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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
12/17/2008, Gizo

So now that we have a generator again keeping a good stock of diesel is more important. We visited the PT109 bar, also billed as the Yacht Club, and while it is hard to scare up food there, they do have good internet and a bar. In fact we can WIFI to the PT109 hot spot from the boat with no antenna.

The yacht club part offers showers and laundry and the usual yacht club stuff. No mooring though from what I can tell. There are only two moorings in the harbor and one recently was taken up by a Police boat and the other is a rusting steel hulk that only a rusting steel hulk would tie up to.

The PT109 dock is nice, which is saying something around here, most are little more than wreckage. We were interested in the fuel dock situation but couldn't find it. When we did find it (by land) I realized why. It is barely above water post tsunami.

In the Spring of 2007 there was a 8+ earthquake in the area and it did some damage but the wave that came after really tore things up along the coast, which is where everything is.

You can not tie a yacht up to the fuel dock today. It is a few inches above water and the boards that make it up are not secured to the pilings. You can tie up a dinghy but not a yacht. One guy was rumored to have med moored to it to take on fuel, but even then they have to hand pump i from barrels rolled down the boards.

Too bad. This was supposedly the best place to fuel up in the north western part of the South Pacific, per the South Pacific Anchorages Book. Guess we'll be running a lot of Jerry Jugs.

(note the photo is of a smaller fuel depot up the water front a bit that just struck me as remarkable, though the main fuel dock is not much more elegant)

The Solomon Islands
Dominoes in Gizo
12/16/2008, Gizo

We had a "stay on the boat day" today. We fired up the genset in the morning and had several yummy lattes. I hate the Westerbeke when it is not running right, but we love it when it is. We ran the AirCon and watched the temperature outside go over 90F with 95% humidity. The Oregon Scientific weather station said "Danger".

This was about all the incentive we needed to stay inside with the AirCon blasting. With the shades closed and the blinds drawn we can keep the boat comfortable in even this kind of heat, though not cold per se. I think Saint Francis selected just about the perfect size AirCon units for the boat.

We did a lot of cleaning inside for the first time in a while. Every once in a while you need to get rid of junk that collects, magazines and the like, and just get everything in its proper place.

Every once in a while I would look out across the water at Kolombangara in the distance. It is a big volcano sticking up out of the water maybe ten miles from Ghizo Island. Its high summit often generates towering cumulus clouds and booming thunderstorms in the afternoons. Usually the storms dissipate as the sun sets or they pass to the south, but every once in a while they drift over to Gizo. Today it was just picturesque.

In the evening we invited Nuevo Vida over for drinks and dominoes. It was a fun night with Tom, Karen and their three kids. Hideko made some yummy brownies and the Crafton's brought over a bag of pretzels that gave me a serious case of hand to mouth disease. The Crafton family have been cruising for a long time but originally hail from Alaska and before that Florida and, of all places, my birth town of Bel Air, Maryland. A good time was had by all.

The Solomon Islands
Sinking into the Sea
12/15/2008, Ghizo Island

I am sitting next a Christmas tree. It is 88 degrees out and 95% humidity, but I am sitting next to a Christmas tree. I guess I still haven't gotten used to Christmas in the tropics. The Gizo Hotel hasn't missed a beat though.

We're back at the Hotel again today for Internet part two. We have to restock on Malarone, our anti-malarial of choice, which you can't get here. We are also trying to time our mail forwarding with the holidays, and ensuring that all of the stuff we just bought online at for the boat is there before we ship. The list goes on.

We met an NGO aid worker here today. He says the Gilbertese are having the hardest time recovering from the tsunami because they have no kastom land to move to. The entire country of Kiribati is slowly being submerged as the climate changes and sea levels rise. Kiribati consists of three island chains, the Line, Pheonix and Gilbert islands. Some of the Gilbert folks (for reasons of reduced habitable space and unsustainable levels of reproduction) were relocated here to the island of Ghizo, just across the harbor from Gizo town. When the wave came it wrecked their settlement pretty good, but unlike the Solomon Islanders they don't have other hereditary land here to retreat to.

Climate change is causing problems in all of the low lying atolls in the Pacific. The country of Kiribati is perhaps the most threatened. The entire nation consists of atolls and will perhaps disappear below the waves in a hundred years if the scientists who predict a 50 centimeter sea level rise are correct. There are atolls in the Solomons, like Ontong Java, that have the same problem. In fact, Papau New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, nearly every nation in the Pacific has concerns.

