Heading up to the big smoke.
After setting sail on the birthday, we headed off into the big blue again to conquer the next block of 370 or so nautical miles. We decided with the squall activity that we had on the first overnight of this mini passage that we would hop between anchorages and try and to get a proper rest each evening.
This trip proved to be interesting, as there we some extremely calm days. We were running a bit low on diesel, so amount of time that we could motor in the light to no wind moments was limited. Sailing was going to be a must on the trip to the big smoke of Honiara.
Our first stop after the overnight from Lata was the tiny island of Santa Ana.
As we came up to the island, dusk was upon us, not the ideal time to enter a reef pass, plus there was a lightning squall hanging over the island. We both decided entering into it would be a terribly stupid idea, so we slowed down and hung off the island until we could see it start to move away. It was very slow moving and it took a while, but move it did and we got our moment for entering.
The water stilled as we travelled slowly and cautiously through the pass, inching our way forward, guided by the Ovital satellite charts we use as a secondary navigation system, especially in times like this. In a new country, you can never be too sure on how accurate the charts are, satellite has been our best guide yet.
The light of the almost full moon was shining on the water and sounds of a party from shore drifted out to us as we dropped the anchor in the still waters of the bay.
Passing through the reef always gives such calm inside the bay, a welcome stillness after over 32 hours of constant movement. Everyone slept soundly.
Waking in a new bay is always interesting. Stepping out of the saloon doors to see what lies around us is exciting. A new beach, village, people, water colour and clarity, along with the freshness and heat of the breaking day.
It was no more than 20 minutes that we had been up before the first of our visitors arrived. Children! By the canoe load!
One minute I was chatting with them, while they were in their canoe and I was sitting on the stairs at the back of the boat, the next, somehow, they had all hurled themselves into the water and were climbing aboard…all 9 of them. Then suddenly there were more…. This lot had swum the 60-70m from shore to the boat to see us! I was mobbed! There was nothing to do but walk up backwards and let them all onto the boat!
They were very adorable and curious, a range of different ages from maybe 4 to 13. Asking about our life, meeting our kids, talking to us about their life and what they were doing that day (it was Saturday, their day of rest as they are Seventh Day Adventist, so church was the go), asking if we wanted to trade any vegetables.
One older girl had paddled out with a bag of kumara and capsicums. Her father was one of the gardeners so had sent her off to sell his wares. We traded the vegetables for a t-shirt and a small knife that she asked for.
While I had been engrossed with the kids, Chae had been checking the weather on the iridium. There looked like there would be some wind. We had wanted to stay a few days at Santa Ana as the snorkeling was meant to be incredible, but with the chance of wind we had to take it, as we still had another 200 or so miles to go and needed to be as sparing as possible on the fuel.
Sadly, we said goodbye to the kids, but not before they all headed up to the front of the boat to do bombs on their way back to their beach. Two of the girls saw the two small bags of rubbish on the trampoline that we had left out and said they would take them to their incinerator for us if we wanted. ‘Yes please’ I said, knowing that there was nowhere to get rid of it until Honiara, which was still at least a week away with the stops that we had planned.
We are reluctant to give local villages any of our rubbish, as it can often not be disposed of properly and is thrown back into the sea in some areas as soon as the boats leave, so we try and make as little as possible in the first place and also wait until we are at a main centre to take it ashore.
These girls assured me they burn all theirs so we happily accepted their offer and watched them grab the bags and jump off the boat, swimming back to shore using the bags of trash as floaty toys!
We felt a stab of regret as we left the pass, we could see clearly through the water and what lay below looked amazing. The wind had to be taken though…
And wind there was! The predicted 10 to 15 kts ended up being more like 25 kts and had some juicy waves to go along with it. It was ok, until you had to dodge the squalls and that sometimes meant pointing into the waves direction, which gives a lovely slamming sensation that rocks through the boat as you head over them. The one downfall of a catamaran is that they do not sail well into the wind at all!
Never one to miss a fishing opportunity, the Captain had the lines out and was watching out for the giant work ups of Yellow Fin that seemed to plague these waters like ants at a picnic! Normally I would be into it along with him, but I was feeling sick with the random weather we had got and so when he hooked up the mother of all tuna and I had to drive the boat dead in to the wind and big waves, sails flapping and Waterhorse jumping like a steeplechaser, I was less than impressed! There were tears and frustration along with less than normal celebrations on landing such a magnificent fish. At least the Captain had the children to give him mad props!
