[130331, 0447 UTC, Kolonia, Pohnpei, Fed. States of Micronesia
06º57.7' N / 158º 12.1' E]
Kaselehlie!(Kah seh lay LEE ah) or good day, good morning, hello - in Pohnpeian - with our apologies for not writing sooner.
We are still in Pohnpei and still plan to stay here until, perhaps, New Year's 2014. Pohnpei offers us many things we appreciate right now; a safe anchorage deep inside a lagoon outside of an area of (presumptive) typhoons, friendly locals, interesting cultures, USPS shipping, a US-friendly visa policy and well-stocked stores, including hardware stores. The largest "supermarket" carries everything from crackers to coffins. Yes, coffins. A six and a half footer will set you back $1,395. Too tight? the seven footer is just $1,450. Try to find THAT item in your local Safeway.
When we first arrived, we were weary, having had two trans-equatorial passages and a long, slow exploration of the Solomons, bringing our total to about four thousand miles in about seven months, traveled at a snails pace. Throw in a life-threatening health crisis, a haul out, and a few major equipment failures and it seemed like a good idea to rest and renew while we could.
Quickly after arriving in December we became entwined in the transient cruiser population; organizing or participating in events and helping at least one disabled vessel to make safe landfall. We also have discovered a large and not-so-transient, interesting, international ex-pat population; plus we've caught up with a few old friends and made many new ones. So, with holidays and events, time just slipped by. Then too, Leslie learned that the College of Micronesia FSM was short of instructors in Math/Science and she began teaching in mid-January. Just this week, she stepped in to sub for another faculty member who's gone on maternity leave and is now also teaching Chemistry which has quadrupled her student contact hours and gotten a few more dormant science synapses firing again. Her weekly pay to date barely feeds Jake but she is really enjoying the interaction with the (Micronesian junior-college-aged) kids who have many challenges. Among them, is that they speak English as their second language, are painfully shy, and enter college generally unprepared for the rigors of independent study and advanced subjects.
Meanwhile, Philip is keeping Carina in shape, and walking up and down the island's hills, hauling supplies (read food) and laundry, which has left him as fit as he's been in years. We are also - in our spare time - sewing sails and canvas for hire as the need arises and writing when we can. This week, we hope to finalize a deal to buy an old but immaculate Mazda Demio, which seems to be in such good shape we can recoup our investment by selling it when we leave in roughly nine months. (Leslie has had little luck getting taxis at 7 am for her 8 am labs at the campus down the road "a piece" in the wrong direction, that is, away from town.) It's slightly scary to think about owning a car after just shy of 10 years without one, but our Pohnpeian driver's licenses ($6.50) are up to date, there is no insurance and the registration is about $10 USD.
The Demio, however, has been imported directly from Japan and the driver station is to starboard. Probably 90% of cars in Pohnpei are thus equipped, despite the fact traffic drives on the right hand side of the road (as in the USA). Philip has driven right-hand cars before and, though it takes a bit of getting used to, has had no trouble. Drivers here think there is a God-given right of motorists to dominate over pedestrians and they will aim for you if you are in their pathway even if you are walking on a sidewalk. It's an odd behavior given the natural friendliness, politeness and shyness of most Pohnpeians (when they are not behind the wheel).
Pohnpei is an interesting place. Geologically speaking, it's like the Society Islands or Wallis Island; the volcanic islands in the center of the lagoon are still high and lush and the fringing reef has few motus. The lagoon itself is mostly deep right up to large areas of coral, except in and around the port of Kolonia where the lagoon is silted in. Way inside, SW of Kolonia town, is the anchorage with depths in the 25' range and with a bottom of thick, gooey, black, clay-mud. Sokehs Island with Sokehs Mountain is to the west, the mountains of Pohnpei to the south and the low hillside of Kolonia to the east. Hidden in the jungle on the top of Sokehs mountain are a number of abandoned Japanese gun emplacements which sit in redoubts; a warren of tunnels overgrown with vines connect each fortification. The big guns face the encroaching jungle and are silent now but in fact were never fired in anger during WWII as war action bypassed this island and the Japanese military left after Japan's surrender.
To our north - a mile or so away past the commercial dock and the airport - we can see the surf crashing on the reef. We recently pulled our anchor after over two months and, as would be our luck, our washdown pump failed just as the worst of the goo cleared the surface. Failing to quickly fix the pump, we finally hauled in the chain, motored to our mooring and pulled the chain back out of the locker and spent the remaining hours of the day, scrubbing each link with brushes in buckets of seawater. If you've ever put a filthy chain (and its marine fauna) in an anchor locker and left it to fester, you'll know why we were anxious to avoid this.
Pohnpei is the capital of the FSM; the Federated States of Micronesia, the entity created when the treaty with the US allowed the Trust Territories of the Pacific to become independent. Palau and the Marshalls decided on autonomy while Yap, Chuuk (nee Truk), Pohnpei and Kosrae became the FSM. So, being the capital of the country, Pohnpei is a medley of cultures from all the States, mixed coarsely with diplomats, NGOs, a bunch of ex-pats from different countries and the big evangelical churches. A melting pot it ain't. Everyone has their 'burb and their church, but mostly it works. Every place like this has its bad boys and the Chuukese are the ones who like to stir the pot. They reside on Sokehs Island to our west which they acquired after the Sokehs Rebellion resulted in exile of those living there at the time. (At Christmas they decided to extend the holiday so all Chuukese took two weeks off and spent most of their time drinking sakau (kava) and alcohol and pounding on drums made of barrels.)
To our east is the Kapingmarangi clan; displaced from their atoll (located at 01 N) by a drought many years ago. This Polynesian clan has feudal chiefs (like Tikopia in the Solomons) and is a tightly knit group. Whistles from their organized sports fill the supper time air, their youth sailing program dinghies cross the bay each weekend, and their daily 6 am bell resounds off the waters of the bay. Their wood carvings and weavings are acquired for a dear sum by the tourists who arrive on the sole passenger carrier, United Airlines. Though the Kapingamarangi men are skilled carvers, their most prolific product seems to be children; Robinson, a Kapingamarangi man who cares for some boats owned by local business owners, told us that, of the 500 or so residents of the village, 400 were children! He himself is caring for eleven, many more than he has sired, since his wife seems to keep adopting needy children. When we have "excess" food, we try to send it Robinson's way.
On shore to our south is the Pohnpei Marina, still under construction by Kumer and Antonia Panuelo. Kumer is part of the powerful Panuelo clan that owns most of the land on the south end of the bay (up to and including the mountains to our south). But, despite his family ties, Kumer is a self-made man. Both Kumer and Antonia went to university in the US and they have high standards for themselves, their projects, their children and their workers, and are kind, generous and ambitious. It seems impossible to "out give" them. They just will not allow it. We have been welcomed to their facility and into their family and home and have enjoyed their company. Without Kumer's local knowledge, his boat with 400 hp of power, his enthusiasm and skill, the SSCA vessel Zephyr (engine-less) may well have been a wreck on the reef at Sokeh's Pass when the wind suddenly died and the boat was sure to go up on the reef as waves crashed all around. Kumer towed Zephyr though Pohnpei's pass and into the bay where dinghies of yachties took over and tugboated Zephyr into the tight little marina. They remain there still but will soon be leaving for points west.
So far, the marina remains under construction, so we land our dinks for free, carry away city water (not yet metered) and use the crude "clubhouse" (an open air tin roofed structure recently decorated with burgees by SV Tomboy) for sail repair and frequent BBQs. The Panuelos are slowly building the foundation of a great yacht/sport fisher facility and we're so pleased to do what we can to help them.
Also ashore are John Ranahan and his wife Jean who serve as the SSCA hosts here. Their warm hospitality, their porch with its wifi and one of their vehicles are always ready to help yachties in Pohnpei.
As for fun, other than the regular potluck BBQ, we've ventured by local fast boat to Nan Madol, site of a city of man-made basalt islands connected by canals and to "Manta Road", where mantas supposedly frequent- though these large gentle friends have eluded us twice. Friends on Celsius came to town and Philip and friend Rob (of Compass Rose) did an island circumnavigation with them by car, including a brisk hike to the peak of Sokehs Ridge. This week is the 20th anniversary of the founding of the college and a parade of floats designed by students, plus a national holiday called Culture Day. We are looking forward to both of these events before school restarts on Wednesday and the Easter break is finished.
Every day here is a good one because we are healthy and happy and in a beautiful place. So, if you were worried of us, worry no more. Our silence cannot be excused but we hope it will be understood. Write if you can; we love to hear from you too.
Kalanghan! (thank you!)
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake