We've been in third world countries before but the Solomons, or more accurately Honiara and Guadalcanal, really have the vibe you might imagine when thinking about a developing country that is just barely stable. From here we're going to an even more remote and unstable country, Papau New Guinea.
The funny thing is, out in the villages, they have no idea what is going on with the power mongers in the city. You feel a million miles away. Stay out of the heavily populated areas and you will meet wonderful, kind people living a simple life. These are the spots we enjoy.
Before entering PNG we needed to get visas and a cruising permit. This is the first country in all our travels that has required a US national and/or a Japanese national to get a visa in advance. Strange given the country's reputation, you would think they would make it easy for people to visit to encourage the tourism. Perhaps they don't want tourists? I could see how keeping the seeds of materialism out might be beneficial as the country seeks internal stability.
The PNG high commission here is in the tallest building in Honiara, six stories. They are only open from 9-noon for visas. We managed to fill out all of the forms (including a complete itinerary of our travels in their borders), get the two passport photos and 500 Solomon dollars together before they closed. They normally produce the visas in 5 working days but after some pleading the lady at the counter told us to come by on Friday (yeah!).
We also went by the US consulate to check in. The main embassy is in Port Morseby, PNG. The office here is just a consulate but they will check you in as a US national with an itinerary through the Solomons and PNG. Not sure if this actually has any value but it was nice to look over the library in the air conditioned room and see the propaganda we're (USA) putting out there. I wanted to shake the agents had before we left but I couldn't reach her through the bullet proof glass.
We spent the afternoon on the internet trying to turn back on the various credit cards that have shut down for the betterment of our security and updating the blog. The Kitano Mendana hotel is right next to the Yacht Club and has internet and a fair Japanese restaurant. The place is not amazing but it is the best we have seen here in Honiara, a good place to get basic food, good internet and a nice seat with a view of the big boat.
I was surprised to see how trashed the beach in front of the hotel is. Plastic everywhere, glass and an old tire. Make sure to wear shoes if your going to walk through the surf to get around the fence on the way back to the yacht club (just next door).
Back at the big boat we found the sun had blessed us with enough hours to fill the batteries up. That settled it. It was an Enterprise double feature night. Roq, Hideko and I turned in early and enjoyed a cool land breeze as Captain Archer put down the bad guys again.
|The Solomon Islands||
11/25/2008, The Solomon Islands
We had a nice sleep even though the anchorage is a bit choppy. Margaret was all packed so we took her to the dinghy dock and loaded everything up to keep it dry. Then I beached the dink and tied it up. I ran over to customs and quarantine to pay my bills. Things were supposed to open at 8AM but it is a busy port and the customs agent was out on a ship so it took me a good 45 minutes to get things paid. We jumped a cab then and headed for Immigration.
Immigration here was a little more hassle. I had to fill out the usual forms but they had a hard time with the crew departing bit. Especially the crew arriving now and leaving now bit. After running across to the cashier building to pay the fees we finally got it worked out that we would get the visa stamps at the airport due to the absence of the right officer at the main immigration office. So we headed off to the airport.
At the airport we got the arrival immigration guy to stamp us without much problem, though I did have to be emphatic about the necessity as he tried to send us back to the main office. On the way out of arrivals (which was otherwise shut down) we were stopped by a RAMSI guy. I was glad to see that they are trying to check up on things abnormal and make a difference here. He was a great Aussie and waved us on our way after our explanation of the circumstances.
We wanted to share lunch with Margaret before she left but the food around town hasn't been too exciting. We tried to go to the Lonely Planet recommended spot, The Rain Forest Cafe (not like the one you're thinking about), but it was closed. We ended up with fish and chips at the airport (yuck).
And then Margaret was gone. Bye Margaret, we'll miss you!!
We ran errands the rest of the day and tried to make sure that we could get out of here as soon as possible. We did meet up with John Inniss, the local WWII expert. We hope to take a WWII history tour with him before we depart. The only thing tying us up is our PNG visas which we need to get here before we leave for Gizo.
|The Solomon Islands||
11/24/2008, The Solomon Islands
We made it. What a slog this time of year. No wind and lots of squalls all the way. Happily we missed most of the squalls and the motors kept our batteries in top condition while we await our genset parts.
