[160416, 0107 UTC, Palau,07°20.4'N / 134°27.1'E]
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We are still here in the drought-stricken country of Palau, living as frugally as we can in this beautiful high-end tourist destination. The drought here is severe; the reservoir serving the developed end of the island group has dried up and there are no facilities for the desalination of sea water. The president finally declared a state of emergency and aid has arrived from overseas. The inattentive operations of the water department were suddenly shaken into action to address the problem and coordinate replumbing and shipping water from the lightly inhabited areas of the big island of Babeldaob . Blame it on El Nino if you wish, but the island's infrastructure has been poorly managed, even as the country seems awash in money. We are luckier than most since we have a tiny desalinator (called a watermaker in yacht jargon), and are skilled at water conservation and at capturing even the smallest amount of water from passing showers. The yacht community has also banded together and those with high capacity desalinators have been generous to those who are without.
Despite the challenges, Palau continues to boom and its citizens enjoy a high standard of living; almost every household has a car and everyone dresses fashionably, medical care is cheap or free, and all children attend school paid for by the government. Much of the wealth comes from its tourist industry, but a significant amount also comes from grants and aid from other nations, which Palau pursues using paid consultants. Even the Peace Corps is providing skilled volunteer professionals under its response team program. We met Tim and Kate, retired education professionals from Alaska, and Henry Qian, a retired IT professional from NH, who are donating a year of their lives to help Palau's school children in a school system where every single child is provided a free tablet computer. The USA alone provides over $90 million per year to Palau under the compact of free association agreement. However, this does not mean there isn't an underclass, immigrant workers are not protected by a minimum wage and there is a large population of Filipinos and a smattering from other countries such as Bangladesh, who struggle to survive in a place where rents are sky-rocketing as mega-yachts dot the harbor.
Almost every day when in port on our mooring, we sit in the cockpit eating our breakfast while enjoying the life around us. The uplifted limestone island, that is only a boat length away and severely undercut from physical, chemical and biological erosion, hosts hardy plants that cling to the steep shores. This creates bird and bat habitat and we enjoy birdsong morning and evening. Below us are sardines, surgeon fish, scads, angelfish, batfish and even a big red snapper that we can see clearly in 25' of water over a coral garden. We consider ourselves very lucky to be here experiencing Palau and the hospitality of Sam's and the yacht club.
Almost everything in Palau has a price and these prices continue to climb; one Sunday we were just wandering around in a car rented to take a friend to the airport and happened upon the museum, which was closed. On our previous visit to Palau, we had visited the museum, but rushed away without seeing the few outdoor artifacts. This day last month, we stopped briefly and spied a canoe with coconut twine lashings. Friends in Yap had likely made this twine so Leslie stepped forward to snap a photo to send to them. Just at this moment, a woman arrived presumably to open the museum. She jumped from her car and screeched "THAT is NOT allowed [taking the photo], you must buy a ticket". Being newly-minted residents of Palau, Leslie asked if a resident could take a photo [residents visit the museum for free], which made the woman even more agitated. We decided she was having a bad day but the incident still troubled us. Later that same day we happened upon a sign in Chinese on the road to a "bai", a traditional Palaun meetinghouse. We understood (from our friend Henry who saw a similar sign at another historic site) that the sign said we would have to pay $25 per person to visit. We turned the car around and left.
There is however something wonderful and free to do in Palau - other than to gaze at the beautiful scenery and watch equally "guapo" people - that is to learn to blow glass. We believe the program is supported by the Japanese government, but no matter, it is "Belau Eco Glass" housed in the recycling center at the Koror dump. The idea is to turn rubbish into beautiful and useful items. Maki (a tiny Japanese woman) and Waylon, a handsome young deaf Palauan man, are skilled and patient teachers who are clearly inspired. The program is a well-kept secret but we finally found it and Leslie has an appointment to blow a glass on Monday, after being taught by the animated Waylon the basics of handling the molten glass and using some of the tools.
So, what have we been up to? Hmmmm. We won't bore you with the boat chores or projects other than to say, we're always busy installing that or fixing this. Our house batteries have died on us and we're counting the days until our ship comes in (literally) and our new AGM batteries, which are being shipped from Seattle, are installed. (Another financial ouch.) Having nearly dead batteries means some mornings we get up and can't use the SSB to get email or weather or even turn on the refrigeration system until the batteries get a little juice. So, the wind needs to blow hard or the sun needs to rise high enough to shine on our solar panels or we need to run our portable generator. So far our trusty Honda has not failed us...perhaps because she was so aptly named many years ago, Alma - A Little More Amps. (Thanks, Danica!)
