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The Rock Islands – Palau

February 4, 2012

February 5, 2012 – If you look at any pictures of Palau I’m sure what you’ll see is an aerial view of a chain of islands that look like jewels sitting on a turquoise cushion. The islands have never been settled and now remain as a protected area and a site for world renowned diving. Permits are required to head out to the Rock Islands ($25/person/10 days) plus, for those on sailboats, a cruising permit for the state of Koror ($20/month for a 38 foot boat).

We first came here in 1988 and were only allowed to stay for 12 days. This was mainly due to a dysfunctional bureaucracy challenged by their association with the US and the constant referendums and the assassination of their president.  Well people are now friendly but the fees placed on non US registered boats do not encourage us to hang around a long time in Palau. In what will be two months of visiting here we will have spent well over $400 in permits and fees. We can’t afford another month so we’re going to once again have to rush through the Rock Islands, and here’s our adventure in words since uploading pictures here is impossible. I will do that once we’re in the Philippines.

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Anchorage – Quiet Time

We’re tucked away in an anchorage out of site of any other boat. It feels like the PNW without the mountains. There’s nowhere to walk on shore as the jungle reaches down to the shoreline and bushwhacking is not an option due to the steep nature of the rock formations. The rock is also incredibly jagged and the thought of falling whilst clambering through the jungle is not appealing. However, there’s supposed to be a waterfall somewhere close by. I’ve dinghied around without finding it. I can see from where we’re anchored a gap in the forest canopy but how one gets up to there I have no idea. Ah well, freshwater bath be damned I’ll just have to put up being covered in salt.

What I can’t get over are the sounds. From every part of the hillside there are dozens of different birds calling. I can’t identify many of them as don’t really know the species of birds other than the screeching cockatoos. Occasionally a bird flies out of the forest canopy and if I have the binoculars ready along with the bird book on Palau I might be able to identify the bird I’m looking at. I hope that somewhere through these islands we get a chance to walk in the forest to catch better glimpses of the birds in their natural habitat.

Well, this is the first day and we’re going to have breakfast and move on to another island later this morning. Stay tuned….

Day 2 – Tarzan Bay: Latitude 7.17.42 Longitude 134.24.75

What a day – sailed over from yesterday’s anchorage to Tarzan Bay. No there aren’t any monkeys swinging over the anchorage but it is a little wild wind-wise. The sail over was like a jaunt through the Gulf Islands but with warm water, clear skies and tropical temperatures. All the sailing here is within the barrier reef so the waters are relatively calm and the coral heads can be easily seen through the change in the colour of the water. We weaved our way between dozens of islands to find Tarzan Bay. When we arrived the wind was funnelling through a gap to the northeast. Fortunately the gap was protected by a reef so the anchorage was calm but all day and night the wind blew through at 25 knots. We welcomed that as it’s kept the mosquitoes away and cooled the boat down. We spent the afternoon relaxing and then headed over to a sunken wreck that dates from WW11. It was a Japanese patrol boat located in about 20 feet of water. The fish and coral life was the best we’ve seen so far.

We were joined by Nausicca, an Italian boat, with Marcello and Louisa onboard. We had first met Nausicca in Pohnpei and it was great to re-connect. Needless to say we had an Italian dinner – pizza! We followed that with a great watermelon and finished off with a fine scotch. How better can life get?

Day 3-4 – Cemetery Reef: Latitude 7.14.11 Longitude 134.222.38

You’re right – if you notice the lat/long you can see this is not very far from the last anchorage. However, the Rock Islands is not that large of an area but there are hundreds of different anchorages to explore and one doesn’t have to move too far for a completely different experience. We chose an open anchorage to give lots of air through the boat at night for coolness and also distance away from land to ensure no mosquitoes. In Koror we have to put the mosquito screens on at night which restricts air flow but without them we get eaten alive.

We also chose this anchorage for the snorkelling on cemetery reef. I have no idea why they call it this as the reef itself is teeming with fish life both large and small, an incredible reef which extends 75 X 75 metres. The coral itself is not that wonderful but the fish life makes up for it. What is a problem are the great number of day trippers that stop there for an hour or so. We did see numerous people stepping on the reef and also breaking sections off. Education is a problem as am sure they’re not given the right introduction for the need to be aware of the fragility of the reef system. We did try to say something but language difficulties made it impossible for us to get our point across to the culprits!

Day 5 – Ulong beach:

Yes, a little further this time. We’re out in an open anchorage exposed to the west and situated off one of the few beaches in the Rock Islands. We can look ashore to see hundreds of bats flying above the treetops and onshore walk under the forest canopies to see rusty-capped kingfishers, cockatoos, swifltlets, palau fruit doves, and can hear the red junglefowls. Unfortunately the island is also over run by rats which has a negative impact on the bird population.

The beach is also used by the local tour boats as a place where they bring their divers for a lunch break. We’re two miles off of the outer reef. We can just see a couple of very small islands out on the outer reef. We’re tempted to go out for a snorkel to the outer reef but the wind is blowing too hard and it would make for a very uncomfortable and wet ride in the dinghy. We hope to get an anchorage in a place closer to the outer reef at a later time.

Day 6-7 -8– Ulong Beach to Close to Jellyfish Lake Latitude 7.10.575 Longitude 134.22.245

We moved from Ulong Beach due mostly to an uncomfortable anchorage. Anchored on the west side of the island kept us protected from both the strong NE trades but with the swell sweeping around both sides of the island and us being on the lee meant the swell came at us from both sides and with little wind to keep us facing in one direction we ended up rolling around. So, up with the anchor and we motored for the good part of 4 hours against strong NE trades and through a maze of coral patches and across the lagoon to take us close to what is known as Jellyfish Lake, or at least an anchorage close to the lake so our 2 friends on Naucissa could get a chance to visit and dive with the jellyfish. We declined the opportunity as we had done that the last time we were here and we were too cheap to pay yet another fee just to swim with jellyfish!

