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Yacht Daemon

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Hi all,

We arrived safely in Malakal, Palau after a 15 day trip - the longest distance-wise and equal in duration to our ill-fated Fiji trip (where we spent several days hove-to in gales). Even managed to arrive Friday morning to avoid the swingeing overtime charges for Customs, Immigration, Quarantine, Health and Transport, so that was a relief!

 

The trip was pretty good - the last day out was horrible, with squall after squall coming through all day, with the wind reaching 35 knots then dying to nothing in the accompanying downpours, and shifting direction with each phase of the squall. As usual it happened on my watch, so I spent a miserable wet 4 hours struggling to keep the sails filled and the boat moving. It wasn't helped by a patronising voice from below suggesting I could take the boat into the wind a little in the calms to keep her sailing, and I made the 697th sail adjustment for the hour. I briefly contemplated heading below with a winch handle to beat the skipper to death, but then another squall arrived and I had to deal with that. I settled for the puerile satisfaction of shouting the same thing at him when it kept happening on his watch. The responses in his case were unrepeatable and were usually accompanied by an upraised digit. Despite this episode however, it was great to be back working as a team together, supporting each other and working out solutions to problems together. After a month in harbour staring at each other across a tiny cabin, we like each other again - the saying about harbours rotting ships and crew is very true.

 

Apart from that and a couple of very light wind days where we had to motor, the sailing was a true pleasure, mainly 15 knots from astern,and restored my joy in passage-making after all the smitings we had down south. The sheer pleasure of sitting in the cockpit watching the ever-changing sky and waves during the day and the stars at night is hard to beat - you achieve a certain state of grace, at least until the next squall arrives to rudely bring you back to earth.

 

After Melanesia Palau is like dying and going to heaven! Melanesia was fascinating and never boring, and we had some amazing experiences, but it could also be very depressing with the extreme poverty and dirt and lack of functioning infrastructure, especially in the towns. Palau is an odd mix, like one of those holograms that shows a different picture depending on the angle you look at it from: it is either a prosperous Pacific city, or a seedy Asian one, or more often, both at once. However it has supermarkets with things you'd want to buy that aren't out of date/stale (in Melanesia in general only the expats get most of their food from the supermarkets - it is too expensive for the locals who subsistence farm), the streets are clean and the infrastructure works. Bliss! And to top it off, one of the tour places here, Sam's Tours, runs the yacht club, which provides free moorings, hot showers, a dinghy dock, a shuttle bus to town (all free), internet access and has a great bar and restaurant! And gives you discounts for being yachties! After PNG where they wanted to charge US$50 to anchor without providing any facilities and then wanted you to fix stuff in the village, we can't believe how good it is! The staff are all incredibly friendly and give you hugs and call you by name - after a long trip it nearly made me cry. We got moderately slaughtered on our first night in with the sheer insane pleasure of finding great hamburgers, fries and cold margaritas at reasonable prices, and being able to eat them in a very romantic setting while watching the sunset. And 15 days of sleep deprivation adds an interesting edge to it all.

 

The bay here (07'20"N, 134'27"E) is stunning - there are heaps of little limestone islands, and the moorings are tucked amongst them. We'll spend a week or so here sorting out our boat jobs before heading down the lagoon to the amazing-looking Rock Islands marine reserve. This place is dive central and has is full of people from all over the place who come to dive. Bruce is planning to do an introductory dive with them in a few days.

 

Well, must sign off, it is time for yet another real, private, stand up shower with unlimited water. The indescribable bliss of it all!

 

Mechikung!

 

Jill & Bruce

 

PS: Breaking news! Daemon is achieving centrefold status - she is going to be the feature boat in the April edition of Latitudes and Attitudes USA yachting magazine. We are now referring to her as Miss April, and hoping the staples in her navel won't affect her water-tightness. They bought the three articles I sent them, so really getting into this writing stuff!

