February 15, 2010
N 11 10 E119 23.6
Corong-Corong, Palawan Island, Philippines
A Shot Across the Bow - Our Favorite Anchorage Ever - A Christmas Story
- Collision at Sea - Strangers in Paradise - The Bad With the Good - A Whale of a Time - Racial Profiling
Our last letter was 2 months ago. We felt kind of guilty for filling up your "in" box when we hadn't even traveled as far as the local 7-11.
This letter is a whole new deal. In the last two months we have traveled 2,000 miles including some of our most difficult passages to date and have had two harrowing events at sea. The first near catastrophe happened only 225 miles out of Palau. Here are the notes I wrote immediately after the event.
A Shot Across the Bow
I have read about this happening, but I didn't expect it to happen here and not now. It has left both Amy and me breathless and shaking.
We are two and a half days out of Koror, Palau and have jibbed west towards Helen Reef a remote atoll 300 nautical miles south of Koror and only 200nm north of New Guinea. Winds have gone light and the current is
2 to 3 knots on the nose! I got up from my morning nap at noon. With the winds as light as they are and with the main banging around we decided to leave our comfort zone and put up the new spinnaker for the very first time. It took a good hour and a half to sort out the lines, add a downhaul to the tack and untwist the snuffer. When we got her set though, the boat calmed down and began to steady out at 3 knots right on the rhumb line. We were hot and tired after all that work out on the foredeck so we settled for a light lunch of tuna salad and crackers with cheese with the last of the ice tea I made while on watch last night. We cooled down and the boat settled nicely into what we hoped would be an uneventful afternoon as Amy went down below for her nap.
30 minutes later I spotted a boat on the horizon just to the north of us and off the bow. I watched it on the radar and enjoyed using the MARPA feature on the new radar that we just installed a month ago in Palau, this was the first time I got to use it in the real world.
The boat turned out to be a 60 foot, modern, fishing boat. It was clean and looked in good repair which is unusual for fishing boats we have seen before. Usually they are smoking, dented and in need of a coat of paint. This one looked much newer though, and was really punching through the seas as it came down our starboard side at a distance of a mile off. Curiously, as it came abreast of us it began hooking in towards us. I assumed that it had changed course for us and wanted to come back to its original route. It was going to pass close by for a mid ocean pass but behind us and not a real concern. It stayed a mile off, but as it came in behind us it stopped dead in the water Curious.
About that time I spotted another boat ahead and about 2 miles south of us on our opposite, port, side. He too was coming our way but I was sure we would pass port to port and a good 2 miles off. So I picked up my book to knock off another chapter.
Not 10 minutes later I looked up and there was the 2nd fishing boat less than 100 yards off our port and coming straight at our bow! Remember. we are moving at only 3 knots and this guy has now slowed to just a bit faster, maybe 5, so everything is happening in slow motion. It was surreal. I could clearly see that this was another modern, clean fishing vessel. It had Asian symbols for its name on the bow and I could make out every detail. No one on deck. Was it possible that he did not see us?
I called below to Amy, fortunately she was not yet asleep and answered right away. "Can you come up here, now?" "And put some clothes on." Amy said later that the clothes request was her first clue that something important was up.
Amy stuck her head up into the companionway and saw the fishing boat now only 50 yards off the port bow and heading perfectly towards a bow to bow collision. I had started the motor but remember, we were under spinnaker and our maneuverability was nil, and put her in gear. As I gave her the gas, Amy looked at me and said we would not be able to clear the fisherman. Suddenly, and at a distance of only 60 feet, the fisherman turned about 60 degrees to port to now run slightly ahead of port bow as we crossed. I pulled back on our throttle and cut slightly to our port to give us a little more room, still he passed only 15 yards in front of us. Still no one on deck but I could clearly see a man in the pilot house scowling at us as he powered away, now on our starboard side where he soon cut his engines and slowly drifted off behind us.
Later our story was passed on to an Australian Navy NCO. His group is on loan to Palau and serves as Palau's Naval Patrol. His belief is that the two boats were fishing illegally and that their passes were either a threat to us to clear the area or an inspection to determine if we were likely to report their activities to the officials. No matter the reasoning, it was a clear sign that we have now left the Pacific Islands and Micronesia behind and have entered the Philippine Sea and a whole new world.
Our Favorite Anchorage Ever
Helen Reef is 300 miles south of the main Palau island of Koror. It is an atypical Pacific atoll in that it has very little landmass, a single shifting sand bar in the north end of the lagoon. The rest is a 34 mile reef in an oval shape that seldom crests the water. An invisible obstruction in the ocean in the middle of nowhere that has been claiming lives and ships literally for centuries. We visited no fewer than 5 wrecks a short dinghy ride from Estrellita in the northern anchorage and I know many more have found their final rest on the reef only to be blown off and into the deep in the next storm.
