Monday, 29 October 2012

Parents onboard Sophia

After two nights and three days in Tavinipupu we sailed to Honiara overnight. That passage was the busiest passages we have ever had navigation-wise. There was a few island and reefs we had to pass in the dark and in total 6-7 ships/boats passed us coming up and down the coast to the capital Honiara, only one of them on AIS and with proper nav lights.

We arrived early morning and were quite appealed to find the anchorage extremely rolly. We literally rolled from gunwale to gunwale. Honiara is notorious for being a bad anchorage: poor holding, rolly, squally and lots of thefts. But almost all boats have to stop there to clear into the country. I rowed ashore by myself to pay our entry fees with customs and immigrations (we had done the paperwork in Lata) while Phil stayed on board in case conditions got worse. Luckily it improved and by midday it was much better, and we hardly experienced more rolling the next two nights we were there.

My parents arrived on the Thursday and were met by 33 degrees heat. They had been quite cold on the airplane but I promised them they wouldn't be cold the next 2 1/2 week! We had thought we'd leave the same night and sail overnight to Russel Islands, but it wasn't rolly, so we stayed the first night in Honiara. It meant we had better time to eat more ice cream, buy cheese, wine and beer!

Another boat we had met in Tavinipupu told us about a nice bay in the Florida group where they had just spent a few nights, so we decided to check it out, also because it was only a 6 hours sail to get there. Roderick Bay Hide Away is a lovely little village (one big family). They came out in canoes to help us in and took a stern line ashore as it was quite steep right up to the beach. They also have a mooring, but another yacht was on that already. We were immediately invited ashore to join them that evening for a pot luck dinner, as they were having a farewell party for the other yacht. They had cooked up a lovely sea food chowder, grilled fish and several kinds of root vegetables, some baked into a kind of cake. The table was fully covered in beautiful flowers, we each got flowers around our neck and even the drinking coconuts were decorated with flowers.

The next day we were guided around the village, saw the guest books from previous boats visiting, a photo album another yachtie gave them, and we walked over to a bigger village where the school and church is located. We also snorkelled on the reef and they showed us a small group of giant clams. The kids came out to us several times with tomatoes, beans, nuts etc, but unlike many other places they didn't linger, but they were very polite and super friendly. It's really hard to pick the nicest places/people, but this is definitely one of the top ones, mostly because of the super kind and honest people.

We're now back in Honiara as my Dad is sick and needed a few nights in a nice air-con hotel and also to see a doctor. He is slowly on the mends again and hopefully soon we'll head to the western province. There has just been some civil disturbances in Gizo this weekend, some violence and arrests, so we need to keep track of the situation and possibly avoid it, but we'll wait and see.

Monday, 22 October 2012

We're now in Maurau Sound, which is located at the south western part of Guadacanal. We had a super nice sail to here from Santa Ana, with only light winds and no swell for the most part when in the lee of the land. We're tugged into this tiny anchorage between the island of Tavanipupu (with a fancy resort that makes amazing ice cream) and another island with a typical Solomon village. Right behind us we have beautiful coral and the lovely light turqoise blue hue of shallow white sand and the snorkeling is pretty good. Great spot.

When we were at Santa Cruz we heard that Prince William and Kate were in Solomon Islands about a month ago, being out of the news loop, that of course was new to us. Anyway, it turned out they actually stayed one night here at the resort, pretty cool! They build this big wooden fence around one of the bungalows and that's where they stayed.

My parents are arriving in Honiara on Thursday 25 October, so we can only stay another night here. They are staying with us on Sophia for 2 1/2 weeks, the plan is for them to fly out of Gizo. It will be very interesting for all parties, I'm sure, but we're really looking forward to it. I'm grateful that I have such a chilled and relaxed boy friend :-) If anyone starts getting on the edge, we can hopefully just find a hotel where they can stay a few days if necessary. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Antoher passage and something about crocodiles

We stayed 3 nights in Graciosa Bay on Santa Cruz. It was just so nice to be at an comfortable (ie, non-rolly) anchorage and just chill out. We had a fun day in Lata checking in and getting a few things. So far our experiences with officials and bureaucrats in Tonga, Vanuatu and Solomon have only been very pleasant and we even enjoy the experience and chat with the nice people and it hasn't taken us longer than half a day at the most at times.

