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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Hiking Ulong
04/16/2009, Ulong Island

After a relaxing day reading and resting the crews of Swingin' on a Star and Whistler set out to hike around Ulong island in search of the old settlement and petroglyphs. We started out on a Kayak plan but there are six of us and only 4 kayak places. In the end we took our dinghy and Eric Kayaked.

It was an amazingly calm afternoon. There was no wind whatsoever and the ocean was like glass. The coral gardens surrounding Ulong became a veritable aquarium. We could see clearly through the green water into the reefs and watch the damsels, parrot fish, butterfly fish and even a turtle swimming about.

We chose a secluded beach in a protected cove as our first point to disembark. It was getting close to low tide so we had to tilt the engine up in several places to get over the skinny bits. Ashore we found the jungle of the rock island fairly forgiving. You could pretty easily make your way through the banyans, betel nut and other vegetation. Surprisingly there are not too many coconut palms on these limestone islands.

Getting trough the vegetation was only half the battle however. These islands are basically coral reefs pushed up into the air. If you've ever walked on a dried out coral reef you know how jagged and viscous such rock can be. Rock Islands are not famous for their sweeping meadows either. You are either climbing up, or climbing down.

It was about 5PM when we left the beach and the boats behind and trekked into the jungle. After surmounting the top of the first cliff in a tangle of banyan roots we could look down on a stagnant pool in a little valley to the right and some impressive and sheer limestone cliffs to the left, all covered in dangling roots, vines and other greenery. Heading off to the left we found a small limestone glade that looked as if it could have been a camp or small village at one time, though we found no recognizable remains. There was another cliff ahead to surmount if we wanted to go on, so due to the general lack of proper footwear and failing light we decided to "on back" it as the hashers say.

Next we went around to the main beach on the west side of Ulong, where all of the dive boats break for lunch, to explore a bit. What do you know, they had a map of the site of the petroglyphs and the village at the very back of the BBQ area. The only problem is that the sign is in Palauan. From what we could make out, had we crossed that last cliff we would have ended up here.

We circumnavigated Ulong on the way back to the anchorage. The three islands that are Ulong make an interesting place to explore, with no shortage of challenging hikes. The evening was cool and the water was clear and green as we made our way home for the night.

More Dive Training
04/15/2009, Ulong Island

It was a lovely day in Ulong. We all enjoyed kayaking and around the lagoons in the morning. In the afternoon Pepe, Eric and I finished up Pepe's Confined Water Dives in a shallow sandy patch at the north end of the anchorage. I had forgotten how much work it was to earn an Open Water rating. Helping out, just just sitting in with Pepe has been a great review for all of the other divers on the two boats. Pepe has three Open Water dives to go.

04/14/2009, Ulong Island

It rained for the entire 24 hours of April 14th. Literally. There were perhaps a few 15 minutes breaks but if it wasn't drizzling it was pounding. We stayed aboard and played Mexican Train Dominoes. Julie came for a visit from Whistler and got stuck aboard for several hours. It was a generator day and we enjoyed the AirCon and some movies in the afternoon. Eric still saw fit to get his daily kayaking in and sighted some Flying Foxes (fruit bats) out early in the dark skies.

Inside Ulong
04/13/2009, Ulong Island

It was better on the west side of Ulong last night than the night before, but still not flat like a great anchorage. So after an enjoyable but bumpy stay we headed for the secluded lagoons inside the walls of the rocky island.

Hideko and I got up at 7AM to scout out the entrance to the lagoons. High tide was at about 9AM. We found a north and south way in but the south way was wider and had a bit more water. After surveying the area we made a quick run back to the boat and raised the anchor. Whistler was right behind us as we headed around to the lagoon entrance.

Ulong island is really three islands. The western most part is divided from the rest by a straight through channel that almost dries at low tide. The middle part looks like part of the eastern island but there are actually three interconnected lagoons that exit to the north and the south dividing the isles. There are of course many little isolated rock islets here and there in the mix.

We came over the bar at the south entrance to the first lagoon and had 11 feet or so of water. We draw 4.5 and the tide was 6 feet so we can just get out on a 0 tide.

The anchorage is fantastic. We chose the first lagoon because is has large areas of 30 feet sandy bottom, great holding and plenty of room for two or even three boats. The next lagoon is deeper and lined with coral. Might be ok to anchor in the middle but the bar at the entrance to lagoon two is shallower and there's a little less breeze in there. The third lagoon entrance is too shallow for us, you might have 1-2 feet of water at low tide there. Exiting the north side requires transiting lagoon two and exiting the shallowest of the bars with maybe 7 feet of water in a 6 foot tide.

So it is lagoon one for us, and we are very happy to be here. It is beautiful. Sheer limestone cliffs covered in vegetation and lime green water.

Pepe continued working hard on his open water certification today. We completed more knowledge reviews, confined water dives and even got in his first Open Water Dive. We went out to Ulong channel at 4PM, just as the tide began to come in. It was an hour long dinghy ride and we had four divers (Hideko, Miki, Pepe and I) so we weren't up on a plane.