In the early days I imagine Helen was just a rumor, an uncharted danger in the sea, later in the days of the sexton, while charted, the position must still have been only an estimate. Even today, in 2010, the chart note for neighboring Tobi Island cautions that Tobi may be as much as
3.1 miles off of its charted position. We can confirm now that while Helen is today charted accurately, we know that the little sand bar is literally traveling. About 20 feet towards the west in the past 12 years.
The sandbar is uninhabited except for three conservation officers, two dogs, thousands of ceaselessly squawking birds and about 100 turtles a year who climb the beaches to lay their eggs. No mosquitoes, no flies.
Really. The conservation officers are on a 3 to 6 month rotation. The dogs have never left Helen Island.
With almost zero land and the Pacific Ocean freely passing over the reef you can't imagine the water clarity. Perfect. The lagoon is home to a wide variety of colorful fish and corals. We got lucky with the weather.
I can imagine things get rough here when the seas are up. The rangers say that when the tides are especially high they have to bring their sandals inside the stilt house so that they don't float away.
If you visit, expect a warm welcome from the rangers. They get very few visitors and really enjoy both the company and the opportunity to show off their paradise. We spent Christmas week snorkeling, fishing and just hangin' with the guys and I'm sure that someday, someway we will meet again. Check the link at the bottom of the page for photos. Try to remember that some of these photos were taken under water. The water is so clear you may tend to forget.
A Christmas Story
Wow! What a day snorkeling. The Rangers took us out to a large wreck on the western reef. It is mostly steel, but looks to be partly cement.
It is on it's side in about 6 feet of water. We are told that it has been there some 80 years. The weather has battered it pretty well and it is scattered for several hundred yards in all directions. Ceramic plates and cups are in pieces everywhere. We also found some silverware and a ceramic salt shaker. The current was really ripping over the reef here so after we explored the wreck we took the dingy painter in hand and just drifted down current snorkeling over the biggest part of the wreck debris. We had the sensation of flying as we drifted along at 2-3 knots. What a hoot! We saw tons of fish, caught a turtle who was sleeping under a rock and saw the biggest clam yet, every bit of 4 feet across.
As our drift fell into the deep water of the lagoon the Rangers said that they had a GPS location for some large "pots". I'm thinking ceramic, but had no idea what they could be talking about. So off we went.
I hopped in first and almost swallowed my snorkel. A cannon! It was about 4 feet long and we could easily see the mounting "arms" and the bore. A few feet away were the pots that the rangers were telling us about. A half dozen big steel cauldrons presumably for rendering whale oil back in the day. Each was about 3 feet in diameter. A couple had pour spouts molded into the rim. Just a little farther were two huge anchors. The stocks on these things were about 10 feet. Half of their flutes spread about 6ft tip to tip. Being that they were placed nearly on top of one another, it would be my guess that they were neatly on the bow when the boat hit the reef and when the ship was destroyed under them they simply sank. The total debris field amounted to 2 anchors, the canon, pots, ballast bricks and bronze fasteners (nails). The rest, gone. It has to be the oldest and most fascinating wreck we have ever been on.
Back on Estrellita we got ready for Christmas dinner, with the 3 rangers. They tied up to our side at 5 pm bringing pumpkin rice and sashimi. We had prepared cabbage salad and steak with orange Jell-O for desert. Dinner was wonderful. Then came the best part.presents! We had picked out some things on Estrellita that we thought the guys might like and wrapped them in colorful pages from a travel brochure. After dinner we announced that Santa had mistakenly left some things for them on Estrellita and made them do the shake, squeeze and guess drill before they could open up. They had a blast and so did we.
Then a big surprise. Turned out Santa had left something for Estrellita's crew on the island! Who'd a thunk! They gave us some spectacular shells and some baskets they had woven from fishing line salvaged off still another wreck. Really cool.
The guys were all from Toby just as our friend Wayne is. So we pulled out our Palau photos from Wayne's birthday party a few weeks earlier and went through them. When you come from a small place like Toby nearly everyone is related. So at every change in the computer screen someone would call out "There is my cousin!" or "There is my Mom!" You could not know how much these guys enjoyed Christmas evening with new photos of friends and family they missed while isolated for their 3 to 6 month stint on Helen Reef. I think those photos may have been the best Christmas gift we could have given. It's the little things you know? And of course, "It's all about the people you meet."
Collision at Sea!
