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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Cake and Coffee
04/26/2009, Omekang

It was a threatening morning. A low was passing north of us and building, bringing the wind north and the clouds dark. We planned to head back to Sam's in the afternoon.

Our first order of business was to have the cake Hideko had made for breakfast. Chocolate cake and espresso, the breakfast of champions. We had discovered that Jeanette has almost as vicious a sweet tooth as I do so we invited Dancer and Whistler over to join us.

It was a fun morning but it cost us a knot or two on the trip to Sam's. While we dawdled things got nastier out. Not terrible and we missed most of the rain, but there was a swell coming down the lagoon from the north, and of course that's where we were heading.

We did our best to duck behind the rock islands as we went but not having te local knowledge or the draft of the dive boats, we could only follow them through the more obvious deep water bits. We did make one fairly nerve wracking pass in 9 feet of water with the big chop rolling on the bow.

Once we cleared the pincers guarding the west entrance to Malakal harbor things settled down. Whistler was not far behind as we motored into the yacht anchorage and picked up a free Sam's mooring. It was nice to be back in port though we missed the Rock Islands already as well.

More Scuba
04/25/2009, Bablomekang

It was a bright and busy morning. Nick, the video pro from Sam's Tours, sent me a text saying he would be out today to work on my video skills, our new friends on Dancer took us up on an offer to go diving (they have hundreds of dives in Palau so our offer was really a thinly veiled request to soak up some of their expertise), and our old friends on Whistler also gave a dive excursion the thumbs up. We were expecting the weather to deteriorate but as of 9AM it was a lovely day.

We got everyone aboard and made way for the sand bank by German Channel. It was low tide so we had to take the long way. It was interesting to see a 0 tide, the German Channel really looks like a public work at this level of water. The coral rocks are piled up on either side in a neat line rising above the shallow reef. The channel is 3 foot in the shallowest spots at this point.

Whistler followed us out today and everyone had fun relaxing and swimming in the anchorage while Nick and I did a couple of training dives. We wrapped up around 3PM and the rest of the group, with Jim from Dancer and I doing surface support, went out to German channel to look for Mantas. Jim and Jennette have a monstrous 20 foot (or there abouts) Zodiac with a 25 hp Yamaha. We have a 25 as well but the waterline makes a big difference. I could plane with Miki and Hideko, so Jim made me trade Hideko for Eric. Then neither of us planed. Jim of course was carrying Hideko, Jenette, Pepe and Julie at the time.

We made our way out to the cleaning station buoy and let everyone out. Jim and I hung around talking with Ray, a Palauan from Peleliu Dive, while our divers proceeded to spot two manta rays, both of which stayed with them for quite some time. Made me question the logic of filming coral for two dives... Of course I learned a lot and will be better equipped to shoot the mantas when I see them next, but boy, sorry to have missed it this go round.

As we waited for the divers the sky in the east got blacker and blacker. We have a closed low in the area with nasty SW gale force winds at times. The floats began to pop up after about 45 minutes and we picked up all of our divers (was that 6 or 7?) then rushed back to the big boats.

Then it hit. We had zero vis and pounding rain with 25 knots of gusty wind. Hideko kept her wet suit on and brought the anchor up as I drove back along the track line with the wind challenging our heading and way. We managed 6 knots into it and got back into our favorite anchorage just as things began to let up (of course). We anchored a little closer to Dancer with their permission and now have much better westerly protection.

It was a great day with a bunch of fun people and even the squally trip hope was a good opportunity to rinse gear. It is still raining a bit and time for me to get the next weather report...

04/28/2009 | Margaret
Love the pictures you posted! Can't wait to see the videos too.
07/25/2009 | Randy Abernethy
now that we're on the dirt in the US perhaps we can get some of the vids clipped down and posted...
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...

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