Logs of S/V Bravo Charlie III

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October

10/9/03 We're currently located at the fuel dock in Raiatea, an island in the Iles de Sous le Vent (Leeward Islands), about 100 miles northwest of Tahiti.

We are in the last stages of preparation for the big passage back north to Hawaii.  Ruth flew home yesterday (nothing goes to windward better than a 747!).  Our friends, Ane and Dave Street from the S/V Cabezon of Vancouver have been with us the last week and are crewing for me on the trip back.

We met the Cabezons back in the Marqueses in 1996 on the first Bravo Charlie.  Actually we first "met" them on the SSB radio when we were on passage to the Marquises from Mexico when they offered assistance to a vessel in distress off the coast of Baja.    We spent a bunch of time together in 1996 but lost contact with them.  However, at an anchorage in the atoll of Toau this year we met another Canadian boat "Free Spirit", Mark & Gab, who belong to the Bluewater Cruising Association like Ane and Dave and gave us their Email address.  We sent them a "long time no see" message and it turned out they were very interested in visiting us in French Polynesia and then crewing for the trip back to Hawaii.  They flew in about a week ago and Ruth and I had a great time diving with them at various sites around Bora Bora and Tahaa.  We saw a large Hawksbill turtle and 2 lemon sharks at Bora Bora and a Napoleon fish and several black-tip sharks at Tahaa.  We call Tahaa by the pet name of Ta-Ha-Ha-Ha!

Also, at one of the dive sites on Tahaa we saw a bizarre fish behavior that we have never seen before.  In a large school of small (unfortunately not identified) fish, groups of about 6 fish would suddenly break out of the school, turn vertically and swim rapidly towards the surface, then release a milky substance and then break off and rejoin the school.  The behavior was repeated dozens of times over the course of a few minutes.  It must have been some type of fish sex but was nothing like we've ever seen on the Discovery Channel.

We are doing the usual last minute boat tasks before a big passage.  We refueled and then Ruth and Ane did the provisioning yesterday.  We have stayed tied to the main dock in the town for 2 nights and it is convenient to be right in downtown Uturoa.  Today, Dave went up the mast to check the rig.  Fortunately he found nothing more wrong than a shackle that needed to be safety wired.  I changed oil, fuel and water filters.  Also replaced (again!) was the stainless steel muffler that had developed 9 pinholes, which spewed hot salt water.  This is the second occurrence of this problem and Hallberg Rassy has provided a (hopefully) more permanent fix this time.  We have also been doing laundry and the main cabin looks like a sea of rags.

We are planning to move today to an anchorage near the northeast pass in the lagoon.  We'll clean the bottom of the boat there and do final stowing and making things seaworthy.  The plan is the leave around dawn on Friday Oct 10th.  The weather and winds have not been favorable for a passage north for the last few days.  There have been showers and light flukey northern winds in a band a few hundred miles north of us.  The cause is a weather system to the south of Tahiti that has been stationary the last few days.  It appears to be getting ready to move on and then the more usual southeast trade wind pattern will be re-established.

On the trip to Hawaii we are planning to stop at Fanning Island and also Palmyra Island.  Fanning is about 200 miles north of the equator a makes a good halfway stop.  Fanning is part of the Republic of Kiribati, a large but poor country consisting of many islands near the equator.  Palmyra is part of the US and is about 200 miles northwest of Fanning and is a nature conservatory.  It is also the site of a famous double murder that was detailed in the move and book "And the Sea will tell".

We'll be doing regular updates after we depart French Polynesia so stand by. Feel free to contact us with short, "text-only" Emails (no attachments, no HTML).

 

10/11/03

Well we haven't quite left French Polynesia yet.  We got away from the dock at Uturoa in Raiatea and are anchored behind Ile Mahaea at Passe Toahotu on Tahaa but probably won't leave on the passage north for another day or two.

The weather system causing the unfavorable winds is acting more or less as forecast and is only now slowly moving away.  Most of Friday we had only 2 kts of wind in the anchorage and it was very hot and muggy.  The anchorage has essentially no wind protection so this is the same wind as in the open ocean.  Dave is suffering with a sunburn.  He'll have to keep reminding himself that he has delicate skin and stay covered up.