We left Helen Reef on another beautiful afternoon, literally, in paradise. We spent the morning putting the dinghy on deck and clearing the boat for sailing. Making sure that anything that could fall was secured and stowed. At about 12:30 the rangers came out to the boat and came on board for the good byes. It was sad to leave these guys who we had only known for 5 days. 5 wonderful sunshine, clear water, snorkeling, spear fishing, wreck exploring days. AND one of the most memorable Christmas' of our lives.
The guys brought along the first entry for our new guest book. We had not kept one before, but after seeing the book they had compiled for Helen over the years we thought it was about time and fitting that the first entry was from our new friends and inspiration.
An hour later we were anchor up and the guys began to lead us slowly through the reefs and out of the anchorage. Clear of the last obstacles they waved goodbye and we were on our own to motor out the pass and begin the 800nm journey to San Bernardino Strait, Philippines.
We motor sailed the first 20hrs due north in zero wind and a long slow sea. The next morning we were able to cut the engine and begin a comfortable sail, still due north.
A couple hours later we actually had a reef in both the main and jib due to brisk winds and a rough sea that slowly faded to near calm as the sun went down.
All this time we were making relatively good time in spite of the maddening 1.5 to 2 knot current against us! Finally on the third day we noticed the current dropping and speeds began to really look good as we set the new spinnaker that afternoon. Because it was only the 2nd time we have flown it, it again took a while to set but after it was up the boat was steady and we sailed well for the afternoon only resorting to engine power after dark to steady the boat when the wind dropped off again to almost nothing.
A day or two later we saw our first FAD (Fish Aggregation Device). It was just as described, about 10-15ft long, 2-3 feet in diameter and looking a lot like 3 or 4 fuel drums welded together end to end. We were surprised at how high in the water it floated. This led us to believe that they are not real heavy and a collision with one could be survivable. Good thing.
The next morning at 5:30am.. Bang! we HIT ONE! Going 7 knots. It was a full moon so we could see the FAD trailing in our wake as we sped on into the night. We searched the bilges for water and looked over the bow for damage, but nothing evident. Whew! In port later we saw the scratched along the boot strip at the waterline on the port side. Not beautiful, but it did not even penetrate the gelcoat. Well, now we know.
In the next 24 hours we narrowly missed two more FADs only due to our increased vigilance (and fear). The cumulative effect was extreme fatigue and paranoia. Isn't there a joke about a golfer who gets a handicap of 5 strokes and 2 Gotchas? The idea is that his opponent cannot concentrate due to the fear of the 2nd gotcha? Well, we were sailing in fear of the next Gotcha
It was about then that the weather got "sporty". For a day and a half we met squall after squall with about an hour of peace between. At the end of that time we threw in the towel and turned Estrellita downwind to an early landfall in the Philippines. It would cost us 2 weeks of catch-up day sailing to turn into the islands one day early, but we were done, D.
O. N. E. done. You could say we were FAD out.
Strangers in Paradise
We rode an incoming tide to Leyte Island. After 8 days at sea with squalls, contrary currents and FADS we were anxious to drop the anchor and sleep the sleep of the safe. Our planned stop was aborted due to an uncharted bridge that we could not pass below so we were forced to anchor in what is called an open roadstead. Meaning, no real protection from wind or waves, just hope that bad weather doesn't pop up in the night. So we got in as closed to land in a deserted stretch of land as we could and dropped the anchor. Soon, a parade started and we were the main float.
It would appear that they don't get a lot of visitors on Leyte. For the next two hours every small canoe in the neighboring villages came by to stare at the strangers. Children on the beach shouted at us to get our attention so we would wave at them. Men heading out in the evening to start their night fishing diverted from their course so they could canoe close by and stare at us. Some children had access to canoes and they came out to sit just a few feet from us, stare, point, talk to us in Tagalog, and giggle at our answers in English. We give the younger children balloons and the older ones candy. Some of the kids are learning English in school and they always ask, "What is your name?"
That must be the first thing they are taught because that is always the first thing they say. We always answer and ask, "What is your name?"
Sometimes we get their name and sometimes they just giggle because they didn't expect you to answer or understand them. You know they went to school the next day and told their teacher that they got to use their English!
A Whale of a Time
We spent the next week day-sailing north through the islands. The weather was moderate and we mostly motor-sailed towards our originally planned landfall on Luzon Island. Just inside San Bernardino Strait is the community of Donsol, world famous for Whale Sharks, locally known as Butangding. Again, no anchorage, just an open roadstead but the weather was mild so we just got as close to the beach as we could and dropped the anchor. We found the Department of Tourism right on the beach and signed up for the next days adventure.
With 2 other couples and 4 guides we set out the next morning in a 25ft powered canoe with two outriggers called a banka. The banka motors around the bay while the guides scan the water looking for the telltale gray shadow in the murky water. When the shark is spotted there is much jabbering and pointing while the tourist don masks and fins. The banka swoops down on the shark and with much more jabbering and pointing all 6 tourists splash into the water from the moving banka to swim frantically for the fish. Picture it, 6 spastic and pasty white tourist jump into the water from a moving boat, kinda like a Navy Seal on stealth attack mode, to harass the wildlife. Not a pretty picture.
Each encounter lasts all of 20 to 30 seconds. It is so murky that you are lucky to see the fish once you are in the water, often you don't.
You do this about 4 times over a 3 hour boat ride and done. You may be able to tell that I was not overwhelmed. Bottom line, we traveled 2 weeks into the wind to see the damn fish and we did. So there. End of story. Except! We were so unimpressed with the first day that we bought a second thinking that it had to be better. It wasn't. But on the second day we met Christian and Sylvia. Two travelers from Canada who were great fun and are now friends. And what do we know? Say it with me. "Its all about the people you meet."
Next stop was Subic Bay, north of Manila where we picked up Amy's father, Dave, who will spend a month with us cruising the west coast of the Philippines. Both Subic and Manila have a lot of American influence.
McDonalds, shopping malls, fashion. Most of these Americanized places have security. Usually sporting an assault weapon or my favorite, a stainless steel, pistol grip shotgun. I want one.
Anyway, security is tight and it is here that Amy and I for the first time in our lives were victims of racial profiling. Because we are plain ol' American White Bread, 1/8th Cherokee not withstanding, everywhere we went we were the beneficiaries of racial profiling. The Philippinos knew the drill. When entering a mall or passing through a security gate stop, open your bags, prepare to be frisked. Girls to the left for the female officer, guys to the right to the male officer. White folks get a pass.
Truthfully, this made us a little uncomfortable and we wanted to stand for our right to be frisked but I really wanted to go through the girl's line. Does that make me a bad person?
For photos of the best anchorage in the Pacific and FADs go here)
For the Philippines, here)
Link to all our photo albums of the past two and a half years in chronological order (Thanks Hayden!)
Our Email address is Estrellita@estrellitasailing.com. We love hearing from friends.
Bill and Amy
December 13, 2009
N 07 20.371 E 134 26.964
Palau, Micronesia, about 500 miles east of the Philippines
Our last letter was just over 3 months ago in August. Notice, we still have not moved a foot since arriving in Palau over 7 months ago. But we continue to have a blast diving, snorkeling, spending days in the Rock Islands, dinghy rides over shallow coral beds at full blast, exploring WWII artifacts and discovering Palauan culture and history. As usual though, "It is all about the people you meet."
In our last letter we told how we met Wayne, a Palauan, and some of his friends on the beach on the island of Ulong. We kinda crashed their bar-b-q and got a crash course in Palauan culture and cuisine. I think it was the first time I had ever been served fish with "heads on" and I know it was the first time I have ever been served fish grilled "guts in".
All that was almost 6 months ago. Since then we have become great friends with Wayne and a lot of his extended family. And as usual we have learned a lot. For instance. When a Palauan introduces someone as his brother it may be his brother. But, it is just as likely to be his first cousin or his second or third. cousin. His "son" may be his son, or his grandson. Children are often adopted out to a family member who may be better able to care for them at the time. We know a pair of twins that belong to different parents though they are raised together, separately in neighboring homes. I think it is that they simply do not have a Palauan word for these extended relations and partly because they don't need them. They are all brothers, sisters, mothers and sons. They don't sweat the small stuff. You gotta love and respect that. AND any woman, even one they do not know, may be referred to as "Auntie" as a sign of respect. Amy has even been called "Auntie", what an honor. I think this all says a lot about the people here and the importance of family.
Anyway, we have become regular weekend bar-b-q visitors to Wayne's home.
We went over there for Thanksgiving but left early when we realized dinner was going to be late. That, and the guy in the back stuffing the turtle intestine, caused us to decide to wander back to the local yacht club for a nightcap before calling it a day.
We met another interesting guy in the gym. Hugh muscles, shaved head, lots of tattoos. Amy said he looked scary. But tattoos are wonderful icebreakers. You say something nice about a guys tats and he has to say something nice about yours. (Remember I got mine in the Marquesas last year). Our new friend whose name is "Ice" got his tattoos in prison, doing life. for murder. You may think Amy was on to something but you would be wrong. The guy was totally cool. He made a mistake when he was 17. Got in a fight with local gang leader. One had a hammer, one a crow bar. Someone was going to die. Ice learned tattooing in the joint, learned welding and machine work. Now he has a pretty good thing going with his own auto body shop, welding odd jobs and he is one of the local tattoo artists. He is a total health nut and fitness freak.
