01/06/2009, Vella Lavella
It feels good to be on the road again. We got up leisurely this morning, put the dinghy up, prepped the boat, warmed up the engines and headed out of Gizo Town. We arrived in Gizo on the 14th of December. We were there three and a half weeks. We spent Christmas and New Years there and met a wonderful group of new friends, three of which we are now traveling with. We will miss Polaris, Kliener Bar, and Nueva Vida. We didn't spend as much time with Sabbatical II and Headhunter but we hope they have fair winds on the long passage to the Philippines.
While Gizo may not be the greatest town in the world it has many things to recommend it this time of year. It is a very safe harbor and only gets safer as the NW Monsoon takes over. The Gizo Hotel, PT109, Sanbis Resort, and Fatboys give cruisers a wide selection of good places to lime and eat. Dive Gizo can arrange great dives and many fun excursions. If you are not in Gizo, trying to communicate with someone via email or phone other than Dive Gizo is fairly futile. That said the Kennedys at Dive Gizo are wonderful folks and were happy to answer all of our questions over email. The markets and stores are not great but you can get what you need. There's WIFI in the anchorage and at the Gizo Hotel and PT109. The phone company is here and the ANZ bank has an ATM that works most of the time. The entire time we were there, not one of the 8 boats we were with had any security issues whatsoever. The town is a little dumpy and the anchorage water is not swimmable but you are a dinghy ride from beautiful islands around the lagoon. We will remember Gizo fondly.
We waited too long to leave however. First is was Christmas, then it was friends on other boats we decided to travel with, then it was new years and finally diesel. When I plotted our track to Pohnpei the weather was light but helpful. The monsoon has started to take hold now however and every leg has the wind on the nose. Green Island is NW of us and the wind blows from the NW from here to there. Then we turn north to Nukuoro and the wind blows North there. Then it is NNE to Pohnpei and the wind blows NE there. That would have been the only difficult leg previously.
There is still a chance in mid January that the NE trades may break through. The main monsoon trough is south of us so we're hopeful.
The north exit from Gizo is a little complicated but well marked. You do need to take care to figure out which side the reds and greens are supposed to go. It is IALA A here but I have come to ignore this and just try to figure out which side to pass the first mark in a series on and then repeat. It is hard to figure out the logic in the middle of a lagoon otherwise.
Once out of the lagoon it became apparent that the wind was going to be dead on the nose across Vella Gulf. We passed our traveling companions Angelique and Whistler, who had left just in front of us as we got to deep water. As we approached (slowly under motor and main) the eastern point of Vella Lavella we got the standard acceleration effect that brought the wind up to the 15-20 apparent zone and got the seas up into the 2-3 foot range. No fun and slow going, not much more than 4 knots.
We had a 40 mile passage to Vango harbor. Down wind in the trades we would have knocked it out in five or six hours. We got into Vango at close to 7PM. Whistler suggested we motor inside the lagoon on the NE of Vella Lavella which worked out well for us. The lagoon is not much of a lagoon, with depths of 100 to 300 feet and not much in the way of reefs. The reefs we did see were easy to spot, charted, and in one case, even marked. Angelique stayed outside, which was not a bad decision given the quality of charts for the lagoon. We could have easily been shut out and had to turn back.
As it happened we made it all the way up the lagoon with Whistler behind us and gained a lot of ground out of the worst of the head seas. The north end of the lagoon has an semi-intricate channel leading out a narrow pass with 30 feet minimum depth. There are lots of wide/deep exits leading up to it so we approach with caution, ready to abort through one of the longer around, but very deep and clear cuts. The pass was well marked and turned out to be a nice diversion. It dropped us on the north side of the island right next to the Vango harbor pass.
Vango had a red mark on the east side of the pass entrance and a small hard to see stick on the west side. That said the pass is wide and deep. The swell was coming north so it was a little bumpy and you needed to throttle because it was setting pretty rapidly onto the eastern reef, but no problem with the light we had. Once inside we could head straight into a forked bay with a village or turn left behind a little island just inside the pass.
We had planned to anchor in the isolated bay behind the little island. There is a shoal extending from the little island so it is important to enter the channel from the Vella Lavella side. From there stay in the middle of the channel and you'll go over a 30 foot bit but the rest is about 80 feet. Past the little island we turned to port down into the nice bay.
The far Vango bay is very well protected. It is open to the wind from the north but the reef is very wide there and the water is flat in the bay regardless of wind direction. If the wind comes from any other direction you have great protection from tall palms and hardwoods right up to the coastline. There are no beaches but there are mosquitoes and, I suspect, crocks.
We anchored in far enough so that Whistler and Angelique wouldn't have to pass us. We also anchored fast because a really nasty thunderstorm was on the door step. Whistler was just coming around the reef and we were worried he was going to get hammered. Eric, the skipper, was single handing to top it off. We kept up with Whistler and Angelique on the radio as they made way and gave them whatever knowledge we had from the road ahead.
Eric got in and passed us while I was on the radio with Angelique. I didn't get a chance to tell him we knew nothing about the very end of the bay. He got in and anchored though right as the rain hit. The wind went to 25 knots and everything around us disappeared in a deluge of stinging rain. It only lasted for maybe thirty minutes and then is was just drizzle and lots of the most amazing lightning patterns I have ever seen in my life. As long as it doesn't strike our boat I could have watched it all night.
Eric on Whistler had gotten anchored just in time to get out of the rain. He was sitting on a 10 foot shoal after his chain stretched out though. As Eric re-anchored I got on the horn with Angelique who was standing off to let the storm go by. The good news was that they had missed the worst of it, the bad news was that it was getting really dark by this time.
Eric and I jumped in our dinghy and ran out with lights to help them in. I gave them the waypoints from my track through the pass, which was the critical part, but driving blind through a breaking pass (even a deep and wide one with waypoints from two hours earlier) is no fun. It was tricky driving the dink in the dark but we managed to get out to the inside of the pass without event. Eric was on the bow with a light and the radio while I tried to navigate. As we came out searching for the pass we slowed down, listening to the breakers. Then suddenly right in front of us, Eric's light swept past a big white froth off the bow. Ok, found the break.
After we backed out of the surf zone a bit we headed to port and found the red marker. Angelique was coming in on the waypoints at this point and we lit up the marker for them. They made it in the pass without event and we guided them slowly through the channel back to the bay. Everyone anchored safe and sound.
Back at Swingin' on a Star, Hideko made Eric and I a wonderful curry. Just what we needed to warm up after an hour out in the rain. It was an adventurous night but we were rewarded with a quiet, flat, calm and clean anchorage. Gizo was fun but this was a nice change.
|The Solomon Islands||
01/05/2009, Mbambanga Island
The guys who buy the diesel from the logging company boats came by today. It was timely because the Mobil depot had just received a shipment over the weekend and we were planning to fill up today so that we could leave tomorrow.
These guys with the logging diesel must be watched on several accounts. First their jerry jugs are pretty dirty on the outside. They will happily bounce their painted wooden boats off of your hull (leaving red stripes) while their jugs do the same to the topside. The jugs sit in their boat which is often half flooded and fairly dirty. The only way to handle things is to have them stay in the boat while you take the jugs and fill the tanks, preferably with fenders between your hull and theirs. The fuel is good, but the exterior cleanliness of their jugs requires a Baja filter.
The other problem is that they will cheat you as much as you will allow. Every time they hand you a jug with a different shape they will tell you it is 30 liters. All of their jugs are 20 liters.
When we were buying they tried to charge us 10 Solomon per liter, which is what the Mobil depot charges. They buy the stuff for much less. I paid 9 and I think you could hammer them down to 8 if you had the patience.
On the up side they deliver to your boat and you save 10 or more percent. As long as you deal with the issues mentioned it is a good arrangement.
After getting the boat all set we made our way over to the Sanbis resort to enjoy our final night in Gizo at the last attraction we had wanted to see. After a wonderful dinner and a great night out I can safely say that Sanbis is the nicest place to stay in the Gizo area and certainly the best resort in the vicinity. Fatboys is fun but Sanbis is a real resort. We all had a great last night out and were sad we had not spent more time at Sanbis while in Gizo.
|The Solomon Islands||
It was very quiet today. I think a lot of folks needed it to be that way after last night. We couldn't even pay our bills at the dive shop things were so shut down. Nice to have a quiet day though.
On a sad note, Pacific Magazine (pacificmagazine.net), one of the only places to get current information on the pacific islands, closed its door today. They will be missed.
|The Solomon Islands||
We spent a lot of time doing final internet stuff and getting the boat even more ready today. Our friends on Whistler, Polaris and Angelica II invited us to dinner at the Gizo Hotel, where they were having a shebang.