However, part of the effects of the weather system is a "convergence zone" which is sitting right over us right now.  As a result we had some very impressive thunder and lightning within 1/2 mile of the boat accompanied by 25-30kt winds for a few hours in the late afternoon / early evening. Unfortunately we were in the dinghy coming back from a dive in the pass at the time when the first squall hit.  It was the usual story that the divers (Dave & I) didn't notice anything wrong until we looked up at the end of the dive and saw the heavy rain on the surface.  Ane, on the other hand had spent the last 40 minutes sitting in the dinghy (bailing and trying to stay warm!) waiting for us at the pickup spot where you could only see 50 feet due to the rain.  As soon as we got into the dinghy the thunder and lightning started.  Bravo Charlie was about a mile away and so was the lightning.  We decided that running around on the water in the dinghy might not be the smartest move in the world and so we beached the dinghy on the nearby motu (Ile Mahaea) at the north edge of the pass.  We waited out the storm under a thatched shelter that was on the island for daytripping tourists (of which there were none).

We have completed a few more boat tasks like cleaning the bottom, particularly the propeller and water intakes.  Dave got the propeller so shiny that it might make a good fish flasher/attractor and improve our fishing luck!  Propellers are particularly sensitive to encrustation and even tiny amounts can cause a large loss of efficiency.  Past experience has shown that we often end up motoring 1/3 of the total distance on long ocean passages so propeller efficiency is important.  Ane and Greg were snorkelling around the boat while Dave did all the work.  Ane spotted a beautiful lime-coloured moray eel right under the boat.  Ane tried to help Dave clean the prop but almost got her finger cut off by the line-cutter blade on the prop (oops!) but due to Dave's quick thinking was pushed away.

We have taken to watching episodes of the Sopranos on DVD each evening. None of us have ever seen that show and the contrast between French Polynesia and getting whacked in beautiful downtown  Newark New Jersey is striking.  We have all the luxuries of home on Bravo Charlie like hot showers, music, fresh bread, fish dinners, red wine and chocolate treats.  Greg makes fresh bread every few days with his Oster bread machine.  However, it is not good to talk to the Capitaine when he is cooking because he looses track of how much flour he puts into the recipe (oops again!).

So stay tuned.  In the same Email session that this log is sent we'll retrieve the next "GRIB" file with the 4 day wind forecast from the weather service and see what is shaping up.

 

10/14/03 We are underway!

Its 5 PM in the afternoon local time (Hawaiian time) and we are now underway about 210 miles north of Tahaa.  We've been sailing for about 27 hours and have (for a change) had very good winds....about 15-20 kts from the east-south-east.  We upped anchor at Tahaa at 1:35 PM on Monday Oct 13th after waiting a few days there for a favorable wind forecast.  So far the winds have been more or less as forecast in both magnitude and direction.  If things continue we may have a very fast (7 or 8 day?) passage to Fanning. That would be quite a change from last time (in 2001) where it took us over 9 days.

Our position at 5 PM was 13 deg 24 min South, 152 deg 46 min West.  The only land we need to be concerned about is Starbuck island, up around 6 deg South.  Its a sand and coral patch with a few palm trees that was once inhabited.  It does lie on our direct course to Fanning so we have to make sure not to let our GPS precisely navigate to it.

Everything is working well on the boat and no one is seasick.  Dave tried out Scopolamine patches for the first time and has found them quite satisfactory.

No fish yet....Ane had two lines out when we went out the pass at Tahaa and we have gone through a bunch of birds a few times but....

We thawed out some frozen lasagna for dinner last night as no one was up to cooking much the first night out.  There was an almost full moon out for most of the night so it made for easy watch keeping.

 

10/15/03 Noon position:
11 deg 35 min South, 153 deg 34 min West
days run 152 miles - 990 miles to Fanning

Just after sunset on Oct 14th we had a bit of excitement.  We caught a fish!...a 5 foot long 45 lb  Wahoo.

