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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Lagoon Tour
Randy
01/30/2009, Kapingamarangi

The three yachts in our fleet had a routing meeting last night aboard Angelique. Whistler and Angelique decided to leave Friday (today) and we decided to leave the Saturday (tomorrow). Dia made us all some excellent coffee and we looked over the route and weather. We have some clouds on the gribs in the area on the 30th but less so going forward. Winds are predicted to be from about 070 degrees at 10-15, which often means 10-20 and up to 30 in squalls. Should be a fast sail to Chuuk.

We had all wanted to go to Pohnpei but it just wasn't in the cards. You can get breaks from the northeast wind, wind from the east or even east south east, this time of year, but not long enough to make it to Pohnpei direct. Island hopping yes, direct, not this time around. So Chuuk it was, and even at that we'd be passing up Lukunor, a perfectly good atoll, along the way.

The mono hulls are looking at a three nighter, hoping to make 5.5 knots average. We are shooting for a two nighter, hoping for a 7 knot average. In the evening of the 2nd the wind picks up to 20 knots on the grib so we expect up to 25. This makes for fast sailing but the seas get big enough that it is more fun to be in port. All three boats hope to be inside the Truk lagoon by sunset on the 2nd.

We are planning to go in a pass in the south part of the reef. The main pass is in the northeast and requires quite a bit of unnecessary exposed sailing, only then to make an entrance at a pass facing the weather and seas. It must be fine, as it is the main pass, but seems less than optimal for a north bound yacht. The charts for Chuuk look pretty good with lots of detail and many soundings. To be expected given the history of the place.

Whistler left at around 9AM and found the Greenwich pass running a bit over two knots. His report back was that it was, "a little scary". Angelique decided upon a prudent low tide slack water departure at around 11AM. Angelique reported a pleasant departure. Both yachts were making good way in fair conditions when we last caught up on the VHF.

Hideko and I spent the day cleaning up aboard Swingin' on a Star and getting her ready to sail. It's hard to believe but we will have been here 9 days when we finally depart. For not going ashore nor being welcome (by the Pohnpei government), it was perhaps the most friendly and pleasant place we have ever visited. Not a day went by where we did not receive taro, lobsters, coconuts, feast baskets or some other island delicacy from the local people.

We took a comprehensive tour of the islands today in the dinghy. It was a fantastic time and I'm really sorry our friends on the other boats missed it. We located an awesome enclosed anchorage that would be suitable for a west wind and great in anything with north in it. We took soundings along the way and stopped at several of the idyllic islands (though we didn't go ashore). We took a lot of great pictures including several of the village islands and the bridge that connects them. Hideko also located the Japanese ship wreck and the American plane wreck. The Japanese ship wreck was particularly impressive. Unlike most wrecks in the world, it is still completely intact. Finding a ship wreck that still has its prop is a very rare thing to say the least, given their value.

It was sad to watch the sun set on Kapingamarangi (or rather her western reef). We will miss the atoll and more so the few people (those mostly in official capacities) whom we have met. Though it is virtually impossible, it would be nice to come back an be able to spend time with more of the people. We could have easily spent a month here.

Federated States of Micronesia
01/30/2009 | Kim Green
I have been reading your logs for months. I got started because a co-worker and her husband sold everything after 35 years and is now sailing. They are on the Nikki Wikki. I believe they are preparing for the Panama Canal in the near future. I love the adventures of you and your wife. I am land locked so all I can do is read these wonderful adventures.
Stay safe,
Kim
02/11/2009 | Randy Abernethy
Hello Kim, Thanks for the good wishes. Hope we run into your friends out here. Cruising about is certainly an interesting way to spend a bit of your life! Best, R&H
05/02/2009 | Jordan Bigel
Hey Randy - first, let me apologize for leading you to believe you would not have difficulty at Kapinga when we spoke via email in January after the cyclone. Certainly it sounds like the red tape has gotten worse since our visit in 2005. I had expected them to welcome you easily and not press the formalities due to the cyclone and your carrying aid. I was wrong. On the bright side, it sounds like you had a lovely time nonetheless, though the saddest part is you had to bypass Nukuoro which is - no offense to Kapinga and Kapingans - by far the most beautiful atoll in the Pacific, above water. It is a shame the Pohnpei gov't is so restrictive and myopic. I have not ready your log before today - I was reminded of of our conversation in January when my friend Jim on Dancer emailed me today and mentioned your boat had arrived in Palau. The boat name sounded familiar so I looked up your web site and sure enough... Anyway, enjoy Palau and best on your future cruising. Jordan. S/V Queen Jane
Second look for the anchor
Randy
01/29/2009, South Pacific

We had a day out on the water today. Everyone came over to Swingin' on a Star and we loaded up our dinghy and Angelique's with scuba and snorkel stuff.

