Friday, 21 March 2014

Episode 23 Yap and The Outer Atolls

Lorelei’s Sailing Adventures

In the state of Yap, it is a traditional custom that women of all ages do not wear clothing to cover their breasts and therefore this Episode of the blog contains many photos of bare breasted girls and women of all ages.
If that sort of thing offends you or your family then please re-consider reading this episode of our blog.
Paul got some great u/w photos of mating fish too…..

At the end of Episode 22 we were getting ready to leave after an amazing 6 weeks in Pohnpei, Micronesia.
The plan - to sail west through the Federated States of Micronesia (stopping at a few Atolls on the way) to the western most state of Yap – over 1200nm away…
The main objective was to get to Yap by the 1st of March for the 46th Annual “Yap Day” celebrations which is actually a 2 day cultural festival celebrating Yap culture and traditions.

Well that WAS the plan……

Our Path for this Episode of Lorelei’s Adventures

Leaving Pohnpei

On our last day (Sunday 2nd Feb) we had John from Sharkface and his visiting friend Steve come over to Lorelei to show us how they would set our Spinnaker/Headsail pole as we were really struggling getting it right and their extensive racing experience meant they have used them a lot.

That night we went into the bar with most of the other yachties in the bay and a group of the surfers that Paul had been surfing with. It was a great night with lots of cocktails and pizzas and a great way to finish our fantastic experience in Pohnpei.
It was with mixed emotions we said goodbye to the yachties.
Most were also heading west and a few we have already planned to link up with further down the track but for some that are heading south and north we bid a sad farewell. John and Jenny off Sharkface were one of the boats not heading west and we said our sad farewells, hoping to catch up in Singapore in around 18 months’ time….
Rob and Kate off Toyatte were heading home to Alaska via Guam, Japan, Russia and The Aleutians. It’s a trip we really want to do and will follow their passage with great interest.
Clearing out turned out to be an easy process and we were thankful to be completed and gone before the start of the Superbowl.

Sailing West – Passage 1

The wind on day 1 was a fresh 15-20 knots and 2m seas so we reefed down straight away and decided to run the poled-out headsail and see how we went.
The wind was due east and we were heading due west. We can’t sail directly downwind so we decided to head NW first and gybe every 24 hours. We had a great night with lots of stars and no storms but it was windy and rough.
That night we clocked our trip log meaning we had travelled 10 000nm (over 18 500km) since leaving Brisbane.

By 9am the next morning we were still having problems with the pole. The new fitting on the mast was already distorting and threatening to break just like the last one had done. Additionally the pole end was also still chaffing on the sheet lines. Interestingly, the problem fittings are all Ronstan and the only Ronstan bits left on the boat after the refit…..
By 10am the swell really started to pick up and was around 4m+. We coped a big stormy squall and the 18mm sheet rope finally snapped at the chaffed point. The next 20 minutes was like something from a wild movie scene. We had 30-35 knots of wind surfing Lorelei’s 28 tons down some huge waves in torrential rain with waves all over the front deck.  We tried to wrestle the Genoa back into place and get the pole stowed again. Paul took a big slide across the deck with the pole on at least one occasion.
We’ve vowed never use the damn pole again!
Paul had a vomit about an hour later. Think it was a mixture of the motion and the adrenalin…

Sunset on night 2

The next day was Paul’s 45th birthday. It wasn’t a good day!
All day we battled storm after storm with squalls and a lot of rain.
That night we were a bit bummed as we knew that in Kosrae our friend Sally from Nautilus (who also shares the same B’day) was having a surprise party thrown for her, and in Pohnpei Kumar’s bar was throwing a Cocktail party and most of the yachties left there were attending. Tony the barman even put Paul’s Bushwacker cocktail on the specials list for him and the other Aussies.

By 10pm the wind was dying and the forecast was not good for sailing. It was too lumpy to motor for such a long distance or to stop & flop. We had 2 choices – sail back SE to Lukinor Atoll and get there at 4am or push on further to Losap Atoll and arrive about 10am.
The next atoll past that was over 250nm to the west.
We chose Losap as sailing back to Lukinor would put and extra 60nm on the trip and a harder sailing angle for the next leg.
We were a little concerned though as we had read a negative report about Losap from a 2004 yacht visit and it is in the Chuuk state, only 50nm from Truk Lagoon.
We had completed 444nm of sailing to cover the 333nm of straight line distance in a time of 69 hours.

Losap Atoll – Chuuk State

We arrived and were soon greeted by 2 lots of locals in Canoes with Coconuts as a welcoming present. We immediately thought we were off to an OK start.

We beat this storm in by about 10 minutes…

Well the friendly attitude soon changed when the chief turned up in his long boat. He was not a very nice person at all! His fees in US Dollars were as follows:
Basic Anchoring $250
Snorkelling $150
Scubadiving $250
Fishing and Spearing – case by case basis but minimum $200
Any other in water activities by negotiation and minimum of $150

We were horrified!!! Fees for most other atolls between Pohnpei and Yap were between $10 and $40 and are normally all-inclusive.