We had two lures out at the time and we must have gotten bites on both. Unfortunately the other lure was lost due to swivel failure.  The lure on which we got the Wahoo had been made by Ruth a few weeks ago and consisted of a store-bought squid skirt augmentented by an additional shiny skirt made out of the inner bag from the fine? Baron de Box wine sold everywhere in French Polynesia.  This is only the second fish that we have caught this season and is perhaps the only good reason to buy Baron de Box since the other fish was also caught on such a lure.

Unfortunately, landing the fish added to the excitement when we got the landing net handle jammed in the rotating radar antenna.  Besides stopping the radar, both GPS  and chart-plotter displays immediately went dark. After Dave subdued the fish with about 20 bonks with a billy club I went looking through the manual for the plotter.  No circuit breakers were blown but it was obvious that some sort of fuse somewhere was blown.  It seems that equipment manufacturers love to put secret fuses inside them.  The result in this case was a wild goose chase trying to find which box had the fuse in it and where.  In fact the box turned out to be one I had never seen before since it was installed under the CD changer and not obviously associated with the radar or GPS.  There was indeed a blown fuse in this box which was a Simrad auxiliary power supply.  Not being aware of the existence of this fuse I did not think that we had a spare since it was of a different type than of all of the other fuses on the boat.  Fortunately, mixed in with the replacement lightbulbs provided by Hallberg Rassy there were some fuses of the proper type and only a slightly larger amperage (10Amp instead of 6 Amp.  We put one in and voila...instant navigation and radar again.

It wouldn't have been the end of the world if the main GPS/plotter/radar wouldn't work as we had two more GPS's aboard, one a battery operated handheld and one inside the Inmarsat-C unit that needs to be connected to the serial port of a computer to read out.  However they would definitely have been less convenient to use.  As do many other boaters, we've taken not to carrying a sextant as the possibility of GPS failure seems remote. Possibly we may reconsider that in the future since there is also the possibility of GPS system failure (terrorism?).

Dinner, after all of the excitement was not fish since Ane had already started to cook the Thai chicken curry.  Dave mentioned that a sure-fire way to catch a fish is to cook chicken for dinner :-)

The wind is somewhat lighter now.  For about 9 hours during the night of the 14th and the early morning of the 15th the wind shifted to the northwest and there was only enough wind to go about 3 kts, and even then not quite in the direction we wished.  That is below our threshold of pain for turning on the engine so we motored from 9PM to 6AM.  It appeared from the Fiji Meto bulletin that we were going through a weak convergence zone with some light rain showers.   By morning the wind shifted back to the east and got up to 9 kts so we shut the engine off.  At the wind speed, on a beam reach, we can go about 5.5 kts.

The sun is really heating up the boat as we approach the Equator.  Ane has resorted to hanging her bedding inside the cockpit to create shade.  A tupperware container with cold water and a facecloth has also been useful for staying comfortable.

 

10/16/03 Noon position:
 9 deg 02 min South, 154 deg 30 min West
days run 162 miles - 828 miles to Fanning

For most of the 16th we had squalls on and off...some with almost 30 kts of wind.  We got a bunch of practice reefing and unreefing.  This is much more civilized on Bravo Charlie than on most boats due to the hydraulically operating furling gear and electric winches.  Nonetheless you have to be quite careful with your hands when easing the sheets as both Ane and Dave have discovered the enormous forces on the genoa sheets.  Four full turns on the winch are required to safely handle them and you still have to watch it.

 

10/17/03 Noon position:
6 deg 25 min South, 155 deg 41 min West
days run 172 miles - 656 miles to Fanning

Just before sunset on 10/17 we passed within 5 miles of Starbuck Island. Not much except a few bushes to look at.  This is the 3rd time Greg has sighted Starbuck and the first time for Ane and Dave...now members of the exclusive Starbuck club....although an even more exclusive club, of which we are not members, is those who have been ashore.  There is  a tenuous anchorage usable only in calm conditions.

We put out fishing lines again when nearing Starbuck and caught a decent size (25 lb) Skipjack tuna....not a Yellowfin tuna but Ane cleaned it and made ceviche for appetizers.  For dinner we had fried tuna and Wahoo accompanied by mushrooms, macaroni & cheese.

