Featuring the adventures of LightSpeed
Bikar Atoll in the Ratak Chain is uninhabited and is one of the smallest of the Marshalls’ atolls. Located at 12°14′N and 170°08′E, its isolation from the main islands in the group means it has largely undisturbed flora and fauna. The atoll is 360 miles north of Majuro.
We’ve seen turtles swimming, turtle nests ashore, sea birds in every stage of life form: eggs in a nest to fledgling chicks to hundreds and hundreds of birds aloft and in the bush… Kathy Kane on LightSpeed
The following are excerpts from the blog of Dave and Kathy Kane on the catamaran LightSpeed (http://www.ecosailingcharters.com):
July 1 2014
Bikar Atoll, Marshall Islands
Anchorage position: 12 14.70N, 170 07.94E (Jabwelo Island)
We arrived at the Bikar pass at low water and I took the dinghy through to check depths and access currents. The initial straight portion of the channel boils with alternating currents of 3-4 knots and at the ‘Y’ where the higher volume flow rushed in a deeper channel there was a wicked eddy line. In the dinghy it was all fun and games, in LightSpeed it would feel pretty tight.
Back on the boat we had a quick discussion and then hoisted the dinghy back on the davits. We decided to go for it and head in on low water as depth wasn’t an issue for us with only a 3 foot maximum draft. LightSpeed is loaded for the passage and the steering felt more sluggish as the first swirling and boiling currents alternately grabbed at the hulls pushing and pulling in the narrow channel with jagged overhanging coral edges. At the ‘Y’ I hit full power and the steering required extremely large rapid corrections as one hull entered the stream while the other was still in the eddy line. Whew, I sighed with relief as we charged over the shallowest spot leaving only 4′ beneath the keels while nearby bommies protruded from the fast flowing stream. The hulk of a wrecked Japanese fishing boat a visible reminder that any mistakes or mechanical issues would have dire consequences.
Once safely inside the lagoon, I began to worry about going back out as the wind and current will be pushing and I’ll need 3-4 knots of headway to maintain decent steering. That means on the way out I’ll be going 7-10 knots relative to the adjacent coral edges vs 3-4 on the way in. Not looking forward to that.
We’ve only been at Bikar for a short time, but we’ve seen turtles swimming, turtle nests ashore, seas birds in every stage of life form eggs in a nest to fledgling chicks to hundreds and hundreds of birds aloft and in the bush. The lagoon floor is wilderness with vibrant coral gardens, huge wrasse, giant groupers, fearless schools of fish of every description and clams o plenty. One surprise was the abundance of obviously planted, non indigenous Palau clams many of which are as big as 24″ across. These Palau clams look out of place, some in the sand and some grouped together in on coral outcrops none meshing with the surroundings.
Beach combing Dave found 2 small Japanese glass fishing floats, so that’s 3 in 3 days.
July 2 2014
Bikar Atoll, Marshall Islands
Anchorage position: 12 14.70N, 170 07.94E (Jabwelo Island)
We hope to stay for a few days here at Bikar atoll to do more beach combing and snorkeling while we wait for a nice weather window …
July 3, 2014
Anchorage position: 12 11.85N, 170 06.53E (southerly anchorage near Bikar Island, Bikar Atoll)
Yesterday, day 6 we sailed down the Bikar lagoon scouting for kiting and snorkeling spots. There’s a really nice sand bar near the ship wreck on the west side of the atoll which looks like an all tide kite launch site and also looks like it might offer some limited wave protection in easterly winds. Since the wind eased from 20+ early in the day to 15 by the time we got to the sandbar, we decided to continue to Bikar Island in the south of Bikar Atoll. Bikar islands provided superb beach combing where Dave found two rolling pin shaped glass floats and Kathy found the biggest glass ball ever. Kathy’s glass ball was so heavy that we didn’t even try to carry it back to the boat as we couldn’t imagine what we’d do with such a giant glass ball or where we’d store it for the long ocean journey ahead.