We left Tavanipupu a little late today. It was 5:30 before we got out of the anchorage. This was nice from a light stand point but put us into Honiara late in the day to get formalities finished. We motor sailed up the coast of Guadalcanal very close to the wind. We had the jib out here and there but mostly too close for that. As we reached the western bend in the island I was looking forward to seeing the 30 degree to port wind go to 50 degrees so that we could sail. Unfortunately it just followed the coastline around and it was more motor and main. We got an hour or so of just sailing in but that was about it.
The highlights of the trip were a whale visit and a huge pod of spinner dolphins. The whale was amazing. Hideko spotted him a ways out but we didn't know what it was. Then after a short vanishing act he surfaced just in front of our starboard bow and did a big flourish as he sounded again. We watched him pop up a few more times off the quarter as we motored along.
The dolphin pod was great as well. There had to be twenty of them playing under the bow as we sliced through the still water. All the time it was like being in a sea of spinners, they were farther off the bow, to port and behind us as well.
Coming around the points that put you between the Floridas and Guadalcanal is interesting. The bottom goes from thousands of feet deep to a hundred. There are islets and reefs farther off shore and then a deep passage. We took the inside to save time. never saw less than 100 feet but the depth keeps you on you toes after being used to no bottom while underway.
We arrived at Honiara just around 4PM. We came in through the unlit but marked channel to the yacht basin. Honiara is a roadstead. There is a point (Point Cruz) and on the west side you have yachts and the police boats (which don't seem to stop the yachts from getting robbed), while on the east side you have a big port with huge freighters, tuna boats and local cargo boats. No yacht skipper in his right mind would stop here if it wasn't for customs and immigration. You are totally exposed to the north, in a lee shore setting, and all of the wind this time of year comes from the north (NE, N NW).
Inside the little yacht basin there are fishing boats and a few yachts. Most of the yachts are tied stern to a large wall of concrete slugs. You would not want to drag down on this wall. Frankly you probably wouldn't want to have to tie to it at all. There was a big ship mooring to the right as we came in and after reading up a bit on noonsite, Hideko though we might be able to use it. We picked it up and settled the boat quickly so that I could get customs started. Margaret was flying out at noon tomorrow!
I dropped the dinghy and said bye to the girls and went ashore. As I approached the Yacht Club I was looking for the obligatory dinghy dock. They had a dock but the chop coming straight onto the beach and the short run of the dock made tying a dinghy up there a total no go. So I beached her. The chop was such that a good pooping or two was unavoidable. As soon as the bow was on the sand I tilted up the outboard and wave #2 put a few gallons in the back. That made it even more fun to try to drag the dink up the beach. Fortunately the tide was falling so I got her up as far as the best wave could help me drag her and tied off to a palm tree.
I got some directions from the yacht club folks and after a short walk made it to customs just before closing. The customs folks were great and so were the quarantine folks. No hassles, just a few forms and they let me come back tomorrow to pay the fees since I didn't have any local currency. I had read somewhere that they would want to board the boat. Thank goodness that was a rumor.
At this point it was 4:45 and immigration was long closed. So I walked up to the main street and grabbed some cash out of the Westpac ATM and returned to the yacht club. As I walked I marveled at how much bigger Honiara was than Port Vila. I had imagined the Solomon Islands would be more remote and scaled down on the big city front. Not so. Vila is quaint and charming while Honiara is, well not so quaint and charming. It is a big port and it has a lot of shops and industry that could come in handy though. It seems like everyone here chews bettlenut and some barely have any teeth left. A guy almost spat on me as I walked by his car, though he did apologize.
Back at the yacht club I searched about for the owner of the mooring we were on. The last thing I wanted to contend with is getting kicked off in the middle of the night in this particular roadstead. After a nice chat with some cruisers also heading to Gizo I gave up and set about dragging Shooting Star back down the now significantly longer beach. Just then a guy came up. I thought, cool he's going to help. No, it was the mooring owner. Well at least I wont have to worry about being kicked off now. It was 100 Solomon for the night (8:1 right now so about $12.50 US). I happily paid since the mooring gave us a chance of facing the swell that steadily marches in here.
Back at the boat we settled in and relaxed. We got Margaret to Honiara and a good 20 hours before her plane takes off. It was sad to see her packing, we'll miss Margaret...
|The Solomon Islands||
11/23/2008, The Solomon Islands
We are now anchored in a particularly lovely little hole bordered on one side by reef and two sides by islands, one of them being Tavaipupu. This is perhaps the most famous "secret" spot in the Solomons, and we have it all to ourselves! Is this a bad sign? There is a village on the big island and a small resort on Tavaipupu. The anchorage is nestled deep inside Marau Sound at the southern tip of Guadalcanal.
