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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Yap Culture
03/24/2009, Yap

Hideko made us some French toast for breakfast on the boat and shortly thereafter we headed out for a harbor tour in the dink. We stopped by Whistler to pick up Julie, Eric stayed back to take care of some boat business.

The harbor has lots of wrecks hidden below the surface. We worked out way over to the south shore of the3 harbor but had to stand off a bit due to a rusting hulk just under the surface about 50 feet off shore. We motored under the bridge into the inner harbor past the fuel depot. This area has a dive shop and a couple of motels mixed in with the mangroves.

We moved inland farther under another bridge where we all had to crouch down in the bottom of the boat to make it under. This put us in the mangrove swamp. The outer area has some local houses on the shore and reminded me of a Louisiana bayou. We motored back into the mangroves with the engine tilted up as far as we could and then once in the mud I poled us back out with a paddle. The mangroves make the water so dark you have no idea how deep the water is, one inch an one fathom looks the same.

Back in the yacht anchorage we came out around the reef running off the fishing port point and into the main commercial harbor. There's a big freighter cracked up on the shore just past the cargo ship quay, and farther along you'll find a 100' traditional looking double masted trader moored stern too the Manta Hotel. This is their restaurant and bar.

We tied up on the wall with the hotel's permission and made our way up to the top deck on the Bar/Schooner. The Manta is the center of tourism in Yap as far as I can tell. They look to be the nicest hotel, they have the largest dive shop, Yap Divers, and they have the most popular bar. The best thing about the shipboard bar is that they brew their own beer. They make a nice dark and a good blonde, you can certainly taste the freshness. A Swiss guy is the Brewmaster (maybe he's from the German side).

As we contemplated our orientation to Yap plan over a few beers we discovered that the hotel was running a cultural tour at 4PM. Sign us up! They did. So off we went in the hotel's bus to the stone path entrance.

Yap has an interesting history. The island had a lot of internal struggle in the olden days among the different tribes. The Spanish had some dealings with the local people in the early days of the West's discovery of Micronesia. The Germans were the first to make a lasting impression however. The Germans organized things ashore and got the people of the four principal Yap islands cooperating. They then built stone roads (really small paths) around the entire island. These stone paths have become an ingrained part of the islands cultural makeup, connecting villages and establishing new protocols.

The Japanese took over during WWI and relinquished control to the Americans after WWII, though fortunately for the Yapese there were no big battles on Yap. Some of the stone paths have been paved over since they were typically made over the easiest ground to transit but many stretches of the path still exist.

The bit we walked along made stops in various places. The fist was a rest stop. It is a large shaded area where coconuts and other nourishing plants are kept growing so that travelers can rest and get something to drink and eat.

The second stop was a Women's House, or Menstruation House. This house is outside of the village and is the designated place for menstruating women to go. Girls learn how to cook, plant crops and other women's work while at the house.

Out next stop was at a large taro patch. Taro, kind of like a potato, is a key staple for the Yapese. After a nice walk on the stone path we made our way to the Kadai Village. The Yapese in the village still live in the traditional way, fishing and farming. They have lots of stone money positioned around the entrance to the village. A large leaf meeting house is the center piece of the village.

The villagers are available for questions and they put on a nice dance show as well. You can buy arts and crafts and they provide everyone with coconuts to drink. The highlight is watching a young man climb about 60 feet straight up a thin pole like tree to fetch Beetle nut. They let us try some. Ug.

The traditional Beetle nut preparation involves splitting the nut in half (with your teeth of course) and then coating it with lime. I thought it was a lime fruit they were using. Oh no. It is lime stone. They take fresh Staghorn coral from the reef, crush it up and sprinkle the powder on the Beetle nut. Then you wrap the whole thing in pepper leaf and chew it for a few hours.

This sedates you, numbs your mouth, turns your spit into a virile red substance that will stain anything (including your teeth, gums and cloths), and causes you to want to vomit if you're new to the whole process. What's not to like? Most Yapese chew (women as much as men) and it is addictive so if Beetle nut is not in season they may even chew coconut husk just to stave off the cravings.

After a great time at the village we retired to the Oasis for dinner where Eric joined us. This is a small, quaint restaurant just across and down a bit from the Manta Hotel. They have pretty good food at a reasonable price. It was a nice end to a fun day on Yap.

Federated States of Micronesia
Sailing to Yap
03/23/2009, Colonia Harbor

We were up at 5:00AM, before the sun, this morning. We had gotten the boat ready to go last night so there wasn't much to do to prep the boat. After warming up the engines and testing forward and reverse Hideko began to raise the anchor. The water here is so clear that you can shine a flash light into the water and see your anchor 25 feet down.

There was a sliver of a moon low in the sky as we motored slowly back along our track. A direct path from our anchorage to the exit pass transits some 6 foot shoals on the chart. Our plan was to head back north a bit and then cut directly across the lagoon in water charted at around 100 feet deep. Considering the fact that Admiral Halsey's 3rd fleet, with more than five fleet aircraft carriers, five battle ships and a mass of cruisers, destroyers and support ships, all anchored here often at the end of WWII, I am inclined to believe that the charts are in the ballpark. It would be a bummer to run our little yacht aground, but I imagine it would be substantially more embarrassing to put a 33,000 ton war ship on the rocks.

