[120928, 0707UTC, Kalivera Bay, Vangunu Island, Solomon Islands
08º31' S / 157º 58' E]
After leaving Roderick Bay, we stayed a few days in Honiara town once again, suffering its charms as we collected Rx for Philip and restocked Carina for travel to remote locations. Without wind but ready to depart, we left with the calm dawn Monday, September 17, two days after friend Larry of Tribute lost his locked outboard engine to thieves at 0500, not 100 yards away.
Twenty six hours later we arrived at Peava, Nggatokae (GAH TOE kai) Island. It wasn't a particularly challenging passage, except for unlit fishing boats randomly twinkling flashlights at us to keep us on our toes, a few well-behaved deep draft vessels, and little or no wind, which dictated we motor. Motoring always makes it difficult for the off-watch to rest as it heats up the cabin and fills it with the a muffled engine cacophony. We enjoyed a brief sail during a couple of minor squalls near Savo Island and then the wind diminished and then finally evaporated before sunset. Overnight the Uta Princess, a large supply boat, called us and then passed us at about a mile and then, just after dawn, a large FAD came into view. A FAD is a fish accumulating device; this one was large enough to cause damage should we have hit it overnight. Atop was a light but, like all aids to navigation in this part of the world, its operational status would be dubious.
Peava village sits on a tiny lagoon that is entered through a very narrow, though well-marked, pass. In the mid-morning light, encroaching reefs were difficult to see, so we were pleased with the buoys that gave us confidence in our Google Earth generated entrance waypoint. Even so, the bottom came up quickly and our depth sounder gave us a scant 6' below our keel as we eased across the bar and held our breath. Peava would be our first stop in the western province and our entrée into the world of abundant master wood carvers, all anxious to sell. We did eventually acquire one lovely carving at Peava - a large turtle carved with sealife on its shell, a scene called (generally) "the spirit of the Solomons", which we traded for our old digital point-and-shoot camera, a file and a knife.
Munchkins in tiny child-sized dugout canoes soon found us and our lolly supply took an immediate hit as Philip, smiling and asking each one their name, dispensed sweets to all giggling children who came calling. Two boys of about 10-11 years of age approached Carina for their treats and one of them said something that Philip interpreted to be "I like your yacht". When Philip asked if that was what he meant, he said, as he stroked Carina's side, "No, I think your yacht is alive!"
The following day, we eased Bacio ashore on the narrow beach at the Wilderness Lodge, though we'd heard they weren't too keen on yacht visits. The place was empty except for staff as the few guests of this small lodge were off on a cultural adventure. Rosina, dressed in a colorful outfit of deep green combined with a bold purple tropical flower pattern, met us and when we said we were looking for information how to find the chief, she dropped what she was doing, took us out the side door and through the gate marked "staff only" to meet the wide village path. Striding ahead, we hustled to catch up, explaining she could just give us directions, at which she flicked her hand and smiled and continued on. As we entered the village proper, we encountered two men and Rosina spoke with them in their native language. We caught "vaka", the word for boat and then, Rosina gestured us to come forward and then smiled and was gone.
Siana is a pleasant man of about 30 years old with a full head of wavy dark hair that accentuates his rich dark skin. He explained that his late father was chief and that his brother, the heir, was working as a lawyer in Honiara. We could, however, speak with him on behalf of his brother. "Great," we said and proceeded to show him the small gifts of tinned meat, tea and biscuits (cookies in American English) we had brought, as we questioned him about whether and where we could anchor, sought permission to hike, visit, fish and snorkel, and inquired about tabus. Siana explained that the village is Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) and thus there is a Saturday ban on working (or even snorkeling) and we were expected to respect this. We readily agreed. Our visit was short but included the normal "interview" of our origins and who we might know of former yacht visitors. We were delighted to find out friends on the vessel Asylum had spent five months here and had made a favorable impression due to their work with the school.
