12/11/2008, The Western Province
It was another mellow day aboard Swingin' on a Star. We headed out in the morning to go visit Noro by dinghy. This is supposedly the cheapest place in the area to get diesel due to the fish cannery there and frequent ships calling. We got to the resort to check on some laundry we had dropped off but after a short walk around couldn't locate anyone. Some kids were playing on the beach and the gardeners were hard at work but AJ had left for Gizo and neither Joe nor Lisa were anywhere to be found. It must be nice to run a small resort!
When we got back to the dock a rain shower had closed in. It was dumping in no time so we stayed under the palm leaf roofed picnic area at the resort until the rain stopped. Meanwhile some Solomon Police showed up in a high performance RIB. The got in just before the rain heated up. When things cleared they took a bunch of photos and split.
We moved back to the big boat in the break as well and then another shower came through. The afternoon cleared and became beautiful and sunny, producing many amps of solar and a cool breeze. We had missed our window though, so Noro will have to wait until tomorrow. Perhaps the day after that we will head on to Gizo.
I'm not leaving until I get to visit Skull island though! The Ni-Vanuatu (people of Vanuatu) seem pretty proud of the fact that they have consumed more humans than any other nationality. The last documented case of cannibalism in Vanuatu was only 30 years ago. The Solomon Islanders, on the other hand, pride themselves on their head hunting. In the day, they claim to be the most feared head hunters in the world. In fact the dreaded Ingava lived just miles from here in his coral fortress with quite a collection of noggins.
One of the Marovo lagoon locals told me that the other islands feared their people. Any time they wanted some new heads they would just shoot over to Isabel or Choiseul in their war canoes with the ominous nguzunguzus (faces perched on severed heads) on the prow and crush the meek folk of the other islands.
I don't know how much of this is fact but I do know that there are skull shrines and caves all around here where the industrious top loppers stashed the goods. Chief's heads were particularly prized and ended up in venerated positions within the shrines. The island next to Lola has one such shrine. We hope to visit tomorrow but we have to figure out who to pay the "kastom" fee to (entry fee charged by the landowner).
|The Solomon Islands||
12/10/2008, The Western Province
Hideko and I decided to stay here at the Lola Island resort for a few days. We discovered that the resort is actually called Zipolo Habu Resort. The island is Lola island, so named by Lisa's British grandfather who bought it years back. Everyone just calls the resort Lola Resort and they answer to such on the VHF.
There are no guests at the resort at the moment so things are even more laid back than usual. This is saying something. We stopped by in the afternoon after doing some chores on the boat to see about getting lunch. Lisa was busy working on some resort business but AJ was at the bar and got us some drinks. A few hours later Lisa came by and made us some cheese burgers. This is the pace here.
I got some reading done in the cool of the electric fan lounge and Hideko got some laundry done (by the resort staff) while sleeping in a hammock by the water. The staff watch movies at night in the little out door area near the bar. We were going to bring in a movie to show but as it started to get dark some clouds moved in and the rain came. We were sorry to miss our first invite to movie night (and perhaps the last since I think a batch of guests are arriving tomorrow) but we had a nice night of Star Trek on the big boat instead.
|The Solomon Islands||
12/09/2008, The Western Province
As you can see from our Lat and Long we've traveled far today. About two miles as the crow flies. It was about three times that in slow going reefy lagoon miles.
After a lazy morning we decided to make for the Lola resort. We were excited to see the place as it rated high in the recent Lonely Planet guide and is reported to have a great anchorage. Almost anywhere in Vonavona would be a great anchorage, as long as you can find 360 swinging room. The marl bottom (limestone mud) holds like Superglue.
At 11AM we headed out with the sun high and behind us. The water here is a deep green from all of the limestone and marl. It is nice to look at but doesn't help you read the bottom until it is pretty shallow. We only need 5 feet to float in and you can generally see 20 feet or less in sand/marl and perhaps a bit less if the bottom is hard coral. Unfortunately a 4 foot coral head can look like deep water from a ways off, so you have to really stare hard and go slow.
It would be easy to toss caution out the window and speed up, but if you smack something hard in the Solomons, especially in our boat, you are going to be in trouble. The next place I know of with first world services and the ability to haul us is Singapore.
It was a +2 extended high tide (lagoon tides are sometimes irregular due to swell inflow and today the high lasted a good three hours) as we departed. It didn't really matter though as the official charts (and our electronic ones which are based on them) have no soundings anywhere in here. At least the little islets are placed correctly for the most part.
We began creeping our way west around the south side of the big shoal across from the island we had anchored off of. As we approached Mundahite it looked like the passage to the south was blocked by a shoal going across between it and the small island (Talisondo) to the south. So we headed up north of the island and followed the deep water along the mainland.
A squall was moving in up ahead and bringing clouds across the sun. Combine that with the fact that we were moving away from where we though the resort was (this based on a finger point from yesterday at dusk along with the comment, "over there behind that island"). We decided to drop the hook and wait for the sun to come back.
