the journey



March 8, 2009

Blog Location: Malakal Harbor, Palau, Micronesia

Sometimes things don't go as planned. It all looks good on paper, you know. You mark the dates on the calendar, decide what you need for supplies, food, etc., you look at charts, figure out routes, watch the weather, and then prepare for the journey. But we are starting to learn. We are actually getting quite good at it. After 2 1/2 years of traveling on our boat, we now truly believe that boat's have minds of their own. No joke, DK has her own stubborn strong spirit and sometimes she just doesn't like our plans. Don't get me wrong, we do our best to treat her right, take good care of her, and look out for her needs. But sometimes it's not enough. When she’s not happy she throws a fit like a big baby and all our plans go awry. We have to deal. We have to figure out what the problem is and make her better. We have to get to the root of the problem, process with her, and then fix the issue. When our 16 ton baby acts up we are at her mercy.

Things did, however, start out as planned. My folks, Skip and Judy, flew across the Pacific Ocean to spend time with us for a week. We had a great itinerary set up: a kayak trip with Planet Blue Kayaks, 3 nights out in the rock islands on DK, and a snorkel extravaganza trip with Sam's Tours and a couple of days to wing it. It sure looked good on paper, a full-on Palau adventure fest.

My folks survived the 40 hour journey from Seattle and even looked downright chipper when they got off the plane in Palau at 10:30 pm. I was more tired then they were, 10:30 being late night for us here in the tropics. But what I think they were really feeling was relief. Relief at finally being able to pass on their duffel bag full of goodies we had them bring over to us: boat parts, books, a new computer, a new compact camera, etc...Anyone who comes to visit us knows the drill. When we have free courier service everything we need gets sent to their house. My folks live in a fairly small town and their poor USPS mail woman became part of the family by the time she finished countless trips to my folk's doorstep delivering all our little packages.

The first couple of days together in Palau we did a lot of catching up, had some nice meals, visited the museum and had a great full day kayak/snorkel trip with Planet Blue Kayaks. My dad also got to full integrate himself into our little circle of yachties by sipping on some locally brewed Red Rooster Ale at Sam's and hearing all about the lives and adventures of the group of cruisers who are here right now.

The next morning was our planned day to leave for the rock islands for 3 nights on the boat. It all started when Nicole and I were taking the boat in to Sam's dock to fill our diesel. When we pulled out off our mooring all the instruments went out. Blown fuse. All our instruments are connected to the brains of our autopilot and I have been in the process of replacing this unit. Unfortunately, the new unit didn't work and had to get sent back to Raymarine, so I had to install the old autopilot again so we could at least have our depth, wind, and speedo working when cruising locally. I knew exactly where the fuse was and figured there was just a little hiccup in the system, so once we fueled up I would replace the fuse. We filled our diesel and my folks showed up with their bags packed ready for our outing to the rocks. I went to replace the fuse and guess what? In our bag of hundreds of assorted fuses, we didn't have the right size. Off to town I go hunting down an obscure mini electronics fuse at 7 different locations. Finally, at Ace Hardware, I find a fuse that will work, even though the amperage is off by 1 amp. I buy 6 of them, later to discover that wasn't nearly enough.

I've been gone 2 hours walking miles around town in the midday heat and by this time I am a stinking sweaty wreck. Back on DK, I replace the fuse, check over the wiring that I can see, boot up the instruments, and everything looks good. With Skip and Judy onboard we pull away from Sam's. Fuse blows again. Shit. We head back to our mooring, tie up, and reevaluate. I replace it again, check everywhere I can for short circuiting of wires, and we try again. Blown fuse. No idea what's wrong, getting frustrated. We call up our Kiwi friends, David and Fran on the yacht Melric II, and I ask David for some advice. David is an engineer and pretty savvy at boat knowledge and also a really nice guy. We start diagnosing the issue and after trial and error and a couple more fuses blown we finally trace the problem to a "crush" in one of the seatalk wires in the steering pedestal. When we shift our transmission the cable pushes against this problematic sea talk cable and has crushed the wires together shorting it out. Are you kidding? One little wire in the system gets pinched a bit and the whole system shorts out and doesn't work. Always more to learn living on a sailboat.

