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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Cape Mibiri Roadstead
Randy
01/13/2009, Bouganville Island

We had our standard pre-start VHF call at 4:30 AM this morning. The weather forecast was not perfect, but not bad, and the lion's share of the thunder storms seemed to be to the south of us. It was a go.

We raised anchor in the dark a couple hours before sun rise. We were still on Solomon time so it was just after 3:30AM in Papua New Guinea. We made good way motoring into the light wind. The anemometer rarely showed over 10 knots apparent, but it was all within 20 degrees of the bow, with rare, short lived, exceptions.

As we crossed from Oema to Bouganville the overcast and some coastal mist made it hard to make out the big island. We came across several large floating logs near the mouths of some of the rivers along the coast.

None the less we made it to Papua New Guinea. The coastline of Bouganville is majestic. The south part of the island is supposed to be highly populated but we didn't see any people, probably because it was 5AM. The islands along the broken barrier reef are beautiful and there are lots of gorgeous beaches mixed with black volcanic cliffs. Everything is covered in lush vegetation.

We kept to our route inside the reef system. The bottom was pretty much 100 feet or more everywhere on our track, as charted. We found no isolated obstructions or dangers along the way. The reef doesn't break up the North swell much if at all with few exceptions outside of the Kieta area.

At times the sea was glassy as we motored up the coast, with the main setting now and just hanging there a minute later. A huge pod of spinner dolphins came to visit us for more than an hour. They were everywhere. In fact they seem to own Bouganville, as we could spot their fins arching through the water at a distance the entire day.

Our previous attempt at this stretch of coast three days ago was a very different experience. We had 18 knots from 320 and the seas were steep and building to 2 meters. At the end we were all having a hard time making 4 knots. Today we rarely fell below 6 and the trip was far more pleasant. It is almost always worth it to wait for weather. We would have saved a lot of diesel and had a lot more fun playing poker in North Bay.

Kieta is a wonderful harbor. Totally protected in any conditions and very large with lots of places to anchor inside. The bottom is not too deep to anchor in mid harbor (110 feet, hmmm, perhaps I'm getting used to this Pacific anchoring business) and there are bays with charted depths of 30 feet (haven't see that in a long time).

There are a fair amount of folks in the Kieta area but things looked very peaceful. We saw a nice market on shore as we motored by and a wharf that looked as if it was under expansion on the south shore.

We came in the south entrance and found no hazards along the way. Kieta is certainly the place to stop on this part of the Bouganville coast. We didn't however. As I type I am regretting it a little too.

It was not even noon when we entered the harbor and it seemed a waste to shut down in these conditions. If we pressed on we could shack up in a less than perfect anchorage but then perhaps make Buka tomorrow. Whistler, Angelique and Swingin' on a Star all agreed to make for Cape Mabiri.

Leaving the harbor we took a short cut between Arovo Island and Kieta Point. The water is 100 feet plus mid channel (don't cut the corners). The main coast and island are lovely here. There is a ship wreck smack in the middle of a perfect yellow sand beach on Arovo island inside the pass. Arovo would be fun to explore and snorkel/dive.

Exiting the cut we ran along Anewa Bay and noticed a picturesque waterfall running down the cliff at the back of the bay. Anewa is the port that serviced the copper mine which seeded all of the conflict between Bouganville and PNG 30 years ago.

The open copper mine in the hills here was a huge revenue producer. The locals did not want to pay the high taxes to PNG when they received so little from the central government in return (perhaps because they had the highest per capita income of any PNG province?). There were issues with the foreign ownership of the mines as well. Regardless the locals blew up everything industrial in revolt, reducing their own lot to subsistence operations and creating a civil war that cost many lives and shut Bouganville down for commerce, not to mention tourism, for many years.

Now Bouganville has a peace accord with PNG and a path to independence has been laid out. I don't know who was in the right all those years ago, probably both and neither, but from a yachting perspective, the civil war has been a bummer. There are many unfounded rumors about Bouganville and things are certainly improving. That said it is still a place best passed through quickly. Too bad, it is such a lovely island.

We motored up inside the reef to Ambun Rock and then cut across the deep water to enter the general anchorage area behind the reefs running up to Cape Mabiri. I could tell right away that it was not going to be pretty.

Reefs are underwater. They may break the seas down, but, in general, you still have lots of chop behind a submerged reef. Hard to tell from a chart though. Does the reef dry a lot? Just a little? Not at all? This reef would be the later type. The good thing was the bottom was sand as best we could tell and of a reasonable depth behind the cape.

This is not harbor. It is a roadstead and if there is any swell from the north to SE you will know it. The wind also needs to have west in it to gain protection here. In other than calm and settled conditions I would not recommend this spot.

But here is where we are. We could have made the next harbor but it was hard to tell from the chart if it would have been any better or if three boats could have made it in. Angeliqe was a couple hours behind us so we had limited range to work with.

