Welkam to Episode 20 of the Hog Blog.
At the end of Episode 19 we had just spent 2 awesome weeks at
Dive Resort in Marovo Lagoon doing some fantastic diving. Uepi Island
From Uepi we transited up to and through
Lumalehi Pass and into the main carving village of Telina.
To be honest we didn’t really want to go to Telina as it is full of people trying to sell you wood carvings that we are not interested in.
However we had to pay our custom fees before going out and diving
as the people of Telina are the traditional land owners. Kokoana Pass
We were lucky as when we arrived a French Catamaran was there (the only cruising boat we have seen in Marovo…) with loads of local canoes swarming around so it took the limelight off us.
We quickly had our RIB in and were on shore before we got bombarded.
First we went to Rocky’s house and Lisa learnt how to make Cassava chips and his wife took us through the main village and to the small shop.
We were pretty desperate for some fresh food and as we wandered through the village she was calling to the local women to see if they had any spare fruit and veg to sell. It was pretty funny getting all these replies and asking us to come and have a look, most of which was still on the tree or in the ground. We simply pointed to what we would like, agreed on a price and it was picked for us.
You can’t get fresher than that!!
Making Cassava Chips
Rocky’s carving studio in his house
As we looked out over the bay we could see the canoes around Lorelei just waiting for us to return. But we didn’t…
Next stop was over to John Wayne’s house.
John is the father of carving in Marovo and his carvings are amazing.
He also is the village elder who collected the custom fees for our diving.
Whilst with John we also had a look at his war canoe which is the only one left in Marovo Lagoon.
John is very interested in traditional ways and teaches history and local traditions to the young villagers who are interested in learning.
His war canoe has a lot of traditional traits to it and he has started to build a new one in the old methods.
We got back to Lorelei just on dusk still with canoes floating around but just as we got the RIB lifted onboard a rain squall hit so we went inside and they left.
We sailed out at 9am the next morning for the 1 hour run over to Kokoana Pass.
Sarumara Anchorage/Kokoana Pass,
As we transited across the lagoon we passed many small islands with gin clear water and stunning surrounding reefs.
We had to negotiate a shallow line reef to get into Sarumara anchorage but once in it was well protected with only 4m water depth over sand.
It was a stunning anchorage and the best we have seen since being in the Solomons.
We were only 6nm SE of Lumilehe Pass (see episode 19), the diving however was very different. Both looked much the same as far as topography and layout but not underwater. Lumilehe had 40m viz, big walls and a huge amount of big fish and schooling fish action.
Kokoana Pass had sloping reef walls inter-spaced with sand ledges. The soft corals on the reef and macro life was amazing but it lacked the viz, big fish and shark action of Lumilehe and Uepi.
We did a stack of great dives and concentrated on fish and macro photos instead of wide angle. It was actually nice to dive something a bit different.
Lisa managed to get some cracking shots with her new macro set-up.
Paul has been trying for a long time to get a decent Mangrove Jack photo.
Normally they are hard to approach. Finally - one that would co-operate!!
On dive 2 we found a point with 100’s of rocks on the reef with palm fronds tied around them. All were tied the same way with the same knot.
We thought it was some ritual or tradition but a few days later we found out they were simply river stones turn into sinkers by the local fisherman.
Our last dive at Kokoana Pass was fantastic.
The swell and wind had dropped and we managed to dive the outer west wall of the pass. The viz was a lot better and we had a lot of schooling fish and Tuna action.
We still concentrated on Macro photography and were rewarded with some great shots.
One day we had a break from scuba diving and decided to explore the bay by kayak and also paddle out to Kokana Pass and spearfish with reel guns.
The last 2 days at Kokoana we spent doing maintenance.
One of the days we decided to end for end our anchor chain.
“Well just spend 2 hours doing it and then go diving in the arvo” Paul said.
Yeah right!! The exercise turned into a full day mission. Moving 135m of 13mm chain (which weighs over 950kg…) around the sandy bottom on scuba was a mission. Paul ended up doing it by walking it around without fins while Lisa helped tow it around from the surface with the big RIB.
We then measured it, re-tagged it and cleaned the anchor locker before finally putting it all back in reverse.
On our last night there it poured with rain but we woke the next morning to the most glorious day of no wind, sun and glassy conditions.
It stayed that way for the next 10 days and conditions were awesome!