We paced our lagoon transit to ensure some sunlight at the pass. As we approached we could make out the reef and shoals extending fairly far to the north from the island to our port (as charted). We aimed for the water at the center of the two islands and inched our way along. We transited the pass with what appeared to be lots of room on both sides and no less than 48 feet (45 at MLLW) of water. Outside the pass the bottom fell away rapidly as expected.

The seas were very calm and so was the wind. The Gribs show some funky Lows to the east juggling around and shutting off all of our wind for the next week. A few more days wait for wind would have made sense but as it was we wanted to get on to Yap. Our friends on Whistler and the Manta Rays are waiting for us.

Ulithi to Yap is a 97 nautical mile trip from hook to hook. With only 12 hours of daylight this time of year we needed to do more than 7 knots to avoid a night time arrival. After playing with the sails and the auxiliaries for a little bit we settled on a double reefed main with both auxs running at 1,800 rpms to produce an average speed over ground in the mid 8s.

The main made little difference most of the day because the wind was about 5-7 knots from astern making the apparent wind about zilch. Dragging the double reefed main through the air doesn't cost much and we did make a few tenths of a knot once in a while when the wind backed and picked up (usually 50 degrees to starboard, apparent). The raised main stabilizes the rig but in the calm seas this was not a real consideration. One engine wide open (about 2.2 gph @ 2,300rpm) would burn a little less fuel than both at peak torque (about 2 x 1.2gph @1,800rpm) with about the same speed over ground, but we were happy to take the small fuel hit in exchange for not running a motor wide open for 12 hours.

The day passed under blue skies with lots of little fluffy white cumulus clouds and the occasional rain shower passing by. Miki slept almost all day (amazing really) and Hideko and I exchanged watches at the helm. We saw nothing. No boats, no fish, no nothing.

Then we saw Yap. Yap is a fairly low island with no significant peaks, though it is hilly. The barrier reef is substantial and extends quite a ways out from shore. In the clam seas it was a particularly dangerous affair without a good chart. The ship wrecks sticking out of the water a mile from shore give you some warning.

The channel into Yap's Colonia Harbor is wide, deep and very well marked. I wouldn't want to do it at night for the first time, but if need be I think our Navionics chart on the plotter and the lit markers would have made it fairly safe in calm conditions. Our charts were quite accurate until we got way back into the harbor. You never know these things until you've been there once of course, unless you have a friend in harbor.

We hailed the port to get permission to enter the harbor. No response from the harbor but Eric on Whistler came on. After a quick catch up on 17, Eric agreed to take me ashore to clear in. We anchored in the south arm of the harbor (out of the way of the main fishing and cargo docks) and as Hideko and Miki put the boat away I ran ashore with Eric.

The port captain's office is only online from 08:00 to 16:30. I did catch the duty officer on his handheld before entering the harbor and he called over the immigration and customs folks. We already had our FSM cruising permit from Chuuk so things went pretty fast. We paid $40 to the port and $20 to customs. Immigration was free and the officer stamped all three passports for me.

The process took no more than a half hour and there were no overtime fees even though we started the process at 18:30. There was a fair amount of Beatle nut chewing going on (particularly by the women) which I haven't been able to get used to, but everyone was very friendly and helpful.

Our first impression of Yap is a good one. The town is clean and there are several cute shops and restaurants along the coastal main drag. The locals are friendly and everything seems quite safe. The harbor is totally protected and flat. We look forward to exploring more!

Federated States of Micronesia
Another Day at Ulithi Atoll
03/22/2009, Philippine Sea

It was another beautiful day at Ulithi Atoll. Being Sunday we decided to wait until tomorrow to head to Yap. Arriving on Sunday would no doubt be expensive. There's no wind and the forecast is for more of the same so tomorrow is as good as any day.

We did a lot of relaxing, reading, snorkeling and visiting with the locals today. The chief's son brought us some lobster in exchange for Rum. He then told me that the chief had outlawed alcohol on the island. Great. At night they came by to offer us turtle. Ug. They had two large turtles and one small one. This is the season the turtles lay their eggs all around this area. I tried to tell them that this was not a good time of year to be killing lots of turtles. They laughed.

It is sad that so few islanders take conservation seriously. It is different for them because it may mean not eating so well. It seems like there should be some way to get the message through, that they would be protecting their own future by avoiding pressuring species to extinction. In most cases they have little affect on species populations. For instance the islanders can take all the tuna they want, it is the long line fleets that will wipe them out in the end. Turtles are a little different. Green Sea Turtles are endangered and every adult female removed from the population makes the future bleaker.

In the end all we can really do is reinforce what they already know and "just say no to turtle".

We enjoied a lovely sunset at the end of the day. We got the boat ready to go because we will have to leave first thing in the morning. The trip to Yap is 97 miles so we need to leave around 5:30AM first light and average a bit over 7 knots. It will be a motor sail given conditions so should be no problem.

We look forward to seeing our friends on Whistler tomorrow and checking in at Yap!

Federated States of Micronesia
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


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