23 January 2009 | South Pacific
It was a stormy night last night. The GRIB files had shown the dense cloud mass hanging around the higher latitudes coming down this way by end of the day yesterday. That was one of the reasons we pushed to arrive yesterday.
We chatted with Angelique on the SSB this morning and they were making good time. It was going to be a close one for them though. If they could hold 6 knots they would probably make the pass before current and light shut it down. Whistler had gone out of VHF range but we exchanged emails last night and hoped to pick Eric up on VHF sometime in the afternoon.
Although we are at the exact same longitude as the islands in PNG that we came from, and anything in the 155E neighborhood should be UTC+10, all of Pohnpei State, FSM is UTC+11. So our boat is 9AM and the island is 10AM.
Our host Solomon, the acting chief, hailed us on the VHF at 10AM island time. We told him that we would come into the village at 11AM island time. We are anxious to see how everyone on the island is. Polynesians are very hardy and self sufficient so I doubt there is any immediate concern post the high tides. That said we are hopeful that the little aid that we bring will be of some help. We have coordinated with Whistler and Angelique so that we distribute half of our cargo to Kaping and half to Nukuoro. Nukuoro has fewer people I believe, but I think they were harder hit.
When we went ashore we were greeted by lots of friendly children. The first adult I saw took us to Solomon's office, which is right across from the quay behind the infirmary. They had received a large aid package from Pohnpei earlier in the month but were happy to have the additional supplies we brought. They had also received a very nice photo voltaic system with solar panels, huge batteries, monitoring gear and inverters when the supply ship came.
Solomon was an excellent host and served us fresh coconut milk while we talked about the village and life in general. The five island policemen unloaded our dinghy as we chatted. As it turns out there is no crime on Kaping but the police take care of administrative functions for the chief.
After a couple of hours getting to know Solomon and Kaping we returned to the dink. There were a lot of kids around the quay playing and oggling at the strangers and their strange boat. I had asked one of the kids to help me find the chief when we got here but the face went directly into the hands. The kids are so cute and shy, I assume that the younger ones only speak Kapinga as they didn't seem to understand me. I later found out that shy and lack of English comprehension comes in context.
When we jumped into the dink I noticed two long sticks of sugar cane (which I had been slowly gnawing on) that Jack from Nuguria had given us. I asked the kids if they liked sugar cane. The torrent of yeses was immediate. I handed the two long sticks over and they disappeared as if I had thrown a bleeding water buffalo into parana infested waters.
Hideko and I spent the afternoon exploring the islands around the atoll. When we reached the southern most island, which is really just a coral rock with a couple of palm trees and a US Navy survey marker, we saw Whistler coming in. We hailed Eric on the VHF and he seemed in good spirits. We raced out to the pass to meet him and guide him into the lagoon. A big, black out style, squall was coming so it was a bit of a race. It was not long after high tide, so as long as the squall didn't kill visibility Eric was in good shape.
Whistler came in through the tricky entrance with good light and no problems and followed us to the anchorage just before the rain came. It was his first time single handing on a double overnighter. He wasn't really too tired and seemed no worse for the wear. Eric is a great sailor.
As we were relaxing in the afternoon, Louie came by in his power boat. Louie is a great local guy with rough English skills but a great desire to overcome them. He brought us coconuts as a gift and offered to take us diving on the Japanese ship wreck and the US plane wreck from WWII inside the lagoon. We happily accepted that offer!
As dusk was coming Angelique came into contact. We had been worried that they would not make sunset. Even if they did, a safety margin was necessary today because we were in a three or four day window with overcast and squalls per the gribs. More importantly the pass currents needed to be considered. My estimates suggested that high tide slack (the best time to transit) would be around 15:00, so entering too much after 17:00 would be pretty hairy. Take visibility away and you have a formula for disaster.
Late in the day Angelique reported in on VHF. We were all happy to hear that they were close. I copied 1.2 miles out on the radio so Eric and I jumped into the dinghy to survey the pass and help them through, if it was still safe. There was a big black squall coming our way on the way out. At the pass we met a bunch of friendly local guys fishing. Every adult on Kaping has learned English in school but I think only those that deal with outsiders often can really hold up a conversation. After a few attempts to ask the fishermen what they thought about conditions, we settled for "good evening", which seemed to go over well.
Things went down hill from there. The pass, on the way out in the dinghy, was borderline. Asked my opinion, I would say no go. It was still doable, but I had to think of a first timer coming through with the 90 degree right hand turn and the crazy turbulence and eddies running up to 2+ knots. Eric and I could still manage on the dinghy though so if At was committed to coming in we would help as much as we could. Then we realized that Angelique was not 1.2 miles out at last check, she was 12 miles out. She was not going to make sunset.
We talked to At and Dia on Angelique over the hand held VHF and they said there were going to head into the pass approach. We told them we'd keep looking at things until they got close and then give them an assessment. Eric and I ran the pass with a hand held GPS to create track lines as the light failed and a squall hit. It was very wet and very dark. Each run we made of the pass became harder and harder due to the increasing chaos in the pass and the fading light. The beacon at the pass entrance has a weak strobe on it but the other markers become hard to see. We ran onto the shoal twice with the dinghy trying to perfect our pitch black transit technique.
By the time Angelique actually got into striking range the pass was running over 3 knots and it was just too dark and dangerous. We came out the pass to meet them and give them our input. It was a bummer to get so close and then have to stand off all night.
As we came out of the pass I saw Angelique's running lights close by. Then I saw them rock violently back and forth. In my mind I thought, "she's on the reef". At came over the VHF and said, "we've hit the reef". The worst nightmare of any sailor ensued.