Finally a break and some beautiful Marovo Lagoon weather…
The downside was the heat. 33-35+ degrees all day – and night.
We left and motored south towards the next pass. With the amazing conditions we found a terrific anchorage in 4m over white sand on the inside of Njapuchanjomo Island.
The timing was perfect with the glassy conditions as it enabled us to get out to the outer island of Njapuana and do a few dives. This spot is remote and is only dived when the Honiara based dive liveaboard “Bilikiki” visits which is about 12 times a year.
On the way out we had a large pod of dolphins turn up so we stopped and jumped in and the pod came in close allowing us to get a good look at all the baby dolphins.
How many Pygmy Leatherjackets can you see?
Right: We found this crazy looking thing floating at 20m.
We think it’s a Sea Sap but not so sure…
On the way home from the last dive we stopped in the mangrove lined inner pass and Paul had a drift though on the flood tide in the hope to find a small to medium size crocodile to photograph underwater and get some reflection shots of the soft corals under the overhanging mangroves and trees. Lisa stayed in the RIB on big croc lookout.
Sadly he didn’t find a croc but did get some reflection shots that he was very happy with.
We did 2 great kayaks (one north & one south of Lorelei) but we chose to do them after 3:30pm when things weren’t so hot.
The highlights were the coral fringed small rock islands that are so prominent in this area.
Every time we stepped out onto the deck in the Marovo Lagoon anchorages we would see squid around Lorelei. We just left the rods with the squid jigs hooked up and had a flick around twice a day. We caught a stack and combined the calamari with the nearly daily offerings of Crayfish and the Spanish Mackerel & Coral Trout we speared ourselves.
We feasted on Seafood Paella, Seafood Laksa, Seafood Pasta, Sushi Rolls and anything else we could come up with.
This is what $12Aus gets you…..
We had some magnificent sunsets over the Main Island and Betuna.
One other big plus of being at Njapuchanjomo Island was its close proximity to Mbatuna on the Mainland (well the big island in the middle).
It has a fresh food market on the Thursday which are the biggest in the area.
The Thursday we arrived turned out to be a special day for the SDA Youth Ministries and there were festivities, singing and lots of fresh and cooked food for sale.
Waiting for the markets to begin…
A prayer was said then the markets were open.
It was crazy and the field was just inundated with people.
The food was all sold out in about 15 minutes!
Mbili Island and Passage
With the still classy conditions we continued south to Mbili.
We had heard and read many things about the Mbili people and most were not so positive but the diving in the area is fantastic so we went there anyway but were a little cautious.
The anchorage was stunning and we quickly dropped the RIB in and went to visit Chief Lutan to pay respects and diving custom fees.
He was 70, friendly, funny and great to chat to.
He was 70, friendly, funny and great to chat to.
Chief Lutan. The headphones are connected to a mike in his pocket.
Sadly he is going deaf and blind.
This was the sand channel between our anchorage and the villages.
It was only 1m deep and packed full of Black Tip Reef Sharks.
The big plus was the Bilikiki had just shown up that morning with 18 guests and the locals were arranging a carving show for them that arvo at 2 of the villages. We were also invited. We stayed long after the Bilikiki people had left to have a chat and to arrange some fresh fruit and veg (and Pauls favourite Nali Nuts) for a few days time.
We even got an invite to a birthday party!
Our good deed for the day….
The next day we packed our RIB up with 4 scuba tanks & a picnic lunch and headed out for a day trip to the uninhabited outer island called Karunjou to do some wall diving.
This place is truly remote and good weather conditions are essential.
The outer point of Karunjou Island where we dived
The first dive was amazing with great viz and stacks to see.
In the coral gardens at the end of the dive, Lisa managed to find a Black Leafy Scorpionfish which was our first for the Solomons.
The well camouflaged Leafy Scorpionfish
Our picnic lunch spot.
During lunch the Bilikiki turned up and anchored in a bay near us.
That arvo they dived the point and we elected to go further along the wall but we all ended up in the same coral garden at the end so we showed them the Leaf Fish and they were very happy.
Just as we were leaving the Bilikiki crew called us over and said they were just about to start a shark feed with about 20 Black Tip Reef Sharks and we were welcome to jump in too if we wanted.
After a while most of the guests got out and left Paul and 2 other photographers in the water for 40 minutes while the crew threw Tuna and Wahoo frames on a rope and pulled them back in over their heads.