So we refused to pay and after much negotiation he stopped at $60 for a 2 night stay and ordered us not to leave the boat. We gave him a final $40 take it or leave it and we’ll be going ashore.  Reluctantly he agreed but we felt pretty ripped off and were basically stuck under house arrest.

2 Hours later a group of seedy looking men turned up to sell us whatever they could to get cash. They had old western jewellery, shell necklaces, bananas, old jars of small shells, etc, etc…
We didn’t want to fork out any more money so just said no to everything.
The man at the back was very persistent and wanted food, rice, sugar and asked a dozen times for tobacco and alcohol. He even wanted to come onboard to check our food and alcohol stores to see want he would like. We basically told them to go away in stronger terms.
As they were paddling away, we read the large writing on the back of the persistent man’s shirt “Losap Police”….
Late that arvo as we were resting, Paul hears a noise upfront and goes on deck to find 2 young boys running around on the front of the boat and one more in a canoe.
Paul just snapped! He picked up the first and threw him overboard.
The second was horrified and hopped over the rail calling frantically to his mate in the canoe to paddle closer. Paul leaned over and threatened to hit him and he let go and also ended up in the water.

That night Paul was prepared for war. He put the boat in full lockdown, motion sensors in place with bush knives & spearguns at the doorway ready for anything. Lisa said he was overreacting and nothing did happen.

The next day we unpacked the kayaks and paddled into shore to meet the people.

As it turns out the 80 local people on the island were all really nice and we were given an island tour by a great guy who is a local teacher named Taylor.

A typical Losap House – no leaf houses here, they wouldn’t survive the regular Typhoons.

The community was basic but very clean

One of the few WW2 relics from the Japanese occupation

 The local church and the ladies who go to church every day – twice!

The more we talked to Taylor the more sad stories we heard about the island.

The Japanese occupied the island during WW2 and took most of the local’s food put them to work as slaves. With no supples from Truk, 95% of the local population starved to death.

When we enquired why the kids were not in school he said they are currently sending them home at noon because there is not enough food on the island to supply a noon meal so they skip lunch and are ordered to rest for the arvo. In the end the kids all run around and play anyway which burns way more energy than sitting and learning.

There is even tension within the chief’s family and as a result more than half the Atolls population have moved to another island.

After the tour we played with the kids in the water and kayaked around the island taking a few on trips with us.

We passed this lady who was paddling home with firewood

The sunrises and sunsets were beautiful.

Paul even went for a SUP around the island.

So overall Losap was an interesting experience. It’s a beautiful place but one place we’ll not go to again and cannot recommend any other cruisers to visit.
Additionally we would not bother with any other atoll in the Chuuk State.
We have already sent emails to cruisers web sites advising of the exorbitant fees and conditions.

Sailing West – Passage 2

With no wind we stayed 3 nights but elected to go the next morning as the wind freshened. It turned into a fizzer and by 4pm the wind was gone so we simply pulled all sails down and went to sleep for the night in the middle of the ocean.
By now it had been 1 week since leaving Pohnpei and it hadn’t been a good week so we were hoping for a change of luck.

That morning the wind kicked in from the NE and we were able the set our largest asymmetrical spinnaker and take off screaming down the rhumb line towards Woleai atoll in Yap state – 525nm away.

For the next 3 days we had 1m seas with favourable & consistent winds with only a few storms and clear starry nights under a full moon.
We ended up sailing 605nm to cover the 525nm straight line distance in a great time of 4 days and 4 hours.
Our best 24 hour run for that leg was 176nm.
The best thing though was that we had sailed the whole way using only a few litres of diesel since leaving Pohnpei just to get in and out of the atolls.

Woleai Atoll – Yap State

Woleai atoll in Yap state is a large atoll approximately 5nm long and wide with 3 or 4 passes in through the fringing reef. It comprises of many islands around the atoll with a few off limits to all persons as they are sacred areas. The population is a combined 800 people on the 3 main islands and the area is serviced by supply ships from Yap. The people have a seafaring background and are regarded as excellent sailing canoe builders and navigators.
At 2pm on our way in we actually passed an 8m long sailing canoe heading to Ifalik Atoll which was 60nm away.

We made it in by 4pm on Valentine’s Day evening – tired and very hungry!
Even though we only had Spagetti Bol, it was the best Valentine ’s Day meal ever with awesome 360 deg. water views and a few “arrival bevvies”.

First activity the next morning was to visit Matthias who does the entry paperwork. He was to be our go to man for the duration of our stay.

Beautiful Woleai Atoll from the shoreline looking towards Lorelei

Matthias took us to visit the 2 chiefs, both named Francesco.
One is over 80 and totally blind and the other is quite a bit younger.
The men’s house where we had the meeting was huge and had some large fish traps hanging from the roof.

That arvo we had a tour of the island by a young kid named Walton.
He took us around to both schools, the old WW2 airstrip and a stack of WW2 relics in the bush.

The un-used WW2 Japanese Airstrip

Walton in the tail section of a large Japanese Bomber Aeroplane

There were stacks of airstrip construction machinery. This was a grader.