We started the day at 4AM to ensure a timely arrival. There's lots of water on the way into this spot but there are reefs all over and it is always nice to make this kind of entry close to noon. It was a very starry night but as the sun came up cumulus clouds formed everywhere. The pressure was 1008, which would be alarmingly low farther south. Closer to the equator it seems you see lower pressure more often. The pressure climbed rapidly to 1014 throughout the day and the convection started as the sun began to cook things.
Later in the morning conditions stabilized and it was a beautiful blue sky day overhead, with 5 knots of wind. There were little isolated squalls coming off of Malaita blowing across toward Guadalcanal. We vectored in on the back of one and got a nice 17 knot ride for almost an hour in the shade of the squalls back shelf. It was the first time we had shut down the motor in a day while underway.
We entered Marau Sound through the east channel at close to noon. It was a deep and easy pass, particularly so because the sea state was so calm. We enjoyed motoring through all of the beautiful islands and took lots of good pictures. Incidentally our picture folder is filling up, it will be good to make Honiara and finally upload all of them to the blog.
We asked an adult villager on shore if we could anchor in the little reefed bay and he said "certainly!". The Solomon Islanders have been very friendly and welcoming. We also saw someone from the resort and they said we were welcome to anchor as well.
Upon arrival we were met by quite a group of folks. Anchoring in this little hole puts you close to shore and a village giving anyone who can paddle easy access to you by canoe. This is ok, but sometimes you want to rest a bit once you anchor! Nothing doing here. You will meet several new friends within minutes of settling in. We met three kids who were quite gregarious, I had to warn them to stay off the boat so that the vicious dog wouldn't get them (har). Joe came to welcome us also and traded me some coconuts for soap and sugar. We love drinking coconuts.
Joe was going to come back to show us shells for trading but we missed him. This is good because I like to trade with the villagers (they are very reasonable and are just looking for T Shirts, sugar, rice, that sort of thing) but I don't like to encourage the shell trade. I'd much rather get fresh fruit and vegetables.
I think the older generation folks here are wonderful. They are respectful and want to trade you something they think you will value for things they need. It is a pretty fair anchorage fee given the benefits on anchoring here, not to mention the yummy coconuts and papayas! The kids, unfortunately, seem to be going down hill. Some kids come aboard your boat without asking (never had an adult do this). Some kids ask for gifts without considering your interests, and a few have the nerve to ask for Walkmen, Stereos and IPods!
The materialism and population expansion seems to be taking its toll. I was told by a boy on Uki Ni Masi that Makira (San Cristobal) was embroiled in constant land disputes among the inhabitants (no guns yet but "fighting"). To the point that the church had to build the secondary school on a separate island (Uki Ni Masi)! The under 18 population is huge here so matters are not likely to get better soon.
The government has wisely in the past not emphasized tourism. Tourists bring "cargo", material things, kids see these gadgets and want them. Honiara is overpopulated with young men who have come to the city to make money at a job that doesn't exist. In the villages the people need nothing from the outside world. In Honiara, or elsewhere in the materialistic world, they are wards of the state. Everyone should be allowed to form their own destiny but it is sad to see a healthy culture falling into shadow.
I shouldn't paint too bleak a picture. The Solomon Islands (our vast experience is three anchorages now) are lovely and the people, even the lusty kids, are truly wonderful out in the islands. The adults are kind and considerate, and some of the kids are courteous and wonderful as well, the others are really just being kids and hopefully will get over the iPod envy.
In the afternoon Margaret went for a several hour snorkel on the shallow reefs at the head of the little bay we parked in. I joined her for a bit and it was a nice swim. The reefs are pretty healthy in most places though a few were taken over with algae. There were hard corals, soft corals, lots of little fish and some good size trevally, and even a couple of big black tip sharks.
Once we settled back at the boat the owners of the Tavaipupu resort came over to say hi. They invited us to dinner and we thankfully accepted. Their launch came to pick us up and bring us around to the south side of Tavaipupu where they have a jetty and a lovely beach. Sam, our driver from a nearby island, beached the boat and we jumped off into an amazing little hideaway. The resort has been here for 30 years but it has been inaccessible for a good bit of the last 10 due to the strife on Guadalcanal.
