21 April 2016 | Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands)
20 April 2016 | Hecate Strait, BC, Canada
19 April 2016 | Althone Island, BC, Canada
15 April 2016 | Calvert Island, BC, Canada
12 April 2016 | Port Hardy, Vancouver Island north, BC, Canada
27 March 2016 | Broughton Islands, BC, Canada
25 March 2016 | Broughton Islands, BC, Canada
24 March 2016 | Desolation Sound, BC, Canada
22 March 2016 | Walsh Cove, Desolation Sound, BC, Canada
18 March 2016 | Princess Louisa Inlet, British Columbia, Canada
17 March 2016 | Jervis Inlet, BC, Canada
14 March 2016 | Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
08 March 2016 | Blaine, Washington State, USA
07 March 2016 | Blaine, Washington State, USA
08 February 2016 | San Juan Islands, Washington State, USA
29 January 2016 | Tacoma, Washington state USA
28 January 2016 | Tacoma, Washington state USA
23 January 2016 | Puget Sound, Washington state, USA
22 January 2016 | Seattle
22 December 2015 | Oak Bay, Victoria, B.C., Canada

Time and Tide

21 October 2018 | Shortland Islands, Western Province, Solomon Islands
..await nobody.." So with the weeks flying by , our next challenge was to match 'the desired' with 'the possible'. We wanted to spend more time at the northern end of Choiseul but then again we felt there was a need to spend more time everywhere, so as we often say, "you can only do what you can do". And of course, the weather and the changing of season consideration is ever-present. Our next destination was the Shortland Islands, the closest point of which to Bougainville PNG is only 2 miles or 4 kilometres but by now a decent wind had become just a fond memory... so it was the iron spinnaker (i.e. the engine) or wait, and with time running out, we had limited options.

The Shortland Islands

The cultural and traditional ties between the people living in this area means formalities associated with modern international boundaries cannot be strictly adhered to and so a similar arrangement exists between these countries as that between PNG and Australia in respect of Torres Strait. The Shortland Islands were closed to foreigners for many years and is likely to be again the case in the near future so this may be the only opportunity for us to ever visit the area. In June 2019 a referendum will take place to decide whether Bougainville will become independent from PNG - and there is going to be trouble, and a great deal of it. Our original plan had been to visit all the villages in the Shortland Islands as well as the Treasury Islands but we simply did not have enough time left. However we would do what we could. The first island we visited was Fauro that had two villages, Taumoa and Samanango where we conducted clinics. The people at Taumoa said that we were the first yacht "since the trouble" to visit the island - 30 years that is. Some people told us what it was like during the late 80's in their village, which we later found out was representative of all the villages in the Shortlands. The people were so frightened of Bouganvillean militia that they lived in the bush for 10 years - the villages were deserted. With the upcoming referendum they are hoping that the Solomon Islands Government and the international community are taking the steps necessary to ensure their safety. Only two weeks before we arrived we were told that a group of 20 armed militia from Bougainville had raided a nearby logging camp, terrorising the workers and stole chainsaws, fuel and other equipment.

At Taumoa we met the health boat from Nila ('capital' of the Shortlands) and the head nurse, Moses, was there with two representatives from WHO. It seems there has been a breakout of Polio in PNG recently (14 cases) and everyone is going to be vaccinated (if they so desire of course). I did read that a few years ago WHO had hoped that Polio would be eradicated by 2018 and in fact we mistakenly thought that was already the case. Meeting Moses was fortuitous as it allowed us to pre-arrange a multi-day clinic at Nila later in the week.

At Saminango the clinic was again very successful and we were invited for lunch at the chief's (Silverio) house for a meal of 'traditional smoked fish' and rice and at the end of another busy day we were happy to return to rest on Monkey Fist. Shortly afterwards we had a visit from a lady (Margaret) from the village (who was around 60) on her way out to dive for Trocus shells in her canoe. She came to say goodbye and thank us and she also told us that "some boys" had been on our boat and had stolen bananas (again lucky we keep everything locked up). But she said that the village was very unhappy and that the boys were now "very frightened". No harm done but certainly again a behaviour the community needs to stamp out. With the wind picking up and a long fetch in the anchorage we again had another less-than-restful night's sleep.

