Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ensenada to Palau May to July 2011

To recap the period since the last update: 

We completed our passage from Ensenada to Palau without any significant problems with the boat and with no particularly daunting winds or seas. We made three stops, at Honolulu, Majuro and Pohnpei before reaching Palau. We didn't find the hoped-for steady "trade wind" conditions until we were almost to the Marshall Islands. However, after the first two days, the wind and seas were almost always abeam or  abaft it. Seas were pretty "lumpy" and confused for the first two days from Mexico and again for the first couple of days after Hawaii. However, they didn't exceed 6 ft, or so, for any appreciable length of time over the whole passage.

A trans-Pacific passage is a significant project for any mariner. We all know that even with a really seaworthy vessel and the most meticulous preparation and planning, God, and the fearsome forces of His creation, sometimes challenges seamanship. I'd like to believe, and certainly hope, that I'm prepared to meet such challenges when they arise. However, I feel mightily blessed to have faced no such conditions on this whole passage. For all of you that have supported me with your prayers, I thank you!

Ensenada to Hawaii

We completed the formalities to clear the port in Ensenda mid-day on the 4th of May. After refueling and clearing our account at Marina Coral, Dean Philpott and I got underway for Honolulu by 19:30. By 21:30 we had cleared Todos Santos Island and were on a rhumb line course for Diamond Head. We never had any reason to change that course until we got there, 2,300 miles and 15 days later.

By starting from Ensenada, we were far enough South to avoid most of the effects of the gale force conditions that prevailed at Pt. Conception that day. Nonetheless, things were a bit "lumpy" for the first couple of days. The hoped for Northeasterly trade winds, that can provide a nice 15 kt wind and current on the starboard quarter on this trip, never materialized. The wind and seas stayed pretty much on our starboard beam the whole way.

As you might expect, we didn't take a lot of pictures of the scenery. After the first 24 hours, we never even saw another vessel until we were within a day of Oahu. The sunrises and sunsets were often spectactular, though.

During most days, we trolled fishing gear. Every few days, we'd be rewarded with some fresh fish. Here's a wallet-size mahi mahi that Dean caught. It was devoured almost before it stopped wiggling. Yum!.

Before this trip, I'd only seen pictures of short-billed spearfish on posters showing billfish in fishing tackle stores. Here's one in the flesh. We normally release any billfish we catch, but his one was too badly injured to survive, so we vacuum packed and froze it. I've eaten marlin and haven't been impressed. However, this spearfish was delicious. The taste and texture reminded me of Wahoo. (Lest you think it really is a wahoo, this fish had a mouth like a marlin. . . no teeth.)

It doesn't take much to entertain me on a long voyage. Here I am roasting coffee from green beans during a calm period. Dean didn't care much for the result. I guess there's no accounting for some people's taste, (nor smell, for that matter.)

Waikiki was, of course, a welcome sight. We rounded Diamond head just after sunrise May 19th.

We started calling for a slip as soon as we had cell coverage but were unable to reach some of the more promising marinas. We decided to pull into Ala Wai fuel dock, more in hope of advice than from a dedsire to immediately fuel up. As we pulled into Ala Wai boat basin, the boat on the first dock in front of us was Shaka, a Nordhavn 57 owned by our friends Johann and LaurieRegular followers of this blog may remember that we cruised down the Inside Passage with them last summer. Small world!

We took a chance that the Waikiki Yacht club would forgive the transgression and tied up to an open spot on the end tie directly behind Shaka and went to the office. They not only forgave us, they let us stay. Great location! Right across the street from Ala Moana shopping center and adjacent to Waikiki beach.

Because our last port of call was Mexico, we called Homeland Security. They had an inspection team aboard within a couple of hours and we were officially back in the country. This leg of the trip was finally over!
Hawaii to Majuro

The day afer our arrival in Honolulu, Phyl flew over from home. We'd each been on Oahu in the late '60s, but hadn't had an opportunity to play tourist there since. We spent the short time we had on a a driving tour of the island, revisiting old haunts, enjoying sights we'd enjoyed so long ago.

Scott Johnston joined us as Phyl left for the mainland. For a couple of days, Scott, Dean and I mixed sightseeing with peparations for the next leg.

Early on the 26th we moved over to a dock in the Kewalo basin where we met a truckload of fuel I'd bought the day before, (a lot cheaper than buying from the fuel dock). We took on 867 gallons to bring our total onboard fuel inventory up to a total of 1100 gallons in preparation for our passage to Majuro.

By the way, data gained on this trip indicate that the recoverable fuel capacity of the permanent tanks is actually 940 gallons, a greater value than I reported in my last posting.

After moving back to our slip, we completed formalities to clear the USA, (necessary get our "Zarpe" required for entry into the Marshall Islands), and picked up the last of our provisions in preparation of departure that evening. Shaka  and her crew, shown below with Laurie who'll join them there, left that evening for Tahiti, a few hours ahead of us.

