Goodbye Pohnpei, Hello Yap

We have a 9:00 appointment tomorrow morning with Mr. Personality from Immigration at the commercial dock to check us out of Pohnpei. Any guesses as to what time he shows up? I’m hoping by 11:00. The Port Captain’s office has prepared our Port Clearance document, which we have to pay $65 for. It’s surprising to me that we need a clearance, since technically we’re not leaving the country, but that’s their process. The weather forecast looks quite benign for our passage – I may even need to go haul the spinnaker out from under the bunk before we pack the forward cabin with stuff for the passage.

Our stop at Pohnpei has been absolutely enjoyable. The people couldn’t have been any friendlier. The sights are fairly typical Pacific Island, which translates to lovely. Living and housing conditions for the locals outside the city are “rustic”, but also typical. The homes seem to generally have some concrete floor and 3 or 4 walls made up of bamboo and/or corrugated tin, with a tin roof. People here seem quite happy and always have a wave and a smile for their visitors. Often times, however, the smiles are spoiled by the effects of Betel Nut. People here, as in many Pacific and Asian nations are often addicted to chewing Betel Nut, which is a custom dating back thousands of years. Regular betel chewing causes the teeth and gums to be stained an orange redish color, a look that was formerly considered attractive in certain cultures. Now, not so much.

I imagine it was a very pretty place at one timeThe excursion to Nan Madol was interesting. Making comparisons to places like Tikal or Machu Piccu is unfair, because archaeologists have spent years and fortunes unearthing and preserving those sites. Here, much of the compound appears to remain unearthed and the exposure to the sea has taken its toll. The quality of masonry and stonework pales in contrast to what the Incas built in Peru, but given what the locals had to work with, what they put together was pretty amazing. Rob will prepare some photos while en route to Yap and I’ll add them to our photo gallery.

The tour was short, taking about as long to view the site as it took to find it. On Wednesday when we were driving around the island we stopped to scope out Nan Madol and figure out where to go on Thursday when we visited. This is an island with few instructions for visitors. We finally found a sign, at an intersection near where we thought the site was, that stated we needed permission to visit and not to trespass. We drove down a dirt road, knowing from the guidebook that we needed to contact the Nahnmwarki of Madolenihmw, who was the chief of the area. There were a couple of houses along the road, but nothing that looked very chiefly. We drove to the end of the road, got out and walked around, and realized we were in the wrong spot. So we went back up to the intersection and took the other road, finding some dirt piles across the road. A local out in her yard explained to us that they were trying to improve the road and the piles should be gone by the next day. We’re not sure she understood when we tried to ask about the Nahnmwarki of Madolenihmw though.

The ocean is just beyondThursday morning we arrived back in the area early, hoping to tour around at low tide when we could walk between the islands. Again we searched for the chief’s house, stopping at one of the places along the first road. Apparently we got lucky because the woman who answered the door said she was the chief’s wife and was happy to take our $3 per person fee and grant permission for us to visit the site. She told Rob that if we came back at high tide they would take us for a tour in their pangas for $5 each. We opted for the low tide walking tour and headed back down the second road. The dirt piles were gone, so we proceeded in the direction we thought was to the ruins. We drove for a long time, and soon it became apparent the road was used infrequently. After a while we stopped at a house where a local was outdoors and he told Rob it was not in that direction.

After turning around we finally found a tiny little sign along the road that pointed down a turnoff. A woman was waiting at the corner for us and informed us that we need to pay her $1 each to access the site (we think it’s a fee to cross her land). We drove to the end of that dirt road and only found a house, so we went back to the woman at the corner (who, of course, was not longer on the corner since she had already collected her money). She said that yes, we were to park at the house and take the trail from there. By now we knew what that was going to entail, paying for access across their property. But in the end it was only $7 per person and at least the money went to the locals and not some tour company.

We kept the car for an extra day and got our laundry and shopping done, and the boat all topped up with diesel for the trip. Last night we hosted a potluck for the folks in the anchorage and said our goodbyes to the people from the small expat community living here on their boats.

Today on Yohelah we’re ready to put away the awning and dinghy and get the boat and cat back in “passage mode”….


Passage to Yap, Day 1

Miles day 1: 106
Miles total: 106
Miles to Yap: 1,108

Believe it or not, Mr. Personality was waiting at the dock at 9:00. We arrived early to give ourselves time to go pay our checkout fee, but had to wait for a big fishing boat to leave to make room for us and Shang Hai (a Tayana 37 sailing west with us) on the dock. All the papers were signed and delivered within a half hour. Perhaps Rob’s visit with the head of the Visitor’s Bureau last week had some impact afterall, after he explained that the yachties were recommending to others not to stop because of the officials (even though that was not a sentiment we agreed with). We were out the pass and under sail by about 10:30 yesterday morning.

But the winds were light and the seas were lumpy, conditions which are frustrating at best. If we try to speed up by sailing on a beam reach (the fastest point of sail for a boat, with the wind directly across your beam), we’re putting the seas on our beam as well. Every time a big wave comes by the boat rolls hard enough to completely collapse both sails, and that was happening about every 3 minutes or so. If we turn downwind in the direction we want to sail with the waves and wind behind us there’s not enough wind to fill even the spinnaker. So we wallowed and rolled most of the afternoon and into the evening.

Finally about 4:00 this morning the wind completely died and the skies opened up. It’s completely odd to us to have rain and no wind. We’re so used to the squalls being squally, but now we’re in an area where big clouds do not equate to big wind. Very hard to get used to. But without any wind Rob turned on the engine and we motored until it filled in again at 9:00 this morning. Right now we’ve got about 11 knots 30 degrees aft of our beam on our starboard side, giving us a pretty nice ride. We’re not exactly screaming along, and barely making 3.5 knots right now. But I think we’re in a bit of the equatorial counter-current, which we should finally lose for good as we travel a bit further north.

Today on Yohelah we’re happy to be underway and feeling pretty darn good for our first day out on passage…..


Passage to Yap, Day 3

Miles day 2: 99
Miles day 3: 125
Miles total: 330
Miles to Yap: 898

The winds filled in yesterday finally to about 18-20 from the ENE, allowing us to turn dead downwind and pole out the jib. We’re scooting along nicely now making high 5’s for speed, which is a tremendous improvement and a much more comfortable ride. And the really good news is that about 5:00 last night we hooked an 8 serving mahi-mahi. Maya recognizes the sound of the net and always comes running when she hears me put it together. Last night, however, Rob chose to use the gaff so I didn’t get the net out. Maya’s nose thought something was up, and when I came down to grab the fillet knife she knew immediately. She was waiting on the companionway stairs while Rob cleaned it and gave her lots of scraps. Tonight I made fish tacos for dinner.

Late tonight or early in the morning we should be approaching Chuuk and the outer islands around it. There are a bunch of atolls, little islands and shallows to navigate around, extending for the next 450 miles. It’ll take us several days to get past it all, so no little cat naps on watch allowed for me! The electronic charts are covered with wreck symbols to remind me to keep alert. The moon is also nearly new now, not rising until almost sunrise, which makes dark passage nights.

Today on Yohelah we’re full up on dorado and scooting along nicely…..


Cooking Is Fun

Miles day 4: 134
Miles total: 464
Miles to Yap: 769

Thursday night about 3:00 a storm cell came by packing big gusty winds. We’re both happy to report, however, when we say storm cell and gusty winds here they’re 25-30 and not 40-45 like in the ITCZ. It was enough wind for Rob to want to roll the jib, and since it stayed up around 25 behind the cell we just left the mainsail up into the morning.

Friday morning was the day the bananas from Pohnpei needed to be used up, so I decided to make some banana bread for breakfast. Occasionally I should go back and reread my blogs because I remember now making a comment about cooking and the Olympics previously. And it was one of the toughest meals I’ve cooked onboard, requiring that each and every item come out of a cupboard one at a time while I held on to everything else and measured and stirred. I made it all the way through mixing all the liquids before the bowl flipped up during a big roll when I let go of it for just a second. I scooped as much as I could back into the bowl and the banana bread was still quite delicious.

Not having learned from that lesson, however, I decided later in the day to make some chocolate chip cookie bars. I had found our second bag of chocolate chips in 4 years while we were in Majuro, and decided to celebrate being 37% done with our passage. The wind had eased and the full jib was back out and we were sailing along nicely, although still a bit rolly as usual. Besides, this recipe didn’t have a liquid base like the bread; it was creamed butter and sugar. What I didn’t anticipate was that when I turned to grab the flour, having left the mixer in the bowl, that the bowl would flip again and this time the mixer would come out, turn upside down and land on its start button. Sure enough, there it was, sending creamed butter and sugar flying all over the kitchen. Rob’s comment was “this will be funny next week you know”!

And just so we could mark off the third of three disasters for the day, when Rob came up into the cockpit with his plate of fish cakes for dinner, they ended up upside-down on the cockpit cushion, ketchup and all.

Today on Yohelah we’re not cooking a thing……


School’s In Session

Miles day 5: 130
Miles day 6: 137
Miles day 7: 151
Miles total: 880
Miles to Yap: 358

The thing about cruising for me is that every day I have to (or get to) learn something new. Rarely is there an entire day when something doesn’t surprise me, educate me, or just plain teach me a lesson. When I stated earlier in the week that the rain cells up here don’t pack big winds (and stated it just like I knew what I was talking about), I was taught a lesson soon after that I was completely wrong.

We’ve had a couple of nice days of sailing, with about 18 knots behind us. We’ve had a scrap of the jib out on a pole and been flying dead downwind wing on wing, making 6.5 to 7 knots directly towards Yap. At that rate we would have made a Wednesday afternoon landfall. We’ve got about 1.5 knots of current, so the reefed jib and reefed main were plenty of sail to give us enough speed. But sure enough, this morning just before dawn the squalls started piling up and haven’t stopped yet. The wind is too high for even a scrap of jib, so we’re back to the reefed mains’l alone and rolling like crazy in the wind driven waves, which seem to be coming from all directions at the moment.