Samanango to Nila was a short but welcome sail of 15 miles with the wind just forward of abeam around 18 knots. When we arrived at Nila a bare-chested local came out to greet us in his dugout with his three pikininis - it was Moses, the head nurse. The two younger pikininis freaked out on seeing 'the whiteman', it was a sight seeing them clambering onto his lap in the dugout canoe, Moses had to take them back to shore, no way were they getting onto Monkey Fist. He returned and helped us anchor and we made arrangements to visit the new clinic and prepare the venue. The clinic is quite new and was funded by the Catholic church that has infiltrated this region, apparently the bishop who lives in Gizo comes from Italy and so the clinic was built by Italians who the locals said couldn't speak English! Our first impression was that the building was inappropriate for the climate and for it's intended use, which it seems coincided with both staff and local people's view for reasons we don't have room to go into here. Most people prefer to stay in the old dilapidated hospital. But it seems a fault of many charity and aid groups that they fail to consult the local communities when giving such aid.

Recently I made mention of SDA's and questioned the value of the restrictive diet forced upon their subsistence followers and feel compelled to make comment in relation to the Catholic church, especially in these communities and especially in relation to their outdated stance on contraception. One night during our stay three babies were born at the clinic, assisted by the one nurse on call, one baby was the seventh child of a woman who was only 32 years old. I'm not sure how anyone can see this as a good outcome. You might say "well, what contraception could they use?", which is where Family Planning Australia has stepped in and has made available to many women in the Solomons without cost, the Jadelle contraceptive implant which (effective for five years).

Moses and two other nursers, his wife Jonica and another lady Ruth helped us out at the clinic with Moses being trained to fit reading glasses (which allowed to to leave a stock with him to supply people who weren't able to attend). At the same time we were there, there was a workshop for nurses from the outlying villages, including Mono on the Treasury Islands, so we were able to give the Mono nurse some training in fitting reading glasses and also a supply of glasses to take back with her. Moses (almost 40) believed that he had good vision and didn't need glasses but as the saying goes - 'you don't know what you don't know'. He was holding and looking at the visual acuity chart while I was explaining his situation to the other nurses and I slipped a pair of +1.00 reading glasses on him. He was shocked by the difference and couldn't stop looking at the chart for some time with a big smile on his face. A simple pair of glasses that we all take for granted produces a pretty amazing difference.

Gizo

The day after the last day of the clinic we were on our way south east again but not surprisingly, there was no wind. We over-nighted in a quiet bay on the north of Vella Lavella Island and the following day we continued into Gizo, the provincial capital of the Western Province. I must say that Gizo surprised me a little, I think we expected something a little more developed and really it was just a large village/small town with a couple of phone towers dotted around and huge amounts of OBM's speeding recklessly in and out of the harbour, continuing well after the hours of darkness without any lights. How they avoid the canoes I have no idea but it seemed awfully dangerous to us. The only meat that was available were two kilo bags of chicken wings, frankfurts and minced beef of dubious origins - and of course plenty of beer.

We met with our friend from Simbo, Gideon Tuke, who had arranged a meeting with the Premier the following Monday after which he would accompany us to Simbo Island where we would conduct the last of our big clinics. We had been in touch with Gideon through mutual friends who had helped with rebuilding after the tsunami in 2007 that killed nine people. Also we visited Silverio, the vision nurse at the hospital who showed us his limited and incomplete range of glasses to supply to people, so before we left were able to leave with him pairs of eyeglasses that significantly bolstered what he had.

The meeting with the Premier was scheduled in three days time and could not be brought forward so we decided not to wait in Gizo and headed over to Liapari Island 12 miles away where we conducted a clinic at the local village, as well as on Liapari itself. The anchorage was great which was fortuitous, as the weather turned particularly foul. And there were even two other yachts there - our first for many months. We headed back to Gizo on the Sunday afternoon even though the weather was bleak, but we needed to be back for the meeting the following morning. We could see another storm approaching but with reefed sails we believed we'd still have a reasonable sail, unfortunately after it engulfed us it turned into a thunderstorm with lightening and thunder only a few seconds apart - virtually on top of us so we changed course to try and work our way away from the storm cell centre, which luckily we were able to do.

Back in Gizo the following morning the meeting with the Premier ended up with all the MP's (in Gizo for a conference) attending and having their vision screened, with us resolving issues they never even realized they had!

Simbo Island

On the Tuesday we headed to Simbo with Gideon and his three year old grandson Joe and arrived in the early afternoon to an official welcoming ceremony complete with a troupe of armed and painted natives who staged a mock attack (re-enactment?) on us as we arrived in the dingy. We had a busy two day clinic which was probably the best run we had in our time in the Solomons, with the help of Gideon and another young guy named Nickson, our clinic ran like clockwork - in two days over 300 pairs of glasses fitted with over 540 pairs of sunglasses gifted.

While Simbo is only 25 miles (50 kms) from Gizo, there are many people here who never leave the island, especially the Old People. Which brings us to Gideon's mother, Daisy Tuke who is the oldest person we have helped so far - 100 years old as of 18th June this year. We paid her a home visit. She was wearing glasses but they "didn't work", glasses that had been given to her by a relative and were only good for "keeping the flies out". After we were finished she was able to count her grand children playing outside, the first time in many, many years. Gideon said to his mother "Can you see me" she replied "Yes son I can see you". Daisy then turned to us and said "Thank you too much for the glasses....that's all". Daisy then stood unaided, crossed the verandah, went down the steps, and the next client arrived a young 77 year old who we were also able to assist with her first pair of glasses.

We asked about the 2007 tsunami which most people had suffered. The nine people that lost their lives all came from a now non-existent village at the north west corner of the island. The epicentre was only a few miles away and at seven am., with the earth shaking and a loud rumbling, people ran for their lives into the foothills. Half the population had been asleep and ran for their lives into the bush still naked, disregarding their possessions, including clothing. The general belief is that those who died had delayed their escape in order to collect some precious items to take with them. Nickson our helper at the clinics told us his wife gave birth to their first child 'up in the bush' the day after the tsunami....the resilience of the village people is awesome.

The Old Chief

18 October 2018 | Bay of 1,000 Voices, Choiseul., Solomon Islands
The old chief came from one of the surrounding villages, had heard about us and came to see if we could help him. He was unable to climb up on Monkey Fist as he was quite severely disabled, we guessed his family must have carried him to his OBM. He had his adult grand-daughter with him on this outing.

More happy people

18 October 2018 | Bay of 1,000 Voices, Choiseul., Solomon Islands
One of the many boat loads of people who came to see us for vision screening and glasses. As an added bonus everyone 18 and over was given a pair of polarised sunglasses. No wonder they were smiling.

Room with a view

15 October 2018 | Bay of 1,000 Voices, Choiseul, Solomon Islands
Working at the top of one's mast becomes less of a concern when you've done it dozens of times. It's not much fun if the boat is rocking so a tranquil anchorage is needs to be taken advantage of, to do what needs to be done and in such a beautiful place as Bay of 1,000 voices, it's also worth taking the time to look around.

Clinic at Pelau

14 October 2018 | Pelau, Ontong Java, Malaita Province, Solomon Islands
Conducting a clinic inside the “Council of Chiefs” house at Pelau, Ontong Java. We prefer it if people wait outside but any directive has a very limited life span. Even with just a few bodies in such a room it's very hot so it can quickly become stifling (even for ex-Territorians) and also reduces the available light for vision screening. Something like this doesn't happen very often (if ever) and people are very curious to watch how other people can magically see again and they must also wonder if we can help them or I they might miss out. It's highly likely that most of these people will ever own another pair of glasses or sunglasses.

When turmeric and marriage meet

14 October 2018 | Luaniua, Ontong Java, Malaita Province, Solomon Islands
On Ontong Java and adjoining Nakamanu atoll (30 miles to the north and is actually part of PNG) the people are Polynesian in origin and some customs that are both fascinating and unusual. Turmeric is grown, but not for food colouring or flavouring but for kustom reasons – skin colouring and dying of accessories such as headdresses. The photo is of the bride-to-be waiting patiently whilst the bride price is paid to her family. All her visible skin is stained by rich and varied shades of turmeric. In this area the bride price is paid in bolts of highly coloured fabric and we were shocked to see the number. Some women approaching the leaf house where the bride-to-be awaited and they had perhaps eight bolts of fabric under their arms. We were surprised to hear that the total number of bolts could easily exceed 200. Unlike some other provinces (e.g. Malaita) the payment of bride price did not transfer “ownership” of the bride to the husband. In this area, a bride's family still has influence over the bride and she can still do whatever she wants.