Last month Amy and I were walking to the Prison Store to shop "Story Boards". Story Boards are carvings that depict Palauan oral history and believe it or not, wood carving is one of the skills they teach in jail here. Anyway, Amy and I are walking and who pulls over to offer us a ride but new friend Ice. When we told him our mission he said he would take us in and help us get a good price. As we pulled into the prison I ask him, "Your not going to have any trouble leaving here if you go in are you?" Just kidding. Turns out that the artist (inmate) who did the board we wanted was none other than Shaft, Ices BROTHER! Serving two years for assault! Two thoughts have to hit you. First, who names their sons Shaft and Ice and second, wasn't little bro watching when his big brother got life for essentially the same deal! (Give or take a weapon or two).
We got a great carving. It depicts the Palauan legend that if a fisherman sees a shark swimming upside down it means his wife is cheating on him. In the story, the shark actually speaks to the fisherman but doesn't tell him who the other guy is. When the fisherman returns to shore at the end of the day, all of the men gather to see the days catch. But on his approach to the shore he calls out something to the effect of, " One of my friends has been sleeping with my wife and I'm going to kill him right now!"
When only one of his friends turns to run, our fisherman knows who the culprit is and fires his spear right through the guys back! Great story.
Check out the photo of the board in the link below and see if you can see the story.
The other notable adventure was the discovery of the Yap "Stone Money"
Quarry. Yap is about 300 miles NW and centuries ago the Yaps would travel in sailing canoes to Palau to mine and forge round discs of "money". Some were huge, 8 feet in diameter and up to 2 TONS! Some small, necklace size. Unbelievably, the value of the money was determined by how difficult it was to obtain. If there was a big storm at sea and half the guys died, then that money was valuable! If it was a boring trade wind passage and no rocks fell on anyone, well, that money was not so valuable. Anyway, they don't make these tourist stops easy to find. They are mismarked on the tourist map, like everything else, and you can't get there by land. To make it tougher, ask as many locals as you like and you'll get that many different answers when you ask where.
Finally our new friend Parker, a taxi driver, offered to show us the way. We packed a few beers and snacks in a cooler and took off in our dinghy for a 25 mile round trip around the entire island of Koror. The tour did not stop at the quarry. Parker also guided us around and through the channels to see a Japanese Zero sunk in 15 feet of water where it had been hiding from US forces during the battle of Pelewan.
Caves were planes were hidden during the attack and more importantly, the shortcut over the shallow coral beds that were safe to take full speed in the dinghy without grounding.
In the next couple days we will leave Palau for the Philippines. We are taking the long way by heading south 300 miles to the very remote Helen Reef. Helen is a part of the Palauan state of Tobi, home of the Wayne clan. We hope to run into some of our new friends who are down there on a supply run taking foodstuffs and other supplies to the remote islands.
After a 2 or 3 week visit we will catch the next weather system into the Philippines. We are not sure yet where we will be going there. Not a lot of folks like us travel there on boats so not a lot is written about it.
We have some friends who went a year ahead of us and there are folks here in Palau who have been that way so we have an idea, but not much detail. We are going to play this one by ear.
We are really going to miss this place.
We posted two sets of photos because it has been so long since our last letter. Above the water photos are here:
Below the water photos are here:
Link to all our photo albums of the past two and a half years in chronological order (Thanks Hayden!)
August 29, 2009
N 07 20.371 E 134 26.964
Palau, Micronesia, about 500 miles east of the Philippines
Our last letter was just days after arriving here in Palau, May 18, from almost this very spot. In the past three months we have traveled exactly nowhere, and had a total blast doing it!
The weather here has been a mixed bag. May and August were fine but July pretty rough. Storms that will become typhoons in the Philippines or Taiwan form here in the Palau area before moving west and north where they make headlines. It is not particularly dangerous for us here, but we have to stay on our toes. We are moored to a 2 ton weight off the bow and then tied to a natural hole in the rock wall behind us. It is good protection in most weather but a few weeks ago we had two "closed lows" hanging out near here and they really tested our nerves. We were having intermittent wind gusts, “williwaws” that would come over the mountain right behind us, swoop down the cliff, burst on the water and rush in all directions at over 60knots. The boat healed over and the radar arch looked like it may be swept off the back of the boat. The wind generator whirred like a jet about to take off and then…. nothing. Just a nice breezy Palauan day, until the next one.
