Micronesia: Yap Island

The Land of Stone Money, Jam Sessions, and Birthday Bashes 

Traditional Meeting House and Stone Money

“We have a weather window that might get us all the way to Guam,” Mark announced one morning at breakfast.  The typhoon season is supposed to be coming to an end, and the tradewinds are scheduled to fill in fiercely at anytime.  This trip up to Guam was going to be tricky.  Our choices of typhoons vs. head-on tradewinds left no easy option.  The best scenario would be to wait until a low weather system passes and brings with it uncommon winds from the south that would be pushing us the entire way, or a period of little to no wind in which we could motorsail most of the way.  

The entire trip from Palau to Guam is about 700 miles, which would take us about 5 full days to complete.  Yap Island is about 250 miles from Palau, on the rhumb line to Guam, and offers a great stopping point if we need a breather.  Would we stop or continue on?   

Overall, the seas are settled as we motorsail towards Guam, but we receive an email on the way that leaves us leaning towards stopping in Yap.  The new Volvo engines being shipped to Guam have just left the warehouse in the US, and we don’t have a committed arrival date yet.  In these situations, it could be two weeks or two months until large items arrive.  If we go to Guam now, we might be sitting there for a month or two before the engines even get there!  The upside to that is that, hey - it’s Guam - full of many comforts of the US (like the kids’ favorite breakfast spot, The Village Inn)!!  The downside to that is that those US comforts come at high US prices!  The anchorage for yachts is quite removed from town, meaning we’d also need to invest in a rental car during our stay.  Those expenses add up fast, so arriving a month prior to our engines means an extra month of living costs chipping away at our savings.  Do we really want to hurry there?  
If we opt to stop in Yap on the way north, we would avoid needing to visit on our way to the Philippines, allowing us more time for diving throughout the Philippine archipelago.  The pros and cons are beginning to stack up, a fairly even race for now.  Mark and I decide to pray about it and leave some time to wait for clear guidance.  We would not be passing Yap until the next morning, so no need to rush in making a decision.   

Analysis Paralysis - Mark weighing all our options and watching the weather closely

Another email comes later that night, this time from a friend we’ve been corresponding with in Guam, further complicating matters.  He warns us of a few low weather systems that are forming on a path to Guam.  We’d beat them there, but then might find ourselves having to ride out a typhoon at anchor.  That certainly didn’t sound fun.  

Our decision was made.  Stop in Yap and wait for a window to continue north, hoping this wouldn’t be our last chance before the tradewinds kick in.  We drop the mainsail and enter the meandering channel through the skirting reef and into the Yap lagoon.  Tino, the port control officer, radios us to inquire about our vessel details and ensure we have already received pre-approval to enter the Federated States of Micronesia.  This is a stict requirementof FSM, and neglecting to get prior authorization would result in a hefty fine upon arrival, up to US$1,000!   Mark is prepared, and has all the required paperwork ready to submit to each set of officials - customs, immigration, harbor control, EPA, Biosecurity, etc.  He’s even thought to make plenty of copies for them to keep in their records.  Check-in is easy and we’re officially welcomed to Yap.  

Again, it is strange to be in a remote place, where many people wear traditional clothing and chew beetlenut, but where everyone speaks English.  I still can’t get used to it!  

Meeting Our New Neighbors

Anchored near Field Trip is a small, mustard-colored sailboat, SV Tambu.  Three young gypsies live aboard - Marcello (dread-locked captain from Italy), Tristan (classically trained singer from France), and Lulu (a celestial enthusiast from China).  They are living the simple sailing life - catching rainwater, fishing for dinner, saltwater showers, creative boat maintenance, and making it work.  Before the other crew member, a guy from Israel, left, they performed as a band to earn income.  We are inspired by their adventurous attitudes and hanging out with them makes us feel young again.