To the untrained western eye her contemplative posture could be mistaken for boredom.....

Living with weather

14 October 2018 | Ontong Java Atoll, Malaita Province, Solomon Islands
We have a little internet and so we're taking the opportunity to post a few photos we've taken over the last couple of months, to put some images with the words.

Forced to await better weather at Ontong Java atoll we were anchored behind the fringing reef watching rainstorms march up to the edge of the lagoon and stop there, remaining stationary until they either slid sideways or dissipated. Such rainstorms were benign yet still visually stunning. The big storms that hit during the night from any and every direction were the ones that we would have happily foregone

Skirting the outer fringes of the Solomons

03 October 2018 | Choiseul, Solomon Islands
Leaving Ontong Java proved to be more of a challenge than actually making it there. Our weather information indicated that the wind was again going to move around the compass and spend time in the South West, which of course is the direction we wanted to go - so wait we must. And weather from the South West seemed generally to be particularly unpleasant. We threaded our way through this huge reef strewn lagoon to find an anchorage that had at least some protection. As expected the wind changed and the weather deteriorated and we were glad we were where we were but it still meant we were often up during the night checking on things - howling wind and driving rain in the pitch black often struggling to see which way were were facing - the joys of sailing. On occasion we did notice something odd - often when the wind was not strong the rainstorms would remain stationary just outside the lagoon and not progress towards us, which is what we would have expected. Very odd. All we could think of what that the warm waters of the large lagoon were actually affecting the local weather, the warm air rising and blocking the prevailing rain-containing winds. And we have some amazing photos which we'll post when we can. I should say that for the first time in four months while waiting for the weather to change we had our first beach walk, Frances returning with an an armful of shells claiming they were for her grand-daughter Isabella.

Finally the wind went to the Nor-nor-west and we headed off in the driving rain, though a nearby pass that we'd already surveyed in the dingy. Under leaden skies the wind dropped again and we were forced to motor for a few hours but slowly it came back and we eventually had an excellent sail back to Santa Isabel, which lay 140 miles (280kms) away. The north western end of Santa Isabel is extensively fragmented, creating hundreds of islands and islets, myriad reefs and narrow passages with strong currents. Combined with poor charts, poor quality satellite photos , no sun and often cloudy water this meant extreme care was needed to navigate. Our next destination was Kia, a village with a population of over 1,000 people many of whom live in leaf houses built on stilts over the water, the steepness of the surrounding land restricting building to a fringe around the shoreline. The extensive reefs with poor light, deep water and strong currents again tested our concentration levels but eventually we 'dropped the pick' in 24 metres of water out of the raging current. After a brief rest we went to shore and located the health clinic which we knew was near this end of this long village and we spoke to the head nurse Roslyn, apologised for the lack of notice, explained our program and arranged a two day clinic. She assured us that the message would be passed around the community starting that evening at church service. Having the second day is always good as it gives more time for word to filter out to the outlying villages and gives people living there a chance to come and see us. The following day the weather deteriorated yet again and yet again from the South West with winds well over 30 knots blowing along the channel which created unpleasant but not dangerous conditions for our dingy. Monkey Fist held nicely in the thick clay bottom over 70 metres of chain.

With the help of Roslyn and the other two nurses Evelyn and Corina we had a steady stream of people leaving the clinic with big smiles on their faces. What made it even better was that, through a religious connection in Australia, a rich, philanthropic Christian family had built a library in the village. I doubt in all the Solomons there was anything like it, humble by western opulence but none-the-less functional and with a reasonable supply of second-hand books and, boy, were the people proud of it. So now, equipped with their new glasses and their new library they were in 7th heaven. When we visited the library late on the second day, one end was being used for a three day literacy workshop - fantastic to see. During the clinic we provided training to all three nurses and left the clinic with a range of reading spectacles for people who didn't make it to the clinic.

Roslyn's English was excellent, even though it is her THIRD language!! and she had spent time training in Australia, some of it in aged care facilities, she said she never knew there were such places existed. She told us that she had been shocked and very sad to see old people living like that, many never having any visitors at all while she was there. She said "our parents looked after us when we were young and now when they are old it's our turn to look after them". What a pity we don't feel the same in the developed world.

