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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Overnight to Namonuito Atoll
02/17/2009, Philippine Sea

After a mellow morning with some squalls blowing by we started to do final checks on the boat. Eric and Jeff on Whistler left for the atoll at around 11AM. I hope they go slow or they'll arrive in the dark. As it turns out we would all leave today. The seas were 3 meters today and coming down tomorrow but the wind was 15 today and coming up to 20 tomorrow. Hideko and I were thinking we could day sail Namonuito at 110 miles with 20 knots on the beam. Then Angelique called on the VHF.

The local guys on the fiberglass boat came out to Angelique and demanded a $60 anchoring fee. We had of course already paid the port plenty of fees and were told that we could stage up here no problem by John, the harbor master. At told them nothing doing and they left mad. We'll we don't stay where we're not welcome.

We toyed with sailing up to a deserted island (maybe some peace!?) but in the end decided to head for Namonuito reefed down for an overnight rather than messing around. Angelique left before us and had no problem getting out the pass. Eric had called back to let us know that the track was good but to bias north. The chart here needs an offset but even if you offset it some parts line up with reality but then others are still off a bit. You can't get the whole chart dialed in perfectly.

So here we are in, what the chart calls, the Philippine sea. We should arrive at Namonuito in the early morning. We have double reefed the main and jib to keep the speed down under 7 knots. The seas are reasonable and the wind is 15ish just behind the beam. The sunset squall program is in progress and we are hoping to dodge as many as possible. Angelique is off our beam and Whistler is somewhere ahead but out of VHF range.

We are hopefull that the folks out in the atolls will be friendly and kind, capacities we are beginning to miss here in FSM.

80nm to Namonuito

Federated States of Micronesia
Leaving Chuuk
02/16/2009, Chuuk Lagoon

It is the day before the anniversary of operation hailstone and we are off. Like so many of the most valuable Japanese war ships those many years ago, leaving before the air strike on the 17th. I'm not sure if any kind of ceremony or Japanese visit was planned but it would have been nice to have witnessed it if it did take place. As it was, the officials and the weather, once again, dictated our movements.

With the exception of one 12 hour period we have had big wind while here at Chuuk. The lagoon has been pretty rough on the boat rides out to dive the more distant wrecks. Chuuk Lagoon is a lagoon, but it behaves more like a small sea. The distance from the port at Weno to the barrier reef in the direction we're headed is over 11 miles. The fetch and average depth of 150 feet or so makes for short, steep seas.

Watching the weather we have found February to be a big wind month, at least in 2009. The area just north of Guam sees 25 knots frequently and we have had high surf warnings almost continually. We have planned our trip to Guam as an overnight to Namonuito Atoll followed by a double or triple overnight to Guam. A week of days with seas under 3 meters and wind 20 knots or less along that track has not been forthcoming. We ultimately decided to stage up at a little island in the northwestern part of the lagoon 7 miles from Weno port today. From here we will wait for the seas to come down bellow 3 meters and then head out to Namonuito. Seas are 3.8 today/Monday, 3.3 meters tomorrow/Tuesday and 2.7 Wednesday.

With the wind at 20 +/- knots it will be a fast trip for us. Namonuito is only 110 from reef to reef and we usually make a good 9 knots in these conditions, assuming settled weather without too many squalls. If things look right I think we will try to take off tomorrow just before dawn and make for a pass in the reef just 4 miles ENE of here. We should arrive at Namonuito a couple hours before sunset and make the anchorage before sunset as well. Then we'll recheck the weather and see how the rest of the fleet is doing before deciding to leave for Guam the next day or the day after. This will put us into Guam on Saturday or Sunday.

We went into the Blue Lagoon this morning for breakfast and one last visit to the little store up the road. The eggs benedict at the Blue Lagoon are not bad and it is a nice setting overlooking the anchorage. The Odyssey live aboard dive boat was there changing divers out for the new week. There were also some US military from Guam in town to train locals on emergency procedures.