Dean took the car to the airport and flew off to his daughter's high school graduation. Scott Johnston and I cleared our account at the Waikiki Yacht Club, with heartfelt thanks for their hospitality, and got underway by 20:30 on Thursday the 26th of May.

Only a small deviation in the straight rhumb line course to Majuro was necessary to avoid passing closer to Johnston Atoll than is allowed. We didn't have any interest in landing there, anyway. This particular atoll was an air base during WWII and later. It is now a "wildlife refuge", although it is better known as the place that the USA destroyed it's chemical and biologicial weapons inventory.

Things got a bit lumpy almost as soon as we heft Honolulu. The seas weren't particulary high, just confused enough to keep us in constant, irregular, motion. This condition lasted until we were well West of the whole island chain. After that, we kept the paravane stabilizers stowed nearly all the daylight hours. At night, without the horizon to provide a reference to the eyes, any rolling motion seems to be amplified. Most of the way on this leg, we put the paravanes in the water during the night.

Fishing was spotty, we'd go a couple of days without a hit, then we'd get several. Scott did all the catching, and cooking. I just cleaned it and help eat it.

Scott actually caught quite a few fish on this passage, including a couple of striped marlins, another spearfish, and a respectable black marlin that I estimated to be in the 300 lb range, all of which we released.

If you're wondering why there are no more pictures of these fish, please imagine how it is with only two of us aboard. With  him on the rod and me managing the boat to keep him from either getting spooled or tangled in the paravane rigging. Then, when he finally gets the fish alongside, he's still got to hold the rod tip up, while I'm wrestling with the fish to get the hooks out and complete the release. There just aren't enough hands free to take pictures. Here's a wahoo he caught, though. We ate it promptly.

We arrived at the entrance to the Majuro reef passage at daybreak on Friday June 10th. After 10 days without seeing a single boat or ship, we were pleased to see a very large long range purse seiner going across the reef just ahead of us.

As we approached the port, we called for the Port Captain on the VHF radio. As one of the cruiser's guidebooks had led us to expect, no one answered. We picked an empty mooring ball  next to several good-sized private boats and tied up.

One  of the founders of the local yacht club, a group of cruisers that apparently stopped here several years ago and just never left, came alongside in his dinghy. He gave is a lot of good information about how to complete the entry formalities. He also told us where to get fuel and the location of moorings inside the reef but at other islands more scenic than here.

Three taxi rides later, we were cleared into the port, encountering only very pleasant people at each of the agencies we had to check in with.

Majuro atoll isn't exactly a scenic tourist destination. The harbor is filled with Chinese factory ships and very large long range tuna trawlers. The shoreline near the anchorage is littered with derelict vessels in some state of scrapping.

The crowded town consists of one main road that crosses and connects three islands. There are a few places where islands widen out enough to accomodate parallel roads, filled with a third-world mix of houses. However, such a description doesn't do justice to all the very nice people we met This the commercial center for this part of the Pacific. As a practical matter, we found everything we needed while we were there.

On Friday night, we moved Arcadia I to an anchorage a few miles away at another island around the reef, Enemanet. The moorings were apparently installed by the Yacht Club with funds provided by some sort of US Government grant. Ashore was a very nice little beach park that local folks reach by water taxi. To make it even more interesting, for divers at least, there is a small ship, an airplane and a helicopter that have been sunk in the mooring area. Scott found them all as he snorkeled over to the beach to check out the local talent.

Scott Patulski arrived late Sunday night, rounding out the crew for the trip to Pohnpei.

On Monday, after checking two other sources, we found a fuel broker that would deliver a truckload of fuel to the commercial dock for $4.77/gal. At the appointed 4 pm, we tied up to the dock, paid our $4.00 bunkering fee to the Port Authority and started fueling through an enormous nozzle, the only one they had. It tooks us nearly 4 hours, using only gravity, to trickle about 700 gallons of fuel into our tanks. I say about because we actually topped all the tanks before we'd  emptied the truck and the truck didn't have a meter, (nor any intent to refund the value of the fuel we didn't take).

Majuro to Pohnpei

The next day, we picked up some last minute provisions and cleared out of the port, 4 taxi rides this time. We got underway about 16:00, Tuesday the 14th of June, but a sudden, fierce, afternoon squall kicked up inside the reef as we started toward the passage out. We didn't want to navigate through the reef in gale force wind and blinding rain, so we decided to stop again at the Enemanet mooring, where we had spent the previous weekend, and wait out the blow. By the time we got tied up and made dinner, the weather had abated and we decided to go for it.

