Thursday, 24 April 2014

Episode 25 Palau Part 2

Lorelei’s Sailing Adventures

At the end of Episode 24 we had just had survived
TRS (Tropical Revolving Storm) “Peipah”.
The Storm turn out to be a bit of a fizzer and certainly not the 70+ knots we were expecting… Thankfully.
It did bring 4 days of overcast and rainy weather after it passed over Palau.

Loren Onboard

In Yap we met a fantastic Aussie, Loren who works as an Environmental Lawyer in Yap as part of the AVI program.
We got on really well with her and did lots of activities in Yap together.
Ironically she had already booked flights to visit Palau before we had met her and they by chance coincided with our visit to Palau so we invited her onboard Lorelei for the bulk of her visit.

The day before she arrived the weather fortunately cleared up.

The morning of Loren’s arrival was a great day and Paul managed to link up with fellow yachties Pete, Anthony and Mya and go for a surf and a wakeboard. The wind was an unusual light SW direction so the East Coast breaks were offshore. Anthony and Paul surfed a fantastic right hander that was only 3ft but super clean and very long.

On the way home we all had a wake board behind Pete’s powerful RIB.

Fellow AVI volunteer Lis and US partner Jake (who live in Palau) are friends of Loren but had gone camping for the weekend so they lent us their car for the weekend so we could go to the Airport at midnight on Sat 12th April and pick Loren up.

Loren’s flight from US/Guam/Yap was on-time at midnight but an earlier Japanese flight was late meaning they arrived at the same time causing a large backlog getting through customs.
It was very interesting sitting in the arrivals area people-watching as the American and Japanese (mostly diving) tourists randomly came through.
Talk about different people... No right or wrong, better or worse just very different races.
One highlight was seeing a large group of smiling Japanese ladies all aged around 65-80. They looked like normal aged tourists except they all towed along matching Scubapro diving gear bags. Very cool!

Loren arrived safely and driving the 40 minutes to the airport and back to Lorelei was certainly a fun challenge as everyone drives on the right hand side – the opposite to Australia and a first time for us actually driving and not just a passenger.

Loren’s Day 1 – Arch Day

It never meant to turn out like it did but we ended up having an “Arch Day”

We were up at 7am and underway by 8am for the 2 hour motor south to the Southern Rock Islands.

The Southern Rock Islands from the air

On the way down we passed an amazing arch called Doughnut Arch and just had to do a little divert to stop and have a look.

The track we took through the Rock Islands was awesome with just so many clumps of amazing little islands covered in lush growth.
It was simply stunning!

Cemetery Reef – One of the best snorkelling spots in the Islands

We dropped into a couple of bays just to have a look for potential anchorages for when we returned at a later time.

We anchored for the first night at Lake Tahoe in the Urukthapel Island Group which was deep but very close to many natural wonders in the area.
Before lunch we put the dingy in and went to explore the Natural Arch and have a snorkel around it. We think we must have ruined a few helicopter photo shoots as the helicopters pretty much flew non-stop over the arch for tourists to take photos.
The Natural Arch from the Air

After lunch we went over to the Soft Coral Arch which is a narrow hole through the rocks which has a strong current at times and is perfect for the soft corals to thrive on the shaded shallow walls.

Above and Below – Loren Snorkelling among the Soft Corals

On the way back we found some amazing rock structures.

Loren’s Day 2

We got up early the next morning to escape the heat for a big kayak/paddle through the Islands to a great snorkelling spot called Cemetery Reef. We renamed it Maternity Reef as the amount of small fish schools was immense. The hard coral was also amazing and for an inter-island snorkelling spot it was fantastic. It’s a terrible problem to have when the viz becomes so limited by the amount of schooling fish…

On the way home we explored many smaller bays and just marvelled at the clarity and colour of the water.

We got back at lunchtime after one of the longest paddles we have ever done.

After lunch we moved Lorelei to another anchorage called Fast Break which is in the Mecherchar Group of Islands and close to the Jellyfish Lake. The wind was on the beam so we were able to sail some of the way. With the lack of Mosquitos in the bay we were able to sit outside and enjoy the sunset.

Loren’s Day 3 – Jellyfish !!!

We were up early to take the RIB around to the park entrance of the Jellyfish Lake.

The Jellyfish Lake from the air

We arrived at 8am - way too early for all the day trip tourists to start arriving.

The walk from the wharf up over the hill was only 5 minutes but was steep and a bit of a mission for Paul carrying his heavy underwater camera box.

Looking down from the path to the pontoons on the lake

At the wharf on the Lake side we met the local scientists that do a Jellyfish count for 2 days each month. They estimated that there are approximately 9.7million of them in the lake for the month of April 2014.
Fortunately they also told us where the thickest congregations and best viz were in the lake which helped a lot.

As we swam out towards the centre, the jellyfish numbers slowly increased and by the centre they were so thick it was difficult to see through them.

With the glassy surface, high hills, clouds and bright sun, it made for some interesting photo opportunities.

Towards the end, Paul swam back into the remote shoreline and got some reflection and under/over shots in the mangroves.

We spent over 2.5 hours playing in the lake and it was an awesome experience. For Lisa it was one of the “Must Do” activities of our sailing adventure.
Scuba diving is not permitted in the lake as there are highly toxic concentrations of Sulphur Dioxide down at deeper diving depths in the lake. We also found the water was very green the deeper we free-dived down. From the surface down to 3m/10ft was the best depth for photos.

After lunch we continued our snorkelling sessions and did a snorkel though Wonder Channel and then went to Clam City for a look at the Giant Tridacna Clams that live at depths from 5m/15ft to 18m/60ft.
Some of them are very large making for some great photo subjects.
It was a huge day and we got home from snorkelling after the sun had set.

Loren’s Day 4 –Wreck and Cave Diving

Day 4 we left the Fast Break Anchorage and started heading south towards German Channel. After a few minutes we realised the SW wind was picking up which would make the anchorage and the dive sites pretty uncomfortable so we aborted and headed back towards Koror and planned to dive some of the more protected dive sites on the east side.
The first site was Chandelier Cave followed by The Helmet Wreck in the arvo on the flooding tide. For Loren (who learnt to dive in Yap and hasn’t dived anywhere else…) the cave and wreck were both a first for her.

The viz inside the cave was fantastic (although pitch black without a light) and we explored all 4 chambers.

Chamber 1

On the surface in Chamber 3

This photo was taken from under the water surface looking up though it

Above and below – hanging out on the surface in Chamber 4

The Helmet Wreck had pretty green viz and was worse the deeper we went but we still managed to get some good photos considering the conditions.

Loren with a Japanese WWII Rifle

Loren in the aft hold which is full of live depth charges.
Note the new blue/green putty used to try and stop the highly toxic chemicals from leaking out.

A very coral encrusted winch drum on the stern

Loren with crates of Artillery Shells

It’s easy to see why Paul is better on the other side of the lens.
Lisa is a much better model, not a bad photographer either and getting better…..

Loren’s Day 5 – Reef Diving

The previous night was the full moon so we were up early as high tide was at 8am and we wanted to dive Lighthouse Express and the Taiwanese Fishing Vessel Wreck on the turn of the tide when the slack water was present.
We set the camera up for macro and got some nice fish photos in the great viz and still water. The wreck was also very good with a Turtle just hanging out feeding near the bow. Loren was stoked – another first for her!

That arvo we had a late lunch of Salt and Pepper Squid and celebrated the awesome five days with the bottle of wine given to us by our US diving friends Mike and Marilyn in Yap. Thanks M&M!

We drank, swam and relaxed all arvo…

Loren’s Day 6

Paul got up at 6:30am and went surfing with Anthony while the girls decided on a later start and went for a Kayak.

For Friday lunch we headed into town to the Indian Restaurant, Taj for their Friday Buffet Lunch. We stuffed ourselves silly!
We linked up with Jake and Lis and also met Linda who is an Aussie EMT that works in Peleleiu  with the WW2 bomb and live ordinance disarming & disposal team.

The “L” Girls (and Jake) L to R - Lis, Linda, Loren and Lisa.

That arvo we said goodbye to Loren as she planned to spend 2 days with Jake and Lis before heading back to Yap on the Sat night flight.
Overall the 3 of us got on famously and it was a great time for her onboard Lorelei – just a little too short….

That arvo we downloaded the weather and were surprised to find a forecast for a week of virtually no wind so we tidied up and the next morning headed back down to the southern Rock Islands.
On the way out of Koror we passed 2 Taiwanese Navy vessels that had arrived the day before. The town was packed with 100’s of very friendly, polite and well-dressed sailors.

Mecherchar Islands & Jellyfish Lake

For the afternoon it rained but we woke up on Easter Sunday morning at the beautiful Jellyfish Lake anchorage with sunny skies and an amazing glass out.

Paul took 4 photos through 180 degrees and stitched them together.

We took off for the Jellyfish Lake at 9am and were surprised to be the first ones there.
Rather than swimming out into the middle, we wanted to try and get some reflection and half/half photos around the shoreline in the mangroves but this time with Lisa in the photos.

We ventured out into the middle and it poured with rain making for some different but interesting shots.

This shot we got in between the rain squalls

One the way back we had another try at some mangrove photos in the rain but the layer of fresh water on the surface made the shots difficult.

Omekang Islands & German Channel

In the arvo we moved south into the Omekang group of islands that are the closest islands to the diving spots in German Channel. The reef bar into the anchorage is only 2m/6ft deep and we only had 0.9m/3ft of falling tide so we just made it in with only a little depth and time to spare.
Above and below – Sharing the Omekang Anchorage with the Palau Siren Dive Liveaboard.

We elected to wait for the morning’s flood tide to dive as it would produce better viz so instead we chose to go and visit Jurassic Lake which was only 200 metres from Lorelei.
Jurassic Lake is an enclosed lake but at low tide there is a small tunnel that becomes open allowing snorkelers to enter the lake. You must however get out before the tide rises or else you would be caught inside.
The issue is the reef bar into the bay that has the tunnel is only 0.3m/1ft deep at low tide. This means that it’s too shallow for the tourist boats to get in when the tunnel is open and therefore the place in rarely visited.
We managed to row over the shallow coral, into the bay and up to the tunnel entrance.

Once inside, we decided to swim right around the edge of the small lake.

About ½ way around Lisa was 50m ahead of Paul. She called to Paul to come quickly but quietly. There was a calm but urgent tone in her voice and Paul knew something wasn’t quite right – Lisa had spotted a Crocodile!
She had seen it in the shallows in front of her and quickly sized it up as a great photo op and backed away quietly so as not to scare it. When Paul arrived we discussed the crocs position and set the camera up accordingly, double checking all the settings and strobe positions.
We then slowly made our way up to it and took a 1st photo to gauge its reaction to the 2 strobes (flashes) firing. We were able to slowly inch forward taking photos until Paul was only about 1m/3ft away from it.
We took over 25 photos.

We even got game and tried a few half/half shots…

We were stoked!
Paul had tried for 6 months in the Solomon Islands to get an underwater croc shot but a safe opportunity had never presented itself.
The difficulty in underwater croc hunting is the normally limited viz in which they live and the unknown variable of just how big one might be that you come across.
This croc was only about 2m/7ft long (which roughly equates to a 3ft tail, a 3ft body and a 1ft head) so it was the perfect size for a great photo experience.
The most unusual thing though is that the Omekang group is just a very small series of remote islands well away from the mainland and surrounded by clear shallow coral reef. It’s probably one of the last places we would have expected to see a Croc.

The next day was one of those rare super special days of amazing weather. The seas were glassy and dead flat and there wasn’t a breath of wind all day – perfect diving conditions.

We jumped in the RIB early to escape the heat and headed to German Channel.

This is an aerial shot of German Channel.
Note the small boat passage cut into the reef at the far end of the channel on the right. The Omekang Islands are directly behind the passage.

Transiting the small boat passage at high tide. At low tide the sides are exposed.

On the way out we stopped and had a snorkel in the channel but decided with the superb conditions to head further out. We did our first dive at Ngemelis Wall.

In the arvo after the tide had turned we switched the cameras to Macro and went out to dive Big Drop Off which is a little further out past Ngemelis Wall.

It’s a little difficult taking Leopard Shark photos with a 60mm Macro lens….
That evening we knew the weather was still going to be good for the next day and there was a chance of diving the world famous Blue Corner, so we decided to break out our newly made Reef Hooks.
Reef Hooks are not used much in other parts of the world and they were actually invented in Palau for dives such as Blue Corner
They are effectively a large fishing style hook with a lanyard that clips to you. It enables you to hang underwater clipped into the reef so you cannot drift away in the strong currents.
At Blue Corner you descend to the point and clip in onto the edge of the drop-off and watch the immense fish life. It would be impossible to do the dive without one.
After having a look at the many options of Reef Hooks for sale in town, Paul was not happy with any of them and decided to break out the sewing machine and make our own ones.
Lorelei’s Custom Reef Hooks Version 1.0 actually worked a treat.
The next day we packed a picnic, 4 scuba tanks and headed out for a day to Blue Corner.
From Omekang (the closest safe yacht anchorage) it is a long run of over 5nm so ideal conditions in our size RIB are essential.
We got there early and managed to get the closest mooring right next to the point.
The current under the RIB was flying at around 4 knots and it took all our effort to swim hand over hand along the mooring line and down to the bottom. We then drifted down a little and hooked in.

Lisa hooked in with her new reef hook
Her hair and bubbles give you an idea of the current racing past us

The viz was great and we saw loads of, Tuna, Spanish Mackerel, Reef fish, Pelagics, 4 species of Shark  and a very friendly Maori (Napoleon) Wrasse.

Paul’s self-portrait giving the Maori Wrasse a tickle under the chin

We think he could see his reflection in the dome port as he just wouldn’t leave Paul’s camera alone…

Note the fishing hook and line hooked under the fin

We decided to stay on the mooring for our surface interval & picnic lunch as we had the prime spot and wanted to dive Blue Corner again for the 2nd dive.

Us in our little RIB at Blue Corner. The local dive boat staff are getting used to our crazy diving antics but we always get some funny looks from the tourist divers in the boats.

The next morning was still flat but the wind was just starting to puff a bit so we elected just to do a single dive and went out to one of Palau’s best dives, Fern’s Wall (also known as Turtle Wall).
It was a great dive and the best viz and Soft Corals we have had so far in Palau.
Somehow we jagged it as there was no current at the start and we didn’t know which way to go so we just picked a direction along the wall and off we went. At the 40 minute turn around point, the current started to pick up and we got a great drift back to the RIB. Perfect (but a fluke…)!

Lisa took this shot and it was only after we were looking at it on the computer we saw the little animal in the hole in front of the fish

Thursday 24th April we returned to Malakal/Koror as the 25th is ANZAC day and we have been invited to the memorial service at the Australian Naval Base, followed by all the traditions and the Collingwood vs. Essendon AFL game on the Satellite TV.
We are very much looking forward to it.

So that’s it for Episode 25 Palau Part 2.

Look out for Palau Part 3 in 2-3 weeks’ time….

To all the Aussies and Kiwis – have a great Anzac Long Weekend.

Paul and Lisa
Yacht Lorelei

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