Posted by: catamarantwooceans | November 1, 2011

Sailing FSM–Yap state

23.10.11 – Sunday – Apart from one big rain cloud the weather became friendlier. after a long time with no other vessels in sight we saw a fishing ship steaming full speed to the north.

Lamotrek atoll, which is a part of the state of Yap, appeared over the horizon about 15 miles out. We went into the lagoon through the northeast pass, which was wide and clear of obstructions and followed the barrier reef all the way to Lamotrek island and village. Anchoring was a bit of a problem; on the first try we anchored too close to a reef patch. We ended up dropping the anchor in 13 meters quite close to shore.

At 1615 we went ashore looking for the chief. We only saw women and children, the women dressed in the traditional manner, bare bosom, young and old alike.

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"Where can we find the chief?" A young lad took us through the village to a clearing near a boat-house where we could see a big group of men. "The one in the white chair is the chief" the boy said.

I approached a shook the chief’s hand. He did not speak English so well so somebody volunteered to translate. We were told they were in the middle of their daily "Tuba" meeting. Tuba is the cultural equivalent of Kava, and is made from the coconut palm. I tasted it and found it to be quite strong. We agreed to meet the next morning.

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24.10.11 – Monday – We met chief Manuel in the morning.

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A guy called Caesario translated. We gave the chief some food stuff as a present plus the last of the "school materials" that we had on board.

The chief said that they are authorized by the Yap government (Lamotrek belongs to the state of Yap) to charge a fee for anchoring in the lagoon. "How much is it?" "Five dollars" I made sure that I did not miss a digit and passed the bill. The chief then asked whether we could give him some coffee and as much as we were short ourselves I promised to share with him. He also wanted a fuse for his inverter which I promised to deliver.

Caesario took us around the village.

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On the way he explained how they made the Tuba. They cut the end of a sprouting stem of coconut flower and tie an empty dry coconut to it in a way that a liquid that the stem secretes is collected. This is the Tuba!

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How does it gain the alcoholic content is beyond me. As far as I understood there is no long fermentation, the Tuba that was started in the morning is drunk in the evening.

We went on to a boat-house where a large sailing canoe was kept.

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All around were boats, traditional as well as fiberglass motor-boats. Very quickly I received requests to help repair two motorboats… No, I don’t think that the guys from Puluwat gave them the idea, they simply have the same problem of hitting reefs in shallow water. I said I’ll come later with my equipement.

On the way to his home Caesario took us to see a woman weaving the Lavalava, which is what the local ladies wear.

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We bought three, prices ranging between 15 – 25$ for each. We met Caesario’s wife and 16 years old daughter. We learned that the young women marry at 15 or 16 years of age. At that age they are really beautiful and I could understand Paul Gaugin and Fletcher Christian’s fascination with their Polynesian counterparts.

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Check out the Lavalava!

I brought the fiberglass mat and epoxy and worked on two boats. When I finished, Caesario appeared with my next jobs: check those two inverters, solder a broken electrical wire connection in a solar-panel charged lamp and check a citizens band radio transceiver…

I decided that taking the inverters apart was not the scope of my professional capabilities but I did solder the wire and found out that all the radio needed were 10 AA batteries.

One of the guys whose boat I fixed was Francis, a kindergarten teacher. He surprised me by saying he had a laptop and could I please upload some movies into it? He preferred action and war movies, gave me his Dell computer, complete with Windows 7 and got what he wanted.

Tomorrow we go to an uninhabited atoll – Olimarao. I need the rest…

25.10.11 – Tuesday – At 8 am I waved goodbye to the chief, who was bathing in the sea as is his morning habit and left the enchanted village of Lamotrek. This time I tried the southeast exit and found it to be good, with minimum depth of 4.5 meters. Its position according to my GPS is:07 28’48 N 146 21’357 E and it saves a lot of time when coming in from the east.