At Shaw Point where we were anchored is a rural agricultural college where young kids are taught agriculture, mechanics and carpentry. It's run by a church and about 30 students are enrolled all from around the Santa Cruz region. We were shown around by Michael, one of the priests (not sure if he used that exact word) after spending half an afternoon with him and his family, including a 2 1/2 month old super cute chubby baby girl. So far Solomon people are just as friendly as the super friendly Vanuatu people. Back to the school, unfortunately when one of the teachers left last year, he took with him all the carpentry tools. There are no funds to buy new tools, it will take several years to raise the money. This means the carpentry class is all theory, which understandable is quite frustrating for both the teacher and the students. If any cruisers come by here, any wood working tools would be much appreciated.

The last night a big cat from New Caledonia came into the anchorage. It's the first other yacht we have seen since Peterson Bay, so we were excited to see them. It was a big group of Germans that had chartered the cat from Port Vila and up to Santa Cruz to visit some of the very remote and very seldom visited islands around there. It was actually because of them that the two customs and immigration officials were in town. They kindly invited us to stay for their dinner, a lovely mahi mahi, yummy.

We have now done the 200 miles passage from Santa Cruz to Santa Ana, which is at the bottom SE corner of the main Solomon Island group. It is actually even a little bit south of Santa Cruz! It's another lovely anchorage, big bay sheltered by two fringing reefs, charming village with lots of happy kids, a big freshwater lake in the middle of the island where we had a nice swim, and best of all: no crocodiles (yay). Yes, since northern Vanuatu, we're now in crocodile territory, the dangerous saltwater kinds. Luckily they are not everywhere, but mainly where there are rivers and mangroves.
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Monday, 15 October 2012

Arrived in Solomon Islands

We have had a fast passage, about 200 miles, which took us 48 hours, but we were actually slowed down to only a scrap of head sail half the last night as not to arrive in the dark. We have had winds from 5 to 20 knots even gusting up to 29 knots, though mostly around 15-20 knots. A highlight was catching a small skipjack tuna just outside Ureparapara, first fish in almost 3 weeks since Malekula. The police officer in Sola did say that they had a problem with Asia fishing boats illegally fishing in Vanuatu waters, but they don't have any boats to go stop them, so there's not much they can do about it.

Speaking of which, I forgot to mention in the last blog that in Sola both police and customs officers had been to NZ and loved it. The police officer was educated at the police academy outside Wellington and had been stationed several places in NZ (and PNG, told us NOT to go to the highland and cities there!). The customs guy had been playing tuba with the army band, being based in Canterbury, but had visited many places in NZ with the band. They were both very happy to talk about NZ with us.

Back to our passage. Weather wise it was interesting that we had several showers-squalls during the day time, but none at night, but on the other hand, we had some lightening at night, especially the first night, but we never saw any at day time. Lightening is not good when you're a sail boat with a tall mast, but it did seem to be far away from us and upwind and we could never hear any thunder, Strange. Anyway, it meant that our most important electronics, such as a handheld gps, vhf, spare computer and sat phone lived in the oven the, whole time, as that is supposed to possible save them (faray's cage, not sure, can't google it?) in case of a lightening strike (which in lucky cases only take out all electronics, unlucky being when it makes a few exit holes in the hull). The moon was being particular unhelpful as it only rose about an hour before sun rise and then only a tiny sliver, so it was pretty dark nights with only some stars.