We've always enjoyed helping people and we now realise that we love 'blowing people out' as we say in Australia and for us our project is right on the money. On the way down the seven mile channel heading back out out to sea we spotted a canoe with two occupants who were in their late 50's , skirting the mangrove-lined shore. We hailed them over, had a brief chat and they were on board having their vision screened while we drifted backwards with the current. Gilchrist ended up with both reading and distance glasses and Gwen also needed distance glasses. Then we topped it off by giving them both a pair of polarized fitover sunglasses. They had been out for four days in the bush gathering sago palm to make a new roof for their leaf house but the weather had been very poor and were on their way back to Kia. When we waved them goodbye their smiles said it all.

Another seam had come undone on the genoa and we diverted to an anchorage behind Ghaghe Island which required entry through a narrow, raging pass but luckily we had cut our teeth on many such passes in French Polynesia and we transited it without any complications into a tranquil (but deep) rainforest lined bay for an afternoon of sail stitching. We managed to squeeze in a visit to the small village (Ritamala) outside the pass later in the day to fit spectacles and sunglasses. This area has been infiltrated by SDA's (Seventh Day Adventists) which is neither here nor there to us but one of the quirks of this faith relates to not eating "unclean food" and that the people can only eat animals that have 'feather, fur or fins' so things like shellfish, crabs and crayfish are off the menu and considering food is not that easy to come by, it seems like an unnecessary burden when living a subsistence life.

The wind by now was slowly but surely failing and our next leg was more or less the last sailing we did for a few days. The area between Santa Isabel and Choiseul is sparsely populated and is also a haven for wildlife and vegetation encompassing an extensive protected area. We even saw a magnificent Solomons Eagle, which we didn't even know existed! If we weren't otherwise occupied we would spend some time exploring this area, mind you the anchorages are marginal.

We needed to do some maintenance on Monkey Fist so we thought we'd kill two birds with one stone. On satellite photos, we had identified a sheltered inlet offshooting from a channel behind Poro Island on Choiseul (Island) that fitted in nicely with a day's progress North. It was reminiscent of Raja Ampat in Indonesia, with upraised coral islands, mushroom islands, pristine rainforest, huge rowdy Hornbills as well as seawater stained blue from the leached limestone. We later learnt that this inlet was called "Bay of 1,000 Voices", stunningly beautiful, pristine and the silence (minus the birds calling) recharged our batteries. At night we found the steep sides of the inlet's rainforest was full of fireflies. Late the following morning we had just finished most of our maintenance work in time for our first visitors. The passage outside the inlet has some passing traffic from villagers and a guy we had met earlier at Ritamala, Reeves, was actually a ranger in the conservation area between Choiseul and Santa Isabel. So he knew about our project and he knew where we were headed and it turns out his home village was not too far from where we were anchored so he came looking for us with a boatload of people who needed glasses. Between that afternoon and the following morning we had eight OBM's and five canoes visit us for glasses, over 60 pairs all together (plus sunglasses). We told people to pass the message and that anybody was welcome and we apologised for not having the time visit their villages. The following morning I awoke just after six to see a husband, wife and child quietly fishing not far away from Monkey Fist. They had heard about our program and did not want to miss out, so they had camped out overnight and as they were only paddling, and had left their campsite before it was light. We invited them on board (at about 6.30am), tested their vision and they both ended up with spectacles as well as a pair of sunglasses each. I have little doubt that such an experience for them would be surreal, and also in a particularly nice way. We certainly enjoyed it.

After another couple of visits from boats we managed to pull the anchor just after 8am and continued on our way north west to the Shortland Islands.

For the record, we've fitted and supplied over 6,500 pairs of glasses now.
Vessel Name: Monkey Fist
Vessel Make/Model: Jeanneau 43DS
Hailing Port: Darwin
Crew: Paul and Frances Tudor-Stack
About: After spending over 20 years in the NT Paul and Frances returned to the sea in 2008. Their first trip was into the Pacific via West Papua and over the top of PNG and then back to Australia where they sold their old traditional boat "Sea Spray" and bought "Monkey Fist"
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