We motored around the northern island of the lagoon where a fishing vessel was rotting on the reef, probably thrown there in one of the rare typhoons that hit the area.

wreck

We were told in the village that the last one occurred in 1999, had 160 mph winds and practically destroyed all the island;s houses, felling most  of the trees. Everything we saw there was re-built by the USA.

A short time later something took the lure. Taking the rod into my hands, I could feel it wasn’t the usual stuff we catch. This one had terrific strength and started diving straight down, pulling my line despite me tightening the friction wheel almost to the maximum. "It must be a shark" I said and went on fighting the beast, not because I wanted to take it on board, but just to see it. This took about 25 minutes of panting,  heaving the rod and turning the reel two or three turns each time, with the creature taking away precious length of line with tremendous bursts of energy. Finally we could see it, a 2 meters white-tip shark. Israel took some pictures and while trying to bring its head to rest on the stern platform thinking of perhaps dislodging and retrieving the lure,  the line was broken.

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Disappointed we went on sailing to Olimarao, reaching the pass at 1500. We did not have good resolution on our electronic chart and took the entrance co-ordinates out of a paper map "from 1925 Japanese chart and 1944  US government chart", datum was probably not the same as our GPS. We got help from Google earth sat- picture and found the pass at 07 40’666 N 145 52’469 E. Minimum depth was 5 meters.

Another mile and a half and we anchored near the island on a sandy patch, dropping at 4.5 meters and moving back to 3.

I took the dinghy ashore and walked along the shore and inside the thick foliage covering the island.

olimarao

When I came back to the dinghy I found it full of sea water. The tide was going up and with on-shore wind small waves were jumping into it. By that time Israel came swimming and together we pushed the heavy laden inflatable off the beach where I could bale out all the water.

Back at the boat we were dreaming of fish dinner. I put two lines in, one with a big hook. The other one was first to catch a small size fish which was promptly transferred to the big hook as live bait. Some more fish took the small hook but escaped before I could bring them on deck.

I abandoned the plan to go ashore ant hunt coconut crabs, my back was sore after pulling that sea-water filled dinghy and the night was so dark!

Dinner was Spaghetti…Just before going to bed I checked the line with the big hook. Some creature came stealthily and took our bait with its line, hook and sinker…

26.10.11 – Wednesday – At first light I was up and went fishing, catching two nice snappers. At 0815 we left to go 120 miles to Woleai atoll. We went out through the western side of the pass, at 07 40’671 N 145 52’218 E with minimum depth of 4 meters.

At noon the wind came, clear skies and flat sea – ideal sailing conditions. Some time in the afternoon a strong smell of electrical fire was felt for a few minutes. Looking for  suspects did not reveal any and the smell disappeared. A little later we found out that the freezer was not operating. So that was it, bad news! For now – no fishing, unless for a pending meal.

27.10.11 – Thursday – During the night the wind became very light and we had to use an engine. This gave us good speed and we entered the Woleai lagoon and anchored near the village at 1000.

in woleai

We went ashore in search of the chief but the first person we saw was a man sitting in a shed chained by the ankle to a strong-point in the ground.

chained

Demented person? Criminal being punished? We later found out that the poor man was mentally ill and whenever he had an attack and did "things he shouldn’t do" his family chained him.

Walking on we saw some old rusted machinery, relic of the Japanese occupation in WW2. Near the catholic church there was an edifice commemorating the thousands of Japanese soldiers who perished on the island.

memorial

To think that a long, cruel war took place in these beautiful and peaceful environment and that so many people lost their lives here is mind boggling.

We stopped by what turned out to be the kindergarten and a man named John escorted us to chief Fred who received us cordially. We sat and had a nice talk during which the subject of the FEE came up, 10$ per person, paid on the spot. We were invited to the evening Tuba drinking.

On the way back John said that he had a fiberglass motor boat that needed some repairs, could I take a look at it tomorrow? How did he know that I was an experienced boat repair-man? Of course I said I’ll do my best.