We found some other unusual items on our walk such as the tip to a military missile which had several bullet holes through it, several turtle skeletons and sheets of dried turtle shell that resemble sheets of heavy plastic and that we hear make great guitar picks and lastly a US Army Core of Engineers survey marker from 1952.
Turtles on Bikar island seemed to be flourishing with turtle nests covering the entirety of every available inch of beach and lots of fresh tracks with at least 50 recent nesting sites based on fresh turtle tracks in the sand. On the SW corner of Bikar island a dozen palm trees languish, few with coconuts, but we managed to knock a few loose with a long stick and enjoyed the refreshing coconut water midway through our circumnavigation.
Today we plan to check out the kiting sandbar and nearby shipwreck and do some extensive snorkeling.
July 4, 2014
Anchorage position: 12 12.68N, 170 06.88E (west side, mid-atoll at kite launch sand island) It’s 4th of July, so happy birthday to my cousin Kim! In celebration of the 4th of July, we’ll be shooting off some Roman candles we’ve had onboard since Fiji.
Yesterday we moved the boat up to the sand island that’s midway down the west side of the Bikar Atoll lagoon and yep it’s the perfect kite spot. Now all we need is the wind to pick up a few knots. The sand island is an all tide launch site and even at low tide there’s enough water for some freestyle jumps/crashes. We’d hoped to check out the ship wreck just to the north of the sand island, but the tide was too low to navigate the coral gardens on the shallow reef, so we combed the sand island for beach treasures and pretty quickly found 2 small Japanese glass fishing floats. Just a couple more floats and we’ll have our beautiful hand crafted Marshallese basket completely full. During our exploration a big squall came through and pelted us with a deluge of rain, so we slipped into the water for some snorkeling. The corals near sand island were ok, but the wildlife was superb. A 9.5 on a scale of 10 for wildlife, huge schools of all sorts of fish, countless giant clams, black lipped oysters, large Palau clams the only thing missing was big sharks. During low tide the visibility is pretty bad so, maybe the big sharks were there lurking in the shadows? …
Today, we started early on the high tide to check out the ship wreck, it looks like an 80-90′ steel fishing boat. The bow is ripped off and located 1/8 of a mile away and still contains the entire anchor rode (chain) which is rusted into a 1m x 1m x 2m block. Can you imagine the storm that moved that chunk of metal?
Later today we’ll scout the sand island in the NW corner and then head back to the best anchorage in the NE corner and explore the remaining island there.
July 5, 2014
Anchorage position: 12 12.68N, 170 06.88E (east side, mid-atoll at kite launch sand island)
Yesterday was a busy day. Before breakfast we headed over to check out the shipwreck at sand island, then we motored up to the other sand island in the NW corner.
NW sand island was beautiful, but smaller than expected, so after a short walk we snorkeled at a nearby patch of coral and wow was it loaded with sharks! Grey reefs, black tips and white tips swarmed in the minute we got in the water and their curious circling was a bit of a distraction from the intended search for super giant clams.
Next we moved LightSpeed again to a short term anchorage near the pass and launched the dinghy to scout the pass for our eventual departure. We tied a fishing float to the most dangerous shallow coral head in the approach and made a few mental notes about the locations of other shallow coral heads. The current is a solid 3-4 knots in the approach, so no place to hang up on a coral head or we might find the same fate as the wrecked fishing boat nearby. We ran the dinghy through a few times to feel the current and did some power snorkeling where Kathy leans off the side of the boat far enough to get her snorkel mask in the water and Dave slowly pilots the boat. Kathy said there were thousands of fish along the walls.
We considered drift snorkeling the pass, but the currents are too wicked strong and boiling and the visibility too poor in the churning waters for the risk. During our observations around low tide the set of the current within the pass has a strong cross flow setting to the north side of the channel especially in the vicinity of the ‘Y’.
