01/25/2009, South Pacific
Everyone aboard the yachts in our little group was still a bit tired today. Things started getting back to normal though. Solomon gave us a hello call in the morning on 16 to let us know that his office was closed for Sunday and that mass was at 9:30. The one hour time difference was still catching us off guard so no one made it to mass. We are all now on Pohnpei time (UTC+11).
It was an overcast and rainy day with wind quite out of whack with the GFS GRIB predictions. We are anchored behind the east line of islands, so we have good protection from the predicted winds running generally east to ENE, and even for NE or SE. Today the wind is basically north. It is a long way to the north end of the atoll from here. This has created a fair amount of chop in the anchorage. It is not really bad but unless you like being secluded I would probably advise anchoring up near or past the village in the NE corner of the lagoon this time of year.
Winter winds seem to run NE to E with anomalies from N to SE. Other times of year you can get west wind in occasional gales, so we hear, which would require migrating to the north side of the atoll to anchor behind the reef.
The forecast suggests a next window with winds from the east over 10 knots and clear skies of January 30th. This is probably when we will head up to Nukuoro, a one night trip from here.
Hideko made a lovely breakfast aboard and we took care of routine tasks while the generator/charger brought the batteries up. When we run the genset it doesn't make much difference whether we use 1 amp or 60, fuel wise. So we try to use as close to 60 as possible and get everything done all at once. While the genertor was up this morning we ran the water maker, the washer/dryer, the espresso machine (high priority), the hot water heater, the cold box (usually off unless the sun is really making a lot of solar power for us), as well as charging cameras and computers. I also got some navigation work and blogging in.
In the late morning Solomon called again and asked us to stay aboard our yachts. He had just talked to immigration in Pohnpei and apparently there are issues. It rained all day so this was no real hardship but we are curious to find out what the story is.
|Federated States of Micronesia||
01/24/2009, South Pacific
It was after six PM on Friday night when Eric and I made our way to Angelique as she sat stranded on the reef in a falling tide. It was so dark that we had to be very careful not to run aground. There were no stars, no moon and no other outside lights. It was completely disorienting. The islands of Kapingamarangi were sometimes visible, and this occasional shadow was hardly enough to give you an idea of where the snaky reef was.
At asked us to find deep water for him. This was not so easy given the conditions but we used the flood light we had brought to find water at least deep enough to float in. At worked Angleique's engine hard to back her out but the swell (which fortunately was wrapping around from the northeast and not striking her directly) kept her pinned down.
Over the next hour we lost more and more water as we tried every thing we could think of to move Angelique out into deeper water. We tried to tow a line from the bow with the dinghy. We tried pushing with the dinghy. We tried to take a halyard and heel her with the dinghy. All the time At was working Angelique's overheating engine. It was no use. She was fast aground, grinding her keel, and possibly rudder, on the hard coral below.
At this point we decided to run out a kedge and to try and winch her off with the windlass. In retrospect this should have been our first tactic. We knew the tide was falling though and had hoped for a quick fix while the water was near the level she had come on with.
Our dinghy was not the greatest tool in all of this. The control line for the shifter is not setup right and the engine is half in forward when the shifter is set to neutral (the only place it will start) and the reverse wont engage at all. I tried to fix this while we were underway but the cable is not long enough. Running around the choppy water with the rocking Angelique looming overhead with only forward and a slow forward neutral, that generally causes the engine to stall after a minute, was not optimal.
Eric grabbed the heavy dreadnaught anchor that At lowered down to us and we went out in search of the nearest deep water. Angelique was facing West, beam onto the reef and seas, at this point and due to a bulge in the reef here, more west would be worse. East was not good and North was the breakers. So we set the kedge anchor out to the south. We sounded out the area with a lead line and it was deep enough to float Angelique's 2.3 meter draft. Eric jumped onboard Angelique to work the engine while At and Dia operated the winch. The winch up button had failed, of course, and so now Dia was having to short out the solenoid to run the winch while At tailed the rode coming up.
The kedge held and we managed to get Angelique pointing out to deep water. The tide kept falling though. As the scope went vertical on the anchor, Eric jumped back into the dinghy and we went out to pull up the anchor and reset it farther out. The anchor was attached to the bottom. No force we could apply from our battered dink could budge it. We told At he would have to bring it up with the winch.