We cut and re-splice the sea talk wire and we are finally golden again. However, we are down to our last fuse and it's getting late in the day. We are all ready for a beer and a swim and not wanting to head out with at least a few more spare fuses. We decide to wait until morning.

Batteries are low so we start up the engine and crack open a beer. My folks are starting to get a taste for what our world can be like sometimes, the reality of traveling on a sailboat. We relax and enjoy the small success of having solved our newest boat issue.

"I smell smoke," Nic says. We look down into the companionway and there is literally smoke pouring out of the engine room. On reflex I pop the door and take a peek and sure enough there is a fire in the engine room. Thankfully one of our extinguishers is right there and I yank it off, pull the safety, and spray into the engine room. I can see that it's the alternator that's on fire. A fire is a sailor's worst nightmare. It doesn't take too much to get the flames out but our boat is now filled with electrical fire smoke. Awful. We air out the boat with dazed looks in our eyes. Did we really just have an engine fire? Is it Friday? Did we do something to piss off King Neptune? Did my folks sneak a tiki in their bags from Hawaii on the way to Palau and bring bad luck? Confused.

It's a mess. Wires are melted all around the alternator. Plans have changed. Nic takes my folks back to the hotel to see if they can check back in for the night. I get the enjoyable job of pulling off the burnt alternator, cleaning up the mess and re-wiring the whole thing. Thankfully our new alternator had just arrived the day before after 2 months of dealing with "a certain company" in the U.S. and having them mess up our address and send the first one we ordered who knows where. The next one that they sent had a different foot attachment then what I ordered but would still work. Plus, we needed it to work.

After a couple more hours running brand new wire and connecting the new alternator, I was finished. We ran the engine for 1/2 hour and made sure everything was working and the alternator was charging correctly. It looked good. After dinner that night we ran it for a couple of hours to top off our battery bank and make sure everything was still solid. No problems.

The next morning we were ready to go. With my folks back onboard we pulled out of Malakal Harbor and headed around the corner towards the Rock Islands. I went down below to double-check that the alternator was still working correctly and imagine my surprise to see that it wasn't. Voltage and amperage had dropped and we could smell an electrical burning inside the alternator. Are you kidding? Did we fry it? How? With a glum face I disconnected the alternator and regulator and told everyone the bad news. We decided that we still had enough battery juice to head out to our intended anchorage and then I could hopefully test everything and fix it there. We have a good wind generator and a couple of solar panels to help out, so as long as we are frugal with electricity we would be fine for the night.

Tucked into one of our favorite little rock island coves the long-tailed tropic birds, flying foxes, and our little baby turtle friend all came to meet us. It is so peaceful and beautiful there and we were really happy to share the place with my folks.

But our boat problems were not finished yet. After dropping the hook I tried to turn off the engine. Nothing. I found myself back in the engine room looking for a way to manually shut down the Yanmar. I couldn't find it and so I shut off the fuel supply. The Yanmar kept running. I tried to cover the air intake. Still running. Last trick was to loosen the injectors, which I did, and proceeded to cover the engine and myself with squirting diesel, a nice way to end the day. The Yanmar chugged to a halt. Everything was quiet except for my head which was racing with a thousand ideas trying to problem solve the latest issues.

We all needed a break from the boat, plus we really wanted to enjoy where we were with my folks so we took the dingy over to Cemetery Reef and went snorkeling for an hour. They loved it and it was good for all of us to let go and just hang out with the reef fish, the turtles, and even the shark-sucking remoras that like to hang out there.

Back on the boat I started trying to figure out our alternator issues and pulled out all the books we had on engine maintenance and charging systems. My folks were being great sports but it was clear that they felt really bad and wanted to help out if they could. But there was really nothing they could do except be there for psychological support and try to just enjoy being in Palau and getting a glimpse of what our world can be like sometimes.

Nic and I didn't sleep at all. Our minds were racing all night, the fans were off to save energy, we were sweating bullets, and we had guests on board which all changes the way our world usually looks on DK. I stayed up late reading about charging systems and reading our Yanmar service manual, and by morning I at least had figured out where our manual shut off switch was for the engine. Whew! You'd think we would know where it was after having the boat for 3 1/2 years, but honestly, we had never needed to use it before and there are always, always, new things to learn about your boat. Check that off the list.