The Solomon Islands
Genset Resurection
12/14/2008, Gizo

We spent all day at the Gizo Hotel today, literally all day. We came in for breakfast at around 9:30, then had lunch and then dinner at 6:30PM. We had so much to catch up on in cyberspace. I think I was on the Internet for over 8 hours. We are all caught up on Christmas shopping now.

The Gizo Hotel dinghy dock is the nicest dock in town, but crowded. We found a good spot closest in to shore on the side where the main wharf is that seemed to be open everyday. Most of the dock is taken up by hotel shuttle boats and the like. There are some partially submerged stern lines and other debris that you have to watch out for as you trawl into the area.

It was Sunday here but in between email and paying bills I stopped by Solomon Air to pick up the Westerbeke parts we had shipped in. The shipping was expensive but not too bad considering. We went DHL to Honiara from Los Angeles, and then the DHL folks put the packages on Solomons Air to Gizo. There are a lot of wonderful folks around here and many, such as Helen at DHL, don't think twice about spending their own money to make things happen. Helen paid for the Solomon Air shipping, when they would not do COD.

When we got back to the boat at around 8PM I installed the new fresh water pump and heat exchanger. I was worried that there would be one little bolt or gasket missing. Surprisingly we had everything we needed.

I was not happy that the heat exchanger had failed in the first place (taking the water pump with it). The genset had less than 2,000 hours on the meter and was less than 3 years old. It has been babied its entire life. I noticed an additional feature of the new heat exchanger, a ground post. Hmmmm. So, per the label, I grounded the new heat exchanger back to the engine block with a heavy piece of copper wire. My old heat exchanger developed a premature leak from the fresh to the salt side and the new one shows up with a grounding post to protect against galvanic corrosion... coincidence?

After a few hours of work putting everything together and adding coolant we had the genset up and running. It ran great for a minute and then there was a problem with Leg2 and the battery charger cut off. This had happened before and I was never sure what was going on, having bigger fish to fry. On a roll, I tore into the AC panel. After some inspection I discovered a number of slightly loose wires, one burned, the Leg2 AC input. So I cleaned that up, cut off the old end and stripped back some fresh clean wire. I tightened everything up really well and checked all of the connections with a multi-meter.

After making sure that everything checked out we fired up the genset for a few hours. We cranked the AirCon, ice maker, bat charger, hot water heater and thought about making espresso. It was midnight by this time so we skipped the espresso but did watch an episode of Enterprise.

The Solomon Islands
12/13/2008, The Western Province

We finally made it to Gizo. Back in French Polynesia when we decided to head on west rather than trying to stay for a year or two, Gizo was our big waypoint. We couldn't go to NZ like the main pack because of Roq (NZ is dog hostile), and Australia was out for the same reason. If you're going to head North you either go through he Solomons to PNG, Micronesia and points beyond, or you go up to the Marshalls and across to Micronesia and on.

A few yacht blogs and some cruising guide info had made Gizo sound like a nice place for cruisers during cyclone season. Gizo has never had a cyclone, though they get strong winds sometimes as the cyclones pass to the south or east. The town has enough infrastructure to take care of your needs, fresh market, banks, yacht club (PT109 which is basically a bar), The Gizo Hotel with nice restaurant, two lovely resorts (Fatboys and Sanbis), post, airport, customs and immigration, places to eat, grocery stores, hardware stores and the lot.

Gizo is the town and it is located on the island Ghizo. Ghizo and the other islands in the area are all enclosed in a single barrier reef. This makes anchoring anywhere in the area reasonable and the Gizo harbor is particularly well protected. You have a fair amount of fetch from the north and east but there is an island to the northeast (an important direction to have covered, and the southeast through northwest is covered by Ghizo island. You could always hop around if need be because you can find cover from any direction inside the lagoon.

Getting here was interesting. We decided to back track out of Vonavona lagoon rather than coning our way through. It was a bright sunny day, but a bit too sunny perhaps. Hideko would have been roasted alive on the bow. It also might have taken too long seeing as how we would have to creep and crawl through the intricate and shallow bits. It is a long lagoon.

We said bye to Joe on Lola island by VHF as we left. He told us that Noro generally did not supply fuel on weekends and he had called them for us but got no answer. That was enough for us to nail shut the Noro fueling idea (even though it was so flat calm today it would have been a good day to dock there). So we headed back out Munda bar.

As we crossed the bar we ran into Angelica II, the Dutch boat we had seen in Honiara and the Russels. They were Munda bound (a nicer town than Noro from what we hear) so we said hi and told them we'd catch up in Gizo.

