A Day at Ulithi Atoll
21 March 2009 | Philippine Sea
We had a great day at Ulithi Atoll . I woke up at about 5AM pretty decided that we would stay and enjoy the beautiful anchorage for a day. It was raining. That settled it.
I got up a bit later and continued reading my book, The War in the Pacific. It is a great book that takes you through the entire progression of the Pacific war, from the basis for the war and the conflicts in China, on through to Pearl Harbor and the ultimate surrender in Tokyo Bay. Being in this area has really helped us understand how important WWII was to everyone in the Western pacific. It has left huge impressions on the people, even two generations later, not to mention the landscape. Almost every air strip in this part of the world was originally built by the Japanese or the US.
We unknowingly followed the track of the US naval forces from Efate and Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu, up to Guadalcanal and the islands leading up to Bougainville and Buka in Papua New Guinea. We missed Rabual in New Britain and Port Moresby but picked up the trail at the only New Zealand conquest we know about, Green Island, and then on to Chuuk (aka Truk) and Guam. We met several Japanese and US vets of Iwo Jima at the Iwo symposium on our last day in Guam. We've been to Tokyo and are bound for Palau and the Philippines, so short of Wake island and Pearl we've had a pretty substantial exposure to the Pacific War battle fields.
Hideko and Miki got up after a good night's (and morning's) sleep. After coffee and muffins we got ready to take a swim. The water here is amazing. Vis is at least 120 feet. I can see our anchor from the bow and we have 150 feet of chain out in 25 feet of water. The platform where we're anchored is all sand (with lots of sea cucumbers and a few rocks mixed in). There are many healthy coral heads closer in to shore with lots of little reef fish.
Before we assembled our shore party some Ulithians came by in a Yamaha fiberglass skiff with a Yamaha outboard (standard FSM issue). It was the chief's brother, Pierce and some friends. They were very nice but indicated that we needed permission from the chief to be here. We asked for permission and the response was, "The chief was wondering if you have any extra coffee". We certainly did (I'd advise bringing a good bit of instant coffee for trading in this neck o the woods). Once the coffee was handed over, everything seemed to be in order and they told us that they would bring us some coconuts. They ran ashore and brought us a crazy amount of coconuts, maybe 15. They whacked a few open for us to toast the beautiful day with.
We had a nice chat with the guys and showed them around the deck of the boat. One of the crew was maybe twelve and he and I took turns bouncing off of the tramp into the water. They gave us the name and number of the Lieutenant Governor of Yap (also their brother) in case we needed anything in Yap. It was a nice time spent with fun folks. I filled up their gas tank for them and wished them well as they motored off.
They report that between one and two thousand people live on Ulithi. Almost all in two villages, one on Fassarai just north of our position and the other on Asor I believe (near Falalop). We planned to exit the atoll via the Zowariyoru channel between the islands of Eau and Ealil (nice to choose passes with above water landmarks). Pierce suggested we take the Rowaruerii pass on the north side of Eau because it is deeper. They both look to have about the same depth on our chart I have, but I never turn down local knowledge. We'll take a close look at both before making our exit. I do find that locals in some places have different navigation sensibilities than yachts, due to their divergent goals and boats. I've been told to take paths that would be great for a 1 foot draft outboard skiff but not so great for a 4' 6" draft 8 meter wide catamaran.
Given the chief's indirect blessing we made our way ashore via mask and snorkel. The water is a refreshing 82 with lots of patches as warm as 86. Miki, Hideko and I had a nice snorkel over the coral on the way in and then set out on a circumnavigation. Lossau island is uninhabited and lovely. It has beautiful beaches all around and the densest coconut tree forest I have ever seen. You can see little coconut trees sprouting from the nuts in the sand all over.
As we walked to the south end of the island we had a huge surprise. We ran across mysterious tracks running all about as if in search of something. They were of course sea turtle tracks in search of the perfect nesting spot. You could easily make out the big track of the turtles heavy shell, the swaths on either side where the flippers scooted the turtle along, and the little track of the tail dragging in the sand behind. We found two nests which we stayed well away from. The island was perfect in many ways but discovering a fresh set of turtle tracks really made our expedition.