Thursday, April 3, 2014

Passage from Chuuk to Puluwat

By the time we got checked out from Chuuk and ready to go, the weather forecast had changed drastically for our trip. When we had set our departure date, the winds had been forecast at about 10 knots. By the time we left, the forecast was for 20+ knots!!

Had we been in Pohnpei, a harbor with very good protection and much easier communication with the officials, we would have stayed a couple of days and waited for a better window. But Chuuk isn't the best place to be if the weather deteriorates. AND the text forecast we got at the same time as the GRIB file, was more optimistic about the forecast. At the time there was a tropical depression forming to the east of Chuuk, forecast to drift slowly WNW. We wanted to beat it to Puluwat, which has a better anchorage for weird winds. Since supposedly, a weather forecaster creates the text forecast from the machine-generated GRIB forecast, we opted to believe their forecast over the GRIB files.

Turns out, this time at least, that the GRIB file was more accurate.

We left Chuuk in fairly pleasant conditions, and were congratulating ourselves on the decision to go, right up until about 1am, when the wind (as forecast by the GRIB files) started to pick up. Our "Genoa only, on a pole" sail plan, which was OK when the winds were 10 knots, turned out to be terrible (for steering) when the winds got up to 20 knots. Neither the wind vane nor the autopilot was very good in the windy conditions with large waves going down wind, with only the single headsail out, at least on the heading we were trying to make. Had we had a wing-on-wing configuration with either the mainsail or staysail on the opposite from the genoa, it would have been better. But we don't do sailhandling in the middle of the night in rough conditions if we can avoid it. So we just gutted it out and hand-steered when forced to, when the wind got up.

At dawn it was obvious that we had the GRIB-forecast conditions, not the text forecast conditions. As best we could tell without a real-time satellite photo, the depression had moved west and was nearly at our same latitude but 150 miles south of us. We had about 20-22 knots steady with gusts a little higher when the squalls went past. The seas had built to about 6-8 feet and were pushing the stern around a lot, making the steering situation even worse. (Overall, these are not terrible conditions, we just normally don't choose to go out in weather like this if we can help it).

We finally rolled in the genny to "squall size" and turned on the engine to help steady out the steering. We also pulled out the staysail, sheeted in hard on the other side, to help with the roll. By now the winds had gone east far enough that we were going dead down wind. Had we been on a longer passage, we would have adjusted our sail plan and/or angled off to a heading (temporarily) that would be easier for the steering.

The engine helped a lot for the steering, but I hated to be running the engine when we (finally) had some wind. It also helped us pick the speed up some. We wanted to get in AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. At that point, we were both pretty tired--not much sleep during the night, on or off watch, in those conditions.

On the approach to Puluwat, there is a couple of shoal areas, which I was worried about. The CM93 chart is vague, with few soundings, and the Google Earth chart is "air brushed" out in part of the area. Though the CM93 chart was fairly accurate in Chuuk, it's not accurate everywhere out here. So we got on the morning SSB net and asked about going over those banks in our current nasty weather. Fortunately we were assured that it would be OK. Others in previous weeks had come through there in similar conditions. So we headed straight for our waypoint at 07-20.5N / 149-11.8E just off the entrance to Puluwat's narrow channel.

Going over the banks I'd been worried about, we avoided the shallowest spot (30 feet on the charts, coming up abruptly from about 6000 feet), and so saw least depth of about 40 feet during the whole last 5 miles. But most of the time it was 150 feet or more, only occasionally rising to 60 feet and then dropping off again. I had worried about nasty washing machine seas with this variable bottom, but didn't notice the seas much worse near the banks.

The next thing I was worried about was having seas breaking across the channel. There isn't much protection from the big wind and seas until you get up inside the channel. The depths go from 150 feet to 40 feet to 20 feet in about 100 yards.

We had been warned that it was narrow, and it was! If I hadn't had good Google Earth charts, a good set of waypoints from friends, and assurances that others had come in in similar conditions, we might not have ventured in.

Dave was standing on our lookout position giving encouragement and directions, as I steered our way using the waypoints. One tiny end of a wave did break across the entrance, but we could see it wasn't bad. Fortunately we were between squalls, so visibility was reasonable, at noon, even with the overcast. One minute we were out in the storm, the next minute... ahhh... calm and quiet in a pretty little lagoon with a 25-30' deep sand bottom, and a sand beach. Very pretty and very quiet.

Our waypoints on the way in (from Kokomo) were:

07 20.624N 149 11.529E
07 20.745N 149 11.521E
07 20.802N 149 11.514E
07 20.867N 149 11.516E
07 20.917N 149 11.527E
07 20.982N 149 11.536E
07 21.270N 149 11.528E anchored here

We checked out Kokomo's anchor spot but it looked corally. Later we found that most (but not all) of the black spots on the bottom are grass and not coral. So their anchorage was OK. We anchored further south at 07-21.13N / 149-11.56E

Glad to be here. More on Puluwat later.

Sherry & Dave
Heading west across Micronesia in 2014

At 04/02/2014 3:25 AM (utc) our position was 07°21.11'N 149°11.54'E

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