One night, they surprise us by bringing over various instruments and lead a jam session around our salon table!  Their wide repertoire consists of songs in Italian, French, and Chinese, as well as some sing-along sailing shanties and American favorites.  I finally risk taking out my ukulele and attempt to play a few songs with them, figuring what better time to practice and improve my meager skills.  I flub up much of the time, but they are patient mentors and encourage my continued efforts.  

I feel my mothering instincts kick in, and I make sure to invite them for a hot shower and a warm meal.  It turns out, it had been months since they’d been in a proper shower, and even longer since they’d enjoyed indulging in real cheese!  Tristan, from France, about jumped up and down with joy when he saw the shredded cheese as part of the taco salad buffet set out on the counter!  I admire them for being out here and making it work, and I privately say a few more prayers of thanks for the luxuries we have on board that I often take for granted.

SV Field Trip and SV Tambu crew!

Birthdays Aboard!

November is birthday month on board.  Michael will celebrate entering his last year before being a teenager (yikes!), and Mark will nonchalantly slide into his fifth decade.  (Shhh... don’t tell him I told you!)  For Michael’s birthday, he and Mark walk to the post office, where a special package should be waiting.  Back in Palau, Michael had decided to spend some of the Amazon gift cards he’d received to purchase a board game that he’d been wanting ever since he’d played it with his cousins a year and a half ago.  It was scheduled to arrive in Yap on his actual birthday, and to everyone’s surprise, it did!!  That meant that none of the gifts we’d gotten for him really made much of an impact (although he was excited to receive them all, of course!).  For the rest of the night, we gathered around the salon table to play round after round of King of Tokyo - the gift he’d bought for himself!  

The Birthday Boy!  Happy 12th, Michael!
Her first Fortnite cake!

To commemorate the occasion, Elizabeth and I baked a vanilla cake with white icing.  Since the theme was “Fortnite”, she took great care in decorating the cake with one of the video game characters doing ‘the floss’.  (If you have been living under a rock for the last 5 years and don’t know what ‘the floss’ is, look it up on Youtube and give it a try!)  The cake was a big hit, both for the sweet deliciousness and the equally sweet decor.  

For Mark’s birthday (he wanted to keep it on the down low) we did a dive together in the morning just outside the pass and invited our new boat friends to join us for dinner onshore at a restaurant that was part of an old wooden ship, SV MNUW Crow’s Nest.  The bar brewed its own beer, appropriately called Stone Money brew.  Erin, our waitress, was ready for us with a beautiful wreath for Mark to wear and a surprise dessert made of a candle stuck in a muffin atop a stone money-shaped chocolate chip cookie!  We ordered a few stone money pizzas (they truly do take pride in their unique stone money here!) and shared a lovely dinner together.

Celebrating with friends from SV Tambu
Happy Birthday, Captain!

Yap Public Library

One of our hideouts from the tropical heat became a daily trip to the Yap Public Library.  We paid three dollars each for our own library cards, and relished in afternoons reading in the air-conditioned building.  It also presented a unique opportunity for us to learn research skills, so I decided to postpone some of our other learning in order to teach the kids how to conduct research and compile a research paper.  We checked out a few books, read encyclopedias, took notes, created a bibliography and an outline, and eventually developed a research paper complete with a title page, headers, and works cited!  Thank you Yap Public Library!

“We have a weather window, “ Mark declared again one morning.  The winds were lightening up a bit and we could head towards Guam once again.  We checked out with the authorities, made a last minute trip to the small grocery store, and prepped the boat for departure.  Our friends from SV Tambu came by to say goodbye and we set off in the rain.  This time, though, the weather wouldn’t hold and we’d be forced to go more easterly to avoid wind on the nose.  After 90 miles and some bumpy seas (along with a bout of seasickness for me - ugh!) we would seek shelter in a remote atoll.  Would we be allowed to stay?  Did we have enough provisions to last until Guam?  How long would we have to wait for another window? 

Our radar would be working overtime, tracking squalls.

Kids prepped for the rough passage by creating an easy-access snack bowl


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