Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Hustle and Bustle of Pohnpei

I can easily see sitting here in Pohnpei, FSM, for a month catching up on boat projects and recovering from our frenzied trip to the U.S. and the last 3 weeks in Kwajalein. But alas... on to the Hustle and Bustle of Pohnpei.

First, we have to see/do everything there is to see/do in Pohnpei. That has included (starting the day after our arrival), dive trips out to the reef, hiking, an around the island tour, ancient ruins, Japanese relics, and meeting and socializing with some of the FSM and American residents.

John Ranahan, when he can get 6 interested divers, does dive trips out to the reef. On our first diving day, he took us out to Manta Road, where we got to see about 5 huge Manta Rays hanging out in the current and feeding.

Great Manta Shot by Jerry from Challenger

Though we've swum with Mantas before in French Polynesia, you never get tired of watching these majestic sea creatures. The second dive trip we took, we had an awsome drift dive on a wall on the western side of the island.

For hiking, Stephen on Westward II arranged a trip up to see the "6 Waterfalls". We ended up with 13 yachties on that trip--facilitated by Kumer and Antonia helping to arrange 4WD transportation for that many people. This was an all day hike/scramble in the jungle, punctated by swim stops at a couple of the bigger waterfalls. Very strenuous. Well worth it, and probably the best day hike we've done in years.

Dave blew out his almost-new very rugged-looking hiking sandals on this trip--the uppers completely detached from the lowers halfway through the trip. He ended up putting his socks on OVER his sandals, to keep them together. He looked ridiculous, but it was effective. Two people on the hike ended up barefoot scrambling up the rocky riverbed. They had come in totally inadequat flip-flops. My genuine Keen Sharks (now 4 years and many hikes old) are still hanging in there (thank you Sally, for the hand-me-down).

We did another hike on our own up to Sokeh's Ridge. This is an hour walk away from the dignhy dock, up on a huge rocky outcrop overlooking the harbor.

The View from Sokeh's Ridge

We went up to see the Japanese gun emplacements up there, and we hiked all the way to the primary cell tower. We didn't go on the further hike out to the pinnacle overlooking the commercial harbor, but Westward II and Aurora Star did.

One of the Japanese Guns

A Japanese Memorial Marker

Dave Checking Out the Wifi Antennas

On another day, we went with Westward II and rented a car, and went around the island. The highlights of that trip was the "Botanical Gardens" (and black pepper farm), Nan Midol, and another waterfall. Pohnpei is so small (and with a decent blacktop road all the way around) that you can circle the island without stops in about 2 hours. So a one day rental is all you need to see pretty much everything. We bought a pound of black pepper fresh off the tree (still green) at the Botanical Gardens. We have since dried it and are now wondering what to do with that much pepper!!

Growing Peppers at the Botanical Gardens

The Cute Baby Pigs at the Pepper Farm

Nan Midol is another one of those ancient civilization archeological sites that are a "must do" when you visit a place like this. This is a large area of large fortifications / religious structures spread over several fringe islands on the shore.

The Layout of Nan Midol (from Wikipedia)

All the structures are made of huge basalt "logs". Basalt is a rock of volcanic origin, with similar properties to granite--heavy and hard. These "logs" (I would call them columns if they were standing up, but they are used laying down and so "logs" gives a better sense) are rough 5 or 6 sided, 1-2 feet in diameter, and 10-20 feet long.

The Boat Ride Out to Nan Midol

The walls on the main structure are 10-15 feet high. So, again, some older civilization has been organized enough to have the manpower to mine, transport, and construct a huge complex with really massive building materials. Like places like Tikal in Guatemala and Machu Pichu in Peru, it's staggering to think of the effort and skills involved. And this is on a relatively tiny island country 1,500 miles of open ocean from the nearest continent.

Right across from Nan Midol (by car) is another waterfall. We paid $3pp to park the car and "hike" in (5 minute walk on an improved trail" to the waterfall and take a swim. It is the tourist version of the Pohnpei waterfalls.

The Nice Waterfall

We concluded our day of touring with a nice dinner at Cupid's Restaurant, on a cliff overlooking the harbor. This is a popular wedding spot for locals and tourists. And they serve a pretty good meal.

A Nice Sunset at Cupid's Restaurant

Besides the big tourist excursions above, there are some other interesting things to see around town. The Japanese occupied Pohnpei during World War II. The U.S. never assaulted (with troops), but did bomb the gun emplacements on the hill. There are a few Japanese relics still left in Pohnpei. The Ace Hardware store has a small display of accumulated relics, and if you walk back along the dirt road next to Ace, through the concrete factory, there is a line-up of about 10 small one-man Japanese tanks. They are all pretty much intact but rusted in place. Rumor has it that there's one still operating on the island, and we're trying to get a peek at that.

