We set up a Christmas eve dive with Dive Gizo. Four of the yachts in the anchorage joined in. It was a great time for a great price. The weather was not fantastic but it didn't rain. There was an impressive swell running and a pretty heavy chop in the lagoon. We all got wet on the way to the first dive site. Premature, but not a problem when you're Scuba diving.
Gizo has had a rough time in the dive department, with the tsunami from last year damaging some of the famous spots. These spots still have lots of fish but the reefs were pretty much wiped out. There are still a good number of dives to choose from and on a day like today we needed spots on the opposite side anyway.
Our first dive was at Secret Spot. It was a good dive but visibility was not stellar. We saw some sharks and the reef was in good condition. There was a pretty good current running so it worked out as a drift dive. I always like just floating along with the plankton.
After dive one, we hopped over to an island where one of the dive shop guys had cooked us lunch. We had fresh bread from town and reef fish cooked on heated stones, Solomon Style, along with pineapple and rain water. It was a tasty repast.
Dive two was out at Yellow Corner. This is another drift dive (at least it was today) with lots of yellow soft corals. We saw a turtle, lots of intriguing fish (several of which sent me scurrying for the Pacific Fish ID books afterwards), and some giant clams and nice reef growth.
It was a bumpy and wet ride back but the shop made everything else easy. They changed over our tanks, rinsed and dried our gear and in general took great care of us. Many thanks to Luc and the crew at Dive Gizo.
The Dive Gizo shop is located just across the road from PT109. This makes it easy to load and unload at the nice PT109 dock. The Dive Gizo shop also has the most awesome collection of local carvings I have seen. If you want to buy a carving, this is probably the best selection around and at good or better prices than you may get direct from the fairly savvy carvers.
Once back in town I met up with Eric to finish picking up the supplies for our aid delivery to the atolls. We had to stop by several Chinese stores just to come up with flour and no one had onions. We did get most of everything else we were looking for though.
We had to hurry too because PT109 was having their Christmas Eve bash tonight. For 100 sol ($14 ish) you get a big Solomon style buffet feast. All of the yachts in the anchorage were there at some point in the evening. It was a lot of fun to chat with the many interesting folks on hand.
Whistler with Eric and Jenique were there and we are looking forward to traveling through the atolls on the way to Pohnpei with them. We had gone diving with Lucia Warner from Kliener Bar and their kids, Nina and Lucas entertained everyone with some wild dancing after the meal. I had a nice chat with the single handers on board Dream Hunter and Seabatical II. We got to know At and Dia from Angelica II much better after short chats with them over the VHF in the Russels and a few words as we passed each other crossing Munda bar in different directions. The Polaris crew, Peter, Jorge and Heike joined in the fun and Nueva Vida came later in the evening as well. PT109 managed a 100% yacht turn out. Anyone living on a yacht who has made it to the Solomon Islands has several interesting stories to tell. It would be hard to assemble a more intriguing group of individuals.
That said the ground based folks in the area also very interesting folks. We met Christian, a Brazilian surfer and high tech sales manager, along with his fiancée. There were a wonderful couple with lots of great travel stories. We also saw lots of the Dive Gizo folks, and many of the aid workers and assorted expats from in town. It was a great evening with a lot of great people.
|The Solomon Islands||
12/23/2008, Swingin' on a Star
We had a movie night for the kids on Swingin' on a Star tonight.
It was a funny role reversal day. Hideko spent all day transferring diesel to the boat in jerry jugs while I spent the day baking Sugar Cookies. Sorry to say, but I like cooking a whole lot better than attending to engines.
We decorated the boat as much as we could with our little string of lights and our micro Christmas tree. We had some lovely cards from Nina and Lucas on Kliener Bar that dressed things up a bit and Kelly on Nueva Vida made us a really cool wreath from green sea glass (now that's great recycling!). The kids from both boats took a vote on the film to show and Polar Express won. That was the same movie our nieces and nephews selected two Christmases ago when we had everyone aboard in Nassau. I have a soft spot for "It's a Wonderful Life" but animation always seems to take top billing with the kids.
The other boats brought yummy candied nuts, popcorn and pretzels so we had lots of munchies for the film. It was a fun night with holiday music and mixing and did a good job of getting everyone into the Christmas spirit.
|The Solomon Islands||
12/22/2008, Equatorial Pacific
We have had a couple of concerned emails after the last post. I can categorically state that Hideko, Roq and I, as well as Swingin on a Star are fine and having a lovely holiday season. We live on a boat and anchor with plenty of chain out. Big waves don't bother us because we anchor in water too deep to break. It is also the case that most places in the South Pacific don't even know that there was a King Tide two weeks ago. We had to explain what happened to the staff of OxFam and UNICEF here. High islands, islands inside a barrier reef and large population centers were not typically affected.
