19 April 2011 | Bathurst harbour
19 April 2011 | Bathurst channel
07 April 2011 | Port Davey and the Bathurst Channel
29 March 2011
25 March 2011 | Port Macquarie
24 March 2011 | Macquarie habour
20 March 2011 | Macquarie harbour
16 March 2011 | Macquarie Harbour SW Tasmania
15 March 2011 | Macquarie Harbour SW Tasmania
14 March 2011 | Macquarie Harbour
12 March 2011 | Three Hummock Island
10 March 2011 | Stanley
07 March 2011
27 February 2011 | Freycinet Peninsula
24 February 2011 | Tasman Island
22 February 2011 | Port Arthur
22 February 2011 | Port Arthur
04 February 2011 | Cape Barren Island
30 January 2011 | Kent Island group

As far north as we go

17 September 2018 | Ontong Java atoll
We'd hoped for a little wind to sail the few miles to Tatamba but the sea was like a mill pond so it was on with the motor. Our intention was to wait there for wind to sail out to Ontong Java but wind-wise, the forecast looked less than promising.

One of the few initiatives we had seen that the government has implemented to help with employment without exploitation are publicly run fisheries operations and this was the first one we had seen. The government provides a Fisheries Officer who buys fish from the local fishermen who go out in their small OBM's and catch reef fish. The F.O. runs a small ice machine and the fish are kept on ice until they are taken to Honiara on the trade ship once a week. We were told that the purchase price from the fishermen was $3-$3.50Au/kg and the wholesale price to the market sellers was $4-$4.50Au/kg which seemed a reasonable deal to us. Certainly in comparison to how much people are paid by for example the logging companies, this is pretty good.

After 24 hours we decided that we should go to the provincial capital Buala, 25 miles to north west, to re-supply with fresh fruit and vegetables knowing that Ontong Java would have no excess food available for trade.

We anticipated spending anything up to a week waiting for the wind if one believed the forecast and Buala was a pleasant enough anchorage, with the market, hospital and police station within spitting distance of our anchorage. After saying hello to the local constabulary and poking our heads in to the market we walked over to the hospital to see the vision nurse. �"Hi Paul and Frances�" was the shout from the hospital grounds as one of the general nurses Leslie had been one of our clients at Sigana Island the previous week. When he saw Monkey Fist come into the harbour he excitedly ran and told the vision nurse Rachael that we were coming. Rachael is very passionate about her job and we spent some time discussing various issues surrounding vision around the Solomon Islands. She showed us the meagre supply of glasses that she had at her disposal and we promised to leave her as many as we could before we left. We had heard that Racheal (Sorumana) was a well-known singer in the Solomons and she and her family had just won a competition to write and perform the theme song for the recent kustom festival held in Buala and she played for us the winning track. Very talented lady.

The hospital midwife, Wendy, was original from Ontong Java but had left there some years previously and she proved a wealth of information. She said that earlier in the year there had been no trade ship out there for almost five months and she did not know if any had arrived since. She also said whatever you do don't tell anyone you are going out there because your boat will be full of passengers. The next morning we awoke expecting to have a long wait in front of us for wind however there seemed to be a steady breeze of around 15 knots coming from the ESE so we decided to take the plunge and make an unexpected departure. But not before heading back up the hospital and providing Rachael with a good number and range of spectacles for which she was extremely grateful.

The voyage to Ontong Java was very fine indeed. We expected the wind to drop but it just kept on at the same force until mid-morning the following day. Then upon hoisting the spinnaker, our speed was brought back up to what we needed to arrive at the uncharted atoll while we still had enough light to enter and anchor.

The passage into the lagoon is extra-ordinary (check it out on our voyage map) �- it's well defined with steep coral walls either side, snaking over three kilometres into the lagoon itself and the water is so clear that the bottom is easily visible in 25 to 30 metres. The main island's name is the same as the main village, Luaniua and has a population of, they say, 1,000 but we suspect that includes everybody who has a house there but actually lives in Honiara. The people here are Polynesian and so it was yet another language to familiarise myself with. The leaf houses are all built on the ground as opposed to many of the leaf houses elsewhere that have raised wooden floors. Lino (vinyl) floor coverings are laid over crushed coral to make a clean and serviceable surface, mind you many were quite old and worn. The roofs of the houses are made from pandanus not from the preferred sago leaf as conditions and soil here are not suitable for growing the sago palm. What this means is that the roofs must be replaced annually rather than every ten years (as with sago). The job of replacing the roof takes a day or two, depending on how much help there is, but doesn't included collecting the leaves and transporting them back from the outer islands.