We passed a small cemetery covered by a blue tarpaulin which gave it a strange color.  An old woman sat there, smoking a thin cigarette she made from a regular one. She, as all other women around wore the traditional dress or undress, if you will.

blue grave

The island of Woleai is unique in having a modern power plant and 24 hours electricity. Still, I could not see how they used this advantage in their homes. They do not have cellular net or internet here.

In the water near the shore stood another lady, an aluminum pail floating by her side, throwing a fishing line no more than two meters out and taking out small fish in quick succession. Whenever she took one out, she would bite its neck to disable it and took the hook out for the next one. All this action did not prevent her from chatting with me.

fishing

As evening came we went to the Tuba gathering, meeting young and older locals. Many of them had Italian names, like Bernardo and Tino. The church’s name is St. Ignacio Loyola, which I think explains it. They were very friendly and answered our questions regarding their life on the island, courtship and marriage habits and so on.

tubaguys

28.10.11 – Friday – In the morning we went ashore intending to go to the high school, to which pupils come from some of the outer islands, like Lamotrek and Satawl.

But before we could set out a young man named Linus approached me and asked me to take a look at his motorboat which had a crack on its bottom.  I thought this was the same boat John mentioned the day before and joined him, entering one of the boat sheds where he showed me the crack. I thought I could do it. "Move the boat to the other side of the shed, where there is more room and light" I said. "Yes, I’ll call the guys and we’ll do it". I promised to come in 90 minutes and went with Israel to resume our original plan.

A dirt road leads to the air-strip and the high school and one can see that motor vehicles used to pass there. Somebody told Israel that there were three cars on the island but we saw neither in action.

The runway, which was first built by the Japanese during WW2 and later refurbished, was quite long. We were told that there was no longer flight service into the island because in heavy rain large part of it became covered by water.

On the way to the high school we met the headmaster who allowed us to go in and look around.

headmaster

The place was nice, tidy and surprisingly quiet. It seems the boys and girls of the islands are able to restrain their natural energy at school.

This used to be a part of the Japanese air base and parts of hangars can still be seen. A big, 16 cylinder airplane engine was put there on display.

engine

Israel stayed on at school while I went back to take some water from a rain-water tank they had near the shore and see whether Linus prepared his boat. On the way I saw some big breadfruit trees that had diagonal cuts which I assumed were done to extract the natural resin they used as glue in their boat construction. Took out the knife and made a small cut – white stuff came out and boy, it was really sticky!

resin

On the beach: Water – yes, Linus- no…

A guy standing there told me that John was looking for me so I went to the kindergarten to see him. I turned out that Linus’s boat and his were not the same so we went to look at his. John’s boat had some interior ribs broken, they must have hit a reef pretty bad! This was a relatively big job for which I had neither the time nor the materials. I did, however, explain what he could do. I asked whether he had a postal address, thinking of doing the research at home and sending instructions by mail, but alas, there is no way we could communicate.

In the afternoon it started raining. The locals go on doing whatever they need to do come rain or shine. A motorboat comes ashore and I watch, using my binoculars, a guy take out a few birds and start working on them. Panning to the left, I am amazed to see that the main cargo is actually a load of fish. I decided to go ashore and investigate.

"What are those birds you caught?" I asked the guy who was cleaning them. "Bubbies" was the answer. "How do you catch them?" "With a fishing pole". I thought that seabirds tasted awful but I’m sure the islanders know better.

The fish they caught were some big wahoo and many skipjack tuna. The man who seemed to be the chief fisherman was sorting the fish, making up piles for the various families. Suddenly he came over with a skipjack in his hand. "Here, this is for you". Although I already cooked the evening meal I could not refuse Dominic’s generous offer.

c-of-d

In this spirit of giving, I remembered the lollypops that we had on board, went back to our boat and brought them ashore. I gave them to John, who was there, cautioning him about their being bubble-gum filled, so maybe unsuitable for small children. As I was rowing back to "Two Oceans" I saw the guys on the beach already munching on them. 