Now we're in Graciosa Bay on Ndende. We are anchored by in Shaw Point, directly east across the bay from Lata, as it's the most safe and comfortable anchorage. And comfortable it was, no rolling whatsoever, bliss after so many days of constant movement. Unfortunately the bridge to town is washed out, so we couldn't walk to Lata as we had hoped, but instead we caught a ride with a small local (church owned) boat across the bay to Lata. Normally you can't officially clear into Lata, but only kind of provisional, but when walking across town looking for the police station, we were approached by three different guys, three times. The custom and immigration guys happend to be in town because a cruising ship is arriving this afternoon and finally the quarantine guy also found us. They were all super nice and shared the same office, we came to see them after we had been at the police station/

Two things to indicate we're in a new country: betel nuts and canoes. Here they don't drink kava, but instead they chew betel nut! It makes their mouth and teeth blood red and it isn't exactly attractive. We have even seen 10 year old kids and nuns with tell tale red teeth! Around the streets are these red splatters on the ground, making it look like lots of accidents happen, but it is just betel nut spit! The dugout canoes differ because they don't have any outrigger, they are just plain single hull canoes.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Rolly nights sleeping on the floor

From Gaua we went up to Vanua Lava, the main island of the Banks Group. Our first stop was Waterfall Bay. It's about on the middle of the west coast and has, as the name indicate, a twin waterfall that's visible from way out. Ashore it's only one (big) family living there, although there are more settlements further down the coast. We were welcomed by chief Kereli and taken to the small yacht club (a leaf building with lots of flags from other cruisers). Here we got the most thorough and formal welcome we have received anywhere, it included a welcome song and flowers put behind our ears.
The waterfalls were super cool and provided a lovely fresh swim. Apparently the snorkeling is also good there, but we didn't have time, as we had to keep on going over to the other side of the island to Paterson Bay to Sola to check out.

Here we are now and we're officially cleared out and we'll hopefully leave tomorrow morning, weather depending. It's not exactly a big passage to Solomon as the Santa Cruz islands are only two days away and there are actually a few islands on the way where we can possibly stop.

Every single anchorage since Port Peterson has been rolly, this now being the fourth anchorage in a row. That means I'm sleeping on the floor in the saloon as that's the least rolly place, although all is relative, rolly is still rolly and annoying. It's also getting still hotter and hotter and we have experienced our first squalls. Squalls are little rain and wind clouds that travel quickly through, varying in strength, some can bring lots of wind, rain and even thunder. The first one we saw happened to be when we were about to put up the main. I said it was going to blow, but Phil was sure it was only rain. I was right, although it was only a little one with winds up to 20 knots. I'm sure we'll get to experience many more to come.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Moving north and catching up

We ended up staying a whole week in Peterson Bay, mostly because of too much wind and a fair bit of rain. Another reason we weren't moving was because of other cruisers: Sagata (Phil and Leslie from Wellington), Proximity (Elizabeth and Rod from California/Germany), Maia (Fran, Mark and Matthew from Dunedin) and Blue Bie (Phil from Switzerland). It's the most socialising with other cruisers we have done since Tonga. This is very nice, but it also means we don't get much interaction with the Ni-Vanuatu people, so it's nice to have a balance of both, which I think we have managed quite well so far (easy when we have often been the only boat in our anchorages).

Peterson Bay is one of the nicest places to be stuck, especially when it blows, as it's an extremely protected anchorage, so absolutely no rolling. It has the two beautiful blue holes I already wrote about, two resorts and it's a easy ride into town. One of the resorts (Turtle Bay) has a circus show regularly, or they do when the owner is around anyway. It was really cool, very low key and casual, but still really good and perfect for island circus. Phil learned to do Devil Stick on fire when he spent a year at polytech in Nelson, and he brought them along and was allowed to do a little show afterwards. It's the first time I have seen him do it, and he wasn't bad at all, only dropped the fire stick a couple of times and almost lit up a couple of kids sitting on the ground, but, never mind, it was pretty cool, see facebook for photo proof.