Our first stop was the position of the Japanese ship wreck from WWII. We pulled up on a lovely beach and hit the water. It was nice snorkeling but we never found the wreck. Eric finished his Navigation dive and only has one more to go for his Advanced Open Water cert. We went out on local advise targeting low tide, but the visibility in the lagoon wasn't fantastic at this time.

After an hour at the beach we packed up and headed out to the anchor site outside the pass. When it comes to local knowledge, I feel like I am really getting there as far as this pass goes. We anchored the dinghies at the waypoint for the spot where the anchor was cut loose. We did another snorkel recon but turned up nothing. Our next step was to scuba across the wall with one diver at 100 feet, one at 85, and one at 70. Nothing.

After a fair amount of effort in the area of the waypoint we can only suppose that the anchor and some 10 meters or more of chain are in deeper water. At is telling us to give it up. I know he would really like to get that anchor back though. The problem is that at about 100 feet the wall goes sheer and just drops away into blackness. If you were a scuba diver and only knew this place you would think it was a pinnacle rising from the void and that no other place in the world was above water.

As sad as we were that the anchor didn't make itself known it was an amazing dive. We saw a turtle, an eagle ray, various sharks, lots of really big parrot fish, just to name a few. The coral growth is very impressive, rich with life and diversity.

We may get one more shot at recon but I'm beginning to think that the anchor is the price for getting Angelique off the reef. Back at the big boat we started to unload and rinse the gear down when we noticed At and Dia weren't at hand. Then we heard them hail us on the radio. They had run out of gas but were getting a tow from Solomon. You have to watch your gas out here because you can't refill and the distances are large and gas goes faster than you'd like.

Solomon came by after our dive to say hello. He brought us three different kinds of bananas, bread fruit, bread, coconuts, and some other stuff. It was an amazing amount of food. We thanked him heartily and told him that we would catch up with him tomorrow before we left. I think he wishes the officials in Pohnpei were a little more reasonable. That said he is doing his best to do right by them and us. It has been a little odd but we have still had a great time in Kapingamarangi.

We are likely to head for Chuuk in the next couple of days.

Federated States of Micronesia
A chat with Solomon
Randy
01/28/2009, South Pacific

We spent the morning filling scuba tanks and working around the boat. Eric came by and completed some more of his Advanced Open Water certification. He is certainly going to have an awesome and hard to reproduce dive site list in his log (Solomons, PNG, Kapingamarangi, Chuuk, ...).

Later in the day Solomon came by. He brought us some more coconuts and some other tasty items, including a kind of donut that is made out of taro. He took us out to the locations of the WWI era sunken Japanese ship and US fighter plane as well. We spent a lot of time talking and learning more about the Kapinga people. In the end we decided to put it all together into a little cruising guide for Kapingamarangi. Unfortunately they get only one or two yachts visits every few years so it will be of limited use until the FSM allows yachts to check in at Kapingamarangi on their way up to Chuuk or Pohnpei.

We have been having an intermittent problem with one of the legs of AC from the Genset lately. Not long ago I found a burned wire in the 3 way switch and several loose connections. I cleaned that up but I think the switch may have been damaged due to the heat. Have to dig into it deeper to see. (it was the switch, swapped the genset to the shore power side and all is well, need to replace the switch)

Eric cooked dinner aboard Whistler for everyone tonight. He made a great spicy pasta and tomato sauce dish. Pretty impressive for a bachelor. We listened to Canadian, French and French/Canadian music all night (April Wine!) while playing "oh hell", which is kind of like quick and dirty bridge. It was a fun night.

Federated States of Micronesia
05/13/2010 | Hawortson
check my email the first letter that one of the island in kapingamarangi. chat me when you see this
Diving Kapingamarangi
Randy
01/27/2009, South Pacific

Solomon hailed us on the VHF and told us that we were not allowed to go ashore or deliver the aid package, per the officials in Pohnpei. In fact we are not allowed to stop in Nukuoro, rumored to be hardest hit by the king tides, to drop off our aid package for them either. I wonder what the people on these islands think of this ruling? Is it in their best interest? No one is in danger of starving of course, the Pohnpei supply ship brought aid in the second week of January to both islands, far more than our modest contribution. Yet beyond formality, I can see no reason for the red tape. None of these islands grow any of the products we bring, so any contamination is fairly far fetched. Having been through quarantine in 30 countries I doubt post Pohnpei delivery of the aid package would look any different than pre Pohnpei delivery.

As it is, with the winds strong from the northeast, we will likely fail to fetch Pohnpei and end up blown off to Chuuk. We will spend three to four days at sea rather than three one night trips with stops in the safe harbors of Nukuoro, Ngatik or Lukunor (depending on the wind) and then Pohnpei or Chuuk (depending on the wind).