 

10/18/03 Noon position:
 3 deg 24 min South, 156 deg 48 min West
days run 193 miles - 463 miles to Fanning

We've been sailing, not motoring for the last 60 hours and making very good time...an average of 7.5 kts made good towards Fanning.  Sailing has been mostly close reaching as the winds have been from the east-northeast.  The forecast is for the winds to shift more southeasterly but still to remain in the 15 kt range.  So it is unlikely that we will have use the engine again before arriving at Fanning.  We have only done 19 hours of motoring since leaving French Polynesia.  We are anticipating arriving at Fanning on Tuesday morning which would be a time enroute of 7 days and 19 hours, over a day faster than the last time we did this trip!  It is particularly good that we have used so little fuel since we would like to have lots of fuel for the final leg to Hawaii.

We anticipate crossing the equator around sunset on Oct 19th.  This will be Greg's 6th equator crossing under sail and Ane and Dave's 3rd.  No polywogs, only shellbacks here.

We've been watching the Sopranos again and are up to the 7th episode in the 3rd season.

 

10/19/03 Noon position:
0 deg 35 min South, 157 deg 50 min West
days run 187 miles - 283 miles to Fanning

We had another fast day beam-reaching on 10/19 and WE CROSSED THE EQUATOR just before sunset at 1730 local time.  We did the obligatory toast to Neptune with Hinano beer (brewed in the southern hemisphere, drunk in the northern!)  We also have videos of us videoing each other videoing the GPS.  Right after dark we had a few squalls but nothing really windy.

10/20/03 Noon position:
2 deg 12 min North, 158 deg 50 min West
days run 178 miles - 105 miles to Fanning

On Monday 10/20 the wind shifted more southerly, as forecast.  In fact it became uncomfortable to sail our direct course to Fanning as it was almost dead downwind.  This wasn't a big problem since we had time we needed to kill because we did not want to arrive until daybreak on the 21th.  Low tide at Fanning was forecast for 0807 on Tuesday morning 10/21, with slack current in the pass shortly thereafter.  As a result we decided to take two big tacks (actually jibes) in order to avoid sailing dead downwind and also to use up some time.

Right after sunset we caught another tuna.  This one was fatter than the previous one (see attached photo).  The lure was one of Ane's, with black feathers.  The line was quite short with the lure close to the boat on the back of the first wave.

 

10/21/03 Noon position:
3 deg 52 min North, 159 deg 21 min West
Anchored in the lagoon at Fanning

The timing of our jibing worked out almost perfectly and we arrived at the pass shortly after 8AM.  There were also rain squalls arriving at the same time but nothing that obscured our vision.  However the weather was very reminiscent of Seattle (Vancouver?) with a dreary drizzly look rather than the vision of a tropical atoll.  The current was still running out of the pass at about 1.5 kts and there were some steep waves on the outside of the pass but nothing particularly scary looking.  So with Dave on the bow we went in the narrow pass uneventfully.  After getting inside we noticed the extensive facilities that have been constructed by the NCL cruise line for their passengers.  The cruise ship arrives tomorrow and there are more people on the ship than reside on the island.  So toilet facilities in particular are a problem.

Finding an anchoring spot in the Fanning lagoon can also be a problem.  Most of the lagoon is very shallow with a lot of coral heads.  Most of the areas in which you actually can anchor are affected strongly by the current in the pass and your boat spins around twice a day and points in strange directions despite the relatively strong trade winds.  Our friends aboard another sailboat called "Sisutl" were already anchored in the best spot and there were a few decrepit and probably unused mooring buoys in some of the other good spots.  So we anchored a little farther from shore in about 10 feet of water but in an area with strong currents.  Sisutl is planning on leaving tomorrow so we will move over to their spot.

The officials arrived fairly promptly after we anchored and flew the yellow "Q" flag (Quarantine).  Everything was straightforward although we did have to fill out 3 different, somewhat lengthy, forms, all of which asked for more or less the same information.  We actually declared all of the booze that we had aboard but the officials were unconcerned after we said that it was only for the boat.  The one slightly strange thing was that I had to pay a $40 visa fee but Ane and Dave did not.  Possibly something to due with them being Canadians.  The last two times we visted Fanning (in 1996 and 2001) we paid all of the fees in US dollars.  Later we discovered that the fees were payable in Australian dollars which are worth about $0.50 US.  However the officials were glad at the time to accept the full amount in US dollars! This time Ane and Dave had brought a bunch of Australian dollars so we paid the correct amount in the correct currency.

