Thursday, 31 January 2013

Day 3, passage from Palau to Philippines and our first unpleasant bureaucrat experience

It's now our third day out from Palau, but we have done excellent progress and are now well over halfway. And even luckier, it's been a pretty pleasant passage so far (fingers crossed) with nice wind from the quarter stern, sunny and only very few squalls at night that we have been able to dodge. The first day out was the best and we did 135 miles in the first 24 hours.

Checking out of Palau was supposed to be an easy affair, all the other cruisers we have known have checked our in less than 10 minutes. However, we were not to be so lucky. The customs were 2 1/2 hours late (very unusual apparently), but furthermore the woman tried to get us to pay yet another fee we had already paid, but we weren't given a receipt for. It's a long story, but in the end her office did find the record that we had paid. The worst thing was the manor of this woman, she was just so unpleasant and very unfriendly. All other Palauans we have met have all been super friendly and smiley, a shame that she should be our last impression. Anyway, we finally left Palau, which is most important, and there's a good chance we will meet more troublesome bureaucrats in Asia.

Position: 9,03.225N 128,44.68E
Miles so far 350 and miles to go180

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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Finally off to Philippines

Yay, our parts arrived, super good, because now we can still get to Philippines in time to meet Sheralee (hopefully, if weather cooperates) AND we have a new auto pilot ram, so we won't have to worry too much whether the old one will give up half way there. Of course there is always some worrying that something will break (which it will, but what is the question...), but that's just the way of life on a boat.

We haven't really done much fun stuff since last blog post, it's been a pretty quiet week with mainly just some boat work and lazying around. I have also been a bit sick, now it was my turn (Phil had a mild flu around New Year), and I guess now as good a time as ever to be sick.
The photo above is obviously not mine!!! Photo credit: Luc Viatour / One day we snorkelled off the wall right by the dinghy dock at Sams Tours where they apparently are abundant and easy to spot, but only late afternoon just before sunset. Pretty neat fish. 

But, now we are just sooo ready and so excited to be leaving! We're clearing out tomorrow morning (it's very expensive to clear out on a weekend, otherwise we would have already gone already) and so far the forecast is looking pretty good, 15 knots initially, but lighter as we get towards Philippines, although that can easily change.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Stuck in Palau

It has slowly been sneaking up on us, but now it's pretty official: we are stuck here in Palau. And the reason, of course, is that we are waiting for a boat part! It's the typical cruiser trap and maybe we're lucky it hasn't happened to us sooner. It is the new auto pilot ram we're waiting for. For some reason Raymarine was really slow to get the ram to West Marine so they could post it. It only left US about 3 days ago, despite us ordering it 1st or 2nd January. Sigh. Sometimes things get here from US really quick (a week), but sometimes it can be three or more weeks! And apparently the postal services are pretty slow at the moment we hear. Double sigh.
Sure, there would be worse places to be stuck, but, it is an expensive place to be stuck, it's sooooooo easy to spend money on food, ice cream and beers.

We also have another really important reason why we want to leave: Sheralee is coming to visit in Philippines, arriving on the 5th February! Yay, yipee, hurray, another visitor :-) we're really excited that she's coming, and can't wait to share our fantastic boat life with her, but we're also in general really excited about going to the Philippines. We have been reading lonely planet and are looking forward to visiting a country where there are lots of things to do ashore also. All these islands we have visited so far on our trip have been really great, but, we haven't done many trips ashore, beside all the village visits of course.

The good thing is this next passage isn't as long as the one to here, phew, and hopefully we will have trade winds on the beam the whole way. It's about 650 miles all the way to Cebu City (where Sheralee arrives), and 150 or so less to the 'entrance' to Philippines. Jenny, the big beautiful Norwegian boat we spent xmas with, only took just under three day to do that passage, crazy! We anticipate about a week or so, if we're lucky, a bit less.
Worst case, if we are still waiting a week or so from now, there is the possibility that we leave without the auto pilot (and keeping our fingers crossed that the old one will work all the way so we won't have to hand steer!) and one of the many boats that are here will bring it with them a later on.

