We woke up to a beautiful sunny day with absolutely no wind. It was a perfect day to motor over to Mecharchar to meet up with Whistler. We left the Swiftlet Lagoon, crossing the pass with 9 feet of water on a 2 foot tide, and headed out to the big horseshoe shaped island.
As we exited the pass I considered the challenges of sneaking into protected holes in the Rock Islands. Shoal draft is an important asset but I think beam comes into play here in many scenarios as well. Our 26 feet width probably will keep us out of some nice spots even though we could easily clear the bottom. Another issue with beam is that there may be plenty of water in a pass, and enough width, but there may not be enough water on the edges. That is to say, we have two keels 4.5 feet under water about 22 feet apart. Thus a pass 10 feet deep but only 10 feet wide would shut us out. So far we have had no problems but it has been important to align the boat properly when running passes and watching for isolated rocks that would be no problem to a mono hull needing deep water only 3 feet wide.
We had a nice motor (there was no wind at all) on the way to Mecharchar and spotted three turtles on the way. Normally turtles on the surface disappear in the waves but the lagoon was flatter than flat today, so anything disrupting the glassy water stood out. We followed the undersea cable down the deep water track running North/South and then headed east toward the break between Euidelchol and the main island.
Careful coning here was important and both Miki and Hideko kept watch on the bow. We passed into the interior of Mecharchar and explored a possible anchorage to the north close to the Clam City snorkel spot. This area was a bit too rocky for us so we continued north and then around east and south to parallel the inside of the eastern most part of the Mecharchar horseshoe.
Near the bottom of the horseshoe, close to the area of Jellyfish lake we came upon a bar looking a bit too close to 5 feet to transit comfortably. At this obstruction we backed up and anchored to do some recon. The dinghy has been in tow since we left Malakal due to the calm waters inside the Palau lagoon, so it was a snap to drive around the bar to inspect things. The lead line indicated we could clear the bar in several places but it was tight in both width and depth.
Our electronic charts here are fairly poor when it comes to useful navigation details amongst the islands. We have a paper chart, lent to us by Dermot at Sam's Tours. The paper chart is a much better representation of things but it has no soundings and can be vague or a little inaccurate at the largest scale of detail. The paper chart showed a bar in front of us and to the right around the other side of a little rock island. Dinghy recon showed the bar to the right to be much deeper but still an area where caution was required.
At this point the Whistler crew, anchored on the other side of the horseshoe, appeared in a group of kayaks (3 on two one man inflatables!). Miki joined them with our two man kayak and they all headed off to Jellyfish lake. Meanwhile Hideko and I raised anchor and crept through the westward bar.
We continued along the eastern wall of Mecharchar all the way to the southeast corner. This corner is one of three little lagoons described by the south wall of Mecharchar and two little rock islands. Entering the lagoons takes some care due to shallow rocks, particularly near the edges. In retrospect the transit near the Jellyfish lake dock to the west is easier than the way we came, along the eastern wall of Mecharchar, which presented a second shallow bar to cross.
We anchored in 15 feet of soft sand. We had to attempt a set twice, adding a little chain the second time after slipping at 2000 rpms the first. Short scope is required due to the size of the hole, but the protection probably makes a 2000 rpm backdown excessive. We did so all the same and ended up lying to about 60 feet of chain.
The rest of the crew had fun at the lake. We met them at the park dock and ended up guiding Whistler over to the third lagoon by dinghy. We are happy to be in another lovely anchorage and look forward to exploring the area tomorrow.
It was Pepe's birthday today so we all piled on Whistler for a great dinner and some fun stories regarding Eric and Pepe's adventures in South America, not the least of which was an interesting tale of taking the local's way up to Machupichu. No one has stories like sailors.
04/18/2009, Ulong Island
Whistler left before high tide this morning for Mecharchar. Thunderstorms in the area and rainy overcast caused us to wait. Around noon the weather looked as if it would break for a while so we set out. Our hopes were dashed as the gloom moved in from the south, which was a strange direction for weather to come from. It was likely forming around us more than drifting in, regardless we decided to return to Ulong. The reefy waters of Palau are no fun to navigate for your first time with rotten visibility.
Whistler agreed and ended up anchoring in the middle of the lagoon. They spent the entire day creeping toward their desired anchorage in the weather breaks but made it safely in the afternoon at which point we lost radio contact.
We spent the rest of another relaxing day indoors reading and enjoying the cool air from the stormy weather around Ulong.
04/17/2009, Ulong Island
We had another relaxing day kayaking and swimming around in the anchorage. If this anchorage had a nice beach it would be about as perfect as they come.
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.
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.
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.