January flew by due to medical concerns that warranted a trip for Philip back to Manila and the heart institute at St. Luke's hospital. The news was good, at least as far as his cardiovascular health was concerned, though during an endoscopy they did discover a small sliding hiatal hernia which we will need to manage. It was a stressful and expensive time for us, though we were blessed with a "Buddy Pass" help from Chuck, a friend who is a United Airlines pilot, he saved us hundreds on plane fare.
During this time, we also presented a free Raja Ampat slide show and showed an educational IMAX film on behalf of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and the Royal Belau Yacht Club to a "sell out" crowd at Sam's Tour's and did some follow up support to those wishing to visit there.
The short cruising season seems to have passed now, though we have met some interesting crews and made some good friends. One yacht, a 20 meter beauty named Dawnbreaker, arrived here after having been robbed by armed men in a small city on the mainland of Papua New Guinea. The captain, Lars, saved the crew by locking himself in his forward cabin, loading and firing off a flare through a hatch; this sent the gunmen fleeing with all of the bost's valuables: cameras, cash, credit cards, computers, ATM cards, etc. Thankfully, Lars still had an aging Samsung tablet and we loaded onto it a charting program and a set of vector charts of the world. Unfortunately though, they had no means of getting digital communications at sea since their satellite telephone had been part of the loot taken. We spent a bit of time with the crew and thoroughly enjoyed their company and agreed to follow their progress and provide weather via a daily radio schedule until they reached Okinawa by way of the Philippines.
Friend John Ranahan also passed through as crew on the yacht Aurora, bound for China and we installed highly detailed South China Sea vector charts on their navigation computer. In port now we have some modern day "hippies" who are working and singing their way across the seas in tattered clothing and junk boats. They were supposed to leave Thursday but apparently have not yet been successful at negotiating out of paying the $50 per person "green fee" charged to every visitor. It is likely they do not have the cash to pay, but of course they also don't have the cash to extend their visas either!
The green fee is an example of Palau's admitted plan to drive up the revenue gained from each visitor. Palau does not want to grow the number of visitors, just the profit from each. In October of this year, visitors from most countries will have to pay $50 to gain a visitor's visa for one month. Renewals will be $100 per person per month. The "green fee" or departure tax will rise to $100 per person. The affect of these new fees on visiting yachts is likely to be significant and should drive away all but the wealthy and those from the USA who will be significantly less affected.
Most yachties who come to Palau come to see and cruise the Rock Islands. Such a visit means paying for a cruising permit for your yacht (good for 30 days) and buying a cruising permit for each crew member at $50 for 10 days. If the crew also wishes to visit the famous Jellyfish Lake, the fee is an additional $50 pp. Arrival fees for yachts amount to $120, departure involves paying the "green fee" for each crew member. So let's say a family of four from a non-compact nation (e.g., Australia) want to sail to Palau. As of October 1, 2016, they will spend $200 in visas in advance and $120 on arrival ($50 Customs, $50 Immigration and $20 line handler). If they want to go to the Rock Islands during their 30 day visa (permits are for 10 days) and include a visit to Jellyfish Lake, they will spend $450 to do so. When they depart they will pay $400 in green fees. The family membership in the RBYC for dinghy dock, etc will be $35 (good for a year) and a monthly mooring fee, $50. So a one month stay with a ten day trip into the Rock Islands and a visit to Jellyfish Lake will cost this family: $1,255! If they extend their stay for a second month, they will pay $50 for their yacht and $400 for their visa renewals, but why would they stay unless they wanted to visit the Rock Islands, which would tack on a minimum of another $250!
A month ago, we qualified and applied for resident alien status and acquired residency. This is a privilege granted to citizens of the US and other Pacific compact nation citizens. As soon as we could, we registered Carina in the State of Koror and took off for a visit to the uninhabited Rock Islands. So far we've had two lovely eight day adventures, during one of which we spent time with good friends Glen and Marie aboard Backbeat, who along with their son Ryan, graciously gave Leslie an introductory lesson in SCUBA. It was an exhilarating experience; Philip's turn is yet to come. We'll see where this experience will lead...
