May 19, 2013

Yap and Ngulu Atoll, FSM

After spending a few interesting weeks on Ulithie we continued our journey west to Yap one of our last stops in Micronesia.  We had heard mixed reports on the coconut telegraph about the port officials there but decided to go see for ourselves what was going on.  We found out like any other story or bad wrap there is usually one boat that does something wrong and makes it sound like they didn’t.  The boat causing all the commotion pulled into Yap a few months ago and did not even call the Port Captain on the radio and just plopped the anchor down and kept the radio off.  Then he had one crew who wanted to jump ship with empty pockets and a bag full of problems.  Well, in a case like this it is the Captains responsibility to pay for any crew he has aboard even when they want to jump ship. So in the end that is just what happened.

We were greeted with total professionalism and paid the published fees of just over $120 to clear in/out which is not bad considering we had to talk with 5 different departments to do so.  

One of the first things we noticed  after we anchored was the lack of activity on shore, it almost seemed like a lazy Sunday afternoon with very few people driving and walking around.  I guess we were assuming this was a busy place since a lot of outer islanders come here to shop and take a break from small island life. The island itself is one of the few volcanic islands in  Micronesia but did not have high mountains to catch the rains like Pohnpei or Kosrae does and is considerably drier because of that fact.
We finally were able to get to shore late Monday afternoon to scout out the town and see what we could buy to replenish our dwindling provisions on Downtime.  We found pretty much everything we were looking for at one store that resembled a mini-walmart right in the middle of town.  We bought a few watermelons and to our surprise they turned out to be a bright yellow/orange color when we cut them open and were the sweetest melons we tasted in a while!   The rest of the produce fridge looked more  like a science experiment with once fresh veggies transforming themselves in to stinking globs.  Luckily we had caught lots of fish so we were good on meat since the choices in that department were pretty slim also.  Oh well Palau is just a few weeks down the road…

Our next mission was to find a good restaurant to relax at but this too was a challenge since anything they served would have had to come from the market right?  We ate at a few and other than the exception of the Pacific Dive Resort the food was pretty much plain but it was nice for Daria to at least have someone to cook for her for the first time in almost two months. 

The next day we hired a car to drive us around the island to see the stone money, the main thing Yap is famous for. Stone money is just that, a circular stone quarried and painstakingly shaped into a circular stone with a hole in the center.  These stones range in size from 6 inches and go up to 12 feet in diameter that weigh many tons.  The most remarkable thing is that they were not made here but 250 miles away in Palau! They say only 60% or so made it over and the rest litter the bottom of the ocean between here and Palau from shipping mishaps.  The money was only traded once when it was brought over  for mostly taro crops.  The new owner would then proudly place this stone in front of his home as a status symbol and naturally bigger was better so hence the need for 12 foot diameter money.  The hole in the middle served it’s purpose in that they could slide a bamboo log through and transport the money by rolling it across the ground.  There are now countless pieces of  this stone money laying around the island that have long since become a currency of the past. 

On the rest of or island adventure we were impressed at the quality of the schools we saw one of which was a brand new high school just completed last year. As we cruised along the freshly paved road our guide Susan told us many interesting fact and showed us a few traditional “Men’s House”.  The architecture is slightly different than the eastern Micronesian islands and I thought it more like what we saw in Fiji with high peaked roofs and carvings along the eaves.  

Looking back I have to say the best thing about the anchorage in Yap is that we had access to free high speed internet the whole time we were there!  I say “FREE” but in reality…when you have not been online for shopping for a few days.  This was great because we could order our “stuff” on eBay and it would be shipped US Priority mail and meet us in Palau in a few weeks!  Well that was the plan anyways… As I am writing this we still have two packages floating in a container somewhere in the pacific heading this way by boat because that’s how the USPS rolls….when the plane is full they put it on a growing pile that when big enough gets put in a container and shipped on the slowest possible (cheapest) ship.  And wouldn’t you know it one of the delayed items was a new jacket for Daria to take on her trip home to Russia!  What luck….

After a few days of frenzied internet shopping I was ready to set sail  since the credit card had about all it could take.  There was not much else I could say about Yap as a tourist destination but word on the street is that the Chinese are working on building a huge hotel casino project and that should give the place some excitement for a while.