Fish landed and dispatched with, I stormed off back downstairs to lie down and dwell on the misery that is rough weather. When will it become more normal for me!? Ah the sailing life, not all sunsets and vodkas in a flat calm anchorage.
Being seasick never helps either.
We sailed on, the wind slowly dying throughout the day, causing us to arrive at our next overnight pit stop in the falling darkness again. At least the waves had also dropped so my mood had increased significantly!
We were grateful for our satellite charts yet again and found a sweet little spot in a wide open bay to drop the hook and slip into bed. A day of sailing, especially if it gets a little rough always leaves me tired and sleep in the calm bay was a welcome relief.
We woke to another new and interesting landscape on this tiny island offshore from San Christobal (which the kids had been laughing and making jokes about, San Christo-bally Balls usually, for the entirety of the previous day. Anything about balls and bums hey…kids, gotta love ‘em!), it was a hidden village on the shore, with houses tucked away in the hillsides, all the way up the small island, like berries hidden in a bush, just a snippet of each poking out. We saw people walking the beach and on the shallow reef areas, off to their daily jobs, dressed in their suits of necessity, to provide for their families from their boss, the ocean.
We didn’t go ashore or have any visitors this time, we stayed only long enough to make the coffee and then up anchored and headed north again.
Next Stop Marau Sound. This is where we would spend a few days catching up on some school and generally having a break. The constant travel takes it out of you and you get to the point where you just need to stop and do nothing for a day or two.
We had read a lot about the Sound and were eagerly anticipating our arrival there.
Marau Sound is at the bottom end of the mountainous and jungle clad island of Guadalcanal, the main island in the Solomon’s group. Honiara is just over half way up on the NE side. Apparently the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had stayed in Marau Sound, so if it is ok for royalty I guess we could fit in a day or two for a visit!
The winds were light to non-existent on our way, so we alternated between each engine and motored, slower than usual to save the fuel, once they died for good mid-morning.
When we finally arrived at the pass, land was a welcome sight from the slow and hot day. We headed through the giant reef pass and motored to anchor in the front of Conflict Bay Lodge and finally relax for a few days.
Conflict Bay Lodge was so named after the ‘Tensions’ here in the late 90’s to early 2000’s. It was one of the only buildings that was not burned down with all the fighting that was happening in the area. The Solomon’s have had a varied and often violent and unsettled history, going right back to when it was found by Spanish explorers, through to the black-birding, taking the native peoples to work in the plantations of Australia and Fiji, right to the Second World War, where it was used as a staging ground for much of the fight between the Allies and the Japanese in the Pacific.
Everyone we have met so far are very glad to be in a time of peace and calm, of relative stability, so that hopefully tourism can increase and provide some much needed income and revenue for a lot of the country.
School was started early the next morning. We had been a little recalcitrant with the schooling on the trip up. I am still getting sea sick if I have to sit and read or do something that takes a lot of focus (when will it end!!!), so happily for the kids it is often delayed until the next day, or the next, when travelling! Still, we had much to catch up on and there were a plethora of islands to go and explore so it had to be done.
The Sound is a reef enclosed collection of small and slightly larger isalnds, all nestled together in the calmer waters provided by being located behind a barrier reef. Some are inhabited, usually the larger ones while the smaller ones are not, still pristine and were waiting for us to come and explore them. Villages are tucked in the trees, more solid houses than we saw in Vanuatu are built up on small stilts to afford some air flow in this hot, stifling climate.
Friendly and welcoming faces watch from their bright sandy beaches, with children shouting and waving in excitement as you pass by in the boat. Our children sit on the roof, taking in this new world and waving back to the warm welcomes and excitement that is shown to us. We are the only boat in the area, so there is much interest from every island that we pass on the way to our chosen atoll.
We had read of an anchorage that was meant to be one of the best in the Pacific, in the Sound, tucked in a tiny inner lagoon next to another little resort, between two islands where there was room for only one boat. Apparently you tie a stern line to stay put along with the anchor.
When I say resort, it is nothing like what the image in your mind probably is, these are usually ‘basic’ resorts, more like an eco-lodge with simple bungalows, no pools, no room service, no cocktails and bar service with the option of hour long massages and big white fluffy towels. Most of them don’t even end up having any beer down here as they run out then have to wait for the plane to deliver, if someone on the plane remembers to load it and their is enough weight limit available!
We headed over to find it after school was done, but couldn’t figure out what tree to tie off to and which was the better anchor dropping spot. We tried to ask some of the locals that were on the beach but no one was too forthcoming so we headed back into the larger lagoon and pointed to an idyllic little island we had spotted on the way in.
It was literally paradise.
The gently sloping beach gave way to the warm and clear water, shells and driftwood littered the sand, small patches of coral teamed with fish for us to watch dart around as we swam and paddled into the shore.
We spent hours here. Embracing the island life while wading in the shallows and exploring the tall tree lined inner, shell collecting, driftwood floating and just basking in the private paradise that we had come to for the day.
Our best surprise that day was seeing our first Solomon Island Fish Eagle! Noah spotted it while swimming and we couldn’t believe our eyes. None of us knew that such a bird existed in this part of the world and we were delighted to see it glide gracefully toward us and tuck inside the trees to a nest hidden away.
We set off on an eagle nest search through the scrappy interior bush, but we did not succeed. We did however see the Eagle several more times, which was an utter delight!
After a day of filing our cups with happiness and sunshine we headed back to the front of Conflict Bay Lodge.
As the sun started to slowly descend into the western sky, we watch a mother and her young son, around Noah’s age, paddle out near the reef to fish. After a while Noah and I decided to take her over some of the tuna that we had in the fridge as it did not look like they were catching much.
She was very happy, their only catch so far had been small reef fish, about the size of my palm. She spoke to me, when we were holding on to each other’s boats, about how she enjoys being out with her son, teaching him to fish so he will be able to provide for his family one day and also just spending the time with just him. I totally understood!
During the night, the wind kicked up and Chae and I were both glad that we had chosen not to anchor in the tiny little spot around the corner. It would have made for a very stressful night with the wind as strong as it was, unpredicted as usual!
We spent another day in the Sound. We met with the man from the Lodge in front of us and he told us of the market around the corner, so we headed over, to see if we could trade all the tuna for some fresh fruit and veggies. We had a ton of tuna on the boat but not much else left! There wasn’t much on offer as it was later in the day, but we did manage to trade for some kumara, capsicum, tomatoes and some limes for my vodka!
This was also the first time the kids and I had seen the extent of the betel chewing that goes on in this country! Chae had told us about it from his visit to Lata, where he had to avoid the random spitting of the bright red juice and the gummy and blood red mouths of the people chewing the betel, but for the kids and I seeing it for the first time was sure a sight!
Most people seem to chew it. It is a small green nut, that when chewed produces a bright red colour in the mouth, staining the teeth, gums and lips, giving the chewer a kind of macabre vampire like look! The juice after chewing it for a while is then randomly spat out onto the ground, leaving bright blotches of stain across the surfaces. Interesting and kind of gross…. apparently it is like Kava is for Fiji, it is their relaxant and thing that is just done as part of the culture.
We also had a visit from a lovely man, who was trading shells. We still had no money, so tuna was the currency (it was a damn big fish!) along with some other little bits and pieces he needed. The kids chose 2 beautiful cowrie shells and we wrote in his visitor’s book. Most of the men who come to the boat in their canoes have a visitor’s book, and it is always interesting to see the number of yachts and where they are from that have visited the area.
The plan was to spend one more day in the Sound, but the forecast was telling us there was wind for the next morning. We needed the wind badly for the last leg to Honiara. We were literally running on fumes now. Both gauges were at zero and we were just hoping that seeing as we had never been able to get the full amount the tanks are meant to hold when refuelling, even when they were on empty before, we should have enough to get into the anchorage in Honiara! Fingers crossed…!
Take the wind we did the next morning, boy what a day and what a sail! It was 15 or so kts, from almost dead behind, so we set the sails wing on wing and headed north.
It was beautiful. We glided along at a consistent 8 to 10 kts, making the trip smooth, fast and very enjoyable.
Being on the sheltered side of the island the sea was almost flat so we flew along to our destination. Amazingly too, the wind kept shifting slightly, the perfect angle to our destination, so we kept the sails set for the whole day and just went with the gradual changes.
It was perfect!
Honiara was in sight, but there was about 2 hours to go and just not enough daylight to make it in the dark again, so we tucked up in a wide bay for the night before waking early and completing our final part of the long, long, seemingly endless travel to get there.
We saw so many commercial tuna boats as we rounded the corner into the main port, which made us both very sad.
We heard one of them on the VHF calling to his spotter helicopter to come now as they were heading out, and felt even sadder.
How long will those giant schools of tuna be around?
Will other people doing the same trek in several years still see them and be able to catch one or two for dinner and trading?
Will it impact the local fishermen and their daily existence on the sea they depend on?
Will the bird life and underwater parts of the food chain survive with the amount that is taken from the sea?
We know that one of the main industries here is the tuna cannery, but allowing so many internationals with the amount of searching technology makes for an unfair advantage for the humans and puts the fish in the firing line every time.
What can you do though, as one small boat with a conscience?
Anchoring in front of Point Cruz Yacht Club (a yacht club at least, but again, nothing like the ones back home!!) was a breeze.
Chae headed in for the rest of the formalities that needed to be cleared and we wandered around the Yacht Club and down the road a little bit to a hotel to see the lay of the land. What we did see was betel, a lot of betel. We saw many red vampire mouths and spit stains all over the footpaths and sadly a lot of rubbish. A stark contrast from Vanuatu, where the rubbish had been almost nonexistent on the streets and beaches.
We decided to wait for Chae at the Yacht Club’s breezy waterfront tables, where there was no betel allowed and we could also keep an eye on the boat. We were anchored near the police dock and the safety seemed fine but you can never be too sure with your floating home when in a new port.
Honiara was everything we thought it would be and more. We managed to get supplies in the way of food and booze relatively easily. I found a shop that stocked mainly NZ products and had boxes of Peanut Slabs and Almond Golds at cheaper than NZ prices so that was fantastic as our supply was running low!
Chae managed to get us Duty Free allowances on alcohol on clearance in which was awesome! The shop even stoked a large range of decent New Zealand and Australian wines, including one of our favourites vineyards from home, Mt Riley, which is owned by a good friend of my parents! What are the chances!
Plus, duty free vodka. Can I get a ‘hell yeah!!!’ for my favourite brand that you could buy by the case at the princely sum of $20NZD a bottle! The Captain was good to me and got me 2 cases, I am a lucky (and very happy) sailor girl!
The market was incredible. So varied and well stocked and prices were incredibly cheap after Vanuatu. More mangos than you could poke a stick at (happy Emelia), and even the larger firm fleshed ones, all the usual veggies, plus mushrooms and avocados! Both of which we have not seen since we left NZ so Emelia and I were over the moon with our shopping finds. The boat was loaded and ready for the imminent arrival of the in-laws!
We left it to the last minute though and so the hot and rushed walk from the market back to the boat almost gave me heat stroke. I have a feeling that the 20kg watermelon I had in my backpack contributed to the overall struggle and I won’t be doing that again! No one needs a watermelon that sized, with only small fridges to try and fit it in once opened!!
There was only one dampener on the stay in Honiara, caused on the boat by our own children. Libby and Noah had decided that jumping on the inflated biscuit that was tied to the trampoline was a great idea and had much fun doing so, until they got a bit too enthusiastic in their playing and ended up pushing each other around – as siblings do – and unfortunately for Libby, her vigorous push ended up with Noah falling back off the biscuit and hitting the back of his head on the metal buttons that the tramp is stung on!
What a disaster!
Blood gushing, as head wounds tend to do, a very sheepish Libby and a most upset Noah came down to the cockpit to show us what had happened.
Luckily for Noah the Captain and I had done a pretty good first aid course in NZ as part of attaining Category 1 status to leave the country and had purchased the mother of all medical kids, thanks Oceania Medical!
Out came the wound stapler, and disinfectant, Chae calmly cleaned and stapled the wound back together (while I tried not to vom!) and crisis was adverted! The worst part of the whole episode was when Noah realised that he would not be able to get his head wet in the sea for a week!
The disappointment is real in this situation for a boat kid to be kept from the water.
He took his staples like a champ and we were most relieved we had the tools onboard to fix the situation, rather than having to go to the hospital.
I’d highly recommend anyone planning a journey like ours to go and see the team at Oceania and get themselves sorted with one of their kits, (and no I am not being paid to say this!).
Our wait for the family to arrive ended perfectly with an amazing burger and chips at the next-door Mindanao Hotel. There is a certain need to scoff a good burger and hot chips when you get into a port, maybe it’s the craving for oily, salty and fatty foods that we don’t get much on the boat, but I tell ya, nothing, and I mean nothing beats a well made burger and crispy fries along with an icy cold beer! We all got our fill there and were happy that the biggest part of the journey in this country was now over.
We plan to stop for several months here and will head north again to the Western Province, where we will spend the majority of the time.
The things we had heard and read had simply not prepared us for the beauty and friendliness of this country so far. We have been overwhelmed with the unspoilt beauty and kind, welcoming people. We are so glad we chose to come here. So happy that we ignored the odd looks and funny comments we got when we said this was a port of call.
We absolutely love the Solomon Islands and cannot wait to explore more of this stunning country!