Other than weather watching we have been spending a lot of time with friends Paul and Natalie on “Renegade.” Last week we spent a day and found a WWII Japanese gun placement in the hills over the north island. Right down the road we found the oldest standing Bai (Men’s Meeting House) in Palau. There is a full size model at the museum, but this is the last 300+ year old meeting house standing. It is about 60 feet long and 20 feet wide. One long room with two fire pits in the center of the floor, one towards each end. There are posts along the outer walls for the men to lean on and shelves above each post on which to store sleeping mats. The story is that not only were women not allowed into the men’s house, but if they snuck in to see what was happening they would turn to stone! So, what happened in the men’s house stayed in the men’s house.
Outside there is a raised stone platform with flat slabs set on end as backrests where more public meetings or casual lounging went on. There are a lot of these platforms in Yap and a local there explained that we were welcome to use them for resting but that it would be considered insulting to sit on top of a back rest because it would be “as if you were sitting on someone’s head.” Go figure.
This being one of the worlds great dive destinations, we have also been diving both on our own and with a local dive operator. Our favorite so far is The Blue Corner, where a strong current rips along the ridge of a steep drop off. The depth drops from 50 feet to 7000 straight down. Because of the current you hook onto the reef with a 5 foot line attached to your vest. It causes you to “fly” in the current, just as a kite flies in the breeze, right over the drop off, while a parade of huge marine life swims by. Too many sharks to count, schools of medium size fish and 3 foot long “other” fish. Really big stuff like I’ve never seen, swimming by in a parade while we are parked right on the edge. Spectacular.
Last thing… Amy and I had the most wonderful day on one of our trips out into an area called the “Rock Islands.” We were anchored on the SE end of Ulong Island. We knew from a tourist map that one of the early “Survivor” TV shows was shot on the SW side of Ulong so after boat chores we hopped in the dinghy and zipped over to “Survivor Beach” for a look around.
It is just a couple miles and the water was very still so we were able to scoot over there at full throttle. Once there we pulled up on the beach at a picnic area and began looking around. Amy noticed footprints on the sand. That was a surprise because we were well away from any community and anyone would have had to come by boat but there were none around. We blew it off to an earlier tourist outing and resumed our wandering. (Notice we arrogantly do not consider ourselves “tourists”) Then we saw the ice chest and sunglasses. Amy was getting nervous when I went over to see if there was anything in the ice chest. Kind of an invasion of some hidden person’s privacy but I hollered, “Hello!” and nobody answered so what the heck, I looked in. Cold beer!
Then over Amy’s shoulder I saw two small boats full of locals coming fast. We walked down to the beach and met Wayne and half a dozen other Pacific Islanders. We said hello, they said hi and Wayne immediately invited us to a late lunch they were about to prepare with the fish they had just speared. You bet! First though we went out to the boat to get a few things to contribute. We had some dorado (mahi mahi) in the freezer, we brought some chips and a couple extra beers. When we got back the bar-b-que was on.
One lady was grilling two large fish known as “Sweet Lips” (not the lady, the fish) on a grill over a bamboo fire. I added the dorado and went over to where Wayne was cutting surgeon fish and clam meat into sashimi.
When the fish was grilled up and the sashimi marinated we all gathered around the table for a feast. Wayne and his friends had brought some rice and taro that had been prepared at the local supermarket. To that they added a fresh fish buffet like you have never seen. Lots of raw fish, Surgeon and Grouper, and giant clam cut into small pieces and marinated in lime juice and soy sauce with a special, really hot, hot local pepper, grilled Sweet Lips and more grilled-with-the-entrails-intact surgeon and finally the dorado that we had brought.
We all stood or sat around the table and just grabbed what was interesting with our fingers and put it straight into our mouths, laughing and telling stories and having fun like a bunch of kindergarteners who haven’t mastered the art of forks.
Turns out that our hosts were pretty esteemed. Wayne is a member of the Palau National Congress, House of Delegates, Chairman of the Committee on Tourism and Protected Areas. He knew our political friends from Likiep. What a small world! Some of the rest were from Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands. They worked for the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs there and had made the trip to Palau to welcome a special group of sailors sailing a traditional sailing canoe from Guam to Palau using only traditional navigation techniques. Thankfully for Amy and me the sailing canoe was late coming in, leaving our new friends with nothing to do over the weekend but go fishing and share a Sunday picnic on the beach with a couple folks from Florida.
That’s it from Palau. We are here until Typhoon season settles down in late December or more probably early January. Then we will cross the 500nm to the Philippines and say goodbye to the Pacific.
Bill and Amy
Currently in Koror, Palau
Link to Photos: http://ipphotos.com/view_ad.asp?Ad_ID=1479
Link to World Famous Jelly Fish Lake video:
Link to all our photo albums of the past two and a half years in chronological order (Thanks Hayden!) http://ipphotos.com/view_user_ads.asp?SORTBY=Date_Created&User_ID=76
Link to Natalie and Amy “Death March” video:
Apataki, Tuamotus -
A short one. This should be two overnights and only about 45 hours, 240 miles. We started later in the day, about because we believe that will allow us a landfall in the early morning hours of the second day.
