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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Lobster Bake
Randy
01/10/2009, Fauro Island

Figuring our way up the Bouganville coast has turned into a very interesting logistical challenge. At the moment there is a very nasty monsoon trough to the south of us dumping huge amounts of rain on the southern Solomons. It is also creating stronger than normal winds from the NW up here. Transiting either coast of Bouganville requires sailing NW.

We could just sail north but the wind turns north a few degrees up. We need to get to Kapingamarangi to deliver rice, flour, sugar, and all of the other supplies we have. The only way forward is to knock off chunks of ground to the NW when the weather allows until we can sail NE to Kapingamarangi.

This requires careful use of weather data and consideration of local effects. To that end we have plotted a route plan against spot forecasts that gets us up the coast of Bouganville over the next few days. We will tackle the toughest cape with the most wind acceleration and exposure on the lightest wind day. We are also going to be getting underway very early in the morning (3ish) to maximize the calming effect of the land breeze and katabatic winds coming off of the high island of Bouganville.

It is a little tricky because we are also trying to pick anchorages where there aren't known problems (Bouganville has few of these) and we are trying to ensure that we don't have to hole up anywhere but instead can move along everyday.

We have a good plan in place at present but will just have to see how the wether evolves.

In the mean time we are enjoying a wonderful anchorage. Whistler came over today from Oema island and anchored in 60 feet. This was possible by backing up toward shore and then tying a stern line to a tree. He has a great spot.

We finally got around to cook all of the lobster we have picked up over the last couple weeks. It was a fun night of poker and great food with Angelique and Whistler.

The Solomon Islands
North Bay
Randy
01/09/2009, Fauro Island

As you can see from the Google Earth plot, we didn't get far today. Our plan was to have a go/no go call on the radio at 5:30AM but folks were already underway at that point. The forecast along the coast of Bouganville was for 18 knots on the nose.

Eighteen on the nose makes for nasty seas when there's no protection. There is a reef system off Bouganville but the area was new to all of us and we had no real idea if it would break the seas down or not. It didn't.

Hideko and I both suggested we stay in lovely Siniasoro Bay for a couple days until the spot showed light wind. Our friends were already off though and we are traveling as a group, so we took the minority position and joined the crew. Things are often light in the morning, and certainly when your behind the protective cover of Fauro island and the Shortland reef system.

As we began to make way up Bouganville, the forecast began to assert itself. We were all motor sailing (mostly motoring) with the wind on the nose. We stayed behind the reef but there's not much reef to speak of and the seas came right in on us. The forecast predicted 1.8 meters and by noon we were all making less than 4 knots, bashing into big steep head seas and generally having no fun. Then I saw the sky closing up.

That was it for us. We hailed our friends on the VHF working channel we had set up and called off the yacht torture session. I don't know why yachties, us included, get so hung up on keeping a schedule, especially when there is no reason to. No harm done of course but it certainly was a waste of diesel.

We had made it half way to Kieta but at a deteriorating speed. Swingin' on a Star was making the best time, but even we were looking at threading the reefy shoals into Kieta at dusk. Tomorrow was the same forecast and so we would likely have had to stay in port tomorrow, and Kieta was the last place we wanted to hang out.

Kieta is down the hill from the Copper Mine that was central to the whole Bouganville revolution, the last ten years running. Lonely Planet says Bouganville is open for tourism now, but many in the area suggest caution still be applied when it comes to floating your home into town.

For ten years young men focused on learning how to use guns and shoot people. Now the war is over and Bouganville is set to gain its brand of independence. I wonder what all of these young gun slingers are doing now? Carving masks for the non existent tourists?

We have been told that short stops are probably alright but not to hang around long in any one place. We plan to arrive late (sunset) and leave early (before dawn) at all Bouganville stops. Unfortunately between the Shortlands and Kieta there are no anchorages in a North to Northwest blow. You make Kieta, you go out to sea, or you go back.

Anyway once the decision was made to abort, I think the other boats were happy to follow suit. Whistler made for the closest safe harbor on a small island northeast of Fauro. We decided to head back to the north bay of Fauro about 6 miles farther on. The allure was that North Bay on Fauro was big, with an easy in and out, deep, well protected and offered a lot of anchoring possibilities. This last bit is important in this area because everything is deep. You need options to ensure that you will find something less than 100 feet to hook up in. We also wanted to make sure that there would be room for all three boats should everyone want to stay close by.