Since we can’t get in by Wednesday night we need to slow down. But sailing without a headsail is too rolly and we need something to balance the main. So the plan is to tuck a second reef in the main and put up our storm staysail, which is a very small and heavily constructed sail we fly off the forestay during storm conditions (the forestay being the wire where we hoist our normal staysail and is just aft of our jibstay where the roller furling jib is). We’ve never put the second reef in this mainsail, and we’ve never hoisted the storm staysail away from the dock. Doing both of those things now in these relatively calm conditions are good practice though, since we may need to again when we cross the North Pacific later this summer.

We’ll also heave to Wednesday afternoon and rest a bit to time our entrance into Yap after daylight. Heaving to is a maneuver where we backwind the foresail, luff the main a bit, and essentially park the boat. The main is trying to drive the bow up and the backwinded jib is opposing that and pushing the bow down. I think I’ve talked about this in the blog before. I’ve wanted to practice heaving to a few more times, because I also believe that will be something we might need to do on our last crossing if any summer storms brew up and pass by us after we leave Japan.

So after Rob finishes his nap out we’ll go and hope we don’t get drenched trying to get just the right amount of sail up for the present conditions. By the time we’re done, though, who knows what the wind will be doing then.

Today on Yohelah school is in session…..


Passage To Yap, Final Day

Miles day 8: 129
Miles day 9: 116
Miles total: 1,125
Miles to Yap: 118

The wind has settled in to a nice 18 knots from our starboard aft quarter and the waves have finally settled down, making a very nice ride for our last day. There are about 2′ wind waves on top of some 6′ long period swell, but relative to the washing machine-like conditions we’ve been riding in for the past week, this is nearly blissful. We are making about 5 knots with a double reefed main and our full staysail, which times us exactly for a mid morning landfall. This reduced sail combination is not warranted by the wind speed or sea conditions, but works well to control the speed of the boat and give us a nice steady ride. Likely tomorrow we’ll just stick around the boat and clean up after our passage. The amazing thing to me is that every once in a while when we do get hit by a big wave I hear things flying around inside the boat, and just can’t figure out what’s left to fly around – everything that can have moved should have by now!

For anyone keeping track, here are some updates on friends and boats we’ve mentioned in the blog that we’ve met along the way. First of all, after somewhere just shy of 50 days at sea, Masquerade made landfall at the dock on Kwajalein Monday evening. Cindy sounded pretty darn happy on the radio when she reported in to the Ham net that they were entering the pass at the atoll. They bit off 5,000+ miles for their first major ocean passage and had enhanced tradewinds the entire way, so we’re excited for them to be done with it and settle in for a couple years’ work there at Kwaj.

Our friends Brit & Axel have an appointment to load Hello World on a ship near Auckland in mid-April. They will unload her in the Netherlands in mid-May, leaving them a short trip up into the Baltic Sea where Hello World will go back to her berth for now. We’re hoping to make a land trip to Europe and visit sometime while all four of us are back at work, and then see them again on the water next time we all head out. Conditions with piracy in the Red Sea remain too dangerous for a transit through that area, and a passage all the way around South Africa makes for too long of a trip back home for them now.

The boat Secret O’ Life, whose owner Terry died while inland traveling in Bolivia while we were in Ecuador, was sold to some folks from South Korea. On their passage across the Pacific to take the boat home, she went up on a reef on Wake Island. Amazingly, there was a crane there that could actually pluck the boat off the reef before it was destroyed, and we hear they’re on their way again. Guess if you’re going to crash onto a reef on a remote island, you should always pick probably the only one in the entire ocean with a crane available.

The boat Marcy left Seattle the same year as us, and Peter & Ginger told us in Zihuatanejo that they were intent on a complete circumnavigation. They believed that too many people leaving the west coast spend too much time in Mexico and get into the South Pacific, get tired, and go home. They wanted to avoid that situation and left Mexico the first year, crossing the South Pacific, Indian Ocean, around the south tips of South Africa and South America. We received email from them in Chile recently asking about this area, as they plan their return to the northwest. They’ll close the loop on their circumnavigation as they cross the South Pacific this second time. Way to go Peter & Ginger!

The last news is the saddest. Michelle wrote recently to tell us that her husband and our our friend Robin from the yacht Warrior did not survive his battle with very aggressive colon cancer. She sailed the boat home from French Polynesia after he had flown home from Papeete to Brisbane to begin treatment. We wish Michelle happiness after what was an incomprehensibly difficult year for her.

Our thoughts today are with the people in Fiji, who took a direct hit from a category 4 cyclone yesterday. Fiji is one of two good cyclone holes in the South Pacific, the other being the northern island group of Vava’u in Tonga where we were earlier. Tonga got hit by a less powerful cyclone earlier this season, and our friends Leslie & Phillip on Carina survived just fine – they were in a hotel on land and Carina weathered the storm on a buoy. The early news out of Fiji sounds pretty bad, with reports of lost vessels. Joe and Dubis sailed their boat Jubilee there from Ecuador, where we met them last year in Bahia de Caraquez. They chose Fiji to summer over in this year, and we hope to hear good news soon about their situation after Cyclone Thomas.

Today on Yohelah we’re all very ready to hear the sound of the anchor coming off the bow roller as we make landfall in Yap……