12/06/2008, The Western Province
We got up fairly early today. Well early for us now that we are back on a more "out of the danger zone" cruising schedule. It was time to head west, on to Gizo, where our genset spare parts will arrive.
As predicted, again there was no wind. This was one of the most no wind predictions I had ever seen. The entire day had nothing over 3 knots in the spot forecast. If that's not "no wind" I don't know what is. I'm ashamed to say it, but for the first time since we've owned the boat we didn't put up the main for a cruise over a couple miles. In retrospect there was no reason to. We might have gotten a couple of tenths of lift from a few distant squalls but we also may have achieved the same in drag here and there. There was no wind. It was flat calm. There was a swell running but we were in protected water most of the time so I didn't even have the rig stability excuse to raise the main. Oh well, it was a short 30 some mile trip to Viru Harbor.
We raised the anchor easily, with a little work on the break out. Once free of the bottom we motored slowly to the pass. I decided to try the left side of our track to test the local knowledge but as we got close, Hideko vetoed my exploration instincts and asked that we follow the track on the way out, to avoid drama. We compromised and stayed close but left of track.
It was still 11 feet deep for a long time. There may be deeper water here, but it is not in the center or north side of the pass. Still, eleven feet is plenty of water for most yachts, you just have to hope there are no isolated dangers when it starts to get that shallow with poor water visibility and two keels 7 meters apart.
Our next death defying feat was to transit Nono lagoon to the north. Even the name is ominous. Nono lagoon is more like a box canyon. The farther north you go the shallower and more coraly it gets, with fewer outlets to deep water. Makes you feel like a cow or a bad guy in one of those old John Wayne films. We had plotted a course into the lagoon in deep water and then across Hele Pass which had a sounding of 17 feet. Hele Bar, farther up was shallower still and all of the other cuts just had the ominous blue color with no soundings (which worked out to 11 feet near Penjuku).
Why not go around, you ask? Well if you want to go outside, you have to go way outside, or be willing to sail over an underwater volcano. There are a few volcanic islands, new within the last 50 years, and two recently active volcanoes here. The folks in Penjuku told us that they often see smoke billowing from the sea over here.
So Nono lagoon it was. It was a pretty nice day, though there were lots of rain clouds dumping over the islands. The visibility in the lagoon was not fabulous but we could still make out the shoals. The bottom goes from hundreds of feet in the channels to 10 or 20 on the shoals. I think you could pretty much sail where ever you wanted to in the south part of the lagoon as long as you stayed away from the really shallow bits attached to the little islands on the rim of the lagoon.
Hele passage goes through a large cut between two little groups of beautiful islands. The pass was easily navigated and we never saw less than 19 feet on the sounder (so really 20 or 21). Once outside we ran along the islands of the lagoon on our way past Vangunu island (extinct volcano and looking every inch of it) and up to New Georgia. The islands lining Nono have sandy beaches and coconut palms just like the brochure. There was even a nice little pure sand island in the chain.
New Georgia is the largest island of the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. It has several nice lagoons and bays along with Viru harbor. Viru is a harbor in every sense of the word. The Japanese used this as one of their last strongholds in the Solomons during WWII. You can see why. It is very deep, large inside with a narrow entrance, and has perfect depth for anchoring, 40-80 feet in great holding mud. You can see through to the entrance from much of the harbor but Tetepare island is the only thing the view unveils, as Tetepare sits right across the Blanche Channel from the entrance. If you wanted to wire into the mangroves this would be a great place to do it. We have not even scratched the surface of the Solomons from a cruising perspective, but I can easily say that this is the best harbor we have been in for quite some time.
The entrance is plenty wide but reef is charted fringing both sides. A large WWII Japanese gun sits upon the western cliff controlling the approach, though I couldn't spot it from the sea. There is a range (I believe unlit) that we used to enter the harbor and it was perfect. Our Navionics charts were also still matching the radar exactly as well so we had many concurring means of verifying our entrance. There is a large scale chart of the harbor available, so the paper and electronic charts inside seem to be very good by comparison to other areas nearby.