We had been hailing the resort on VHF 68, their working frequency, but small resorts in this kind of place aren't always on the radio 24/7. As we waited for the direct sunlight to return the resort hailed us! We had talked to Joe, one of the owners, yesterday evening and he had asked Lisa, his wife, to give us a call.
She informed us that we were going the wrong way (this had become fairly evident), and that she would send a guide. It is a good thing too. The guide came out in an open boat with a young guy driving and waved us to follow him. Our guide was like King Minos, the lord of the labyrinth. There are so many little islands and shoals/coral heads about, finding this place without way points, a track, or even a lat/long for the resort, would have been pretty close to impossible.
We followed our guide back to the pass between the two islands that we didn't think we could get through and then went through. The trick is to hug the south island (8 17.35, 157 10.69) where there is a patch at least 15 feet deep. This is the skinniest water on the whole route. You then pass the resort for about a mile and a half, then loop down through some more islets to the south and come back to the resort.
Lola has a map with way points that they can email them to you if you let them know in advance.
We were happy to arrive in the Lola anchorage. It is huge, clear, 30 feet deep, great holding in marl, well protected and beautiful. We also have seen the smallest number of insects here (we did anchor out a ways) and no one pesters you at the boat in Vonavona. I also feel that you would have a lower chance of things disappearing off of the boat with the folks at the resort looking out for you.
Our wonderful kayak had been our transport for the past few anchorages. It was great because we didn't have to launch and stow the big dink, we got some exercise paddling out of the deal and it was better suited for going up some of the rivers and such. We had been stowing it on the bow rather than putting it away wet everyday, only to reinflate it. Sadly the black bottom (who puts a black bottom on an inflatable kayak for the tropics?) caused some excessive air expansion yesterday and a seam broke putting a hole in the bottom. Hopefully we can fix it at some point but we are now ex-kayak.
After settling the big boat in we decided to drop the dink and clean the things up a bit. After a good deck scrubbing we headed to the resort to check things out and have dinner. Tosca and Chris, who we had met yesterday, were there and so was Lisa, the owner/chef, as well as AJ the bar tender. The resort has six good sized bungalows made in the traditional way. They are really fantastic, not often you get the chance to stay in a luxury leaf hut. All of the floors are raised wooden slats. The beaches on the island are actually sand beaches (much of the coastline in the Western Province is more mangrovey). It is a complete getaway.
We had a few beers and a great dinner, chatting with Chris, Lisa and AJ. The area house houses the kitchen, office, bar and sitting area where meals are served and general relaxing is done. After a lovely evening we walked back out to the perfect little dock where our dinghy was tied up and motored back to the big boat. We had a nice breeze and perfect sleeping conditions. This is a highly recommended spot for yachts.
|The Solomon Islands||
12/08/2008, The Western Province
So I downloaded the weather last night to pull our once a day sail mail forecast. As expected, no wind. In fact the GRIBs show the wind on the north of the Solomons coming light NW (moonsoon wind from Asia) and the south side of the Solomons coming light SE (south pac trades). This is ominous as the convergence along with the lift from the big volcanic islands could make for some interesting convection. Nothing like a free light show I guess.
Just in case you don't believe my "no wind" crys, here's a spot forecast for an average December day in the Solomons:
Date Wind Press Waves (sp/dir/dur)
12-08 00:00 1.9 280 1008.8 0.6 51 10.6
12-08 03:00 2.8 245 1007.1 0.6 50 10.8
12-08 06:00 3.2 220 1006.1 0.7 50 10.9
12-08 09:00 3.2 194 1007.3 0.7 50 11.1
12-08 12:00 1.5 169 1008.6 0.7 49 11.2
12-08 15:00 0.2 248 1006.9 0.7 49 11.3
12-08 18:00 1.1 245 1006.5 0.7 48 11.4
12-08 21:00 1.0 173 1008.6 0.8 47 11.5
The bottom line is that you have to be ready to swing 360 and you have to be set with scope that can handle a swing with wind in the fairly strong zone if you get a squall at night. That said, even if the squall adds 20 knots, the wind will not likely get much over 25 knots.
The cruiser motto is, "no matter what the weather, have fun". We try to live by this. Many of the days are blue sky lovely here and even the overcast days have many nice patches. A break from the sun can be welcome regardless. We have also found it to be nice and cool in the evenings, making for good sleeping.
My plan to relax and read in Viru sort of blew up in my face. When we got there is was very peaceful and we only had a couple visitors. If you could put a closed for business sign out I would rate Viru as one of the best anchorages we've visited. It reminded me of a sleepy Louisiana bayou with the little shacks on the water, the air of crocodiles sliding through the shallows and foliage to the tide line. Unfortunatly you can not put out a closed sign.
Today we left with the sunrise. As we trawled back out the channel Hideko noticed the WWII Japanese gun up on the cliff just above the transit markers. Don't know how we missed it coming in! I am impressed by the thorough nav aids in Viru (unusual and unexpected).