We start with a slow sail across the northern lagoon inside Apataki. We dodge an occasional coral head but it is no problem with only a ripple on the protected waters inside the lagoon with a 10knot breeze. The coral heads here are often uncharted. They are generally about 900 square feet in a tabletop that comes straight up from the 90 foot depths to lie just barely below the surface. They appear as a big yellowish stain on the water from as much as a quarter mile off. No problem.
We clear the entrance channel with no problems, kill the motor and begin a slow sail towards
Update, 24 hours… NO
Total miles day one, only 105.
Still nothing. No wind and very little to report. Amy slept most of the day and I read the story of the digging of the
Here is the deal, we have gone nowhere today and the wind has just dropped to almost nothing. It is decision time. Either we crank up the engine and use it to push the boat the required 5 knots now (we have fallen further behind) at least until the wind fills in, if it does, or we resign ourselves to a third night at sea waiting outside the harbor for daylight. We decide to drift, and drift we do, into the night.
We have found a small harbor that is about 2 hours closer than the main
We have begun a rhythm of sailing in and out of small squalls, only about 3 miles across that allowed us to actually move a bit. We sail on at a good 5 or six knots while the wind is blowing and the rain pounding and then as quickly as we go, we stop. Everything is wet and the water drips off the awning and onto every damn thing.. We spend our time searching the radar looking for the cloud pattern that will signal the next squal, the next wind that will allow us to finally move again.
Just a moment ago I noticed an extra blip on the radar. I looked behind us and sure enough it is a big boat steaming right up our backside. I called on the VHF to make sure he saw us and got him right away.. Sometimes a small fiberglass sailboat does not return a good radar signal and sometimes these big guys just are not watching. It is up to us to keep an eye on them and alert them to our position. As I said, we raised him right away. Turns out he is a 150 foot private yacht also headed to
Total miles day two; 72
Total for the trip is 177, leaving 63 to go.
The wind has been slowly increasing today, still not enough to sail well, and at an angle that keeps us from heading directly towards
We got the spinnaker hung and the wind has finally filled and backed to a point where we can begin to get some speed and sail direct to Papeete, good combination.
We sailed really fast and comfortably for about 12 hours. Arrived outside the pass to
We had not expected a traffic jam outside the harbor! In
Finally at about we dropped the anchor in 65 feet of water. Again, by chance, next to our friends on Szel who gave us the rundown on where to find our immigration and customs agent and how to get downtown.
Total passage time 70 hours. We had planned for only 45.
Nuku Hiva, Marquesas - Kauehi, Tuamotus
0600hrs, S9 55, W140 54 about 75 nm out of Nuku Hiva
Very little wind once we got outside. We motored for about 2 hours to build the batteries and make some water then turned it off and sailed on at only about 3knts under the main and drifter. Speed improved with the wind through the night. Sailing in the neighborhood of 5knts in anywhere from 8 to 12 knots of wind. Bliss about 2 miles in front and gaining ever so slowly.
1230hrs, S10 25, W141 15
End of day one and this is kinda embarrassing, we just learned how to work the Auto Pilot. I know what you’re thinking. 16 months 10,000 miles, 45 overnight sails and we just now learned how to use the auto? Well, yes, sort of.
We have always used the autopilot in the most basic manor. We point the boat about where we want it to head and push the “on” button and we’re done until time to change course. But this morning we were chatting with Steve and Janet on Bliss. We have been sailing within sight of them for 20 hours and over night had had more course changes than they as we worked to keep our big light air drifter full. I told Steve that we would manually put in course changes to maximize the sail angles and that that caused us to move around some. Steve commented that it looked as though we had a wind vane feature on the auto pilot that adjusted by the wind. And that is what got us thinking.
I knew that we had that feature on our pilot but had never bothered to investigate it. Well, Amy got out the instruction book and the next thing you know our speed is up by at least half a knot, maybe more, and we are pointing closer to the wind even with the drifter than we ever could by hand. Let’s see… Speed up, course improved… Yep, we’re embarrassed that it took so long to figure it out but now here is the bigger problem that this presents.
All last night and for the past 20 hours Bliss has been sailing just a smidge faster than us. At the end of 20 hours she had us by about 2.25 miles. In the past 4 hours since learning how to work the autopilot we have gained back fully half of that distance. Now… Do we tell Steve that thanks to him we finally figured it out or do we silently sail by and claim ignorance as to why we are suddenly half a knot faster than Bliss with her 4 foot waterline advantage? I’ll let you know.
