June 30, 2013

#Palau - our last stop in the #Pacific Ocean

When we tell people we are in Palau they say great, where is that exactly?  Well, Palau is a small republic located 6000 NM west sw of San Diego Ca. or 4100 NM sw of Hawaii or 1600 NM se of Japan or 500 NM east of the Philippines, so we hope you get the general idea.. A long ways from anywhere!

We arrived here after our 3 month stay in Micronesia and found it to be one of the easiest countries to clear into.  We simply filled out a few questions and sent a e-mail to the port authorities with boat and crew information along with a general time that we would be arriving.  We were a few miles out and were hailed on the VHF around  that time with out arrival status and were greeted at the customs dock by all the officials and were cleared within the hour.

After clearing in we made our way around to the small anchorage in front of Sam’s Tours and spent a few days on a mooring ball, our first in a long time!  Sam’s is very yacht friendly and even has a small yacht club and will help you find a solution to any thing you might be in need of.

Naturally after spending 6 months cruising in small atolls our first things on he list was to go to the market’s and restock the boat.  We had last seen a “real” grocery store way back in New Caledonia and were just about out of everything!  Not to say we did not have our fill of banana’s that we did and were amazed they did not even have then in the markets here?  What they did have on the shelves in the markets here was a very good selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, something Daria had been craving for weeks!  Our shopping carts when we headed for the checkout looked like we were going to feed two goats and a pony that were starving back at home!  Much of the produce is flown in and you can sign up for text service that notifies you when the plane lands and then it is first come first serve.
The next thing we were craving was a good restaurant, so the quest began trying all the local hotspots.  After a few days we found a few good places with decent food but “service” was the one thing that only a few special places had to offer.  Kramer’s and The Taj had the best of both!  Several others had good food and even the small street place I Love Noodle’s had excellent food for reasonable prices with good service.

It took us about a week to settle back into civilization and get caught up with internet and to feel part of the world again.  We met some old friends that we had met way back in Suwarav Atoll, Andy, Monica and their son Jake on Savanna who we had last seen a year and a half ago. A few other boats we had briefly met along the way were also here staging for their journey south to Indonesia for the season.

The northern route to Palau is the path less taken and only about 30 to 40 boats a year travel by the route we came and it seemed the same people keep showing up at different places along the way.  The majority of all the cruising boats that travel across the Pacific head south for the typhoon season to New Zealand or Australia and rarely make it this far north.  Needless to say there are very few yacht facilities or places to have work done in this neck of the wood with this small of a customer base so you are pretty much on your own in that department.  One thing that makes life a little easier is that all the islands we had recently been to have US Mail service and US zip codes and you can get just about anything shipped from the states in less than a week for the same rates as shipping within the states.

The main tourist draw to Palau is its world class diving and we spent the second week here enjoying it all with a guide Jonas and his girlfriend  Maria. We hired them to come aboard Downtime for three days and show us the best dive sites without having to put up with the crowds.  We would get to the best sites before or after the groups left and would have them all to ourselves.  It was also nice to have a guide with a few thousand dives under his belt to give Daria that little extra boost of confidence she needed on some of the trickier dives that has strong currents.  On one dive Jonas took his camera along and took some amazing pictures on a day everything seemed to fall in place, the weather, the water clarity, and even the fish and turtles were all there!  When were not diving Jonas took us around the lower islands and showed us some really cool anchorages that  we would have never found on our own like the one at 11 Islands.  When it was all done I had good idea where everything was all at and we had 7 great dives under our belts!  Thanks for a great “Downtime” Jonas and Maria!

Apart from diving there is also a lot of history here in Palau.  The southern island of Peleliu was the location of one of the bloodiest battles in WW2 on in which the 1st Marines went in for a 3 to 4 day battle to take over the air strip.  The battle turned into a 73 day standoff with the well fortified Japanese who were dug into hundreds of caves on the island.  The battle turned into a living hell on an island without fresh water or provisions and in the end over 18,000 brave souls gave their lives in the name of freedom.  The next island down,  Angaur had a similar story of many lives being lost.  We toured the island and the sense that something terrible had happened never left me and the site of old burned out equipment made me think of the ones that gave their lives so many years ago.

