02/02/2009, North Pacific
It was yet another nasty 24 hours but we are happily anchored in Chuuk Lagoon off of Uman island. We had total overcast last night and constant squalls. I have never seen this kind of weather before. The atmosphere literally pumped out new squalls constantly. We had a hit or a near miss every hour or two. As soon as one would pass we would either see the next immediately upon us or it would materialize after a short break where the wind would go light and variable in the dense overcast.
Once used to the process I think I preferred the constant squalls, at least that way you're moving. We got good at slowing down to let the leading envelope go by, then sliding into the rear curtain to catch the wind in the 20s. Drier that way too.
We tried to avoid the really hot spots if possible. We never saw more than 35 knots steady but I'm sure some of them had more at the inner envelope. The problem with wind over thirty is that we were trying to make a beam or close reach. At 35 knots on the beam you go so fast that you are crashing through the steep 9 foot seas and launching the boat like Evil Kenival in Las Vegas. You can sail like that, and I know that some do, but this is our house and when you are in the middle of no where it is good to avoid breaking things. One shackle or block giving way would create a big headache.
When it got too hot, I pinched the boat and crabbed along at 3 knots until it let up. We got to the point where we put reef two in the main and just left it in. We would have made better time if we'd gone back to full main, reef one and down but it is just too much work on a long passage with constant bad weather. Swingin' on a Star sails quite nicely under double reefed main and jib so even when things were lighter we move out ok.
As we got within 50 miles of Chuuk we began to make contact with Angelique on the VHF. We had just seen the barometer drop 3 points in the last hour and I wanted to know what was happening where they were. We were at 1006 but Angelique reported 1010. Nice to know it was local only. Very very rare to get a TRS here at all, much less this time of year, but good to know what is happening around you regardless. The weather had continued to deteriorate from our perspective and the lulls were blowing at 20 knots now and the seas were keeping in time.
We had departed with a pretty good forecast with decent wind and minimal convection. The problem with forecasts in the south pacific, and this part of the equatorial pacific, is that there are no developed nations here. If you are in waters of interest to the USA you can get a pretty solid forecast. The satellite coverage in this part of the world is not on a par nor is the talent interpreting the data from what we have seen. I would rate the forecasts here at 50% of the accuracy of those in the Caribbean or Hawaii area. As an example, our forecast from yesterday night for the waters surrounding Chuuk was "partly cloudy and isolated showers". The reality was well beyond "mostly cloudy and scattered squalls", into the "total overcast and continual squalls" zone. Even 12 hours out the forecast was not even close.
Kuop atoll is just south of Chuuk lagoon and we were looking forward to getting behind it. We would sail much faster without the big sharp seas, not to mention increasing comfort aboard. We were doing 9 knots and close to the atoll when another squall formed up and came sliding down between us and Kuop. There was nothing to do but head up and slow down. It blew by in a half hour or so with wind in the 30s. We took care to keep plenty of sea room between us and the atoll. Our charts were good but apparently not perfectly aligned for WGS84 when compared to radar. The squalls were so full of rain that you couldn't see through them with radar and the atoll had a vary light leeward return anyway because it is just submerged reef for the most part.
It was getting close to sunset and we really needed to make Chuuk lagoon or find an alternate. Anchoring at the atoll was a possibility but the south pass was not looking good given the seas rolling by. There are two passes on the chart located along the west side of the reef but they are both narrow and shallow as charted. Doable though perhaps.
We pressed on and got rerouted or slowed a bit by two more squalls. Things seemed to be getting nastier. Perhaps the higher islands in the Chuuk lagoon were launching even more convection or perhaps the weather was just going that way.
We came out from behind Kuop a little more than an hour before sunset and the seas came up quite a bit. We were behind Chuuk at this point, but the channel and the now 20 plus steady wind was making a mess of things. Two more squalls passed in front of us and we were now sailing in 30 knots apparent (probably 23 true) steady. As we got close to the pass we rolled up the jib and started the engines. Both Yanmars came up, so down went the main. Our course through he south pass was dead to weather and we didn't want the hassle of sails flogging about. If you have only one auxiliary perhaps it would be wise to leave the main up in this sort of situation.
We came in the pass on our charted track and finally got in contact with Whistler. He had made the port around 15:00 and indicated that the track was good through the pass. As we came in through the pass the seas were big. Steep three and four footers came right at us. It was hard to see the shoals to port and starboard as the pass is deep and wide. It was also close to sunset and very overcast. If this wasn't a ship caliber channel (very wide and deep) we probably would have had to stay outside. Staying outside here would require sailing well off the surrounding reefs.
Angelique had anchored two miles outside of the pass but pulled up to follow us in. We had though that perhaps the lagoon would be calmer than outside, but it is a very large lagoon. It was as bad or worse as the area outside the pass, smaller waves but steeper. We bashed into big head seas and 20-30 knots of apparent wind for another hour to reach Uman island, which seemed like the best and closest place to anchor for the night. It is 20 miles inside the lagoon through shoals and many ship wrecks to the port but it was only 6 miles to Uman.
As we approached the leeward side of Uman the seas went flat and the wind relented. It is a nice little harbor. It was getting fairly dark but we came in close to the island until we found 60 feet. We made a circle around the spot to ensure that there were no hazards in the swinging arc and then dropped the Rocna. The anchor set instantly, and then I heard the unpleasant sound of coral scraping the chain. It doesn't hurt our chain but it is no good for the coral. I don't like to damage coral bottoms. Our chart gave no indication of the bottom type here but given the scuba reputation Chuuk has I would guess that pure sand is tricky to come by.
