Enjoying the Russels
03 December 2008 | The Russel Islands
It would be a long day sail from our first Russel anchorage to the Western Province. A little over 70 miles. When we woke up it was raining. So that settled it, we were going to spend another day in the Russels (what torture :-). The Russels are lovely and quiet.
These islands were once a large copra production facility for Lever Brothers, the Australian soap dynamo. It seems some of this still goes on but it is not as colonial as it was. Folks here still paddle around and fish from dugout canoes but I think the era of western influence has changed the place some. No one comes to visit you, which can be a nice break if you just want to relax in peace and quiet. Everyone is still friendly though and they always wave back if you wave at them.
Once the sun cleared the sky up we dropped the mooring and plotted a tour through the lagoons of the northern Russel group to an hopeful anchorage in Pirisala Bay. The Russels are very deep and finding an anchorage is tricky. This is increased by the light and variable nature of the wind this time of year. You can try dropping your anchor on a small shelf in 20 feet of water, hanging back into deep water, but there are some problems with this. If you drag, which is more likely when you anchor on a steep decline, you will simply float off into the deep water, which hopefully is big enough to give you time to wake up before bumping into the opposite shore. Second, squalls are a nightly occurrence here. You can count on at least one a night influencing you, if not hitting you, this time of year. That means wind strength and direction change. Usually only +/- 50 degrees or so, but could be more. The gradient winds are also so weak that land breezes at night can take control of things. I have seen no 20 foot platforms in the Russels that would allow a yacht to swing on shore without going aground.
If you had a Gemini or something with an 18 inch draft you could get onto some of the banks and anchor safely, which would be nice. We draw 4.5 feet and need 10 feet to be comfortable in an anchorage (unless it is all sand, then we'll go down to 6 at low springs). Our plan was to check out the area between the two charted WWII wrecks in Pirisala Bay, one of the northwestern most bays in the Russels. This would give us a 9 nm head start for our run to the Western Province and it also looked very protected on the chart. Our mooring stay was nice but a chop did come around the island over night with a little sidewise roll. We were going for totally flat tonight.
The motor through the islands with 0-5 knots of wind was very pretty. The northern islands have lots of little deep water tracks leading through an array of islets, mangroves, sandy beaches and reefy banks. We were making way at noon so the different water colors really came out. It had turned into a lovely blue sky day, as it usually does here.
We saw a number of wonderful little spots where you could anchor but most were good for only trade wind conditions with 180 degrees of safe swinging. There is one island we passed that is shaped like a crescent and there is a reef across the entire front of the crescent. Inside is a shallow lagoon. If there were only a break in that reef!
We saw many western style buildings as we trolled through the islands. One little settlement at the end of a coconut tree filled island had a substantial set of jetties, making it look a good place to load copra. Leaving this peninsula to port we made our way through a narrows and then turned down toward Pirisala Bay. Hideko spotted the first wreck on the chart but the second appeared to have been replaced by a small clump of mangroves. We came in the clear channel which bends into the bay from the east. The north part of the bay has a reef and bank across it with a channel through to another exit. An island surrounds the bay to the south, east and west.
We tracked along the bank looking for good spots to hook up. Every thing looked to be problematic if the wind came south. We did find an area where the bank juts out a bit, creating a 30-50 area where you could anchor with a good 270 degrees safe swinging angle. If you could hold with short scope maybe even 360.
We kept moving around the bank and then ran through the channel leading to the big exit bay to the north. We looked in the big bay for spots as well but it is totally open to the north and any swell from that direction would come right in. Our primary purpose for running the channel was to lay down a safe track line so that we can leave with poor light early in the morning. As we crossed back in we found the deepest water closer to the western shore and got through with nothing less than 35 feet of water.
The best spot we had found turned out to be the little finger jutting out from the coral and sand bank. We took a couple trys to get set properly but ended up with a solid hold in about 30 feet with 150 of scope out. This is just over 4:1 for us (we have 5 feet of freeboard) and seemed a good compromise between: holding, a chance to catch if we drag deeper, and the short scope desired if the wind goes wrong.
Once settled Hideko made her wonderful Churasco Steak sandwiches and we enjoyed the views of the lovely little bay. After lunch we inflated the Clear Blue Hawaii Kayak and went to explore the wrecks. The mangrove bush was actually growing around one of the wrecks and had almost completely hidden it. In close, you could still see the remains of whatever it was, rusting slowly in the bright sun. Wrecks are always so intriguing to me. What was it's story, how did it come to this end? The other wreck is on a sandy point at the other end of the bank. On the way there we heard crazy noises coming from the deserted island that hosts the point. Our best guess is that the noises were birds. There was a wide array of very curious calls going on from the darkness of the trees.
After a nice bit of exploration we retired to the big boat and set about cleaning things up and getting ready for our sixty some mile crossing in the morning.