We are planning on staying at Fanning for 4 days and then we will move on to Palmyra.  Tomorrow is Norweigan cruise ship day and there is quite a show put on by the locals.  But the cruise ship passengers make an interesting show too! We are going to try to find some of the villagers that we have met in previous visits and say hello.  Apparently the police chief Tabuya who befriended us in 2001 is back in Tarawa but one of Ane and Dave's friends, Nan, is still around according to the custom's officer.

 

10/26/03 1255 HST (Oct 27, 2003 Kiribati time) - We just upped anchor at Fanning and are sailing for Palmyra.  We expect to get there on the morning of Oct 28th and will probably have to make a few jibes to avoid the crazy rollies, just like on the last day out of Fanning.

We spent 5 nights at Fanning.  All except for the last were very calm although we did get a lot of rain and a little lightning and thunder.  This was because of a low-pressure area that was hovering over us, bringing doldrums-like weather instead of the more usual southeast trade wind weather.  The rain was welcome on Fanning because there has not been much of it for the last few months.  Unfortunately the locals don't seem to be very efficient at collecting rainwater in cisterns by the houses.  This is in contrast to French Polynesia where all of the houses in the Tuamotus have extensive collection systems attached to rain gutters.  We were told that this is because cisterns cost too much.  The residents of Fanning get a lot of water from shallow wells but the water needs to be boiled.  There are a few houses with cisterns and solar panels but this is the exception.

Ane and Dave were in Fanning for 3 months in 1997 and 1998.  Ruth and I were there for 2 weeks in 1996 and again in 2001.  The big change is the weekly arrival of the NCL cruise ship that began only a week before our 2001 visit. The island is still extremely poor and living conditions haven't changed much since 1996.  Medical care is very basic and people often die from causes that would be unheard-of in even slightly richer third-world countries.  For instance, the 28-year old son of Tabuya, a man Ane and Dave met in 1997, died last year of an infected tooth.  Untreated, the infection spread to his brain stem and killed him.

The cruise ship has brought more economic activity to Fanning.  There were a large number of craft stands selling things like traditional Kiribati knives, pandanas mats, shell necklaces, baskets etc.  Hopefully the income generated will go towards improving the standard of living.  Unfortunately another big change is the amount of trash scattered all around the island.  There are Victoria Bitters beer cans everywhere.  So it's clear where a bunch of the money is going.

We visited a number of people that Ane and Dave or Ruth and I had met in previous visits.  We gave Tabuya that Ane and Dave knew(not the same Tabuya Ruth and I met) a bunch of gifts, such as pencils, paper, and crayons for the school in his village.  His village is quite far from the pass and doesn't benefit as much from the arrival of the cruise ship.  We also gave him a bunch of fishing line and a few hooks.  He said that the thing they really needed was more fishhooks.

We also met with Naan, a part Chinese, part Kiribati man with 11 children. Naan's wife, Kirata, wove a pandanas mat with a sailboat and "Bravo Charlie" on it for Ruth and I in 1996.  She speaks a fair amount of English and remembered doing this.  Naan is one of the most entrepreneurial residents of Fanning and has a small store, an SSB/ham radio, a TV and a VCR.  He is one of the elders of the Catholic Church there and we also gave him some supplies for the local school.  He is also a friend with the caretakers; Matt and Elizabeth on Palmyra Island and gave us a letter for them.  So this probably eliminates the need for subterfuges like the need to make boat repairs in order to get permission to stop at Palmyra.

We hope that the supplies we gave to people find their way to a needy place. Even if they end up getting sold rather than given it would be better than what we saw in the customs office when we checked-out.  There were several quite large boxes containing kids toys and school supplies which were partially opened with their contents spilling out.  From the dust they had obviously been there a long time.  One was addressed to the Fanning Island School from the Lutheran Church, care of the NCL cruise line.  Clearly they were never going to be distributed.  We have been told that an unfortunate aspect of Kiribati society discourages anyone having too much more than someone else.  So this seems to result in no one getting anything.  It also doesn't help entrepreneurs.