We made arrangements with the chairman of the Council of Chiefs and appeared before them the following day outlining our intentions. We had saved enough sunglasses to give everyone 18 years and older on Ontong Java a pair - so I think we were on a winner. There is a nurse's aide stationed at Luaniua but she was so busy and we never met her. We enlisted the help of a couple of Council of Chief's members - one person who rotated, wrote down people's names as they selected their prized sunglasses as well as Malachi, the son of the main chief, a nice young chap whose roll seemed to be more social than anything but also helped with translating and as per usual the clinic had a festive air. We also dispensed the spectacles also ourselves, and although slower, with a smaller number of people, it was manageable. There is nothing better than seeing an old tattooed lady come in, who can't speak English and has probably never had anything to do an outsider select a pair of sunglasses (without doubt the first she has ever owned), try on them on and walk away with them clutched in her hand continually glancing at them and repeatedly trying them and discussing them with her friends. Hopefully they'll get in the habit of wearing them when they're out in the sun �- that's the whole point of what we are doing, preventing damage to their eyes. Our policy is that people have to collect sunglasses themselves and cannot take glasses for other people who are absent unless there is a good reason. One lady asked (through an interpreter) if she could take a pair for her auntie who was in mourning. Malachi explained that after the death of her husband the lady was required by kustom to remain in her house for a year. Needless to say she was given an extra pair. Another guy asked if he could take sunglasses for his wife and when I enquired as to the reason for her non-attendance, he said �"she's at home, she's too fat to come�". Frances put her foot down and told me to let him have a pair. Obesity IS a huge problem here, no doubt with all it's associated health issues and it's particularly evident in females older than their early 20's. The majority of food is carbohydrate based �- rice, starchy vegetables and fried flour in one form or another with some fish and coconut thrown in. There is no alcohol allowed on the island but as for smoking �- I can't say that I've ever seen a community smoke so much. The vast majority of men were chain smokers with quite a few women also partaking. The tobacco of choice is Solbacco a roll-your-own tobacco which they made into the biggest cigarettes I have ever seen 5 inches (125mm) long.

The people here grow turmeric, but not for flavouring but as a dye for the women to use. They make headdresses out of a plant fibre which is soaked in the sea, then bleached by the sun and is then dyed. Frances was donned with one, her lovely grey hair and her crisp white shirt and skin turned a brilliant shade of yellow. When we were in Luaniua the community was preparing for a wedding the following weekend so the bride-to-be's family was in the process of accepting the bride price which here is bolts of cloth �- up to 200 of them and during this the bride is seated in the hut with her body covered in various shades of turmeric. Frances has some impressive photos when we again have internet. Here, once the brides family accepts the bride price they still have a say in the well-being of their daughter, which is not the case in some other regions.

On the last day we did some home visits to see disabled or infirmed people who had been unable to come to our clinic. One guy in his late 60's had had a stroke and we found him sitting by the window (i.e. a hole in the wall) of his leaf house reading his bible using his wife's glasses that she had been given by us the day before. We asked if they were OK and he said �"little bit�", it turned out they were +1.75 and he needed +3.00's to read as well as distance glasses. We gave him an extra pair of each and he asked for a pair of sunnies. Was he happy? Little bit.

Another person on our rounds we were taken to see was a guy named Clifford. We found him lying on the floor of his house just staring up at the roof. It turned out Clifford is only 35 years old and was paralysed from the waist down when he fell while climbing a coconut tree two years previously. We were informed that there is a medical helicopter based in Honiara that has the capability to fly the 500 mile (1,000 km) round trip to Ontong Java and back but this injury apparently wasn't classified as an emergency so he waited two weeks and was taken on the next trade ship. The doctor attending in Honiara told him he would never walk again, he was given a wheel-chair and sent back to this small village in Ontong Java. Clifford was a fisherman and gardener before the accident and has never been to school. This was and still is not uncommon where the parents either can't afford to send all their children to school or else need them to help around the house or in the garden. Clifford is married with five children (all at school) and is dependant on family and friends to support them. Without going to school he had never learnt to read or write and we asked him if he'd like to learn to do so and he said he would. To kick things off we spoke to Josas, a senior teacher at the school and asked if perhaps some teachers would assist him and he agreed to make the arrangements. We left $200SI with him for tuition to help get Clifford started on the path to an education. We'll be in touch (when we have phone coverage again) with our friend Grace from Lata Hospital who is head of disability services there and see what assistance the government can provide. No doubt it will be minimal and we plan to start a crowd funding campaign to cover any short falls. We'll keep everyone posted if you would like to contribute.