Palau is made up of hundreds of islands and the main island of Koror is only 6 miles across and is home to most of the 17,000 inhabitants.  The largest island to the north Babeldaob has only a few thousand living on the 40 mile long island. The islands were formed of uplifted limestone where two of the earths plates buckled upward to form the rocky islands.  Just offshore lies the beginning of the Marianas Trench and some of the deepest oceans in the world.  The main industry is tourism and the area south of Koror is known as the Rock Islands and home to the many dive sites people from all around the world come to see. The diving is amazing and the variety or fish and coral is the best I have ever seen.  Not only the variety but also the size and quantity of fish is something that surprised me.  On one dive in Ulong Channel  we saw no less that 3000 groupers that were spawning and coveting every available nook and cranny.  Other dives had several varieties of sharks, white tip, black tip and grey reef sharks that would get up close and personal with no fear at all of you.  Then there are the napoleon fish that must be 50 years old and 4 feet long that swim right up to you and let you pet them and then keep sneaking up behind you during the rest of your dive!  If wreck diving is your thing then Palau is your paradise since there are over 20 wrecks to explore within 100 feet of the surface!

We spent a few weeks exploring Palau covering many miles in SD soaking it all in and then it was time for Daria to fly home for her first time in over a year.  While she was home visiting family and friends I had a few old friends fly in and we spent some good times diving and catching up.  First down was Tim from Indiana a friend that has been on Downtime cat 6 times before helping with repairs and moving the boat from place to place.  Then Josh flew out from Oklahoma for his second cruise aboard, the three of us spent a week doing all the best  dives and one day took SD down to Peleliu to see the war remains since Tim had family that fought there.  We hired a local named Kyle and he gave us the 3 hour tour.  The east side of the island was wiped out by a typhoon last December add the effects could still be seen in the tangled jungle and the barren beaches where millions of tons of sand were swept out to sea.  Next we drove across the airport that was so ferociously fought for and saw a few old guns and tanks that were left behind.

The memorials sit up next to bloody nose ridge and I have to say the Japanese really do a nice job building theirs. It was hard to imagine what it must have all been like back then…….
The week flew by and before I knew it Josh and Tim were on a plane and my Brother in law Todd was on his way out.  Well he was till his flight got delayed two days….His old friend Sterling showed up on time and helped me stock the boat for the week when Todd finally arrived.  It was beginning to feel like groundhog day for this Captain as we set of for the same trip for the third time in 4 weeks!

The next day we moved up to 11 Islands to another secluded anchorage away from all the dive boats and anchored next to Savanna.  This would be our staging spot to dive Blue Corner. Blue Hole, New Drop Off and German Chanel some of the best dives in Palau.
Sunday came around and some of my friends from Koror came out and we had a nice B-day party on Downtime with Patric my friend cooking up lots of good food in the galley.

A few more days of diving and the week was over way too fast and Todd was packing his bags to go home…It seemed like he just got here?

The farewell dinner was at Pacific Beach Resort, the nicest hotel in Palau.  It was great to spend time with family and friends that I had not seen in so long.  And I want to thank them all for taking the time to fly so far to come spend some time with me.

Daria’s time in Russia flew by and before I knew it I was heading to the dock to pick her up.  We spent a week back down in the Rock Islands relaxing and getting ready for our trip to Davao, Philippines.  We knew we would not need much in the way of provisions for this short trip since we would be trying to eat our way to the bottom of the freezer before we left the boat in a few weeks when we would fly back to the states.

In our next adventure we conquer the Philippine Sea for the first time!

Until then, Peace
                    Daria Friday
PS: big thanks Andy on Savanna for few his amazing underwater pics!