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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Relaxing in the anchorage
04/24/2009, Bablomekang

It was overcast and rainy most of today. We started Miki's Advanced Open Water course and did her navigation dive under the boat while Pepe scubaed around the various coral heads in the area. It was a nice relaxing day. We are hoping to get in one more day at German channel before retiring to fuel up.

04/24/2009 | Cousin EM
Yay on Miki moving forward w/her advanced certification!! Randy - where are the photos ?
04/28/2009 | Randy
Hey Emi, we were out and about and using HF radio to update the blog, thus no photos. Now back at Sam's with wifi and fixing up. Gee how soo the excrew forget... :-) -R
Diving German Channel
04/23/2009, Bablomekang

What a wonderful day. The sky was blue, the sea was flat and there was a gentle breeze. We had a nice morning getting the dive gear setup and filling tanks.

We sent Sam's Tours a text message a few days back and they had a dive boat bring us out a bunch of eggs and new park passes. What great service. It also enabled us to invite Whistler over for Eggs Benedict this morning.

After brunch we headed out around the reef to German Channel. German Channel is a channel made by the Germans about a hundred years ago. It connects a bay that reaches to the sea with the lagoon. Just inside German Channel is a lovely 10-20 foot sandy area where we anchored. Once secure we dove in threes from the dinghy.

Both groups had great dives with sightings of Cuttlefish, Leopard Sharks (along with the more mundane Grays and Whit Tips), Sea Turtles, big schools of Bat Fish, and many others. We dove on an inflow which gave us pretty good visibility and a nice drift back toward the big boat. There's a lot of dive boat traffic in the German Channel so you have to be careful in this area. Both groups ran into Manta Rays in the German Channel and got a chance to jump in and snorkel with them. It was a wonderful day.

We left the channel with the big boat around high tide, an hour before sunset. For fun we took a B line straight back to the anchorage by Bablomekong. Nothing in the area dried at low tide and we had 5 feet of additional water so I was pretty sure we would have no problem in the flat conditions. The shallowest we saw was 7 feet and we had a fast trip home, I would only take that route at high tide and calm seas though.

The weather is looking crumby in the days ahead so we may head back to Sam's to reprovision before long.

Jellyfish Lake
04/22/2009, Mecharchar

We made the required Palau pilgrimage to Jellyfish lake today. Anyone who has been to Palau, and many who haven't, know the place.

The Rock Islands are limestone, ancient coral pushed up and exposed or covered with the changing sea levels over the ages. As fairly jagged formations, some have basins below sea level. The matrix of crevices and underwater caves floods most of these creating marine lakes, isolated but also connected to the ocean. Thus they have tides and an exchange of microscopic, and some macroscopic, organisms.

The amazing thing about some of the lakes is that they trapped a number of larger animals when last they were directly connected with the sea. All of these seem to have perished except the jellyfish. Having no predators these jellyfish have evolved without stinging cells. You can snorkel here with no worries.

So we did. We took the dinghy over to the Jellyfish Lake Park dock, a short ride from our adjacent anchorage. Here we presented the rangers our park passes. A Rock Island pass (for diving, swimming, snorkeling, or just visiting) is $25 for 10 days. If you want to add the Jellyfish Lake endorsement you pay $35. If you are a USA, RMi or FSM citizen and register for a longer than 4 month stay there is no fee.

After checking in you hike up a steep trail covered with the obligatory jagged limestone, fortunately the park has installed a very useful rope handrail. Once at the top of the ridge, back down you go. The Jellyfish lake has a nice floating dock (to handle the tides) and from there you jump in.

The Jellies have only one problem, anemones. The anemones catch jellies that get to close to the shore or bottom and eat them. When you jump in at the dock you see lots of anemones but very few jellies. Scientists believe that the jellies stay out in the sunlight to energizes the algae inside them that produces much of their food. This behavior also keep them from the shady edges of the lake where the anemones lie in wait.

