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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Taj
Randy
04/02/2009, Palau

We ran errands today. It took a fair amount of hoofing about to get passport photos, copies of paperwork and what not to get our Philippine passport processing started. You can visit the Philippines via yacht for 21 days without pretext but if you want to stay longer (and it is a big place) you need a visa. A 3 month single entry visa is $30, a 6 month multi entry is $60 and a one year multi entry is $90. We applied for three 3 month visas. They said that we could return in three business days to pick them up.

We have been getting to know lots of new folks over at Sam's. Today we met MArtin, Uli and Jurgeon (Sp?) from German at the bar. They are out for the diving and great to talk with.

In the evening we all went out to eat at Taj, an Indian restaurant run by Robert, a guy we had met at Kramer's a couple of nights ago. What a treat! Taj has a great atmosphere and even better food. Don't miss the Butter Chicken! We will be back.

Palau
Exploring Palau
Randy
04/01/2009, Koror

We woke up to rain, and plenty off it, today. It was one of those on again off again rainy days. The rain was heavy when it was on though and it wasn't off for long in between. Our dink ended up almost totally swamped by 4PM when the rain settled.

After bailing out the floating bathtub we took a quick ride through the islands. Palau is a beautiful place. In the main islands we have found mostly limestone rock island style coastline with mangrove mixed in. There are some beaches here and there but most look to be artificially created or maintained and right in front of the big hotels. I have seen some nice stretches out in the outer islands though.

We ate dinner with Whistler and Lorax at the Dockside Restaurant. They have decent internet there which we took advantage of as well. It was interesting driving the dink back through all of the rocks and reefs at night. The tide is about 5 feet right now and we returned at high tide, so there were no big challenges other than remembering the way.

Palau
Rained Out
Randy
03/31/2009, Sam's tours

We took the dinghy out for some more exploring this morning. We found a cut through to the Koror side of the islands which was a nice addition. This allowed us to visit the Aquarium and the Dockside Restaurant by boat. The aquarium is worth a visit.

We went over to Sam's to socialize in the late afternoon, and to stir up some dinner. We were pleased to discover that the island has its own brewery. The Red Roster brewery has a nice amber and Sam's sells it on tap. After enjoying some fresh brew at Sam's we joined up with Lorax, Wakamizu and Whistler for $4.50 spaghetti (Tuesday night special) at Kramer's. Kramer's, named after one of the original Palau expats, is a great local spot for pasta and just hanging out. It was a fun evening.

Palau
Arriving in Palau
Randy
03/30/2009, 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.

Palau
Sailing to Palau
Randy
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
Ngulu Atoll
Randy
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
Yap Culture
Randy
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

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