We haven't had much time to get bored yet (that would also be a crime). Fun things we have done since back in Koror are: road trip around Babeldaob with Oh La La, kayak trip around all the amazing little islands and hidden bays with Amazing (Danish boat, only I, Astrid, went, Phil was busy organising new sails for Oh La La) and poker playing games on Sophia. Check out all the photos on facebook. We have also done a bunch of boat work, and got more to do (as usual) and Sophia is also due for a through revision of all lockers and some spring cleaning.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Snorkelling with sharks and turtles

We're now back in Koror after a great cruise of the Rock Islands. Since last post we have done much more snorkelling and at really good spots. The first one was in German Channel. It's a man made channel through the outer reef done by the Germans 100 years ago when they ruled Palau. We managed to anchor Sophia near the entrance to the channel (only passable at high tide (and for yachts with less than 2m draft)) and along with Oh La La (and Shawn and Holly on the aussie boat we met in PNG, they finally made it here too) we dinghied out into the pass. It was pretty good and we saw a ton of fish and several turtles. However, we weren't too impressed with the visibility, it was better than inside the reef, but still wasn't great.

One of the many dive boats with tourists passed us in the channel as we were motoring along in our tiny dinghy with the 2.5 hp outboard and they pointed and laughed at us and even took pictures. Guess they would have laughed even more if they had seen us coming back wearing our masks because the waves made so much spray! It's a small dinghy and we dont' go very fast, but it works just fine nonetheless, it hasn't tipped over backwards since that one time in Tonga!

Unfortunately our underwater camera battery refused to charge, so we only have photos for the first half of the trip and none of all the really good stuff! We snorkelled clam city, a place where a bunch of giant clams have been placed (for snorkelling tourists, but who cares, it was still cool). We have never seen so many giant clams all together in one spot. Some of them were empty shells, but they were really cool also, very sculptural and with fish life inside. But, no photos.

Our very best snorkel EVER (on this whole trip since NZ) was in the Ulong channel. It's another channel (natural, but doesn't go all the way through to the inside) in the outer reef and by going really early in the morning we caught the incoming tide (just before high) which meant that the visibility was really good (30 meters or so). We saw more sharks than we could count (+20) and almost as many turtles! Plus of course tons of other fish, including big napleon fish, barracuda, spotted groupers and bull headed parrot fish. Wauw! We went back again later in the day because it was so good and we were curious to see what the change in tide would do. It did make the water more murky, but it was still OK. The second time it was also flowing much faster and we covered a lot of ground really quickly, fun! Only one of the sharks (all reef sharks, none very big) was curious (and not scared!) of us and came up to about 5 meters away from us to check us out, at the point, we both scurried towards the dinghy and breathed a bit faster. 

We also visited Ulong beach where two Survivors (not sure which country, probably US) have been shoot in 2004 and 2007. There was no sign of it of course, but it was quite a nice beach. We had fun making jumps (jet star jumps!) with the auto-timer, but it's actually quite tricky to time it right as seen below! Check out a bunch more photos on facebook.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Stewart Island resemblances just hotter

After too many days at the Koror anchorage we're now finally out exploring the Rock Islands. As I wrote in the last post, it's pretty much the only place cruisers are allowed to go. It's quite OK though, as there are over hundred anchorages (plus many more not listed in the guide) in a maze of many islands, bays and coves of the islands.

It actually reminds us of Stewart Islands in some ways, mainly the lush green forest covering every bit of rock (and making it really hard to get ashore, though it's not legal anyway, bar a few beaches), and the many very protected anchorages we have all to ourselves. The heat is obviously different and unfortunately there aren't blue cods either. It's actually another US$20 to get a permit to catch fish, which we thought is a bit steep especially considering our fish-catching-ratio so far, we'd probably only be lucky to get one, maximum two, so we haven't got one.

Because we're inside a huge barrier reef, the water isn't very clear, but the snorkelling is still pretty good, in certain places anyway. Those places are where the tourist boats also go, so we try to go either early or late, as somehow some of the magic is lost when there are 20 life vest clad Taiwanese people bobbing around in the water! We also suspect they are feeding the fish, as especially the zebra fish are extremely curious, they literally swim right up to us and get very intimate, not quite natural fish behaviour.

We still have five more days left of our permit, then we're going back to Koror (and internet and supermarkets) and we can show all the pretty photos we have taken, but for now it's only text.

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Saturday, 5 January 2013

December's cruising cost

We knew this was going to be an expensive month, so it was no real surprise that we spent almost $2000 during December. It's a good effort considering we spent half of it on passage, first five days from Kavieng to Hermit Island, then nine days from Hermit to Palau. The biggie is boat bits with a very expensive new toilet lit and seat at almost $400. Considering you can get a brand new (whole) toilet for about half that, it's even more expensive, but we do like our lavac toilet and have had no problems with it so far, besides the lid cracking, but then it was 26 years old. The lid hasn't actually arrived here yet, but we're really looking forward to it.

