Atolls of Micronesia

April 6, 2005

Yap, Micronesia

We arrived in Yap on April 5th and decided that it might be better to get a note off to you before we head on to Palau. We have had so many lovely experiences in the atolls of Micronesia and find that we have an abundance of photos as well. An atoll is a ring of coral or reef nearly or entirely encircling a lagoon. There may or may not be an island/s included on the reef enclosure.

We left Pohnpei on March 8th and stopped for a few days at Ant Atoll only 15 miles away. We found our friends from Shady Lady of Hong Kong there. We left before they did but set up a radio schedule to talk with them each evening on the single sideband. Daniel has a good knowledge of the weather patterns in the area of SE Asia and has been a good teacher.

From Ant we did a three day crossing westward towards Chuuk. It was a very fast crossing from the start…fortunate as there was a rather strong current flowing against us the whole way across Micronesia. As we approached Losap Atoll, 45 nm SE of Chuuk, that current was sometimes running at 1.5-2 knots.

Losap Atoll is 4 miles long and 3 miles wide at the north end. We set our anchor off the islands on the NE corner where the sands slope gradually up towards the outer reef and the islands. Each time we came out of the boat and looked around, we had to shake our heads in amazement at the vivid shades of blue, turquoise and green in the waters.

We did not go ashore as the winds were blowing very hard and there would be an extensive reef to cross to get to the villages. It was lovely just to stay on board and rest for a few days. There were visits by some young lads from the islands…no older men and no females. The youth came out in old dugout canoes that were in terrible shape. They had to bail madly the whole time of their visits just to stay afloat. One morning several of them came with crabs for us – some coconut crabs and some sea crabs – in trade for a pack of cigarettes and $6. It was rather a comedy to watch them trying to get back to their island in this leaky canoe and keep the money and cigarettes dry. The final solution was to put the treasure in a bucket and all hands jump out of the boat to swim alongside. The crabs were magnificent, although they took one full day to clean. We were able to glean a little more than one pound of meat most of which went into making crabcakes reminiscent of our lovely time in the Chesapeake Bay.

The decision about when to leave for Chuuk Lagoon was a difficult one. IF we had current against us and IF the wind blew lightly, we could not make this a day-run. We opted to leave in the late afternoon for a morning arrival.

Mother Nature had other ideas – you guessed it! There was no current against us and the wind was howling at 20+ knots. We had to slow down in order to arrive at the pass after daybreak. To do this the mainsail had to come down entirely with the forward sail reduced to a scrap. The seas were huge due to the strong winds so slowing down gave us a terrible roll…a horrible night. Fortunately, the rest of the crossings were pretty comfortable.

Lots of stories have circulated about the terrible treatment by the officials for those boats checking into Chuuk. The decision had been made long ago not to submit ourselves to that ordeal; however, it was hard to think of going around the lagoon as that would mean passing up 35 miles of relatively calm sailing water. As it turned out there was no problem at all going through the lagoon and anchoring close to one of the southern islands without checking in formally. A strong low-pressure system threatening to the south of Chuuk encouraged us to stay for several nights. During that time several curious fellows visited in their outrigger canoes. One group even sold us some pineapples, limes and bananas. That turned out to be the only produce we were able to get during the whole month. After leaving Chuuk we headed for Puluwat – a one day crossing. This atoll is 2.6 miles long stretching from NW to SE and 1.4 miles wide. It consists of two major islands and several smaller ones. Our friends on Shady Lady joined us here again and we had a super day of hiking across Alet to see the old deserted lighthouse built by the Japanese during WWII. The Japanese controlled Puluwat at that time and they had built a runway on this same island. We found lots of old rusting equipment in the middle of the jungle as though it might have been abandoned just a few months ago.

The top of the lighthouse brought a magnificent view for miles around. Puluwat had one big drawback – its flies. They plagued us on the boat until about 4PM each afternoon. Then (as though a signal was sent out) they disappeared, not to return until mid-morning the next day. The people in the village seemed to take little notice of the plague of flies.

We went ashore several times to the village of Lugav as Sander was working on several projects for the people there…fixing an outboard engine, trying to fix a portable GPS, repairing a stone pestle which they used for grinding their taro. How they had managed to break in half a stone pestle was a curiosity in itself! In Photo #1 Sander is discussing the outboard project with the men of the village. The natives of the atolls of Yap are ambitious canoe builders and these are quite the works of art. The trunks of the breadfruit tree are used. The lowest part of the canoe is dug out from a single trunk and slabs of the wood about 3” thick are used to build up the sides. The edges of these slabs of wood are patiently trimmed with a carpenter’s adze to fit together. We watched three huge young men lift one of these slabs into place to check the trimming job. When finished the slabs are then joined by heavy twine and the glue made from the sap of the breadfruit tree. There is no caulk or hemp used in these seams. In the end the canoes are painted and decorated. It was claimed that they could make a canoe in a week’s time. We got lots of photos of this process which you will eventually be able to see on the Anchorage Yacht Club website.

If you make the effort to see the photos, please notice the insides of their canoe houses where the building goes on. The natives make their own twine out of coconut fibres. The website will have a short video of this process. The twine is used to hold together breadfruit trunks and branches. It must be a huge effort to even lift these frames into position.

A book (East is a Big Bird by Thomas Gladwin) has been written about the canoes and the navigators who have sailed them over the ocean from Puluwat to Pohnpei and to Guam without any navigational aides. We met and visited with the navigator from the book whose name is Rapwi. He is still alive and still hopes to make yet one more crossing in these magnificent canoes. Photo #2 shows Rapwi and some of his family.

We left Puluwat headed for West Fayu a little ahead of Daniel and Lucy. About 4PM the first day out Satori was traveling along at a very smart 6-7 knots when we hit something in the water. The centerboard came up and then slammed down very loudly. Looking behind us, we could see a brown rounded object come to the surface and a very large brownish slick spread out over the water around the object. During our radio sched with Daniel about an hour later, we warned him of this collision. After much deliberation Daniel suggested that we may have hit a giant squid sending his ink out in alarm.

One way or the other, we are fortunate that Satori has a retractable centerboard. West Fayu turned out to be an overnight stop only. There were strong winds from the NE circling around through the large pass on the east side and causing an uncomfortable roll all night. We continued on to Olimarao the next morning and arrived late in the afternoon the same day.

Daniel and Lucy had gone a slightly different route and we are not to see them again until we get to Palau. Olimarao was lovely and deserted. We anchored just off the SE tip of the main island on the north end of the atoll. There were lots of sea birds here that usually indicate a lack of rats on the island. Snorkeling, walking the beach and resting were the order of the day.

The last stop before Yap was at Woleai with several villages and a charge to go ashore of $20/person. You may ask what services we would be getting for our $20 and the answer would be “NONE”. You guessed it! – we stayed right on board and paid our $5 fee just to anchor. We were fortunate to get some very nice photos (#3) of a sailing canoe underway. We also had visitors who came out to say, “Welcome” and to curiously look over Satori.

We have met with Sunshine again here in Yap. Carry and Sara will be traveling with us to Palau and then on to Indonesia later.

We plan to leave next Monday, April 11 for Palau. Until later… Our best to you all, Jane and Sander