An airstrip scraper complete with local pig…

Back at Walton’s house with his relatives

The crazy thing about the tour was the seeing all the villagers and the lack of clothing. The men wear a blue “Thue” which is just basically a small wrap around skirt. The women just wear a Lava Lava which is the same size skirt as the men but in beautiful woven colours which they make themselves on the island. Everyone was topless regardless of age which took a little getting used to when walking around with the local women.
Paul had to be very considerate when taking photos particularly around the younger women.
We also found out the Japs completely levelled the entire island during the war of all trees and structures. They sent the local adults away to another island and sent the children to Japanese school in Yap. Old chief Francesco was one of those children sent away and he told us the amazing story. He can also speak fluent Japanese.
The US assisted with the people’s return and the rebuild. They are still assisting to this day.

That evening we went to a spot on the water’s edge reserved for the men so we could drink Tuba which the men do every night.
Tuba is fermented coconut tree sap and is sweet, fizzy and very alcoholic! Lisa and Leslie from Carina were invited as a special privilege and Lisa loved the Tuba.

The one thing that was amazing was the backgrounds of the men we shared the Tuba with. Most were retired or had taken a less stressful local position to assist the community. They had come from professional careers with many having top ranking government or military jobs or top positions in the maritime industry.  They had travelled the world and many had spent extended time in Australia and the US.

On the Sunday morning we went to Church. It is a super colourful building with a brightly painted canoe as the alter with the ladies making lovely wreaths of flowers to decorate it for the service.
Once again, we were the only 2 people that wore tops (aside from the priest who had a white slip). The men still had their same blue Thue and the women had their best lava lava and a large comb in their hair. Many of the men, women and children had wreaths of flowers on their head.
With no pews we sat on the concrete floor and listened to the fantastic singing from both the men and women.
It was an amazing experience but not really the appropriate place to be taking photos.

That arvo Lisa started feeling a little ill and by Monday she was sick – real sick! She must have picked up a virus from the island and it floored her for over 48 hours. Paul got it the next day and it knocked him for a six for about 36 hours. For 4 days afterwards we were up but a little slow and tired after only a few hours of activities.

To compound things a small low pressure system was developing in Chuuk State and threatening to bring variable winds and possible bad weather. It also would compromise our ability to sail to Yap in time for the Cultural festival so Carina decided to leave immediately and take advantage of the 2 days of trade winds to see how far they got.
Our friends Christian and Christine off Thor who had only just turned up 36 hours prior also decided to go.
We were not quite sure what the correct decision was, whether to stay or go, but we were still not well enough to sail the 365nm so we had no option but to stay.
Thor went into the island and said their farewells but on the way back they changed their mind and also decided to stay, much to our happiness.
Lucky they did – the next day Christine also got sick...

When we were well enough we went for a trip around the atoll in the RIB. First we went and check the surf spots and found 3 breaks – a right and 2 lefts.

The most promising left hand surf break with a large flock of birds

We stopped at an uninhabited island to gather some coconuts and go for a walk. When we went around the point to the seaward side we saw something in the water which turned out to be a Japanese anti-aircraft gun.
After a little searching we found 2 more as well.

Below are the picture’s you don’t normally see…
In this case the waves over the guns (and us!!) and Lisa trying to swim out from the shore to get to them.

As we were walking back looking for coconuts Lisa spied a small piece of metal sticking out from under a tree. It was a 4th gun in a pit and almost completely covered in growth and foliage. We spent 30 minutes clearing the growth away. It was quite exciting and we must be one of the first westerners to have seen it for quite some time.

The next day we went back into the main village with Christian (Christine was still too sick…) for an unguided walk through the village and around the island.

Woleai receives regular typhoons. When the super typhoon that decimated The Philippines 3 months ago hit here, the island was ravaged by large waves. This men’s hut above was filled to the roof level in sand and had to be dug out. And it’s on the protected lagoon side!!!
There was one 45ft cruising cat at Woleai when the storm hit. It washed up on the reef and was a virtual write-off.

We walked the length of the airstrip and had a look at the Jap seawall at the end and a few remains of the anti-aircraft guns. Being on the exposed side of the island meant there was not much left.

The seawall faces the NE trades and cops the nearly always rough seas

An old bunker at the end of the airstrip

On the way back though the village we asked many families if any of the ladies were weaving Lava Lava’s today and we managed to find Marcy weaving a beautiful one for her niece’s school graduation.
Lisa also brought a very colourful one off her too.

The women in the village are just so friendly and funny. They offer us food every time we go there and are always having jokes with us. We just loved hanging out there with them.

Finally when Christine was well we went back in to see the progress on the Lava Lava Marcy was making and to meet Rena who showed the girls how to make the wreaths of flowers.

On the way back we also found another lady who was starting the weaving process by winding the thread onto a 5 rod rack.

The girls with their new Lava Lava’s and Flowers ( & tops just for the photos…)

One day when the men were free we asked Dickson and Romeo to show us the US WW2  4-engine bomber aeroplane that had crash landed in the lagoon. It was pretty well intact with the wings and engines but the fuselage had collapsed and the tail section was missing.
We freedived it in 12m of water and were planning to Scuba dive it in a few days’ time with the camera, but sadly we never got the chance.