Thunder storms were sparking up all around as well and we didn't want to take the only anchoring hole at the closest spot since we were out front.

We made good time down wind, doing 7-9 knots with a double reefed main and jib. The sea was big and short but comfortable running off. As we got near our exit a TStorm started in on our tail, brewing off the coast of Bouganville. We were 2 miles from the bay and 2 miles from the storm. It was a race!

TStorms are no fun at sea. They change the wind direction, usually in an unpleasant way. They change the wind strength, first no wind and then too much, or vice versa. They dump on you and often white out the whole area so you are sailing blind, in this case amongst shoals and reefs. They also dump huge electrical currents into the ocean, and the occasional boat. We really wanted nothing to do with the thing.

We fired up the starboard engine and got up to 9 knots. This was keeping pace with the storm but we had to make a right turn in front of it to head into the anchorage. On came the port auxiliary. Ten knots, then eleven. Now we were talking. Yes, I could have put up more sail, but it would have taken longer and I would have had to reef it back again when the storm hit us with its 30 knots of angst. If you have read our blog you already know that we cruise for fun and to enjoy the wonderful people and places, not due to any sadistic "sail or die" mantra. We were motoring at top speed and happy for it.

The storm was going to nail us. We would reach the point and maybe get behind, but then it would hit. We got to the point and as the wind came on the beam we shot up to 12 knots. There was a long low swell wrapping around the point and we surfed it for 13, but the CPA (closest point of approach) for the storm was still 0. Then the radar cleared and the storm just dissipated.

What a rush. We did get rained on motoring back into the deep bay but the big hairy storm had vanished. There are several little bays with spur reefs protecting them to choose from in this area. We picked the one with the longest spur reef reaching out to break the swell. It is a lovely little harbor and very calm. We had to anchor in 90 feet as the bottom comes up fast from 80 to 0, but with the Rocna and 300 feet of chain, this is fine.

We set the anchor with 2,000 RPMs, both auxiliaries, and shut down. What a lovely place. I am almost glad we had to turn back. We are a good 5-10 miles farther along than where we started this morning.

As the rain tapered off Angelique motored in. Their Amel has such and awesome cockpit that even though they were right in the middle of the storm we were running from, neither of them were in the least bit wet or ruffled. They dropped in of to port and we toasted another idyllic anchorage across the water.

We have lost VHF contact with Whistler, so hopefully he is happily tucked into the bay on the south point of the little island just around the corner. We'll email him to see.

Hideko and I had a workout with all of the various sail operations, and jibing back down inside the reef. To put a cap on things Hideko made Doria, a yummy Japanese casserole, and we shared a bottle of mead. What a day.

The Solomon Islands
Siniasoro Bay
Randy
01/08/2009, Fauro Island

We had a decent hop in front of us today, again dead to windward. This trip is taking me back to traveling east along Puerto Rico. The only thing is we're going west in the tropics! This is a crazy part of the world. The Monsoon turns everything on its head.

Two week ago it would have been light but following winds. Oh well, we are cruising and though we try to pick the best weather windows, see the places and enjoying the people we meet along the way is more important. The monsoon trough that has formed is huge and nasty looking but well south. We are still getting plenty of electrical storms and rain but I can only imagine what it's like south of here.

Our three boat fleet left around six AM for the 50 mile trek across the Solomon Sea to Fauro Island in the Shortland Group. Angelique left on time, then Whistler and finally we got out. Our dinghy was still down and that takes a good half hour to stow.

Out of the pass it was not pleasant. The seas were up because a thunder storm was passing to the south and we had 25 knots on the nose for a short bit. Yuch. It settled quickly though and the seas came down to a more reasonable 3-5 foot range. Still not perfect as it was from 300 degrees and we were headed 320.

The starboard Yanmar got a good workout at 1750 RPMs today. There was a bit where the wind tacked our track and actually got over to 25-35 degree off to starboard. We were motor sailing under jib and main at a good 7-8 knots with the apparent wind around 13-15 knots. Then back on the nose.