We booked a dive today and went out with Dive Gizo to the Tao Maru and Grand Central Station. The Tao is a nice dive with lots of growth, some artifacts and good swim throughs. Hideko's mask broke so we had to do the dive in two parts. She found one that fit her great but the shop wouldn't sell it. The second dive had a little coral damage from the tsunami last year but was still full of fish.
We are such home bodies that after the all day dive trip we almost bailed out of the dinner at the hotel. Hideko and I are far from the wild and crazy type. That said we love spending time with friends, so we bucked up and joined the crew at the hotel anyway.
It was a nice meal with really tasty lobster and a nice dance show. The dancers were Gilbertese (whom the British moved here a good 50 years ago from Kiribati). I had never seen Micronesian dancing before so it was a lot of fun.
We made it to 10PM and then began to fade. Some of our animal friends went until 5AM!! The Gizo Hotel, PT109 and the Gilbertese village across the bay were all raging late into the night. No fireworks but a great time all the same.
|The Solomon Islands||
We were all set to sail north today. Then at 5:30AM I heard a knock on the hull. Hmmm. It was our friend on the boat next door and she looked concerned. She was in the process of taking her husband to the hospital and asked us to watch the kids.
We were very concerned because it sounded like appendicitis, and you wouldn't want to have surgery in the Solomon Islands if you could avoid it. Not even in the Honiara, the capital. The main hospital in Honiara is call #9, an anachronism from the WWII USA occupation. They call the graveyard down the street #10.
Though worried about our friend, we had a great time with the kids. It was a gray and rainy day so we watched Disney movies, made pancakes and ran the air conditioning as the genset brought the batteries up. We did a little bit of scrambling to identify flights to Honiara and possibly on to Australia in case things required it.
After some pain killers and a belated doctor examination everything seemed to clear up. The doctor didn't arrive until 8:30, even knowing there was an emergency room call. Our patient was released late in the day with a renewed bill of health. Chalk it up to local food.
These kinds of events make you step back and think. What do you do if your appendix bursts and you're in the middle of a two week passage? There are options, but taking a 5 minute ride to the hospital is not one of them. Maybe it is a good idea to get your appendix out in advance...
The bottom line is there are people all over the world who live everyday of their lives far from quality medical facilities. Many without even the option of flying somewhere sophisticated should it be called for. If they get really sick in some of these places, they just stay in bed and hope to get better.
Internet access is good here but health care has a way to go.
Needless to say we did not leave today. We will probably leave on the 2nd now, with Angelica and Whistler after the customs guy comes back.
|The Solomon Islands||
We are planning to leave Gizo tomorrow on the way north to Pohnpei. Our friends from Kliener Bar came by for a game of Risk in the afternoon. Lucia crushed us all, no mercy.
Boat prep goes well and we should have no problem departing in the morning. It is nice to have all of the major bits of the boat in working order. It has been great to have the genset back online these past couple of weeks in Gizo. Not only is it nice to have full AC power from time to time (and AirCon!) but the MS2000 Inverter/Charger does a much better job of charging the batteries than the engines do when it is overcast for a couple days.
The dinghy's outboard needs some tweaking though. I think cooling water may be coming from a place it is not supposed to (scared to pull the thread on that sweater). Also the reverse is not working due to a needed shift cable adjustment. I'm hoping to fix both when the dink is up on deck in one of our upcoming anchorages.
Some new friends we met at PT 109 invited us to Fatboys for dinner tonight so we happily joined them. Fatboys has the best food in Gizo IMHO. It was a fun evening with Cara and Christian. They are great folks who recently moved to Australia from the USA. Christian is an avid surfer and Yahoo! exec and Cara is a PR exec working for Disney. What great jobs. Two more wonderful folks we've met that we hope to meet again!
|The Solomon Islands||
12/28/2008, Gizo Airport
The Gizo Airport on Airport Island is a dirt strip used by twin engine inter island prop planes. Two hundred liter barrels of av-gas are stacked by a small building that serves as the Gizo terminal. There's a leaf hut behind the terminal where I assume the caretaker lives.
The dock at the island is in a declining state of repair with the shore side bit looking nice, and the ocean side bit sagging into the water. It is a quaint setting.
In between flights you can find the locals teeing up for driving practice on the strip. At the east end of the island there are supposed to be lots of giant clams at snorkeling depth, though we haven't verified this. You can also see young men flying things other than planes on the run way from time to time.
|The Solomon Islands||