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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Gizo Customs & Post
12/19/2008, Gizo

We took care of all of our business today. The customs office in Gizo is right next door to the Gizo Hotel. The officer was going on holiday at close of business Friday so there would be no customs until January if we didn't handle things now. The officer was happy to clear us out for the 28th though, a week in advance. It is very laid back here in Gizo.

Hideko had packed up the carvings we got for some family members in Marovo Lagoon. The trick was not shipping them, it was finding the post office in the first place. After some investigation it turned out that the post office was the non-descript building in the middle of the market with no windows or signs. We got the carvings out to Japan and the US for only about $50 US, not bad for the size boxes in question.

The Solomon Islands
PNG Visa
12/18/2008, Gizo

So we're here in Gizo. Last I discussed matters with the US Consulate in Honiara, my passport should have been waiting for me when I arrived with a PNG visa ready to go. Not the case.

Instead I was confronted with your typical inane bureaucracy. I expected it from PNG but not from the good 'ol USA! I had filled out a form to get new pages in my passport (US passports have few to start with). The passport had to be sent to the embassy in Port Moresby PNG to get the new pages (much to delicate an operation for the Solomon people I guess).

This has nothing to do with the PNG visa, it just so happens that the Solomon Islands fall under the jurisdiction of the PNG Embassy, not having a US embassy of their own.

When I arrived in Gizo, instead of a passport I got another form. And the strange thing is that it requested the exact same information. I called the acting consulate in PNG and asked if he could just use the form I sent (given to me by the consulate). He said nothing doing, send me the correct, new, form or no new pages. I told him the data was the same and asked if he couldn't fill in the new form himself and staple the signed old one to it? Then he began to chastise me for not getting it done before! He was dead set on getting form A instead of form B, same data or no.

Bowled over, I raised the roof a bit. The bureaucracy here has managed to spend lots of US tax dollars flying a one sheeter around the south pacific just so I can get a few new pages in my passport. The guy I talked to in PNG was so caught up in the system that he couldn't even see how idiotic it was to waste so much time and energy just to get a form that was formatted differently.

In the end it took no less than five officials to manage this desperate situation. Hopefully I'll have my passport back next week (three weeks after surrendering it). And he wonders why I didn't do this sooner?

The PT109 hot spot (PT109 pictured) was key in helping us deal with the red tape.

The Solomon Islands
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

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