12/27/2008, Gizo Harbor
It was a mellow day in the anchorage. Things were quiet and perfectly flat at sunrise and we got a great picture of Whistler (shown). Hideko made a cake and we watched some Star Trek. We are on the last season of Enterprise now. After watching the whole franchise from the Original Series on, for the last couple years, we are going to be really bummed to see the final episode go by.
We went to Angelique II for sundowners at 5. At and Dia are a wonderful couple from the Netherlands. They had been sailing for 10 years in Angelique I when the prop and shaft fell out flooding the boat. She went to the bottom as a Dutch freighter rescued them. Daunted? No a chance. They took the insurance money, bought an Amel (built such that the same problem could never happen) and sailed farther and wider than before.
We're very excited because they are going to join us on the trip to the Philippines. So we will be a party of three boats now with Whistler. They are also going to buy supplies for the atolls, which was very kind of them. Cruisers are wonderful people.
|The Solomon Islands||
12/26/2008, Airport Island
Beach BBQs are a fairly august cruiser tradition. It seemed only appropriate that the anchorage get together for a good day on the beach around Christmas. Every cruiser has a budget all their own and many long term cruisers are careful not to blow out big dollars at resorts and expensive restaurants so that they can cruise longer (or indefinitely). Yet no matter what your budget, you can always swing a Cruiser Beach BBQ. Thus it is a great way to get everyone out for some fun in the sun.
The Cruiser BBQ Pot Luck is a slight variation on the Strict Pot Luck. The Strict Pot Luck involves everyone bringing a single dish big enough to feed about three to four times their crew (amounting to three to four courses for all attending). Someone has to manage the division between entrees, sides and deserts in this format.
The BBQ Pot Luck on the other hand is a little more random. Everyone brings something to grill for themselves and one side/desert to share, sized for two to three times their crew. You build a big fire to cook on and everyone has a great time with a wide variety of random sides and deserts (I always like it when there are lots of deserts).
Today we had a perfect Cruiser BBQ Pot Luck. Kliener Bar brought their big boat over and the rest of us dingied our way to the airport island beach. The beach is on the northwest tip of airport island and has good shade under the trees. There's a lashed branch table in the clearing and a rock fireplace for cooking. The dive Gizo folks tipped us off to the spot and since it is government land, we could use it without getting permission from a chief somewhere and paying the kastom fee.
The weather cooperated perfectly. We had a pleasant sunny day and everyone had a lot of fun. Polaris brought the obligatory patonk balls and all comers had a good time trying to beat Warner and Eric (though none could).
Three planes landed while we were there. You could stand right next to the run way to watch the landings and take offs. The FAA would not approve. You also need to make sure to park sailboats off to the side of the approach line.
Another party of local folks started a BBQ down the beach from us in the afternoon. Everyone had a great time mixing and chatting together. The local kids, Chad and Latasha from Gizo, joined Lucas and Nina, from Kliener Bar, playing about in the water.
We broke camp just before sunset, prior to any mosquito activity, and headed back to Gizo. The dinghy trip to the island was in displacement mode. The reason being the hull was full of water. While our hull does not leak to the outside there are several penetrations in the deck for the helm and what not. If it rains and the dink fills up with rain water overnight (a good foot in some cases out here), some of the penetrations are not perfectly caulked. So fresh water gets into the space between the deck and the hull.
When this happens planing is tough because as you accelerate the water goes to the stern. On the beach I pulled the hull drain plug to let the fresh water out. This allowed us to plane on the way home. Not bad for a 25hp considering we had three big and one small adult on board with a full party load of stuff, not to mention the console, starter battery, full tank of fuel and backup tank, anchor, etc.
I did go around the reef that runs out to the east at the north end of the anchorage on the way back. At noon on a new moon we had plenty of water to dinghy straight to the beach at airport island from the Gizo anchorage. On the way back (low tide) I was not so sure. With the light failing we followed the channel around.
It was a lovely day at the beach!
|The Solomon Islands||
We had a lazy morning today, relaxing with a nice latte. All of our out bound Christmas gifts had been handled via internet, Amazon.com mostly. I think we did pretty good and got most things to our nephews and nieces delivered by Christmas.
We got ourselves some gifts but in the end decided to wait to forward our mail until Pohnpei. Pohnpei is supposed to have great US Mail service with US Mail internal (not international) rates. This is due to the US Associated status of the Federated States of Micronesia, of which Pohnpei is a state.
We looked at our presents online instead of opening them, which was almost as good. The only thing I was really hoping to have in the Solomons was the replacement Olympus underwater camera we had bought. The one we have works but the display died. It has no view finder, so it is pretty silly trying to use it, though Hideko has managed to take a few pretty good blind shots.
At 11AM we headed over to the Gizo Hotel with Whistler, Angelica II and Polaris to catch a shuttle to Fatboys. Fatboys is a resort a couple of islands down and they were having a big Christmas lunch. The resort is lovely and the main building is the restaurant and bar, which is on pilings over the lagoon. The water was amazingly clear today and it was fun just staring over the rail into the water.
The bungalows at the resort were very nice and would make an amazing place to read a few books. The food was also excellent and the ambiance is very very relaxed. The atmosphere is a cross between island getaway and your friend's house. I don't know how else to describe it.
The folks who own the King Solomon Hotel in Honiara and the Gizo Hotel have just purchased the Fatboys resort. Grant, the owner builder of the place, is running it until the end of the year. The new owners and lots of Grant's family were on hand to help celebrate Christmas.
They served a great meal and we spent several lovely hours talking with the other boat crews and the folks who had come to join in the fun from all over the area. We saw an Australian couple that we had first met on the Guadalcanal battlefield tour in Honiara, among other interesting folks. The Solomon Islands is a small place.
After a great and relaxing day we were shuttled slowly back to Gizo, getting a wonderful tour of the islands along the way. It was a great Christmas.
|The Solomon Islands||
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||