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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Anchored in Kapingamarangi
Randy
01/22/2009, South Pacific

We had a nice passage to Kapingamarangi. The wind was mild but functional and sometimes perfect. The direction was pretty much east, which is always nice when you're sailing due north. The seas were pretty mellow for an ocean passage. We had a fair amount of squall activity by day but none at night. The radar was clear all last night.

It was our second time crossing the equator, now we've done south to north and north to south. We ran across one fishing boat on the 270 mile passage but other than that, nothing. We averaged about 8 knots for the trip, which was mandatory for our timely arrival at the Greenwich Passage into the Kapingamarangi lagoon. We left Nugarba Atoll at 5AM yesterday and arrived at Kaping 35 hours later (4PM today PNG time). We ran the motor for a bit when necessary to keep the speed up when the wind feel off.

We've been catching up with Whistler and Angelique via SSB. Angelique and Whistler are a few miles apart and stay in VHF contact. Whistler does not have an SSB but Angelique does, so we connect with them every few hours. They left around 9AM yesterday and will probably arrive in Kaping late tomorrow.

It had been fair weather the whole trip with only isolated, small squalls on the first day. We managed to stay dry with one slight course alteration. Today however, things were perfect, right until we got close to our destination.

Kapingamarangi's Greenwich passage has a bad reputation. Guides use words like, "devious", and phrases like "only to be used with local knowledge". The current is said to get up to 6 knots. Figuring out when slack will occur in an atoll pass is more black magic than science unless you know the place. If the swell is big and breaking over the windward side of the island continuously, you may never have a flood in the leeward passes. That said, just after high tide will probably be the low current point on such a day. If I'm not in the know I try to make the passes right after high tide.

Surprisingly Kaping has a tide station and our Navionics chip has the data. It seemed pretty accurate as well. We were shooting for a 15:30 pass transit. This was about an hour after high tide, hopefully slack.

As we approached we were running about a half hour late. Then Hideko, who was on watch, called me to the helm. I was laying in the cockpit looking up at the beautiful blue sky. At the helm Hideko pointed out a very large and nasty looking dark and layered cloud system. Right over Kaping. What luck.

We soldiered on, determined to make our date with the pass. To fail would mean floating around in the ocean for at least another 12 hours. If the storm was parked on the atoll when we arrived there would be no way we could enter, or even get close. It was already apparent that the Navionics chart of Kaping was more of a characature than a real chart. The shape of the atoll was close, but close would put you on the reef in several places. It is fixed a good half mile NNW of where the real island is. The chart also does not show the pass. Between the Navionics chart, the US Sailing Directions (126) and the South Pacific Anchorages book, I found the SPA with its sketch chart of the pass the most valuable.

As we closed on the stormy mass of cloud we could see white caps whipping up ahead. We reefed down as the wind climbed up to 30 knots. It was a big nasty storm system but I hadn't seen any lightening yet and we looked to be clear of the rain. So after heading up to reef we continued in.

We came in on the south western most island and then followed the reef to the west. On a calm day with poor vis this would be a dangerous foray for the first timer. The western extent of the reef was breaking presently, but likely because of the turbulent sea from the recent storm activity.

As we came along the reef we spotted a big piling. It marked the pass for heaven's sake. How nice, and unexpected. The sky was still overcast but we had fair visibility, the conditions were calm enough on the SW side of the reef and the sun was behind us. We were 30-45 minutes late but decided to make a go of it.

The pass is very deep and reasonably wide but there are strong currents and eddies in the entrance. I was watching the log and the SOG closely. It seemed we had about a knot of counter current but the eddies were threatening to turn us sideways. I powered up and moved through the pass at 5 knots SOG, though it would have been 6 without the current.

The most dramatic thing about this pass is the 90 degree right you have to make in the middle of the transit. There is a stick on the inside of the turn to mark the reef and the water is deep but when we went through there were nasty rips all around the area just after the bend. You really have to stay on the wheel and watch your track as you come through here.

In retrospect it wasn't that bad a pass, but it certainly deserves respect and you do have to be on you game when you go through. I would never attempt it with more than a couple of knots of current or with poor visibility. The pass can be found at position 01 01.770N, 154 45.554E (WGS84). Approach from the south and only in good light and with great care.

Once in we headed for the southeastern most island, straight along the inside of the reef. There is a patch of 20 foot water along the route but we found no real hazards. Once behind the windward islands we ran up to a sandy bit and anchored.

What a beautiful batch of islands. We were very glad to be anchored in paradise, rather than hove to in a squall in reefy waters.

Shortly after we anchored, the acting chief hailed us on the VHF. I was very surprised. Most islanders don't have a VHF, much less the inkling to hail you on one. The chief asked if we had a cruising permit straight away. I suppose the US affiliation has breed paranoia and excessive bureaucracy in the FSM, just like at home. I told the chief that we had filled all the paperwork and that we had two other yachts inbound. He was very friendly and had no problem with us checking in tomorrow.

Not one canoe or boat came to "lookabout". It is the most serene place we have been in some time. We got the boat put away and relaxed with a rum and coke while the sun made a spectacular exit.

Federated States of Micronesia
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

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