We did both diving and snorkeling during our stay.  The dive was only so-so.  Even though there was no wind there was a large swell, probably from typhoon Parma out 2,500 miles to the west that could be felt down at 80 feet.  The swell had stirred up the water so the visibility wasn't great.  I did get some nice video of Dave in a large school of fish.  Over 90% of the coral is still dead, as it was in 2001.  This was apparently from a large warming during the 1998 El Nino.  Before this, on our 1996 visit, the diving was truly exceptional.

However, we did do some truly exceptional drift snorkeling this time.  On Saturday and Sunday the current at the pass was incoming during the later afternoon.  We dinghied out to the deep-water drop-off at the outside of the pass and jumped in, hanging onto the dinghy painter.  Every single time we ended up in a large school of fish.  We saw schools of giant barracuda, trevallys, eagle rays, a 5-foot wingspan manta ray, and a bunch of large Napoleon fish as well as sea turtles.  We did this 4 or 5 times in succession on both days and usually saw all of this stuff on each run.  The latter portion of each snorkel was inside the lagoon.  There weren't as many exceptional ocean-going fish but the ride was a lot of fun.  The sensation was like one of flying over the bottom.

We are looking forward to Palmyra since none of us have been there and it has a certain mysterious air about it because of the murder of a couple by another jealous cruiser about 30 years ago.  The island was also used as a military base during WWII and has an airfield and several old army artifacts.  We will be about a day and a half enroute there and probably spend 3 nights there before setting sail for Honolulu.

 

10/28/03 Noon Position: 
5 deg 53.2 min N, 162 deg 05.3 min W
Anchored in the lagoon at Palmyra


We arrived at Palmyra mid morning on Oct 28th after first sighting it on the radar at 20 miles.  Palmyra is an atoll and is only about 6 feet high although the palm trees reach a height of about 80 feet and make it visible to the eye from about 6 miles away.  We called Palmyra Station on VHF channel 16 and were immediately answered by Matt, the chief caretaker.  He welcomed us to Palmyra and gave us some important navigational information like the fact that the chart was off about 0.3 miles from the GPS.  He also described the entrance range markers, which are not shown on the chart.  We had some difficulty lining up the entrance and were getting quite nervous when the water depth started shallowing and we still hadn't seen the range markers.  Matt could see us and suggested that we needed to go a little farther southeast before the markers would appear.  It turns out that the back marker is in a narrow cut in the trees on the opposite side of the lagoon and is not visible if you are even a small amount off from being lined up.  The front marker is almost at water level and is also hard to see.  Finally Dave saw the cut in the trees and we proceeded in.  The entrance channel is artificial and unmarked except for two small buoys near the beginning.  It was created by the military during World War II and is long and narrow but is at least 18 feet deep at its shallowest.  As long as you stay lined up on the range markers you will stay in the channel but you have to be lined up well before you get to the buoys lest you run onto the reef.  There are two wrecks on the western side of the channel reminding you to stay in the channel.  We had good light for conning and Ane and Dave were on deck watching for obstructions.  Halfway in, Ane shouted excitedly "turn left NOW".  I did immediately, wondering if we were about to hit the reef.  It turned out that she had seen a large sea turtle swimming across our path and we narrowly missed him.  Once in the lagoon the water deepens to over 100 feet.  The area had an eerie, primeval feeling with the squawks of large flocks of birds overhead.  We anchored deep inside close to the end of the airport runway and just in front of the large cement ramp and Palmyra Yacht Club.

Palmyra has a long and interesting history.  Most of the land area was created by dredging portions of the reef in order to deepen the lagoon and construct facilities for 5,000 troops stationed there during World War II. In the process, much of the coral in the lagoon was destroyed, either by the dredging itself or by the obstructions to the water flow created by the various causeways that were created to connect the various motus.  However, the causeways have been breeched in a number of places and the water flow restored so regrowth is occurring.   The outer reef is pristine and is populated by abundant marine life, including many large sharks.  Large flocks of sooty terns, frigate birds and red-footed boobies nest on some of the motus.

