Christmas and New Year on Kokiri

Thu 8 Jan 2004 11:33
6th January 2004. Sailing in Micronesia, from Nukuoro to the tiny atoll of

Dear All,

Please note: Finally we hope we have managed to put some photos on the
Kokiri website at Hopefully they should
liven up the drab text we manage to produce!

As I write we are blistering along in a NE F.5, wind just forward of the
beam at 0045 with a stunning array of stars and the Plough just rising. We
can even see the Pole Star, hurrah; we really are in the Northern
Hemisphere! There is a smattering of phosphorescence, just enough to make
the sea shimmer and Kokiri is riding along with a reefed main and full jib,
(may roll some in a minute) at a wonderful 6-7 knots. The Equatorial
Counter Current is running strongly taking us East, but we are making well
against in on our NW course. Pure bliss! We are heading for Chuuk, 127
miles away, to clear into FSM officially after our fairly mixed reception at
Nukuoro Atoll where we spent Christmas illegally without official clearance.

We had a wonderfully fast sail from Lihir Island in PNG to the Federated
States of Micronesia, repeating our best ever 24 hr run of 152 miles two
days in a row. We left PNG to get some wind and we certainly did; caught
between two lows, one in the Southern and one in the Northern Hemisphere.
We did not arrive at Nukuoro a moment to soon as the wind was rising from
the S and the entrance into the lagoon through a narrow pass was one of the
most nail biting experiences of the trip so far. We certainly would not have
attempted it with any more wind as waves were breaking almost right across
the channel and a strong tide was still flowing out. As it was, looking at
it again in calm conditions, I think we were extremely lucky to get through
at all, if not a little fool hardy! Once inside, the lagoon was initially
calm but, as the wind got up, the 3 mile fetch took its toll and we had a
pretty uncomfortable night with two anchors down being blown on shore in a
considerable chop.

When we arrived at this small isolated atoll with a population of around two
hundred, we were surprised to be greeted by the police officer and the
acting Chief Magistrate. We had intended to stop there for Christmas and
assumed that no one would really mind that we had not completed all the
entry formalities, but they asked us for our Cruising Permit number so they
could report our arrival to the state capital. Of course we had none and
Peter had to quickly invent an emergency that would allow us to stay. We
used the same story that we used when illegally stopping in PNG. The leech
line in the jib had chafed through and we could not carry on without fixing
it. In the case of PNG it was at least true. Sadly the officials in
Pohnpei said over the SSB radio that we could not go ashore without our
permit number but we were permitted to stay to sort out our "emergency"!
Since there was rising wind and a nasty little low to the west of us we had
no choice, so we took the jib off and made an effort to look like we were
earnestly mending it, while in fact we were making Christmas cake, putting
up decorations and making the whole boat look really Christmassy!

On Christmas Day we defied the authorities who were over 300 miles away and
went ashore to church. Not wanting to upset Tenny (the acting chief
magistrate) too much we had planned to just go for church and then to feast
on the array of tuna and chicken that we had been given. This was not to
be. Before we even got to the church people were flocking out of their
houses, some to say merry Christmas, some to say how much they disagreed
with their authorities and were so glad we had made it ashore and one woman
to give us beautifully crafted shell necklaces as a Christmas present.

Church was church, only in a foreign language, although the singing was
enthusiastic to say the least! There followed a feast, which was something
else. The local boats had been out fishing that morning and caught nearly
200 yellow fin tuna which were being shared out between the villagers. A lot
of it was eaten raw with lime, chilli and soy sauce. Every family had
prepared a huge dish of something, sometimes 2 or 3 dishes, and sat around
the church and outside their houses. We were given leaf plates and told
that we had to take some food from each family which created quite a
daunting plate full. On top to this someone gave us a whole chicken to eat
and someone else brought a whole tuna to be hacked at and eaten raw. I don'
t think I have ever eaten so much, all so delicious and we felt truly
stuffed in the best tradition of Christmas.

Next came church again, but this time in order to see Santa Clause and get
presents. It started with more long speeches in the language only spoken on
this atoll. One of them was apparently the story of the birth of Christ
except that the woman kept forgetting the plot and continuously had to
reread her notes. Then came the "local Santa Clause." He is heralded by the
whole congregation singing "Jingle Bells" at the top of their voices. After
a false start the atmosphere was positively electric. The children were
jumping up and down and everybody was so excited and nervous and it was so
easy to be caught up in the whole event. Finally five Santa Clauses'
arrived dressed in sack cloth with hideously devilish masks. Really quite
scary! One presented me with a flower and another asked me to dance, which
is apparently unheard of in church and every one in the whole place seemed
to be going wild. It was just so much fun.

Next came the distribution of the Guam Christmas drop. Every year Guam (an
American island in the Mariana Islands, a little way further north)
parachute three huge crates of Christmas presents onto all the outer
islands. This is divided up and every family received a huge bundle. We
were even given a vase made of shells, as well as a shell basket, more
necklaces, carvings, 4 tuna (sadly more than we could eat) and 2 chickens,
15 paw paw and numerous limes. We really thought that these lovely generous
people were the right people to give our spare 12 volt battery to, that we
had been carrying around for so long, so it was gift giving all around. We
were really sad to leave this happy and beautiful place on Boxing Day, but
we felt it really was time to check in officially and head for Chuuk.