The Japanese Tanks Behind Ace Hardware

A Nice Display of Japanese Artifacts at Ace Hardware

On another day, we got together with the crews of Westward II, Aurora Star, and Challenger and made a dinghy excursion through the mangrove tunnel and out to snorkel on the NW side of the island.

A Dinghy Trip Through a Mangrove Tunnel

Westward II and Aurora Star


With all this stuff to see and do, we've been here two weeks and have barely gotten into our "must do" boat projects...

Friday, February 21, 2014

New Island, New Country

With our arrival at Pohnpei (Pon-Pay), we have left the Marshall Islands and entered the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The Federated States are another country formed in the mid 80's when The Trust Territories of the Pacific were "liberated" from the United States, who had acquired them from Japan as part of the WW2 settlement.

Nice View of the Anchorage from the Harbor View Restaurant

Similar to the Marshall Islands, the FSM have their own constitution and government, but have a clause somewhere that says they are in "Free Association with the United States". This means we protect them militarily and give them heaps of aid money and guidance. While the citizens of the FSM are not considered U.S. Citizens, they are granted unlimited visas to visit and work in the U.S., provided they haven't done anything to cause their visa to be denied.

Since most of our yearly aid money goes into health and education budgets in these tiny islands, there is a sizable chunk of the population who speak pretty good English. This makes it easy for us to travel and interact with people at all levels of the economic scale.

So we have had a pretty pleasant time hanging out in Pohnpei. There is a Seven Seas Cruising Association Cruising Host here, John Ranahan. John is an ex-pat American teacher. He and his wife have traveled all over the world teaching English in foreign countries over the last 40 years. They now call Pohnpei home, and help to welcome visiting yachts to Pohnpei. There is also a native Pohnpeian couple, Kumer and Antonia Panuelo, who are building a marina and boating complex on the water in the yachting end of the harbor. So now we have nice dinghy docks, a place to drop of trash, a cruiser bar, and showers. Currently under construction out on the Quay are a dive shop, restaurant, and small 4-unit apartment complex.

Within walking distance is a decent grocery store, a fresh veggie and fish market, and the public library with internet at $10/month. A $1pp taxi ride away, is the downtown section of Pohnpei with more grocery stores, a U.S. Post Office, and a very well-stocked Ace Hardware and Ace Office Supply. In 2 minutes, no waiting, no paperwork, we got a $10 pay-as-you-go sim card from the Telecom, and recharge card that work both for the cell phone and the wifi internet we can receive on the boat and most places in town.

The anchorage itself is the most protected anchorage we have seen since we left Fiji, deep inside an ancient volcanic caldera. I can see now why our friends on Carina spent last typhoon season sitting here in Pohnpei. It is the first flat-dead-calm no-roll-at-any-tide anchorage we've been in in a year. In a word, nice.
At 02/20/2014 7:20 PM (utc) our position was 06°46.53'N 158°01.03'E

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Safe Arrival at Pohnpei

In spite of a forecast that showed 17-18 knots all day, the light air persisted through yesterday. In classic "horse headed for the barn" fashion, rather than enjoying a quiet last day, we motor-sailed all the rest of the way to Pohnpei.

I was for heaving to and waiting for daylight (or enjoying a slow sail in). But Dave wanted to get in, so we arrived at the entrance to the harbor at about 11pm. We hadn't had a squall all day. But of course, as soon as we proceeded in the narrow channel, a small squall descended on us. Fortunately it didn't last long.

We had a good set of waypoints for the entry, and a good set of Google Earth charts, which showed every coral head and reef on the way in (we think). We went slow, with Dave on the bow looking out, and me at the helm, navigating "on instruments". With the computer screen visible in the cockpit, I couldn't see anything outside the cockpit. I just focused on staying on the plotted course, which had several twists and turns. (insert screen shot).

At the very end, we switched places, so Dave could take us into the dock--I dock Soggy Paws about half the time, but I prefer having Dave take her in in new places.

Anyway, we arrived at the Port Captain's dock at 11:55pm last night. A Port Captain representative was there to take our lines, and welcome us to the Federated States of Micronesia.

We had a good night's rest and have just completed our clearance this morning. Starting at 8am this morning, we hosted individual visits from the Port Captain, Agriculture (Quarantine), Health, Immigration, and Customs. The total cost for clearance was $30 paid to Quarantine, for which we received a receipt. All the officials were friendly and professional.