End of day one, 112 miles
1800 hrs, S10 50.8, W141 32.5
I hope I don’t live to regret this comment but this has been a totally relaxing and wonderfully tranquil passage here at the 18 hr mark. Just spoke with Bliss on the VHF, Steve’s guess was that we were about 4 miles in front of them, “Looks like you found some wind.” I lied, “Well, we have just been following the breeze and trying to keep the sail full.” Later I felt guilty, I mean, it was his inspiration to actually use the autopilot that got us going. Amy said we can all laugh about it someday when we are drunk and we confess. Ok. We’ll leave the drifter up again overnight tonight and hope no weather sneaks up on us.
We ran right into the night at 6+ knots but at when Amy took over we took down the big light air sail because we thought it was running right on the ragged edge, it was becoming too windy and we feared it would over power the boat and destroy the sail. We put out the working headsail and slowed way down, making only about 5 knots, overnight we slowed a bit more, 4.5 to 5 knots, but in the morning the sky was overcast and threatening so we decided to continue on at this slower pace. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. If it clears up a bit later this morning we will get the light air sail up again but we are thinking better safe than sorry.
Just spoke with Bliss on the VHF Radio, our regular two times a day call is at 0650 and 1900. They are only 5 miles distant, right off our starboard quarter. Now that we know where to look we can just see their sail low on the horizon.
We were slow this morning, 4.5 to 5.5 knots but at about things started to pick up. We were in some heavily overcast skies with light rain and moving along at 6 to 7 knots for quite a while. Towards the winds picked up to 18-22 knots and have stayed there since. The seas have doubled in size from yesterday but are still quite manageable. Yesterday was lake sailing.
Total miles today: 137
Two day total: 249
OK! Enough! Winds have been howling at 18 to 24 knots for the past 6 hours. This is painful! Boat is fine with 2 reefs in the main and a deep reef in the jib and full staysail. Moving from 6 to 7.2 knots on course of 200 degrees. Could calm this down a bit if we could run downwind but that would not get us where we want to go and so far the boat is doing well. Hopefully things will cool down some after . They often do. Bliss falling back a bit, maybe 7 miles directly behind us. They are having a somewhat wetter ride. Estrellita is a dry boat. Thank goodness.
Here is the good news, we clocked only our 3rd ever 150 mile day in the past 24 hours. The bad news we were beating as hard into the wind and sea as we could trying to make more easting to protect our options as we near Kauehi in the Tuamotus. Bliss about 12.4 miles off our starboard quarter. They really sounded tired on the radio this morning. They are a wetter ride than us and I think it took a toll on them last night. Also, they elected to go with only the staysail and double reefed main while we ran with that and a bit of jib. I think that gave us more punch in the seas and made us a bit more stable.
Wind and sea finally began to moderate after 9a this morning. Now sailing in 17-20 knots and hardly ever taking a sea over the bow and into the cockpit. Much better. Also, at 1230 we adjusted course to 210 degrees, which will make yet a smoother ride and begin our approach to Kauehi.
Our radio call to Bliss was disappointing to me. I really thought we were sailing them into the ground and up to now we were. Today it seems they have turned the tables and I don’t know how. They sailed 11 miles further than us from our check in at to now. That is a full knot per hour faster and I thought WE were flying. We had a 6 mile advantage this morning on our radio call and are now 2 behind! How did that happen? They must have cut the corner better where we squared it off to get a better down wind run tonight. That tactic may yet pay off as it is blowin’ 18 to 24 again with sustained gusts to 30 tonight and we have a better point of sail than they. We are slower than last night but on a direct course. Bliss plans to sail around the north end of the atoll while we plan on the southern route. We’ll see…
Beautiful day all day today in 18 to 20 knots of wind with two reefs in the main and a deep reef in the jib, full staysail. We sailed at 6 to 7 knots all day with the wind just aft of the beam. Perfect. Then as the sun began to set it began to get stinky. The wind piped up to 25 with sustained gusts to 30+ and shifted ahead of the beam. A five knot increase in wind speed doesn’t sound like a lot does it, but the difference is huge. Worse, as we began hitting speeds in the high 7s and even 8s we had to reduce sail to calm things down in the boat. Soon as we did that, wind drops to 15. Hour later we get tired of sailing 5 knots, knowing that Bliss is moving fast out there somewhere, so we add some sail and soon the wind gusts up again and we have to reduce sail to avoid bashing along in the 8s.
Well, we lose
Anchor down at . 525 miles after leaving Nuku Hiva. Just two hours shy of four full days under sail. Tonight a reunion with our friends on Szel, pronounced Sail, who have been enjoying this secluded anchorage to themselves for the past few days.