Angelique arrived shortly afterwords and anchored farther out. Everyone was glad to be out of the weather. Hideko made us a wonderful dinner, then we took hot showers and slept like logs.
|Federated States of Micronesia||
02/01/2009, North Pacific
What an ugly 24 hours. Hideko's shift started at 8PM and by the time it was over at 2AM we were surrounded by squalls. We were getting hit left and right with the wind going from light and variable to 20 plus knots, with an array of directions as far as 90 degrees off of the forecast gradient wind. We tried to pick a window to sail for Chuuk with as little cloud forecast as possible, so much for the cloud cover data in the GRIBs.
Squally nights are a drag for short handed crews. If you are racing, just just assign trimmers to squeeze every inch out of the wind wherever it comes from and at whatever the strength. If you are a couple trying to get somewhere, you want to reef down, set course and alternately with your partner, sleep or enjoy a quiet watch. Squalls, particularly strong ones, make both of the later hard to do.
By mid way through my shift I was seeing a fair amount of lightning and some large solid shapes moving about on the radar. I began tracking a really big rain mass vectoring in on us at about 5AM. We had reef one in the main, standard night protocol, but something told me that wasn't going to be enough for this one. Just as I started to reef down Hideko came up to check on things. "Want some help?", she said. Yes please! We got reef two in the main just as the storm came on.
As they often do, this one hit like a wall. Calm, then 10 knots and quickly 15 and some rain, then rapidly 20 knots and pounding rain, followed immediately by 25 knots and a total black out, then 30 knots. You never know how far they are going to go until they stop going, and you never know if you've got enough reefs in either. Reef three on this boat is a go forward and collect the main sail at the mast affair, I was hoping not to need that. The wind howled up to 35 knots and the already moderate seas began to get really peaky and unpleasant.
We were progressively rolling more and more jib up but I couldn't take up too much because I had to balance the double reefed main some. Too little jib and we would have a hard time steering. I had the boat pinched and mostly stalled (around 3-4 knots SOG) to keep the apparent wind under 40 but it was gusting up there anyway. Just as I was starting to formulate a plan for putting reef three in, so that we could still make progress if things kept building, the system settled in. I could tell it didn't have any more in it.
It was a big nasty thunderstorm though, and it wasn't over in a minute, like the run of the mill squall. It kept pumping out 30 some knots of wind and the accompanying seas for almost an hour. Every now and then a blast of light would illuminate everything around, a startling contrast to the total blackness otherwise extant. As nasty as it is when you're in it, there's nothing you can really do but protect the boat and head for the exit as best as possible. So Hideko went back to sleep and I just drove the boat. I was kind of tired so I went back to the auto pilot but it took me a while to get used to riding it so that we didn't tack or go beam onto the wind. I got a little lazy at one point and we ended up crashing through waves at 13 knots.
Two hours later when the wind finally came down under 25 knots we got a nice ride for an hour or so before the wind went light again. It was overcast the rest of the day with minor squalls everywhere. This has been perhaps our gloomiest passage to date. Odd in the northern hemisphere trades. Oh well, we are still on schedule for an arrival in Chuuk late tomorrow so hopefully we'll see some stars tonight (I'm not holding my breath).
Hideko Says: "zzzz, sleeping"
158 nm to Chuuk
|Federated States of Micronesia||
01/31/2009, North Pacific
Hideko and I got up early to make a supposed slack water, high tide exit at about 6:30 AM. The only problem was that we had to get a DVD player back to Solomon. It was not working perfectly and he wanted to see if I could fix it. It was a pretty outside chance to start with but I tried anyway. No success.
Solomon came by at 6AM and we sad a fond farewell. I would love to come back to visit but there is really no way to get here other than sailing or taking the once a quarter supply ship, which would give you a whopping one night on the island unless you wanted to stay for 3 months.
The pass was already running a good knot or so on the ebb when we arrived. I don't like having the current with me. Exiting was no problem, thoughit did require more concentration that I readily have on tap at 7AM.
We walked the reef around to the west and laid in a course for Chuuk, 335T. We made over 8 knots all morning in a nice 13-14 knot beamish breeze. Then, on my shift of course, the wind died. We started slogging along at as low as 5 knots. The wind came forward and lightened. Oh well, it was still a lovely day and the only squalls we saw were in the early morning and none of them came after us.
We are still on Pohnpei time (UTC+11) so sun set wasn't until 7PM. As the sun dropped a big sunset squall went off to starboard but passed behind us. The radar looks clear now and, given general conditions, I expect a calm night.
We talked to Angelique on the SSB a couple of times today. They are still 90 miles or so ahead of us. Whistler has no SSB and neither of us are in VHF with Eric so we're nbot sure how he's doing, but I think he is probably 30-50 miles ahead of Angelique. We will all probably arrive in the afternoon the day after tomorrow.
We are looking forward to visiting Chuuk and doing a lot of diving. It is one of those places I have read so much about but never thought I'd get to.
Hideko Says: "Kapingamarangi is going to be one of my most memorable spots"
314 nm to Chuuk
|Federated States of Micronesia||
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||
01/29/2009, 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||
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||
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||