Being in the islands is glorious, as long as you like solitude. The days and nights are cooler than in town and generally our only company is wildlife. Tour boats might scream through at 15 knots carrying divers to far off dive sites on the outer reef but, in our preferred tiny nooks, even these are rare, and we enjoy our time exploring in the pristine outdoors. We spent many days in the far end of the Ngeruktabel Island group in an anchorage reminiscent of a swimming pool where we could see every speck of sand on the bottom below and only a tiny nubbin of our Rocna anchor almost completely buried in the deep sand. From this location we explored mostly by dinghy and ventured into the water occasionally, though the snorkeling was uninspiring. One day we decided to hike over to the ocean side of the big island of Ngeruktabel to see if there might be better snorkeling there. Going ashore, we did find bits of coconut shell marking the way over the "pass" through the jungle, and made our way down towards the shore. The water was indeed beautiful and clear and as we got our bearings, Philip began to explore footholds for climbing down the undercut limestone shore. Just before he took his first step, Leslie saw a "salty" or ocean-going crocodile striding up the shore heading towards us. She screeched a string of words together - you may have heard her - and the croc turned and with a violent flip of its tail, went to sea. So, Philip remains a two-legged man and a salty was denied a chewy Italian-American meal.
Jake's health continues shaky and he is extremely thin, though he eats heartily when the mood strikes him - yellowfin tuna, fancy japanese canned mackerel, bits of buttered toast, breast of chicken, beef (raw beef is his favorite). Fancy Feast is beneath him; kibble smells good but he doesn't even deign to more than nibble. He has also become very vocal, yowling a bit when his old bones ache. He is able to climb the companionway steps only with difficulty; we try to lift him up when we notice he wants to go out. We are smothering him with love, comforting when he complains or spits up a hairball, keeping him well hydrated and brushed, and indulging him. Soon we will celebrate the 15th anniversary of his joining our crew, which means a "birthday" of 16 or, more likely 17 years and we wrestle with the knowledge that we may not have him too much longer. Though looking frail, he still hunts at night and is still a demanding goofy boy who snoozes dreamily upside-down with all of his toes curled and a distinctly feline grin on his face - and makes us smile every day.
As you may remember, our destination when we turned north at Sorong in Indonesia was Appletree Cove (Kingston, WA.) We're getting there, but slowly. First we have to get a bit further east so as to be staged to go N and NE in 2017 to Alaska. We now have a plan for our next journey and we're very excited. From Palau we plan to visit at least one out-island atoll of Papua New Guinea on our way to the remote Micronesian atoll of Kapingamarangi and then onto Pohnpei.
This atoll, Ninigo, has no real link to the outside world. The nearest supplies are 150 nm away and the islanders must travel by open boats across the expanse of ocean. We're told that boats are often lost. Friends aboard Coquelicot spent time there last year - as did friends Suzi and David aboard Sidewinder, and VK and Michaela or La Gitana before them - and they have given us ideas of how we can help the islanders, who still ply island waters in traditional canoes. Coquelicot's pictures will give you a sense of the beautiful island and its wonderful people. Please see Helge and Jane's photos at:
We will leave Palau in July so as to make an annual traditional canoe racing event at Ninigo in August. In the interim we will be collecting and purchasing items to bring including: plastic tarps, sailmaking thread and needles, hand held compasses, copper nails 2 " or 3", solar power regulators, fishing hooks, soap, open-pollinating seeds, knives, towels, school supplies, topical antibiotics and gauze bandages, used clothing and sandals, etc.
If you would like to help by making a donation - don't bother with food, we'll buy all of those supplies here - we will make sure your items get to the atoll and into the hands of the people who need them. While they were there, Helge and Jane held a small "market" and the islanders purchased items for a tiny sum. At the end, Helge and Jane donated all the proceeds to the island school. We hope to do the same.
Being in Palau with USPS mail service, the cost of shipping to us via Priority Mail should be minimal. Send to: Philip DiNuovo, YIT Carina, c/o RBYC, PO Box 6074, Koror, PW 96940
Please let us know if you wish to help and what you will send as we are, of course, a small boat and could get inundated with stuff we're not able to carry. Expect priority mail to reach us in about 2 weeks. If you can help, we, and the islanders thank you very much!
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake