February 13, 2013

#Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia

We set sail from Alinginae Atoll just before noon and headed south for a 400 mile sail to Kosrae.  The winds looked favorable and we thought it would be no problem averaging 8 knots on a beam reach.  We set the double reefed main and full jib and the winds were moving us along nicely.  Since the fishing was so good the day before I put the lines out for one more try.  I had 2 poles set and was putting out the third with a new yellow/gold popper head squid and about 10 seconds after I set the pole down BAM! A fish took the bait!  A nice size mahi  had taken the bait and was jumping wildly shaking his head trying to throw the bait.  

We furled the jib and had the fish aboard 20 minutes later.  The freezer was about full now so I put the poles away and re set the sails.

We made good miles for a first day, but about noon the next day the wind speed dropped, so we had to motor sailed the rest of the afternoon.  This is not the first time this had happened….it seems that when the most critical passes are to be made we are always fighting for a few more minutes of daylight.

The entrance into Lelu harbor, which is on the east side of Kosrae, had a pass even Popeye wouldn’t dare go into at night!  The charts were anywhere from 150 feet to 300 yards off depending witch charts you are using!  The channel markers consist of a single 12 inch red buoy that is really hard to see in the swell and a few stakes that are pounded into the reef itself.  The pass is about 300 feet wide with reef and breaking waves on either side.

It was worth burning a few gallons of diesel to be able to anchor in the fading daylight.  There were just two other boats in the whole harbor and we anchored in 30 feet of water in front of the small town.
We had received a few e mails from other cruisers saying that the port captain was a real piece of work and had been trying to get the cruisers to pay large fees to clear out.  We met the customs, quarantine, immigration, and the dreaded port captain and they all treated us nicely and welcomed us to their island with minimal paperwork and then we were officially cleared in.

I guess the problem was that the previous port captain was pocketing the fees and now the system was broke and scrambling for resources and charging unrealistic fees to cruisers instead of collecting fees from the cargo ships like they should. Typical government  games…..

The town around Lelu harbor sits on a ancient set of ruins that were built over 2000 years ago.  There are still 20 foot high rock walls built with thousands of stones some of which weigh several tons!  Walking around it hard to imagine what it all must have looked like since the jungle relentlessly reclaims it’s place and covers everything in site.   Little is known of this lost civilization and only old legends remain.

 Only 6000 people live on this island paradise and Kosrae is one of the few places in the world where the population is actually decreasing.  Being a US territory the citizens have all the same rights as US citizens and many leave to join the military or get jobs in the states. We saw little or no local industry and only 5 resorts on the whole island to draw tourist trade.  Just like in the states half the population works for the government and who knows what the rest of the people do for work?
We checked three resorts during our week long stay and the Pacific Treelodge Resort by far had the nicest restaurant setting.  The restaurant was built on a pier and sat on the edge of the river.  A 500 foot long path was built over the mangrove swamp to access the pier.  It was truly magical to walk through the  mangrove backwaters  and wind up at a nice restaurant.   Mark and Maria were great hosts and we enjoyed several meals there during our stay.  Saturday was lobster night for $10 I got a meal I couldn’t touch for $70 in the states I enjoyed this while Daria spent the next hour cracking mangrove crab.   

We spent the evening sharing stories with Mark and his brother watching the tide go down in the river.  I had asked mark several times when low tide was and how far down the river could go before we would have trouble driving SD back home.  He assured me that as long as his boat which was parked next to SD was still floating I could make it back safely.  I took his word for it and ordered another beer….then another…
By 11 it was time to go home and his boat was still floating so we hopped in SD and made our way down the river in the dim moonlight.  It was 2 miles downstream to where we anchored Downtime and we slowly motored in that direction.  Mark had told us stay right after the bridge which looked about 3 feet higher than when we had went under it 5 hours earlier…..He also said it gets really shallow after the bridge…..Oh really?  Our first clue was the clunk we heard when the motor hit a rock! Then another and another…… we made it another 200 yard and then it got REALLY shallow and SD was stuck!  By my guess we were exactly at low tide and would have to wait a few hours….. Try to tell Daria that…..Within minute we were both knee deep in the middle of the river pulling SD back upriver looking for a channel to float down.  SD weighs about 800 pounds and is like pulling a sack of bowling balls up river.  30 minutes of that and I was wore out and hopped back into the dink, but Daria was still convinced we somehow could get out of this ….
I finally convince her that it was pointless and she hopped back in and we both took a nap for a hour under the stars waiting for the tide to come back in.  An hour land a half later we could feel the boat rocking which meant we were floating again.  We fired up the Yamaha and within 10 minutes we safely aboard Downtime,  What an adventure!

Other day we rented a car from Kosrae Nautilus Resort for just $40 for the whole day to drive the 30 miles of paved road around the island. Unfortunately we deleted all pics from rest of the adventure in Kosrae, have to back to retake them, I guess! 

 We heard there was an American dentist on the island and stopped by the hospital to see if we could get an appointment to have our teeth looked at.  We went into the office and he was just finishing up on a patient and had us take a seat and open our mouths.  Try doing that in the states or anywhere else for that matter!  I had a cracked filling and Daria got a gold star.  Dr Greg told me to come back in the morning at 8 and he would replaced the filling.  Amazingly he showed up on time a first for any island appointment!  I gave my name and had to pay the fee upfront a whopping $6, seriously why cant’t we have this kind of service in the states?  A double dose of nova cane and 30 minutes later I had a new filling! Greg was the best dentist I have ever been to, very professional and the filling feels great! Thanks Greg!

On our way around the island we stopped at most of the fresh vegetable stands to see what they had to offer and by the end of the day had a car load.  Further around the island we stopped for lunch at  the Kosrae Eco  lodge.  This resort was where you could go native and sleep in thatched huts and enjoy a minimalist experience for full price of course!  `We asked where we could find the WW2 Japanese caves and they recommended we contact Philip the tour guide.  They said we should ask around since his phone no longer worked but someone would know where he was.  After a nice lunch Daria had a few bowls of ice-cream and then we headed down the road to find Phillip.  A few miles down the road we entered a small village and I saw his sign hidden behind some bushes out of the corner of my eye.  We pulled over and started asking people where we could find Phillip?  We had sever different answers and were ready to head to the next town when who pulls up behind us?  Phillip himself!  What luck!

We asked him when we could take the tour and he answered any time would be fine…Well how about now? Sure why not. We followed him up to his house since the trail started in his back yard and an hour later we were hiking up the 1500 foot high mountain through the jungle towards the caves.  It is about an hours hike to the top of the mountain to where the tunnels are and along the way Phillip explained many things about the jungle to us.  He is 52 so he missed the war but his dad and grandfather told him many stories about it.

There was no combat in Kosrae but the Americans dropped tons of bombs on it anyways.  Over 7000 Japanese used the miles of tunnels for protection during the raids and probably spent years digging them out of solid rock.

We went into a few of the tunnels and I found myself crouching down since they are only 5 feet high.  We walked hundreds of feet though the mountain and at one point turned off our lights and experienced complete darkness!  Pitch dark and the only sound was our breathing and the water dripping trough the ceiling.
We spent 20 minutes in the tunnels and I was ready for some fresh air. I can only imagine what it would have been like when they were crammed with men feeling the earth shaking beneath  them while listening to the sound of bombs blasting overhead…..

Further across the ridge we came across a stream that led down the back side of the mountain. We followed the stream and it got bigger and bigger and  at one point dropped off in a series of waterfalls.  The last waterfall had a nice pool to go swimming in at the bottom of it and I jumped in.  The water felt great crashing over my head as I stood under the falls cooling off.   

Daria and I both were wearing Teva  trekking sandals and they were falling apart before our eyes the straps on mine were ripping out like a $3 pair of flip flops and the soles of Daria’s fell completely off,  Something that just should not happen with $70 brand name pair of shoes!  So beware buying TEVA sandals apparently they are only good for walking on flat surfaces.

Phillip used his jungle resources to fix our shoes by cutting the hem off his tee shirt for a cord and punching holes with his machete and had our shoes back on our feet in a few minutes. 

An hour later we were sitting in the shade behind his house enjoying a fresh coconut  with sliced oranges, tangerines and bananas.  Phillip did a excellent job guiding the tour and charged a fair price for his time.  We were also able to buy a sack of oranges and a stalk of green bananas to add to the rest of the vegetable we found that day.  If you need to call him, Call his brother at 3876 and he will get the message.

That afternoon we covered the miles of paved road we missed that morning  and handed out our bag of toys and candy along the way to the island kids.   

Early Monday morning I dropped Daria off at immigration to clear out while I was at the dentist.  The men are always flustered when a pretty girl comes in and they gladly stamped the passports and gave her clearance papers for no charge.  Well in my experience that is all you need to leave port..  We finished our last minute shopping and  left port to do some diving before we sailed to Pohnpei.  When the Port Captain gets the  news of this I am sure he will not be very happy….. but hey it is my message to him  to be nicer to the other cruisers next time.

We sailed to the south side of the island that is protected from the swells and tied to a mooring ball, one of 30 that are provided for diving around the island.  It is nice to dive right off the back of the boat because you do not have to haul all you gear around.  The dive was amazing!  The reef was covered in spectacular corals with a multitude of colors.  One coral had hundreds of small fan like creatures that would suck into a hole when they sensed you near.. Their fans were red, blue, orange, purple and a rainbow of colors and it looked like someone spilled a variety bag of jelly beans on the coral.

Another coral was as big as a small house at least 30 feet across and one of the biggest corals I had ever seen!  There were lots of small reef fish but the bigger ones along with the sharks were nowhere to be found?  

We spent the night on the mooring ball and aground 5pm the kids from the village lined up on shore and were waving flags, sticks and their arms shouting hello.  We should have put SD down and brought them some candy but the shore was rugged and there was no place to land so I took Downtimes American flag to the front deck and waved it and shouted hello back to the amusement of them all.  This went back and forth for the next 20 minutes and it was nice to feel so welcome.

The last day we sailed to the west side and did one more dive.  Not quite as good as the south side but there was still lots to see.  The coral everywhere is healthy and alive. The mooring balls prevent damage that we have seen elsewhere because it give you an option instead of anchoring on them.

Looking back at Kosrae we have to say we enjoyed ALL of it. The people are warm and welcoming.  We did not feel like strangers and felt safe everywhere we went.  The markets had a good selection of goods on the shelf and things were inexpensive.  Fresh vegetables and fruits could be found if you looked around. The restaurants had good food at a great price.  The anchorages are safe and most of the officials are doing a good job. Thanks to every one there for an amazing week!

Our next adventure will be sailing to Pohnpei

Until then Peace and get out there and live your dream!

Pete and Daria