There was no wind and the sea was like glass with a long low swell. The Vonavona lagoon and fringing islands were beautiful as they passed to starboard on our way west. We went north through Furgeson channel to make an entrance into the Gizo lagoon at Kennedy Island. This is the island JFK swam to after PT109 went down in WWII. The pass here is deep and easy.

Once inside we went up the coast of the island of Mbambanga. To the east we saw Fatboys and to the west we saw Sanbis. Both resorts looked lovely and we will certainly return for a visit to each.

There are several reefs and shoals inside the lagoon but most are marked and the marks are in decent repair, and on station so far as we have seen. The lagoon is about 100 feet deep in most places.

We came up the channel south of airport island (the island with the airstrip) and entered Gizo harbor. It is an interesting town. It is a mix of shanty and full posh Solomons structures. Perhaps the tsunami a year and a half ago has something to do with this, but I think in general this is just how things develop in towns in the Solomons.

We found only one other yacht in harbor, to our surprise. It was Nueva Vida, some folks we had met in Honiara a couple weeks ago. We anchored in 45 feet a little ways out from the inner anchorage where the NV was sitting. There are a couple of moorings in the area and you are likely to swing all over the place here with the random wind directions so better to have more room.

It was a long hot day. We enjoyed the lovely scenery of the trip and a couple of dolphin visits to boot. The entire crew (particularly Roq) was ready to shut down once the hook was settled. So we did.

The Solomon Islands
Skull Island
12/12/2008, The Western Province

It seems that when you are out at sea, particularly when there's no wind, the 22:00-00:00 shift is often a tough one. The temperature change from shutting off the heat lamp in the sky seems to build before 10PM and mellow after midnight. In the middle we've had some of our bigger squalls. This held true last night.

At about 10PM Hideko and I both woke up with the wind really going. Having not seen anything over 10 knots for some time this was a curiosity. I went outside to check on things and it was really whipping. I turned on the instruments to discover that we were in a 30 knot squall. I later revised this to near gale, as squalls rarely last more than a half hour. This sucker planted itself on us for two hours.

It got fairly choppy in the lagoon. The wind was coming from the NE and there's quite a bit of fetch in that direction. There are shoals in the way but they don't really take the bite out of a wind chop. The big boat was fine but Shooting Star was tied up out back and getting a good bouncing.

The Rocna (our anchor) didn't budge an inch the whole time. I brought the Raymarine Smart Controller to bed at around 11PM and the GPS fix was a photograph. We were glad we anchored a ways out. Less bugs, more breeze and comfort room when the wind can come from any quarter. Our stern was facing the Lola beach and I could see their boat on the inshore moorings getting quite a tussle. One actually ended up on the beach, with no real harm done though.

I was expecting to see some disturbed weather after reading the Australian forecast. Keeping up on the best weather sources is a chore when you're circumnavigating. Every new country usually requires a new set of weather sources. The patterns and prevailing conditions also change with your location, not to mention the season. Understanding all of this is pretty important to safety at anchor as well as route planning.

We are now, unfortunately, out of the tender care of the good 'ol boys in the USA. The Hawaii team stops coverage at 160E down here. My current weather request looks like this:

send spot:8.25S,157.25E|7,3
send gfs:15S,3S,165E,145E|1,1|24,48,72|PRESS,WIND,WAVES,RAIN
send met.10ne

The spot just gives us 7 days of wind, waves and pressure for our position (or where we plan to sail). The gfs request gives us a GRIB file with three days of info over a large area. The new ViewFax (free download on the SailMail site) shows Pressure (like a synoptic chart), Wind barbs, Wave heights with colors and Rain fall with shading. It is almost as nice as UGRIB (UGRIB doesn't work over HF radio though). The met.10ne report is the Australian tropical forecast for this area (MET10 Northeast). They identified the weak low and trough as well as its movement over us in the evening. If I could only have one file this would be the one at present.

In the morning we decided to see what was happening in Noro. It was a fun trip through the lagoon and up the Diamond Narrows. The lagoon is more or less clear of hazards when you're in a dinghy. You can pretty much go where ever there's water, with some caution. The Diamond narrows is a skinny but deep stretch of sea that snakes between New Georgia and Arundel Island. It reminds me of an old river backwater in the southern USA. Coming out on the north side of the narrows the water got choppy. The Noro bay is open to the north and the wind was still blowing in the low teens after last nights LO passage.