We already have a dive lined up for tomorrow. Besides Challenger and Westward II, we already know two other boats here (Helena and Java), and have been talking to 3-4 others on the radio. We're looking forward to enjoying Pohnpei.
Sherry & Dave
Heading west across Micronesia in 2014
At 02/05/2014 12:50 PM (utc) our position was 06°58.71'N 158°12.18'E

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Typical Fun Passage

We are 70 miles out, and will therefore arrive after dark. Dave says we'll go in rather than heaving to. He's been told it is a easy marked passage into the main ship pier, where we'll have to tie up to clear Customs, etc.

The forecast said (and still says) we should have tradewind conditions from 15-20 knots. Well, we're down to about 10 knots, in 20-knots-worth of sea--sloppy rolly slow conditions. We gave up sailing Dead Down Wind at about 6am on Dave's watch. He just got frustrated and turned the engine on.

The last 36 hours have been challenging. Instead of "tradewind conditions" at 20 knots, we had squally conditions where the mean wind was about 14-17 knots, but 25 knots in squalls. This is always challenging.

To make matters worse--we didn't get around to re-sealing our bimini before we left Kwajalein (we had 2 gallons of 303 shipped in to Kwaj just for this purpose). We were too busy and a good day (wind wise) just never presented itself. Well, that project has moved way up in the priority list. When it rains we now have a fairly steady stream of water pouring down on our heads at the helm station. There is a low spot in the bimini at just the wrong location. It wouldn't be too bad, but when the wind gusts up on this point of sail, we have to hand steer--neither the wind vane nor the autopilot can handle the changing wind conditions gracefully.

I finally took a black garbage back and rigged up a temporary "awning" over the helm to funnel the water away. It's a big help, but the whole cockpit is wetter than it should be. Need to re-coat the Bimini ASAP!

At one point in our passage planning, we had hoped to be in this evening. According to our polars (a table of how fast the boat goes on what point of sail in what wind conditions) and the forecast--according to the Maxsea Performance Routing module)--we should have been able to make it easily by sunset. The fault is mainly in the fact that the actual wind was nearly always about 5 knots LESS than forecast (except in the squalls), so we never made the speed we anticipated. We're also pretty heavily loaded and our polars are probably a little over-ambitious on this point of sail.

The seas yesterday during the squalls were huge--3 meters according to the forecast. That makes life aboard challenging. Picture trying to chop vegetables. I've got the cutting board, the counter, and the green beans in one hand, and a knife in the other hand. Make one chop and the green bean pieces roll immediately into the sink. Wait for a wave to come by to be able to let go with non-knife hand and grab the pieces and throw them into the pot. Anything not nailed down is flying around (or sliding back and forth). Nothing stays where you put it.

Getting up in the middle of the night half asleep to go to the bathroom is another adventure. We have hand-holds at monkey-vine distance all the way from the aft cabin to the forward head. I know where every one of them is, and can easily navigate this in the dark. But I'm half asleep (and trying to stay that way, so I can fall back asleep easily), and the boat is lurching around madly. Just pulling your pants down in that situation is a challenge!!

Anyway, we're making it. We're tired and ready for this to be over.

At 02/04/2014 11:16 PM (utc) our position was 07°12.67'N 159°22.28'E

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Rockin' and Rollin'

After a slow start, we finally left Kwajalein Atoll about noon yesterday, sailing wing-on-wing out through Gea Pass.

We had a fairly slow first 24 hours--the wind that was forecast at 15-17 was more like 10-15 kts. Going downwind, that doesn't leave much wind in our sails. But light wind and reasonable seas were fine with us, and it was nice to have an easy day to get back in the swing of things.

We are in our usual downwind configuration--Genoa poled out on the windward side, mainsail vanged on the other side, and the staysail sheeted tight on the same side as the main. This configuration works well with the wind vane steering, and gives us about 30 degrees of steering flexibility without having to do a bunch of messing with the sails.

This is the first passage in a long while that we haven't had another boat or two along to keep us company. We haven't seen nor heard another soul on the VHF or AIS since we left Kwaj yesterday--it's a pretty lonely spot of ocean. Except of course for all our buddies strung across the Marshall Islands and Micronesia--we talk to them every morning on the SSB net.

The forecast is for the wind to gradually build in strength over the next day as a high passes by above us. The forecast is for winds to 21 knots--hopefully it doesn't get any higher than that. 15-20 is about perfect for downwind sailing, but higher gets pretty challenging because of the size of the seas that build up. With the stronger winds, our speed should pick up to about 6.5 knots, and if that happens, we might be in by Weds afternoon. Otherwise, it will be Thursday morning.
At 02/02/2014 8:00 AM (utc) our position was 08°14.42'N 165°10.86'E