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Hi all,

Yes, it has been a while, thank you for reminding me so often! We are still in Palau, just blown away by the place - and to think we nearly bypassed it!

 

We finally dragged our consumer-satiated asses out of Koror (bars! shops! museums! restaurants! supermarkets with real food (OK, American & the veges are shipped from the US via Guam, so are either frozen or sludge when they arrive - the tomatoes actually peel themselves after a day in the fridge. Gross)) and have made it down to the Rock Islands, which are pretty damn spectacular! We are currently anchored in a very cool little lagoon (07'16.6"N, 134'17.7'E) formed by a bunch of surrounding islands, hiding from all the dive boats (hundreds!) that whizz past all day, every day. Water temp is down to 28' so swimming actually cools you down at last. I have just got over a foul cold from the taxi driver who took us on the trip around Babelduap last week, so that has slowed us down a bit. To visit the Rocks, we had to get a boat permit (US$20 for 30 days) and a permit each (US$25 for the Rocks or US$35 for Rocks & Jellyfish for 10 days) - nice wee money-making venture!

 

Well, Bruce now has tried diving, and not so keen as he thought he was, but thought it would probably improve when you had done it more. We also toured the main island with four other yachties, chipping in to hire our favourite driver for the day (hint: how to tell you have been somewhere too long - you have a favourite driver). It was pissing down when we left, but improved as we went along. Saw some very cool old meeting houses (bai) and some old monoliths which were quite spooky, but nowhere near as spooky as their new parliament buildings! If Howick wanted a parliament building, sorry, capitol building (US rules here!) they would employ that architect! It is a huge monstrosity, up on a hilltop in the middle of nowhere, and looks like a cross between the White House and Hugh Heffner's fantasy of a Greek temple with a giant dome on top. To top it off, it is made out of fibreglass, which has then been sponged in "authentic earth colours TM". There are these huge, obscenely squat columns about 6 feet across, which just echo hollowly when you knock them. The buildings have huge chandeliers hanging out front, which look as if they have come from the bargain big at a giant version of Lighting Warehouse, and the whole thing is decorated in "authentic" local symbols, such as the money bird, which unfortunately looks like a farting chook. Sorry, shudder, got carried away there. Shame they didn't use the bai as a pattern for the building - they are very cool. Long thatched structures with a steep canoe-prow roof, painted wooden sides and faces. Inside they have rafters which are painted with scenes from local legends. I have been trying to think what legend could explain three men with fish attached to the end of their penises, but am drawing a blank there... if you have any thoughts, please don't tell me.

 

I have decided to collect traditional local money, so now can buy a beer (or a bride, depending on where & exchange rate) in Vanuatu, Solomons, PNG and now Yap (small circular stone pendant, replica of the giant stone money wheels excavated from quarries on Palau) and Palau (woman's money beads, made out of glass and clay, in the same way ancient Egyptian glass was made. The ones I have are genuine old ones, not replicas, so rather special).

 

We just had an amazing day, one of those "peak experience" days, when you are just on a high, and all the discomfort and trials are worth it. The most amazing time was this morning when we dinghied past turtles, herons etc over to Jelly fish Lake where we climbed up the island to an inland lake and swum with bazillions of jellyfish. When you left the jetty there were only a couple about, and you sort of thought, yeah right, big deal, not even that pretty jellyfish, then as you got further out there were more, and more, and more, and MORE until you were hanging suspended in a green-blue jellyfish soup, where there were more translucent golden jellyfish than water! They were bouncing off the lens of the dive mask and you had to fight your way through them - it was like being in a lava lamp! They ranged in size from pea to almost soccer ball. We got back to the dock after an hour and a half and just sat there trying to work out whether we had just done that or dreamed it, it was so surreal. AND we managed to get in and out before the tour boatloads of Japanese tourists in wetsuits outnumbered the jellyfish!