After searching around a bit and getting a hint from some fishermen, we tied up to one of the moorings in the Ulong channel. The current was ripping. Hideko and Miki decided to run surface support while Pepe and I did a drift dive and Eric and Julie did a dive under the boats. It was a great dive and Pepe did great. We saw many of the famous grouper that come to the channel to spawn in May/June. The coral in the channel is also fantastic.

Twenty minutes after hitting the water Pepe and I had drifted a good half nautical mile. Hideko and Miki came to pick us up and we headed home. Eric and Julie checked in on the VHF and followed us in. A wonderful day in paradise.

Open Water at Ulong
04/12/2009, South Palau

The forecast has turned out to be fairly accurate. The man said mostly cloudy with scattered showers and that is just what we have had. It is also hot. It is amazing what a few degrees of latitude will do for your ambient temperature. In Yap we had nice sleeping temperatures but just a few degrees south in Palau it is a bit on the hot side. We are also having a dearth of wind which doesn't help.

Anchorage Report: This is not the best anchorage. The visibility in the lagoon is not good enough to see the bottom at 40 feet. The anchorage area here is pretty much 40 to 60 feet. There are some 30 foot spots but they are probably coral heads. Vis being what it is you have a hard time guaranteeing a sand hook up. We definitely head the sound of chain on coral last night as the wind and current shifted the boat into various postures through 360 degrees.

A mild, but sometimes annoying swell gets into this anchorage, bending around Ulong from the wind driven east. Fortunately, most of the time, the wind bends around the steep walls of the west side of the island, leaving you facing south, and facing the small swell. That said you will spend a fair amount of time facing other directions, and beam onto the swell, if the wind is light or squalls are about.

The anchorage is very pretty, facing the nicest beach on Ulong. A crescent shape is formed by the island and the reefs extending to the west from the south and north ends of the anchorage. These reefs require you to enter the anchorage from the west, standing well off of the island if you come in from the north or south side.

During a spring tide you will have over 6 feet of tidal range. At low tide the reef fringing the island will almost dry, making it tricky to dinghy ashore. At high tide during a spring tide, much of the sandy beach will be underwater, leaving a tree lined waterfront. The island is uninhabited but many of the local dive shops use the beach here for lunch breaks.

In summary, in settled conditions this is a fine place to stop. Otherwise the far more protected, but intricate, anchorages on the south side of the island may be more appropriate.

We spent most of the day working on Pepe's Open Water certification. He is going full bore through the curriculum and is on track to finish by Wednesday (4.5 days, not bad!). The genset is getting a lot of work, filling tanks, playing open water videos in Spanish, making espresso to keep us all going, etceteras.

The diving here in the anchorage is not great. There is not enough current from the sea reaching us to make things too clear but it is workable as the tide nears its high. The shallow sandy area near the beach is good for confined water skills at mid tide and up. Ulong channel is close by so we hope to get out there for a dive or two before we move on.

The Swingin' on a Star crew took a dinghy tour of Ulong in the late afternoon. It is a lovely set of rock island with interesting caves, coves and channels to explore. We even found Yapese stone money on one of the beaches.

Anchored at Ulong
04/11/2009, South Palau

We spent the morning fueling up the dink at Sam's and working on the internet. We paid bills and filed our taxed online and got other miscellaneous things done to prep for our Rock Island cruise. Dermot at Sam's helped us out tremendously with charts, anchorage tips and many other necessities.

At noon, Eric, Julie and Pepe headed out on Whistler. An hour later we followed. We had no problem staying in touch on VHF 69 (which is high power) but when you get too close to a rock island you lose touch with those on the far side. After exiting the pincers, the west pass into Malakal harbor which looks like a set of surgical pincers, we basically made a B line for the center of Ulong. We saw no depths less than 80 feet once on track. The Ocean Hunter (a live aboard dive boat here) was on our track a couple miles in front of us, which was reassuring.

There was no real wind. We had the sail bag open but never saw fit to put up the main. Instead we motored at 8 knots in the flat water for the hour to Ulong.

Whistler tried to get into two of the super protected anchorages tucked into the interior of the rock island maze that is Ulong. Unfortunately it was low tide and there was no water (6 inches reported by Eric) at the entrances. In the end we settled for the more open anchorage off the beach on the west side of Ulong.

The anchorage is workable but not perfect. See report tomorrow.

Once hooked up we set about getting Eric's new crew from Argentina, Pepe, certified as an Open Water diver. Everyone had a great time in the warm water of the anchorage.

Getting Ready for a Rock Island Cruise
04/10/2009, Malakal

Hideko and Miki spent the day running around town collecting groceries and the like. I spent most of the day on the Internet at Sam's. We are planning on heading out to the Rock Island tomorrow with the Whistler crew for a week of gunkholing, diving and relaxing (I know, our life is so hard as it is...).

In the late afternoon I hooked up with Nick, the Video guru here at Sam's. He is an impressive camera guy. I signed up for a polishing course to bring my not so impressive video chops up a few notches. We spent two hours working on basics in the class room while Hideko and Miki hit the local Thai Food restaurant. They said the Thai food was ok, so it was a good trade. With luck Nick will be able to meet us in the islands and do a couple of dives with me to finish up the training process.


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