Chuuk has the reputation of being the armpit of the Pacific. It is meant to
be unsafe (although we had no threats) and is filthy. Everybody drives
around in cars bought with US aid money (the island is seven square miles in
size!), there are precious few jobs and the rubbish is piled high everywhere
and is pretty horrid. We had the most fascinating and wonderful time there!

During the war a large part of the Japanese naval fleet was based in Chuuk
Lagoon. In operating 'Hailstorm', a four day raid from US aircraft carriers,
a considerable part of this fleet was sunk, making it the biggest defeat in
naval history. There are 57 Japanese wrecks in the lagoon and it is
regarded as the best wreck diving area in the world. So, newly qualified and
overly impressed by the £15 per dive price tag we managed to secure, and we
dove on five of them. Our other dive (we did 6 in all, way above the
official budget but so worth it!) was a shark feeding dive. We sat around a
pot of dead fish (lid on with holes in to let blood out) and waited. About
15 sharks came, mostly small Black-tipped Reef sharks but about three Grey
sharks in excess of six foot long. They started to frenzy and try to get
the lid off the pot. One of our group of was snorkelling on the surface and
the sharks suddenly got impatient and I saw about five of the smaller sharks
dart up towards him and attack. He was thrashing around and trying to fight
them off until one actually bit his arm. He had a perfect set of teeth
marks in either side of his arm but luckily they decided they did not like
the taste of human and only bit once, so only caused the minimum of damage.
He was amazingly calm about it. I think I may have made a little more fuss
if it had been me! At the bottom, the frenzy was reaching its pitch. The
sharks, and the bigger ones too, were coming past about a foot away from us.
Some actually came between Peter and me and we were practically holding
hands! When the lid came off they all dived in and you could see the green
blood everywhere. It was very exciting and for some reason not that scary.
We must be getting braver. I don't know if this is a good thing or not!

The wreck dives were fascinating. We started on New Year's Eve with the Hoki
Maru and, as this was my first dive since getting my Open Water certificate
in Gizo, it rather waved two fingers at PADI as it was to 41 metres for
forty minutes. Most of the wrecks are on even keels and easily accessible
with the hatch covers removed and we made our way into the hold of this one
to see a selection of bulldozers and trucks. On New Year's Day we went down
again, firstly onto the Fujikawa Maru and then the Heian Maru. The Fujikawa
was a truly stunning dive. There were only three of us with Milo (the 21
year old Canadian divemaster) and we dived through the engine rooms, the
machine shop where lathes and drills were still perfectly intact, the bridge
and into the holds. The ship had been carrying aeroplane parts and there
were complete fuselages lying around as well as spare propellers, torpedoes,
guns, ammunition and even an outboard motor. Up on the bow, the telegraph
for controlling the anchor was still in pretty much working order and the
large deck gun was covered in beautiful soft corals. The Heian Maru is the
largest ship in the lagoon and lies on her side. As Katharine and I had only
one torch between us and the holds were extremely dark, the most memorable
sights were of the turquoise lagoon water picture-framed by the rusting
doors and portholes with clouds of fish silhouetted in between. The wreck
was strewn with torpedoes and spare periscopes for the Japanese submarine

We had intended to leave Chuuk promptly as the reputation for theft and
violence was so poor but as we got to know the two Canadians, Milo and Lisa
who run the hotel and dive shop, we kept extending our stay. They bought a
yacht off a German who was giving up cruising and are getting ready to set
off cruising themselves. They're 21 and 22, have absolutely no idea where
they intend to go and Milo's only real sailing experiences involved sinking
his father's boat in the Caribbean two years ago and Lisa has none! We all
had great fun together and we gave them every ounce of encouragement we
could. And having stayed so much longer than intended we decided to do two
more dives as well. The Fumitsuki is a small destroyer in brilliant
condition. We dived along the length of her and Katharine and I put all our
training into practise as her first-stage regulator was not set properly and
wasn't delivering enough air. We shared air and toured the wreck quickly
before the slow decompressing assent. Milo had to retrieve a body from this
wreck a few weeks ago and we saw the tiny hatchway that the lone diver had
entered and then got stuck in. Definitely enough of a story to prevent us
taking chances like that. The Shinkoku Maru was surely the most beautiful
wreck dive we could ever experience. She is an oil tanker but again in
excellent condition and carpeted in the most stunning array of soft corals
that can be imagined. We dived through the engine rooms and the crews
quarters and over all the decks before going into the bridge. The soft
corals were growing everywhere and the bow was like a prize rock garden at
the RHS show but with clown fish added. During the slow assent we spiralled
round one of the tall derricks that sticks to within ten metres of the
surface and gawped at the beauty of the corals and the wreck below.
Katharine ran out of air at the safety stop and had to share air with me
again; I think she'd probably been a little excited by the whole thing!

Anyhow, we finally dragged ourselves away after turning back once due to
fading light in the reef strewn lagoon and, after a fast and bouncy
overnight passage, we anchored in the enchanting lagoon of Puluwat Island
this afternoon.

We are both really well, despite a touch of seasickness last night, but
looking forward to spending some time out of range of the shops.

Lots and lots of Love to you all and a very very Happy New Year.

Peter & Katharine