Angelique had already anchored in the port by the time we made way. We anchored behind them but after contacting port control it became clear that we were going to have to tie up to satisfy the inflexible officials (particularly immigration, they are too lazy to get out of their car much less get on a dinghy). A large Japanese cargo ship was inbound but the port captain let us tie up to the A berth. This is the best spot on the quay, as it is actually inside the fishing/small boat harbor and much more protected from the wind and swell. The small boats also tend to go slower here and you don't get waked as badly.

It was clear that the officials were not coming for an hour or two, so we dinghied over to the Truk Stop for lunch and some final internet. At and Dia on Angelique were doing some final shopping as well. When we saw Whistler sail by we radioed with the hand held and Eric informed us that he had picked up a British guy named Jeff as crew to Guam. All of the flights in this part of the world converge on Guam, so getting a ride to Guam works with almost any flight plane. Jeff was just getting into sailing so it was a perfect arrangement for all.

We cleared out with far less hassle than clearing in and only had to deal with three organizations rather than five. Immigration still required us to print them a crew list on exit (even though it was the same as the one we gave them on entrance and they had all of our passports). Port charged us $185 and that was after we talked them out of $25 for one night of stay on the quay, forced upon us. In total (in and out) we paid about $275 to officials to be here for two weeks on our own hook (or a yacht hostile quay). It is by far the most expensive country I have been to and certainly one of the least favorite. Diving the amazing collection of wrecks is the only reason I can think of to come to Chuuk, and I would recommend flying in to stay on a live aboard dive boat rather than visiting with your own yacht. Unfortunately FSM controls a vast area of ocean, for safety and comfort many yachts will want to make stops inside FSM territory when transiting the area.

The officials, other than port which was expensive but always very friendly and reasonable, demanded that we depart immediately after checking out. Rational behavior did not fit into their doctrine. We said little, paid our fees and left.

We arrived at Fanos island, seven miles away, just before sunset. We have been warned by everyone to avoid the Tol group and everything around it. The best passes on the west barrier are in this area. Upon inspection of the charts we discovered that there is also a decent pass with 30 meters of water in it four miles from Fanos. So we decided to anchor behind Fanos until we were ready to depart.

We arrived an hour before sunset and it was getting tricky to read the water. The island has a lot of coral heads on the southeast end but we found reasonable shelter and room for three boats at the north west end in 40 feet, fairly close to shore. Angelique came in just after us and Whistler arrived a bit after sunset. Soon after some guys in a fiberglass boat from the island came out to give us drinking coconuts. I was just lamenting to Hideko about our lack of drinking coconuts. It was like magic. The guys were very friendly but didn't speak much English. They were looking for cigarettes but offered the same courtesy to the other boats (Eric had some smokes for them) and then they headed back to shore.

Fanos is small but lovely. The anchorage is good in north to northeast wind. The reef around the southeast point gives you some protection from the easterly seas. The bottom is sand and coral. Too much coral to be optimal for sure. The island has a few structures on it but looks to be sparsely inhabited.

We settled in for a nice evening and looked forward to spending a beautiful day here at Fanos tomorrow.

Federated States of Micronesia
Diving the Heian
02/14/2009, Truk Lagoon

We went out diving today. I brought my video rig. Unfortunatly I didn't have my morning coffee and neither did I have my reg. Bag cleaned out, gear rinsed, everything always stowed in the same place, just no reg. Such a bummer.

The lagoon was very choppy. We had decided to dive the Rio Maru, which was a high priority for me :-(. It was a llong ride in really steep stuff, then I got to sit on the bouncing boat for an hour. At least Eric got to see the Rio. He kindly down played it.

We stopped by Swingin' on a Star during the surface interval to grab my reg. Note to self, if running a dive boat, always have a spare reg/mask/fins/bc for brain dead guests.

