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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
A Day at Ulithi Atoll
03/21/2009, 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.

Federated States of Micronesia
Anchored at Ulithi Atoll
03/20/2009, Philippine Sea

Miki started taking on watches last night and was a big help. Everyone got a good rest and we had a nice breakfast with bacon and eggs in the morning.

We crossed Challenger Deep yesterday which was kind of fun. Gives you a shiver to think the bottom is over 30,000 feet down.

The squalls started forming up at sunset last night. We had a little rain here and there but nothing too hostile. Things cleared by 3AM or so and we had a great sail all day. The atmosphere was progressing in an unfriendly fashion by mid day however. By the time we were approaching Ulithi Atoll big squalls were surrounding us. Ulithi was about a half mile away from its charted position on the Navionics chips but after setting up an offset the chart matched the radar nicely.

In the afternoon today we approached Zau pass. After an easy transit at 15:00 we turned to starboard and sat off of Mangejang island on the NW side of the pass to wait out a big squall that was pounding our target anchorage. We began moving again in parallel with the end of the squall, hoping to squeeze in between it and the next one in line. The squall in question crossed in front of us as we turned around Fassarai island on the way to our target island, Lossau.

There's lots of squak in Yapese on 16. One station has a 5 beep key up tone that is longer than most of their transmissions. Seems like all of the little islands are keeping in good contact.

The lagoon inside the atoll is pretty open in most places and the coral is low enough to make many passes viable. The lagoon is 80-100 feet deep in most places that we transited, and with good visibility the underwater hazards easy to see and far between away from the barrier reef.

The anchorage (see position) is lovely. We dropped the hook in a large 25 foot deep sandy area with very little swell coming in. The water is crystal clear and the island seems to be an uninhabited white sand beach and palm affair. I feel like I'm back in the Bahamas! You can hear the surf breaking on the other side of the island. This anchorage is wonderful in trade wind conditions but it would be no fun in a westerly. There just isn't any protection on that side, as the atoll is open to the sea. You could anchor behind some islands on the other side of the atoll though.

We will likely pull out tomorrow early and head for Yap though me may stay here a day if the weather is foul in the AM.

Federated States of Micronesia
Underway to Ulithi Atoll
03/19/2009, Philippine Sea

We had a great day of sailing today. My crew is loading up on Stugeron and Dramamine so it is pretty lonely on deck (they are sleeping 16 hours a day). It has been an eventless day really. We jibed once and tried wing on wing down wind. The seas are moderate but mixed from North and East enough that dead down wind is not working so well. We settled on putting the jib away and running deep (165 degrees to the wind) on port tack. We are less than ten degrees south of our Ulithi approach waypoint but passing north of Fais. Fais is an island a little south of Ulithi, and 30 miles closer, so we can bop in there if need be.

I fired up the genset in the early AM to bring the batteries back from -140 amp hours. The hydraulic auto pilot is drawing a fair amount of current and then there are always running lights, night lights, instruments, half hourly radar checks and the like. We just gave the genset a good service so I was bullish on its reliability. After it was running for about a half hour I though I heard the exhaust note change. The only thing I could think of that would do that was lack of water. I checked the coolant temp guage and it was rising. I shut the genny down at 180F with the assumption that I will need to change out the impeller. The one in there looked fine when I serviced the engine two days ago. It has been going for a good 300 to 500 hours. Unfortunately when you open the pump to check the impeller the water drains out. Sometime I put glycerine on the impeller to avoid the short term hyper heating that occurs when you start it up dry, not this time though. Doh.

Needing to get a charge going and not wanting to climb into the genset service at 5AM, I fired up the port diesel. The port drive leg has been giving us trouble engaging lately. It took me several revs to get it to connect. I originally thought it was the prop sticking closed, and that it may be (harder to open a prop when you are already moving too). I am now also suspicious of the drive leg itself. You can change the oil in the SD50 in the water but I think we need to have it hauled and inspected more closely. This is the leg that has had suspicious oil (some opinions suggest there was water in the gear oil others said it was fine).

We have been looking forward to a good haulout facility in the Pacific but have so far not found one on our track. NZ and Oz were out because of Roq. We did some basic repairs and bottom paint in Raiatea but I wouldn't want to get too complicated there. The US is the last place I've been where I actually felt confident in the boat contractors. We are currently hoping to find professional services in Singapore.

Our starboard drive leg has leaked oil since we received the boat. I couldn't track it down at first (I had so many boat issues to contend with at the time...). It seems that when you run it at high RPMs some oil comes out of the leg where it meets the hull. So we have a double drive leg debacle to deal with. Both are working fine with the exception of the sticky engagement on the port and the need to add oil sometimes on the starboard. I don't like anything other than perfect when it comes to auxiliaries though so we are babying them until the next haul.

We plan to arrive at Ulithi tomorrow early afternoon. We'll anchor there for the night and stay a day if it is really nice or head out the next morning for Yap. If we leave early enough Yap should be a day sail from Ulithi. We'll arrive late afternoon but our frind Eric on Whistler has confirmed out waypoints so we should be able to get into port later in the day without difficulty.

The radar is clear and we are watching a nice sunset. Hideko is instructing Miki on the finer points of night watch before her first go at it. We gave her a 2 hour shift tonight to break her in.