 

We came back to the boat for lunch then went around the corner to see the giant clams. I have been fooled by that description before, and snorkeled around to look at one or two examples, but here there were hundreds of them, some about 3 feet long, and with lots of different coloured lips, and surrounded by tropical fish - really pretty.

 

Well, that's about it from us, we'll start making our way back to Koror to get ready for the Philippines trip, but I'm sure you'll hear from us before then.

Jelly good show!

Jill & Bruce

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Update

 

Hi all,

Still in Palau - we enjoyed it so much we extended our visas and have been getting all our boat chores done and hanging out down in the Rock Islands. The weather in March has been superb, much better than in February, so the place has been even more spectacular than ever - it really is a yachty's paradise. The islands are all close together, so a couple of hours gets you from town to a deserted island of your own, especially after 4pm when the dive boats go home. The reefs aren't nearly as scary the second time out, as you have some idea of how accurate the chartplotter is (not bad) and what you are looking for.

 

Currently the place is crawling with film crews - there is a French version of "Survivor" going on on some of the islands (you can imagine French film-making types blending into the local shorts/t shirt dive culture - NOT!) and a National Geographic crew is filming here as well. We are sorely tempted to sneak over to the Survivor area and do some food drops etc to screw up the game.

 

A couple of days ago we dinghied out for 3 miles to German Channel (a 3 meter deep channel blasted through the reef early last century to let ships bring phosphate in from one of the outer islands, and one of the primo dive spots)and snorkeled the barrier reef there. It was quite amazing - zillions of types of fish and coral, turtles, reef sharks etc. The real adventure started when it was time to come back and our outboard wouldn't start. Some friends had given us fuel for taking them diving, but their mix was 50/1 not 100/1 which our engine uses, so consequently after the long run at half throttle (to avoid getting swamped by choppy waves) the spark plug got coked up and wouldn't fire, and without tools, Bruce couldn't fix it. So there we were, stranded on the reef, memories of the left-behind divers on Great Barrier Reef springing to mind and wondering how long it would be before we started drinking our own urine and sucking fish eyes for liquid. Bruce didn't help matters by standing up, pointing in front of the dinghy and shouting "Look! A turtle! Oh no, it's HEAPS bigger than a turtle!" - uneasy silence as the "Jaws" theme suddenly plays in both our minds. However, the stranding wasn't too bad as a) we had a VHF radio we could use to call for help, and B) it is easier to catch a dive boat at German Channel than a bus in Queen Street (Auckland). After an agonisingly long wait of, oh, about 15 minutes, one stopped and gave us a tow back to the boat. SAVED!

 

Yesterday we discovered a hidden lake, accessible only by kayak at very low tide through a long archway in one of the islands. Very cool! Today I achieved one of my "things to do before turning 50" (next Monday! EEK!) goals and snorkeled naked with the jellyfish at Jellyfish Lake. (OK

 

Tomorrow we plan to head back to our secluded anchorage on Ulong and hunt out some Yapese stone money wheels that were quarried and left there, then head on back to Koror and get ready to party on Monday at the yacht club with whoever is left in the bay. I hope to get our website updated in the next couple of weeks with our photos, so will let you know when it happens.

 

Cheers!

Jill & Bruce

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Very very cool. Am sitting here with a very full in tray and now can only think how nice it would be to be in some exotic location. Doesn't feel like summer anymore. Have taken to wearing a jacket and thick socks. :mrgreen:

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Update

 

Hi all,

Well,the time has come - we're hauling up the hook (well, dropping the mooring actually) and heading off to the Philippines tomorrow morning, After a couple of decidedly dodgy weather days, today was a scorcher and we got all our boat chores done in time for farewell drinks at the yacht club There are three of us leaving tomorrow and one the day after, so the cruising fleet will be very diminished - I foresee redundancies at the yacht club bar!

 

OK, better sign off and get some sleep before it all turns to chaos in the morning, Palau having bureaucracy down to a fine art, but not yet grasping the concept of efficiency - a nasty combination! The weather is looking great, so fingers crossed for a good passage.