Siana soon pointed us down the trail and said, "Perhaps you would like to meet Lisa? She's an American who runs Solomon Dive Adventures." The village path - the closest thing to a road you'll find on most of these islands - was well trodden and passed the large playground in front of the school. This was a "field day" and the entire school population was active playing. As we hiked further, we listened to birdsong and enjoyed the pleasant coolness of the shady coral-studded path until we came upon the stump of a tree that had been elaborately carved and painted depicting a diver and sealife and reading "Welcome to Vuana". Vuana was a sprawling complex of little guest cottages and a large two story main building. We found Lisa sitting amongst a pile of papers and disassembled electronic devices; this day was apparently a day for cleaning. Lisa has been in Peava for six years and has turned this little corner of wilderness into a SCUBA school. There is also a library and pre-school on site. After a bit of pleasant chatter - it turns out that Lisa is originally from Connecticut and was born just 8 miles from where Philip was born - we departed to return to Carina and to our long list of sewing projects. Peava was the ideal spot - protected, beautiful and friendly - to settle in for a few days.
Later that day we were visited by Kelvin, a well dressed Solomon Islander, who works as a manager at the Wilderness Lodge. (He also spoke glowingly of Jim and Katie on s/v Asylum.) As it turned out, his mission was to request we move so we wouldn't be in front of the Wilderness Lodge as he was concerned about his guest's privacy. Considering we'd been assured by the chief's representative that our anchorage was fine, plus the fact that we were actually north of the cottages, and the bay was filled night and day with local canoe traffic, we politely declined, though we gave him no specific reason for doing so. Kelvin was gracious and went away smiling but the reputation of the Wilderness Lodge as being a wee bit cool on yachts, was thus upheld.
A few pleasant days later, we puttered out the pass into another breeze-less day and followed the deep wide channel inside Minjanga Island to the Mbili (BILL ee) passage into the Marovo Lagoon. The Marovo Lagoon is actually composed of three separate lagoons that surround Vangunu Island - Nono Lagoon to the west, Marovo Lagoon in the north and Kolo Lagoon in the SE - though collectively they are referred to as the Marovo Lagoon. Marovo Lagoon is littered with small islands, islets, coral bommies and shoals too numerous to be charted in most cases. Markers exist though they are few and some are missing.
After pushing through a 2+ knot current and over the unmarked bar, we were inside. Following the water, we rounded a small limestone twin-lobed island and anchored in about 30' of intensely turquoise water, overlooking the barrier island Sanihulumu, two tiny popover-shaped islands, and the pass to our south. It was Saturday and we knew that most residents ashore would be at church at the SDA village of Mbili but we launched the dinghy and went seeking whoever was in charge. Most houses were empty but we did find Paul, who may very well have been sent ahead to greet us as everyone around seems to know when a yacht is arriving - the coconut wireless is very efficient. Paul, son of the clan chief John, told us his job, as appointed by a village council, was to meet and greet and take care of yachts.
Yachts are an important outlet for the local wood carvers and we felt the weight of the expectation that we would partake. (We counted only 25 visiting boats over the year as per entries in the local yacht book, kept by Alex, brother of clan chief John.) Competition to sell carvings is fierce and though carvers sit together and companionably work on their art, when it comes to selling they'll only speak to you in whispers if other carvers are around and jealously guard any sign of interest in their carving. All that being said, we asked that they meet on shore on Sunday morning and had 8-10 men show their wares on small patches of cloth spread in a circle on the ground. We photographed and talked with each individual for two hours total and eventually settled on who would come to the boat for negotiations. No one was pushy, everyone was friendly, knowledgeable and fun to talk with. The prices are actually not that bad considering the quality and most want to have a combination for $ (so they can tithe) and trading. We eventually traded a sharpening stone, sandpaper, epoxy, a bush knife, DVDs, sugar, rice, tea, and milk for two carvings.
The birdlife and sealife at Mbili was amazing. Here, for the first time, we got a good look at what locals call a bina (BEE nah) - an enormous black bird with a white head and a long yellow scimitar-shaped beak; the animal is so big that, when it flies by, its wings make a distinctive and loud whooshing sound. (We think the textbook name might be a sicklebill but haven't confirmed this yet.) Also overhead were big white parrots and dozens of little red ones plus large white and brick-red raptors perched high on the bare branches of tall trees, and a couple of types of herons and at least one enormous crane. Meter-long black tip sharks swam by as we puttered in shallow water on the bar and we had a resident school of silly looking squid always under the boat.