It was awesome and Paul got some fun shots.
Paul and the camera got smashed into by the sharks more than once!
Meanwhile - Lisa also got out after a while and hung out with the crew, particularly Wilson the chef who gave us a doggie bag of yummy chocolate cake, popcorn and shortbread cookies to take home.
It was a very fun arvo and a big thanks goes to the crew of the Bilikiki.
John, one of the dive staff throwing the Tuna heads in the background
The following day we were diving again but this time at another location, Totolavae Island.
This small island is on the reef edge and totally exposed to the prevailing SE winds. You can imagine our luck when we woke to find unseasonal light W winds which meant it was offshore at the island.
The dive was just fantastic and our 2nd best Solomon’s dive after Lumilehe Pass.
The viz was 50m+, the coral was stunning and the fish life both big and small was immense.
Introducing “Rolly”, Paul’s faithful dive companion since 2003.
He has done 1850+ dives in 9 countries and over 60 wrecks but he prefers all the pretty fish and coral.
He was a little upset because “Bruce the Moose”, Lisa’s companion has appeared in the blog many times and he hasn’t so we made up for it.
He was a little upset because “Bruce the Moose”, Lisa’s companion has appeared in the blog many times and he hasn’t so we made up for it.
Whilst we were talking to Chief Lutun, we found out that there was a crashed WW2 US B-24 Liberator Bomber Aeroplane that was located in the bush not far from the village. We just had to check it out...
For our 4th and last dive we did Mbili Point. This dive has a great sloping wall with and lot of coral species in both hard and soft.
We ended up doing a 106 minute dive as most of the time we were in less than 15m depth.
At the end Paul managed to get some reflection shots with the trees in the background. They are not nearly as good as the last ones from Pore Pore but not bad for the area’s exposed location.
We shot this pic at a depth of only 4.2m
This is the dive site and trees from the surface.
By day 4 the true colours of some of the Mbili people had come out.
The 4 villages in the area are having problems with each other, the land rights are an issue and the politics are riffe.
We had many visitors in canoes wanting us to give them “gifts” such as anchor rope, spearing items, Dremel tools, DVD players, lures, bait, etc…
One guy was desperate for spear gun rubber and wanted it as a gift.
Instead we agreed on a trade for fruit and veg. He never returned with the produce and we kept the rubber…
The wrecked plane custom fees were a big issue. We gave them to the chief who pocketed them without telling anyone. His brother turned up to Lorelei at 9pm one night wanting the fees and was angry when he found out his brother already had the money. The crazy thing was we find out the next day the land is not even theirs and belongs to a great guy from just around the corner. It was him that told us of the plane’s history and the crew’s rescue by his ancestors.
We had a young idiot local (who is the son of one of the village’s self-proclaimed chiefs) claiming to be from an NZ yacht company and said he is in charge of visiting yachts and wanted security & dealing rights and we had to notify him when we went to do an activity or contacted another village person. We told him bluntly to get lost….
We went to the birthday party at a village house and were told 4pm. By 6pm not one other guest had shown up. Island time the family said. By 6:15pm we had left….
In the end it all got too much and the next morning we left at 7am.
All of the issues we had were with the 4 chiefs and their direct families.
They are the ones having contact with the tourists and the boats and in our view are abusing the privilege.
All of the issues we had were with the 4 chiefs and their direct families.
They are the ones having contact with the tourists and the boats and in our view are abusing the privilege.
It’s sad that the areas reputation is tarnished because of the ones at the top.
The local people are terrific and much better to deal with!
As we sailed out we headed north over the top of Marovo Lagoon and back towards The Kula Gulf.
We still had 2 more stops we had wanted to do at Marovo Lagoon (Peava and Wickham Harbour) but after 7 weeks in the area we were a bit over it and needed a change.
On the way we had dolphins playing around the boat and jumping in the boats bow wave.
After a full day’s 60nm run we arrived at dusk for our overnight stop at Leva Harbour.
It’s a remote area and is a logging camp so it’s rarely visited by passing yachts.
Lisa had a funny experience with the only canoe that visited.
It was a seedy looking guy with a 12 year old son who thought he was 50cent with a big piece of metal chain as a necklace.
The first thing the father said to Lisa was, “You have gift for me?” and rattled off a list of expensive power tools, electronics, alcohol, drugs and porn.