Due to the conditions we decided to dive the Heian again because it is close and in somewhat protected water. The vis was not great but I got enough footage to edit together a clip long enough to go with Heart's Mistral Wind. It was a fun dive and a great, if blustery day out on the water.

Federated States of Micronesia
Sunset Bar
02/13/2009, Blue Lagoon Resort

We waited for the dive boat this morning but they didn't come. It turned out that our cancel message was delivered for yesterday but the reschedule message didn't make it. So we rescheduled again. We're looking forward to getting one more dive in before we leave.

For those not in the know, Chuuk Lagoon (Truk Lagoon as it was known during WWII) has possibly the highest concentration of ship wrecks of any place in the world. It was the Japanese equivalent of Pearl Harbor during WWII. The US decided not to try to take Truk because it was heavily fortified. Instead the US enacted operation Hailstone which involved a huge carrier assault by air over two days. Several times the number of explosives dropped on Pearl were dropped here and over 220,000 tons of ship sank to the bottom over the two days. All the wrecks are Japanese and there are over 100 ships planes and other craft to explore.

One thing I'm not too happy about is the Chuukese reluctance to return the remains of the dead to Japan. The Chuukese claim the Japanese tourists are important to the economy and if the remains are allowed to return to Japan many who come to honor the dead will not return to Chuuk. This is a pretty callous attitude if you ask me.

We spent the day getting the boat ready and then met everyone over at the Sunset Bar at the Blue Lagoon Resort. We are all looking forward to visiting the Philippines. As luck would have it there were two Philippino guys at the bar. It was great talking to them about the places we were hoping to visit. They gave our route through Lette and the central islands on to Palawan and down to Borneo the thumbs up for great scenery and good safety.

They also told us about beer and food. Particularly beer. The beer is reported to be 15 US cents a can. I had a Philippino beer at the Sunset Bar as we chatted. As I drank the second one I noticed it was 6% alcohol (not by reading the can). Six percent beer for 15 cents. Hmmm, that could be dangerous.

Federated States of Micronesia
02/12/2009, Chuuk Lagoon

It was overcast this morning. Not surprising after the crazy winds last night. We anchored such that the entire circle around our anchor sounded out safe for swinging, but you still never like to have the wind blowing you directly ashore. The light gradient wind last night allowed the squalls blowing b y to do just that. We were facing west for a good part of the evening, then north, then south. The wind was light but just enough to wing us all over the place.

We were going to go out diving but wanted to have good visibility for what might be our last dives. We tried to hail the shop on 16 but I really didn't expect to reach them. Chuuk is not a VHF culture.

Surprisingly the port responded. They told us they would call the shop for us and cancel the dive until tomorrow. Then after a successful phone call they called us back on the VHF to confirm. What service from harbor control! Who said radio to telephone is dead?

We did some work on the boat and tried to catch up on the internet a bit more. We have had some mosquitoes the last few nights and Hideko went on a bug killing rampage today.

In the afternoon Eric and I went to the dock by the Blue Lagoon dive shop with the dinghy. From here you can walk to the store and buy gas. We needed to fill both of our jugs and the tank after all of the long distance driving at Kapingamarangi. The gas is $5 a gallon here but only $4 in town. For a small amount it is worth the convenience and gas savings to just pop in here.

We spent the evening on Angelique II. Dia fixed a wonderful dinner with a cruiser recipe for peanut soup that she made stealing the show, in my opinion. We played Rummiecub after dinner which was very fun. It is apparently a cruiser classic that we hadn't yet run across.

Federated States of Micronesia
02/11/2009, Blue Lagoon Resort

We spent the day on the Internet today. Still trying to get the blog updated. The service here is not super fast but not bad. The connection drops from time to time though and this makes it hard to upload photos or to download large files. Things are a little better at the resort than on the boat but not much.

