We filled dive tanks this morning in preparation for Pepe's big push to complete his Open Water Scuba training. Julie from Whistler also joined us but Eric, feeling a bit rough from last night, stayed aboard.
The rest of us climbed on Shooting Star, which with 5 adults, four tanks and two sets of scuba gear, refused to get up on a plane. I like our 12 foot AB and I think it is just about a perfect size. The 2 stroke Yamaha 25hp is great also but if you want to plane with more than three skinny divers, you need a bigger motor.
We made the moorings over by Clam City around noon and proceeded to snorkel (the three girls) and dive (Pepe and I). There is a barbecue beach here and several tourist boats came and went while we enjoyed the surroundings. After two dives filled with skills practice and some humongous clams we retired to a nice rock islet halfway back to the anchorage. Here our tired snorkelers floated more than snorkeled while Pepe and I finished his last Open Water dive.
After a short stint of finish up work back at the big boat, Pepe was an Open Water certified diver. A celebration was in order so we planed a steak frites dinner on Swingin' on a Star at 7PM. After resting and washing up everyone arrived on time and the party got started.
Things were going great and I was just about to put the steaks on the grill when Hideko said, "turn off the music!" I did and she pointed out the lack of fire on the stove, which had until recently been warming the tomatoes and Bernaise, and cooking frites. Then I heard the propane alarm beeping. Living on a boat is a constant adventure (aggravation?).
Eric and I poured over the BEP manual and carefully inspected the bilge. Neither of us could track any note of propane. Several reboot attempts produced the same alarm condition even after fanning the shallow bilge and running a fan for a bit. The alarm was specified to go off at 20% of the ignition concentration so there was little risk of an explosion but we were still very interested in getting to the bottom of things.
We finally got a dive tank out and blew fresh air on the sensor and tried a reboot. Same alarm. At this point we were all 99.9% sure that the sensor was fried. After thoroughly ventilating the bilge and carefully checking all exposed propane lines we decided to take matters into our own hands. I pulled the BEP panel off of the wall and Eric and I figured out what was going on with the wiring. I then directly connected the propane solenoid to the power lines.
With Eric listening at the solenoid in the forward propane locker, I threw the DC panel breaker. Snap, on came the gas and nothing blew up. We then checked the grill and you could easily smell the propane when I turned it on before putting a spark to it. Knowing that we could smell the propane and having no indication of its presence in the boat, other than the sensor, we were left to wonder if we could smell down to the 20% the sensor could.
We carefully cooked dinner and (crepe suzzette for desert of course) and shut of the gas. We will certainly be following up with BEP and stand by on high alert until the matter is resolved. It makes me consider the fact that many boats have no propane sensor (and thus no false alarms). Also, however, many have no solenoid shut off and their crews routinely leave the propane on while cruising. Propane is heavier than air and nasty stuff. Ignition proof bilge equipment and controlling operating exposure (i.e. via a solenoid or manually shutting off the tank) are mandatory items. We'll see where the BEP story takes us.
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.