The passage through the reef was a bit like a Cecil B DeMille rendition of the parting of the seas, with breakers on either side of us as we passed through. We didn't want to have the paravanes out as we crossed the reef, so we negotiated it taking 30ยบ rolls until we were well clear of the reef. Even after we passed through, it remained pretty lumpy while we ran alongside of the reef for several miles until we'd cleared the northernmost islands of the atoll, About half way along, there was a wreck visible on the reef. That skipper obviously thought these islands were not part of the Majuro atoll. He made his turn too early and ran up on the reef he'd just passed through, an altogether too easy mistake to make.

Once we cleared the Majuro atoll, the trip to Pohnpei, about 780 nm, was essentially uneventful, with generally improving weather and sea conditions. We kept the paravanes in the water during the whole passage in consideration of Scott Patulski's recently installed artificial knee. Since the wind was astern and only 8-10 kts, we had too little apparent wind to provide enough ventilation for comfort, so we ran the generator most of the time, as well.

We made landfall at Pohnpei on the morning of June 20th. Passage through the reef was uneventful. We tried to raise the Port Captain, but got no answer. Thinking this would be like Majuro, we started to head for the yacht anchorage when we were hailed by the Port Authorities and directed to tie alongside the government dock. That was about 07:00.

Customs represntatives came aboard shortly and were miffed that we hadn't obtained advance clearance. I showed them the print I'd made of the FSM website, that said we could either do it in advance or apply immediately upon arrival. They acknowledged that it could be done that way, but that "it would take time". It did! Immigration, Port Police and Health officials came and went before noon, but at 15:00 Customs still hadn't reappeared. Scott Johnston, used one of the Police phones to call to remind them we were still awaiting their clearance. We finally cleared the government dock at 16:00 and moved to the yacht anchorage area.

On the way in, it had became apparent to us that the passage from the government dock to the anchorage was, to say the least, tricky. (I had actually contacted a coral head with Arcadia I's keel, albeit lightly, just before we turned back to the government dock).

During our long wait, one of the local yachtsmen pulled alongside with a Marshallese that he introduced simply as "Robinson", who offered to guide us to the moorings when we got our clearance. I don't know what Robinson's cue was, but he magically appeared in his dingly at exactly the right time and we followed him to a mooring float. For the rest of our stay, whenever we needed Robinson, he simply appeared.

Pohnpei is a lush and scenic tropical island, the largest in the Federated States of Micronesia. The first evening, we took a quick taxi tour around the town of Kolonia and had a nice shore dinner in a restaurant with a marvelous view. The nest morning, we rented a car. With Robinson as tour guide, we went to all the places that tourists go, (not many of which were in evidence, by the way).

The most memorable sight was the ruins of the ancient city of Nan Madol. It's one of those mysteries of the islands that has largely defied explanation. I could fill this blog sheet with what I've read about it, but you can read for yourself by googling "Nan Madol". The most succinct description I found is on Wikipedia at We got there by driving half way around the island, paying $3 dollars apiece at the local chief's house, driving another mile or so, paying another $3 apiece at a private home, then walking about a mile on a rustic trail back through the mangroves. After paying the last tariff, we had the place completely to ourselves. That's Robinson and me, after wading across one of the many shallow channels within the sizeable complex that make up the ruins of  a once sizeable city.

Nan Madol's structures were built from the large hexagonal basalt stones behind Scott J and I. They obviously didn't come from anywhere close this location. We did see some "Devil's Tower" type geological features on the island that could have been their source, but they were a long way off, across pretty forbidding terrain. Local legend has it that they were "flown" here from someplace else on the island by magic. Science and archaeology reportedly haven't provided any better explanation.

Pohnpei was a brief stop for us. Scott Patulski is flying from Pohnpei to meet his wife, Kristine. The two of them are going to rendezvous and meet us in Palau with Phyllis on the 1st of July.

While were clearing in, we'd made an appointment for outward clearance for Scott Johnston and I to take the boat onward to Palau.
At 12:30 on June 21st,  the appointed time, we pulled up at the government dock. Before I could get back from the Port Captain's office, the Customs inspector was aboard. Immigration came aboard after only a short delay to stamp our passports. We were clear and underway by 16:30.

The leg from Pohnpei to Palau was completed under almost ideal conditions. We never once put the paravanes in the water, as the little bit of swell was from astern. We wanted to arrive the morning of July 1, and we left Pohnpei with 867 gallons of fuel, so we kept our speed up to about 7 kts. We did have to run the generator much of the time, as there was seldom enough apparent wind to ventilate the boat enough for comfortable  sleep.

Scott did keep us in fresh fish most of the way. Here's one of several wahoo that he caught.

As you can see, we also were treated to some glorious sunsets.

We made landfall at Palau at daylight on July 1st, completing the 1400 nm crossing in 9 very pleasant days. We were just off the government dock when we were hailed by Chippper Tellei, NECO Marine's Manager, who had all the arrangments made for entry formalities into Palau.