After World War II, Palmyra was abandoned and was privately owned until a few years ago.  The famous murders of American cruisers Muff and Mac occurred about 30 years ago when the island was completely uninhabited and visited by a few cruising boats per year.  More recently, the owners on Hawaii employed an eccentric French caretaker, Roger, who lived at Palmyra on his boat Couscous and welcomed or turned away the occasional cruising yacht according to his whims.  The island was sold to "The Nature Conservancy" in 1999 for $38 million after first being seriously considered for a nuclear waste dump.  The Nature Conservancy in turn sold the outer motus and reef to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Presently the island has a permanent population of  6.  Matt, Elizabeth, Eric, Emma, Mike and Todd are caretakers working for "The Nature Conservancy".  They maintain the airstrip and camp.  Matt and Elizabeth live aboard their boat Rubicon while the rest live ashore in reasonable comfort for a remote island.  Matt even has an air-conditioned office inside an old trailer.  Power is from twin diesel generators and they have a 100,000-gallon cistern that collects rainwater.  Every week or so there is a flight by twin-engine turboprop from Honolulu.  Visitors are either perspective donors to the Nature Conservancy, who stay in the camp, or scientific personnel who come to study the extensive bird and marine life. Visiting yachts may stay for 7 days and there is a loosely enforced limit of 2 yachts at any one time.  You need to have a guide ashore except on Cooper Island, which is the main motu with the airstrip.  There is a "yacht club" building that dates from the time of Roger, which is decorated with the names of visiting boats and also has a book trade and a collection of VHS and DVD movies.

We were enthusiastically greeted by the 6 residents of Palmyra and given a quick tour of their camp.  We were invited that evening for a night snorkel and barbeque on a small islet (actually just a pile of broken coral rubble) at the very eastern end of the atoll, just inside the outer reef. The snorkeling was excellent as was the BBQ.  We brought drinks and they brought hot dogs and marshmallows.  It was one of those magical cruiser evenings with light from a thin crescent moon and wood fire.  The boat ride back across the lagoon was several miles long and we were glad that someone else was doing the driving as the path was quite tricky among the various motus and through the cuts in the causeways.  The tide was also going out and the route is unnavigable at low tide.  When we got back to the dock there were 4 medium-sized (6 foot span) manta rays circling around in the flood light.  Dave put on his mask and joined the rays for an evening of magical connection.

10/29/03 The next day we explored Cooper Island.  There are a lot of old military artifacts like barracks, bunkers and large rusting pieces of machinery. There is also the wreck of a cruising sailboat, Heart of Palm, on "North Beach" and the wreck of a good-sized twin-engine airplane at the end of the runway.  The sun was hot but there was a nice cool breeze from the southeast trade winds.  Palmyra lies in a never-never land between the northeast trades, doldrums and southeast trade winds.  Sometimes it has nice trade wind weather and sometimes it has the squalls and downpours typical of the doldrums.  So far we have had completely dry weather but the more normal pattern is daily rain.

In the afternoon we took a 1- mile dinghy ride out to Penguin spit, just inside the reef at the channel entrance.  We brought our snorkeling gear and various underwater cameras.  The coral was in good shape and there were a lot of fish, including several black tipped reef sharks and one larger gray shark.  The gray shark didn't display any aggressive behavior and just cruised around but did lend an evil, chilling presence.  The water clarity was good and we got a bunch of nice video and photos.  Videoing while snorkeling is harder than under scuba because the waves, while on the surface, bounce you around and you have to come up for air when you dive down.  Still, I got some good footage of the sharks and hump head parrotfish.

We invited all 6 of the island residents out to Bravo Charlie for drinks and dinner at sunset.  When they got out to the boat they joked about not getting to go out much!  We had a great time talking sailing and Palmyra stories.  Four of the six are ex-cruisers and had been to Palmyra before working for The Nature Conservancy.  Eric used to be the manager of the West Marine store in Honolulu and was also a "cruising kid", having grown up on a sailboat.  Matt, Elizabeth, Eric and Emma turn out to be from Lake Tahoe. In fact the hailing port on the transom of Rubicon is the not so salty port of Zephyr Cove Nevada!