Once inside we motored back to the largest area of the deeper harbor and anchored smack in the middle. We try to stay as far from land as possible to avoid bugs. The hook dropped in 60 feet and we set it to the current 5 knot breeze, which was artificially generated by a squall passing to the east. Though we know we'll be spinning around with sea breeze, land breeze and squall affects throughout the day we still set the anchor. It is likely the anchor will never feel a tug (we have 250 feet of chain out) but if a surprise comes we're better off pivoting a set anchor than dragging on to a hopeful set.
The harbor is a lovely place. The villages are Seventh Day Adventists and it being Saturday, only a couple canoes stopped to say high on their way to take care of other matters. It was a wonderful and peaceful night in a beautiful and very secure anchorage.
|The Solomon Islands||
12/05/2008, The Western Province
As I walked along the deck last night, just looking about, I saw a log drifting in the water off to port. Hmmm. It was a big log. It was also moving against the current. After grabbing the binoculars I zoomed in to the distinctive profile of a crocodile. He was a big fella. Just silently moseying from one little island to the other across open water.
We have learned that there are 1,000 people in Penjuku, and another unknown several hundred small children. It is amazing that the little ones don't run afoul of the Salties more often. The kids play in the river and paddle about in their canoes unrestrained though. I suppose jungle savvy just comes with the territory.
We had some big thunderstorms and a lot of rain last night. It is nice being adjacent to a tall mountain when the lightning is going off. It is hard to imagine anything more disabling than a lightning strike on a yacht. I know of several yachts that were hit in Panama and very little in the electronics category survived. The rain is always nice though. Our decks are now squeaky clean.
We were set to visit the village at 9AM but some clatter at the back of the boat woke us up around 6AM. It was some fishermen. They were out at 3AM and apparently assumed we would be up and at 'em at 6. They did have an impressive catch displayed though. They had every kind of reef fish you can think of, some huge squid, and of course a selection of lobster. We told them we already had lobster coming and they offered to sell us more lobster but at a better price. We ended up buying four lobster for $1 US each. I didn't want to take advantage but they really wanted us to buy something. Cash in hand, they happily went on about their way. For reference, the going rate for lobster (crayfish as they call 'em here) is 30 Solomon a kilo but no one has a scale...
It is unfortunate that many of the locales who come out to visit you see yachts as a general store, or all purpose consumer. You are a bad guy to some of these people if you don't buy something. They often believe that because you have a yacht, which is a fabulous contraption to them, you must be rich. I know that many cruisers are budgeting their wits out to ensure that they have enough money to finish their life's dream. I wish that you could explain this to these folks, but I'm not sure it is possible.
We have been leaving the dinghy up so that we can take off quickly when it is time to go. To make getting around possible we have left the kayak inflated. We got the kayak into the water at around 9 am to head to the village and several canoes had already come out to make sure that we were coming. We dutifully paddled to the village and up the little river to an area where the carvers had set up shop. We didn't really know what to expect.
The village is lovely. It is primitive, mostly leaf huts on stilts with no running water or power but picturesque in its own way. There's not too much trash on the ground, which was nice to see, and the little paths have flowers and vegetable gardens along side. You can find orchids growing in coconut husks affixed to things everywhere.
People live on both sides of the river and there are two tree trunk bridges you can use to cross. The kids laugh and play on the bridges, splashing into the water below (crocks be damned). In fact you have to be careful crossing, especially when the kids are running around, or you might end up swimming as well.
The main buildings in the village are the school (first through sixth grade), the church (they are all Seventh Day Adventists here) and the infirmary. Most everything else is leaf huts and copper roofed huts, almost all on stilts. Most families have a sleeping house and a cooking house separate. Even though the village is large, everyone seems related.
