06 January 2009 | Vella Lavella
It feels good to be on the road again. We got up leisurely this morning, put the dinghy up, prepped the boat, warmed up the engines and headed out of Gizo Town. We arrived in Gizo on the 14th of December. We were there three and a half weeks. We spent Christmas and New Years there and met a wonderful group of new friends, three of which we are now traveling with. We will miss Polaris, Kliener Bar, and Nueva Vida. We didn't spend as much time with Sabbatical II and Headhunter but we hope they have fair winds on the long passage to the Philippines.
While Gizo may not be the greatest town in the world it has many things to recommend it this time of year. It is a very safe harbor and only gets safer as the NW Monsoon takes over. The Gizo Hotel, PT109, Sanbis Resort, and Fatboys give cruisers a wide selection of good places to lime and eat. Dive Gizo can arrange great dives and many fun excursions. If you are not in Gizo, trying to communicate with someone via email or phone other than Dive Gizo is fairly futile. That said the Kennedys at Dive Gizo are wonderful folks and were happy to answer all of our questions over email. The markets and stores are not great but you can get what you need. There's WIFI in the anchorage and at the Gizo Hotel and PT109. The phone company is here and the ANZ bank has an ATM that works most of the time. The entire time we were there, not one of the 8 boats we were with had any security issues whatsoever. The town is a little dumpy and the anchorage water is not swimmable but you are a dinghy ride from beautiful islands around the lagoon. We will remember Gizo fondly.
We waited too long to leave however. First is was Christmas, then it was friends on other boats we decided to travel with, then it was new years and finally diesel. When I plotted our track to Pohnpei the weather was light but helpful. The monsoon has started to take hold now however and every leg has the wind on the nose. Green Island is NW of us and the wind blows from the NW from here to there. Then we turn north to Nukuoro and the wind blows North there. Then it is NNE to Pohnpei and the wind blows NE there. That would have been the only difficult leg previously.
There is still a chance in mid January that the NE trades may break through. The main monsoon trough is south of us so we're hopeful.
The north exit from Gizo is a little complicated but well marked. You do need to take care to figure out which side the reds and greens are supposed to go. It is IALA A here but I have come to ignore this and just try to figure out which side to pass the first mark in a series on and then repeat. It is hard to figure out the logic in the middle of a lagoon otherwise.
Once out of the lagoon it became apparent that the wind was going to be dead on the nose across Vella Gulf. We passed our traveling companions Angelique and Whistler, who had left just in front of us as we got to deep water. As we approached (slowly under motor and main) the eastern point of Vella Lavella we got the standard acceleration effect that brought the wind up to the 15-20 apparent zone and got the seas up into the 2-3 foot range. No fun and slow going, not much more than 4 knots.
We had a 40 mile passage to Vango harbor. Down wind in the trades we would have knocked it out in five or six hours. We got into Vango at close to 7PM. Whistler suggested we motor inside the lagoon on the NE of Vella Lavella which worked out well for us. The lagoon is not much of a lagoon, with depths of 100 to 300 feet and not much in the way of reefs. The reefs we did see were easy to spot, charted, and in one case, even marked. Angelique stayed outside, which was not a bad decision given the quality of charts for the lagoon. We could have easily been shut out and had to turn back.
As it happened we made it all the way up the lagoon with Whistler behind us and gained a lot of ground out of the worst of the head seas. The north end of the lagoon has an semi-intricate channel leading out a narrow pass with 30 feet minimum depth. There are lots of wide/deep exits leading up to it so we approach with caution, ready to abort through one of the longer around, but very deep and clear cuts. The pass was well marked and turned out to be a nice diversion. It dropped us on the north side of the island right next to the Vango harbor pass.
Vango had a red mark on the east side of the pass entrance and a small hard to see stick on the west side. That said the pass is wide and deep. The swell was coming north so it was a little bumpy and you needed to throttle because it was setting pretty rapidly onto the eastern reef, but no problem with the light we had. Once inside we could head straight into a forked bay with a village or turn left behind a little island just inside the pass.
We had planned to anchor in the isolated bay behind the little island. There is a shoal extending from the little island so it is important to enter the channel from the Vella Lavella side. From there stay in the middle of the channel and you'll go over a 30 foot bit but the rest is about 80 feet. Past the little island we turned to port down into the nice bay.
The far Vango bay is very well protected. It is open to the wind from the north but the reef is very wide there and the water is flat in the bay regardless of wind direction. If the wind comes from any other direction you have great protection from tall palms and hardwoods right up to the coastline. There are no beaches but there are mosquitoes and, I suspect, crocks.
We anchored in far enough so that Whistler and Angelique wouldn't have to pass us. We also anchored fast because a really nasty thunderstorm was on the door step. Whistler was just coming around the reef and we were worried he was going to get hammered. Eric, the skipper, was single handing to top it off. We kept up with Whistler and Angelique on the radio as they made way and gave them whatever knowledge we had from the road ahead.
Eric got in and passed us while I was on the radio with Angelique. I didn't get a chance to tell him we knew nothing about the very end of the bay. He got in and anchored though right as the rain hit. The wind went to 25 knots and everything around us disappeared in a deluge of stinging rain. It only lasted for maybe thirty minutes and then is was just drizzle and lots of the most amazing lightning patterns I have ever seen in my life. As long as it doesn't strike our boat I could have watched it all night.
Eric on Whistler had gotten anchored just in time to get out of the rain. He was sitting on a 10 foot shoal after his chain stretched out though. As Eric re-anchored I got on the horn with Angelique who was standing off to let the storm go by. The good news was that they had missed the worst of it, the bad news was that it was getting really dark by this time.
Eric and I jumped in our dinghy and ran out with lights to help them in. I gave them the waypoints from my track through the pass, which was the critical part, but driving blind through a breaking pass (even a deep and wide one with waypoints from two hours earlier) is no fun. It was tricky driving the dink in the dark but we managed to get out to the inside of the pass without event. Eric was on the bow with a light and the radio while I tried to navigate. As we came out searching for the pass we slowed down, listening to the breakers. Then suddenly right in front of us, Eric's light swept past a big white froth off the bow. Ok, found the break.
After we backed out of the surf zone a bit we headed to port and found the red marker. Angelique was coming in on the waypoints at this point and we lit up the marker for them. They made it in the pass without event and we guided them slowly through the channel back to the bay. Everyone anchored safe and sound.
Back at Swingin' on a Star, Hideko made Eric and I a wonderful curry. Just what we needed to warm up after an hour out in the rain. It was an adventurous night but we were rewarded with a quiet, flat, calm and clean anchorage. Gizo was fun but this was a nice change.