On our way north we stopped at Hog Harbour which has one of Vanuatu's most famous beaches, Champagne beach. Some cruise ships stop there, so there was fancy toilet buildings again, just like Mystery Island and Wala Island. It is a really pretty beach, it has the most amazing fine, soft and white sand and super clear turquoise water. Phil's Dad, Ron, cruised through the Pacific 12 years ago and also anchored at Champagne Beach. He fixed a radio and installed a switch for one of the local guys in the village and told us to go look for him. Armed with his name this was very easy, but the cool part was he still remembered Ron. One of his daughters showed us where to get bread and meanwhile they set up a table for two. When we returned, Phil and I were placed there as guests of honour, while the family sat on a bench across from us and just watched! The daughter had also bought a bread, and so we had tea and bread. We saw the radio and the switch that Ron installed inside the house and were gifted two beautiful Lava Lavas that they make (to sell to cruise ship passengers) and of course coconut and banana. They were just super nice people. They were probably also the most well off of Ni-Vanuatu people we have met, the house was made of concrete and had proper floors and they had a car. It it only half and hour or hour's drive into Lunganville and I guess cruise ships generate a good way of income. Cain and his wife walked us back to the beach and came out to Sophia for a quick visit (it was now dark) and we found a few gifts for them also.

We have now sailed further north to Gaua which is part of the Banks groups, the most northern part of Vanuatu. Here we were greeted by no less than 5 canoes that came out even before our anchor was down, all young people and kids just curious to check us out. Depending on the weather tomorrow we may go into the village in the morning. Next we're going to Vanua Lava from where we're going to clear out of the country.

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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

September's cruising costs for Vanuatu

Another month has ticked over, so it's time for another cost sheet. Phew, this one isn't looking as good as the last two months. Total spending cost was almost $2400!

There are several reasons why we spent more than in Tonga. Entry, immigration and exit (already paid) fees are much higher than in Tonga. We had to get a visa extension because we're here longer than one month, and it's only one set fee for up to 4 months, $85 per person. Although food is cheaper than Tonga, there's a much better selection here and we have used up some of our NZ stores, and we're also stocking up for Solomons and PNG, so all in all that means we have bought quite a lot of food here. We have only eaten out for dinner once, but ice creams, cheap lunches etc all adds up as well. We have added two new categories, transport and sightseeing and have spent some money on that like seeing the Yasur vulcano. There is some over-lap between the two, because some sightseeing includes transport cost.

Anyway, enough explanations/excuses, here it goes:

Fun and beautiful blue holes

We have now spent almost a week in Espirito Santo, first in Luganville (second biggest city in Vanuatu) and now in Peterson Bay.

Santo was a major American military base during the WWII when fighting the Japanese invasion of the Pacific, though most of the fighting and losses were up in Solomon, where we're heading next. Aparently 100,000 American servicemen were stationed here for several years and it obviously had a major impact on the locals and the environment. They did bring a lot of jobs and economy with them and to the Ni-Vanuatu people the Americans seeemed very wealthy and generous.

When they left they dumped a whole heap of equipment into the sea, aparently negotiations with the French and/or locals fell through, and it was too expensive to transport back and they didn't want it to fall into wrong hands, so into the sea it all went. The place is now called Million Dollar Point and is a great snorkel attraction, as you litterally step into the sea from the beach and can see trucks and all kinds of things scattered on the sea bed, though some things need a fair amount of imagination to recognise after almost 70 years in the sea.

Peterson bay is an extremely protected bay just north of Luganville and we're enjoying a completely roll-free anchorage for a change after the rolly Luganville spot. There are two blue hole up two rivers from here and we have now visited both. Lovely amazing fresh and very clear water, beautiful green trees, a rope swing at each hole = we had a ball.

Another impact we saw from the Americans is the camouflage vine that was introduced to hide military equipment. It sure was effective as camouflage, but it now continues to smother the native forest in this massive green blanket. Kind of pretty, but also kind of not.