14 January 2009 | Bouganville Island
While I can recommend the people of Cape Mabiri, some of the friendliest and most helpful folks you'll ever meet, I can't recommend the anchorage in the NW Monsoon. It is safe but not comfortable. The reef does not do much to stop the chop until low tide. Fortunately it was a full moon and the low tide was particularly low and time centered in the middle of the night. There is no protection from the wind should it go even the slightest bit east and even when it is west it comes around the low point in gusts. The holding is good so we all managed a fair nights sleep regardless.
We were up a 4:30AM again and after all three of us checked in on the VHF ready to go we made way out the north side of the reef. It is a fairly easy exit and the water is 100 feet in the shallowest bit. Once past Mabiri reef we headed out to deep water leaving another reef to port. From there we picked up the track line to Teop Harbor.
Our tentative plan was to get to Teop, which is behind Cape L'Averdy and then decide whether to go on to Buka or stop. After getting this far up the coast of Bouganville during the NW Monsoon I can heartily recommend Kieta and Teop harbors. Everything else I've run across would fall into the category of fair weather anchorage (fair weather is not a hallmark of the NW Monsoon). Kieta is a day sail from the Solomons in the South and Teop is a day sail from Buka in the North. Teop and Buka are a long daysail apart. If you expect squally weather you will be snug as a bug in either of these and quite a bit less so in any other spot you might pick out.
Things are very different during the SE trades and my brain is not in that mode so things would have to be re-thought during that time of year. There are a great many little islands within the barrier reef area that would be lovely stops for beach combing, diving or exploring. There are no doubt heavenly anchorages at each, suitable for constant winds in settled weather.
Our day traveling up the coast was far from settled. It started out gray and overcast with a light drizzle. We made good way dead into the light NW wind though. Then things got squally and the apparent wind got up to 20 knots or so and the seas got a bit sharp. This took a good 2 knots off of our way. After an hour or two things began to clear and the pressure ultimately came up as high as 1014 from a morning low of 1010ish.
The passage to Teop was offshore, short circuiting a large bay, and safely outside the reef, which was nice in the low visibility. It was a bummer though because Bouganville is so beautiful that we were sad not to get to see the coast go by.
At Teop we called back to the fleet to see if they were game for pushing on into what looked like a pretty nasty thunderhead over Buka. No would be the resounding response. Whistler's auto pilot was not coping with the heavy seas in the middle part of our 7 hour trip today, forcing Eric to hand steer. Being a single hander and having to hand steer will take it out of you.
Teop harbor is big. It is completely protected by islands and reef but the reef system that layers back into the bay gives it a wonderful open feel. The anchorage area in the NW winds is in the NW part of the bay and there's room for everyone. Of course there was only us.
In fact the few people we talked to don't really remember the last yacht to visit. They also report that the war is long over and it is apparent that none of them had anything to do with it. Many canoes came to see us (as a curiosity) but they are all very shy and don't pester or even speak to you without you speaking to them. Not one person in Bouganville has ever asked us for a single thing. Can not say that about the Solomons or Vanuatu.
This is a place you could easily stay a week. No worries about your boat (from the weather or human elements), lots of bay and reef to explore, a big crock infested mangrove swap to dinghy or kayak through, a small village to visit and old plantations of Cacao and Coconut Palm to explore. You would be a pioneer diving these reefs.
Hideko and I were chatting with Eric on the bow as the sun set and Eric said, "every time I visit a place people say not to go to because it is so dangerous, I find it is one of the best places I've ever been". I think I might agree in some ways. There certainly is some logic to the notion. No yacht visits produces people who are amazed and happy to see you but who have no expectations. Lots of yacht visits may breed some contempt (particularly when the less pleasant yachties drop in) and expectations of gifts and cash purchases.
We would love to stay here and get to know the people better but Buka and the officials are waiting for us and we are eager to get north and into the blue sky again.