Vanuatu to the Solomon Islands.
The time had finally come to check ourselves out of Vanuatu and start to head North again.
We checked out of the country in the Northern port of Sola. This was an experience in itself as the wind direction was coming right into the bay that we had to anchor in to go ashore, so the boat was bucking all over the place while trying to anchor and get in the dinghy. You become quite acrobatic living on a boat and get used to doing things very quickly so you don’t end up in the water!
We had hoped that the small bank in Sola would be able to change the last of our Vanuatu Vatu into Solomon Dollars, but we were out of luck. They held very little other currency. In fact, Sola held very little of anything. There were 2 ‘shops’ and a market, that by the time we got there had nothing left to buy.
We were counting on being able to get some fresh food for the passage north as we were almost out, but it was not to be. Ah well, I was going to have to get creative with what we had left for the next week or so…
Check out went smoothly, if not a lengthy process. The Customs guy had gone home for lunch. We waited and waited, and he didn’t seem to be coming back. One of the local guys ended up giving him a call for us and he came down to sort the process.
Once done, we were out of there as fast as a robber’s dog. The swell was so bad coming in the bay and the weather was not predicted to be very nice for a couple of days so we headed to the Reef Islands to tuck out of the wind for the night and make a plan on when to leave.
These islands are small, low lying and uninhabited, situated behind a giant reef that provided excellent protection from the swell and waves. Not only that but they were incredible to see.
Endless white sandy beaches, with the ubiquitous swaying coconut palms and turquoise blue water.
The islands used to be inhabited but they ran out of fresh water, so the people that had lived there were moved to nearby Ureparapara Island (which is another incredible place in itself!)
We spent several hours there the next morning, wandering the length of the larger of the group and marveling at the paradise we had found. Unfortunately, I had forgotten a camera when we went ashore, so you will just have to imagine the most picturesque place you can and think of us there!
From there we were meant to leave Vanuatu as our 24 hours were up after check out, but the weather was not playing ball so we decided to go and hide out of it all in the middle of the island of Ureparapara.
This island is a volcano that has had the middle worn out of it by the sea over the years, creating a Pac-Man shaped island.
On our way over there Chae spotted a GIANT work up of birds, chasing the small fish that the huge, leaping Yellow Fin Tuna were feeding on and pushing up to the surface.
Never one to miss a fishing opportunity (even in large swells and 27kt winds!!!!) we trolled through the masses and got a double hook up almost instantly. Unfortunately, our excitement was short lived, as Chae’s whole line got taken by a shark near the boat and then mine was also eaten, just off the back step as we were about to bring it on board. It was a blood bath! The shark left us a tiny bit of one and we were able to get our lure back at least!
Back through the work ups we drove….until finally we hit the jackpot! A very decent sized fish, a very happy Chae to have the fishing curse of Vanuatu broken and a very happy mum that we got to now head into the bay.
We ended up staying in there for 2 nights as there was a howling gale out in the ocean and it was making itself well known in the bay with large rolling waves and bullet winds ripping down the long bay to where we and 2 other boats were anchored.
It has to be one of the most uncomfortable anchorages we have ever been in.
We did, however, spend the time in the bay trading tuna and other bits and bobs off the boat for all kinds of fruit and veggies.
The village in the bay (the same people that had been moved off the Rowa/Reef Islands had a multitude of gardens dotted around the area behind the beach and in the surrounding hills, so the amount of produce was exceptional. Capsicums, tomatoes, beans, kumara, pamplemousse, island apples, eggs and mangos were all traded for tuna, fishhooks, some antibiotic cream for someone’s leg that was all swollen, kids clothing and some of the last Vatu that we had all made for excellent deals.
Finally, our time had come, for real this time, plus the weather had settled. We were also eager to get out of the bay, where the boat was swinging around like mad on her anchor.
Getting out was an interesting experience, as there were quite large almost standing waves at the narrow entrance for the bay. It was half an hour of holding on tight and being incredible grateful that we have such a strong and capable boat and captain to get us out.
