We got up this morning and had eggs for breakfast! Might not seem special to you, but eggs are surprisingly hard to come by in the Solomons and remote islands between there and here. It had been a less than optimal evening on the cargo ship quay but a nice breakfast and easy access to the stores made up for it.
The problem with the quay is that you just can't get tied up in such a way that your boat will be at rest. It is a roadstead and there's a couple feet of tide, a couple feet of slow rolling swell and a lot of small boat wake mixing together, fore and aft, side to side. We were eager to move out into the islands.
We came for the wreck diving. As it turns out there are wrecks everywhere. So many you need to be careful navigating and anchoring. Quite a few are modern era, not WWII. For instance the Chuuk State island freighter that used to make the runs from Moen to the outer islands is now lying on its side next to the quay. I was told that it met its match in the last Typhoon they had, about five years back. It is not alone.
Eleven AM and Mrs. Mori from Immigration never showed up. The diesel guy, who is actually an American, did come by as scheduled though. It was raining so hard and often though that it took three stints to get the tanks filled. We had to keep closing everything up and running inside the boat, while the diesel guy sheltered in his truck.
Health showed up out of the blue in the afternoon. They looked at our immunization cards and our most recent physical exam records and that was that. So the total official visits was now up to five (Health, Immigration, Customs, Port, Quarantine). I was talking to an Australian who is here as a tax adviser to the government and he indicated that the government is largely funded by the USA and that something like 20% of the population in many areas work for the government. If there's one place in the world that needs less government it is here!
We sat on the quay all day waiting for immigration to bring out passports and our cruising permits. We had sent in the cruising permit applications from Gizo over a month ago. The email exchange with Pohnpei was much like consulting with the great Atun of Planet 7. You can make your requests of the oracle but little indication of your disposition will be forthcoming.
Mrs Mori from immigration showed up at 3PM, four hours late, with a story about the air plane creating a slow down in her day. There is one flight a day into Chuuk and it is the same every day. She had nothing. In fact we had to give here new copies of our application for cruising, crew list and ship particulars. It didn't seem to matter that we had already sent all of this in to the capital via email. She left and said she would try to return at 5PM with our permits and passports. No such luck.
Eric on Whistler had started his process a day before us and just got all of his stuff back today. He left the dock for the anchorage south of here off of the Continental Hotel (now the Blue Lagoon) a bit before sunset. We were all envious and hope to join him soon. After all we came here to anchor around the islands and go SCUBA diving (which you can only do with a guide), not to sit in the container port.
This has been by far the most confused circus of officialdom I have ever experienced in any country (and we've been in and out of over 30). There was no way we were staying on the quay another night. Our boat had not been damaged yet, but I wasn't going to wait for it. Our fenders and dock lines were certainly no better for the wear. We left the dock just after sunset. We were certain immigration was not coming at this point, they no showed but did not have the courtesy to tell us they would not be back until tomorrow.
We anchored off of the quay far enough to avoid most of the small boat traffic. The bay next to the quay is the shuttle harbor where all of the boats running about the islands in the lagoon converge. Things pretty much shut down after sunset though. The harbor bottom is pretty scoured and we had to try twice to get a set.
Once settled we dinghied over to Angelique. She was still on the quay, At and Dia had a nice fender board out which allowed them to tolerate the wall and its huge vertical bushings better than we could. The rain throughout the day had made the streets so muddy and flooded that you could not walk to the Truk Stop (the only restaurant in the area) without getting soaked. The dinghy was a far more civilized solution.
We all had another pleasant meal at the Truk Stop and retired to await clearance day three.
|Federated States of Micronesia||
02/03/2009, North Pacific
We slept in today. The anchorage was lovely and we had a nice relaxing breakfast with a beautiful view of the lush green islands inside the Chuuk Lagoon. We talked to Whistler on the VHF and told him that we would try to get over to the port to clear in by 14:00.