Well Lisa was all over it, quickly wrote him off and gave him a large list of gifts she wanted from him.
He left with 2 band aids and we got a large ripe Pomello….
Bat Harbour, The Kula Gulf.
The next morning we took off again this time for a 40nm run to Bat Harbour on the western side of Kolombangarra Island in the Kula Gulf.
We had been meaning to visit the area since we first arrived in Gizo 5 months ago so it was nice to finally make it.
The Kula Gulf was a major Japanese stronghold during WW2 and the Gulf was the scene for some of the fiercest sea battles in the pacific.
There are scores of sunken destroyers, freighters, PT boats and planes from both the Japs and the US littered on the seabed of the Gulf.
Sadly for divers, most of the Gulf is over 400m deep making diving on the wrecks impossible.
There is however still a large amount of remnants on the land and some in the water and we wanted to check them out.
The anchorage in Bat Harbour was small and we had just enough swing room. It was very protected from the wind making for some great reflection photos.
The calm before the storm….
Our first full day there was a Saturday and the Kids were home from boarding school so we linked up with 3 boys from the nearest 2 houses and went on a day trip in the RIB with them as guides.
The first stop was the 5 WW2 Japanese guns on the points protecting the harbour entrance.
Our 3 guides from left: Romas, Wilson and Pabalukay (which is Flying Fish in their language so we called him that much to the amusement of the adults)
Not the sort of shell you’d usually find on the beach…..
From there we went to look at the old Japanese lighthouse. It has fallen into the sea and we could see the intact light through the clear water and vowed to return with dive gear and cameras to investigate.
Next stop was the Bat Cave from where the area gets its name.
The tide was low and we had to paddle the RIB in over a shallow reef bar to get to a mangrove channel and lagoon which leads to the cave.
The cave system was far more extensive than we thought it would be.
We had 2 powerful torches for us and we took 3 smaller one for the boys which they though was great.
We spent over 90 minutes inside exploring the different caverns.
We even got lost twice and had to try to back-track out.
Inside there were 1000’s of flying foxes and bats and we had them flying into us a stack of times.
Note the Goanna walking around
The local families eat the flying foxes and the boys managed to get 5 by whacking them with sticks while they were flying around.
We like the local food but declined on dinner that night…..
That arvo was a local community fundraiser, a “bring and buy” for the church.
Their church is Solomons Islands Uniting and because it is not a recognised brand in the western world, they don’t get any support or funding like the SDA’s, Catholics and Methodists so they try to do it themselves. Sadly the other ministers from the “brand name” churches are trying to shut them down because the minister is not properly ordained. But he can’t get it because no one will help him from the outside. It is the only church in the area and services 6 villages.
We got changed and took the boys with us to the event and brought a stack of fresh food and a cooked lunch for all of us. The kids were stoked!
We were the first white skinned people to ever attend one of the church’s functions and were thanked many times for coming.
Our next big adventure was to packed up the RIB and head south for a day trip to Teme and Vila Harbour.
The first stop was in a small bay were Joseph and his family lived.
He had a fantastic outlook from his property.
They have a series of caves on their land that the Japanese used for many things such as a small hospital, ammunition bunkers, air raid shelters and accommodation.
The underground hospital was small but great to see and there were a lot of relics both inside and out.
The Earthquake/Tsunami in 2007 sadly destroyed a lot of the caves and closed a lot of entrances with soil and mud but it also open new ones that were previously undiscovered.
One was an ammo bunker that was stacked full of live ordinance.
The NZ army was called in and most was taken and disposed but they left a few safe ones for the tourists to view. We also saw gas masks, helmets, digging tools, jacks and guns.
Our 2 cave tour guides Lois and Jessica.
A snake we found in one of the caves
We found some crazy looking bugs on the cave walls
The next village down had an old Jap bridge over the water that had been destroyed by the US.
From there we ventured south to Vila Harbour to try to locate a sunken Jap Submarine that was reported to be in the area. We asked many people at 3 different villages. Only some had heard of it and we got some dodgy directions but none of them were the correct location. After 90 minutes of searching we talked to a young local spearo who knew where it was. We were dubious but he took us right to the spot and we were stoked – and so was he with his lollies and money as a thank you.
The last stop was the Fallen Jap lighthouse on the way home.
It actually turn out to be a large searchlight in the shallows.
