28th May 2011

Oops...let the blog slip a tad. We're now been in Palau for over 2 weeks, done our necessary boat maintenance and can now relax a little and enjoy the plethora of goodies Palau has to offer....but before I progress too far down another rabbit warren of adventures, misadventures and assorted tales of the high seas, I think it's worth capturing a few aspects of our previous port of call lest they be forgotten!

Having said a sad farewell to our friends on Woleai we had intended to set our course directly for Palau, but with an unfavourable wave and wind combo we simply headed north a little more and made for Yap. One of our best decisions yet! Just a small compass variation made for some great sailing 15-20 knots of wind giving us a whopping 130 miles a day (for us, in the Pacific, that's huge). Still hard hand steering with a predominantly aft wind but at least we were scooting, so we made it to Yap in 3 short days even with a couple of long rests where simply hove to and slept.

Whilst you wouldn't call Yap (or more specifically the port of Colonia) a pretty place we were blown away by the efficiency and helpfulness of the port authorities and assorted officials we encountered, making check in (and out for that matter) a breeze. Not to mention having a good secure holding in about 13 metres of mud right opposite the main drag that helped in ensuring we were able to replenish all our depleted stores of fuel and assorted luxurious beverages and eatables (After a month or so of fairly Spartan living it's always good to find a hamburger and a beer).... Not to mention having the opportunity to go diving with sharks and Manta rays in the company of some awesome guides.

Compared to Woleai, Yap is a veritable metropolis, and whilst the traditional culture is largely subsumed by western conveniences and behaviour there is still a strong sense of Yapese identity and that which makes it unique. Villages still exist with the centrepiece men's house, impressive stone money and complex social code but English will flow as effortlessly from youngsters mouths as beetlenut juice will from that of their parents.

Despite the variations in culture we noticed between different islands in Yap state, a close affiliation with the sea is a distinctly binding aspect. The ocean and it's navigation is to the Yapese what the internet has become to us....a means of communication, a source of vital information and just plain necessary for survival.

Canoes may well have been a central part of PNG life and culture and occasionally one would see the use of sails as the local winds were used to shorten the distance between one island and another, but in Yap these folks really sail! (island to island, state to state, and across the Pacific). The art of navigation is complex and well regarded and given it takes place without the aid of electronic assistance and intervention it is truly remarkable... we're not just talking a knowledge of the stars here as a means of determining reckoning, we're talking about an in depth understanding of wave action, wind patterns and marine biology (if you can identify the fish unique to a reef you may just know where the hell you are) that assists in voyage planning and survival.

There have been concerted steps taken by the Yap state to maintain the integrity of the Micronesian sailing culture but sadly there is also evidence that it is waning.

In Puluwat (Chuuk State but close enough to Satawal to remain a strong link to the culture) for example, only the one senior navigator still remains and whilst he is an active sailor and teacher there are smaller and smaller numbers of young sailors stepping forward to learn the ropes...so to speak.....Similarly in Woleai, whilst the teaching and learning of maritime skills and knowledge is slightly more structured and sustained...the large and graceful sailing canoes of this atoll lie inactive on the beach, iconic monuments of a bustling fishing and voyaging community pointing out to the water they used to lie in, yet never touching it....Quite simply....they have no sails!

The morning we left Woleai...we took the measurements of these sails in the hope we may be able to obtain one in our travels to send back to them...for that matter even a second hand sail would suffice as it could be cut to size. Unfortunately, we'd already disposed of our old mainsail in PNG....bugger, it's currently being used to reinforce a roof as opposed to it's original purpose.

Should anyone reading this blog ever happen to be passing Woleai and just happen to have a spare sail (you never know now do you)....drop it in....it's value goes beyond measure.