Hideko Says: "Miki's first night watch is coming up." Miki Says: "I'm excited to run the boat!"

141 nm to Ulithy

Federated States of Micronesia
Leaving Guam
03/18/2009, Philippine Sea

It was a wonderful morning today. Time to sail. We had a wonderful time on Guam and met many fantastic folks. We discovered more on the war path of WWII than we expected once again. It was a great stay on a lovely island. I must say my preconception of Guam was greatly exceeded.

In the morning we dinghied about to say goodbyes. We gave Fuji San a copy of our Kapingamarangi Cruising Guide since he indicated he might go that way. We said goodbye to Tamio San who is a single handed icon in our books. We also stopped by to say goodbye to Arni, Cam, Molly and Nancy on Jade. As always we were sad to leave all of our new friends on the boats and at the yacht club.

We are also greatly saddened to leave Roq in his final resting place. He was the most loyal and loving family member on four legs you could ever have. It was hard to motor out of the harbor without his cheerful face looking up at me from his little corner of the cockpit.

I had to dive on the safety line we tied to the mooring chain to loose it and then put the dinghy away. We also spent some time briefing Miki on the safety procedures onboard. Miki has sailed with us on a charter cat in the British Virgin Islands so she is not totally new, though this will be her first ocean passage. He sister Emi has a good 1,000 mile on her so Miki is eager to catch up.

After prepping the boat and checking the rig and all of the hardware we dropped the mooring bridle. We called the harbor master on 16 and got permission to depart. It was the last American voice we would hear in an official capacity for perhaps some time.

We waited until we were out of the harbor to raise sail. This gave the batteries a chance to come up and the seas were mellow behind the island anyway. We set out on starboard tack in a deep reach for Ulithi atoll. Unfortunately we were 10 - 20 degrees high. As we cleared Guam the wind veered and we jibbed into a nice deep port tack.

It was a lovely, slightly cloudy, but lovely day of sailing. The seas are following and the wind is light in the sails but keeping us at 6-7 knots. As sunset we put in the night reef and slowed to closer to 6 knots. We are looking at an ETA of late night two days from now on March 20th (51 hours from now). We hope to shore that up with a bit more speed tomorrow for a late afternoon landfall on the 20th. If not we'll bypass Ulithy and head for Yap, arriving on the 21st.

Hideko Says: "I can't believe we finally left Guam, we loved it. Rest in peace Roq, we love you." Miki Says: "Roq is still with us, we feel his happy spirit."

313 nm to Ulithy

Iwo Jima Symposium
03/17/2009, Outrigger Hotel

Arni and Cam invited us to join them at the Iwo Jima Symposium taking place at the Outrigger Hotel today. What a great experience. It was the anniversary of the Iwo Jima Battle and vets from both Japan and the USA were in attendance. There was a detailed presentation of the Iwo Jima action, a panel with vets including a variety of men in different roles, speeches from two Japanese vets, and a lot of time to mix over lunch.

The vets and others fly to Iwo tomorrow for tours and other ceremonies. It was a great experience meeting these guys, most of whom wont be around much longer. WWII realy had a profound impact on the shape of things in this part of the world.

Inarajan Pools
03/16/2009, MYC

Hideko and I put in some of the final bits of work on the boat today to get ready for our travels on the road to Singapore. We are presently planning to sail from Guam to Ulithi atoll and then on to Yap. From Yap we will stop in Ngulu and then on to Palau. From Palau we will sail to Leyte in the Philippines and then head through the central Philippines to Palawan. We will then sail the west coast of Palawan and Borneo prior to landing in Singapore. We hope to haul out in Singapore and get our annual done there before cruising Thailand.

While we were changing oil and what not Miki accompanied some of our friends to the lovely Inarajan pools on the east coast of Guam. Miki and her sister Emi are loved instantly by all children and the kids were very happy to have Miki with them. We only saw the pictures but it looked like a lot of fun swimming and diving in the beautiful pools.

Up the Mast
03/15/2009, MYC

It has been blowing a good 20-25 knots most days in the anchorage mid day here at the MYC. Mornings and nights benefit from the island breeze shutting the trades down. So around 7AM Hideko sent me up the mast today. Make sure that your wife hasn't taken out any large insurance policies before you attempt this.

We had lost our radar reflector in a nasty squall in the Solomons a few months back and our mast head light went out shortly thereafter. We ordered replacements from and received them via our Saint Brendan's Isle mail box in Florida and then via US Post (reliable and cheap to Guam) via the MYC.

After giving the rig a good once over we headed ashore to look for distilled water to top up the batteries. Our new Trojans are doing well but I'm not liking the maintenance part. We have been going through about 1.5 liters of water a month (our batteries cycle every night due to the fridge and freezer). We searched all five Napas, Diamond Auto, all of the Shell stations, Mobil and other, as well as KMart. No luck. The island was dry as far as our batteries were concerned.

Hideko stopped at the Payless to get some last minute provisions on the way back to the yacht club and as she walked back to the car I saw she had 3 gallons of distilled water in her hands. Who knew. We could have spent 30 minutes instead of 3 hours getting water.

With batteries topped up and rig checked out we're one step closer to Yap.


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