We noticed with interest Dickson’s freediving skills. He was diving down in scuba fins and swimming around on the plane for ages. We asked if he had a speargun and he said yes so we linked up with him the next day and went spearfishing. He took us to an outer drop-off that had great viz and nice terrain but only small reef fish. We managed to get over a dozen and gave all but 2 to the local community.

By this Stage it was Saturday and we had only 6 days to go until the start of the Yap Cultural Festival. We had now come to realise that we were not going to make to Yap in time and we were upset about this.
So close and yet so far….
The low pressure system over Chuuk had now become a named tropical storm and was being monitored very closely. The 5 sailing yachts in the region were talking twice daily on the HF about different scenario’s and what to do. We had been reluctant to move as the wind was forecast to die and the swell was to rise dramatically - and had been for days - apparently…
But the real situation was the low was getting worse and threatening to come our way. We were getting a bit worried. However when we checked the wind and swell forecast the next morning the swell was small and the trades were still hanging around for about 4 days before conditions worsened so we met with Thor for a discussion and we all decided to go for it and make a dash for Yap or at worst Palau.

Sailing West – Passage 3

We said our goodbyes, packed up and were sailing through the pass by lunch time on Saturday 22nd with a 365nm run to Yap ahead of us.
We set our largest Spinnaker and were off. We hammered down the rhumb fearing the swell would rise at any time.
Night one was beaut although no moon and very dark.
Night two was a little stormy but still the kite stayed up.
By dusk on night 3 we had almost done it and had only 55nm to go and at this rate would be in at 2am. So we dropped the kite to slow us down. We were so happy but Mother Nature had other ideas and was not finished with us just yet… within 2 hours we were double reefed down and coping a belting with big confused seas, wild storms and gusts up to 35 knots with heavy rain. That night was hell and even with a bath towel size piece of sail up, we couldn’t slow the boat down. Any less sail and we rolled too much. We arrived at 3am and sailed (more like rolled…) up and down out the front of the pass until 7am when we had enough light to enter safely.
We had sailed a total of 415nm in 62 hours for a great average of 6.7 knots, and once again – no fuel.

The three passages combined had given us a total sailing distance of 1464nm (2660km) in a total sailing time of 231 hours (not including the becalmed night) giving a “sails up” average speed of 6.34 knots for the entire trip. We used less than a jerry can of diesel on the entire trip which was just for entering and exiting the passes between Pohnpei and Yap.

Just on dusk that night we were on VHF standby as On Verra sailed in and Thor safely arrived early the next morning. The 5th boat Brickhouse elected to go to Palau instead.

The storm had certainly caused a split within the FSM cruising yachts going west. The ones that had left Pohnpei are now all in Yap (except Brickhouse) whilst the rest remain in Pohnpei reluctant to leave for fear of sailing straight into the storm if it remained stationary.
We felt for them as they are a long way behind for the season and many were champing at the bit to get going west too.

Yap – Yap State

Yahoooo – were at Yap!!!!
We had made it for Yap Day by just 3 days….

Our first impressions of Yap were awesome.
The people are so friendly and checking in was a breeze. It was all completed on shore within an hour.
The main town of Colonia is small but quaint with lots of cultural things to see and many cheap restaurants for breaky, lunch and dinner.
Our favourite place for a snack was the small café only 30m from the dingy wharf that sells large cups of ice cream for $1.50 and $1 on Fridays. With 20 flavours available, we went there every day.

On the second day we walked right around town and the water’s edge looking at all the stores, meeting the fantastic local people and visiting the 4 dive shops and seeing what sort of a deal they could do for us.

The view over the small boat harbour

On the way home 2 crazy things happened.

A car pulls up and Joe, one of the officials who cleared us in the day before, says get in as a work colleague is wanting to meet us.
We get back to the office and meet Loren an Aussie lawyer who is here on a 2 year AVI contract. We hit it off and she offered to drive us to Yap Day on Fri and Sat and vowed to link up to do a stack of other activities as we are basically the only Aussies on the island.
We were stoked – someone to hang out and have fun with.

We were walking up the bakery steps when we were stopped by a lady who looks at Lisa and says she knows her. Michelle and Phil were from the US and holidaying in Yap and soon realised they recognized us from our Blog. We were just amazed! They had become newly certified divers and were at home searching the web for info on FSM and the first Kosrae section of our blog came up and they’ve been following our travels ever since. Michelle knew all about where we had been and what we’d been doing. They had just been to Kosrae diving and were at Yap and then going onto Palau. Just like us.
We took a photo of them with Lisa and, well here it is…

Lisa, Michelle and Phil – 3 very keen divers – and bloggers…

5 minutes later we bumped into Adam & Emily who live in Kosrae and we also met one of the senior officials who had flown in with his wife for the celebrations.
We also met the FSM’s US ambassador Miguel and his lovely wife Won-Pen.
We had been in the state for less the 36 hours and already we knew about 20 people who were also going to Yap Day.

