03/29/2009, Philippine Sea
Our Ngulu anchorage was not the best last night. Like so many reef protected anchorages, it was good at low tide and not good at high tide. Coral never grows past the low tide level, so, unless you have some affect raising the reef over time, high tide sends several feet of green water over the reef in most places. We had a good 4 feet washing in on us last night. Not directly of course, but the island was small and round, allowing a lot of wrap around.
The setting was beautiful but without a nice anchorage we decided not to stay to explore more. We had all been reading up on Palau and were pretty excited to see it as soon as possible. We raised anchor around 10AM and headed across the lagoon.
Ngulu is about 15nm north to south. Our chart was not bad but it showed a lot of shoals and even some small islands that didn't exist. Our track through the interior of the lagoon was free of hazards. We saw two very conspicuous wrecks on the barrier reef, both good radar targets, high and dry, neither charted.
We exited in the southwest corner of the atoll in a wide opening with charted depth of 60 feet or so. It was even deeper than charted and very easy to navigate by eyeball. On the exit the sounder went from a steady 125 feet to no bottom instantly. Atoll drop offs are always impressive.
We had some rain roll through last night and in the morning but once out on the ocean the weather was lovely. Lots of fair weather cumulus to weather and a big ugly black multi-layered thing to leeward. The day was blue and lovely over the boat but we had little wind. Little enough that we ran an aux most of the day to keep the average speed up. Much slower and we would arrive in the dark tomorrow.
The wind was dead astern or there abouts and showing 2-3 knots apparent for much of the day. We had the main hard to starboard all day and from time to time we were sailing by the lee a bit. The nice thing is that in light wind with the sheet in tight on the traveler you actually get lift from the main (like sailing upwind). With the boom on the traveler there's no real jibe risk and we were picking up a half knot versus the same wind over the weather rail.
In the afternoon Miki announced that she had never been deep sea fishing. She suggested that we hire a boat in Palau. I said that we would do no such thing and proceeded to take Miki deep sea fishing. We put two lines out and Miki promptly caught a Yellow Fin Tuna. What a treat. We discovered that not only had Miki never been deep sea fishing, but she had never seen anyone kill a fish and fillet it either. We are still trying to get her over the trauma.
We had a light rain in the late afternoon which turned into a big squall several miles past us. It made the sunset spectacular. It is a rare day that does not produce a few small squalls as the pressure drops at sunset. The radar is clear now at 20:00 and Miki is on watch. It is a beautiful starry night.
We are looking forward to a good sleep and landfall in Palau tomorrow.
Hideko Says: I am so excited to have fresh Hamachi sashimi tomorrow!
Miki Says: I caught my first big fish, and my favorite fish of all too!
136nm to Palau
|Federated States of Micronesia||
03/28/2009, Philippine Sea
We left Yap, sadly, today. Yap is a wonderful place with wonderful people. No crime, clean, friendly and just enough civilization without spoiling things. The customs and port officers met me at 6AM to clear us out. They would not do it the night before. Seems a little dogmatic to me but I was up anyway, and surprisingly, so were they.
The immigration officer failed to appear so we departed without exit stamps on the passports. I have been put in this situation by immigration officers before but I have never had anyone complain about missing exit stamps. The crew list shows all three of us and we paid all of our fees.
Eric on Whistler suggested we stop at Ngulu on the way to Palau so we did. The only problem is that as far as we can tell they didn't. Whistler left last night to make Ngulu in the AM. I think they probably got here in the predawn dark and decided to just keep going to Palau. We have hailed them on the VHF but have no contact. My guess is that I'll get an email from him when I post this.
We left the harbor in Yap around 7AM after stowing the dink and getting everything ready to go. Miki was still asleep and Hideko knocked off as soon as we got the sails up. It was a lonely passage. Fast though. We did 9 plus for the first few hours with 15 knots on the beam. The rest of the day averaged 8s.
I talked to a nice Russian sounding guy on a big oil tanker that was crossing close by. I mostly just wanted to make sure they recognized there was a little bitty plastic boat on a collision course, but I also asked what he had for a weather forecast. Ours said 10-15 from the ENE and mostly cloudy with isolated showers, possible TStorms. He had a much more abbreviated picture. I guess you don't care about much short of a gale when motoring along in a 350 footer.
The weather was great at the onset of the day, but it got more and more squally as the day went on. We only got a brief shower toward the end of our trip but I could tell things were deteriorating.
As we closed on Ngulu we hailed Whistler a few times, hoping they would have done the work of sussing out the best anchorage in the 10 plus mile long atoll. No response. So we decided to try the north islands. They look to have a little better coverage from the north swell and NE wind. The big question was, would there be anywhere to anchor.
[P.S. We met a boat called Lorax in Palau that anchored in a small reef anchorage in the south where the 20 some locals live. It sounded like it may have been a tad better but not much.]
I had tried to corner various folks who had been to Ngulu to get recommendations while in Yap. When the rubber met the road, no one had really anchored anywhere, or if they had they were just a passenger and didn't remember where.
We cam in on Mesran Island through a cut in the outer submerged reef charted at 130 feet. The skinniest bit was supposed to be 40 feet but we never saw less than 60. At Mesran we found decent protection in the SW corner but the bottom was 125 almost all the way up to the shore. After looking around a bit we found a place we could have hooked up in 90 feet. Hoping to upgrade, and to beat the big nasty squall coming in, we ran up to the next island, thoughtfully called North Island on the chart.
North Island was not too much better. Maybe a little more bump in the anchorage but we found a spot at 80 feet to anchor and took it. No sooner were we set with 300 feet of chain out than a big 30 knot squall hit. Whew.
We thought about checking out the little sandy island one more up. It looks like it might have better reef coverage from the waves and possibly a better (shallower) bottom, but once set it is hard to relocate after a long day out (and with rain coming left and right).
So here we are at lovely North Island. As we settled in for a nice pasta dinner, a la Hideko, we saw a fricus in the water near the reef. It was a turtle. No it was two turtles. In fact it was two turtles mating. Wow, never thought I'd see that. A lot of splashing goes on, let me tell you.
We may leave tomorrow for Palau, one nights sail away, or we may stay a day. Have to see what the weather man says and what it looks like out the hatch.
|Federated States of Micronesia||
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||
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||
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||
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||
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||