So our charging system was another issue. I was pretty sure we had fried the new alternator but couldn't figure out why. All the wiring was clean and straight forward and nothing really seemed to be a problem. But first the fire on the one alternator and now the new one looked shot too. Without our alternator charging our battery bank we are at the mercy of the wind and sun. Unfortunately, it's not always sunny or windy in Palau and we have an energy sucking refrigerator/freezer that requires more energy love in the tropics, hence the need of a good alternator to charge our battery bank every day or two.

After breakfast and another snorkel at Cemetery Reef we decided it was better to be back in town on a mooring to problem solve the charging issue. Like I said, plans change. It was a quick trip to the "Rocks" but at least we had one night out and my folks got the full experience of living and cruising on DK.

Back in Malakal Harbor we shut down the fridge/freezer and went into "camping" mode. We only had two days left with my folks and didn't want their whole trip here to be about dealing with our boat issues, so off to the hotel room they went and we planned a fun day with Sam's Tours for the morning.

The Rock Island Snorkel Trip with Sam's was the highlight. Off we went in the morning to Big Drop Off with Samson, our boat driver, and, Ludi, our guide. Big Drop Off is a fantastic outer reef snorkel spot where you swim over a shallow hard coral plateau that butts an outer wall dropping literally thousands of feet into the blue. The color of blue is unreal and the wall is filled with soft corals, anenomes, and fans. Thousands of reef fish hang out with some of the bigger pelagics here and you never know what you will see. We had an amazing morning with almost 100 foot visibility and no one else around. We were all in heaven! We snorkeled with the hundreds of butterfly fish, fusiliers, needlefish, sweetlips, surgeon fish, damselfish, porcupine fish, anenome fish, and a few black-tip reef sharks. It was a great way to start our adventurous day.

The rest of the day just kept giving. Snorkeling at German Channel, lunch at 2 Dog Beach, snorkeling in Jellyfish Lake, Giant Clam City, Shark City, and lastly at Soft Coral Arch, we were pretty much water-logged and satiated at seeing some of the best rock island snorkel spots Palau has to offer.

Our week with my folks went by really quickly. It was unfortunate that we had as many boat issues as we did and didn't get to do everything we wanted to with them. But I think they understand our life so much more now. We sometimes live the romantic version of cruising the world. We get to spend time in beautiful places, meet interesting people, and experience foreign cultures. But it's not always easy and sometimes it really sucks. You never know what you are going to wake up to each day. Your anchor might drag, your engine might not start, one of your water lines might be leaking or your head might be overflowing. You might think you have everything in order, but your boat might have other thoughts. If you are the type of person that always needs to be in control and has a difficult time with patience and flexibility, then traveling and living on a sailboat is not for you. Because, like I said, sometimes things don't go as planned.

Connecting in our World

February 8, 2009

Blog Location: Malakal Harbor, Palau, Micronesia

Their minds must be blown, I thought, reflecting upon the fantastic week we shared with my parents here in Palau. We balanced their week with a visit to the museums, kayaking, a three day trip on Dreamkeeper and a snorkel trip to the outer reef. What we saw without diving and within such a short time is a true testament to how rich the diversity and abundance of life is here in Palau.

We spent our first day exploring Risong Bay with Planet Blue Kayak Tours before heading out on Dreamkeeper to explore the Rock Islands. Even with head winds we managed to see and learn a ton. My mom wanted to identify every birdcall floating out from the emerald topped islands. So we bobbed in the protective lakes and listened. Slipping quietly into the shady protective shelter of the mangroves we spotted baby black tipped sharks in their nursery hidden among the mangrove roots. They were no bigger than the distance from the palm of my hand to my elbow joint, 12-18 inches.

Paddling out of the nursery along the limestone wall we spied our first brilliant orange sea star. By the end of the day we had learned and forgotten most of the bird calls in the forest and were ready for our last adventure in search of the elusive mandarin fish. With our guide Lolly's trained eyes and perfect timing we spotted six mandarin fish swimming in and out of coral heads.

We were off to a good start for my parents first overnight trip on Dreamkeeper. We motored to the Rock Islands from Koror under brilliant blue skies laced with a few lazy cumulus clouds. Following water that was deep teal blue towards alluring green tufted limestone islands of Ulong, we passed terns fluttering gracefully along the surface fishing for sardines. A light wind blew across the water ruffling the surface as I climbed up the mast to help Gar navigate through our narrow boulder coral studded entrance. Teal turned to aqua with spots of light yellow, steering just to starboard we easily made it in with our depth sounder reading 8 feet.