Noro is not a pretty town. And that is being kind. We tied the dink up near the market, which seems the only real place to do so, the shoreline is coral rock and such. The market looked interesting but there are a lot of guys and boys standing around with nothing to do but chew beetle nut. Idle hands as they say.

We made a trip to the bank to stock up on local currency to fund a diesel run later. The ATM was out of cash but we did get our Vanuatu money changed finally. It took perhaps more time than changing $50 US was worth but it was one thing off the list. Hideko and I took turns checking on the dink.

We have a lot of safety stuff on the boat that we just can't lock up. I need to put a lock on the bow locker but we still have no way to secure the paddles and other stuff. We've been fortunate to cruise in areas where you don't have to worry about that kind of thing too much. I beleive you need to be more careful in the Solomons. If you are in town, beware, things will disappear if they are not protected. I have to say, with some surprise, that the Yacht Club in Honiara did see to the security of yacht dinghies quite effectively. I am still surprised that we never had a problem there.

As I came out of the bank Hideko was down the road and looking concerned. She had just run off two, shall we say, punks looking about our dinghy. I walked up to them and asked what they were looking for. They smiled nervously and scampered off. Young boys here are the major problem.

Hideko stayed with the dink while I bought a few cards for our cell phone and then we were off. We later discovered the guy had sold me pay phone minutes not cell phone minutes. Buyer beware, when someone doesn't understand you here the answer is always yes.

Our next stop was over at the commercial quay to check out the diesel situation. Diesel is expensive everywhere but it has come down a lot here in the past month. Current prices were 13 SOL per liter. Given the nasty looking quay and the chop coming in we decided we fuel up in Gizo, a little more expensive at 15 SOL per liter, but cheaper than gel coat repair.

I didn't like Noro but we did enjoy the trip through the narrows and back. Once home at the big boat we arranged to have dinner at the Lola Island resort. Joe had just returned from Gizo and it is always interesting to chat with guys like him (originally from Seattle and now 25 years in the Solomons with three kids).

In the afternoon we made our pilgrimage to the Skull Island. It is one island over from Lola. We had to stop at a village at the big island next door to pick up the elder who owns the Skull Island. It was 25 Solomon per person to visit. Matohite, not sure of the spelling here, was probably 70 something but he jumped right into our dink like a spring chicken.

We cut across the crescent lagoon of his home island to the opposite tip where a small round island sites just off shore. The chop was still running so after letting the crew off I tied our dink's stern line to an overhanging tree while Hideko tied the bow line to a palm on shore. This kept the dink off the rocky coastline.

The island was a coral heap with some sand in the middle and trees and foliage everywhere. A short path took us to the shrine.

Wow. It was amazing to see this piece of living history. It had survived the ravages of many years and one world war. The shrine is a wooden A frame structure placed upon a large mound of coral. All around the mound are skulls of warriors, shell money and customary head chopping axes, all in advanced stages of decay. Matohite opened the shrine for us to display the sacred resting place of the skulls of the chiefs. We were told one was the dreaded Ingava.

To one side there are three head stone like structures chiseled from local stone. These, it was said, were shrines to the gods that would ensure successful fishing. There was also a cement box with no lid in the area. Hideko asked Matohite what the significance of the box was. He said, "that's mine".

In the brush on the way out we saw the grave sites of Matohite's father and brother. Both cement boxes with lids and crucifixes above them. An odd contrast to the skull mound a mere 5 meters away. After soaking up the history of the place a bit more, we returned to the village and thanked Matohite for generously sharing his heritage and sacred place with us.

On the way back to the resort we ran out of fuel. No problem because we always keep a 5 liter emergency jug in the dink. It highlighted how much running around we had done today though. The round trip to Noro alone was probably a good 10 miles.

We wrapped up our day, and last night in the anchorage, at the Lola Island resort for drinks and dinner. It was nice to finally have a good talk with Joe. He is an interesting guy, hailing from the Seattle area and having a lot of fishing experience. If you love fishing, any kind, fly, trawl, spear, deep sea, reef, whatever, you would go bonkers at this place.
After a lovely evening we said a fond farewell to our hosts Lisa and Joe. Back at the big boat it was a perfect sleeping night.

The Solomon Islands
12/17/2008 | Frank Taylor
Nice photo of the shrine! You guys should upload a gallery of photos.
12/17/2008 | Randy
Hey Frank, Yeah you're right. Photos take the most bandwidth though and out here in the sticks it can be tough just to keep the one a day going. The gallery here is nice and it doesn't ratchet down the resolution like the blog. Maybe I can put something together next time we’re in a marina. -Randy
Lola Island
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

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