We turned left, away from the direction of the wind and life calmed immensely. I felt for the 2 other catamarans that had been in the bay with us, as they had to head back to Luganville, which was a long way right into the direction of the wind (and the big waves). Pointing into the wind in a catamaran is never fun.
We had a great sail heading toward the Torres Islands. These are the last in the tip of the Vanuatu Island chain and by far the most remote. Not many boats make it up to these islands and even we were only stopping as an overnight to break up the trip.
After a 6 or so hour sail, we pulled into a gorgeous bay on the island of Tegue.
What a paradise!
We actually watched the anchor drop and set, through the incredibly clear water, to the patch of sand, 19m deep, that we had chosen between the coral heads and then all sat with our mouths gaping like circus clowns as we took in the scenery around us.
Rugged and lush looking jungle and enormous trees covered the island like a blanket, while coral carpeted the ocean floor like a colourful rug, teaming with fish.
There was no keeping the kids out of the water, and everyone leapt in to see what lay below. Fish everywhere, massive and untouched coral heads, eagle rays circling in a group while feeding, sharks mooching around the bottom and 3 very, very excited children swimming around taking all this underwater world in. What a spot.
We spent a calm and relaxing evening in the bay, waking up early to give ourselves time to explore the stunning beach and have another snorkel on the pass area.
The beach did not disappoint! A double beach really, with a point of rocks and coconut trees that sprouted out into the water. There was a phenomenal amount of beche-de-mer, smaller sized ones that littered the floor of the bay! The kids were stunned and when we walked from the dinghy to the shore we had to watch where we put our feet! No one wanted sea slug between the toes!
We wandered the deserted beaches, running and playing, shell collecting and challenging each other with balancing acts on the fallen coconut trees that spanned the beach to the water’s edge.
From the beach to the ocean, we headed off, dodging the numerous bombies and reef to the boat where we collected our snorkel gear and shot out to the pass between the tiny island at the entrance to the bay. Yet again, we were blown away! We stopped by a huge bombie and swam to our hearts content, captivated by the coral and the fish! Bright colours and a ton of fish. Perfect.
The current was strong, so Libby, Noah and I headed back to the dinghy and waited for ‘Emelia the fish’ and Chae to finish, as they had headed further than we did.
With the mornings activities completed we pulled up the anchor, with a stab of regret that we were not spending more time in these islands. They looked stunning, but we had a plane to meet in a couple of weeks and needed to be in Honiara to collect our next guests.
Our sail started with a bang! Winds picked up steadily and although the waves were not too sizeable they also grew as the squalls started to come our way!
The further North we headed the more we saw these giant squalls of rain and wind heading across the ocean!
It was fast, it was manageable, but we did end up playing dodgems with the squalls.
This was the first time that we had used our radar and boy were we happy that we had spent the money on it in NZ! It made the nights (and days) so much easier to be able to see the direction, distance and speed these things were headed! Most only lasted half an hour, but man were they hectic when they hit us!
I think we reefed the sails more times in those 2 days than we have since we have owned the boat! We got into a good rhythm of shaking them out and dropping them down without heading full into the wind.
One was a super mega squall, a squall of massive proportions. It had the classic roll edge as it sucked all the other rain and weather in the vicinity into it.
I was having a nap down in the bedroom when a calm but concerned Chae wandered down to let me know he needed me up to help double reef the sails…. his face said it all. He’s a smooth operator our Captain, but this calm but urgent face made me realise we were in for the mother of them!
Sails were double reefed in an instant, and man it hit like a freight train, there was nothing to do but turn downwind of it and ride it out. We turned almost the complete opposite direction to our destination for the 20 or so minutes that we were in it and we got drenched!
The rain was torrential, the wind was massive and it was exciting and a little scary!
Dodging squalls aside, the passage was relativily uneventful. The time passed quickly and we seemed there in an instant.
We arrived on a stunning day, the wind was up but we were in the lee of the island so enjoyed the last few hours in a sense of calm and peace.
The boat was put back together, she always ends up in a bit of a mess when Chae and I are concentrating on a passage and not keeping up with the day to day chores. Dishes pile up, washing gets thrown into the genral direction of the laundry and rooms, especially the children’s, become exceedingly messy!
We rounded the island to go through the pass into palm tree fringed, white sand beach, clear water and gorgeous coral reef island bay. It was remarkable. We were so happy to be seeing outer reef again! We had missed it in Vanuatau. The outer reef means calm anchorages and good sleep. They give us snorkeling and great fishing, all the things that we had been missing in Vanuatu.
Lata, our port of entry on Ndendo Island was welcoming us with chop and wind coming into the bay as we turned into it, making anchoring in front of the small town with the immigration officals impossible. The wind had turned Notherly and was shooting right into the bay.
We headed over to the opposite side of the bay, to anchor in front of the religious school. The kids and I stayed on board and tried to keep cool in the suddenly oppressive heat we had arrived in while Chae went back over the harbour to immigration in Bob. A bit of a trip for Bob with our old and failing engine, but they made the trip and checked us in! Sadly we had no money so fresh produce was a distant dream for another day. Luckily we had a ton of pasta and tins of tomatos…and Tuna and rice!
Within half an hour we were mobbed by the local kids, swimming out to the boat to see their new visitors. The 3 young boys eagerly joined our kids in the favourite game of King of the Biscuit, and had a glorious old time all together! I love to see our kids embracing the children of another culture, who’s English is not always the best. To be fair, who needs a common language to do bombs and play water games, childhood play and games are the same in any culture.
We were also warmly welcomed by the adults of the village. One lady, Hilda, came out with her 2 little children, to bring us a small meal that she had cooked for our dinner. Fish and green beans in a delicious sauce with steamed kumara. The kindness and genrositiy of her blew us away. We traded with her for some veggies, she had spotted some of our old glass jars and was keen as mustard for them. The strangest things that we take for granted can be so useful and most wanted in these countries we have been in.
Chae got asked for the oddest trade that we have come across yet that evening. A man named Moses came to the boat that first evening. He had fresh coconuts and bundles of
mint and wanted to know if we could type up his piggery roster for the month and print it out for him! He was the head of the Agriculture Training Centre in the bay and provided us with an old roster that some other cruiser had done for him to show what he needed!
With a request like that how could you refuse! Especially when traded for fresh mint and delicious drinking coconuts!
Type the roster Chae did. His P.A from his old job, Trish, would have been so impressed! Moses was stoked when he came to collect it the next day and we were more than happy with our fresh stuff!
We spent several days there, resting and getting into the groove of the magical Solomon Islands. Enjoying the company of the kids from the village that were regular visitors, the company of Hilda and her children who welcomed us into their home for an afternoon tea and tour of their garden to show us what they grow in this part of the islands and more importantly, we mananged to avoid Cyclone Liua.
We saw the tail end of it pass by one evening, with an incredible electrical storm on the horizon lighting up the bay like daylight at 4am! We woke the kids to watch the powerful show and were very glad that we were now anchored and not in the ocean anymore, grateful to be watching from a distance.
The next day, we said our goodbyes to our new friends and started our long path north to Honiara. It was my birthday and the family did try to make it somewhat special with the lack of time we had, with Emelia giving me the delicious fudge that she and I had made the day before, in a very special box she had made, along with adorable cards from the 3 of them! Leaving for a short passage on my birthday was not exactly what I would have chosen to do but we had a perfect weather window to get up there before a big high was due to arrive, where we would loose all the wind. We were running low on diesel and with no cash we needed to get to Honiara to be able to withdraw local currency and refuel. We had a few stops planned on the way as well, so sailing as much as we could was necessary.
I did however get a gorgeous sunset that evening.
It was a simple and dare I say it, slightly lonely birthday, I was especially missing my parents and brother, along with my girls (you know who you are!!). We also had no internet as we hadn’t been able to buy local sim cards yet, so the birthday wishes were limited to my sweet little family on board with me.
It would be several more days of travel with a few stops in between, while dodging the numerous squalls that develop in the sweltering afternoons here, but we were on a mission to get up to Honiara, excited to see the family that were arriving soon!