29.10.11 – Saturday – Time to leave Woleai. What a pity, I could have stayed a week here, investigating the other islands and living the relaxed island life which, in my third season in the Pacific, I am starting to embrace and adopt.

I said goodbye to the people who were on the beach, we started the engines and motored to the nearest exit, between Mariaon and Tagaulap islands. Although the pass looked O.K on the chart and John said I could easily go through, it wasn’t that easy. The area between the islands did agree with its description on the map but eyeball navigation did the trick. I found a narrow channel that looked bluer and deeper and through that we reached open waters.

There was no wind at all, which was preferable to the possible westerly that the forecast showed. The area was under the influence of a small low, so anything could be expected. During the afternoon a mild squall came with a bit of rain and maximum wind of 17 knots which enabled us to shut the engine and sail properly. This lasted for just 40 minutes. Engine back in operation.

At night I took the first watch, 2000 – 2230. Just a few minutes before waking Israel up I saw 3 knots of wind speed and we were motoring with full main. I did see a big cloud ahead on the radar but expected it to be not stronger than the one we had before. MISTAKE! In seconds the wind came up to 22 true and I rushed to put in the first reef.

Toiling on the winch and ropes I could feel the wind rise higher and higher. Heavy rain hit us, deck-light accentuating the torrents flowing from the sail onto the deck. I called Israel up and together we reefed to the third point, going downwind at high speed about 35 degrees to the left of the required course so as not to risk a jibe. Maximum wind was registered at 34.8 knots, that’s strong! Luckily the sea was still flat. We had to wait for the squall to pass and that took a little over an hour and then the engine had to be started again.

30.10.11 – Sunday – This is not trade-wind cruising. No constant wind filling your sails and sun shining above. This is the ITCZ, Inter Tropical Convergence Zone characterized by light winds and sudden squalls. If you want to sail the FSM – be prepared!

The day passed pleasantly enough but with a lot of engine work. In the afternoon a ship passed ahead. According to the AIS she was Northern Fortune III. The AIS antenna is hidden somewhere in the starboard stern compartment and some sectors are "blind". I’ll have to find a better place for it.

With evening winds came and went from different directions and we were trying to make the most of them, shutting down the engine and doing some "pure sailing".

When finally the wind died and we started the engine once more, the gas detector gave the alarm. This happens when the batteries are over-charged. I think the starting and shutting down of the engine repeatedly confused the alternator regulator and it did not go into float charge in time. Opening the battery bank cover I saw that the batteries were extremely hot and decided to let them rest by disabling the operating engine’s alternator, taking out the belts driving it. I also put a small fan to cool the lot off.

31.10.11 – Monday – Motoring, motoring, motoring.

1.11.11 – Tuesday –

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Responses

  1. Great! Your travels, your writings, your pics; just wonderful!

  2. Hi Miki, my name is Tommy Wooley. My friend (Robbie) found your blog and told me about it. I’m 36, am a waiter at Chili’s Restaurant and have been living on Guam with my Chamorro/Somoan wife. In the last few years I’ve become especially fascinated with the outer islands between Chuuk and Yap in particular Woleai. Thank you so much for your blog! Robbie and I are partners in a Hobie 16 and have been sailing it around Guam for the last year. We dream and talk about sailing a bigger catamaran from Guam to Woleai and some of the other islands one day!

  3. I VERY MUCH ENJOY YOUR BLOG. WELL WRITTEN, NICE PHOTOS AND VERY INFORMATIVE…. I AM DREAMING of eventually following in your footsteps and cruising the Pacific… in my case, in a F-33 trimaran. Greetings from the Cloud Forest in Guatemala.

  4. I really enjoy reading all of these. I am from the Island of Woleai and im so happy to see that you guys enjoyed being on the island and meeting my people. I haven’t been on the Island for 8 years now. However, reading about your trip really makes me feel like i was there! I hope to meet you guys in person on the island again someday!


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