The carvers were all close kin. I was surprised that there were only three guys with things to show. Kamatoka was the best English speaker and the lead business man. He had some impressive big stuff. Frank, Kama's brother, had many beautiful bowls with incredible inlay. Ricky Jim (Frank and Kama's brother in law) had many decorative bowls carved to look like fish and other things.
I had not expected the caliber of craft work that appeared here in the middle of no where. I don't think you could find anything so fine in a normal store in the USA. A specialty import shop maybe. The Marovo Lagoon is the place most famous for carvings in the Solomon's, and perhaps in a much larger area.
We were not prepared for the prices. These are some savvy carvers. They were charging market rates. You could haggle (and they expected it) but they haggled right back. In the end we bought a lot of amazingly beautiful stuff for a fair (not cheap) price. We are glad we bought it direct though. Shops are great and serve an important purpose but they, of course, buy things from these guys at half what we paid and then charge more.
Our buying spree apparently warranted a call to all carvers on the radio. Kama notified his uncle, Mike Charlie, from the other side of the island via SSB. No doubt the message was that some good marks were in the lagoon. Soon Mike Charlie was motoring our way. We told him we were full up, but one thing lead to another and we bought a couple of small things. Then Calabus came by, first cousin of Billy Vena, Frank and Kama's father. At thins point we were trading ball caps and fishing gear but still picked up a couple little things. I need to go check our waterline...
Later in the day another crew came by and we had a nice chat with them for a few hours but avoided buying stuff. I tell you, you will not be lonely in the Marovo lagoon.
It is Friday night. Thank goodness for the 7th Day Adventist missionaries. We will now have 24 hours of peace. It was wonderful visiting the village and with 1,000 plus people, the vast majority are happy just to see strangers and maybe visit a little. You just need to get through the carving posse to get things to settle a bit.
If you are good at managing local visitors, particularly the soliciting kind, I would recommend this anchorage. If not, you would not be happy here. We have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We only bought things we liked and wanted for ourselves or for Christmas gifts, but we did buy a fair amount of stuff. I hate to say it, but I think this was a big part of our acceptance here. Our boat is the biggest many of them have seen, which didn't help much. I could imagine the high pressure sales might be easier to deal with if you came in company of other yachts.
We are now having a lovely salad that Hideko traded a hat, soap and towel for, served in our spectacular pearl and rosewood inlaid Karosin bowl (hard cash for that one I'm afraid), with a side of lobster ($1 each thank you very much). Life is good.
|The Solomon Islands||
12/04/2008, The Western Province
The one direction we didn't want to swing last night was north. Of course we woke up this morning facing due south. The depth alarm hadn't gone off so that was good but I could see the bottom a little too clearly for comfort at 5AM, just before sun rise. After a quick boat check we started up the auxiliaries and spun the boat back around the right way (keel over deep water). There was almost no wind but I think a small amount of land breeze was coming from the big islands in the center of the Russels.
After raising the anchor we followed our track line out the pass to the west and exited the big bay. The islands on the north side of the Russels reminded us of Tonga a little bit. They come straight up out of the sea, covered in greenery, with the exception of the concave bit in the tidal zone which has been eaten away over the years. It was very quiet at this hour and we did not see any canoes about.
On the way out of the bay we put the main up, protocol only. There was no wind. In fact my 7 day spot forecasts have not turned up one 3 hour period with two digit wind speeds since we arrived in the Solomons. This time of year you simply have to motor if you are not in the middle of a squall. There are a fair amount of squalls about but it is hard to catch them, and even so you need to be on the right side to avoid opposing wind. We had the jib up most of the way and it added a half knot or so when the wind got up to 6 knots apparent on the beam.