In the afternoons at Bat Harbour we would set the big screen up in the cockpit and have movies and popcorn for the 4 kids. Kung Fu Panda was certainly a hit!
The crabbing in the area is also good and we had a big buck with massive claws in one of the traps only 3 hours after we put them in.
The downside of the area is the crocodiles. We had one swimming around our RIB while at the church fundraiser in the next bay and one around Lorelei in the early mornings. Both were medium size.
After 5 days we left Bat Harbour and said our farewells to the 2 fantastic families in the inlet. Their children were the best natured kids we have met in the Solomons. Sadly Romas and Flying Fish come from a poor family and don’t go to school. It’s a real pity because Romas is very smart.
Finally we had returned to Gizo. It had been nearly 4 months since we were here last and Danny and Kerry at dive Gizo had thought they had inherited our 2 Mountain Bikes as we had left them at their place and hadn’t returned to pick them up.
The day we arrived was a Tuesday and the first day after the elections for the Western Province to decide the local members for each area. There were stacks of people in town and long boats full of people celebrating victories. A crazy time indeed!
On Wednesday it got very heated down on the waterfront with 100’s of locals getting involved. There were a stack of people hanging around with weapons and the Police were there trying to maintain the peace.
Needless to say we didn’t hang around too long.
We stopped only for a few days to reprovision. We were so low on nearly everything in the boat including fuel and water and Lorelei was sitting so high in the water.
Just one of the amazing Gizo sunrises we enjoyed.
We couldn’t believe that after 5 months in the country and we had only done one dive on the Toa Maru shipwreck.
So for our second last week in the Solomon Islands we decided to head 1 hour north to Konggolovatu Bay and spend a week diving the Toa Maru and other locations like Hot Spot and some new places we have never been to before.
The weather was perfect so we decided on the more exposed locations first rather than the Toa which is in a protected bay.
The first day we did a double dive with the first being at Hot Spot. This is a small isolated reef that is out in the deep water and comes up to about 6m. The walls around the edge are covered in fish.
The spot is a WWF protected area.
In the arvo we did a spot that we had heard about but is rarely dived.
It coped the full force of the Tsunami but you wouldn’t know it. The regrown coral in less than 10m was diverse, colourful and in perfect condition. The soft corals at depth were equally stunning.
Back in the shallows towards the end, Paul found a Yellow Leafy Scorpionfish. Back at home on the GBR we have found that when you see one, if you have a look around you should see more.
Sure enough after a bit of searching Lisa found a whole family spread out over a bommie.
The first one Paul found
No.3 This was the baby one which was very small and well hidden
Count the Anemone Shrimp….
It was so good to get back and dive the Toa Maru Shipwreck.
We did 3 great dives and concentrated on a specific section of the wreck for each dive.
The first dive we did the stern and the last hold. This is the deepest section of the wreck and is 30m – 38m deep.
Lisa under the massive rudder and propeller aperture
There were some big MJ’s under the stern of the wreck
A huge Barrel Sponge towards the stern
When we left the mooring we had a RIB.
When we got back it was a longboat!!
No worries, it was the Dive Gizo boat and our RIB was hanging off their stern.
For dive 2 we decided to explore the collapsed central superstructure which is now on the bottom at 33m after the Tsunami tore it off the wreck.
The dive has an element of risk as it has a lot of penetration through twisted and unstable sections that are very silty. The upside is we were the only divers on the wreck that day and there was no chance of anyone else coming in and silting the area up.
One of the massive deck winches we found in the collapsed section
On the way back up we stopped in at the engine room and had a look around. This area is also a twisted mess as many of the engine room items have fallen because the wreck is lying on its side.
For our last dive on the Toa we decided to explore the 2 forward hulls and the anchor locker.
The second hold has more relics than the other 3 combined and it is full of bottles, bullets, large artillery shells, lights and 2 tanks.
Hawo, Hawooo ??
Left: Sake Bottles, Bullets and Artillery Shells in Hold 2
Right: Hold 1 is full of Bags of Hardened Concrete.
The upside down Tank in Hold No.2
The massive drum winch in the anchor locker
After a week of fantastic diving we took off across the Vella Gulf to our last destination and all-time favourite Solomons spot, Vanga.
It was our 4th time to Vanga and we mainly came to say goodbye to our good friends Charlie & Frieda and donate our timber dugout canoe to their daughter Alexis and the other Pikinini’s in the village to share.