When the formalities were completed, we moved the short distance over to the NECO Marina and our dock there. On arrivall there, we had an opportunity to share some time with my friend Shallum Etpison before he left, that night, for a month-long family vacation. Followers of the blog may remember that I was a member of the crew that brought his Grand Banks Europa, Mandy, from Singapore to here about a year ago. It was my exposure to his extraordinary hospitality, and the wonders of Palau on that trip, that led to it being the destination for this transoceanic adventure on Arcadia I.

Phyllis, along with Scott and Kris Patulski arrived the same day we did. Scott Johnston kept his residence on the boat for the next 10 days. The Patulskis and Phyl and I moved ashore into resort accomodations for the next week During the first week, we simply played tourist in this lovely archipelago. We made several delightful snorkel and surface sightseeing trips on NECOs boats. This picture is taken at the "Milky Way". It's sort of a rite of passage for tourists to stop here, cover themselves with white diatoms off the bottom and have a group picture taken, looking like ghosts. I think it serves the same purpose as donning silly hats for a New Year's Eve party.

 The undewater scenery is truly extraordinary here, but if you google "Dive Palau" and select "Images", you can see a ton of pictures taken by far better-equipped and more talented underwater photographers than we are. What we can tell you is that you have to really go there to believe it.

For me, the most memorable, and sobering, excursion was to the Peliliu battlfield. This was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of WWII. Peleliu island is about only about 14 square miles of terrain; during the three months of fighting, the casualty rate worked out at just under 1,000 men killed per square mile of island. Close to 1,800 American servicemen died; of the 11,000 Japanese soldiers defending the island, only 202 were captured alive. The recent HBO miniseries The Pacific gives a fascinating and realistic depiction of how it was, from the perspective of a marine private named Eugene Sledge.

After a wonderful two week vacation in Palau I flew home with Phyllis for some much needed time with family and our businesses.

The next adventure is not far off, though.  As I write this, I've been home for a while, gathering charts and parts for the next adventure. My friend and long-time business associate, David Tees, has agreed to share his extensive sailing experience and join me on the passage from Palau to Noumea, with intermediate stops in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. I plan to leave here on the 28th of August. David will join me a week later and we'll set off. Good wishes and prayers are always appreicated.


For those off  you that might want to know about fuel consumption and other mundane details of the passaget:
  • We had the paravane stabilizers in the water:
    • about 2/3 of the time between Mexico and Majuro and;
    •  all of the time between Majuro and Pohnpei;
    • not at all after Pohnpei
  • We ran the generator to only to cool off the boat when it rained and we had to close up the deck hatches and doors, or, if the "apparent" wind was too light to provide good enough ventilation for comfortable sleep even with them open. We made water and did the laundry when the generator was running for air conditioning. We didn't keep a good log of generator hours from the start or while in port, but the total "underway" generator run time for the whole passage was about 200 hours. We approximate our average generator fuel consumption at 1/2 gallon/hour.
  • We refueled twice, once in Hawaii and again in Majuro. We reached every port with substantially more fuel than the deck fuel tanks held when filled. Thus, the passage could have been accomplished without them. However: they didn't cause any noticeable change in vessel stability; they didn't cost very much to install; and they provided the option to make a weather-related detour if it had been necessary. I'm glad we had them.
  • The distance travelled was 5,156 nm (Great circle course distance, although we navigated by rhumb line.
  • Our average speed over the bottom was 6.04 kts.
  • We burned a total of 1,791 gallons of fuel for an average fuel consumption of 2.88 nm/gallon.
Some have asked, "why a rhumb lines and not a great circle courses"? The simple answer is that there isn't much difference between the two when travelling on a predominately easterly or westerly course. Without getting into the spherical geometry of the question, suffice it to say that the mileage saved by a great circle route is caused by the convergence of longitude meridians as latitude changes. There is significant value in navigating a great circle route between, say, Dutch Harbor and Hawaii because there is a large N-S component of the course. However, between Ensenada and Honolulu the course is so nearly due West that the difference between a rhumb line and great circle is only a few nautical miles. Between each of the other ports of call, the difference in latitude was even less significant.

Since we've had Arcadia I we've experienced more than a few malfunctions with chartplotters and autopilots. I like to have both my chartplotters to be set on exactly the same course, with the inactive chartplotter "shadowing" the active one exactly with only a few feet of cross track error difference between them.. This allows the helmsan to instantly switch control of the autopilot to the standby chartplotter, without a "bump" in course, if the active one misbehaved.  Since each of the chartplotters calculates the intermediate way points on a great circle route slightly differently, the cross track error between the two chartplotter courses on a great circle route is too great to allow this. Lest I be beset upon by a blizzard of emails or comments about this, let me tell you that I do know how to accomplish the same thing by several other means. This was the simplest approach.