 

10/30/03 Today, we are going to try scuba diving the outside wall.  Our friend Chris from Pez Vela sent us Email from California warning us about how one time at that site they were chased out of the water by the numerous gray sharks and so we are somewhat leery.  A number of the caretakers are experienced divers and have said that they haven't had a problem but there is always a first time!  Stand by for further information.

On Oct 30th, we did in fact dive the outside wall, east of the reef pass entrance.  It is an exposed open ocean site and can only be dived with a chase boat when the wind and waves are not too large.  Because dredging created the reef pass, it doesn't have anything interesting to look at.  We choose a spot a few hundred yards to the east of the pass, where the first drop-off goes down to a depth of maybe 150 feet.  The drop-off is sloping and while we initially went down to 85 feet, the best coral and fish seemed to be around 65 feet.  We were fairly nervous about sharks and in fact several 6 to 8 foot gray sharks and black tip sharks showed up almost immediately.  They were a little more "inquisitive" than I would have liked but they didn't display any highly threatening behavior.  We moved to a chunk of coral by the drop-off and just watched them swim around.  Soon a number of good-sized schools of Trevallys and Groupers showed up, along with a large Napoleon Wrasse.  The behavior of the fish was different from those in some of the more dived-out spots in French Polynesia.  Whenever we moved, the fish seemed to disappear but when we stopped they gradually reappeared. In areas like Bora Bora, the fish swarm around you as soon as you get into the water because they are expecting to be fed by the dive masters.  Here it didn't appear that anyone had been feeding the fish.  Unfortunately I didn't bring the video camera on this dive because we weren't sure whether we would have to do a lot of swimming against the current.  As it turned out, there was a slight west-setting current but nothing very strong.  We had quite a nice dive and, when we surfaced, Ane was driving the dinghy only about 50 feet away.  We drove back inside the pass and stopped at the second of two buoys that have been placed on Penguin spit for snorkeling.  There were less fish at this site than the site we had snorkeled nearby the previous day but the coral was more spectacular, with large ornate, formations of stag horn coral.

10/31/03 On Oct 31st we tried to repeat this dive but the sea conditions were too rough and we turned around and went back inside the pass.  We did a shallow scuba dive at the first snorkeling site and I shot some good video, including video of a large hump head parrotfish cruising the coral canyons and eating the coral.  You can even hear the sound of him chomping away!

We also did some more exploring and walked to the western end of the road on Cooper Island.  Matt was clearing this road with the tractor/backhoe. Apparently the road was created 2 years ago for the "Rat Crews" and hadn't been cleared since.  One of the interesting negative side effects of the extermination (mostly) of the rats is that the coconut trees have been spreading rampantly, to the point that they are choking out the indigenous vegetation.  A factoid that Matt mentioned is that coconut trees are thought to have originally been confined to the southern hemisphere until the Polynesians introduced them north of the equator.  Apparently the nuts could not cross the Equatorial Counter Current.

We also spent some time looking through a bunch of photos of Palmyra in earlier times.  There was a photo taken circa 1940 that shows the original configuration of the motus.  There is very little land area and it is apparent why the Polynesians never colonized it.  Other photos, after the construction by the navy Seabees was completed, are also striking in that there is very little vegetation.  This contrasts with today's jungle growth.  There were a number of articles about the Palmyra Curse that seems to surround various ventures that have been attempted and various shipwrecks. One notable non-shipwreck, though, is the original discovery of Palmyra by Captain Fanning (of Fanning Island fame), who awoke with a premonition of danger in the middle of the night to discover his ship almost on the reef of Palmyra.

We were invited by the 6 Palmyraians to a Halloween party at 7 PM at the "Yacht Club".  They provided some very good pizza and we brought chicken wings.  There were some good costumes.  Eric and Emmy came as Fijians, complete with kava cups, torches and coconut brassiere.  Elizabeth came as the Southern Cross, complete with blinking leds.  Greg came as Palmyra Survivor, complete with CBS Survivor Buff and machete.  Ane wore her Kiribati flag and other Fanning paraphernalia as "Fanning Woman".  And Dave came as Julius Seizure.  Things didn't get too crazy although there were attempts at dancing by some. Appropriately we ended the evening by all watching a scary movie, "The Ring" on the big TV at the yacht club.