Is Luaniua remote? Yes, but there's always somewhere more remote. At the other end of the atoll (the third largest in the world) is the village and island of Pelau where around 400 people live. Again the Council of Chiefs was assembled and arrangements made and word spread. This time we had the assistance of the Secretary of the Council of Chiefs, Chris, who was fluent in English due to his employment history. After doing various stints in Honiara he had decided to finally settle back in his home village with his wife and four children as he said it was not possible to survive on a wage in Honiara. Villages like Pelau get very little assistance from the government and life is very hard here, which is why many people move to Honiara thinking things must be better, but often they are worse. Corruption is often a subject of discussion, the most corrupt country in the world is Papua New Guinea and the second Chris told us was the Solomon Islands. MP's, regardless of where they represent are without exception known as �"The Honourable�" and I do question as to whether they are being sarcastic. We were told that for the first year �"The Honourable�" does a good job and after that all the money and funding went missing.

Technically there are ways for the people here to generate income. Copra production (dried coconut meat used in the production of coconut oil and other things) can be undertaken but the work is so hard and the price is so low it is just barely worth the effort. Also there is Beech-de-mer (sea cucumber) harvesting for the Chinese market but at the present the fishery is closed (again) due to overfishing. But the last time it was open the licences were given to Asian companies who came with their own divers and decimated the stock.

As we were walking through Pelau we saw an old satellite dish that was overgrown. Chris told us that in 2012 �"The Honourable�" had this installed in their village so they could all watch the World Cup Soccer on TV. �"Were the Solomon Islands in the World Cup in 2012?�" Frances asked. �"No�" came the reply. We are still shaking our heads at that utter waste of precious funding.

A word on weather - Hot and often stormy. We're only five degrees south of the Equator here and out of the trade-winds and at the moment we are experiencing a continual procession of low pressure systems passing over us from north to south �- in between the wind is from the South East but only for a day or two. What this means is that over a period of two or more days the wind will go around the clock with storms coming from every direction, making it a little tricky to find a suitable anchorage and often means putting up with the consequences of long fetch (waves and rocking and pitching) and also makes for less than restful night's sleep and requires constant vigilance and a keen 'weather eye'.

Thank you for your comments

17 September 2018
We'd like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the people who take time to make a comment on our blog. Even out here we are able to read the comments via our HF radio link, otherwize we have very little contact with the outside world. Haven't heard any news for months which is a not necessarily a bad thing. We love to see that people are reading where we are at and what we are up to. It is challenging but rewarding work however sometimes it gets a little lonely, so thanks again. Paul and Frances Eyeglass Assist S.V.Monkey Fist

Treated like royalty

02 September 2018 | Tanegeu Bay, Santa Isabel Island, Isabel Province, Solomon Islands
The word has spread very quickly about the Eyeglass Assist program and we had a steady stream of visitors from the surrounding villages up until sunset, with often a dozen or more children-filled dugouts hanging about or tied to our stern or softly banging against Monkey Fist's hull. For village people the day starts when the sun rises (5.30-ish) and by 7 am the following day we had a steady stream of people coming on board for glasses and we finally managed breakfast after nine by which time we had supplied and fitted over 30 pairs. One of our visitors was the chief from the main village, Charles, and like many of the other people who came and saw us, he was blown away by what we were doing. They understood that each pair of glasses to them was worth hundreds, if not a thousand dollars in financial terms - by the time they caught the ship to Honiara, paid for food and accommodation there if necessary, and then paid for the glasses themselves. The Eye Care Centre in Honiara provides vision screening free of charge but the glasses must be purchased. Often unfortunately the glasses that people need are simply not available or in stock and sometimes people therefore buy whatever they can get their hands on from a “Chinese shop” or a pharmacy, without really knowing what they are doing (education is something we include in our vision screening). Often during our testing we ask people if they have had glasses before and the small amount who have done so often say that the glasses “didn't work”. So people go to all that expense and effort and still find themselves without any benefit and when money is limited and everything is expensive, it's not something they can afford to pursue.