Dropping the hook in between large patched of sand and coral white tailed tropicbirds flew along the green cliffs delighting my mom. In no time 33 squid lazily circled our anchor chain and our friend the barracuda was back. Palau is unique cruising for us in many ways. What stands out the most is that it is the first place we have been where we return to anchorages we have been to. A couple weeks before my parents arrived we headed to the Rock Islands to do a reconnaissance trip for our families. The goal was to find beautiful hopefully private anchorages with great snorkeling nearby. Many people say if you don't dive don't come to Palau. In 4 days of our exploring we snorkeled 12 sites and anchored in 8 spots both day and overnight anchorages. We discovered nurseries in each place. Baby bumphead parrotfish, juvenile napoleon wrasse, juvenile black-tipped sharks, tons of species of juvenile and baby butterfly fish and more diverse unique species of coral than we have seen anywhere else.

So in three days on Dreamkeeper we planned to keep things simple, easy, exciting, and fun- just two anchorages and 5 snorkel spots. Our first day we spent loving the pink sea fans feeding and bowing in the surge, found beautiful coral clams, a few giant clams, and many parrotfish biting chunks of coral from the reef. The wind and chop forced us back out of the pass into the lagoon where my mom and I were giggling and flooding our masks while watching shrimp gobies guarding their holes and tail swatting the resident shrimp back into the safety of their holes along the sandy bottom. In Ulong there must be hundreds of them. Then my mom and I swam back to the boat following trails of sea cucumber poop, just barley swimming through a tunnel with a few inches of water in it. It was here my mom picked up her first cone shell. I startled her when my eyes got big as I saw the toxic animal well extended from its shell, telling her forcibly and urgently to drop it. I had neglected to remind her they were potentially lethal/deadly. We emerged over soft corals feeding and swum deeper into the nutrient rich murky water. My barracuda friend appeared out of the murk and his big dog eyes followed me for a while until he turned and disappeared again.

We barbequed dinner under a clear sky and celebrated our first successful day on Dreamkeeper together. I went to bed wondering how my parents first nights sleep would be. My mom was determined to sleep outside despite our warnings of almost guaranteed nightly rain showers and the uncomfortable hard narrow cockpit cushion that would be her bed. The night passed with my mom staying awake listening to endemic frogs calling all night under the stars and my dad tucked snugly into the small quarter berth.

The following day rose as beautifully as the last and with good light we headed SW towards our new anchorage. Another unique thing about cruising in the Rock Islands is how close everything is. In just an hour and a half we were comfortably nestled into our new spot with bow and a stern anchors out keeping us from swinging too close to the limestone islands. The juvenile hawksbill turtle greeted us again as we tucked into our hidden anchorage among the rock islands. We couldn't ask for a better welcome. Again we were in luck, one of the more visited snorkel spots, Cemetery Reef was empty. Quickly, we packed snorkel gear and headed to the reef. After an hour and a half of exploring the small reef, floating over giant lettuce coral, following a turtle, lots of rainbow colored wrasse, butterfly fish, a school of long jawed silver mackerel, and a school of 8 bumphead parrot fish ranging from juvenile to full grown adults, my dad continued to remind us this was so good he didn't need to go anywhere else.

Having my parents on Dreamkeeper in the islands is a gift in so many ways. I am smiling just thinking about it. This is the first time they have spent multiple days on the boat which is unique and important to us and I am sure a bit challenging for them. It has been difficult for them to understand and accept our choice to go on this journey. With three days on the boat they now have a personal connection and greater understanding to what our lives are like on Dreamkeeper in the islands. By personally experiencing our lives first hand I feel more connected to both of them. Not only are we able to share pieces of our lives with them but also they are gaining appreciation for the world we have fallen in love with. As my parents continue to visit us in ocean environments I am seeing their awareness for the importance of coral reefs and their inhabitants grow with deep respect and greater understanding. It is truly a delight to share what we love with them.

After two more snorkel journeys we had found small silver fish living and feeding in lauhala leaves, a bright orange sun star, peppermint star, and blue sea star, along with countless other species of fish. We were waterlogged and content. The afternoon brought my parents first tropical rain on the boat and provided some motivation for important family discussions. As our water tanks filled we watched the rainfall in sheets and birdcalls rise and fall with the intensity of the shower. We got to share yet another one of my favorite times on the boat with my parents.