Mabiri Reef anchorage would have to do for the night. We dropped the anchor in 70 feet of water to ensure that if we blew back to land we would have enough sea room. We put out the whole box (300 feet) and set the anchor angling to shore with the expected worst case wind and the swell.

We saw some folks out in canoes and all of them were so kind and friendly. They spoke English much more effectively than the people we typically met in out of the way places in the Solomons or Vanuatu.

Once Whistler and Angelique got in and settled an envoy came out to offer us fresh fruits and vegetables. We accepted of course. It began to rain then. We were sad assuming there would be no fresh produce trading.

Then in the middle of the downpour they came out laden with all kinds of yummy things to eat. All organically grown and fresh today. We traded tee shirts, school supplies, ball caps, sugar, a can of beans for a whole line up, including: watermelon, onions, papaya, peppers, beans and mangoes.

The folks were wonderful. One of the ladies had lived in Australia for some time but they all spoke great English. They kids were thrilled to see the yachts arrive. One even came out in the outrigger canoes to see us in the rain.

I asked them about security and they said that the area is very safe. The war was propagated by a small group of people (big surprise) who made many miserable for their own ends. They were happy to say that the war is long over (at least three years I suppose) and that people should come to visit their lovely island.

I couldn't agree more.

It looks as if we will make for Buka tomorrow if the weather clears by sunrise (which it generally does). I hope to come back to see these wonderful folks again though. The islands along their reef are beautiful and there are some amazingly long point breaks for the surfing crowd, not to mention one of the the worlds top two reefs for biodiversity.

Papua New Guinea
Yogurt
Randy
01/12/2009, Oema Island

We stayed in harbor today. Everyone was up at 4AM ready to go. The forecast was ok but calmer days were coming. We decided to give it a shot even though thunderstorms were sparking off in the distance to every point of the compass. A few miles out of the anchorage the apparent wind had climbed to the high teens and folks were worried about being able to keep way on at the cape. So back to the harbor we came.

The whole day the seas lightened and the wind dropped. Of course. It would have been a perfect day to go. Fortunately we have the same forecast tomorrow. Everyone used the day to get small projects done.

One of our favorite new tricks has been making yogurt. At and Dia, on Angelique II, gave us the starter and instructions. Now have perpetual yogurt, as long as there's milk. How awesome is that? We just spoon four teaspoons of the current batch of yogurt into one liter of milk at 50 degrees centigrade, let it sit in a thermos overnight, and voila, yogurt.

The Solomon Islands
Aka Whistler Island
Randy
01/11/2009, Oema Island

We advanced a good 9 miles today on the trek to Green Island. Green island is a little atoll like island with high hills on the surrounding parts. It lies in the north area between Bouganville and New Ireland. If possible we will turn for Kapingamaringi from here. More likely we will hop the rest of the islands along the northeast coast of New Ireland and stop in at Kaveing. Then sail to Manu where we will finally be able to sail NE to Kapingamaringi. We shall see. We'll turn right at the first opportunity.

We are anchored in Oema island. Oema island is a deserted jungle coated island with three bays on the south shore and a huge bird population. The first bay is deep and settled in the northerly conditions. The second is not so deep and the third is on the Southeast point and would only be good in a pure NW wind. Squalls and fluctuations in the wind direction had us decidedly anchored in bay #1.

It is deep here but if you look around you can find a 360 anchor spot in 90 feet. If you don't mind hanging off the island you can anchor in 30 feet of nice sand. Should a squall come through and back you around you will certainly be on the beach and the drag slope is steep. The other option is the one Eric on Whisteler chooses.

That is to anchor in 50 feet with short scope (counteracted by the fact that you are pulling the anchor uphill), back toward the beach, then jump in an inflatable kayak to tie a line to a tree. It is the most work to get settled and to depart but it gives you the best back yard. That close to shore you are also totally out of the wind, which can be good or bad, and you need to deal with the additional insect population the easy access provides.

All in all I think it is the way to go in some of these spots, especially if you are staying a couple nights. Our 4AM out time and lack of a floating kayak have us lying to one hook off of the bow for the time being.

The little beach in the NW end of the bay is lovely and I'm sure there's a lot of good snorkeling and scuba diving around the edges. Alas we will be out early.

We were also sad to leave North Bay on Fauro. It was perhaps even a little nicer than this bay. Tuna can be found jumping about at all hours. We dropped a line in the water right over a group of feeding fish on the way here and instantly caught a Little Tunny. Hideko made us some yummy sushi for dinner and we shared the bounty Angelique and Whistler.

Things are very calm as I type at 6PM, so with luck we will have a light wind motor to Kieta tomorrow.

P.S. Hideko and I have now watched every Star Trek episode and movie ever made. It was a fun 28 seasons. We now have Eric on Whistler hooked on Enterprise. He is on track to finish season one in about a week...

Hideko and I have switched to Academy Award Best Picture films now. We watched Wings, Broadway Melody and All Quiet on the Western Front and hope to proceed through to the present in chronological order. We'll see.

The Solomon Islands
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

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