The people who were affected live on atolls in the equatorial pacific, where the low lying islands that are their homes are the only land. Unfortunately these folks are in poor contact with the developed world and get very few, if any, supply ships throughout the year. Yacht visits are rare but often more frequent than any other type of visitor.
The yacht Whistler with Eric and Jenique on board, ourselves and the yacht Queen Jane have decided to try to help the people on the atolls we pass heading to Pohnpei. In particular Kapingamaringi and Nukuoro. Jordan, the skipper of Queen Jane is actually in California but knows these atolls well and alerted us to the problems. With logistical support from Jordan and all three of us pitching in we hope to make a little difference during the holidays.
After consulting with the few informed individuals we could dig up ashore, we decided on an aid package we could afford and carry including:
1 x 60 Gallon Bin with Lid (for fresh water storage and collection)
5 x 20 Kilo Rice Sack
10 x 1 Kilo Bag Sugar
10 x 1 Kilo Sack of Flour
2 x Tarpaulins (temporary roofing or water collection)
10 x 500 mg Can of Powdered Milk
30 x Square yards of fabric (for clothes and other needs)
1 x Soccer Ball
There is no real way for us to communicate with the people on the atolls and it is not very easy to communicate with Pohnpei itself. We could arrive at the atolls and find them in perfect health, happy as clams, and recently resupplied by the aid vessel that was dispatched to northern Pohnpei State earlier in the month. Unfortunately our best information is what you find in the article linked above, not sounding too fun for the holidays.
It is easy to lose sight of how lucky most of us are...
|The Solomon Islands||
12/21/2008, The Pacific
From time to time earthquakes and underwater landslides cause devastating tsunamis. A Tsunami is an aberrant series of waves. Tsunamis are often large but are short lived in the greater scheme of things. That said they can devastate coastlines, washing people and structures out to sea, poisoning ground water and killing crops.
Tidal waves are not Tsunamis, though the terms are often used interchangeably. A tidal wave is a wave generated by tidal flows associated with the gravitational affects of the moon and sun. These flows can last for hours.
Earlier this month a low pressure system thousands of miles wide developed in the northwestern Pacific. At the same time the moon was approaching perigee (the closest it comes to the earth). The reduced pressure on the ocean's surface in combination with the heightened gravitational effect of the moon caused over sized tidal swells (tidal waves) across the Pacific.
For surfers heading to Pohnpei this was great news. For the people living on atolls like Ontong Java in the Solomon Islands, Nuguria in Papau New Guinea and Nukuoro in Micronesia it was devastating. Imagine having all land, for as far as you can, see covered in two feet of water. This is what happened in Nukuoro.
The results are unpleasant and long lasting: houses, schools, churches, and other structures damaged or destroyed; all of the local crops either washed away or poisoned with salt water; marine life washed ashore to rot and pollute the already damaged environment. The matter is complicated by the fact that many of the smaller or more out of the way atolls have little or no way to communicate with their capital cities, delaying requests for aid.
All of this two weeks before Christmas.
We have decided to change our travel plans in light of this development. We are now plotting a route from our current position to Nukuoro via several inhabited low lying atolls along a not too jagged course. We have received donations for food, clothing and school supplies, from Pacific cruisers on hiatus in California (who alerted us to the situation). We will add to this what we can afford and move quickly through the islands, distributing what little aid we can muster aboard Swingin' on a Star.
There are several other boats in our anchorage heading that way so we will try to enlist them as well.
|The Solomon Islands||
12/20/2008, Gizo Anchorage
When we were at Lola Island, Joe told us that there were no yachts in Gizo harbor. he though this strange this time of year. So did we. We had sort of thought Gizo was a fairly popular spot for boats this time of year.
When we arrived there was one other yacht, Nueva Vida. Then Angelica II arrived. Then Don Henry. Then Whistler, and Polaris, and Kliener Bar and finally Sabbatical II and Dream Hunter. Don Henry has moved on but the anchorage is now packed with 8 yachts. It is turning into a very yachty Christmas spot.
We did some shopping in town today and then enjoyed a game of Risk with the Whistler crew. Jennique tromped us. She didn't just win, she crushed us. She brought popcorn though so we forgive her.
|The Solomon Islands||
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||
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||