With one day to go the island had a fantastic hype about it.
The locals were all excited and getting prepared. There were more tourists arriving on flights too.

That morning we went to the Traditional Navigators Society on the water’s edge which is a group of great guys who teach canoe building the traditional way. They use traditional tools, timber, rope and glue.
They have built many canoes in various sizes for both paddling and sailing.

This fantastic man is John. He was making 2-strand coconut fibre rope. He pulls off the fibre from the husk (which has been soaked in the ocean for 4-5 months), adds it to the end of the rope, rolls it on his thigh in individual strands then twists the 2 stands together in the same way. The result is a very strong rope. He can make a 100-fathom roll (600ft/200m) in 2 days and it’s amazing how consistent the thickness and twist is.

That afternoon we listened to the weather to find the Tropical Low had progressed into a Category One Typhoon, the first one for the year in this area.
Fortunately it was heading east of Guam and well away from Yap.

Yap Day!!

The 1st of March and Yap day was here – we were so excited.
We woke to a fine sunny day and Loren agreed to pick us up early and drive 30 minutes north where the 46th Annual Yap day was to be held.
The event is held in a different location every year and this year the host was the province of Mop which is towards the top of the island.

When we got there it was a hive of activity with police directing cars to large parking areas and people everywhere.
The whole site was cordoned off and whilst tourists were allowed in wearing suitable dress, the Yapese people were not permitted to enter unless they were dressed in traditional attire.
However ex-pats and tourists were encouraged to wear traditional clothing too if they wished.
Most of the female yachties wore their Lava Lava’s.

Prior to the start we had a walk around to have a look at the site and see the locals of all ages in traditional attire.

The opening ceremony at 9:30 was great with a mixture of modern and traditional customs from police, officials, old shell and stone money, speeches and Conch Shell blowing.

The young men bring in the traditional stone money

Opening speeches and Conch Shell blowing to officially open the day

The young men displaying the very old traditional shell money

The sacred shell money was over 100 years old and a very fragile

The ladies then did an opening dance welcoming all the people.

Throughout the day they had competitions where the people from the different provinces (or in the case of the children, different schools) competed in traditional activities. They were judged on speed and accuracy in events that ranged from a single activity right up to relays of varied multiple activities.
They were great to watch, particularly the relays.

Throughout the afternoon the dancers performed in traditional dress.
There was no recorded music, only the voices of the dancers as they sang the songs. There were a series of sitting and standing dancers.
They took a long time to set up as each dancer individually sits down,
all the while the dance troupe overseer looks on to make sure everything is just perfect. Each dance would go for up to 30 minutes.

The highlight by far for everyone were the Bamboo dances which was a mixture of male and females each using a bamboo stick to hit each other’s. As the dances progressed the dancing and stick hitting became more intense with the end result being the dancers moving right towards the spectators and the bamboo sticks shattering into pieces with the sheer force of the hits. It was awesome and they received a loud standing ovation from the audience.

Whilst the activities went well into the night, by 5:30pm we were exhausted and so were a lot of the ex-pats and yachties. Paul had taken over 1500 photos at this stage.
We were invited to go out for dinner with a large group of  ex-pats along with Christian and Christine. The location was the Mnew which is a large Indonesian sailing ship that has been converted into a bar and restaurant and linked to the Manta Ray Bay Resort.
It was a great night and we were all still buzzing from a fantastic day. By the time we got home at 11pm we were happy but totally exhausted.

The next day we backed it up for Yap Day part 2 but this time it was a little later start.

It was great that the organisers recognized the ex-pat teacher’s roles in the community and invited them to be part of the ceremony

In between main events we went and toured the site looking at all the stalls such as traditional weaving, cooking and canoe building.

John making one of the traditional fish traps

Lisa spent quite some time with the ladies weaving and cooking

They also have food judging. The locals who grow fresh produce submitted their prized home grown items to be judged. It was a bit like the pumpkin judging at a local county fair on in Australia, The Royal Easter Show.

They also had some skits about traditional life and current social issues.
There was one very funny skit about illegal fishing and turtle hunting in protected areas. One on the boats in the skit had been named “Thor” which Christian and Christine thought was pretty cool. C & C have the name Thor painted in big letters down the side of the boat and it’s easy to read even from the shore. It seems many of the locals know the boat and when we say we are off a yacht they always ask “Is it Thor?” so we are not surprised they named one of the boats Thor for the skit.

In the arvo there was more fantastic traditional dancing which was performed by the women. This sitting dance below was all about the US aerial bombing attacks on the Japanese (and locals) during WW2 and how the locals were very scared with the bombs destroying the Taro patches.

By 6pm things were drawing to a close and we decided to leave. Paul had taken well over 1000 photos for day 2 bringing the total for the 2 days to a whopping 2600. He certainly had some sorting to do….

Overall we just had an absolutely awesome time at the Yap Day event.
Considering the lack of cultural activities we had had in the FSM up until Yap Day, it certainly made up for it.