From our staging grounds in the Russels it was a good 70 miles to our selected anchorage on Nggatokae. Hank from Aurora suggested a spot right off the large village of Penjuku. The other option was to enter the Marovo Lagoon at the Mbili pass entrance and anchor inside. The Marovo anchorage is reported to produce heavy carving soliciting, we like to help out the communities by purchasing crafts but we don't like to be mobbed after a long day at sea. The lagoon, while the subject of top quality marketing, is also in a bit of a decline. Logging has put a lot of silt in the lagoon and it is not clear water these days. This has chocked out a lot of the coral, degrading the snorkeling. The edges are also mangrove swamps which harbor crocodiles rather than white sand beaches. I shouldn't paint too bleak a picture, many love their exploration of the Marovo Lagoon (and we may return to visit the Uepi Resort in the north of the lagoon to go diving), but the general situation caused us to select the more direct route to Gizo.
It was a long but nice motor sail to the Western Province. Nggatokae is the first big island you reach. It looks like an old volcano, which it is, now covered in greenery. As we ran along the south side of the island we saw many lovely palm lined beaches with interesting rock and coral formations. This stretch of coast only revealed one house and one boat at mooring. This can be deceiving though, as huge villages can blend in just behind the coastal foliage.
Around the north side of the eastern point is a place called the Wilderness Lodge, with two beach bungalows. It was a Lonely Planet pick and I can imagine it must be lovely given the setting.
Some squalls were coming off the mountain as we came up the leeward side of the island. While there is almost no wind, it seems that the northeasterly trades from the northern hemisphere do guide the weather. The wind came up and around and finally settled on the nose, so we took the opportunity to lower the main. As you head north along the back side of Nggatokae the islets that fringe the larger Vangunu island to the west form a big bay. From this bay you enter a narrow pass between to islets to enter a leg of the Marovo lagoon that lies in front of the village of Penjuku.
The charts in the area are vague at best. Around the pass and beyond into the lagoon there are no soundings. Zip. So you might run aground, you might not. But it does show water, that's always good. Hank had recommended this spot so we figured it had to be tenable.
As we approached the pass between the steep little islets we lined up well outside on our track to see if we were being set one way or another. It was a neap tide but we were probably close to max flood if the tide tables are right. Nothing like being ushered onto the reef by a good current.
As we approached there was no discernible current though. The water was a bit murky and hard to read and it was late in the day. The sun was behind us though and we moved into the pass with some way on as the sounder read 80 feet. Then it quickly came up to 20. We were favoring the north side of the east/west pass, where the chart showed decent water color (no soundings though). The south side showed a reef that dries at low water on the chart. The bottom kept coming up and I stopped the boat at 10 feet. Hideko could see the bottom now and prodded me to continue on track. After a scary few minutes of creeping and crawling we made it in. Shortly there after we were back in 80 foot water.
The chart shows a big reef in the center of the large lagoon area to our port so we just took a line straight in to the village and parked in the absolute middle of the lagoon with the hook in 60 feet of water. This kept us as far from the mosquitoes and flys as possible. We didn't have the anchor set before canoes began to congregate to say hello.
We were of course the only yacht in the anchorage, and thus the center of attention out on the water. Perhaps ten canoes came to visit, which is not too many considering the village has a population of about 1,000. Some wanted to sell carvings but we told everyone we would come to the village at 9-10 the next morning to buy/trade carvings. Some of our visitors spoke English and we had an interesting chat about the village and where we came from. I did glean that the deep part of the pass was the opposite of what the chart showed. No one tried to come aboard thankfully but one adult did inform us that some bad seed kids from the village have stolen small things from yachts in the past (masks and fins and the like). We made it clear that we had a dog who didn't like unannounced visitors and that if we had a problem we would leave immediately, and also radio the three boats behind us regarding the situation. This seemed to be well taken.
After a nice time with the locals we told them we were tired and needed to shut down for the night. The oldest lady of the group said ok see you tomorrow and told the others to let us rest. This caused about half of the visitors to depart but several didn't budge. It must be such a big event for them to get visitors from the outside. Many have never left the village and those that have have maybe been as far as Gizo, the province capital.