On the Saturday we conducted a clinic in the main village of Tanageu after which we returned to Monkey Fist and spent the next few hours fitting and supplying glasses to people who had heard about what we were doing but had missed the clinic. The next day after the church service we did a follow up clinic at Tanageu and another even larger clinic on the small nearby island of Sigana. As usual, there were many, many people with extremely poor vision to whom we were able to give them back their world. One elderly lady who was wearing a pair of glasses (that were practically falling off her face) waited patiently to be seen. As could be imagined by now we are getting pretty good at looking through glasses and working out approximately what script they are. The lenses were very scratched and worn and were partially opaque but we realised they were positive and immensely strong, well beyond what normally we can assist with, but we do have a few extras and we ended up fitting the lady with a pair of +11.50 spectacles upon which she declared “it's all clear”.

Chief Charles worked tirelessly making arrangements and sorting out facilities to ensure we had everything we needed to run the clinics. He said that he and the other chiefs had a meeting and wanted to thank us properly by preparing a feast and entertainment the following night which we sadly had to decline as we needed to move on. All the families in the entire area originate from Sigana Island where, in the 1970's, the people decided it was too small and located to other locations nearby to establish their own villages . The extended village has a pan-pipe band and Chief Charles had arranged an impromptu performance for us with local dancers during that evening and would we were available?

It was after dark in the community hall (a huge open “leaf house” which we had found out by now is what hey call a traditional thatched hut) and most if not everyone from the village was in attendance. Frances and I had the only two chairs and felt like the visiting royalty, especially when a small table was brought up with tea and dry biscuits. The pan pipes themselves are made from bamboo and range from sets less than 30 cms long to some over 2 metres long. All of the musicians were young males and some of the youngest had not reached their teens. The first group of dancers were young girls followed by some men from the band playing small pan pipes. Nearing the end Frances and I joined two men and a woman dancing and the clapping and cheering that ensued almost brought the house down. Wow! It was such a wonderful experience that it took Frances and I some time to go to sleep that night. We were told we were the first yacht in two years to visit this area and also that the last yacht didn't visit any of the villages so we're pretty much off the beaten track and again the villagers expressed their desire to attract tourists.

The 'White Devil' Effect
Every now and again we encounter what I call the “White Devil Effect”. Many of the toddlers and young children have never seen a Caucasian person before and although many are not phased, every now and again a child is frightened out of their wits by the sight of us, and in particular it would seem, the white male. The abject fear is manifest in their dinner-plate sized, tear-filled eyes as their gaze is locked in your direction, at the same time they are paralyzed with fear, heedless of the onlookers unheard consoling overtures. This is often exacerbated when the white person is seen doing something to their granny who is baby-sitting them (fitting glasses). One little tacker was led past us by his older sister, with tears streaming down his face as he stared straight ahead, too frightened to steal a glance in our direction, bravely managed to keep one foot moving in front of the other. Oh dear...

Anyone for fish?

30 August 2018 | Santa Isabel Island, Isabel Province, Solomon Islands
The day following we had yet another busy clinic and then continued to head northwards intending of course to do so under sail but after a couple of hours of ghosting along, the wind faded and we resorted to hoisting the iron spinnaker (i.e. turning on the motor). As normal we had our trolling lines out and within an hour or so we had on a huge fish. The species and the size of what is on the other end of one's line is often a mystery until it's colour and shape make it evident when very close to the boat, but not the case with a Marlin – leaping repeatedly out of the water trying to dislodge the hooks. It was much too big for us to keep ourselves to eat but we knew that it would be appreciated by the villagers at Santa Isabel near where we would be anchored later that day. We were sceptical about eating a bill fish ourselves (too gamey??) and though we'd try for a smaller fish for ourselves but an hour later we caught yet another Marlin!! In 10 years we haven't caught any and in one afternoon we had caught two. We hummed and harred about keeping it and decided it wouldn't go to waste so we again took it in tow.

