January thru April Logs 2013
Winter in Palau
April 29th, 2013
Welcome to 7í North Latitude. For the first time in three years we havenít had to think about what season it is. Being north of the equator we can once again refer to the December through April time period as ďWinter.Ē Itís the simple things that make life easier.
We are just about to wind up a five month stay in Koror, Palau. For those of you who havenít looked at the atlas yet, the country of Palau is located 550 miles east of the Philippines, 450 miles north of Indonesia and 250 miles southwest of Yap in Micronesia. Helpful? For us Palau is a fairly big milestone. When we leave here in a few days we will be saying goodbye to the Pacific Ocean.
Our Off-Season Home
Palau is a study in contrasts. At the end of World War II the islands of Micronesia were assigned to the United States as a Trust Territory. Palau, the western-most of these Islands, drafted its own constitution in 1981 and became independent in 1994. The countryís relationship with the US continues with a Compact of Free Association.
The Palauan people are fairly westernized. Cars in downtown Koror are ubiquitous and are piloted by spectacularly poor drivers. Large, western-style grocery stores have all but replaced the local vegetable markets which weíve come to enjoy at our previous stops. Once you leave Koror though, you quickly encounter wilderness. Either at anchor in the Rock Islands or visiting the big island of Babeldaob you can be as remote as you choose to be .
In Palau we have enjoyed the easy access to supplies and US Mail that the Compact provides and the solitude, history and beautiful sea life that is so close by.
A Trip Home for One, Mooring Work for Another
Two weeks after arriving in Palau I headed home to visit my family in New England. In the short time we had been in the Malakal yacht harbor Roger hadnít made peace with the facilities available for leaving the boat unattended so I traveled solo. In my absence he was, ironically, put in charge of the local yacht clubís mooring field as ďPort CaptainĒ. By the time I returned six weeks later Roger and several other club members had installed four new moorings and repaired several others. New blood is a precious commodity in an operation like the Royal Belau Yacht Club.
Between mooring installations Roger wrestled with refrigeration woes. Three months and several compressors later cold beer has once again become a reality on Shango. Hallelujah! Just when we thought all was under some semblance of control one of Rogerís teeth started to act up. A failed root canal was suspected by the local dentist. Unfortunately there isnít an endodontist on the Island so it was off to the Philippines for the beleaguered Captain. After enjoying a variety of dental treatments and Holy Week in Manila he returned.
On the Great Adventures Front
By April 1st, our tentative departure date, lots of boat work had been done but not much playing. In hopes of extending our stay in Palau by an extra month we contacted Lytha, our Indonesian Agent, and asked if we could move the date of our CAIT (Indonesian Cruising Permit) forward a month. Not a problem. Our Visas didnít need to be activated until June 1st so we were able to shift from departure mode to play mode.
Before Roger went west for his date with the endodontist we managed to spend a ten day period out in the Rock islands. The prime motivation to extend our stay in Palau was to make a second trip. The Rock Islands are located just south of Koror. Within an hour of leaving the yacht harbor you can be anchored in a nook, surrounded by karst islands with no other boats in sight. The protection is great, the number of anchorages would require more than one set of hands and feet to count them, and the bird and sea life is amazing. The only sign of life is the occasional dive boat headed out to play. The extra month provided us with opportunity to spend some additional time in this wonderful spot.
Also near the top of the list was to get some additional diving in. When we first arrived in December we went diving several times with a group of other cruisers. It was the off season then and when we gathered up enough divers we could charter one of Samís dive boats and head out to watch the show. Now that it was peak season it was harder to catch a ride. With a bit of persistence though, we managed to squeeze in a bit more of the diving Palau is so well known for.
Blue Corner treated us to its sharks, giant napoleon wrasse, turtles and huge groupers while German Channel provided us the opportunity to watch the balletic moves of the manta rays. Siaes Tunnel, Ulong Channel and Blue Hole were each beautiful and every visit showed us new and different creatures both small and large. On a somewhat tamer but no less wonderful note were the golden jellies of Jellyfish Lake. When the sun rises over the rim of the hills surrounding the Lake an amazing number of beautiful golden jellyfish rise toward the surface. Because they have very few natural enemies they have lost the ability to sting. As you snorkel into their midst you feel as though you are floating in outer space amongst thousands of small, delicate, moving planets.
The highlight of our land-based touring was a trip to explore the World War II sites of Peleliu Island. Our guide was a very knowledgeable young man who obviously loved his work. For six hours he walked, crawled and hiked us over many acres of Peleliu. From Orange Beach to Bloody Nose Ridge he described with great energy the scenes which confronted the US and Japanese soldiers during the horrific battle which occurred here from September Ė November 1944.
Also on our land tour agenda was Babeldaob Island, the largest of the Palau Islands. The highlight of this tour was the recently erected National Capitol building. It is a very imposing edifice in remote Melekeok State. It is imaginatively decorated on the outside with national symbols of fish and birds. It seeks to be environmentally cutting edge with many solar arrays supplying it with a percentage of its power. The most striking thing about the new National Capitol building however is that it is miles and miles from anything. Anything at all. Itís a wonder anyone can even find it. Iím sure there is a simple explanation for its locationÖ Oh, and itís made of fiberglass.
Samís Tours is where it all starts. At least for yachties it is. We moor off of Samís. We dock our dinghies at Samís. We get our mail at Samís. We drink beer and watch movies at Samís. This all under the banner of the Royal Belau Yacht Club, formed many years ago by Sam and a group of yachties. We have met a wonderful group of sailors during our time here. Some move along after short visits, others have decided to stay a bit longer.
Roger has been sorely tempted by the sirenís call that is Palau. But itís time to be moving along before we grow roots. Weíll miss the friendly batfish waiting to greet us under Samís dock every morning. Weíll miss the lovely little rust colored finches that follow us on our walks. Weíll miss the innumerable tropic birds that wheel above the boat out in the Rock Islands and weíll especially miss the haunting call of the bush warbler who manages to capture in his song the solitude you can still find here if you know where to look for it.
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