll and there is some question as to how safe a pass entry late in the day will be) we will leave for Kaping the next day. If Nugarba is unsafe to enter (charts are not good and the only guide that mentions it has a one sentence pilot) we will just press on to Kaping. It will be nice to finally get to Kaping and take a few days off.

Papua New Guinea
Kulu Island
Randy
01/16/2009, Buka Island Lagoon

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday we were tying up to nasty wharfs and dealing with officials, while thunderstorms and water spouts caterwauled all about, and today we awoke to the bluest sky you could imaging, flat calm, lovely little swell curling on the reef and we were anchored off of a perfect tropical sandy island.

Everyone enjoyed the morning in the sun. Eric kayaked about and fraternized with the single women in the area (I guess there are advantages to being a single, single hander). At and Dia enjoyed the idyllic anchorage. Hideko and I took a dinghy tour, hiked along the beach, went for a swim and snorkeled the reef. It was a fantastic day at the beach.

After chatting with the local chief (or so he said, you never do know) and a variety of other folks on outrigger canoes, we decided to set off for Kulu in the north of the lagoon. Kulu is in Queen Carola Harbor and gets us about 20 miles closer to our next destination, Green Island. From Green Island we will be able to strike out for Kapingamaringi to deliver the aid package we're carrying, thanks to a miraculous east wind. Hopefully the forecast will hold.

The trip up the lagoon was uneventful and the channel is deep and fairly wide. Shallowest we saw was 50 feet. The anchorage to the west of Kulu is very protected and, shocked though we were, in less than 50 feet of water! We almost didn't know what to do. Hideko couldn't remember the last time she had put out less than 200 feet of chain.

Hideko is making us a delicious looking shnitzel as we lie quietly in 37 feet of water. It will be an early day tomorrow because we need to reach the pass at Green island (which is a high atoll) at a reasonable time and tide.

Papua New Guinea
Buka Passage
Randy
01/15/2009, Buka Island

We left Teop this morning a bit tired. This was because a crew of 10 guys in three canoes who were out fishing on the reef last night came by to say hello at 9:30 PM. I wasn't asleep when I heard the knock on the boat but I was in the rack.

I got up and turned on some lights, hailed the other boats and then went out to see what was happening. A wad of guys were staring at me. I said, "hello, what can I do for you?". They said, "we're from the village on the other side", in rough English. I said, "I see, well we're all sleeping here, perhaps we'll see you tomorrow then? Good night."

They hung around talking in pigeon a bit and then moved off. The nice thing about our boat is that the 5 feet of freeboard puts the port lights out of easy view from a surface boat. Many of these folks are so fascinated with yachts that they want to peer into the boat, and do so without asking. Even to the extent of shining a flash light inside. There may be some bad seeds also, who are casing the boat for theft targets. It is hard to know, they haven't had a yacht here in 15 years or more.

They proceeded on to Angelique, where At, in a better humor than I was, entertained them for a half hour or so. This was much to the chagrin of Eric, because that just meant that they did not get to his boat until 10:30. They finally left at 11PM. It was a fairly selfish visit and the first I would condemn since we've been in PNG. Curious and amazed is fine, but not while people beating up the coast at 4:30 AM each day are trying to sleep.

In the morning, as we left Teop, I noticed that the Cape L'Averdy light was working. Amazing really. The day turned out to be lovely. We saw the sun rise and had as much as 40% blue sky, both a novelty. The wind was on the beam for the run to Buka Passage. The wind was well under 10 knots but it was on the beam. We motor sailed at 8-9 knots right up to the first squall.

The Buka area seems to breed a lot of squalls and thunderstorms this time of year. Not sure what the local affect is that causes this, or if it has just been a chance condition over the last three days of observation. Regardless, we had to drop the jib and sheet in the main as the wind came on the nose. We didn't get much rain though.

On the other side of the cloud mass we reached the passage entrance. The passage is well marked and plenty deep. We arrived, by design, at slack water and had no problem coming into the town quay. The currents in the passage can reach 6 knots setting southeast on a rising spring tide and 4.5 knots setting NW on a falling spring tide.

The wharf had the Spirit of the Solomons, an inter island transport, on it. She was a stout steel affair. Behind her I could easily see that the fixed wharf fenders would just bend our stanchions. The old wharf is a rusting hulk. The only choice was to raft up with the Spirit. So we did.

I must say, the banana boat drivers that zip back and forth between Buka, Bouganville and the other little islands in the passage, are anything but courteous. They blast right across your bow, and think nothing of pounding by at top speed, feet away from you, leaving a wake that racks you against the quay, or the ship you're tied to, in our case.

I jumped ashore, through the Sprit, and headed across the street to the police station. At the station I was escorted past the cage like holding tank, which was full up, and back to an office with the Lieutenant in it. I told him that we had emailed our consulate in Port Moresby and that they had been in touch with the customs office in Rabul, 48 hours prior to our arrival, as specified by PNG regulations. We had been instructed to see the police department in lieu of the customs official who was not in town due to a housing shortage.

The lieutenant copied our passports, ships docs, and clearance out of the Solomons and said good day. Wow, my easiest check in ever. I knew he was going to get yelled at but there was nothing I could do about it. I hurried back to the port.

Once in the port I asked a few guys about getting diesel for Angelique and Whistler. They indicated that we could have it delivered but that you would have to pay first. The bank was a mob scene (I later found out that it was a 2 hour wait for service and that it is always like that). The guy that helped me was half Australian and half Bukan. I passed his name on to the other boats and then got back out into the channel so that they could tie up without me in the way.

We left at 10:30 as Angelique was just arriving. Hideko and I motored out the north passage following the well marked channel and enjoying all of the wonderful little islands and rock formations in the area.

Once outside we could see that a lot of squalls and thunder storms were moving about on the west coast. After moving north a little we decided to anchor off of a beautiful island with sandy beaches and reefs all around. The anchorage is deep, 100 feet plus, but it is nice in the NW monsoon conditions. It also kept us close enough to keep in touch with our friends as they worked through the process of clearing in and getting fuel, not to mention keeping us from driving right into a big thunder storm which was sparking up track.

A local fisherman with an outboard driven fiberglass boat stopped by to say hello and gawk at our boat. He gave me permission to anchor in exchange for a walk around the deck. As we were talking I saw a waterspout sucking the ocean up into the sky to the south just off the coat. I pointed at it and said, "whoa, check that out". He looked and said, "yes a cyclone", and then went back to interrogating me about our boat. Spouts can have 120 knots of wind at the edge of the vortex. They don't live long and they don't go fast or far but still, yikes. I guess the locals see them often enough not to care too much. The fisherman later told me that a spout wrecked a house in his village last year.

Things continued to clear and the lovely little island convinced us to stay the night. Late in the day came the arrival of Whistler and Angelique. Apparently their clearance was far more involved than ours. If the sun is out tomorrow we will snorkel on the amazing reefs surrounding the little island and then head for Kulu up in Queen Carola Harbor.

Papua New Guinea

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