November-December 2012 Logs
Saturday, December 22nd, Malakal Harbor, Palau, Micronesia
It’s a beautiful sunny day in the Malakal yacht harbor. Dinghies from the twenty or so occupied cruising boats zip in and out from the dinghy dock at Sam’s Tours, going about their various chores. Dive boats filled with expectant divers leave from the same dock heading toward the stunning reef which surrounds the islands. Palau is our off season home base. We’ll be taking care of repairs, projects and with luck, doing some diving during our stay. In the late winter or early spring we’ll head west to as yet undetermined destinations. Perhaps Indonesia, perhaps the Philippines, we’ll see.
In the meantime we’ll be availing ourselves of access to the US Postal Service which exists here through the Compact of Free Association between the US and Palau. We have a substantial list of parts and spares to order before we can continue our journey. When you cruise far from home YOU are the refrigeration technician, the engine mechanic, the plumber, the electrician and every other professional you were used to having at your disposal when traveling close to home. As the saying goes, you take the good with the bad.
We arrived in Palau almost two weeks ago on the heels of Super Typhoon Bopha. The typhoon was heading straight for our destination when, at the last minute, it tracked further south. There was damage to Peleliu and Angaur, more southerly Palauan islands, but the heavily populated Koror State was spared. Bopha went on to wreak immense havoc in the southern Philippines where typhoons are rarely experienced.
In the intervening two weeks we’ve managed to stay quite occupied. In addition to the usual getting connected tasks (internet, phone) we’ve giddily strolled the aisles of the well stocked local grocery stores, eaten out several times, watched TWO Patriots games and done two days of diving in the Rock islands. Roger has managed to get himself snared into the role of Royal Belau Yacht Club Port Captain. This involves, among other things, managing the guest moorings, greeting new arrivals and contacting Customs & Immigration for them if necessary. Since many of the other boats are leaving town before us, we were the most logical target for this “honor”.
When we last sent an update we were in Gizo, in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. After watching the US election results (on the Aljazeera Network), going for a dive with Thomas & Romaine, our French friends, and finishing off with some spectacularly silly check-out machinations we headed for Papua New Guinea.
Tuesday, November 13th, Passage to Nuguria Atoll, Papua New Guinea
We left Vongo Island at the north end of Vella Lavella, Solomon Islands in the wee hours of the morning. When we looked back at the Island an hour later it was completely engulfed in rain. Timing is everything. Our plan was to cut south of Bougainville through Bougainville Strait then to head offshore to Nuguria Atoll, two hundred and seventy-ish miles to the northeast. Our early start had us heading through the Strait during daylight although I’m not sure that was necessary given the placid weather we experienced. In the afternoon we encountered a succession of unsettlingly large logs on our route. This, combined with a spectacular lightening show over Bougainville made for an anxious night. Once we were beyond the coast though, the logs pretty much disappeared as did the threatening weather. The rest of the passage was clear blue sky and the sound of our diesel engine.
Thursday, November 15th - Saturday, November 17th, Nuguria Atoll, Papua New Guinea
We arrived at Nuguria in the early morning and made our way through the pass south of Nugarba Island with good light. The pass is quite straightforward in good weather and good light. There are several passes to choose from we later discovered. The pass north of the island of Nugarba is considered a ship pass so might be better in bad weather. We didn’t use it so can’t attest to this.
We anchored off the main village on Nugarba Island, trying to find a spot with relatively little coral. After several months in the Solomons we were shocked to be left unvisited. After a quick tidy-up we launched the dinghy and went in to say hello. We were greeted by a pleasant fellow and taken to the “COE” which, it turns out, is the Council of Elders. There we were introduced to Robinson, one of the elders. After a nice chat he found his son and some of his son’s friends to take us for a tour of the village. After the rather ramshackle appearance of some of our recent destinations the cleanliness of Nugarba was startling. The sand “sidewalks” were bordered by stick fences which were landscaped with a variety of flowering shrubs. The houses were all on stilts for air circulation and the gardens were tidy plots with pumpkin, taro and other miscellaneous goodies.
Nuguria Atoll is yet another Polynesian Outlier. Somehow Polynesians found their way this far west and settled here. The village is relatively prosperous. Unlike many Solomon Islanders the Nugurians have fiberglass boats with outboard motors which they use to fish. The Islanders export shark fins, beche de mer and trochus shells for which they are well paid. They have an Island on the eastern side of the Atoll which they refer to as a “conservation” island so perhaps there is some thought being given to the sustainability of this way of life.