At the carving show we met Luten Watts, who claims to have been named for an American soldier during WWII. Luten is derived from Lieutenant Major, the name actually given him, but one which no one could manage; thus Luten. Luten is a personable little chap, a carver of course, with a twinkle in his cataract-dulled eyes. He is the cousin of Alex and John. He and his eight children (seven boys, one girl) run a "rustic" eco-lodge on the the tip of Nggatokae Island that forms the south extreme of the Mbili Pass.
As part of his entrepreneurial ventures and for a small kastom fee, Luten will guide you to an American airplane wreck from WWII immediately ashore in the bay to the south of the pass. His cousin Alex sneers at this in typical wantok fashion, because he says the plane wreck is on land that is outside of Luten's holdings. Luten, who is about 4'8" tall when he stands on his tippy-toes, easily fit in the dinghy with us, and we motored from his landing across the smooth lagoon waters to the crash site. The site was immediately ashore, in fact some pieces are submerged at some tides, and is reasonably intact, though it appears there have been scrap seekers extracting aluminum. Inside one of its wing it says "766 B24-D"; despite this, it appears to have been a P-38. Luten claims that his father helped hide the 7 survivors from the Japanese and then to smuggle them to safety. According to his story, two more men drowned when they landed in the sea, but their bodies were recovered and buried by locals, and later retrieved by the USA. We don't know how much of what we learned is truth and how much is myth, but we enjoyed his stories however embellished, and came away pleased with the experience and a few shekels poorer.
After a few days in Mbili, we went ashore to say goodbye (and to give each other haircuts) and departed the following morning for Mbatuna, a neat little town with a big vocational school and the lagoon-wide administrative offices of SDA and that hosts a regional market day on Thursdays.
Anchoring according to our older guidebook, we found the wharf and shipwreck noted in it, though the wharf was mostly disintegrated and there was a new one built on the opposite side of the land. The abandonment of the old wharf made the anchorage very quiet and safe and we had no worries of big boat traffic arriving at night.
On shore we found a small store with the usual limited but varied array of goods - from food to flip flops to fishing equipment and flashlights. Locals outside, anxious to chat, pointed out a big shop visible about a mile south with a broad brown roof ("one liter of petrol going and coming" according to one of the men) - run by a "chinaman" - but we didn't visit as we really only needed to restock on what we'd traded. A landing craft, LC Phoenix, adorned with tarp-covered passenger seating areas, stopped a couple of times to disgorge passengers and goods. Dozens scurried from all over town to meet its daytime arrival. A baby cruise ship slowed a bit as it motored by, generating a flurry of canoes and boats that went racing up to it for trading. Boy, we thought, this was an active town!!
When we asked about the market, locals told us it would start at 1000. But we already knew that most stuff would be gone by then; we learned this from the notes of previous cruisers. We had originally thought we'd go at 0900 but, when canoes began arriving from the north en masse at 0700, we decided to go ashore sooner. By 0800, most folks still weren't actively selling their wares (they seemed to be visiting each other and watching us - now we know how a martian feels as he descends from his spaceship), but the rare stuff (beans, tomatoes, cukes) were beginning to sell surreptitiously, so we began to buy, too. We were back at the boat with our load of veggies at 0900 and departed soon after into a brisk breeze - the first sailable wind since we passed Savo Island, 10 days earlier.
The rest of the day passed pleasantly as we coasted along the east and north coasts of Vangunu Island under genoa alone, dodging shallows, the sail pulling quietly. Occasionally we'd pass into a wind shadow beneath a hill or behind a small island but Carina kept silently moving through the flat waters of the lagoon and we were content. At buoy # 12, the wind began to clock around to our nose and rain began to fall, all this at precisely the spot we planned to roll in the sail and motor through the labyrinth of shallows into Kalivera Bay, nearby to Sasaghana, Marovo Island. Winds and rain continued to intensify throughout the afternoon which did little to deter a stream of traders bearing limes, beans, pawpaw, eggplant and carvings. By sunset our water tanks were filled and we were enjoying the rare cool air.
All is well aboard the good ship Carina.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake