[140529, 2127 UTC, Stone Bridge Anchorage, Mercherechar, Rock Islands, Palau, 07°09.94'N / 134°20.33'E]
It's been a while since our last Dispatch Note so we need to do a bit of catching up.
In our last note, we had left Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia and 380 miles and 3 days later arrived in The Republic of Palau. We were blessed with good wind for about half our passage; the rest of the time we either tried to eke out some sailing in light winds or motored in order to arrive on a Friday. If we had tried to just sail, our arrival would have occurred on a weekend and the overtime costs for checking in would have been prohibitive.
As is typical, we arrived just in time for a blinding squall which decided to dump its load and obliterate our vision as we were in the tight passage dealing with a strong current. We arrived at the commercial wharf only to find a massive mega-catamaran with a beam wider than Carina's length had parked right in the middle of the pier, leaving us with little room to maneuver on either end. Though tired and soaked, we managed to park without crunching anything.
We knew that costs in Palau were high, so we weren't shocked when a troop of polite, professional officials from a variety of different departments kept handing us invoices. Before we were cleared in we were $241 poorer, but we can blame a little of that on the fat cat. We also learned that when we leave, we'll have to pay a "green fee" of $60 (whatever that means) to Customs, who offered us an invoice for that too in case we wanted to lay out a little more cash (we declined).
But wait, there's more! Want to do some fishing while you're here? The cost for a non-Palaun fishing license is $20 per MONTH. If you want to purchase a fishing license for a year, simply multiply $20 times twelve! In addition, you need to buy a fishing license for EACH adult on board a cruising yacht since it is assumed everyone will be fishing.
Let's get back to Jake, who was himself tired and a wee bit soggy upon arrival. Upon hearing that we had a cat aboard whose pet passport showed he had not been vaccinated since 2009, the officials from Quarantine insisted we have a vet visit Carina at the wharf and administer immunizations for rabies, distemper, etc. (We were sure to keep our Q flag flying as we waited for Jake's "boat call"!) The visiting vet cost: $91.00, including vaccines.
Sleep deprived, still soggy and now frazzled, we were finally allowed to leave the wharf and we motored around Malakal Island and into the inner bay where the Royal Belau Yacht Club welcome mooring and cheery friends aboard Brick House awaited us in front of Sam's Tours.
We're lucky we're Americans as other nationals pay more for their Palauan visas. Even more than the fees, the regulations visiting yachts must follow fill a seven-page handout you're given as part of your arrival package. The increasingly restrictive regulations are promulgated by Palau's legislature and enforced by a corps of rangers who patrol Palauan waters - making sure we're being environmentally friendly - in an armada of high speed motor boats. For these reasons, many sailors opt to give Palau a pass and head directly to the Philippines instead.
Still, the officials are courteous, Palauans warm and friendly and Palau IS beautiful: limestone lump-islands, lush jungle-carpeted hills reach down to magnificent deserted nooks and bays filled with sand beaches with turquoise shallows that descend into an azure sea. Palau is also steeped in history from WWII and relics from the war litter the sea and land: wrecked tanks, ships, airplanes and numerous weapons discarded at war's end. The discovery of unexploded ordinance is common and there's an active office for ordnance defusing on a quiet side street near Ace Hardware. This is the only place we've visited where the yellow pages of the telephone book has a category for companies dealing with "bomb disposals". Caves that the Japanese used for shelter from Allied bombs riddle the limestone hills of the many islands of Palau and it is thought that many have yet to be discovered. The Dean's office of the local college was the WWII Japanese hospital operating room and there is a tunnel from it to the sea. Reportedly, some caves have collapsed over time and the contents of the caves have been buried forever.
One thing that Palau offers us, which you may not appreciate, is a good selection of grocery stores selling a wide selection of food at reasonable prices. There are acres of freezers with cheery lights that illuminate the contents as they sense you are standing there salivating at the selection; plus aisles of crackers, whole grains and cheese that isn't orange and plastic. Buy the local beer at a premium or Chinese, Japanese or Filipino options. Forget reasonably priced wine, irrespective of quality. You want propane? A 20 lb propane bottle fill will set you back $50, whereas in Yap it was $38. The same tanker comes here; we've listened to its conversations with Port Control.
We timed our arrival in Palau so that we, in conjunction with Dave and Sherry of SV Soggy Paws and under the auspices of the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA), could administer amateur (ham) licensing tests as voluntary examiners, free of charge, to anyone wanting to earn a ham license. We were especially interested in attracting locals to take the test and gave a press release to the local newspaper advertising the test date. We had no takers and later found out there are only TWO licensed individuals in the whole republic. (It could be the $50 fee and $20 per year renewal cost discourages amateur radio operators.)
In the end, we were able to administer tests for Elements 2 and 3 to three cruisers: Peter of SV Kokomo, Selena of SV Westward II and Lisa of SV Lorelei, all of whom passed with flying colors.
In the weeks leading up to the ham tests, we've had to endure the heat and humidity - Malakal Harbor seems to lack any breeze - as well as the mosquitoes that descend at dusk. (We write from the cool, mosquito-free and gorgeous Rock Islands.)
On the sunny side though, we purchased a couple of fat tire, one speed, cushy-seat Huffy bikes from SV Brick House when they departed for the Philippines and have enjoyed our trips around town, getting exercise and dodging oblivious cars in the meantime. Other than the usual cruiser haunts of hardware and grocery stores, we've been to the museum, the aquarium and even the prison gift shop to look at story boards. Koror is a bit of a boom town and by definition crazy for those who aren't in a vehicle, so we usually find a crosswalk and walk our bikes across if we need to go in the other direction. One day, a car almost ran over Philip on the crosswalk. Silly man, we said. The following day, when in town, a man accosted Philip and apologized profusely for having nearly hit him. Such is the politeness of the Micronesians.
Another Palauan "pest" we have not encountered, and hope never to encounter, is the salt water crocodile. Paul, a fantastic photographer on SV Lorelei, did get to see one here and was able to get a photo from about a foot away. Do a Google search for sailing yacht Lorelei if you are interested to find his and Lisa's pictures. Philip was able to snorkel the same small murky "lake" accessible only at low to mid-tide (about 200' in circumference with a high pucker factor) and saw neither the croc nor the two unexploded bombs said to lie on the bottom. (Leslie who was too frightened to get in the water said "If you see them, Philip, don't you DARE touch them! They could explode! And don't touch the croc either!")
With the ham testing behind us, we made plans to visit the Rock Islands of Palau. Not surprisingly, there is a fee for this privilege. Actually there are TWO fees: one is for $50 per person for a ten-day visit and the other is for $20 for a 30-day Vessel Cruising Fee. With these permits in hand, you able to cruise the fabled Rock Islands subject to the previously-mentioned regulations such as areas off limits to all visitors or where fishing is banned.
There were a number of other sailboats moored with Carina at Malakal harbor that left for the Rock Islands about the same time as we did: Soggy Paws, Westward II, La Gitana, Challenger and Lorelei, all avid divers. These boats are part of our tiny fleet of boats that crossed Micronesia in the 2014 cruising season. We've kept in touch primarily through our extremely-informal HF radio net - called the "Shellback Net" - and helped each other through the usual challenges of such things as failed equipment, navigational hazards, arrival details, infections, and crazy weather. These are good, interesting people who are fun to be around and we expect to have more fun adventures here before we go west chasing the rest of the fleet that's already gone towards the Philippines or Indonesia.
We are now anchored quite alone on the western edge of the Mecherechar group at a stunning spot named Stone Bridge anchorage where we have only the birds and the sea life to keep us company. We're relaxing and exploring and have 7 more days (count them) left on our permits - more later.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake