Arriving in Palau
30 March 2009 | Malakal Island
So it turns out our cousin Miki is a night watch machine. Normally Hideko is on from 8PM - 2AM and I take 2AM - 8AM. Miki was up for a watch on the way to Ulithi so we set her up with a 7 - 9PM watch with Hideko and I doubling with her for an hour each. By the next night she was doing a full 6-10PM watch on her own. Last night I went to sleep at 10PM and no one woke me up all night! I got up at 6AM after a better rest than I had in the anchorage and Miki had done a total of 7 hours in two shifts.
It had been a beautiful night from what I hear. The sunrise brought the obligatory tropical morning cumulus build up and rain showers. Our track ran clear of them but the development continued into the afternoon.
We sighted Palau around 10AM. It was alternating between beautiful blue skies over head and dumping rain showers. Not crazy big wind squalls, more the 25 knot quick rinse type. Regardless we decided to drop the main before we entered the channel through the reef. No fun navigating a narrow channel for the first time with shifting winds gusting up and rain killing your visibility.
We hailed port control about 10 times with no response. A California sailboat moored at Sams Tours finally hailed us and told us to tie up to the commercial wharf to clear in, then to head around the south end of the island into the very protected bay where Sam's Tours is. Apparently the standard procedure for yachts in Palau is to clear in and then head for Sam's.
The approach to Koror is not at all clear from off shore. Our chart was out a little bit but we adjusted it with an offset using the radar image, things seemed to be pretty accurate from there. The Malakal channel, the main channel leading into Koror, is well marked and there is a large concrete piling with a light on it at the south end of the entrance. The outer reef is however unmarked. Our charts showed some surface level stuff out there and many shoals guarding the big lagoon that fronts the actual channel. We entered the lagoon through a pass on the chart that came up to 50 feet. Once in the lagoon the bottom is mostly 80 feet or so and deeper right before the entrance to the Malakal channel.
The Malakal channel is very well marked and even with rain clouds wafting by, the water is easy to read. You can see the commercial dock from the sea so it is also easy to make your way in through the winding channel for the port. We tied up on the outer face of the quay next to a couple of fishing boats. The wind was blowing us on and there is a little bit of chop making for some up and down against the wall.
After seeing that no one was going to come to visit us I hiked off to the offices near the front gate of the international compound. One of the six officers said they would send someone out. The first customs officer to arrive chastised us for not having the Q flag up. Hideko quickly put it up. We typically fly the Q on the way into a new port but the squalls and channels kept us preoccupied. Perhaps they would have come out to meet us had they seen the Q?
This guy was quite a joker. He informed me that they would be bringing their dogs onboard to smell around. That would have been annoying. They apparently have a crack problem on the island from time to time so I suppose it may be justified.
We didn't end up getting the dogs but he did bring onboard six of his friends. We had two quarantine officers, two customs, two immigration and one port officer on board. The port guy was very considerate but the rest were fairly full of themselves, refusing to take off their Fila tennis shoes, rummaging through the boat and asking irrelevant questions.
We paid the Port $50 and we also paid a water tax of $50. On the way out we were informed that we would have to pay $20 per head. The quarantine guy noted that we were from Guam via Yap (all US affiliates like Palau) and didn't take any of our stores. They instructed us to keep all food onboard. Our friends on the Japanese vessel Wakamizu had 7 kilos of frozen and refrigerated food confiscated, I suppose because they were hailing from Papau New Guinea, and the Solomons.
After filling out two or three forms, three immigration entry cards, making a copy of the ships docs, handing out three crew lists, and producing three prior port lists with the last six ports, we were done. It all happened pretty quickly once it got going. Hayes Moses, the port officer and only one to remove his shoes at our request, was really helpful. He gave us some phone numbers to help us out and told us how to get to Sam's to moor up for our visit to the big islands.
Palau Customs: 488-3284
Port State Control: 488-4224
Sams Tours: www.samstours.com
Once oriented you realize that Koror is the small island with the main commercial center of Palau on it. Koror is just north of Malakal which is the island with the port and Sam's on it. Babeldaub is the largest island and it is north of Koror. All are connected by bridges and there are many dinghiable waterways about.
We headed around the south side of the Malakal, staying center channel and following the channel markers until we were running north up the back side. You have to stay well off shore to clear two marks at the end of reef spurs extending east and south from Malakal along the way.
Our charts show a little bay completely blocked off by a reef on the northwest side of Malakal. This reef actually has a channel blown through it, which is well marked. Inside the bay is a fantastic hurricane harbor which houses Sam's Tours, a Shell station and some other stuff. There are free moorings located around the little rock island that crops up like a mushroom in the middle of the bay. You can only make your way around the small island counter clockwise because a big half submerged wreck blocks off the southwest side.
Many live aboard expats tie from a mooring to the shore in the back part of the bay. The place was pretty packed when we arrived but we found a mooring next to the Lorax, a nice yacht from Guam (which is a very cool Doctor Seuss name if you ask me). The bay is very protected with 70 foot sheer walls all around. The problem is that this makes for no wind and crazy swinging. We were sure to bang into the Lorax if we didn't do something to secure ourselves outside of their substantial swinging area. There was a mooring very close to some of the boats tied back to the shore and we managed to make that off on our stern, keeping us clear. I hated to take a second mooring but there is no way anyone could have tied to it safely with the density of boats here already.
We were all soaking wet by the time we finished getting settled as the sky went from beautiful and sunny to tropical shower at will. Our friends Su San and Nirai Kun from Wakamizu stopped by to say hello as the sun set. We hadn't seen them since Bora Bora. They are at the end of their long journey from Spain with only Taiwan and Okinawa to go.
Su San promised to give me some fishing reel advice. He is an expert fisherman and we have a crumby reel on one of our rods that always jams just when you need it. I hope to replace it in Palau.
After the Wakamizu crew left Whistler came by. They had only arrived (officially) a few hours before us. They had to stop underway in a bay to the north last night due to night fall (and exorbitant Sunday overtime fees :-). Unfortunately they ran into a fisherman who happened to be the port customs officer. After explaining a complex engine problem, they promptly turned up at the quay to clear in this morning.
Eric and Julie were off to the Blue Corner (perhaps the world's most coveted dive site) in the morning. After catching up we said goodnight.
It had been a good day and we were all happy to be in Palau and looking forward to exploring.