When we arrived in the vicinity of the anchorage Frances drifted in Monkey Fist and I towed one of the fish ashore to a small village where I presented it to one very happy chief surrounded by a horde of children and also took the opportunity to tell them about our Eyeglass Assist program. We then continued further into the reef strewn cove assessing the best place to anchor and had a gang of maybe twenty canoes caught up and surrounded us, filled with chattering and laughing young kids. There were two small villages (extended family groups) in the cove and many of the kids told us that is where they lived. I asked them if they thought they could take the remaining fish ashore (minus a couple of meals for us) and share it between the two villages which they readily agreed to, promising to bring my rope back. When I passed them the rope they tried to haul the fish (which weighed more than both of the kids combined) into their canoe which threatened to swamp it and so we recommended they tow it, which they did. All the children-filled canoes accompanied the marlin canoe as they struggled to paddle over to the village. I could only guess what was said when they arrived “you won't believe what I've got mum”.

Florida group - Changing Times

27 August 2018 | Florida Islands, Central Province, Solomon Islands
Our first stop after leaving Honiara was the Florida group, a few hours pleasant sail to the north that was interrupted by a short-lived, fast moving storm bringing gale force wind. The Florida Islands unfortunately have an infamous reputation amongst the cruising fraternity for theft and robbery and so now very few yachts visit the islands. As recently as last year ago a group of three yachts were boarded at night and valuables stolen. The police from Honiara attended at the local village to investigate and locate the offenders. As you would imagine incidents like this cause huge disruption in such small communities.

As a result we were even more wary than usual when we entered Sandfly Passage to the north of Nggela Sule Island (named after the English Naval Ship not because the place is infested with small biting insects) and looked for somewhere to 'drop the pick'. The depth around the islands was, as ever, a challenge. On a satellite photo the convoluted reefs appear to offer boundless protected anchoring opportunities but the water is so deep right up to the reef's edge (40 to 50 metres) that most of the time it is just not possible. We had heard about a local guy named John and and his wife Lily who have been trying to attract yachts to their area for some time and, in addition to welcoming you to their humble family settlement with green coconuts lavishly decorated with flowers and bamboo straws, they also provided security from their verandah throughout the night, taking shifts to ensure no canoes approach. After we provided everyone there with spectacles we arranged to take Monkey Fist around to the village of Haroro on the other side of the point to conduct a clinic and John and Lilly came with us. In the past this area has been notorious for theft from yachts. So it's complicated keeping your boat in one place but we managed to moor within 20 metres of the village by dropping the anchor in 25 metres on the slope rising up from the deep seabed to the shore and tying the stern to a huge tree on the shoreline, which is where we conducted our clinic (see photo). When the people gathered before the start of the clinic both the chief, John, and I gave the residents (including a number of youths) speeches on why theft from yachts needed to be stamped out as well as the advantages (as we were proving) of having yachts visit their village. Most yachties are very generous, giving school supplies and clothing as well as providing an opportunity to trade for fresh vegetables and fruit.

Back at John's place (Roderick Bay Hideaway) one of the tourist attractions nearby is the wreck of the World Explorer, a smallish cruise liner that was beached here in the early 2000's. John and his mother saw the ship limp into the bay after apparently hitting a reef outside. He tells the story that scuba divers checked out the damage and said there was no hope of staying afloat so they disembarked the passengers and the captain drove the ship at speed into the cove to beach her. John said the captain cried for three days.

Many of the chiefs and other leaders around the Floridas are trying, and from our experience, are succeeding in changing people's view of visiting yachts, welcoming them instead of seeing them as an opportunity for plunder. The last night at Roderick Bay Hideaway John had planned what we know as a 'potluck' and which he had been told was called a 'kiwi party'. Is this true kiwi friends - did you come up with this name first or have you adopted it for some reason?? Anyway, we made a huge pot of yellowfin tuna curry and Lily shared with us fried fish, kumara and cassava presented in kustom woven plates. Most of the 22 residents (mostly kids) managed to get a spoonful of curry and declared it was very tasty. We were given laes and the floral decoration was such that it was like a jungle of flowers.

We intended to make our way up to Santa Isabel Island and then continue north to Ontong Java, 180 miles further off the coast so we headed northwards, stopping a few hours away at the island of Buena Vista. After weaving our way through the narrow passage between Buena Vista and Hanesavo Islands we found a quite spot and dropped the anchor in the modest depth of 25 metres. We were visited by a local man Rueben in his dugout and asked him about the security of our boat and he said "we do not subscribe to that type of behaviour here". He went on to explain that the leaders and church groups pressure the young people to respect visiting yachts which was very encouraging to hear. We later dingied to Tathay, the village a kilometre away, and arranged with Chief Alfred (the paramount chief of the entire island) to conduct a clinic there the following day. He confirmed with us that people in the community wanted to change the reputation of the Floridas and affirmed that their area was safe for visiting yachts. The area is stunning, clear water, tropical jungle, pristine coral and it's not particularly far from Honiara. The birdlife in this area is reminiscent of Australia and includes cockatoos, lorikeets and kingfishers. As we were walking back from the health clinic we stopped under a large shady tree near the beach to watch some men skilfully carving dugout canoes. I asked the chief if they sold the canoes and he said "if we sell the canoes then we won't have any trees to build our own canoes. If we don't have our own canoes then we can't go to the gardens and we can't go out fishing". Wise words indeed.

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.

"It's all clear"

18 August 2018 | Temotu Province, Solomon Islands
This lady was brought to see us by friends and family who said that she was "blind from birth". She wasn't blind she just required corrective eyeglasses. After extensive testing and comparison Frances was able to supply her with a pair of -4.75 glasses for her distance vision and -1.25 glasses to allow her to see at a reasonable distance. It is problematic for most village people to address such issues. The hospital at Lata does have an "eye nurse" but their stock of glasses is very basic and does not extend to the type she needed. If someone wants to have such an issue addressed then they must go to Honiara. It is free to have their eyes tested there but the glasses, although cheap by our standards are expensive by theirs so they continue to live in their villages and live with poor vision.

"Oh Dear" - A story by Frances

09 August 2018 | Temotu Province, Solomon Islands
Together with our bags of glasses and other assorted paraphernalia we were ferried the 700 metres to shore in a large dugout canoe. This village was well prepared, a table with four chairs surrounded by woven mats had been set up under a large shady tree. The morning was busy, the village was long established and had many elderly residents. After I attended to a procession of people with complicated sight issues I was hoping for a straight forward test for readers only.

As the next woman, who was '60 plus', was taking a seat in front of me, her friends said �"the woman is blind�". I thought 'oh dear', we can do a lot but we're not miracle workers' and at the same time hoping my face didn't show my despair. I began asking questions and another person amongst the observers said �"the woman is blind - from birth�". I thought 'oh dear' again, Paul glanced over when he heard this statement, he too was dealing with his own complicated clients.

I picked up the test sheet thinking I would at least go through the motions and held it in front of her face. There was a slight shake of her head, and she said �"all dark�". I moved the sheet very close to her eyes (only an inch or two away) and I noticed a slight change in her facial expression and asked �"little bit clear�". I saw the subtle and fleeting rise of her eyebrows (an affirmative answer in island communication) and I said to myself 'maybe there is hope' and I start testing for severe myopia (short-sightedness).

After forty minutes or so of extensive comparison of different strength spectacles, and much to my amazement (and to the wonderment of the woman and to the crowd of observers) this woman was now seeing her world for the first time. For me to watch as her world became �"all clear�" is something I shell never forget. She told me without the glass everything was all smoky and dark and she could only see shapes not people. She waved to a person in the distance, she could see the 'pikinini�" playing and the coconuts in the trees, she could see Monkey Fist anchored in the bay.

We smiled at each other, she slowly stood, shock my hand, raised her eyebrows fleetingly in appreciation and said �"thank-you to much�" and moved away with her collection of glasses �- two pairs -1.25 'to look close', two pairs -4.75 'to look far' and a pair prescription sunglasses ('medical sunglasses' as we call them) to match. I thought 'oh dear' the woman wasn't blind she just required a pair of corrective eyeglasses, that us in our developed world, all take for granted.

Throughout the remainder of the clinic the woman sat in the circle of observers, clutching her precious glasses, watching the proceedings. Many times I noticed people coming to her to look at her glasses. Her expression reinforced for me that our hard work �- to bring better vision to the remote villagers in the Solomon Islands is so worthwhile.

Maybe the next recipient will be an easy one.......

I sincerely thank all who donated to our project to make this a reality.

Please Note �- Normally people only receive one pair of spectacles, however in cases such as the above, we do give two pairs if we have a large amount of the prescription required.
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"
Monkey Fist's Photos - Main
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