All set to go again
25 August 2018 | Honiara, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
It feels like months since we've last posted, but in reality it's only be a couple of weeks and as we are in Honiara at this time and just about to head off into the wild blue yonder again, we'd better make sure everyone is updated. So much has happened that we'll have to skim things a lot quicker than we'd like to.
From Lata we made a fast passage to Port Mary on Santa Ana Island, a distance of 200nm, which we covered in a day an a bit, under a 20 to 25 knot south-easterly. Santa Ana is a small Island with a fantastic anchorage and a few villages where we planned to conduct clinics on the way to Honiara.
We paddled ashore (as by now our rudimentary rowlocks had exceeded their design specifications) and we made our usual overtures to the chief regarding our program which, as expected, were welcomed. In company with him we liased with the community nurse who confirmed his willingness to assist our program which would start the following day in their village. The day following we planned to visit the remaining villages to run clinics utilising the only car on the island.
The following day the clinic was conducted at the community hall with the assistance of the nurse using a system we had employed many times before and was extremely busy, with many, many people resolving issues they had had for many years with their visual world.
And, unfortunately, something occurred during the clinic that resulted in between 150 and 200 pairs of glasses being taken without our permission. For the vast majority of people we only permit them one pair of glasses (of which everyone is made aware regularly) and what transpired was that the nurse was allowing people to essentially take as many pairs as they so desired. Frances has written a very good detailed account about what happened, which we don't feel we have the room to publish at the moment, but upon our discovery we ceased our activities and requested that the glasses be returned to us before we continue and that unless this occurred we would not be continuing our clinic there and not conducting clinics at the other villages either. Amidst many apologies, we returned to Monkey Fist awaiting some response but unfortunately the response came too little, too late. After we raised anchor the following day a canoe manned by two betelnut-chewing teenagers paddled out with a small bag of glasses. We felt as if a community elder could have made the effort to come and talk to us and then we might have reconsidered not leaving but, it was not enough and we knew that many other islands would appreciate our contribution so we moved on.
The good news is that we had a short 10 mile passage to the next anchorage and a day up our sleeve so we dropped in at Star Harbour on San Cristobal Island. We spoke to the nurse Frieda and we offered our services. She was very busy at the old health clinic with her post natal work but managed a few moments to speak with us and then showed us to the new hospital adjacent, the construction of which has been funded by an Australian doctor who had married a local woman but the hospital had not been officially opened at that time. For people in the western world reading our blog the term “hospital” may have some con-notions as to what that means, however, it is a small basic function building that will be provide basis services that had been previously unavailable.
Very quickly 'the word' was spread and by 1pm a sizeable crowd had gathered and we were off and running. The Australian medical students staying in the otherwise vacant hospital expressed little interest in our clinic and what we were doing which we believed may have provided important insight into the sight issues that are a part of the people's lives. The clinic was a huge success and midway through the afternoon Frieda arrived and offered her services. She was excellent and her assistance was very much appreciated and enabled us to help many more people that we would have otherwise. Frances told her what had happened at Santa Ana and she said “by leaving it will teach them a good lesson”.
Over the next few days we made our way towards Honiara, stopping at night and running clinics where possible. Enroute the weather was more and more unstable and it became apparent that the SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone) was rearing it's ugly head and interfering with the normally reliable weather associated with the trade winds. As we approached the southern end of Guadalcanal the wind changed to the nor-nor-east and conditions became decidedly unpleasant, forcing us to change our plans and run for shelter via the south east passage in amongst the myriad of islands and reefs. One would think the options for shelter here would be plentiful but due to the depth of water we struggled for an hour and a half to find somewhere we were happy to drop the pick but ended up having a pleasant night. The scant weather information available to us was of limited value and early the next morning under clearish skies we decided to head off to see what conditions were like outside and to our pleasure we had a reasonable southerly wind and so under goose-winged sail configuration we made our way to the north. But would it hold?
Of course not! After several hours the wind dropped and we found ourselves under motor which in some ways was a blessing as we caught a 25 to 30 kg yellowfin tuna (always easier when motoring). Then a couple of hours later the sky darkened and the wind again shifted to the east then to the north east – it looked liked another low pressure cell was coming through. By mid afternoon we were under reefed staysail and heavily reefed main with a full gale (35 to 40 knots) coming at us on the nose, still we were able to claw our way along the nearby lee shore and eventually the wind dropped and we were again under motor. We knew we were unable to store all the fish and planned to share it with people in Honiara, however about 10 miles south we came across a lone fisherman in his small canoe dragging his line around in the hope of catching dinner. We changed course a number of times to intercept him as he was no doubt trying to avoid getting run over by the mad yacht people. But we eventually attracted his attention and called him over and enquired about his fishing success. His response was confirmed by his empty canoe - “would you like a fish?, come around the back of the boat” whereupon we man-handled the fish into his canoe which took up most of his available space. No doubt he had a story to tell his family that night!
We were grateful that we had not been in Honiara for “the blow”. It is not a well protected anchorage and one NZ yacht, Tumara had been on a mooring in there when it hit and all hell had broke loose and they had to cut their stern lines and motor out to sea to avoid being wrecked by a huge fishing boat dragging down upon them. Oh, the joys of cruising.
Honiara is never a good harbour, it is small and poorly protected and security has been an issue in the past. The streets are full of people, it is very, very hot and humid and dusty with betelnut spit all too visible everywhere. People trying their best to survive. An added non-feature of the anchorage since the last time we were here in 2009 is the rock-crushing plant established at the point only 150 metres from where we were which only shuts down at 3am.
In the end we had little choice but for Frances to fly back to Australia and bring back the parts needed to continue on. On top of the outboard leg, the bearing on our genoa furler had disintegrated and without it our sailing ability and the safety of Monkey Fist would be compromised. Frances flew back to Australia and spent a frantic 36 hours there getting together the spare parts we needed to effect repairs to Monkey Fist and allow us to carry on with the project. To her credit she managed to do so with with one arm wrapped around her beloved baby grand-daughter Isabella. Back on the plane and another 36 hours later working flat out, we are now ready to sail off again.
Our plan from here is to head northwards aiming for Ontong Java, a remote atoll around 140 miles to the north east of Santa Isabel Island, where a few thousand people live in relative isolation and a place where we believe our services will be needed.
Photo: On a completely different note, whilst anchored in Honiara we were privileged to witness possibly the most remarkable sunset we have ever seen. Now that's a big call, but for over an hour Frances and I were constantly gazing around 360 degrees mesmerised by the dynamic beauty continuously unfolding before our eyes “look over here, no look over here”. The clarity of the sky, the cloud formations and a quality of light all come together to treat us to such a magnificent natural display. We were in awe.
Over the next few weeks a friend of Eyeglass Assist will be posting some photos on our behalf of us and some of encounters so far.