Guadal Canal has a lot of Malaitians (folks from the island across the channel) living on it. The land rights became a big issue, again, and fighting broke out with a lot of senseless destruction. The Tavaipupu resort survived unscathed, largely due to the respect the locals had for the founder Dennis. Unfortunately the airport at this end of the island was shut down and the boat trip is a good three hours. The Australian RAMSI peace keeping force arrived at the behest of the government a few years back and Guadalcanal is almost back to normal now. The south airport is supposed to have its first flight in years tomorrow.
The Tavaipupu Resort is a small 6 bungalow private island. It is magical in every way. You feel like you've gone back in time. The dinning room is a large Solomon islands style open wall building with huge timbers and towering rafters holding up the steep pandana covered roof. Everything is candle lit at night. The resort has a generator but they try to conserve its use. There are palm trees everywhere and if you want to get away from it all I couldn't imagine a more enchanting place to sit on a comfy padded ratan chain under the rustling palms, drinking an icey gin and tonic while reading a good book.
The resort is also very cruiser friendly. We were picked up and dropped off. We had an amazing lobster dinner served over rice in a hollowed out pineapple. Even home made chocolate ice cream and piping hot espresso! The prices are very, very reasonable for the level of quality and service. If we didn't have to get Margaret to Honiara we might have ended up here for some time. If you come to the Solomons by yacht and don't visit the Tavaipupu resort you are missing something special.
We will be able to report in on the state of affairs in Honiara, the big city, tomorrow...
|The Solomon Islands||
11/22/2008, The Solomon Islands
I feel like I'm in England. It was another overcast day with pretty disturbed weather, or no weather. We got up around 5AM and got the boat rolling just after. We had good light and it looked like it could be a nice day though lots of clouds were rolling onto the big island of Cristobal.
We exited the reef across the entrance to Port Mary with no track line but good visibility. We set the tracking on the Raymarine E120 for auto so that it gives a good track but minimizes the points used. When it runs out of points it alarms and begins erasing points at the start of the track to make new points. This is fine. What is not fine is that it seems to think that it is ok to delete the entire track when you shut down the E120. This is my theory anyway. I can say decisively that our track alarmed yesterday and began deleting its tail but still showed on the plotter, and today it was gone. It would have been a welcome reassurance in the gray dawn.
I exited the harbor in the center of the markers and saw 45 feet on the way out. On the way in I believe I favored the green mark (green right returning here in ex-Brit territory) and saw no less than 70 feet. Small cruise ships come in here so it is a pretty easy entrance if you have your wits about you.
Once out we put up the main with reef one and pulled out the jib due to the ominous nature of the system moving in. We ran just across the front of it getting a nice ride at 9 knots. Then our lead ran out and it got a little too hot, blowing around 30 knots true. We had to head up (I'm not used to sailing up wind anymore!) to put in reef two and roll the jib up a bit. Of course as soon as we finished that it was back down to reef one conditions. So we went down to reef one. Then it was light and on the nose so we started the Yanmar.
Well it was certainly cooler due to the cloud cover as we made our way to the island of Uki Ni Masi on the northeast coast of Cristobal. We motored (the sails were up but it would be a stretch to call it motor sailing most of the time) up the coast of Cristobal in the wake of a huge squall system. It killed the wind but we missed all the rain somehow. By noon it was still overcast but stabilized and not so dense and dark. In fact it would be a nice in town day. We're still two days from town however...
As we rounded the point of Uki Ni Masi the sun came out and it was a perfect blue sky afternoon. You get all the weather in one day here in the Solomons it seems.
Uki Ni Masi is a nice island with a nice trade wind anchorage on the west side. Selwyn Bay is fairly large and open though it does have a decent west extending lip on the south and north ends. We anchored near the south corner to shelter from the southeast trades (in case they show up). The island should do well in anything with east in it and the bay would not be bad with a south wind if you sheltered at the south end, also because Cristobal is not far off to the southwest. Wind with any west in it would probably be no fun here so you need to watch the monsoons.
Much like Vanuatu, we have found the anchorages here in the Solomons (both from the cruising guides and the whopping two we have actually anchored in so far) to be deep right up to the shore and then it goes immediately to 0 feet with lots of coral. I have been getting in the habit of motoring around the 30 foot contour and then trying to pick a spot with 50 feet of water where we can set and still be off the rock in a wind shift. I always like to be tucked in a short swim from shore in the 10 foot water, but those days are few and far between outside of the Bahamas.