Another bigger than usual expense was internet. PNG wasn't cheap (until we discovered just using Phil's smart phone), where as here in Palau it is (but then it means we use it lots). Most of those costs should carry us through the rest of our time in Palau in January though. Miscellaneous was also big, but it wasn't one thing, just lots of little things adding up.

We can already reveal that next month is going to be expensive as Phil has just purchased a new autopilot ram and a dripless shaft seal, but more about that next month. Here's December:

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Happy New Year from Palau

Frst of all, we like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. It's been a great 2012 for us and we hope for an equally great 2013.

We're enjoying hanging out here in Palau, just see how the time has flown since our last post! The yacht club (a busy dive centre/bar/cafe) at Sam's Tour has fabulous free showers, warm even, in case you're not warm enough in 30 degrees... We don't even shower there every day, as we do go for dips off Sophia and feel clean enough that way, and I think we're just simply not used to showers every day, strange as it may sound!!
We really haven't done much since we arrived, just lots of relaxing and chilling. Mind you those two Christmas dinners aboard first Jenny (Norwegian) then Miekpe (German/Russian, Kalashnikov vodka shots!) were pretty full on (drinking and staying up late isn't what we normally do), but it was also great training for New Years eve celebrations. New Year Eve we had them over for dinner on Sophia, feeding six people on Sophia is about the maximum we're capable off. Danish frikadeller for dinner and kiwi pavlova for dessert. But the real party was from 11pm to 1am at a luxury hotel nearby where we were booked in for the countdown party. Free bar and free finger food for US$25. Poor Phil was still recovering from a flu, but the rest of us sure did make most of it. The only problem with late night and lots of drinking is it's next to impossible to sleep in in the tropics as it gets too light and too hot way too early.

We're also enjoying the good internet here. OK, anyone back home would call it bad, as it isn't very fast, but compared to other islands, it's better, plus we can pick it up from Sophia and it's even quite affordable (US$10 for 7 hours), although that only means we spend longer time on it and then spend as much money as other places, or probably even more!

The supermarkets experiences when we also did finally venture into town is also story on its own! Long aisles with just breakfast products, huge freezers with all kinds of meat (guess who's happy), crazy amounts of different cake mixes, big bags of proper marshmallows (not the sugary fake one like in NZ) and for example lots of different kinds of peanut butter, I mean, honey roasted peanut butter, what's that?! Some things are expensive, others not, for example meat seems cheaper than in NZ! BUT, there's a big but, they hardly grow any fruit and veggies on these lush green islands, only some for the hotels and restaurants, but everything else is imported from US!

The number one income is tourism and they are doing pretty good with just that, and I guess that explains why they don't bother growing stuff when they can just buy it. The population is about 20,000, but 6000 of those are foreign workers, mostly from Philippines. There's no minimum wages for them, so it's quite a big underclass of Asian workers. The houses are actual houses (as opposed to leaf houses in many places in Vanuatu, Solomon and PNG), but most are pretty shabby and some very derelict looking. They get about 80,000 visitors a year, mostly Japanese and Taiwanese, but also some from US and Europe. Most come to explore the fantastic underwater world as Palau is one of the world's top dive destinations.

We have visited the Palau National Museum (first proper museum since NZ) and learned a lot about all of the different rulers through Palau's history. First the Spanish colonised Palau, but then sold it to the Germans in 1899. When World War I started in 1914, Japan took over and ruled Palau until after World War II when US took Palau under it's administration! Japanese influence is what affected the country the most, but the country is set up like the US, with a bunch of states each with their own regulations. Some states have very few (less than 10) people, and of course almost everyone live in the capital, so it seems quite crazy for such a small country.
Cruising wise most of the country is next to impossible to visit, mostly because of regulations, and some areas are is litterally off limits, although other is just because of no anchoring possibilities. Luckily the best cruising and snorkeling area, Rock Islands is still open for cruisers, but you have to buy a permit (US$ 50 per person plus a fee for the boat) and it only lasts 10 days. We're planning to go there soon.

We have added new photos to facebook, both from here and from Hermit Islands. By the way, Sophia on facebook is public, so it's open to everyone, even people with no facebook account.