Above all else, Yap Day is a time for the local Yapese people to come together to compete and share in customs handed down through the generations and traditional values.
The event would be a complete success even if not one tourist showed up, however we as tourists are encouraged to attend and many of us are certainly glad we made the effort and are a little richer in Yapese culture for the experience.
We’d highly recommend it to anyone… 28th Feb & 1st March every year.

That evening we went to a house warming party for Rose, a long term ex-pat who lived about 10 minutes north of the Yap Day site.
She has an awesome new place right on the water edge.
It was a big night with lots of people both locals and westerners and a lot of food and alcohol – again both local and western.
We tried turtle and turtle eggs and there was a stack of alcoholic Tuba which along with our own Spirits made for a BIG night (and some sore heads the next morning – Christian….. J).  We got home at 1:30am….

The next day we looked out to the entry pass and the waves looked good so we loaded up the surfboards on the rising tide and found a left hander peeling off the reef. It was only 3ft but with the light offshore wind it was glassy and had perfect shape. The were no sections or sucky inside, just a long perfect wall that started big and slowly got smaller as you surfed down the line. Lisa just loved it and had the best surf she has ever had and got some great waves. Paul forgot to take the camera…. opps!

Scuba Diving in Yap

At the start of the next week we got stuck into some scuba diving.
After touring around town looking at the local dive operators we decided to go with the smallest operator “Beyond The Reef”.
The local operator Keony had 2 x 22ft fibreglass open boats that catered for just 4 divers in each. It was perfect and it meant we kept well clear of the larger operators with the big groups, big boats, and big crowds!

The diving in Yap is some of the best in the world with the world’s leading dive magazine “Scuba Diver” putting Yap in the top 3 dive destinations on the planet.
Highlights of the diving here are the Manta Rays and the small but colourful Mandarin Fish which come out only at dusk.
The mantas congregate at a shallow cleaning station. The dive stores have names for them all using their distinct underside markings and wingspan as a reference. They are big ones here with most having a wing span of 8-14ft (2.5-4m).

Lisa with the Manta ID Wall at one dive shop.

The first day we shared the boat with Mike and Marilyn, a fantastic US couple holidaying for a week. We got on great with them and ended up spending a lot of time with them both diving and other activities over the course of the week.

For the first 2 dives we went to the southern tip of the reef and dived the 2 premier spots in the area, Yap Caverns and Lion Fish Wall.
It was fine underwater but quite bumpy on the surface.

The next day was a Tuesday and we decided on going north to the Mill Channel area to dive with Yap’s most well-known underwater inhabitants – The Manta Rays.
With the flights in and out of Yap being on a Tuesday and Saturday night, those 2 days were the best for us the go to the Mantas as the big groups did not dive as you must not dive for 24 hours prior to flying.
It worked perfect and there was only the 4 of us and one other boat with 2 divers.

Getting there was an adventure. We had to negotiate some shallow reef and a series of small and narrow mangrove lined channels.
We were certainly glad Keony and Inos knew where they were going.

Over the years the Manta Rays have moved in Yap. They use to reside on a cleaning station bommie in Mill channel entrance closer to the ocean. The upside was great viz but the downside was the bommie was at 20m/66ft.
Now the Mantas have moved inside the lagoon to another cleaning station. The minus is the viz is not as good but the big plus is the action all happens in only 5m/15ft depth.

For our first dive we did 2 hour 15min and only needed a 45min surface interval before backing it up with another 1hour 45min dive.


We must admit we have seen a lot of Mantas and we were bit blasé about seeing them again but boy was it worth it. It’s by far the best experience we have had with them.
Most of the time there were individuals being cleaned at the bommie and every so often a group of mating mantas would come flying in at speed and barrel roll and swim all around us. It was hard to know where to look or point the camera. Often we would swim out from the bommie and hang out with the big groups of Mantas which would swim all around us.
Paul found a small ledge on the end of the cleaning station where he could hide and lift his camera up to snap a picture as they swam only inches overhead. With most having a wingspan of 8-14ft it was damn hard to get them in the full frame of the photo.

Count the Mantas…..

Navigating home at low tide certainly proved to be a challenge as it was very shallow in the mangrove channel.
We all moved forward to get the leg of the outboard up.

Soon the girls were right on the bow….

Eventually it was Keony and Inos pushing and finally it was all out and dragging it though. With the spring tides and the water still dropping we were racing to beat the tide. We just made it through…
Yipppeee… what a day!

Well it wasn’t over yet…. That evening we loaded the night diving gear and swapped u/w lenses from wide-angle to 60mm macro and headed to O’Keefe’s Island at dusk to do a dusk/night dive looking for Mandarin Fish.

O’Keefe’s Island, home to the world’s largest population of Mandarin Fish

The dive site was the little black buoy on the right.

These cute little fish are only 3-6cm long and only come out of the coral 30 minutes either side of dusk to find a mate and spawn.
They are only found in a few select areas around the world but Yap has the largest known population worldwide.
For experienced macro divers they are high on the list of things to see and getting a decent photo of them can be a real challenge as they don’t stay still for more than a second or two.