Clearing out of Yap was a breeze, we just notified the officials 24 hours in advance and they had our paper work and clearance papers waiting for us at the dock at the agreed upon time. 

We set sail just after 5 on Friday after noon which is supposed to be bad luck but we missed this superstitions wrath by a few miles the next morning.  We were sailing slow and I decided to leave two poles out just to see what might bite them on the moonless night.  

At around 11 pm one pole started screaming as the line tore off the reel with something big on it!  I first thought it had snagged a log or something because what could possibly see a bait on a night this dark?  Well that idea lasted only a few minute when the pole started jerking erratically after I gave it a few tugs, it was definitely a fish, a big one at that! 

An hour later the monster appeared after lots of work on the reel.  We had our first sword fish on and it was somewhere in the 150 pound range with a bill that was over 3 foot long!  I was able to get a gaff into the monster but wondered what I was going to do after that?  Reaching down and grabbing that huge pointed bill did not seem like a smart idea since one lunge from the fish would make a kabob out of this sailor!  I thought if I could just get the fish to tire out and calm down then  I would take my chance grabbing the bill, but then the gaff ripped out and it was back to holding onto the leader which is never fun to start with.  We managed to re-gaff the fish but this just made him more angry and he thrashed one last time and tore loose but unfortunately  this time the hook also failed and we watched this magnificent creature return to the deep.

The winds had been light and we were just sailing on the Genoa and going 5 knots.  We only had 80 miles to sail during the night to reach  Ngulo Atoll and from where were at I calculated we would arrive no sooner than 8 am so I double checked the course and set the auto pilot and took a little nap.  The fish must have taken a lot out of us both because the next thing we knew it was 7 am and the atoll was 3 miles of to our starboard.  Apparently the wind had picked up and we arrived an hour before I thought we would, just thank goodness I had steered the boat well away from the island or else we would be wrecked on a very nasty looking reef!  A good lesson I learned in the past,  never point the boat directly at an island!  It is always better to backtrack or divert a few miles that to hit a reef!

Like a few other places in the past we were stopping here without permission so I got on the radio and began hailing the island to say hello.  A while later we were greeted by George and his son the caretakers of this deserted piece of  island paradise.  They came out in there skiff and came aboard for a cup of coffee and began telling us the story of these islands.  Apparently some 30 years ago the Chief decided to move the entire population to Yap and abandon the outer island life?  Now the village is a ghost town with the exception of George and his family to take care of things.  George also monitors illegal fishing of the atoll with a radar system that is perched on top of an 80 foot tall radio tower.

Daria asked for a few coconut crabs and an hour later we had 4 huge crabs on the back of the boat!  We traded him for a few Downtime Tee shirs and what ever else he was lacking on the island.  Then George gave us permission to dive anywhere we wanted and to also come visit him ashore later.   

In the morning the winds were calm and we went for a snorkle along the southern reef and saw a very healthy and lively reef system.  We should have taken our spear gun because this was the first time we saw so many large groupers and snappers of harvestable size.  Oh well I hope they breed and make tons of babies!

The only downside to this beautiful atoll was the fact that the anchorage was exposed and the holding was poor.  In a few months with winds would change direction but that did not help our situation out today.  I would have loved to stay a few more days diving but at this time of the year the winds begin to change and you must pick your passages with them or find yourself motoring.  

We went ashore and thanked George and his family for everything and he gave us a huge bunch of bananas and his wife came out of the garden with a nice pumpkin that was big enough to feed us for weeks! Also she made very beautiful lei's for us, our last flowers in Pacific!

That afternoon we set sail with Ngulu fading on the horizon.  As I sat an recounted all the amazing experiences we had in these beautiful island of Micronesia I wondered what all of our new found friends were doing on their own little parts of paradise?  It was an amazing experience and the highlight of our trip, so many beautiful people living in a beautiful environment sustaining a lifestyle that has been passed down for generations.

We want to thank all of or friends for their generosity and welcoming attitudes, it truly made our trip into something we will never forget!  

Our next adventure will be exploring Palau!

Until then, Peace!  Pete & Daria