When we arrived we noticed some new buildings out on the point and discovered the community was building a small resort/village stay set-up for visiting guests. The views from the balconies were amazing. They were not completed but one was to lock-up stage and the inside was fantastic. Not bad for SD $100 ($17 Aus) per night…
That arvo they slaughtered 2 pigs and roasted one over a fire made from the timber off-cuts from the building.
The next day was a Sunday and we went for a picnic after church to another bay further north where we hung out, ate, spearfished, swam and played with the Pikinini’s.
It was a great day out and we took the RIB filled with all the gear & food while most of the people walked there.
Before lunch we went with Charlie and spearfished Vanga Point.
Paul was spearing in the deeper water off the wall when a large Scalloped Hammerhead Shark came in to check him out. Paul managed to get above it and swam with it for a while.
Inflatable Nessie and the Canoe are always a hit with the Pikinini’s
For one last Canoe paddle Paul went up the river for a look
For our last day at Vanga Lisa spent the day with Frieda in the garden and learnt how to cook some traditional food.
She came home with so much fresh F&V including 25 huge avocados, pineapples and stacks of other stuff.
With mixed emotions we returned to Gizo to reprovision, refuel, say goodbye to friends, have a last meal at PT-109 and clear out.
We still had one more dive that we wanted to do and that was a muck dive on a small pinnacle in Gizo Harbour.
It was one of the first dives we did when we arrived in the Solomons. Friends Sue and Rogan took us there to show us a juvenile Ribbon Eel and we wanted to return 5 months later to see if it had grown up.
We were 50/50 weather to do the dive or not but when we went into the PT109 wharf we could see the Tsunami car and shipwrecks clear as day on the bottom of the harbour. This was outstanding viz for this area so we went back and loaded up the RIB and went diving.
Ribbon Eels must be slow growing because in 5 months it hadn’t changed size at all and was still the juvenile black colour.
Lisa found a Spiny Devilfish – only our second one ever.
The other was at Kennedy Island only a few miles away.
On our 2nd last night in Gizo the area was hit by an earthquake at 9.35pm.
It was the third to hit in the 6 months we had been in the country.
The epicentre was in Bougainville (only 100nm away) and it was a 7.1 magnitude. In Gizo it wasn’t that powerful but it went for a long time.
Fortunately no one was seriously hurt and no Tsunami was forecasted.
For our last full day we went for a ride around town on our bikes.
We rode out to the new correctional centre/jail that is being built. It’s the best location in town being right on the point with more than 180 degree water views from all buildings and great accommodation for the staff.
We stopped for 15 minutes (at 11am) to watch the construction – or lack of it. In that time only 4 of the 20+ workers on site actually did anything. The rest were just standing around, enjoying the view, sitting down or sleeping. And the Aust. Gov. is helping fund it……
The Crossing – Solomons to Micronesia
After waiting a few days for the immigration lady to show up to work, we finally cleared out and left the Solomon Islands.
Our destination Kosrae, Micronesia – nearly 1000nm away.
Day 1 we went 60nm north across The Slot towards Choiseul Island.
By late arvo the wind had died so we anchored up in a delightful bay behind the small Onodulo Island and stayed the night.
At dusk we were sitting on the deck having a drink watching a school of bait fish being hunted by Sharks in the crystal clear shallow water along the beach.
When the fish subsided, there sitting on the surface right in the middle of the school was a large crocodile. We grabbed the binoculars and watched it for the next hour as it hunted up and down the beach chasing the fish and birds walking on the water’s edge.
The next day it was raining and no wind so we decided to stay.
We looked out the back and sure enough there was the croc still hiding under the mangrove trees.
Day 3 we trusted the weather forecast and left for Kosrae.
Well it wasn’t right as 6 hours into the trip the wind died and we were forced to kick the engine in gear. That arvo we had a small visitor, a Bridled Tern (we think…) that stayed with us for the night.
That night it poured with rain and was quite scary blindly motoring along with no moon, no stars and only 25m visibility. Even the radar wouldn’t see through the heavy rain.
It was very cold and we had full wet weather gear on and sat drenched in our normally dry cockpit. Even our normally waterproof sail bags filled with rain!!! Not a fun first overnighter….
Fortunately we had the only current assistance for the trip and were able to motor sail from the early hours and make it to the remote Nukumanu Atoll at 3pm on day 4.
With little wind about, we decided to pull into the atoll and wait until it picked back up again.
This atoll is 200nm north of the Solomon’s and is so remote that there are no detailed charts. Fortunately Lisa had some Google Earth snapshots and we managed to use them and eyeball our way in through a pass and anchor up behind a small island on the western side.
The view from the crow’s nest was stunning.
Coming into Nukumanu Atoll
That night we enjoyed a great sunset followed by a clear night with what seemed like a million stars and full view of The Milky Way.
The next morning Lisa walked outside naked to find a man in a Canoe sitting off the side of Lorelei. After both initial shocks we find out Eddie is from the only inhabited island in Nukumanu Atoll which was over 10nm from where we were anchored. To our amazement we also find out we are in Papua New Guinean Territory!
He also said they only see a boat (aside from the supply barge) once every few years.
He recounted a funny story of the last boat that arrived over 2 years ago.
They were a Swiss couple on a yacht and had a huge fight on board. He dumped her on the island and sailed off. She had to live with the villagers until the supply boat came and took her back to PNG.
Eddie was asking Lisa if she was staying and was a little disappointed when she said no.
That arvo the wind kicked back in so it was off again, this time for the final 635nm leg.
For 3 days it was a mixture of low swell, variable light winds and a combination of motoring, sailing and motor/sailing.
Lisa sailing along at dusk
The simple things on passage…
Nachos with Tomatoes & sooo much Avocado.
Sunrise on the day we crossed the equator.
About 1 hour after we crossed the equator it all went downhill.
We had 350nm to go and the next 5 days the weather just hammered us with a mixture of everything. For 2 days we had no wind but a rough confused sea making motoring really slow and uncomfortable so instead we just dropped sails and flopped and raised them each time a storm hit which brought winds from 5 minutes to 1 hour. We put sails up and down over 25 times in 2 days and went a total of 30nm in the right direction. We had less than 8 hours sleep each in 4 days. Not Fun at all!!!!
From 280nm down to the last 100nm we had some decent winds and smoother seas and had a reasonable run. The forecast was 3 days of East winds. We sailed the most of that stretch in Westerlies….
Below are a few fun sailing shots Paul took when it was from the East.
It looks calm but was actually 12 knots of wind and we were doing 7 knots.
The last 100nm was a mission. Sails up, sails down, a 20 knot storm, zero 10 minutes later followed by another 15 knot blast from a different direction. It really did our heads in. With only 22nm to go we flicked the engine on and made it into Okat Harbour in Kosrae, Micronesia on Monday 4th Nov with only about 10 litres of Diesel left in the tank. Talk about close!!
The passage had taken a total of 12 days.
Overall it was by far the worst long haul passage we have done.
We were expecting it though. It is after all an unusual route and one rarely taken by any boats, commercial or pleasure.
We knew we would have to tackle unfavourable currents, winds and tides. The storms, the infamous doldrums and a week of pitch black moonless nights didn’t help either.
Our sails coped a hiding in the light airs with lots of rub and wear marks as they flopped and banged from side to side in the swell.
After clearing in at Kosrae we went into the Habour Master (who is next to the airport terminal) to say hello.
By pure fluke the bi-weekly flight had just arrived and there was a big welcoming of traditional dancing, singing, food, etc.
The occasion – The Korean TV version of “Survivor” had just arrived.
40 contestants with a huge crew of producers, camera people, etc, etc…
They were filming from the second they hoped off the plane.
The clothing company “The North Face” must have cut a big sponsorship deal because every single piece of clothing, shoes and all the bags were this brand. It looked pretty funny and we wish we had taken a camera.
We will stay here in Okat Harbour for a few days to recover and refuel before getting stuck into some activities on the other side of the island.
Lorelei on a mooring at Okat Harbour with an amazing backdrop.
No wonder we love it here so much….
So that’s it for a huge Episode 20 of the Hog Blog.
Look out for Episode 21 “The Kosrae Adventure” in about 5-6 weeks.
A Change Of Plans
After much consideration and research we have changed our plans.
We were wanting to go to Tonga, Fiji and Samoa for next cruising season (April to Nov) but it left us with the issue of where to go for the southern summer to escape the cyclone season.
Our two main options were back to the Marshall Islands but we were there last summer and we feel we will be just biding time, particularly for 6 months.
The second option was New Zealand but the 2000nm long, testing and often rough sail there wasn’t appealing. Its then 1400nm back to Tonga…
Above all else we just feel Fiji and Tonga will be more of the same and at the moment we are a bit South Pacific’d out and are looking for a change.
We’ll do it later when the longing for being in the Sth Pac returns.
So we have decided to start where we finished off last summer and return here to Kosrae as we really like this place and the people.
We are both looking forward to some surf and catching up with friends, particularly Matt (Junior) and Doug & his family at Nautilus Resort.
Then it’s over to Pohnpei in Dec and hopefully a Christmas with 2 other Aussie Boats before tackling the 1400nm run to Palau early next year. Fortunately there are a few isolated atolls to stop and visit on the way.
From there it’s easy access to The Philippines, Malaysia, Sabah, Borneo, Indonesia, Singapore, Asia, etc…
A Little Bit About our Solomon’s Experience
Overall we just loved our stay in the Solomon Islands.
It certainly was an experience!!
We stayed for 4 days short of 6 months which is the longest time we have spent in any country outside Australia.
Our pigeon has become quite fluent and had really come together in the last 6 weeks. We were even talking pigeon on the boat! We got some funny looks when we walked down the main street in Gizo chatting away in pigeon.
It was great to write off the annoying persistent stone carvers in their own language…
And to think we nearly didn’t go there because of all the negative comments from people and postings on the web regarding safety.
Looking back we feel we had done so much.
Nearly every day we were out exploring and would flake into bed most nights stuffed. However when we look at the map, we realise that we have only seen a very small portion of the country.
You could spend years exploring this place and still not see it all.
The upsides/highlights of our trip were:
- The culture, the friendly people and learning Pigeon.
- The stacks of fresh fruit and vegetables which were reasonably priced.
- The relative short distances to travel between anchorages.
- We had no personal safety issues and were never boarded or had anything stolen.
- Having George & Chez and Rowan & Kirsty on board. Our 1st guests since leaving Australia.
- Spearfishing Balira Pass, Rendova Island. Amazing!!
- The wedding at Rarumana, Vona Vona Lagoon.
- The Scuba Diving. The diving here is sensational and world class. We did over 80 scuba dives in the 6 months we were there.
Our top dives were:
- Lumilehe Pass, Marovo Lagoon. By far this is the best we had done in years!!!! Amazing wall dive. Top ten ever!
- Totolave Island, Mbili, Marovo Lagoon. A lot of everything & 50m viz.
- Uepi Pt. So many tame reef fish to photograph. Big fish action too.
- Vanga Point, Kolombangara Is. Rarely dived and soft coral heaven.
- Dauntlass Bomber Plane, Rendova Is. A great plane and fully intact.
- The new spot we found nth of the Toa Maru with all the Leaf Fish.
The downside of visiting the Solomons were:
- The clearance/entry fees to the government. It is now the most expensive place to clear in, in the South Pacific. It’s the same price for 1 day or 3 months. Sadly visiting yacht numbers have dropped in the last few years.
- Beetlenut!! The locals chew this (along with a pepper plant root and crushed coral/lime) and spit blood red saliva all over the ground. Disgusting!! It’s everywhere except parts of Marovo Lagoon where the SDA villages have banned it.
- The fuel. The cost for diesel and petrol ranges from A$2.20 to over $3 per litre. Sometimes the quality is questionable. Buy sealed 44 gallon drums if you can.
- The very limited and expensive reprovisioning of western products and food. Spare parts and most western conveniences are virtually non-existent outside of Honiara and Gizo.
- The constant forking out of custom fees for diving and activities.
- The villagers visiting the boat to sell carvings, fish, veges, wanting gifts, trade, just to talk, sign visitor’s books, etc, etc, etc… Sometimes it’s fine, other times it’s very testing…..
- The lack of ability to sail. Light winds, short distances and extensive reef areas make the Solomons a difficult place to sail. Most of the time it is just easier and safer to motor which adds to fuel costs.
- The heat. The lack of wind and high hills make living onboard sometimes very hard in the 35+ heat and high humidity.
- The timber logging. It is a huge issue with very little regulation. Huge scars of brown land are everywhere, particularly in Marovo. The soil runoff with the rain is affecting some dive sites.
We both hope you enjoyed the 4 episodes we posted from the Solomons and all the diving photos.