A couple of motor boats came by later offering vegetables and carvings. We gave them all a consistent message which was well received. Everyone was very nice and it is always intriguing to see and talk with folks who are totally self sufficient.
It had been a long day but as we settled in, the night shift stopped by to say hello. I went to the transom to see who was flashing a light about and it was a canoe with four guys in it going out hunting on the reef at night. They were selling lobster on spec. I should have told them to come by in the morning so we could take a look, but they wanted an order. Two lobster please. Off they went into the night with a flash light and a spear gun.
Our day had gone from boring to, perhaps, a little too busy. The opportunity to interact with these people is now though, I say to myself, don't let it go by. When you're home in the western world someday, sitting in your study, it would be a shame to wish you had done things on your round the world adventure that you could have but didn't.
|The Solomon Islands||
12/03/2008, 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.
|The Solomon Islands||
12/02/2008, The Russel Islands
We were up fairly early this morning. After running around to give away our internet cards that still had a day or two on them, we brought the dink up and dropped the mooring. We had never expected to be in Honiara a week and a day. We were hoping to leave with parts for our genset and PNG visas but we were leaving with neither. Last week was Thanksgiving in the US so we lost contact with our parts people on Tuesday and haven't heard from them since. The PNG visa saga is too sad to recount (see yesterdays blog).
None the less we were happy to be off to the islands again, where peace and tranquility rule. It was so peaceful we had to motor the entire way.
We have the weather in Honiara down to a science, at least for this time of year. In the morning it is a bright blue sky day. Cumulus clouds grow atop the high islands and by the afternoon there are thunder heads over the Floridas and the interior of Gudalcanal. Then as the sun sets the thunderstorms head southwest across the channel from the Floridas. These inevitably make landfall north of Honiara and south of Honiara, leaving the anchorage with a dead calm in the hot sultry early evening (and sometimes a nasty chop from the distant squall, perhaps a little rain) and then a cool starry breeze through the middle of the night and into the next morning. If you are not riding a squall you have no wind in this neck of the woods. Maybe a little land breeze at night, but not much.
We motor sailed most of the way along Guadalcanal. As we reached the northwest point we got the jib out and the few knots of real wind combined with the motorized wind got us up to 8 plus knots for a bit. We could see the black clouds building over the north end of the big island as we left it behind.
You can easily make out the Russels from the west end of Guadalcanal. Our destination was a mooring on the south side of Karumolun Island. The mooring is owned by a nice guy named Mike and came recommended by Hank, the only sailing charter skipper in the country. Who are we to turn down advice like that? Hank arranged for us to use the mooring and caught us on the cell phone as we made our way to let us know it would be alright.
This will be our first time in the Russels but from looking over the charts and cruising notes of others, the area seems fairly deep all around. There are lots of lovely places to tuck in here but, it seems, few with less than 100 feet of water. We came in on the mooring at about 3PM and tied up. The tie up was a bit of a charade because the mooring has very small loops on it and we have 5 feet of freeboard. We could hook it but it was a real trick getting a line through the loop and back up to the bow. I almost took a swim a couple times.
Swimming here would be great but you have to keep an eye peeled for the salt water crocodiles. This is the first time we have had such a concern since Panama. We settled on just relaxing aboard for the rest of the afternoon.
The little island is very lovely and the mooring is in 100 feet of water just off a little sandy beach lined with trees. You can see straight into the water where all of the reefy rocks climb up the steep slope to the shore. Melanisians paddle around the area in their dugout canoes here and there and there is a small town on a larger island south of here.
On the way in, Angelica II hailed us. They were on the hook off of Telin island, which was our original plan. They said it was a nice and very protected spot.
As night fell we had a fair battle with flies in the still air on the bow. Hideko's new full screen system on the boat, combined with her bug electrocution racket that Cindy from Kelp Fiction II gave us, quickly dispatched all of the varmints inside.