The anchorage here is beautiful. We asked a friendly guy in a dug out canoe if we could anchor and he said, "sure". He also gave us some tips on the location of the shallow rocks near shore. It is a bright Saturday afternoon and we can hear children playing back in the trees though we can't see them. Margaret is taking a swim and cleaning the water line, Hideko is making dinner and I'm doing the weather.
Two more day sails to Honiara!
|The Solomon Islands||
11/21/2008, The Solomon Islands
What a passage. From the moment we left Tegua (in a large squall) until our arrival we have been dealing with unstable atmosphere. Squalls have literally been all around us the entire trip. Combine that with no reasonable wind most of the time and you have a motor sail not to be envied. Though we have had several near misses and a couple grazers we have neither been hit nor had to divert the whole passage. The exception being the squall we travel a few hours in right out of Tegua.
The hard work trimming and retrimming the boat for little reward and lots of diesel dollars has paid off. We are now at anchor in Port Mary, Santa Ana Island in the Solomons! What an awesome place. We are underway, so the dinghy stays up and we are off first thing tomorrow. It is good to be at 10S and across the Coral Sea, even if it is a little late in the season. We look forward to our three day sails to Honiara, with overnight breaks in what, on paper, sound to be fantastic anchorages.
As we came in the straight between Santa Catalina and Santa Ana a pod of spinner dolphins came to visit, jumping and frolicking all the while.
The entrance to Port Mary was straight forward for us. Partially because a cargo boat from Honiara, the Christie Leigh, had come in just before us. I didn't see him enter but I could see his slick in the water. We motored right over the reef on the Navionics charts with never less than 70 feet of water. That said the actual coastline was a perfect radar match. It would be better the other way around (well charted reefs with an overall chart offset)!
The entrance to Port Mary is actually marked with green and red day markers. The large arcing reef comes way up from the south leaving a gap in the north end of the bay. Once inside it is 70 feet or deeper. I didn't find anything shallower than 60 feet and that was fairly close to the beach. There is a village right on the beach and it didn't seem polite to anchor in too close. Also it is one of those places that looks as if it shoals rapidly and with hard stuff mixed in.
We asked some guys on lighters unloading the Christie Leigh, which floated freely in the bay, if we could anchor for the night and they said, "sure!". The told us where to drop the hook and the Christie Leigh even talked us in on the VHF. The people here are just wonderful, every one waves at you and says hello before you get a chance.
Four young girls swam out to our boat as the sun was setting to chat. They spoke a combination of pigeon and English that was interesting to hear. I was surprised what great swimmers they were. Margaret jumped in with them after a few minutes. They swam about and talked for the better part of an hour.
Hideko began cooking up some Mahi Mahi we had in the freezer as the sun set over the Solomons. I have a feeling we're going to like the Solomons!
|The Solomon Islands||
11/20/2008, Coral Sea
We had a lovely night celebrating Hideko's birthday last night. Hayter Bay in the Torres Group of Vanuatu is definitely a Swingin' on a Star recommended anchorage.
We have been in the SPCZ (or simply a convergence zone if you prefer) for the past couple days. When we got up this morning the atmosphere looked pretty unstable. There was quite a bit of rain on the horizon. The wind was lifting the moisture right up over the Torres islands and creating a mess.
Just as Hideko got the anchor up a squall cam over the hill. We exited the bay using our route, track and radar because it was hard to see much else. It turned into a big system and it took us half the morning to get out of it. The good thing about sailing down wind is that the weather runs with you and it is less likely to get hit by squalls in the area. On the down side if you get in one you can sail inside of it for some time.
Fortunately the wind angle in there was good and we were doing 9-10 knots. Once out we ran under full main, reef one, full jib, no jib, etcetera. We didn't get hit by anything but there was lots of activity in the area making the wind very active. Much of the time we had the jib put away and the main reefed just to keep the rig quiet as we motored in 3 knots of tail wind.
The sea state has been great with a nice little swell on the starboard quarter. I think we are getting as much as a half knot of current helping us out as well.
We are on a mission to reach Port Mary on Santa Ana, just southeast of San Crostobal in the Solomon Islands, by nightfall tomorrow. We're looking good but have to keep up high 7 knots the rest of the way in. If we miss we'll just do another overnight to our second planned anchorage on Uki Ni Masi about 60nm on.
Hideko Says: zzzzzz Margaret Says: It is hard to shop for a new Dry Suit when the temperature hasn't dropped below 90 degrees in days.
182nm to Port Mary