Monday, 19 November 2012

Off to PNG and goodbye to Solomon

My parents left almost a week ago and we have now gotten used to having all the space to ourselves again and are over the 'empty boat' feeling. Overall it was a successful visit and enjoyed by all. The biggest problem for my parents was definitely the heat! Solomon Islands are very hot and humid, but at least Phil and I have been eased into slowly over time. We think it was very adventurous of them to come to Solomon Islands and stay on Sophia for 2 1/2 week.

We spent a few days in Gizo on the internet and stocking up Sophia again. And one day scuba diving! It's been five year since I last dived, but to me it's just like bicycling, where my body remembers the movements and feeling (and with that comes all the happy memories of past dives). Phil came along to snorkel, but we have snorkeled so many great places off Sophia, that it wasn't really that special for him. First dive was on Tua Maru, a Japanese 140 m long passenger/cargo ship, sunk during World War II by American bombers. It's definitely not the best wreck I have dived, but it was pretty OK.

Lunch was on the tiny deserted island which again would have been more fun if we aren't used to pretty little islands plus halfway through it started pouring down with rain and we had to sit in the sea to be warm-ish. Definitely the coldest we have been since NZ! Next dive was just off the islands (the site called Grand Central Station). It was on the wall of a reef and we saw some OK things, but like the wreck, it wasn't a super dive, just fairly average. The rain also wasn't doing the visibility any favours either. We saw a turtle, a shark, a lionfish,lots of clown fish and the usual reef life.

We had hoped to be able to clear out of Gizo and one boat which had stayed 6 weeks in Gizo confirmed we could clear out, lots of boats had done it, the only tricky thing was the immigration guy had broken his leg so we'd have to find his house which was over the hill somewhere. But it turned out the customs guy has just left Gizo and gone back to Noro and he wasn't coming back until sometime in December, so we had to bite the bullet and go back to Noro. It was OK though, we left early in the morning and arrived just after lunch and managed to clear out very easily, we spent our last Solomon money and still had time to sail to another anchorage, as Noro apparently isn't super safe on a Friday night. We anchored by Sagharaughombe Island just off Kolombangara. Like Bat Harbour, only a few yacht stop every year, so they were really happy to see us. The next morning a bunch of kids showed us the reef to snorkel and an old Japanese barge, almost disintegrated on the sea floor. One of the older kids did have an old mask and snorkel, but we lent our masks and snorkels to other kids, many of them had never even seen the barge themselves. We also tried to paddle their canoes, which is an awful lot harder than it looks. Every single Solomon Islander has been in a canoe even before they can walk, and so their balance is excelent. Both Phil and I failed to paddle very far, and we flooded and tipped over in the canoes, of course much to the amusement of the kids.

We have now spent a few nights by Liapari Island where an expat kiwi has a small boat yard, both for local barges etc and for yachts visiting, some people also leave their yachts here for the cyclone season (it's so far north that no full-blown cyclones hit). Phil has done a bunch of work on the engine and we're getting ready for another country. We're planning to clear into Buka on the norther side of Bourganville and it has a narrow passage with a lot of current, so we have been trying to find out the best strategy for that. Fingers crossed that it will work. It's only about a two day passage, so it hardly even counts.

Our verdict of Solomon Islands as a cruising destination is overall great. We have had a good time and haven't had any safety problems whatsoever. Of course we have taken precautions and stayed away from any places where there have been incidents and we always lock up the boat at night and take everthing loose inside, we even bring in our outboard, one advantage of having only a 2 1/2 horses outboard. People are very friendly and welcoming and there are litterally a ton of anchorages, we have only explored a tiny part of Solomon Islands. Furthermore most anchorages are very protected and safe and therefore there's no rolling. Compared to Vanuatu, the anchorages are definitely much more secure and non-rolly. OK, we have been here in the transition period between the SE trades and the NW monsoon, so we have had very light/no winds most of the times, but we would still claim that even in stronger winds, many anchorages would still be very calm. Only two downsides are the crocodiles and the heat. That combination even makes it worse, because it's so hot, but some places you can't cool off in the water because of the crocs. Another plus side (for some anyway) is that there aren't that many cruisers here, we think because of the safety issues, but we're not sure. We have has almost every anchorage all to ourselves.

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