Happy New Year! Wow, 2011! That sounds like the time period from Lost In Space when I was a kid! Well, I can only imagine how most of your Christmas and New Year's activities went. I'm sure that we celebrated on the other end of the continuum. For Christmas I pulled off a spectacular feat roasting a 12lb. turkey in my oven on the boat! It was a bit uncomfortable down below with it already being 88 degrees and very sunny. We packed it up with some stuffing, turkey gravy, and cranberry sauce and dinghied over to a small beach nearby where we gathered together with some other cruisers for a shared feast. We had a great time swimming in the lagoon, enjoying each other's company, and relaxing in our tropical surroundings. I can't remember too many times that I have had sand between my toes coming home from Christmas dinner!
We sailed around the Rock Islands for the rest of the week. I am now officially "Crocodile Huntress!" Yep, I am a certified professional croc sighter. There were two living in our anchorage. It was no easy task spying the one nearest our boat. I was sitting on deck when I hear a tumbling of some rocks into the water and a large splash. The island was only 20 meters away. I grabbed the binoculars and started scanning the grid where I heard the sound. That's when I spotted it, a greyish 1 1/2 inch diameter eye, a wafer thin plane of snout, and a barely distinguishable nostril noiselessly gliding through the water. It was a small croc, only about 4 feet long. I watched it for over two hours. Those crocs are stealth. When they move, the eyes slip just below the surface and there is no sign of anything in the water. Then, about 30 feet further, up pops the eyes and snout again. Amazing. Come to find out, that little "secret garden" lake I told you about that is only accessible at low tide through the tunnel, well, there is an 8 ft. long croc that lives in there! Shooty! We were swimming around in that small little space, enjoying our refreshingly placid lake (pun intended) while somewhere nearby lurked a creature nearly twice our size! And, just two days ago during the Jellyfish Lake tour that Abbey went on before, a 7 ft. croc followed a tourist up to the dock as he swam back from playing with the jellies. The man turned around and shoved his life vest between him and the croc who proceeded to push against the vest in an act of aggressive intimidation. Man o' man!
We moved on from our croc infested anchorage to a gorgeous lagoon in one of the other islands. I have to say that it was definitely in the top ten of loveliest spots I have ever been. We anchored in the first of a series of three lagoons. I kayaked around for a couple of hours exploring the entire perimeter and paddling from one channel through to the other side of the island and out another cut. It was so clear that I could see all the fish swimming in the coral down about 40 ft. There were beautiful gardens of lettuce coral, table corals, stag horn coral, and all kinds of other varieties. These giant clams are spectacular. When I say clam, many of you probably get an image of some little ivory colored thing that steams open with white wine and garlic over linguine. These clams I'm talking about are mostly 8in. to a foot long and up to 3 and 4 ft. They're embedded in the coral facing upward with wavy edges to their shells and this most incredible velvety looking texture between the ajar halves that ranges from a brilliant green to blue to violet to purple color. Clint loves to dive down and get real close like he is going to poke them making the shells close then watch them open back up. There just is no way to describe or replicate the colors here. The fish, the corals, the flowers, the greens that cover the islands are so vivid. I know that blu ray has made some great improvement in picture quality, but nothing can match what the human eye can perceive first hand. It's not just a physical thing; the entire sensation is definitely enhanced by the spiritual life of the whole of the creation.
For New Year's Eve, we celebrated on Kairos having some friends over from another boat. Allen, a Kiwi, his wife Ariane, Swiss, and their 5 mo. old baby girl Que (kwee) who sail on their catamaran Sanyasin came over for dinner and hanging out til the New Year rolled in. All of us boaters love having Que in the group. She is so cute. Allen paddles around with her sitting between his legs in the kayak. She absolutely loves the water and gliding along. When we are at the beach she gets to hang out in her baby seat swinging around on bungees tied to the trees. If I had to do it all over again, I'd raise my babies on a sailboat in a heartbeat.
New Year's Day I got up early and went for another kayak expedition. This time I paddled through a natural arch and hung out under the limestone canopy for about an hour just enjoying the scenery. The ocean was incredibly calm that morning, like a sea of glass. For 360 degrees it was just me, the kayak, and everything else that God created. That was an awesome way to start the year. I sat there alone just pondering the panorama in detail frying my human mind trying to fathom the intricacies of it all. I saw some small black tips feeding on little fish up against the edge of one of the islands. It's crazy how they can catch those fish! Between them and the seabirds that dive down and just pluck the fishies up there is some great entertainment. I mean, have you ever tried to grab a fish? I do all the time when I'm snorkeling or diving, never got one. It's not like they're ever stationary, and when they move evasively, they're lightening fast! Trying to snatch one of those little suckers is like Mr. Miaggi trying to catch the fly with the chopsticks. But, those birds and sharks can sure get them!
Clint pulled out the bridle and ski rope and took Abbey, Allen, and I for a tow on the surfboard around the lagoon. Abbey makes it look so easy. She stands right up and can skurf around forever. I couldn't stand up and was tired of consuming a quart of saltwater every time I tried so I just used it as a kneeboard and slalomed. It was a blast. Allen wouldn't be outdone by Abbey and he eventually stood and made a few rounds. He said it was loads of fun. Clint refused to even give it a go saying he wasn't stupid enough to write checks that his body couldn't cash.
Abbey is an official PADI open water diver! She finished her course, took the final, and completed her last check out dives 3 days ago. Hurray! Danny is going to continue to take her through Advanced, Rescue, and Dive Master courses. I will do them with her.
So, Palau, upon much closer inspection this past month, is still really an undiscovered paradise. In a way, I hesitate to even tell you about how awesome it is lest a massive influx of cruisers, tourists, and utopia seekers come and ruin it. Personally, I give it the number 1 spot in my overall cruising ground experiences so far. Tonga is a close number 2. The differences are--the Rock Islands are so unique geologically that they just downright exceed many other places. As a cruising ground it's ideal because the majority of the islands are surrounded by a large barrier reef that make the waters inside nice to sail, smooth sailing, baby! The diving is still tops in the entire world of oceans. There are only 20,000 people, so it's not over populated. It's not quite in the typhoon path, so storm damage is few and far between. There is enough US infrastructure to make it comfortable such as excellent provisioning, good restaurants, inexpensive for food, goods, fuel. The postal system is US making it cost effective and very quick. There are daily international flights and now Delta has flights in from Tokyo four days a week which should force Continental to lower their fares a bit to stay competitive. The people are really great and the crime is very low. Let me try to think of some negatives--the internet is expensive and very slow, cell phone service is expensive, ok, that's it. Oh, except there are some cruising permit fees that can add up. I still love Tonga, but it is a bit more expensive for provisions, goods, and fuel and there isn't a lot to choose from. It's a lot harder to ship things there and politically there are some hassles. No, international airport. The people are friendly, but there is more of a cultural gap.
We are keeping the boat in Palau for another season. Clint, Abbey, and I flew to Taiwan yesterday. We will be here through the 23rd for Clint to speak at some conferences and do some teaching on Biblical prophecy and eschatology. We fly to Tokyo on the 24th for some more conferences and teaching engagements. After these trips we will evaluate when we will go back to the boat.
Ok, here is a quick survey for cruisers, except this wouldn't apply for people who cruise on Tamsen or luxurious Farr design boats, you know who you are--what are the top two things that you don't miss about not being on your boat when you fly out somewhere? Clint, Abbey, and I all answered immediately the same things, so I thought I'd see what your responses are. Email me your answers and I'll share them with you next time. Love, Janet