It was a very red sunrise, and the saying held true. We motor sailed up the coast of New Georgia in a deepening gloom which finally developed into some serious thunder storms off the port bow. I don't usually change our routing for squalls but thunderstorms are another story. Especially when we're planning to cross a 15 foot bar and thread a reefy lagoon with third world quality charts and nav aids.
After planning some nice ditch harbors, we ended up making our turn to starboard before the black clouds could close on us. The good thing about no wind is that the systems don't move too fast or far. The still ocean also revealed another whale, ho humm, another whale (kidding of course!), they seem like a daily sighting here in the Solomons! We also saw a huge Leatherback Turtle as we passed in front of Tetepara, which is a sanctuary for turtles among other critters.
It was actually a nice motor sail (except for the motor part) up the Blanche Channel. The volcanic peaks of Rendova and the towering 1700 plus meter high Kolombangara looked wicked in the overcast.
As we approached Munda, the largest town on New Georgia, we failed to locate the charted transit markers that line you up to cross the bar into the lagoon. The bar supposedly has a max depth of 15 feet and there was a good half meter swell running dead onshore. The swell was breaking to the right of our chart plotter track line as it should have on a reef there. The radar lined up with the electronic chart, so in the absence of the transit we decided to continue over the bar at about 1.5 knots.
Hideko was on the bow and I was glued to the sounder. The bottom goes from deep to 30 feet instantly and then quickly climbs to 14. This was with close to 2 feet in our favor tide wise. Scary. The bar is wide too, so you get plenty of suspense at the low speed, with the swell lifting and lowering you all the while.
Once inside things go to 80-120 feet for the most part. We headed up toward Diamond Narrows, a skinny channel that leads between New Georgia and Kohinggo island to the north side of the group. The channel is marked nicely, far better than the chart shows, and not matching the old route on the chart I might add. The greens are taken to the port when arriving from the south side and the reds to starboard. I felt at home... everything else here is red left returning of course.
After making a jag just before the narrow bit we broke off to port for Vonavona Lagoon. We found a nice spot behind the first islet on the left and parked before any of the overcast tried to coalesce and eliminate the visibility we did have. The lagoon is lovely. We plan to stay here a bit and then hit Noro, the fish cannery town on the other end of the Diamond Narrows, to fuel up. Shipping comes and goes often in Noro so the diesel is cheaper than at Gizo, so we are told.
As we relaxed at anchor a small sport fisher came by with an American looking guy aboard with a local captain. It was Chris from the Natural History Museum in New York and Tosca the boat skipper. We couldn't believe it, a New Yorker in this lagoon. He couldn't believe it, a Las Vegas registered yacht in this lagoon. We had a nice chat and he recommended Lola resort a couple islands over. We had already eaten dinner but will head over there tomorrow to see what is happening.
|The Solomon Islands||
12/07/2008, The Western Province
I love the vibe of Viru Harbor. There are two villages here, on on each side of the harbor mouth. Many dwellings are built right on the water. It reminds me of a Louisiana backwater.
I was so pleased that the villagers here seemed less interested in the new (only) yacht in the harbor than at Penjuku. This illusion ended with a knock on the hull at 6AM. Somehow I lost the battle of wills with Hideko and ended up going outside to see what was happening.
It was two little girls in a canoe. What are you going to do? Tell them to scram it is too early. No chance. As it turned out they had some lovely spring onions they wanted to trade. I asked them what they wanted to trade for. They said books (meaning blank paper school books). I gave them each a set of school books, some pencils and a bag of candy. It was a good trade.
But the trades didn't stop. Our last visitors came at 6PM and we didn't have more than 15 or 20 minutes without someone paddling about the transom. Mostly kids with vegetables, which we made deals with, one and all. We now have a fantastic selection of fresh fruit and veggies. We acquired some surprising things too, like a wonderful ruby red grapefruit and some other things we can't identify.
We did get hit up buy the carvers here. We had to firmly inform them that we were no longer in the market for carvings. I did give them some school pads for their kids. Some guys offered fish but we were full up there too. For the most part everyone was respectful and I only had to shoo two kids and one over grown kid (20 maybe?) off of the transom. I find that making a clear line as to what is ok and what is not (namely getting on our boat) is important and well received if handled properly.
One thing I found surprising was that some of the adults seemed to have a beef with Australians. I don't know what kind of ridiculous propaganda the imbezeling leadership here is sending around (two of the last four prime ministers are in jail for fraud) but the Australians are the only thing keeping this place from melting down. The tribal leaders seem to have more ego than compassion for their subjects. The elected officials (at least last several go rounds) seek to line their pockets as quickly as they can prior to getting kicked out of office.
Let it be known that the Australians have come here at the invitation of the government to get things under control, at substantial risk to their own health and safety. They have done so, and in short order. Australia also provides more aid to the Solomons than any other country.
At the other end of the spectrum the locals love the USA. We came in and fought in WWII and left a lot of packs of cigarette and bottles of Coke a Cola in our wake. One guy told me that the USA has lots of money and always wins the war. I asked if that was why he though we were great. Of course, he said. Hmmm.
|The Solomon Islands||
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||