To spawn or mate the male searches though the coral looking for a female. He then pushes up his spiky dorsal fin and if she is interested they do a quick little courting circle and then they rise up out of the coral and spiral around before releasing the sperm and eggs and quickly heading back to the coral before going their own separate ways. It all happens in a few seconds. Seeing it happen (let alone trying to photograph it) is a real treat. Paul must have had beginners luck and managed to snap a few photos of the action.

Paul also got some other great macro shots. The crab is less than a 1cm wide.

After more than 6 hours underwater we arrived home safe and sound but totally stuffed – again!

Mid week we linked up with Loren and friend Mike and walked up to the Radio Tower Lookout. With the sun behind us we had fantastic views over the town, the reef and O’Keefe’s Island & The mangroves.

The small town of Colonia. Lorelei’s anchored in the bay to the right
 (the only 2 masted yacht in the bay)

The next day was Marilyn’s birthday. We joined then for dinner at ESA restaurant followed by drinks at Mnew.

Friday night be backed it up with a small party on Lorelei.
We had Mike & Marilyn, Loren and C&C onboard.
We all chipped in with the food and drinks and had a great night.

Saturday was another full days diving just the same as Tuesday but this time we did it with C&C.
The weather was perfect and we were the only ones at the Mantas for the whole day. With both dives done on a flood tide, we had better viz and amazing non-stop Manta action. Again it was 2 x 2+ hour dives.

That evening we dragged our tired and weary bodies into our RIB and the 4 of us went and did the mandarin Fish night dive too.

Left: Paul was very happy to get another Mandarin Mating shot.

If you say “Prawn” over here the locals and US ex-pats have no idea what you are talking about. It’s a “Shrimp!”

At The start of week 3 in Yap we packed the Scuba Gear away and concentrated on more above water and land based activities.

Exploring Rull Provence

We walked down to the province of Rull to have a look at the Rull Stone Money Bank.
Some of the stone money here was massive and there were scores of them lining the streets.

We visited a traditional men’s house on the water’s edge and walked up some of the traditional stone paths that are scattered throughout the island (and supposedly all link up). They are beautifully lined with trimmed trees and flowers and kept in excellent condition.

Eating out was just so cheap onshore that we ate out on most days.
For $6.50 you could get Ice tea with unlimited refills, soup and a main meal with rice and salad. We couldn’t make it for that price. After trying nearly every restaurant in Colonia we kept returning to Pathways which we thought was the best food and service. Tina our host was lovely.

Tina and Lisa overlooking the water.

Paddleboarding in Yap

The morning SUP outings were a lot of fun providing you could get out of the wind and the chop.
Paul’s favourite tour was to head under the causeway and up into the mangroves. On the high tide it was a bit of a squeeze getting through.

A Busy Week 3 in Yap

Nearly every night we had an activity planned.
Monday night was a party on Thor.

Tuesday night we had dinner with Gwen, Gary, Will & Liz who run one of the small primary schools set up by their church.
It was a great night and we played cards to 11pm.

That night we said bye to Loren who was flying to Guam and Kosrae for a work conference. We hope to catch up with her in Palau for Easter.

Wednesday night we linked up ex-pats Darryl & Tiffany and C&C and enjoyed the sunset at The Sunset Park on the west side of the island. It is a great place and just a short walk from their house. That night Darryl interviewed both C&C and us about our sailing adventures.

The Tamilog Trail

Our biggest walk for our time at Yap was the Tamilog Trail.
As we walked to the start for the trail we stopped at Gary and Gwen’s kindergarten and primary school to have a look during school hours.
The kindergarten kids sang us songs and showed us games & dancing.

Gary took us down to the primary school and explained the school’s system which addresses individual student’s levels in each subject. The kids have their own desk and mark their own work with lots of incentives and rewards for those that want to advance and push though the required work. We thought it was a fantastic system.

The Tamilog Trail starts near Colonia and goes over the hills to the western side of the main island.
It is a mixture of open trails and beautifully manicured stone paths.
The views from the regular huts along the way were stunning.

Paul’s 180 deg. Stitched panoramic shot

The amazing view of the fringing reef on the west coast

The well-manicured stone paths

Right – this is a typical signpost which are all over the island

During the week we had reports of another low bearing down on Yap and threatening to intensify. We couldn’t believe it. We know that typhoons can occur at any time in this area but we were in the peak cruising month and the time when they would be least expected. For 3 days the forecast had it crossing right over the top of Yap.
The problem was the anchorage is very exposed to the SE and with the strong winds and reported 5m+ seas, it could get a little rough…
We just didn’t know what to do so after much discussion we decided to stay. C&C off Thor choose to leave and made a dash to Palau leaving on the Friday. As it turns out their decision was probably the best one as they had a great 2.5 day run there but we felt we weren’t ready to leave and still wanted to do a few more things before we sailed off.
With that size swell coming, Paul could get some awesome surf….

Towards the end of the week the wind started to intensify and at times we were reluctant to leave Lorelei but by the weekend the winds had backed off and the low was weakening – we could be lucky – again….