So as you swim toward the middle of the lake the jelly population increases. Soon they begin to bump into you in their undulating flight. The feeling of a slick, just short of slimy, gelatinous bubble rubbing along your leg takes a minute to get used to. And get used to it you must, because before long they are everywhere. The largest space between adjacent jellies in the middle of the lake during our visit was perhaps 6 inches. There are baby jellies no bigger than a penny and big ones the size of a hat. All just blissfully whopping along in what ever direction they are pointed, hurrying to get nowhere.

This lake is one of several like it but the only one you can visit. Swimming here, especially if you can avoid the throngs as we did, is a zen experience. The tranquility of the lake with the sounds of the birds and insects and the silent undulations of the fractal like patterns of jellies under that water is hard to adequately describe.

After a long stay at the lake (we had to pry Hideko away) we got back to the big boat and readied to move to the islands close to German Channel, a popular dive site. We crept through the adjacent two anchorage lagoons in water around 10 feet or so and then past the Jellyfish Lake dock to head back to our inbound track line. We followed our track carefully back over the shallow coral bar and then on to the outside of the Mecharchar group.

Back in the big lagoon we basically made straight for the Bablomekang group (you gotta love Palau island names). We saw some light patches in the water but didn't really have to swerve for any. Bablomekang and the islands around it form an open natural bay with a bottom from 10 to 30 feet of mostly sand with coral heads here and there (none boat threatening if you stay out of the very shoal areas). There are three holes indented into Bablomekang with fronting rock islets that make for nice heavy protection anchorages. The northern most of these is the nicest but has the shallowest entrance. I imagine you would have more insect visitors in the holes due to the proximity to the island.

Not expecting any particularly nasty weather and wanting to be able to take the big boat to German channel easily we just plunked down in the middle of the bay. Whistler followed suit and Dancer, a dive crazy couple from Boston, were already here. Jim and Jennette have been diving Palau in their lovely aluminum cutter for a year and a half and still haven't tired of it. They are a wealth of information and wonderful folks.

Once anchored everyone went swimming and then we took a quick tour around the islands in the dinghy to check out other anchorage possibilities, exits, depths and the two beaches. Bablomekang has the standard beach barbecue setup on the north end and the south end. In fact, I haven't seen a beach in the rock islands that hasn't been setup for tourist lunch breaks.

As we relaxed on Whistler at the end of the day Jim and Jenette came back from diving and stopped off to say hello. They have a huge Zodiac Rib (20 feet?) with an awning that they use to get out to the reef. Very nice setup.

We watched another spectacular sunset from this, perhaps our favorite Palau anchorage yet.

P.S. The video attached is from Eric, on Whistler, and stars Pepe his crew from Tenereffe

Down Day
04/21/2009, Macharchar

After our very busy day yesterday we took a day off today. We have almost eliminated all of the bugs we let in the first night in this anchorage, so we decided to have a closed door genset day. Reading relaxing, aircon and Hellboy I & II pretty much rounded out the day.

Clam City
04/20/2009, Mecharchar

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.

04/23/2009 | Frank Taylor
You can override the sensor if it goes off like this. It takes a lot longer then you may think for the sensor to clear if propane gets in the bilge area. If you don't have the manual, either look it up on the net - or I can get the instructions for you when I go down to Tahina this weekend (assuming we have the same unit).
07/25/2009 | Randy
Thanks Frank. The sensor never recovered and I doubt there was ever a propane problem. We are buying a new sensor while in the US per the manufacturer's suggestion. Like many such devices, it is a good idea, but not perfectly implemented, on occasion denying you the very service it is supposed to protect...
Jelly Fish Lake Anchorage
04/19/2009, Mecharchar

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.

04/23/2009 | Frank Taylor
It would be really nice to either see a GPS track of your course, or if you just drew a simple map with Google Earth/Maps to show the route you took jellyfish lake dock. Also, is the location shown in the Google Earth map correct? It doesn't show you in the lagoon as you described it in this post.
07/25/2009 | Randy
Thanks for the note Frank. I fixed the clam city and JFL anchorage positions. I haven't tackled uploading tracks yet but we do have waypointed routes in the cruising guide.
False Start
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.


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