We were on Eric's boat for dinner a while back and he put on April Wine, Nature of the Beast. I hadn't heard that album since high school. What a great record. I had it on vinyl, but like so much of my music from the 70s it disappeared somewhere between UCSB and Los Angeles.

It is nice to live in the modern world (even when you're in a place like Chuuk), I went onto Amazon and boom, $7.95 and a few downloads later... I now have the April Wine album. I have had to download some of the tracks several times because if you lose the connection during a download you end up with a drop out or pop in the track (this is astonishing to me because a first year CS student could write a downloader that would guarantee the blocks downloaded matched those on the server).

The problem with Amazon is that their "you might also like..." algorithm is too good. As I finished with April Wine, it asked me why I haven't replaced that Montrose album I haven't heard in so long, or what about Ted Nugent Weekend Warriors? Sammy Hagar Standing Hampton? Van Halen Fair Warning? If the download connection worked better I'd be in big trouble.

As it turned out the big trouble came when I checked my MasterCard statement. I discovered $6,000 in charges at AutoZone, Kmart, and 7/11in the US over 2 days. This is our first big credit card theft, so we'll see how Citi deals with it. We have been pretty careful with our info but after three years of buying almost everything online, I guess we were due. The funny part is that Citi shuts us off every time they see a charge outside of the US (which is where we always are) and they let these obviously fraudulent charges go rampant for two days in the US with no worries.

Guam is getting some nasty frontal conditions right now and seas are predicted to run up to 13 feet this weekend. We are looking at Monday as our departure day so we'll see how things develop.

Federated States of Micronesia
Diving with the Truk Stop crew
02/10/2009, Truk Lagoon

We dove with the Truk Stop dive shop today. Our last two dive days were with Blue Lagoon and we like to try all of the shops when we visit a place if we can. The Truk Stop dive outfit is run by a friendly New Zealander named Kelvin and our boat driver was Newie a Chuukese from Dublon. Both are very experienced divers who know all of the wrecks in the lagoon. Kelvin was most recently in the Philippines and Newie used to work on the Aggressor live aboard before they moved to Sulawesi.

Eric from Whistler was diving today and so was Hideko. We did our first dive on the Nippo and our second dive on the Heian. Both were great. I think the Heian is a wreck you could spend more than one dive on easily.

The Truk Stop guys gave us a lot more in the way of a dive briefing that the Blue Lagoon folks. I think I would also have to give them the nod for general safety and respect for the wrecks.

You don't see as many eating size fish in the lagoon as you might expect. The human population has certainly put pressure on the lagoon. Some locals fish with explosives. This is illegal but both dive shops told us that it still goes on. In fact some of the locals loot the mines in the wrecks and use them to make fishing bombs. Of course this entails handing highly unstable, 60 year old munitions. As you might expect, the odd diver fails to return from time to time.

The shallower wrecks are getting pretty corroded and picked over these days. The Cousteau boys did a survey in 1969 and hauled off a few tons of goodies (now in a warehouse in France somewhere). Many of the locals have a bell or two hanging in their shop. That said, Chuuk is still the most awesome wreck dive destination I have been to or could possible imagine.

One needs to be very careful when penetrating this vessels today. More and more structural elements are weakened over time and you hear tales of collapses much more frequently. A regime of total buoyancy control and touching nothing should be self evident but seems rarely adhered to.

There are also some nasty chemicals still lying in wait in some of the wrecks. It is highly advisable to use a gentle frog kick, rather than a flutter, to ensure the silt stays on the bottom. Some smoky looking stuff was stirred up in front of me on the Heian and I didn't think anything of it. After swimming by, the back of my leg began to burn. I'm not sure what it was and it did no damage beyond giving me a little rash but it is the kind of thing you'd like to avoid.

We had a nice day out on the water and hope to get in at least one more set of dives before we take off. The guys dropped us off at our boat and after a quick rinse we headed to the Blue Lagoon for a nice lunch/dinner.

Federated States of Micronesia

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