Thursday, March 02, 2006

Passage to Pohnpei

We safely arrived in Pohnpei after a pretty pleasant 4
day passage. Our anchor got pretty stuck in coral up
at Nell before we left and we spent a bit of time
trying various ways to get it free (free diving in 50
feet, anchor windlass and backing maneuvers and a trip
line.) We finally got the anchor free, but not until
after we had sheered off the brake on the brand new
(only its second use!) electric anchor windlass. After
all these years without any issues . . .

We had ideal weather the first two days, with sunny
skies, good winds from behind and a gentle swell,
which got us surfing pretty good (sevens, eights and
nines). But we were going a little fast to arrive in
daylight, so began to slow the boat down. Then the
motion wasn't as sweet for sleeping and cooking, but
OK enough. We'd switched to 4 hour watches and felt
like we were a little more rested than we did when we
used to alternate 3 hour watches. Twenty four hours a
day, we're always keeping an eye out for ships, our
compass course and debris or anything else that might
come up. On our third day, the skies clouded over and
we got periodic light showers. The morning we tried
to make landfall, we struggled to slow down enough to
wait for daybreak, when we figured we could see what
we were doing. However, after daybreak we encountered
torrential downpours and a virtual white out. Hard to
make a safe and low stess landfall when within a
couple miles of a high island, we couldn't even see
it! We steared as close as we dared a couple of times
and turned away, debating whether to just head for
Saipan directly instead of chancing it. The rain had
been constant and there was no indication it was
likely to change. And visibility seemed essential to
negotiating a reef pass on the windward side of the
island and then spotting coral patches inside the reef
to get to a safe anchorage. But as we were heading
away, we saw enough of the island to give us some
hope, so we turned around again. Once again the skies
opened up and we were engulfed in a white mist. But,
before we veered away again, the skies cleared enough
to give us a glimpse of where we were headed.
Gradually we could distinguish more features of the
reef pass and harbor where we hoped to anchor and we
decided to go for it. The channel markers became
visible (a luxury that we often don't have when
sailing in remote areas) and we felt more comfortable.

As we entered the inner harbor, past large Taiwanese
Tuna Seiners and a small cruise ship, we contacted
Port Control on the VHF radio and requested to check
into the country. As instructed, we pulled up to a
large wharf for clearance and then we waited; And
then the flies descended upon us. What a welcoming
party! First the Port officers came and asked a
number of questions and filled out various paperwork.
Then Immigration, Customs, Quarantine officers all
paid us a visit throughout the lunch hour and into the
afternoon between rain squalls, asking questions and
filling out paperwork and stamping with impressive
stamps. While they were very nice and welcoming,
clearance seemed to drag on forever. We snacked on
beef jerky when we realized that no breakfast was also
turning into no lunch and we were beginning to go
comatose. The quarantine officer departed with the
last of our vegetables and told us we were free to go
anchor. Just as we were getting our docklines ready
to leave the wharf, it began to drizzle and an
Australian Naval officer paid us a friendly visit, so
we invited him aboard. In the late afternoon, after
discovering much in common, we realized we really
needed to make our way to the anchorage before it got
too late. As we pulled away from the dock immediately
headed towards a dangerous reef submerged in the murky
water, a kind soul beckoned us to follow him through a
safe path in the coral strewn bay. We were relieved
to drop anchor near a group of about 40 kids playing
in the water, and, when the skies opened up again,
content to head below for some dinner and bed.

Wendy Hinman and Garth Wilcox
S/V Velella (Wylie 31)