Solomon Islands 2018 - the final chapter
13 November 2018 | Brisbane, Australia
As our homeward passage continued the wind slowly backed and eventually died. Combined with this a cold front was forecast to cross the east coast of Australia within three days. This would mean strong headwinds for several days afterwards. On top of this we didn't want to arrive in Australia on a weekend (the cost of Biosecurity attending during business hours alone is $200Au/hr). It was either aim for Brisbane or change our port of landfall further north and then make our way southward when the weather changed. Looking at the forecast we reluctantly decided to motor for 24 hours and then use the strong pre-frontal northerlies to slingshot us into Moreton Bay before the front hit. Which amazingly worked out! We were screaming into the Bay at around 9 knots with more than 30 knots behind us -t'was an exciting ride, then sailed all way to the mouth of the Brisbane River arriving at 3 am dodging sandbars and container ships along the way. And... would you believe it that the cold front hit six hours after our arrival - several hours earlier than forecast. After three hours sleep (a total of approx 7 in the previous 48) we were up and dealing with the authorities.
The 2018 Eyeglass Assist Project comes to an end.
A few stats to think about: -
Time in the Solomon Islands - 21 weeks / 147 days
Anchorages - Dropped anchor - 71 times - deepest water 32 metres
Miles travelled - 4,500 miles (8,300 kms)
Nights at sea - 22
Islands where clinics conducted - 25
Number of clinics conducted - 74
Pairs of eyeglasses fitted and supplied (distance and reading) - 9,500 pairs
(The remainder of the spectacles (approx. 2,500 pairs) we delivered to the National Eye Centre Honiara to be shipped to the provincial hospitals
Oldest person to receive spectacles - 100
Youngest person to receive spectacles - 9
Sunglasses provided - 6,000 pairs
Beaches walked - ....1
The Solomons are remote. Every year around 750 yachts visit Fiji and we estimate that in the Solomons it would be less 50, the overwhelming majority of those restricting their movements to well known areas such as Marovo Lagoon and the New Georgia area. Many of the places we visited had not had any visiting yachts in several years, some places yachts had never stopped at in living memory. What this meant for the project is that we didn't connect up with any other yachts which was probably the only negative aspect of the project (other than almost losing Monkey Fist on a reef at the Duff Islands...).
If we were to put a monetary value on the project's contribution to the people of the Solomon Islands, including the value of the glasses donated, as well as Frances and my "in-kind" donation of time and resources we estimate conservatively that it would be around $500,000Au. If a large aid organization was to undertake a similar project the cost would be in the tens of millions of dollars. Over the last 18 months we have invested many thousands of hours and much of our own funds to ensure the project was a success and we are very proud of what we have achieved. There are now many thousands of people living in remote villages who would otherwise have no hope or prospect of having clear vision and thanks to the people who believed in us, together we have been able to help so many people who are less fortunate than ourselves. We would hope that everybody who has kept up with our progress through our blog has an appreciation for the work we have put in and the challenges we have faced and overcome along the way.
Many people who told us something we already knew - that they, the people living in remote areas get very little help from anyone. We have developed a huge respect for the Solomon Islands people - their resilience and resourcefulness, their senses of humour and for the remainder of our lives we will have a special place in our hearts for them.
We cannot thank enough the people and companies who have helped to make this project the tremendous success that it was. Especially Chris at "On The Nose" reading glasses who stepped in at the last moment and donated the short fall in the number of glasses needed to make the project viable.
We might all live in different places and we might have different cultures, speak different languages and eat different food and we might look different, but deep down we humans are all the same and that is something we should be celebrating rather than focussing on what divides us. There are no strangers, just friends we haven't met.
The human brain is a funny thing
04 November 2018 | On Passage - The Coral Sea, 480 MTG, 650 miles logged
I once read a study about personal status in any given community - how much money one had was not particularly important. What WAS important was whether or not you had more money than those around you. Relativity, it would seem, is everything and includes one's perception of the wind. When it's blowing 20 knots, everything is hunky dory, brisk but good. It increases to 25 knots, you reef the sails some more and say OK that's enough wind. Then it get's to 30 and the party's over, things are getting serious. At 35 knots there is not much sail up and the sea is looking decidedly angry. The sea is starting to change colour and there's white water everywhere. Then it increases to 40 knots, the wind is howling and the sea is splashing around the boat and is starting to look like a washing machine, it's very, very noisy and you're wondering what on earth you are doing out here??? A nice warm bed in a quiet house somewhere is looking pretty damn appealing. Finally the gale passes and the wind speed drops back to 33 knots and you say to each other "gee, this is actually quite pleasant!".
We knew there was a band of stronger wind to the south west when we left so we limited our speed so as to just catch the top edge of it and, probably more luck than anything, that's how it panned out. The wind rose steadily and by day three it was gusting to 38 knots and over the next 24 hours dropped back to the low 20's. We are cool for the first time in almost 6 months (not really cool, but at least not sweating continuously). We're over halfway now with well under 500 miles to go. Monkey Fist is a sailing machine,she never ceases to impress us.
One of the annoying things about clearing back into Australia is timing your arrival so it doesn't cost you an arm and a leg to complete formalities. Australia is the DEAREST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD TO CLEAR INTO and if you arrive on a weekend it's double. So besides trying to pick the right weather you need to also take into consideration not arriving out of hours. No wonder so many sailors go to New Zealand or bypass Australia altogether.
With a little luck we'll be in Brisbane Thursday sometime. Ciao!
28 October 2018 | Honiara, Solomon Islands
Our project in the Solomon Islands has come to an end and we're back in Honiara hoping to clear out of the Solomon Islands early this week.
After leaving Simbo en route to Honiara we anticipated that we were unlikely to have favourable winds, expecring either south easterlies or calms. Northerlies are often associated with stormy weather which we would welcome regardless, it's just that they are few and far between. We did manage a few hours of sailing here and there associated with local weather events.
Our first stop was Rendova Harbour on Rendova Island (why it's called a harbour I have no idea, it is just another lagoon). Just before dusk and short of our intended anchorage, and after trailing fishing lines all day, we caught a fish …. another black marlin, our third. We planned to release it but deemed it too dangerous so we dispatched it, dragging it behind for 20 minutes until we were able to flag down a passing OBM.
“do you eat fish?”
“yes we do”
“well we might have something for you, come around the back”
Frances said she was watching the young man steering who saw the fish first and she said his jaw dropped when he saw it. They all shuffled over to one side and hoisted the fish in with them. Big smiles and thank yous and they were on their way again. We just managed to anchor before the light failed. Plenty of visits from kids in canoes with handfuls of veggies they no doubt had stolen from mum's kitchen wanting to trade. We also had a visit from a lovely guy named Edward and teed up an eyeglass clinic in his village or the following morning. I must say it was one of the poorest villages that we have seen which was rather unexpected. Plenty of kids again and according to Edward almost all of them had malaria – let that sink in, and it was the first time we had heard whingey kids. Edward (66) told us he was one of 10 kids and two of his sisters still lived in the village. He said that one of them had 12 children and the other had had 14....
Over the next couple of days we transitted the famous Marovo Lagoon on New Georgia Island which is probably the tourist mecca of the Solomons but in truth there are not many tourists here either.
Motoring to the Russell Islands with again no wind we were barely able to anchor before dark and were forced to redraw our line in the sand. The shallowest water we could find was 32 metres – over 100 feet deep. We had a visit from a local guy named Mark who was very friendly and we had a good chat. The people here are no better off than anyone else we have come across and would have benefitted from our assistance but we needed to keep moving. We were the first yacht (and most likely the only) for the year to anchor there. The Russell Islands is another one of the spots where yachts have had troubles over recent years with theft, etc., unfortunately.
The next day we motored around to Faila Island to allow us to make Honiara in one day from there. We soon has visitor after visitor in dugout canoes, mostly young adults and ended up giving away the last of our sunglasses, ones that previously people had turned their noses up at and were now gratefully accepted. We asked if there was anyone on the island who may need eyeglasses, yes there were. So we donned our travel backpack loaded with glasses and dinghied to shore. We were escorted around the island, stopping at each family group homes and testing and dispensing our final glasses.
The chief, James (in his late 30's) volunteered to perform security for us during the night as he said that people from the main town of Yandina would come around fishing in their canoes at night time. It was a still night with a full moon and we didn't see anyone fishing nor did we see James but perhaps he was keeping watch from his verandah. His brother Henry was telling us how both their parents and their sister were dead. They had died some years previously (a few years apart) of the same thing - “poisoning” they said. We can only surmise it was blood poisoning (septicaemia). Henry said they were treated in the hospital at Honiara but all were released to die at home as there was nothing the medical people could do for them. Henry said that they had boils all over their lower bodies. Life is hard for people living in developing countries there is no doubt.
By the time we arrived back in Honiara we have supplied and fitted around nine and a half thousand pairs of glasses to people living in remote areas of the Solomon Islands. We contacted Pamela at the National Eye Centre and took what spectacles we had left, around 2,500 pairs, to the centre for distribution back out to our vision specialist friends at the Lata and Buala hospitals, who need all the help they can get. The project has been a tremendous success indeed and we couldn't have in reality asked for anything more, other than time. We just ran out of it in the end.
Another quick story: Pamela said that she came from a village on the north side of Santa Isabel Island and she went home recently for a funeral (which apparently is not something she does very often, the deceased was an “honorable” [a sitting MP]). She said that she travelled via OBM – a boat with twin 75 hp motors – it took seven hours to get there and on the way back it was quite rough and it took 10 hours. How long was she there ? Only overnight, she said it was very unpleasant on the way back and no doubt the voyage had not been cheap either.
Hopefully on our passage home we'll have just the right amount of wind and from the right direction. If so then we'll take 7 to 8 days to Brisbane and, if the Wind Gods don't come to the party, then we may have to turn off and make landfall further north along the Queensland coast. So keep your fingers crossed. Monkey Fist is sitting high in the water, the lightest she has been for years, it's great to see the top inches of the anti-fouling paint, she should revel in the reduced weight on the journey home.
It it with heavy hearts that we bid farewell to the Solomon Islands knowing there is still so much to be done but knowing that we have made a difference.
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.
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!
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.
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