I fear that it is us, the developed world that these countries use as a template for their formalities. These far flung islands are only a country because we made them so. Heavy handed customs, immigration and quarantine are status quo in the USA, and perhaps with some reason, though even her own citizens dislike the bureaucracy. Perhaps small countries look at us and say, "ok, that's how you do it". Yet, should a country that can barely get a supply ship once a quarter to its outlying islands have such overhead? Does it really serve a purpose? These people survived for hundreds of years without such oversight. The capital would have no communications with them at all if the EU and others hadn't donated radios and solar systems. Is any criminal hampered by the bits of paper filed 400 miles away? Illegal fishing certainly goes on unchecked. Are there other ways the FSM could invest her funds, rather than toiling to ensure that cruising yachts can seek no refuge on the 1,000 mile trip north from the Solomon Islands, nor deliver aid to islands who's resources have been damaged by climate change?

I think that, in many ways, trying to be like us is the biggest problem with many island nations. They are not like us. Kapingamarangi has no port, airport, internet, phone or other connections to anywhere. To communicate with someone here you have to use the post and on this end it is delivered about once every three months. There is nothing to infiltrate and protection measures seem to be a bit overzealous. Perhaps as the world gets smaller the artificially imposed national boundaries represent the only way a small group of islands can participate in the global playing field. Who knows.

I hope that the FSM considers enabling the people of Kapingamarangi to receive yachts from the south in the future. It would create a valuable cultural exchange, bring benefit in trade to Kapingamarangi and provide a safe harbor for yachts on an otherwise unnecessarily long passage. If Palmerston, Cook Islands, can manage yacht check ins these folks certainly can.

After the bad news we set out to retrieve Angelique's kedge anchor. It got Angelique off the reef and At doesn't want to leave it behind. I don't blame him. Eric and I went out in advance with Hideko and At following on their dinghy. We had a lift bag and lots of other gear to do a proper search and recovery. As we waited Eric and I dropped down with the dinghy on a 50 foot tether to drift out the ebbing pass. The vis wasn't great on the ebbing tide but the pass is amazing. We saw white tip reef sharks, lots of fish, a big school of barracuda and amazing coral structures. The current was a light 1 or 2 knots.

Once At and Hideko arrived we headed out to the position of the grounding. We made an initial snorkel search and then a scuba search but after a couple of hours we threw in the towel. It should have been easier to find. Our fist fix was wrong and our second was radioed in from Dia back in the anchorage. We are going to do some more recon, looking over track lines and such and try again tomorrow or the next day. Conditions should be good for us to depart in a couple of days so we are on a deadline.

Federated States of Micronesia
Kapingamarangi Constitution Day
Randy
01/26/2009, South Pacific

We stayed aboard all day today hailing Solomon on the VHF to no avail. It is a holiday on Kapingamarangi and a big noon time cook out was going on. We were sad to be stuck on the boats.

In the afternoon Solomon hailed me. I joined him on an SSB channel with the folks in Pohnpei. They wanted us to come to Pohnpei prior to stopping in Kapingamarangi. I told then that we had already filled out the cruising permits and would be happy to forward anything they wanted through the chief here. I also told them that we came with an aid package of 100kg of rice, much flour, sugar, cooking oil, as well as books, tarps, and plastic drums for water and what not. I went on to mention that we had a similar package for Nukuoro. I also told him that we could not travel 1,000 miles out of the way to clear in and come back to drop off the aid packages. We all need to be in Singapore before summer comes and the weather changes. It seemed sort of silly to sail right by the islands we were trying to help.

He was understanding but not willing to go against protocol. He is going to check with his superiors to see if an exception can be made.

We kept busy during the day by scuba diving under the boat to check the anchor and to look over Angelique's keel and rudder. That boat is a tank. The rudder was nicked up a bit at the trailing edge, needing about an hours worth of glass repair next haul out. Otherwise, nothing. I couldn't believe it.

In the mean time I think Solomon felt bad that we were being held up so. He sent a lovely pandana leaf basket of fresh food from the feast to all of the boats. We got lots of yummy barbecued fish, taro, rice and fresh bread (kind of like what we call Hawaiian bread in the US). It was very tasty. Hopefully tomorrow we will get things sorted out.

Federated States of Micronesia
The Day of Rest
Randy
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
Ship Rescue
Randy
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
01/24/2009 | Frank taylor
Wow, what a tale! Thank God Angelique II and crew are safe. I hope the damage is not too bad. Great work helping them get off the reef!
02/06/2009 | Randy Abernethy
It was an ordeal for all involved. At and Dia handled themselves so professionally, it was impressive. The boat is virtually unscathed. The rudder needs a patch up at the training edge next haul out but that's about it. The shocks that went through the boat every time the swell would pick her up and drop her on the reef had a very different picture in my head of what the bottom would look like.

-Randy

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