08/12/2012, Vella Gulf
Saturday 08 December 8, 2012
Liapari continued to work her soporific spell on us as the week progressed. It wasn't till we mentioned to Noel that we would be leaving the next day that he reminded us it was a Friday - so - nothing for it but to stay another day. Superstitious sailors never leave port on a Friday and we also have tried to avoid doing so since we started this odyssey. So we didn't need much persuading - a recent blog update by friends Rob and Dianna on SV The Doctor (www.svthedoctor.blogspot.com ) outlining the trials and tribulations they faced recently after leaving port on a Friday further convinced us.
It turns out Friday was also a Solomon Island public holiday in Western Province. Noel immediately suggested a BBQ lunch in the round house, a lovely gazebo he built in 2010 on the shore. On Thursday we had been able to do all our laundry, followed by a walk around the island, hot work but great to stretch the legs, especially in the shady parts of the former copra plantation. The extra day at anchor also allowed us to finalise a few more boat chores, meaning for once the last day in port was a real relax day, not the usual frenzy of last minute preparations racing around buying more gas or parts or diesel.
The 'farewell BBQ' put on by Rosie and Noel left us feeling very relaxed, refreshed and ready for the next big leg of our trip. We upped anchor at 10.05 this morning and are in the Vella Gulf, heading for Manning Strait between Choisuel and Barora Fa Islands. The GRBS are telling us there isn't much wind about, so it could be a slow old sail to Kiribati. Dave told us when IM last went from Solomon Islands to Tarawa they had 35k on their stern quarter and had quite a wild ride. I'll settle for something in between. If we do end up in the doldrums lucky I've still got two books of the Harry Potter series to read!
05/12/2012, 07 56.874'S:156 42.809'E, Liapari Island - Solomon Islands
Wednesday 05 December Being en route to somewhere means we are always leaving - we don¬'t fit the mould of some cruisers we have met who have been travelling for years and are able to spend weeks in each place, getting to know the locals. So even though we would have liked to spend more time in Gizo, the weather forecasts are showing it could be a long slow passage to Kiribati, with periods of calm, and we need to keep on the move. We had heard a lot about Liapari, a small island on the southern end of Vella Lavella, and of the warm hospitality offered by Noel and Rosie Hudson. Irish Melody had spent some time here in November 2006 and Dave and Linda had highly recommended a visit. Liapari is only 19N from Gizo, a pleasant 3-4 hour sail. On Tuesday morning we headed off, arriving around 1.30pm, perfect timing to wend our way through the passages cut into the protective reefs and into the 16-20 m deep lagoon.
As in Gizo, the calm deep waters allowed us to anchor close enough to shore to row the dinghy in. Noel, an expat Kiwi from Tokoroa, also runs a shipyard servicing larger ferries and building/fitting out large boats, in addition to assisting passing yachties and providing cyclone season shelter - four yachts and a motor vessel are currently in storage at the wharf. At one stage, when a possible volunteer job in Honiara looked interesting, we had looked up this spot as a place to leave IM, and were keen to check it out for future visits. Liapari is beautiful, serene, a real haven. Noel and Rosie and their assistants have helped numerous weary and dispirited yachties who have turned up on their doorstep over the years to repair their boats, enabling them to carry on to the next destination. The impressive visitor¬'s book is a fascinating read, as yachties with dismasted and engineless boats, some with holed hulls, tell how they were able to restore and fix their boats, and recover their flagging spirits at this special place.
You can imagine our delight when we found several photos of IM on Noel¬'s office wall - Dave and Linda had sent them through as examples of different haul out methods. Noel even remembered the type of engine IM has - no mean feat once you realize the number of boats that he has ¬'tinkered¬' with over the years.
We were only going to stay for a day or two, but as Liapari works its magic we are already contemplating another night. Sitting here in 35 degree heat, I am just thinking about a dip in the lagoon. Three canoes have come and gone over the last hour, each occupant trading a different vegetable or fruit ¬- home delivery in paradise!
Photo Note: Kenshi holding up his payment for two lovely green coconut drinks he bought us.
05/12/2012, 08 05.964'S:156 50.343'E, PT109 Cafe - Gizo Yarcht Club - Solomon Islands
Monday 03 December Sleep patterns take a while to adjust after a longish passage, and we are still both catching up on the backlog. However as we got to see a bit more of Gizo, and the doziness caused by lack of sleep starts to decrease, we have started noticing more - and have been a little shocked by the level of poverty. The wood carvers were back in force once the quarantine flag was down (the visit to the quarantine office was an eye-opener in itself) and were keen to trade for all sorts of things, dive masks, women¬'s clothing , towels, t-shirts, sunglasses, lollies for the kids, and of course, cash. As white westerners we are immediately seen as being wealthy beyond their imagination, and it is heartbreaking not to be able to just hand over the requested items. We tried to explain to them that even though we were on a ¬'big flash boat¬' we only had enough towels for ourselves and we needed our sunnies to navigate through the reefs. In the rush to leave Australia we had only managed to get a few trade items, but certainly not enough, and I will be stocking up the boat with these items from Australia next time I come!
As a farewell gift from my job in the Queensland Public Service I had asked for children¬'s swimming goggles as I had heard these were often requested in Indonesia, so I was able to give a few of those to the woodcarvers for their children - photos to be uploaded once we get near some decent internet! Gizo was hit by a tsunami in April 2007 following a magnitude 8 earthquake and it seems is only now slowly recovering. Despite excellent dive locations and gorgeous scenery the cost of flying here cannot compete with other locations such as Vanuatu and New Caledonia, and the ongoing rumblings of unrest also make it a less tempting destination. The bottom has fallen out of the copra market and life is pretty tough for many. The quality of the woodcarving is excellent but after the fourth boat, we had to say no more, hopefully our meagre purchases helped spread some cash around. Sadly, some of the carvers also offered us ¬'artefacts¬', ancient culturally significant carvings. Even if they were real and not cleverly aged fakes, we told them we weren¬'t going to buy them and talked to one man who was aware of the issues around this and said he was hoping to get some cultural tourism happening on his island. Once again transport and lack of the kind of infrastructure tourists like when on holiday (showers etc!) make it all very difficult for them to achieve financial independence from the generous but always insufficient international aid.
We are finding the locals very curious and friendly, every time you pop your head into the cockpit a dugout canoe appears with people (usually men so far) wanting to know all about you, what you do, how long you will be here etc etc, a bit confronting for us private types! As the only boat in the harbour we are acutely aware of the many eyes watching us from the shore. Many people also want to practice their English, so after a while Tony usually ducks below to fix something while I continue to chat.
Saturday night we had a wonderful thunderstorm which washed everything clean,(stop reading now if you don¬'t want inappropriate visual images!) including me, as I cavorted in the dark sudsing myself up like a kid. Unfortunately the boat¬'s decks were so salty and the rainpour not long, so we probably only managed to catch a few litres into our tanks, but tomorrow is another hot sultry day, the wet season can¬'t be far away!