Over night we had several thunderstorms pass to the northeast of us. Electrical storms are my least favorite weather feature. We were close enough to one for the wind to get up to 17 knots. This is not that much but I feel that we may have been taxing this mooring a bit with our size under the conditions. Tomorrow we will move up closer to the western province in the Russels and then make the jump the next day to spare the mooring two nights of our girth.
Hideko made some great enchiladas and we are now settling in for an Enterprise double feature...
|The Solomon Islands||
Monday and our last day in Honiara. It has been an interesting experience being here, but we are very ready to leave. Our final high priority task to handle in the city was to pick up our Papau New Guinea visas from the PNG High Commission. It couldn't be that easy could it? We did have a little positive karma built up from our visit Friday when they said the visas would be ready, but then weren't. Not enough karma though, apparently.
When we arrived at the PNG HC, Hideko was presented her passport with the visa stamp in it (which must have taken 5 minutes to do when they finally decided to stamp it). I was out of luck. You see the only fully blank page in my passport was the back page. The PNG officials would not stamp the back page. No way, no how. Totally unacceptable to stamp the back page. This combined with the fact that so many countries flip all the way to a blank page to put their 1/4 page stamp on your passport (outside the lines), and the fact that US passports have ridiculously few pages to start with (compared to British, Australian, NZ, Japanese, ...), meant no blank pages except the back one.
The Solomons guy stamped his visa right on top of some other stamp. I liked his style. The PNG people had spoken though. The chip was firmly on the should and no solution other than a fresh page to stamp in the middle of the book would do. So we were off to the consulate to get some consoling.
The US consulate here is great. It is small but right on the way to the customs office in the middle of town. It is the cleanest, tidiest place in all of Honiara, that I have seen anyway. Anne, a wonderful woman from Malaita, is the Consular's Assistant and the only person I've ever seen in the place. Anne made a plea for us with the PNG folks but we all new it was a very outside shot. Nothing doing. So the only thing left to do was to pack my passport up and send it to Port Moresby where the actual US embassy is.
The plan is that the passport will go to the US embassy in PNG, get new pages, then come all the way back here to the Solomons to get the PNG stamp (go figure), then Anne will send it to the forestry representative in Gizo so that I can pick it up. This is a fairly complicated plan. Complicated and developing island nations in political turmoil often don't mix well. Particularly concerning given I have no passport until the plan completes successfully. I went for it though, which tells you how much we trust Anne.
The bright side of this escapade is that the Lime Lounge is between the US Consulate and the main road. We had not stopped in there yet and it was perhaps the last of the eateries in Honiara that we had wanted to try. We were glad we did. They had great thick milk shakes (if there's British influence make sure to order a "Thick" milkshake or you'll get a nasty watery chocolate milk when you order a milk shake) good sandwiches, lots of fresh cookies and cakes, good coffee and espresso and WIFI access all in an air conditioned room. Don't plug your laptop into the power outlets though, this is Tabu, they don't want you camping out on a single latte for 5 hours. After our visit I would rate this place as #1 in Honiara for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. If you need to spend all day on the laptop you'll have to go back to the Kitano Mendana hotel where the NGOs seem to be holding court.
Three cruising yachts came in over the last 24 hours. Polaris arrived yesterday, while Kleiner Bar and Whistle arrived today. It was nice to see our friends on Polaris and Kleiner Bar again and good to meet Whistler.
We took an afternoon trip to the Panatia Center (sp?) about 5 minutes east of town on the way to the airport. The grocery store here is the best in the area we have found, but also the most expensive. We stocked up nicely and caught a cab back to the Yacht Club.
I have been filling our 5 gal diesel jug and dumping it in the tanks every now and again to keep up with the battery charging. We are waiting to do a big fill up until we get to Gizo, where I hear they have a proper yacht friendly fuel dock. Hopefully it survived the tsunami last year. So after a final diesel jug run, Hideko and I retired to Swingin' on a Star and got the boat ready to go.