As we closed in on the Shortlands the sky cleared a little, the wind lightened up and the seas calmed. The Shortlands lie just south of Bouganville and there is a reef system broken by the Bouganville straight between the Shortlands and Choisuel Islands (the last big island in the Solomons). Inside of 10 miles things were pretty settled.

We had a line out most of the day and caught a small marlin of all things. Only 2 or 3 feet but we would have released it regardless. I got him onto the swim platform and as Hideko was getting me the pliers to release the hook he got off on his own.

Shortly there after we came in on Brooks Reef. This is a scary looking reef system but well charted, at least on our Navionics charts. We left the reef to starboard and turned to port inside the reef. The currents were mixing and strong here setting you a good 15 degrees so you must watch your track. Once inside the outer reefs we turned to port and followed the island along to Siniasoro Bay. It is deep, over 100 feet all the way in, with the one 50 foot exception of a spot off of the rocky island near the point before the bay.

Inside the bay a little sea turtle came to greet us. It is a lovely bay and a perfect harbor this time of year. The opening is small and to the south and protected by an off lying reef. The bay has decently high hills all around the east, north and west as well. The wind comes from the north here, sometimes northeast, a lot from the north and, this time of year, the northwest.

There is one shoal that sticks pretty far out from the eastern shore of the bay about 2/3 of the way in but there are some sticks sticking up there that you can see with decent light. The water is dark but you can see well to about 30 feet. We found a spot all the way up at the head of the bay near the east past the shoal that had a 50 foot spot to anchor on with decent swinging room. The only other spots we found we 80 feet or so. The bay's one draw back is the depth. It is 110ish feet deep everywhere and comes up fast at the edges so it is hard to get a decent depth without being too close to shore. You could anchor in tight and just hope the wind only blows from the north.

After setting the hook a local guy named Steven came by and gave us a couple of lobsters. We gave him some hooks for fishing and everyone was happy. His father owned some of the land in the area and he gave us permission to stay the night.

Whistler came in shortly there after and then Angelique. It was along day but everyone enjoyed the bay at sunset and then turned in for the night.

The Solomon Islands
Vango Harbor
Randy
01/07/2009, Vella Lavella

We took the day off in Vango harbor today. This is a fantastic anchorage. It is totally protected and very quiet. We slept wonderfully last night.

After a quick survey today I can say that a large part of the bay we are in is usable. If you bias yourself to the west side of the bay you can go most of the way back with plenty of water. It gets skinny on the east side and there are some shoals that come fairly far out but there's plenty of water for 5-10 boats. The locals report yachts as a rarity here. Too bad because it is a lovely spot.

On the down side there are some flies and mosquitos but no worse than many anchorages in the Solomons and better than some.

You definitely do not get pestered here and contrary top the Pacific Anchorages Book the people we met are all SDA and wonderfully friendly. We had a great chat with a family in a dugout canoe and after talking with them in the afternoon they came by in the evening and brought us load of fresh fruit and vegetables. They wanted nothing for it. We gave them some school supplies and candy for their little boy but they would have been happy just to help us. These are some of the most wonderful people in the Solomons.

We used much the day to collect weather info and rethink our routes post monsoon winds. The whole world changes when the monsoon arrives. Things go from light from the NE to East, to moderate from the NW with thunder storms every evening. Our present plan is to motor dead to weather along the coast, behind the reefs when possible, until we have a sailing angle to Kapingamarangi.

Eric from Whistler and At & Dia from Angelique II came by this afternoon for poker and dinner. We had a great time. Dia claimed she had never played poker before but had a strange familiarity with Las Vegas and proceeded to win the first 10 hands at significant cost to the rest of us.

The Solomon Islands
Vango Harbor
Randy
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
Sanbis Resort
Randy
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
Happy New Year!
Randy
01/01/2009, Gizo

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
01/02/2009 | Pablo and Louise
Hey Guys!!! Happy New Year! Hopeing that all is well with you two! May 2009 bring lots of new and exciting adventures swinging around the world in 365 days.
02/07/2009 | Randy Abernethy
Hey Pabs,
Thanks for the note. We are having a great time in this part of the world. We keep getting farther and farther from te world we know. It is a great experience. Come visit again soon!!
-R&H

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