We’ve found a very protected anchorage. Perhaps too protected as it’s a hot anchorage with an interior boat temperature record of 36 degrees! And there’s very little breeze blowing through the anchorage. So, the best idea is to get in the dinghy, put all the snorkelling gear in and spend the day exploring the outer reefs and taking a picnic to have on the beach. What an area – turquoise water, easy to see reefs, all sorts of fish including sharks and a few, very few, sandy beaches to pull the dinghy up to and have lunch. I think we snorkelled for about 4 hours and met up with Louisa and Marcello after they swan jellyfish lake for another hour of snorkelling the pass i.e. deep water and sharks which always keeps you on your toes.

Tomorrow? Who knows, the choices are numerous and one could spend a long time in this area exploring but time is running out.

Well, the weather turned and the day was marked by squally weather with plenty of rain which gave us a chance to fill up the water tanks. However, in this area it’s dangerous to be running around when one can’t see the shallow spots. So, the day was spent exploring with our friends Marcello and Louisa in a flotilla of floating flotsam consisting of a paddle board, a Melanesian wooden canoe and our kayak. Connie elected to stay onboard Sage unwilling to follow us in the dinghy. We had a great time and came back exhausted late in the afternoon – a great day.

Day 9 Jellyfish Lake to Sunset Bay Latitude 7.15 Longitude 134.22

What a beautiful day. Got an ‘early'(!) start – 0900hrs and are heading back up towards the northern part of the Rock Islands. With only two days left on our permit we don’t want to incur a $100 fine so our time out in these islands is running short. Interesting anchorage on no coral on the bottom which is a real bonus. We always seem to get our chain wrapped around coral and anchoring in depths of 30 plus feet provides a real challenge in diving down to untangle the chain so we can pull the anchor up. However, this anchorage is ideal with sand and what’s known as marl (fine broken coral with the occasional larger bits).

Day 10 Sunset Bay to Coffin (close to cemetery reef) Latitude: 7.15.07 Longitude 134.22.37

Yes, we’re risking it – we’re overstaying our permit! We’re well hidden away though. We went over to a place called Sea Clamp but it turned out to be exposed to the very strong NE winds blowing and made for an uncomfortable couple of hours. We finally decided to move and headed down to Coffin. As its name implies it’s tight. As long as the wind doesn’t come from the shoreline we’re OK. We’re in a narrow channel so the wind is funnelled in such a way to keep us lined up in mid stream. We just hope the wind continues to blow so we don’t wander over to the cliff edges! Nice and shallow, marl and sand and all of 25 feet rapidly descending in front of us to about 4 feet. One of the best anchorages we’ve come across in this archipelago.  One negative is that about 4 tour boats coming racing in between us and the shoreline.  One boat screamed at us that we were ‘in the way’.  We looked around for a ‘No anchoring’ sign.  Seeing none we stayed where we were!

February 3rd – Coffin to Koror

What a day.  When we finally poked our noses out from our protected anchorage we got a rude surprise.  We thought it was just normal trade winds reinforced.  What had happened is that the wind had moved into the northwest and strengthened to 20-25 knots.  What that meant is a hard slog to windward the 12 miles back to Koror against the wind.  What should have been a nice gentle afternoon jaunt turned into a marathon to get in before dark.  With the centreboard down, sails up we roared away across the lagoon making about 15 tacks up the narrow channels and amongst the ‘bombies’ (coral heads) and back into Koror in time for sunset.

Needless to say we went out for dinner being very low in supplies – or were we just lazy!  OK – that’s it for the epistle – pictures to follow when internet connection improves in the Philippines.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Admiral Wayno permalink
    February 4, 2012 23:47

    You guys! That was just so exciting and waaaay better than the video.
    Are you headed to Caraga, Manay or Tarragona or where?

  2. Janis La Couvée permalink
    February 5, 2012 07:34

    Happy and safe travels once again as you make your way to the Phillipines! Like Wayne, I’m interested to know where you will be headed.

    For us – the year has flown! Next week we celebrate our first wedding anniversary with a trip to Point No Point. Three days of bliss completely disconnected from the “net”. And I wonder what that feels like for you? Do you miss it, as in Palau?

    We’ve had a fall of small adventures, in the Comox Valley in September and then the Cowichan. Just planning 2012.

    Frans is training for the second Tour de Victoria in June.

    Hugs all around.

  3. John Middleton permalink
    February 5, 2012 13:56

    What a life snorkeling every day! I hope the reefs aren’t being attacked by thorn stars, bleached by over warm water (apparently a problem in some areas due to so called global warming) and there’s not too much garbage from all the tour boats. Look forward to pix when you get to the Phillipines. Take care!

  4. February 10, 2012 05:47

    Hey guys,

    Wow, am I jealous of that story! Sounds like an incredible find and some rough but memorable times. And the stress of overstaying your permit reminded me of similar “fun times” in French Polynesia.

    Fair winds. Thanks for keeping us informed.

    Randall and Murre
    http://www.murreandthepacific.wordpress.com

  5. February 27, 2012 08:02

    Happy Birthday Connie – I don’t know if you are still under sail to the Phillipines or if you have arrived. Wishing you every good thing for this year. Much light, love and laugter!

    Janis

  6. Admiral Wayno permalink
    February 27, 2012 10:38

    Ahoy out there? Yooohooo……? Are you making a leap year day arrival into the Philippines? Thought I’d hear from you by now : )

    Wishing you all the best

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