Happy New Year

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Wed 1 Jan 2014 10:16
Position: Moored Agana Harbor, Guam
Wind: North east, F4 moderate breeze
Weather: cloudy, showers, warm and humid

Rewinding a little to yesterday morning, we made it to Guam in plenty of time and spent much of the morning hours standing off the entrance to Agana Harbor under reefed mainsail. Come dawn I tacked and set the jib and staysail so as to be at the entrance in good time to be alongside by 10 o'clock to clear in with customs. I could make out some fairly large power boats coming out of the harbour entrance and, given that the port authority had advised me over the VHF radio that the channel was well marked, I felt confident that we could get in with little difficulty despite the lack of a suitable chart.
As we got closer I started the engine (oh how nice it is to have a reliable engine – touch wood) and handed all sail. But, as we approached the coast my confidence in making a trouble free entrance started to wane. All I could see were solid breakers as the substantial northerly swell dashed its energy onto the fringing reef. I could see a port and starboard hand beacon through the binoculars, but hang on, isn't Guam part of the US, and don't they use the IALA B system. This appeared to have the port hand beacon on the left as we came in. Maybe, I thought, there is a dog-legged channel I have to negotiate. I decided to abort my approach, swung the wheel hard to starboard and stood off again to reassess the situation. Eventually another power boat came out and confirmed that the beacons were the sensible Continental way around. I decided to have another go. As I got closer I picked up some leads in the background, always a comfort to have, so I lined those up and continued closing the breakers. A bit of a gap appeared in the breakers, but it sure didn't seem like much of one. The beacons were set on the edges of the reef, marking the gap of about sixty meters between the crashing surf. As we got closer the swell picked up and felt as if it was threatening to break. I increased speed a little so as to have good control, and a moment later we were through the gap in the breakwaters and into relatively calm water.
But what is this?, I said to myself. We were in a kind of small pool with another entrance to negotiate. This one did not have surf breaking around it but instead had a nondescript buoy right in the middle of the entrance marked “Danger”. Good grief, I thought, so where is the danger? It was a plain white buoy and apart from the word danger it gave no indication of where the danger lay. It looked like shallow water lay to the starboard side, but I wasn't a hundred percent sure, and as I prefer not to use Sylph's keel as a depth sounder over coral, I again backed off, and did a loop in the pool to try and establish where safe water lay.
Now at this stage I was getting a little annoyed. I felt like Theseus trying to enter the Minotaur's labyrinth. Why on earth couldn't the port authority have used a conventional IALA buoy. There were plenty of options. A starboard hand marker if the shallow stuff was where I thought it was, or a north cardinal mark would have worked just as well, or, if it was perhaps an individual coral head that was the problem, then an isolated danger mark would have been the preferred choice. But no, instead I was confronted with a white buoy with the word danger written on it. How bloody useless!
I tried calling the local boats on the VHF radio for some guidance, but the only station to come back to me was the US Coast Guard, and having spoken to them previously seeking some guidance, I had already established that they knew very little about the coastline that they were presumably responsible for. I chose to ignore their distracting chatter. At about this time another large power boat was making its way in. I waved them through and gratefully followed them in, staying close in their wake.
So we were now safely in the harbour itself. Now where was I supposed to tie up to clear customs? I went over to the boat I had followed in who were tying up to a pontoon. The skipper suggested the fuel wharf inside the marina, but then someone else standing on the shore told me that there wasn't room on the fuel dock. Looking at the tiny entrance to the marina this I could easily believe. My friendly adviser suggested I pick up a nearby mooring buoy. This I did. It was now about a quarter to ten. I rang Customs to advise them of the situation. After a short conversation it turned out that the customs officers were standing on the pontoon where the power boat I had followed in had tied up. The boat was a commercial tourist boat, and were soon outbound with another cargo of paying customers, leaving room for me to tie up and get the paperwork out of the way.
Once secured alongside, the customs officers proved to be friendly and efficient, and a man from the port authority was also there to greet me. The customs officers were soon satisfied and on their way, leaving me with John, the port authority man, to discuss my problems. John was very helpful. He tried to secure an alongside berth for me but it turned out that this was impossible so I was going to have to return to one of the moorings. He also recommended a nearby boat repair yard who he thought would probably be able to repair the damaged strut, or otherwise advise me as to who could. Once John had taken his departure, I moved back to the mooring, had a quick clean up and then got the dinghy in the water and proceeded ashore to see if I could chase up the boat repair company, “Ship Right”. Unfortunately by the time I got ashore, while it was still only about two in the afternoon, the workshop and office were closed. Speaking with some young men working in a nearby car detailing company, we came to the conclusion that they had shut up shop early for New Year's eve. It would seem there was little more that I could do now until Thursday.
So I spent the remainder of the day walking to a nearby shopping centre and making some small purchases so I could enjoy a fresh meal that evening. I thought about perhaps going ashore to find somewhere I could join in some New Year's eve celebrations, but after thirty alcohol free days by myself I thought that I would probably not enjoy it and only end up with regrets. Instead I enjoyed a quiet meal on board and watched a movie.
So it was that come sunrise I awoke feeling as fresh as the dawn and decided to make an early start to the day. The first thing I did was to go ashore and find a tap where I could do a little hand washing of some rather smelly towels and fill up some water containers to start the process of filling up Sylph's water tanks. Back on board, after breakfast, I got stuck into removing the broken wind vane strut. To remove it I had to empty out the lazarette so I also took the opportunity to give this compartment a good clean out. It didn't take too long to remove both struts and I spent much of the remainder of the day over the side cleaning Sylph's hull, ferrying more fresh water from ashore, and doing another bucket load of laundry. In inspecting the hull I was very disappointed to see that a colony of small barnacles had taken up residence on the brand new anti-fouling paint job, and that a patch of paint toward the bow had fallen off exposing bare metal. The water is warm, so removing the barnacles was not an unpleasant chore. Hopefully when we get to the colder waters of Japan any remaining members of the colony will decide to abandon ship. And as for the patch of bare steel, the fresh new zinc anodes will protect that for the moment, but I will need to look for an opportunity to attend to the problem sooner rather than later. If one keeps one's eyes open I have found in the past that generally a solution presents itself, so while a little disheartened that my recent work has not endured much past a month, I remain in good spirits.
Now New Year's day has almost come and gone. Tomorrow the first order of the day will be taking the broken strut in to “Ship Right” to see if they can fix it. If they cannot then I will undoubtedly have a lot of running around to do, but we will cross that bridge if and when we come to it.
All is well.