After a few runs we headed all the way out the pass to snorkel on the outside reef wall. Once outside we donned our gear and stuck our faces in the water in what we call the ‘shark check’ to see if there is a really big shark waiting to eat us. Wow!!! The amount of sharks surrounding us kept us in the safety of the boat to enjoy the show as we leaned over the edge. At one point I counted 30 grey reef sharks circling around us! Numerous Giant Bump head wrass, giant groupers, giant everything was checking us out. Schools of mackerel and permit obscured our vision and times in dense schools. Turtles joined the mix. Incredible and we never got in the water, just way way too many grey reef sharks way to close. So many and so close that even sticking your head in the water from the dinghy was a bit stressful. Eventually our heads were about to explode from hanging upside down for so long and we headed back to LightSpeed to move once again across the lagoon.
We anchored at Jabwelo island again and without delay headed in to beach comb the final island at Bikar atoll. Although, the smallest it had a lot of junk piled on its shores, fishing floats of every description, huge pile of line and way too many empty bottles both plastic and glass. We found three Japanese fishing floats, two round and one rolling pin bringing our total to 11 in the last 9 days, I think we can check that one off the list.
We were considering leaving Bikar today, but this morning the wind is a solid NE and steady at 20 knots. Perfect weather for kiting, so I think we’ll be moving the boat again to sand island for some kiting…
July 6, 2014
Anchorage position: 12 14.68N, 170 07.92E
We’re totally ready to go, both boat project wise and mentally stoked for the 20+ day passage in the north pacific, but now the weather’s not cooperating…
July 7, 2014
We’re anxious to get going, but the wind is still cranking out of the NE at over 20 knots. We’re 100% go ready, just waiting for a break in the weather.
July 8, 2014
Going a little stir crazy waiting for weather.
July 9, 2014
Yesterday, major squalls with wind gusts to 41 knots and lots of heavy rain…
July 10, 2014
We finally got underway this morning around 9am and with some trepidation headed for Bikar pass to shoot the rapids. About half way across the lagoon we got a squall as a send off gift with blasting rain limiting visibility in the coral studded lagoon. Over the last week at Bikar atoll I can tell you more than once I woke up in the night worrying about getting LightSpeed back out Bikar pass in one piece. As we approached we couldn’t spot our marker bouy that we’d placed on the most dangerous coral head at the lagoon side of the pass. It was surely lost in one of the 40+ knot squalls we’ve had the last few days. My primary point of reference then became the remains of the wrecked fishing boat, mostly just a jumble of parts surrounding the massive diesel engine block, the other remaining parts of the broken ship are deeper inside the pass. As we passed the wreck we had a solid 4 knots of current sucking us out and at least a knot cross current that increased to at least 2 knots of cross current in the vicinity of the “Y”. I had LightSpeed crabbing sideways with my speed through water showing 8 plus knots. Going a bit sideways at 8 knots does NOT make the pass feel wider. Just past the ‘Y’ it seemed for a moment that we might overshoot and hit the far side, but that was short lived as just seconds later the sluicing and boiling cross current had me fully powered up and running at 20 degrees south of our course over ground. If there was an EKG connected to me in those last few moments as I goosed the throttles to full ahead, I’m sure it would have shown my heart rate and blood pressure going off the chart. As we rocketed to safety though the standing waves on the ocean side of Bikar pass I thought I might puke for a second.
My advice is don’t even think about taking your boat into Bikar lagoon. Getting in is one thing, but coming out is 500 times riskier. Bikar pass might be 100 times more dangerous than other dangerous passes we’ve ran like Mopellia (6 times), Penrhyn (in close out conditions which required a huge surf to 14 or maybe 16 knots) and Aitutaki (more than 20 times including low water with a big breaking SW swell) and 1000 times more scary than anything we ever ran in the Tuamotus in 2006, 2011 or 2012. Yep, the place is pristine for a reason: it eats boats.