At this point the massive amounts of power the windlass was drawing was tripping the breaker in seconds. Eric reset the breaker as At hauled up inches at a time. Finally, ping! The anchor came free. We wanted to reset it immediately before we lost any headway we had gained. The swell continued to batter Angelique and rock her from side to side on the reef.
When the anchor finally cleared the water it was a bent mess. After some discussion we decided to use it again anyway. We are anchoring on reef and if it bites it will hold. If it holds it will not let go without fairly serious trauma. Better not to wreck two anchors while this one could still work, it was starting to look like a reef claw anyway.
We took the kedge anchor back out off of the bow again and this time dropped it in fairly deep water a little off the port bow. Even with the tide dropping, if she could make it to here she would be free. It was not to be though. We all worked to move Angelique forward but the swell had calmed and the water had dropped. The lack of swell was nice in that the boat no longer slammed up and down and across the rock, but neither did we have the liberating lift from the waves. The windlass couldn't take much more and everyone was exhausted. Low tide was at 10PM, almost two hours away, but we decided to wait.
I had let Hideko know the situation over the VHF, she was mortified but helpless to do anything but provide moral support from the quiet anchorage. We all climbed aboard the rocking Angelique to wait. Dia made us some hot noodles and we talked and planned as we watched the clock.
Angelique is an Amel, for those in the know, that says it all. Amels are designed to cruise the world with a couple aboard in comfort and safety. They are built completely for function, with no concern for form. Some people don't like their looks because of this but no one can contest the absolute focus on safety, reliability and ease of use that comes in the package. Down below the prop is in a protected aperture, the rudder is completely protected by the keel and the keel is a massive metal affair. Angelique was built in 1979, back when they used huge amounts of fiberglass (before they knew they could get away with far less). She is a 29 ton tank. If I had to sit on a reef to wait for a rising tide, I can't think of a better boat to do it on.
It was a very long two hours for all of us, but especially At and Dia. Their home was being ground left and right and occasionally picked up and dropped on solid stone. The rig was racked from side to side, interior systems were being pounded. Rain squalls came and went. It was a terrible beating.
While we waited we got a better idea of our surroundings in the total darkness that prevailed. It seemed that the tide was lifting outside the lagoon a little in advance of the tide table model. If we could just get her a few meters up the anchor rode she would be free. Everyone took their places and we made one last effort to bring Angelique back to deep water. The windlass mawed, Eric reved up the engine (which we had been constantly adding water to) and all at once the boat began to slide at first and then drive outright into the sea.
The problem was the anchor was still fast. Angelique drove up on the rode and then reeled to the side. Eric could not steer, so I jumped into the dinghy to try to nudge the boat into line before she went back on the reef. I took the painter with me as I hopped in. Then, as I drifted toward the breakers, the motor wouldn't start. Not wanting to complicate the situation with another rescue scenario, I paddled like the devil to get back up current to Angelique. The dinghy's engine started then of course, and after a quick drive around I told Eric that Angelique was safe until the anchor came free.
Getting the anchor free was not happening though. This anchor had given its all and wanted to rest in peace in its new coral home. We obliged and cut it free, with a quick GPS waypoint to mark it in case we decided to recover it in the future. Angelique drove off into the ocean and I followed on the dink. There was no way Eric and I could get back into the lagoon in the black squally night that ensued. So instead we tied up the dinghy on a bridle, and stood 3 miles off shore until sunrise.
Everyone slept in shifts. When the sun came up Dia and I were at the helm. We came back in on the atoll as the sun ineffectively tried to shine through the layers of clouds. It was difficult to find the pass in the pale light. It is far from easy to spot along the faceless reef. The concrete beacon that marks it blended easily with the islands in the background. Eric and I jumped into the dinghy to do recon.
The pass was workable but the currents were still fairly strong and confused. It was not high tide slack but rather the lull between a low high tide and a high low tide. With proper light though, Angelique had only minor difficulty following us through into the lagoon.
At anchor next to Whistler and Swingin' on a Star, Angelique II finally had peace. An amazing boat with owners who deserve her. Not only did At and Dia manage to stay calm and objective through the entire ordeal, they also cooked us all a wonderful thank you brunch. It was only shortly thereafter that everyone shut down for naps and a day of nothing but rest, in an ideal anchorage, just meters away from a very nasty reef.
|Federated States of Micronesia||
01/23/2009, 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.
|Federated States of Micronesia||
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||
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||
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||
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||