The Lonely Planet guide has an interesting way of describing Honiara. It doesn't make it sound like a wonderful place and takes an even handed view of the shortfalls the town has to overcome. They do, however, say the place can grow on you. While I'm not sure Honiara has grown on us, many of the wonderful people we have met have.
|The Solomon Islands||
Yesterday we met Ali and Aleks, two officials from the Australian High Commission, during our tour of the Guadalcanal battlefields. These wonderful ladies were kind enough to offer to take us diving with them today. Of course we accepted!
We anchored Shooting Star off the beach and tied a stern line to our favorite post at about 8:45 in the morning. Ali and Aleks were already waiting for us. We were supposed to meet at 8:45 and they were there before 8:45. This was very confusing to us, I don't think they have quite settled into the time keeping practices of the location just yet.
We paid 50 sol a tank to rent filled tanks ($8 USD). Aleks gave us a ride to the beach where we had to pay one of the locals a fee to go through his gate to get to the beach parking. We're not sure that it is his land but we are sure that he isn't cleaning up the trash everywhere or ensuring cars aren't broken into. It is sad but you see this in many of the places around Gudalcanal. People want to get paid for nothing. Anything that takes place on someone's land (which includes most things, surprisingly even charity and works of public good) will produce someone claiming to own the land with a demand for compensation. I have heard tales of bridges built for the good of a village (replacing a bridge destroyed by a storm), then torn down by the headman when the aid organization that built the bridge would not pay him "compensation" for building a bridge on his land. Talk about shooting one's self in the big toe.
Never the less the beach, though needing a beach clean up or two, is lovely. The wrecks we were to dive on are Japanese troop transports from WWII. They were being torn to shreds by allied fire and simply tried to crash land on the beach so that as many as possible could swim ashore.
The first wreck is in 30 to 110 feet of water. It is a lovely dive and the water here is amazingly clear and warm. It was the first dive I can recall in sometime where Hideko was actually warm (she was wearing a full 3mm in 88 degree water). We saw some good size eating fish, mmm, lots of schools of little fish and the wreck was heavily encrusted with corals of all sorts. It was also an anemone paradise with lots of clown fish of various types chasing us away from their castles.
For the second dive we moved down the beach a bit. This ship is actually sticking up out of the water a good bit. You could easily enjoy snorkeling this one or scuba down to the 80 foot or so bottom. We did a second dive on the same 80s we used for the first dive. I liked this one a little more than the first dive though Hideko was the opposite. They were both similar with tons of coral, great vis and warm water. This one had a big screw shaped section to the east of the main wreck which apparently was a lion fish hotel. There were tens of them swimming slowly or napping on the wreck. We also saw a wonderful little blue spotted sting ray on the sandy bottom bellow one of the swim throughs at about 50 feet.
The seas were calm and the entry was so easy here, Hideko recons it was the easiest dive she has ever done in her life. It reminded me of Bonaire, diving out of the back of a pickup truck.
After the dives we all went back to Shogun/Casablanca for lunch. This place is a combo general snack type place with Japanese food. For instance, I had pizza and Hideko had sushi. Both acceptable, neither stellar. Not to pricey though and on the way back from the dive site to the west of town. We had a great chat with the entire dive group at lunch. It was intriguing to get the perspective on the political and social situation here from such a connected crew. We had not only Ali and Aleks but also Ray and his wife from the British High Commission and Shawn and his wife from RAMSI.
We retired to the boat after a wonderful day with our new expat friends. You really have to be glad that people like these exist. They come to places like the Solomon Islands to try to help not only their own citizens but the local people and government. They live in places like Honiara at some risk and do their best to make the planet a better place.
We made it back to the boat, and once again were happy to find everything in tact. We shared the sunset with Hank from Aurora and talked boats and fishing as the nightly squall from the Floridas made its way across the channel with the usual fireworks.
|The Solomon Islands||