Squid boat

We are into day 3 of our journey from Palau to Papua New Guinea (at this stage Madang). We are finally south of the NE Trade winds  and sea conditions have improved. There is still a large N – NE swell on the Port Beam but our stabilisers cancel them out and it really is quite comfortable.  We are crossing the West Caroline Basin with depths of up to 4500 metres.    Today we cruised past a fishing vessel … they called us up obviously keen to talk to somebody. It was a Philippine registered squid fishing vessel. They offered us some dried squid in exchange for cigarettes !!!!  It transpires  (from what we understood .. their speech was rather slurred) that they are here for 4 – 6 months at a time, this crew is due to go home in June. There are 24 crew on board and in addition to the ship they have three tenders that they fish from.  They are hand lining (or jigging) for squid, which is then obviously dried, how we are aren't sure.  The vessel is moored to a buoy … which it would appear is anchored to the bottom (4500 metres down) !!!!. We had seen several of these boats and a number of buoys prior to speaking with this vessel.   

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Leaving Palau

Our time in Palau has come to an end … we have an appointment in Rabaul  on 10th March and we still have about 1200 miles to travel to get there so it was time to depart.   Our last day in Palau was spent stocking up the fridge and freezers. Fresh vegetables aren’t easy to come by, some is grown locally the rest is imported …the shelves were pretty bare but we managed to get enough. There was a good selection of frozen meat.     Customs and Immigartion  clearance was very simple and straight forward, no more costs, apart from line handling fees). We departed by way of the East Channel, it is a little more difficult to navigate but it is a lot shorter and more direct for our course to PNG.    The North Easterly Trade winds continue to blow, our course puts the wind and sea on the beam, the stabilisers take the worse of the roll out but we are looking forward to getting south and out of the Trades.  

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Jellyfish Lake

We spent the last couple days at Mecherchar Island, part of the Rock Island group.   It is a large horse shoe shaped Island with a numerous smaller Islands surrounding it and filling in the interior.  One of those Islands is Eil Malk … home of the world famous Jellyfish Lake. (Ongeim’l Tketau). The lake is one of a number inland marine lakes found in Palau, Indonesia and Vietnam. There are two species of jellyfish in this Marine lake, Golden Jellyfish and Moon Jellyfish.  The Golden Jellyfish is a rare subspecies known as Mastigias papua etpisoni and are only found in this lake.       Since they live off algae, they don’t require their stingers to catch their prey. Apparently they can still sting  but it is so ineffective most people don’t even feel it. Swimming with the Jellyfish has become very popular (and lucrative for Palau) , but in 2016 after prolonged drought there was a massive die off  of Jellyfish and the lake was closed. However it was reopened in late Dec 2018 after the population bounced back.  Last year some 47,000 people visited the lake (at USD50.00pp you can sense the pressure that the mangers would have been under to reopen the lake.)    We all enjoyed a swim/snorkel in the lake. We made a point of arriving early to avoid the crowds. It was rather a surreal experience, but one I am glad I made the effort to do.  

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Rock Islands

Well we finally figured out the permit system for the Rock Islands in Palau.    1.     Immigration handing fee = $50.00  2.     Water Vessel Tax = $250.00 for Strannik   3.     PDEF (Conservation Levy) = $100.00 pp  = $500.00 4.     Vessel Cruising Permit (based on length of Vessel) = $80.00 5.     Zodiac Registration Permit =$10.00  6.     Rock Island permits (including Jelly Fish lake) = $100.00 pp = $500.00 7.     Fishing Permit (we are looking forward to fresh Fish) = $20.00 per rod (we have put all money on one Rod.)    Some of these permits are Federal and some State Government and there is an order in which they have to be purchased, some can be purchased 7 days a week, others are only available Monday to Friday.  If we work it on a per person basis it is $USD282.00 pp for 10 days (Permits are only valid for 10 days).  That is very comparable with other sites I am familiar with.  It is not so much the cost but the complexity of the process that I believe needs addressing and perhaps some of the revenue should be put to better nautical charts and maps of the area..    Are the islands worth it ???  .. so far we are IMPRESSED with the scenic value, but wildlife is rare.  The Islands are designated as a World Heritage site, meeting 5 of the 10 criteria.  These islands weren’t created by volcanic activity as was much of Palau, they are in fact remnants of coral reefs that grew on underwater mountain ridges. At the time they were building sea level was about 250 metres higher than it is today. As the sea level dropped the islands emerged.     There are some beautiful protected anchorages, but at 24 metres and with a draught of 2.8 metres  we are a little restricted as to the ones we can use.  

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Rock Islands

A cruising permit for the Rock Islands (in the southern Palau archipelago) is valid for 10 days.  We have purchased permits starting tomorrow (Monday 17th) and we plan to spend the next 10 days exploring this world renowned park.  Before we left Koror though, Simon and I hired a taxi with a native Palauan guide and asked him to share his island with us.  Petrus was both entertaining and informative … his commentary, experiences and insights into Palauan life couldn’t have been found in books or on tour bus commentaries. We learned more in the four hours with Petrus, than we could from books or travel articles and we have a greater appreciation of the cultural history and some of the political and social challenges facing this small Pacific nation.  We hope to learn and sense more of the World War 2 history by visiting the Island of Belilou Island, which lies south of the Rock Islands. The battle for Belilou (sometimes spelt with a P) was one of the toughest and bloodiest in the Pacific. So a lot to look forward to in the coming days. 

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A selection of photos and Video Clips from our expeditions and voyages.