There had been no supply ship in six months so we unloaded the remainder of our edible trade goods, thus making some inroads in unburdening the quarter berth. After signing the Yacht Log maintained by a pleasant fellow named Bill we headed back to the boat and called it a day.
The following day we lifted the anchor and headed across the Atoll to the conservation island. Unfortunately the heavens opened on our way across and it was all guesswork getting to our new spot. Roger was on the bow looking for bombies and I had taken a general bearing on our destination before the visibility went away so we were able to get where we were going without incident. Did I mention that the charts were useless?
The next day I went for a snorkel and was surprised to find that the coral was in disarray. I’m not sure if it was just generally unhealthy or if there had been some sort of seismic happening. We didn’t stay long enough to try other areas unfortunately. We needed to get to Kavieng to check in.
Tuesday, November 20th – Wednesday, November 28th, Kavieng, Papua New Guinea
Another two days of motoring had us entering the northern entrance into Kavieng Harbor on the Island of New Ireland. I’m not sure what we were expecting but we were quite surprised at our new destination. It was much smaller than we imagined and much prettier. The water was clear and pale blue and there were beautiful trees lining the waterfront. We dropped the hook off of the Market and after getting the lowdown on finding stuff from the Australian power cat Muscat we headed into town to do our business.
Earlier in the season when we would tell some of our Australia-bound friends that we were heading to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea looks of dismay would cross their faces. Security was not assured. Several months later, after our positive experience in the Solomon Islands we were hoping to be pleasantly surprised by PNG as well. We certainly were.
We squeezed our dinghy into the large line-up of boats at the market, while many hands helped to secure us. Having acquired an arrival visa in Honiara, our check-in was one of the easiest we have ever experienced. No money, no forms, one official and a stamp and we were done. Locals took us by the hand and showed us where to get items that we needed. The smiles, although often red with betel nut, were wide and genuine.
After checking in, the next day we moved across the harbor to anchor off of Nusalik Island, home of the Nusa Island Retreat and a few very small villages. Half a dozen yachts were already at anchor but there was still plenty of room for us. The Retreat is very yacht friendly, providing easy eating and drinking possibilities. It also provides a home for a variety of injured birds including an albatross and several hornbills. It was great to be able to see them up close.
Among the other boats at anchor was Tuatara, a classic 38 ft wooden ketch from Washington. Both of us were hoping to head west in the near future so we started sharing weather.We were dreading a long windless passage, us to Palau and Tuatara to the Philippines. The waiting commenced.
Meanwhile we continued to meet people who supported our impression that Papuans were dignified and proud. On one occasion we gave a dinghy ride to a particularly tattered looking Nusalik Islander who asked if he could catch a lift home from town. We said no problem. When we dropped him off at the Island pier he fished out several coins from his pocket saying that they pay the local boats to take them across and so it followed that he would pay us. We explained that we were making the trip anyway and there was no need to pay. Another day we had a chat with a young Nusalik Island man. He told us in an exasperated tone of voice of his attempts to open a bank account at the two foreign banks in town. He had to fill out seven forms and needed to have a driver’s license to have an account. A DRIVER’S LICENSE! He was incredulous, as the resident of a tiny island with no roads or cars, that this could be the case. He then related that a local representative was trying to start a local bank which wouldn’t require such things. He sounded very hopeful about this possibility.
Thursday, November 29th – Sunday, December 9th, Passage to Palau
Finally there came a day when a weather window presented itself. A tropical depression (advancing fairly rapidly towards storm and into a typhoon) was forming and tracking north of us and heading westward. If we could time our departure so as to avoid being too close to the typhoon yet benefit from the winds in its wake, we might find some wind for this notoriously windless trans- equatorial passage. After much hemming and hawing, Shango and Tuatara headed out of Kavieng Harbor bright and early Thursday morning, November 29th. We were hoping for a little wind and no typhoon encounters. As it turns out we probably were a little too cautious and left 18-24 hours too late to get maximum and safe advantage of Typhoon Bopha’s wind. The first five days allowed us to cover some good distance with the assistance of Bopha. After Bopha had cleared out of the area, the wind died except for the occasional squall to send us surging forward but squalls are nobody’s idea of a good time. After ten days with a little less than half the time spent motoring we reached Palau, our second season in the Pacific complete.
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