So with the lesser wind on the weekend, we pulled the Scuba gear out again with the intention of doing a few more dives.
With the spring flood tides went and dived the main pass and a site called “Slow and Easy” which is reportedly a very good macro dive.
We renamed it “Slow and Boring” as it wasn’t that good at all and in the end we only did the one dive and packed all the gear up again until Palau.

Sunday we decided to do another Stone Path walk and visit the Living History Museum in the centre of town.
The stone path was beautifully maintained and at regular points there were levelled meeting areas made from stone with a grass top and surrounded by stone back rests or stone money.

Lisa with a small fish trap inside one of the museum’s traditional houses

On the way home we stopped to have a look at the Mnew and take some trick photos of the kids jumping off the causeway bridge.

The sunset that night

A Quieter Week 4 in Yap

At the start of week 4 at Yap we were exhausted and tired so we vowed to have a few slower days and relax a bit before tackling the sail to Palau and what would undoubtedly be a non-stop action packed time there.

Lisa linked up with a lady called Maylin who is Inos’s wife. (Inos drove the dive boat for us). She is originally from Kapingamarangi and is well-known for her handicrafts. Lisa went to her house and spent a morning learning to weave and between them they made some flowers and a new crab for our Micronesian wall on the boat.

That night we had Maylin and her daughter over for dinner on Lorelei.

Note the new Crab and Manta Ray on the wall behind.

We also had John from the Canoe Builders/Navigation Society make us a small scale version of the local fish traps. He did an excellent job.

Tuesday morning the tropical depression hit Yap. It brought some pretty ugly conditions with lots of rain squalls and big winds and seas.
All of the yachties decided to stay onboard on anchor watch but fortunately the worst was over in 36 hours.

Once the trades settled back in later in the week, we started to look for a weather window to leave Yap and Micronesia.

Finishing In Yap

Overall Yap was awesome but fellow yachties please note:
 The one issue for tourists/yachties wanting to independently do activities is that all the land, surrounding waterways & reef are all privately owned. You cannot do anything in those areas without prior permission and/or someone to take/guide you. If you do ask then chances are you be warmly welcomed and won’t have a problem obtaining permission or a guide but it’s hard to know just who to ask.
This is certainly the case with most of the diving, kiting, kayaking, surfing, walks, etc…
We actually found more surf breaks here than any other place in the Nth Pacific. A guy came here a few years ago to start a surf camp and a few years later closed it. He left explaining to the tourism board that a recent typhoon destroyed the breaks. We think the real reason is the inaccessibility and the ownership issues. Pity – the breaks look great.
This is why we could not dive the Mantas on our own or Kite and Surf up in the northern region.
The one exception is the main township, the main shipping channel and the main pass. This was where the Mandarin Fish, Slow and Easy and the surf break that we surfed was.
Ladies – Bare Breasts are fine but exposed Thighs are highly offensive.

So that’s it for another episode of Lorelei’s Sailing Adventures.

It’s been another jammed packed issue but this time with a lot of ups and downs.
Overall the weather was OK but the 2 Tropical Lows certainly gave a bit of concern for some time.
We stayed in Yap a lot longer than expected.
The local people are the nicest we have experienced in FSM. The expats also made us very welcome and a big thankyou goes out to all of them.
The food availability - groceries, fresh and eating out was also better than expected.
The land based activities were great as was Yap Day.
The diving outside the reef and the passes we thought was average at best but the Mantas and Mandarin fish inside the reef were incredible.

Our sail from Pohnpei on the whole was OK and no fuel was a big bonus.

The Atoll stops and experiences on the way where certainly not as great as we had hoped for and not as good as other yachts that had stopped at other locations on the way. C&C who have sailed more than half-way around the world put their experience at Puluwat Atoll as one of the best of their trip. We sailed straight past it…..
All up we spent over 4.5 months in FSM this northern cruising season.

So now we are off to Palau – the one destination that was right at the top of our “Must Visit” list and regarded by many as the world’s best Scuba Diving. We hope to be there for around 8-10 weeks – typhoon season permitting...
 Fortunately it’s only a 260nm sail (2-3 days) from Yap.
Palau reportedly has the Pacific’s slowest Internet so Episode 24 hopefully will be from there but we’ll see……

The say our blog following is growing is a huge understatement.
Last month the number of hits to the blog nearly doubled from our previous best ever. We are astounded!!!
Whilst Australia still has the highest ranking, we had over 500 hits from the USA alone and over 650 visiting older posts other than the most recent one. Amazing!!
I know we’ve said it time and time again but thankyou to those that read this and also to those of you that pass it on to others. It makes the hours of effort each week (and much more than that for Paul who edits and takes most of the 1000’s of photos) all worthwhile.
When we get to Asia and some decent internet connection and speed we will give the site a much needed facelift and some extra content.
Stay tuned…
If you are interested in Christian and Christine’s amazing blog from the yacht THOR
Have a look at:

Paul Hogger
Lisa Hogger
Onboard Yacht LoreleiAs with most Internet sites – when the viewing numbers go up, the advertising starts. So we are proud to have reached that stage and below is our first ever advertisement. Please have a good read of it to support our loyal advertiser & the World Wide Webs newest online seller – LBAY !!!  

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