Shortly thereafter I noticed four teenage boys hanging off of our stowed dinghy. I went outside to greet them and see what they were up to. They had four coconuts they wanted to give us. I told them we were under quarantine and had plenty of coconuts, but thanks. The leader said, "I give you one". Trying to be nice I said, "ok thanks". Then he said, "now you give me something". I could see where this was going. I asked what he wanted. The four guys had a little huddle then one came back and said, "champagne". There was obviously a language barrier here but I got the drift. I gave them back their coconut and told them we were under quarantine and they had to go. I'm pretty sure they understood the go part if nothing else.
I turned to go back inside and it started raining. They didn't leave. I went back out and they said they wanted to wait for the rain. They were sort of sheltered by our swim platform so against my better judgment I said ok. Back inside the boat with the sliding door closed I could clearly see them but they could not see me. I watched as the lead punk, as I will refer to him from this point on, reached over the edge of our dinghy and began to lift our paddles. I burst back outside and yelled at him to drop the paddle and get away from my boat. That worked.
Sad to say that everyone we have talked to around here today confirms that there is a very high rate of petty theft in Chuuk. Even the guy who was putting up the money for a little league project was getting all of his gloves and balls stolen. As a tourist in a secure hotel room you have nothing to worry about, but when you have your entire home with you it is a little more troubling. Certainly restricts your interest in leaving the boat unattended. Once again we are happy to have Roq aboard. He is the most harmless animal ever to walk the earth, but island folks are generally pretty scared of him.
After setting out for the port, it was a tough slog up the lagoon around the weather side of Dublon. Fairly similar to yesterday actually. Once we turned down wind things mellowed out and we had a nice trip around Weno in protected water to the port on the west side of the island. We hailed port control an hour out and they asked us to tie up to the main quay. The quay is a big ship dock with huge rubber stand offs. They do go from the top of the quay to the water at low tide though so you can work out a horizontal fender arrangement that will do a fair job of protecting the topsides.
A Dutch freighter was just leaving for Pohnpei as we arrived. The quay is huge, and once the m/v Islander had gone, it was empty. I think they get about one ship a week but the quay looks like it belongs in the port of Long Beach. Very nice. Too open to swell and chop for yachts though and it is the only place to tie up in Chuuk that we know of.
John from the port came by to clear us in and go over the fees with us. It was $25 a night to stay on the quay (something we would like to do for as short a period as possible), $25 for the first two nights anchored out, and $10 per night thereafter. Pretty expensive as islands in the middle of no where with no real services to speak of go. Next we saw customs. A copy of the ships docs, a list of previous and next ports, and a crew list sorted him out. Then quarantine, $25 and the "I usually confiscate all of the food on board but you can keep yours just don't bring it ashore" speech. They have no incinerator so we could not take out our trash (ug). Immigration showed up at 5:30PM, to ensure overtime payment which totaled $57.50. They were the ones interested in our cruising permit, oddly. We had to print them a copy of the application we sent to Pohnpei. They took off with our passports until further notice. Hopefully we'll get the cruising permit tomorrow at 11AM when she promised to come back.
The weather has been much the same all day with squalls continuously running by. The port is pretty sheltered from the east wind though and the swell is not too bad in our berth. The locals seem to have no concept of how unpleasant it is to have someone blast by your yacht when you're up against a concrete quay. One guy came by 6 feet off for a good look, under full throttle. We'll fuel up and be out of here shortly after, immigration allowing.
In the evening all three boats headed to the Hard Wreck Cafe at the Truk Stop hotel for dinner. This is a nice place right on the water with a casual, kind of southern USA motel, atmosphere. They are just down the road from the port and have a nice dinghy (really dive boat) dock too. The food was good and so were the prices. The owner, Bill, is an American and a very friendly guy. They have a dive shop and seem to be pretty popular with the dive tourists. It was wonderful to eat in a real restaurant. I think our last "real" restaurant was Honiara.
We had a quiet walk back to the port past the two big grocery stores, a hardware store and some other shops. We are looking forward to some shopping and exploring tomorrow.
|Federated States of Micronesia||
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||