Cheers,

Jill & Bruce

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Be very carefull in the Philippines.The whole country is totally corrupt.Dont be fooled by expats who will tell you some places are safe.And if you find yourself in an anchorage where they still dynamite the fish I urge you to leave as soon as you can.

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Mabuhay!

Well, at last we have made it out of the Pacific - bet you all thought it was never going to happen. The trip from Palau was mixed - the first couple of days was absolute heaven: we couldn't keep the smiles off our faces, and we did our best-ever day of 155 miles. Then the squalls hit... the next few days we a bit untidy, lots of rain and bursts of wind in the squalls. This was particularly unpleasant at night, as it was so overcast there was not enough light to see the squalls coming, and we got hit by one with 40 knots of wind which over-powered the self-steering and crash-gybed* us, ripping our preventer fitting from the boom. Fortunately there was no other damage to crew or boat, but we hove-to until first light so we could check it all out.

 

After 5 days we arrived at the entrance to the San Bernardino Straits, the entry to the Philippines and the exit from the Pacific. We were stalking this, as all the pilot books put the fear of god into you about transiting it, using such phrases as: "8 knot currents" "strong eddies" "whirlpools" "tidal rips" "standing waves" "main shipping passage" and recommends "least alarming" stages of the tide to pass through, and the charts all had hundreds of taniwhas** drawn all over them. We anchored at Biri, a small island outside the pass to rest up, wait for better weather and the "least alarming" state of the tide. We spent 2 nights there and on the second day were besieged by boatloads of young locals who had never seen a yacht before. Apparently we were the first in living memory. We also met our first pirate, but he was only 6 years old, his gun was plastic and we bought him off with a lollipop.

 

The next day we gritted our teeth, girded our loins, dusted off all the other cliches and headed out into the pass. What an anticlimax! After all the angsting, there was only a couple of knots of current and no shipping! I almost went back through to wait for the full moon and a screaming wind and tide so I could get some value for all the emotional energy I'd expended worrying about it. The sailing was so good we did the 70 mile trip to Donsol in one hit.

 

We had been heading to Donsol on the Bicol Peninsula in the south of Luzon ever since we saw a promo DVD about the Philippines which showed people swimming with whalesharks there. Whalesharks are the biggest fish in the world and (THANK GOD) pretty much vegetarian, filter-feeding on plankton & shrimp & any small fish that get sucked in during the process. Bruce had been all moony about them since seeing ads, heavily featuring whaleshark photos, for a brand of watch worn by someone researching whalesharks that was on the back of several New Scientist magazines we had on board, and so we decided that would be our first stop. (Yes, actually that is pretty much how we work out our itinerary) We duly arrived, anchored and the next morning headed into town to change some money as we couldn't buy any Philippine pesos in Palau. That was when the excitement started. We were helped to tie up at the steps on the riverbank by the town by a fisherman called Potpot, who then took us on a tour of Donsol, which is a small fishing village. We didn't really want the tour, but his English wasn't good enough to explain what we needed (nor our Tagalog good enough)It became apparent that frivolities like banks were not part of the Donsol infrastructure. Minor panic was setting in, as the tour was heading to Potpot's church to meet his pastor. Just what we needed, we though, especially since it was a small break-away born-again church. However, the pastor, Noel, was great. He spoke reasonable English and told us we needed to go to Legazpi, about an hour away, to change money. Slight problem, as we had no pesos for the jeepney fare. No problem said Noel, I will lend it to you, which he did. We were really humbled - these people have no money (we went to visit Potpot's family later: he and his wife & 3 kids live in the slum by the river in a house of bamboo slats covered with plastic rice bags) and yet they trust us on first meeting to take what must be a considerable sum for them and to bring it back. (Which of course we did, with a gift to the church & to Potpot for minding our dinghy). They also had no concept of a yacht, and when we said we didn't need accommodation as we slept on our boat, they thought we meant the dinghy, as Daemon was out of sight around the corner. We bought them out to see the boat yesterday afternoon and they were so excited. They all dressed up especially and were waiting on chairs outside the church (small one-roomed broken down concrete building with a dozen plastic chairs) for us to pick them up.