After one more snorkel in the morning at Cemetery Reef this time with sea lice biting us we slipped back onto Dreamkeeper and raised the hook. Our squid friends visited us here as well. They left webs of eggs wrapped around the anchor chain. After removing as many eggs as possible we left our nook to weave our way slowly through the Rock Islands back to town. Another blue-sky day brought the colors out and we celebrated the teals of the deep and the turquoise of the shallows where the reefs climbed up to the surface. Terns flew low through another fish feeding frenzy and we soaked up the beauty of it all. Passing little mushroom islands topped with palms and flowering trees my mom asked how I would describe these islands. Emerald gems, they are that rich in life and that special. Dropping the hook in 75 feet of water next to the gravel mine I am jolted out of my reverie and yet while motoring to Sam's dock an eagle ray reminds me Palau really is mind blowing.

The weather gods really blessed my parents. Again morning brought blue skies and light cirrus and cotton candy cumulus clouds on the horizon. Perfect for a full day of snorkeling with Sam's Tours. By 8 am we were speeding out to Big Drop Off on the outer reef. Slipping into the blue over the ledge my dad changed his mind about Cemetery Reef. Big Drop Off was better. Coral rose from the depth to 5 feet. Black coral clung to the wall just 10 feet below while fans waved at us in the incoming current sucking in the nutrients it brings. My dad identified his favorite fish, a striped surgeon, turquoise with yellow and black stripes, to his eyes the yellow looked green. A huge marbled grouper dopily swam along the ledge and my dad saw his first adult napoleon wrasse. Clown and anemone fish darted in and out of their protective anemones. A white tipped shark scoped us out from the shadows and a hawksbill turtle cautiously rose to the surface to get some air before paddling back down to the depths. Pink soft corals cheered us like small pompoms and schools of barracuda lingered just off the edge. After an hour the tide switched and we were off to our next stop, German Channel.

I could hear my mom calling to me through her snorkel something like "so blutibul, lbook at tbe corbals" meaning, so beautiful look at the corals. She was staring at plate corals that were at least 6-10 feet in diameter. She never ceased to be amazed by the details in the common but no less beautiful patterns in the mushroom coral or delight in the outrageous colors and patterns of parrotfish. Leaving German channel our boat driver Anloyd spotted what most divers head to German channel for, the manta. We followed her on the surface for ten minutes as she flew gracefully though the channel with a wingspan equal to the bow of our boat.

After lunch we raced off to Jelly Fish Lake, hopefully ahead of the crowds. After a short steep hike up well polished sharp limestone knobs and roots we descended down an even steeper path clinging to the ropes while we juggled our fins and masks. Slipping into the green murky water we passed carpets of invasive white anemones on the roots along the edge of the lake. Kicking further out into the sun we spotted our first stingless jellyfish pulsing slowly out of the green. Swimming further, careful not to fin too hard we entered their world. Jellyfish surrounded us. They were so thick it was like being in jellyfish soup, they bumped into our masks and were everywhere above, below, and around us. Mesmerized, my parents held them gently in the palms of her hands.

Along the way to Rainbow Reef we stopped briefly at Clam City to see 500 pound giant clams siphoning food from the water along the sandy bottom. Once we opened our eyes in Rainbow Reef we understood immediately that it was aptly named. Yellow, pink, and lavender corals were home to the hundreds of fish that flitted around us. Orange, pink and purple anthias and blue damsels surrounded us likely expecting food, my mom obliged feeding them algae harvested from the sandy floor beneath us.

Rainbow colored wrasse and parrotfish flew below us while I saw my first blue streak fusiliers. They are unmistakable, their flanks glow with what looks like a highlighter stripe on. My parents could have stayed there forever except it was getting late, squalls were racing towards us and we were all water logged. A black-tipped shark came in to say goodbye.

Minds blown anyone? Definitely.

