12 December 2008 | The Western Province
It seems that when you are out at sea, particularly when there's no wind, the 22:00-00:00 shift is often a tough one. The temperature change from shutting off the heat lamp in the sky seems to build before 10PM and mellow after midnight. In the middle we've had some of our bigger squalls. This held true last night.
At about 10PM Hideko and I both woke up with the wind really going. Having not seen anything over 10 knots for some time this was a curiosity. I went outside to check on things and it was really whipping. I turned on the instruments to discover that we were in a 30 knot squall. I later revised this to near gale, as squalls rarely last more than a half hour. This sucker planted itself on us for two hours.
It got fairly choppy in the lagoon. The wind was coming from the NE and there's quite a bit of fetch in that direction. There are shoals in the way but they don't really take the bite out of a wind chop. The big boat was fine but Shooting Star was tied up out back and getting a good bouncing.
The Rocna (our anchor) didn't budge an inch the whole time. I brought the Raymarine Smart Controller to bed at around 11PM and the GPS fix was a photograph. We were glad we anchored a ways out. Less bugs, more breeze and comfort room when the wind can come from any quarter. Our stern was facing the Lola beach and I could see their boat on the inshore moorings getting quite a tussle. One actually ended up on the beach, with no real harm done though.
I was expecting to see some disturbed weather after reading the Australian forecast. Keeping up on the best weather sources is a chore when you're circumnavigating. Every new country usually requires a new set of weather sources. The patterns and prevailing conditions also change with your location, not to mention the season. Understanding all of this is pretty important to safety at anchor as well as route planning.
We are now, unfortunately, out of the tender care of the good 'ol boys in the USA. The Hawaii team stops coverage at 160E down here. My current weather request looks like this:
The spot just gives us 7 days of wind, waves and pressure for our position (or where we plan to sail). The gfs request gives us a GRIB file with three days of info over a large area. The new ViewFax (free download on the SailMail site) shows Pressure (like a synoptic chart), Wind barbs, Wave heights with colors and Rain fall with shading. It is almost as nice as UGRIB (UGRIB doesn't work over HF radio though). The met.10ne report is the Australian tropical forecast for this area (MET10 Northeast). They identified the weak low and trough as well as its movement over us in the evening. If I could only have one file this would be the one at present.
In the morning we decided to see what was happening in Noro. It was a fun trip through the lagoon and up the Diamond Narrows. The lagoon is more or less clear of hazards when you're in a dinghy. You can pretty much go where ever there's water, with some caution. The Diamond narrows is a skinny but deep stretch of sea that snakes between New Georgia and Arundel Island. It reminds me of an old river backwater in the southern USA. Coming out on the north side of the narrows the water got choppy. The Noro bay is open to the north and the wind was still blowing in the low teens after last nights LO passage.
Noro is not a pretty town. And that is being kind. We tied the dink up near the market, which seems the only real place to do so, the shoreline is coral rock and such. The market looked interesting but there are a lot of guys and boys standing around with nothing to do but chew beetle nut. Idle hands as they say.
We made a trip to the bank to stock up on local currency to fund a diesel run later. The ATM was out of cash but we did get our Vanuatu money changed finally. It took perhaps more time than changing $50 US was worth but it was one thing off the list. Hideko and I took turns checking on the dink.
We have a lot of safety stuff on the boat that we just can't lock up. I need to put a lock on the bow locker but we still have no way to secure the paddles and other stuff. We've been fortunate to cruise in areas where you don't have to worry about that kind of thing too much. I beleive you need to be more careful in the Solomons. If you are in town, beware, things will disappear if they are not protected. I have to say, with some surprise, that the Yacht Club in Honiara did see to the security of yacht dinghies quite effectively. I am still surprised that we never had a problem there.
As I came out of the bank Hideko was down the road and looking concerned. She had just run off two, shall we say, punks looking about our dinghy. I walked up to them and asked what they were looking for. They smiled nervously and scampered off. Young boys here are the major problem.
Hideko stayed with the dink while I bought a few cards for our cell phone and then we were off. We later discovered the guy had sold me pay phone minutes not cell phone minutes. Buyer beware, when someone doesn't understand you here the answer is always yes.
Our next stop was over at the commercial quay to check out the diesel situation. Diesel is expensive everywhere but it has come down a lot here in the past month. Current prices were 13 SOL per liter. Given the nasty looking quay and the chop coming in we decided we fuel up in Gizo, a little more expensive at 15 SOL per liter, but cheaper than gel coat repair.
I didn't like Noro but we did enjoy the trip through the narrows and back. Once home at the big boat we arranged to have dinner at the Lola Island resort. Joe had just returned from Gizo and it is always interesting to chat with guys like him (originally from Seattle and now 25 years in the Solomons with three kids).
In the afternoon we made our pilgrimage to the Skull Island. It is one island over from Lola. We had to stop at a village at the big island next door to pick up the elder who owns the Skull Island. It was 25 Solomon per person to visit. Matohite, not sure of the spelling here, was probably 70 something but he jumped right into our dink like a spring chicken.
We cut across the crescent lagoon of his home island to the opposite tip where a small round island sites just off shore. The chop was still running so after letting the crew off I tied our dink's stern line to an overhanging tree while Hideko tied the bow line to a palm on shore. This kept the dink off the rocky coastline.
The island was a coral heap with some sand in the middle and trees and foliage everywhere. A short path took us to the shrine.
Wow. It was amazing to see this piece of living history. It had survived the ravages of many years and one world war. The shrine is a wooden A frame structure placed upon a large mound of coral. All around the mound are skulls of warriors, shell money and customary head chopping axes, all in advanced stages of decay. Matohite opened the shrine for us to display the sacred resting place of the skulls of the chiefs. We were told one was the dreaded Ingava.
To one side there are three head stone like structures chiseled from local stone. These, it was said, were shrines to the gods that would ensure successful fishing. There was also a cement box with no lid in the area. Hideko asked Matohite what the significance of the box was. He said, "that's mine".
In the brush on the way out we saw the grave sites of Matohite's father and brother. Both cement boxes with lids and crucifixes above them. An odd contrast to the skull mound a mere 5 meters away. After soaking up the history of the place a bit more, we returned to the village and thanked Matohite for generously sharing his heritage and sacred place with us.
On the way back to the resort we ran out of fuel. No problem because we always keep a 5 liter emergency jug in the dink. It highlighted how much running around we had done today though. The round trip to Noro alone was probably a good 10 miles.
We wrapped up our day, and last night in the anchorage, at the Lola Island resort for drinks and dinner. It was nice to finally have a good talk with Joe. He is an interesting guy, hailing from the Seattle area and having a lot of fishing experience. If you love fishing, any kind, fly, trawl, spear, deep sea, reef, whatever, you would go bonkers at this place.
After a lovely evening we said a fond farewell to our hosts Lisa and Joe. Back at the big boat it was a perfect sleeping night.