 

Our trip to Legazpi was an eye-opener. We boarded a jeepney*** decorated in the style of a dilapidated 1970s cinema: all mirrored ceilings, padded & buttoned vinyl walls, requisite number of religious icons without which it is illegal to depart the depot etc and of course the inevitable background music at high volume. If you ever wondered where the cheesey music of the seventies & eighties went to die, it is the Philippines. They are really big on whiney white guy stuff ("Everything I Do I Do For You" "How Am I supposed to Live Without You" "Total Eclipse of the Heart" etc etc etc) which has now tragically embedded itself in my brain on a repeating loop. We were the first in so got the choice seats. It was an education to see how many people would fit in. The Land Transport Safety Authority in NZ would have a fit. I'm not sure they even have regulations about the passengers that sit between the driver and the driver's door. Bruce has now stopped sulking about my insistence on buying emergency medical and evacuation insurance before reaching Asia. This was reinforced when we got in a motorised tricycle to go from the depot to the bank. These are motorbikes with a semi-enclosed sidecar. I have seen upwards of six people in a sidecar... Right of way seems to go to the most pure of spirit, with much crossing of self by the driver at intersections, overtaking etc.

The bank was another saga that I don't have the strength to go into, suffice to say that 2 hours in a queue is bearable if the airconditioning is good. It would be even more so if they gave cash advances on foreign credit cards...

 

Yesterday morning we were up at dawn to swim with the whalesharks. Was that amazing or what???? We went out on a banca**** with our new friends Sheila & Mike on Kantala who sailed in to Donsol the day after us, Tim the Welshman and two German guys as well as the banca crew and Omar, our guide. We headed out about 15 minutes into the bay and circled until we spotted the first whaleshark and then jumped in and snorkeled over to swim with it. Wow. Just wow. And wow again. They are so amazing - that one was about 9 meters long and the head must have been 2 meters across. They are very chunky and covered with polka dots and very, very graceful. We could keep up with it, and on several occasions we were only a couple of feet away from it. It was almost impossible to get good photos as a) it was too huge to get in one shot B) the visibility wasn't great because of the plankton-rich water and c) YOU WERE TOO DAMNED CLOSE! I have lots of photos of bits of shark that I can probably jigsaw into one photo. We swum with that one for about 20 minutes before it dived. In all we saw 5 whalesharks ranging from 4 to 9 meters and had another 20+ minute swim with one. Tim the Welshman is a real whaleshark fanatic and was beside himself as he had spent US$7000 to see them in the Galapagos Islands and had only seen 5 in a week, and then only for a minute at a time, so 5 in 3 hours for NZ$30 was a pretty good deal. Very, very awesome.

 

Today we are motoring flat out to get to Marinduque Island in time for the Easter Sunday Moriones festival held there. Apparently it is a reenactment of the lesser-known biblical story of Longinus the Roman centurion and his miracle. Stripping it down to what actually happens, a bunch of guys wearing Roman garb and carved masks chase the Longinus character through the town and fields and catch him twice, from which he escapes both times, then catch him a third time and behead him. According the the Rough Guide, this being the Philippines, costumes are not limited to centurions and the hundreds of pursuers include Miss Piggies and Madonnas. This I must see!

 

Sorry for the book-length of this, but it has been a mind-blowing couple of days!

Palaam!

Jill & Bruce

 

PS: A reminder that Daemon is feature boat in the April edition of the US sailing magazine Latitudes & Attitudes. Get your copy now!

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Luke, I never know whether to read these or not, I think they might be bad for my health and well being, but they are too good not to read. Thanks

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