Our new world of Palau

January 5, 2009

Blog Location: Malakal Harbor, Palau, Micronesia

I roll backwards off the dingy and drop into the blue. Descending slowly into the liquid realm, I feel the current gently nudging me along the vertical wall filled with vibrant soft corals and gorgonian fans fluttering like aspen leaves on a summer afternoon. Oriental sweet lips gathered in the hard coral niches and marbled grouper lurk in their caves. Christmas Day and we are diving in Palau, Micronesia, arguably one of the top dive destinations in the world. My partners in crime are, Nicole, and our new Norwegian friend, Elizabeth, who is long-term crewing for Rachel, the skipper of the Seattle-based yacht, Vendana.

As we approah the infamous Blue Corner of Palau, the current picks up intensely. Gray sharks, and big schools of trevally and barracuda begin to appear around us. At 50 feet below the surface we hold onto some dead coral at the lip of the vertical wall and attach our new best friends, our handy "reef hooks", that we cam or hook into a notch or hole in the dead coral and attach to our BCD's with a 10' tether line and clip. Once you hook-in and inflate your BC, you rise up 10' above the edge you are hooked onto, and then you can just hover there, flying in the strong current as the water tries to rip your mask from your face. I tell Nicole it's the easiest and most fun "hooking" I've ever done, nothing like the fear-based gripping hooking I used to do on vertical walls to ascend the steep granite walls of Yosemite, one bad hook placement and you launch into a thousand or two thousand feet of space...but that's another story from another place, right Billy??? Reef hooking underwater is like playing Peter Pan, hook in, inflate, relax and fly with the fish.

At Blue Corner, we hover a few feet away from the gray sharks. It's amazing to admire them from such close proximity. To hover there on the vertical lip while the gray's dance in the current, the green and hawksbill turtles scuttle by, and the gigantic Napoleon Wrasse come to greet their new visitors, it is a special feeling. We are part of this underwater community. But eventually, air gets low, and my dive computer tells me it's time to start thinking about reentering the world of above.

We "unhook" from the reef and glide over the hard coral and rocky headland of Blue Corner where the aggressive Titan Triggerfish are mating. These guys are pretty intense; yellow, green and gray, about one foot long with big eyes that when they roll their body sideways they stare you down. They remind me of dogs. When mating they each have a specified territory and they are ruthlessly aggressive in chasing anything out of their area. Fish, turtle, person, all are chased and sometimes bitten by their huge chompers they possess. When they come at you, most often some good kicks with your dive fins will keep them at bay, but sometimes they will get through your defenses and take a bite out of your neoprene if you're not careful. Thankfully so far, i am still unscathed. You may be asking, why not just go around them? The answer is, you really can't, as the area they are in is right smack in the middle of one of the best dive sites in Palau. I think it's actually kind of fun when you glide over their world, as you have to literally watch your back as the stealthy swimmers try to sneak up on you from behind.

After our dive, we bob on the surface of the water with our big orange dive sausage inflated so our dinghy driver can spot us. Heinrik, our Dutch friend from the boat, Bannister, is smoking his tobacco pipe, as always, and helps pull us out of the water. We putt over to the mother ship, SV Vendana, where Rachel and Hanny are onboard with the dive compressor loudly running and filling spare tanks between rainsqualls. Rachel and Elizabeth have graciously volunteered Ventana for two back-to-back, all-day dive adventures where the best diving is on the outer reefs.

At sunrise the four of us, Nicole and I, and Hedrik and Hanny on Bannister, all dinghied out through German Channel loaded up with dive gear, snacks, and lunch food, for our Christmas diving adventures. We are a funny sight. Vendana, a Cal 48, pulling two dinghies and one in davits, all 6 of us with all our dive gear scattered over the boat, plus at least 14 tanks of air stacked about and a dive compressor on the foredeck humming it's Honda engine loudly for hours as we navigate through the dark gray rain squally clouds out to the dive sites. The rain comes down incessantly and we hunker in the semi-protected cockpit sipping hot coffee and tea as we celebrate the morning of Christmas.

A few days later, taking a break from diving, we celebrate the Xmas holiday with a beach BBQ with eight of us yachties on the nearby island beach.

Christmas in Palau. How relieved we are to be here! Even though we miss our family and friends this year, we are elated to have made it through another year healthy and happy with our boat still in one piece. Palau is right on the edge of another world. Any further south or west you go, you find yourself in Indonesia or the Philippines, two radically different places then all the island groups of the Pacific we have been traveling in these last 2 years. Even here in Palau, you have a new melting pot of people, local Palauan's along with a mix of people from the Philippines, Guam, and other Asian and Micronesian cultures. Plus, a large group of Americans and Europeans who have set up shop here helping run the infrastructure and service industry of this small country.

Palau is considered independent. But the reality is that the United States has been supporting this country financially since 1994. Supposedly the money is to dry up from the US and the Palauan economy is to be sustainable, but word is on the street, there's no way Palau can sustain itself without US dependency right now. I'm sure we will learn much more about this place in the next few months.

For our purposes, Palau is wonderful. As a U.S. boat we can stay here for a year, no problems, no expensive fees, nothing. Sam's Tours, the top dive company here, is located right in front of the little yacht anchorage. Sam's also has the "yacht club" where we can get good food, drink a good local Palauan beer with the other yachties and scuba divers, take a high-pressurized shower, and use their fuel dock to fill up diesel or petrol, fill up water, and tie up our dinghy's. It is very easy here.

In town we can shop at two large grocery stores where we can buy local produce, plus quite a bit of American food and produce you would find in the States. In case you haven't followed our life through the Pacific, this is a huge change for us. Lots of food options at US prices. We can even have fun little luxuries sometimes like Ben and Jerry's ice cream, fresh apples, good yogurt, and even loaves of multi-grain bread. The down side of this is that the US imported meats almost all come from industrial farms, like Tyson chicken and beef from American feed-lots. No more New Zealand free-range meats or Vanuatu top-grade organic beef. If you don't know us very well, this is something we care quite a bit about. I guess we just know too much about how awful the American industrial-farming works. So you want to learn more too, you say? Good. For some insight try the books, "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser (sp?), and/or "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan.

Other cool nuts and bolts about Palau for us are the post office that uses US shipping rates and delivery times (hint hint, you can send us packages), a fantastic Indian restaurant called "The Taj", and mobile phone service (albeit a bit poor) with decent prices. Living on a sailboat full-time, you look forward to these little conveniences when you don't have them for months at a time.

But I haven't really done Palau justice yet. It is beautiful here. Even in our little "town" anchorage, we are tucked into a little cove surrounded by limestone mushroom-shaped rocks covered with intensely thick bright green foliage. The limestone features continue underwater creating caves and channels which in some places lead to the fifty or so richly diverse saltwater lakes that contain giant crocodiles, thousands of jellyfish, or intense mineral and temperature variations. Even in the anchorage there is abundant coral life and supposedly some fantastic muck diving. Not uncommon to see are mandarin fish, seahorses, turtles, cuttlefish, octopus, and juvenile reef fish of hundreds of species.

Palau is surrounded by a 120 mile long barrier reef where inside lie almost all of the 300 islands which are part of this country. Koror is the main town hub and, Babeldaob, the largest island. Babeldaob is 27 miles long, and covered in rolling hills, waterfalls, a huge fresh water lake, and it's borders lined by white sand beaches and mangroves. Just south of us, the Rock Islands are a group of almost 200 limestone-uplifted islands, protected as a marine park, that offer limitless amounts of exploring the small beaches, diverse coral reefs, saltwater lakes and channels, and limestone caves.

Many of the people here are living in and around Koror, the big city of 10,000 plus. The rest are living on the big island of Babeldaob or scattered around the many islands, still living in subsistence-type villages and communities. The big difference we have noticed so far is the amount of money here compared to almost all the islands we have visited in Vanuatu, the Solomon's, and PNG, this past season. Everyone has nice fiberglass boats with outboard engines. No dugout canoes in Palau and definitely no one coming by in their canoes to trade or sell us their carvings.

Everyone seems to drive here and there are a few public shuttles or buses around. Sound like the U.S.? Makes sense considering Palau has been very American-influenced and the gas is cheap here. Palau is a hot and humid island group, so if you can afford a car with AC and can afford to buy the fuel, then who's to blame you. Just very different from so many places we have been in the pacific, unfortunately. Things we miss are the big local markets full of fragrance and flavor, people all walking with their hand-woven bags and baskets, and locals asking smiling at you and asking us "where are you from?" and "what do you think of our country?" However, we are starting to meet some local people here and hopefully we will strike up some new friendships.

Well there you have it. This is our new world until sometime in April. Stay tuned for some Palauan adventure and boat project updates in the following weeks!