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Pohnpei

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a short hop to Pohnpei, also in FSM, and to a very different scene. As we approached the well marked pass at the northern end of the island we saw a mass of shipping anchored inside the fringing reef. It soon became clear that the largest of these were factory ships for processing fish, while the smaller – but still quite large – vessels were tuna catchers, all with high watch towers and some with helicopters. Pohnpei makes much of its national income from fishing licences, sold mostly to Chinese vessels. Once past the impressive monolith of Sokehs Rock we were rapidly cleared by officials at the main dock and found our way along the narrow channel on the east side of Kolonia Harbour to an anchorage at its head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a number of local or apparently abandoned yachts on moorings at the head of the harbour, but several anchored cruising boats, among them ‘Mango’ with Jimmy, Cherito and her two boys on board, who we had already met at Kosrae. The other boats were semi-resident. Glen was aboard his self-built Wharram Polynesian catamaran, constructed almost entirely out of natural and traditional materials, with only the simplest of accommodation and equipment. Noel and Kathy were living aboard ‘Integrity II’, an Al Mason design, while Kathy worked at the local college. Roger commuted to his boat from a house ashore as his wife also worked at the college.

 

 

Kolonia Harbour is very well protected, except perhaps from the north. We had been told that the holding was somewhat suspect. The mud of the bottom was perhaps a little silty, but seemed firm enough when we tested it. At one time there was a little marina and dock below the Ocean View Hotel; this is now defunct, though another is being constructed just to the west. It is as yet unclear what facilities will be available. It was still possible to land by dinghy at the derelict dock, but great care was needed walking on it. Initially water was available at the dock, but this was stopped during our stay. Lucy Panuelo, the owner of the Ocean View Hotel was helpful to cruisers, but unhappy about any use of the dock. Fortunately heavy rain is so common on Pohnpei that there is no problem filling tanks with rainwater.

 

After the retail ‘desert’ of Funafuti and Kosrae, Pohnpei was an oasis by comparison, with several quite good supermarkets. Fuel was readily available, though it took a little sweat to get it to the dinghy. We also refilled our gas bottles. Perhaps because the roads were more crowded and the island generally more developed our bike excursions were somewhat less interesting then on Kosrae, but did at least serve to get our legs back in shape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of our primary reasons for coming to Pohnpei was to visit the ruins at Nan Madol. If you have a large rib and outboard as dinghy, you might be able to follow the channels around to Nan Madol from Kolonia Harbour, though it is a lengthy trip. It is also possible to take your boat around via an east-facing pass in the reef. Finally it is also possible to hire a car and hike in through the mangroves to the ruins. We decided in the end that it was better to pay for a guided tour in a fast launch. We shared the ride with two German tourists, who were in Pohnpei for the diving. Kosmo, our driver and guide, took us quickly along the twisting channel in a powerful panga. We did a little snorkelling on the way, though the visibility was too poor to see very much. The goal, however, was to arrive at the ruins at about high tide, when the ruins can be seen most as they were when constructed. Because there has been a good deal of silting, at lower tide, the waterways between the 92 islets of the ruins complex are mostly dry. If you go by land to the ruins, you must go at low water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ruins are truly remarkable. Like all monumental ruins built before the industrial age, it is amazing how people have managed to transport and man-handle huge stones into these massive walls. However, what is often more puzzling is what can possibly have motivated a people to undertake the overwhelming labour involved. Fortunately Vicky had gathered as much written material at the Visitors’ Centre, so we knew as much as was available about the ruins, which was just as well, because Kosmo and his colleague had only a smattering of knowledge about the ruins. Clearly much of what is ‘known’ is little more than educated speculation. Though some of the islands, particularly the main one look to have had defensive functions, there does not even seem to be agreement about this though there seemed to be some astute guesses about the  about the nature and functions of the many other islands, whose remains are much less well preserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The structures are built entirely from basalt rock which was split off into the same naturally occurring hexagonal shapes which we had seen in the more rudimentary ruins at Kosrae. The largest main structure was complex, with a range of gates, holes and cavities. Some care has been taken to preserve this structure, but most of the rest of the structures are gradually being over-run by mangroves.

 

For this reason it was very useful to explore the mangrove-lined canals in kayaks. This gave some feeling of what the whole vast complex may have been like when it was inhabited and active, some ten centuries ago.

 

 

 

 

 

From the ruins we moved on to the pretty Kepirohi waterfall and then back to the panga for the fast return winding through and along the mangrove-clad banks. As we swept around blind corners at 30 knots we couldn’t help thinking that it was a recipe for an accident. A few moments later we came around another corner and bumped to a very sudden halt as the boat and engines crashed over the top of a water-logged tree trunk across the channel. Fortunately Kosmo had been quick enough to throttle back, so no damage was done to either the boat or people, but it was a salutary lesson and we proceeded at a slightly slower pace for the last few kilometres of the return.

 

 

 

 

 

Close to the southwest of Pohnpei is Ahnd (Ant) atoll. The pass into the lagoon faces south. It is narrow, winding and tide swept. In strong trades it might very challenging, especially on the ebb. Fortunately when we made our brief visit, the pass was easy and the channel very visible in good light. There was good snorkelling on the reef to the west of the pass, while there was a classic tropical white sand beach on the more northern of the fringing islands. It was a beautiful setting which gave us a couple of quiet ‘cruisy’ days, between the business of re-stocking, fuelling and socialising.

 

 

 

 

We thoroughly enjoyed our varied stay in FSM and were somewhat sad that we did not have the time to head further west to Yap about which we had heard good things, though Chuuk has quite a different and unsavoury reputation. Having island-hopped our way north so far, we prepared for the two longer passages which would take us to Japan.

 

 

 

 

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