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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Etpison Museum
04/04/2009, Koror

We visited the private Etpison Museum in Koror today. The museum has a nice collection of exhibits and a great gift shop. It has been very interesting to look through the museums here and combine that with the experiences we have had interacting with people. Palau is one of our favorite places in the Pacific islands and partly because of its people.

Palauans are kind but retiring, relaxed but responsive and very proud of their culture. They celebrate First Child Birth, Homebuilding, and Death, much like the rest of the world but they do it in a very Palauan way. It is a deep and intriguing culture.

Like many developing nations the cultural heritage stands in stark contrast to the modern governance and commercial pressures. The country is in some fairly concerning economic straights at present and they are now spending the principal in the trust set out by the US and other nations. Previously only the interest was spent but with the decline in returns globally and increased spending, the interest isn't enough.

Another problem is the fact that 62% of the population is employed by the government. Stop and think about that for a second. The government does not generate one cent in revenue through commerce, only internal/external taxes and foreign subsidies. This means that 62% of the population is basically on foreign welfare.

You could argue that Palau is owed compensation for the foreign war fought on its soil. WWII was over 60 years ago however, and the country has more infrastructure than they have ever had, all of the jungle has returned to Peleliu and other areas, there are money making WWII tourist sites everywhere, and there's the 700 million in the trust, not to mention millions in other aid and support from the US, Japan, Taiwan, the EU, the UN and other donors.

There's a sizable oil potential in Palau. The structure of the federal and state governments makes proceeding complex to say the least. There are 16 state governments and one national government plus a traditional chieftain government in Palau.

The traditional government was originally integrated with the elected government as a way to protect Palauan customs and heritage for the general populace. This traditional government has sadly been marginalized for the most part. That said there are still 17 government units, each with a legislature and executive branch, for a country smaller than the smallest state in the United States.

The story of Palau is similar to the stories of so many small island nations in the Pacific. They want to live in the way they have become accustomed under colonial rule but don't want to be under colonial rule. In an attempt to transition matters, the prior administrator typically infuses large (relatively) sums of capital to ease the evolution. This capital often breeds greed and corruption in a culture with no tools to deal with such a windfall.

Land ownership is also a big problem. Many islands had no concept of land ownership, or at least nothing like individual land ownership. The people of the clan own the land until a stronger clan takes it by force or coercion. The concept of selling land has create tremendous problems within nations and even families in the islands. In the end you have an interesting situation that requires much work to become sustainable and responsible.

Palau is not perfect but it is certainly an example for many other island nations from an infrastructure standpoint. Some of this has to do with the ratio of aid to population. Palau has received over 852 million USD in support since 1995. There are 20,000 people in Palau. That's over 42,600 per person.

It should be noted that only 14,000 of the residents are Palauan, the contribution is thus $4,285 per Palauan per year. Palauans have a different status than non Palauans. The minimum wage here is $2.50 per hour, but it only applies to Palauans. That means you can pay any of the more than 5,000 Philippinos here $150 a month, which is a common rate. The argument for this is that they are much better off than they would be in the slums of Manila. I can't disagree with that but the fabrication of different rules for different people has some unpleasant names.

Only Palauans can vote. Only Palauans can own property. Only Palauans can run businesses, though partnerships are allowed. Only those born of Palauans can be Palauan. One notable senator of Palauan and Chammoro (i.e. Marianas Islands) descent regularly demands eviction of non Palauans who get in his way.

The compact with the US specifies equal treatment both ways. Palauans can move to the US, buy a house, work anywhere and become citizens and vote if they like. Not so the other way around.

So like everywhere there are problems. That said, Palau is a breath of fresh air compared to Chuuk, PNG or the Solomon Islands. The government has real problems but it is far more responsible than some of its neighbors. Tourism is strong but under control and aware of the importance of the preservation of the natural resources. The country has managed to arrange good roads and bridges through the USA and Japan in exchange for permission to house military in a crisis, and as a token of peace and friendship, respectively. Violent crime is almost unheard of.

Everyone uses cars and outboards as opposed to feet and paddles, not sure if this is a good thing but it is certainly a status symbol. All of the Palauans have power, phone, internet and cable TV in their homes as well.

So when you are in Palau you will not see Urbanity but there's enough to keep you grounded in the modern world and the natural world at the same time. It is a fantastically beautiful place that still feels like a distant corner of the USA.

For more on the soon to expire compact see:

Island Tour
04/03/2009, Babeldaub

We did an island tour with Malahi from Sam's Tours today. Sam's likes you to sign up a day before doing dives or tours, mostly so that they can get your lunch order put in (I think Rock Island Café supplies all of the lunches). The tour was fantastic and I'm really glad we chose the organized route.

Many folks don't want to pay the $95 per person cruiser rate for the whole day tour. I think it was a bargain. The fee covers your $5 entrance fee to the waterfall park, the $5 fee for the stone statue park at million dollar point, lunch, and an air conditioned SUV with a driver/tour guide.

Our guide, Malahi, was fantastic. She is a native Palauan and really knew a lot about the culture and history of the places we visited. She was constantly giving us interesting information about the flora and fauna as well. Her commentary alone made the tour infinitely more meaningful.

We visited the only operable Bai (men's house where the chiefs meet) left in Palau, we saw all of the villages (also known as states) on Babledaub, we took in many beautiful vistas, saw the huge Japanese guns from WWII that guard the west pass, visited Japanese war memorials and an old 1930s Japanese cannery, we saw the gaudy new capital building, traveled the new round the island road and crossed the Japan Palau friendship bridge, we looked around the extensive mangrove forests, examined the ancient stone statues and pillars in the extreme north of the island, and we hiked deep into a valley to stand under a refreshing waterfall.

Our tour was scheduled to run from 8:30 to 4PM. We got back at 7PM. It was a great but tiring day. All slept well back aboard Swingin' on a Star.

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.

Exploring Palau
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.

Rained Out
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.

Arriving in Palau
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:

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.

Sailing to Palau
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

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