[121106, 0531UTC, Liapari Island, Solomon Islands, 08º06' S / 156º 50' E]
When last we wrote - a long while back now - we were snugly anchored in the Marovo Lagoon waiting for weather as tropical rain poured from the sky and our water tanks quickly filled. We've seen many sunny days since them, but let us get back to our adventures as we traveled west from Kalivera in the Marovo Lagoon.
After letting the weather pass, or so we thought, we up-anchored and motored through calm winds, inching our way through the maze of shallows before entering the deep, wide and windy Njai Pass which connects the Marovo Lagoon with the Nono Lagoon. As we cleared Seghe's tiny air runway on the south end of the pass and began to feel the surge of the ocean swell once again, ominous black storm clouds began to peek over Vangunu Island to our SE. Carina's speed through began to drop dramatically and we began to anticipate a nasty squall. That squall and a couple of its twin sisters soaked us with cold, cold, wind and wind-driven water as we clawed our way upwind towards the refuge of tiny Matikuri Island. Leslie was at the helm as the rain-out began, so she remained there since she was wet anyway (though quite vexed at the conditions), while Philip cranked up the computer and launched the chartplotter program so he could read our track on satellite photos and confirm our proximity to now-invisible reefs in the low visibility conditions.
Off the nearly deserted restaurant of the rustic resort on Matikuri's north end, the eyes of its few employees watched as we closely passed by, our mainsail flogging with each violent "noserly" gust as we inched our way between the island and an off lying reef through a tiny channel. Watching our fish finder's graph begin to climb suddenly, indicating shallow water, we held our breath hoping that the employees weren't watching with such interest because we were making some sort of stupid mistake. Thankfully, we weren't and after passing the last of the (equally rustic, not quite "overwater") bungalows, the fishfinder graph finally dove south and our depth sounder agreed...we were over the reefy patch and in deep water once again.
We tucked into the bight in the island and Philip went forward and dropped the main and we inched in trying to read the smoothness of the bottom since we'd read of a boat having trouble snagging a coral bommie here with their anchor. Our low-end fishfinder with a transducer reading through the hull, has been a remarkable tool for selecting locations to drop our anchor and this day it earned our affection once more. Matikuri Island, though it enveloped us in its nearly perfect protection, is a tiny two-lobed pebble, perhaps less than a meter above the pounding surf on its windward side and covered by a copse of scrubby old growth mangrove. Cold rain continued to pound down and the wind whistled high over our mast head but we were now snug and secure.
We got an early start the next morning - after a bizarre invasion of particularly aggressive mosquitoes greeted us at dawn - and slid over the shallow Hele Pass south west of Vangunu island without incident, a low water depth a comfortable 17'. Pointing Carina NW, we hoped the light northerlies would pick up and drive us up the Blanche Channel to the north end of Rendova Island and the anchorage off the village of Egholo. We were not so lucky and motorsailed all day long watching squalls move offshore towards us, bringing rain and only more winds directly from our course of travel. Egholo's bay, and inner lagoon are also called Butterfly Bay and are entered through a narrow pass, so with the cloud filtered light, Philip stood on the bow looking out for hidden reefs as we slowly worked our way in. As we passed close by the houses on shore, people called out to us and waved. The village of Egholo is split in two, divided by a "road" (a path really) which separates the United Church of Christ folks to the south from the Seventh Day Adventists (SDA) to the north. We were the only sailboat that had visited in many months, so after we anchored, Ngana Bozi, the village organizer and clan chief of the SDA clan paddled his canoe out to greet us.
Bozi was an interesting character; 80 years old and solidly built, spry and intelligent with quick toothy smile, he was 9 years old when during WWII a US bomber plane lost an engagement, a dogfight with a Japanese float bomber, and crashed into the hillside gardens of the village. Most of the plane's bombs exploded on impact killing the nine men onboard. The locals and a Australian missionary who witnessed the battle and crash rushed to the scene and recovered all identifiable body parts and gave the heroes a Christian burial. The bodies were eventually disinterred and moved to the US and the Egholo site remains a seldom visited monument to the brave men who fought in the horrific battles of the South Pacific theater. Unfortunately, this is only one of many thousands of remnants of the battles fought during the war.
Moving onto Munda a couple of days later, we took Bozi aboard Carina because he was eager to meet once again with Shane Elliott, a man whose hobby is to research WWII battle sites and who was expected to arrive the following day. His goal is to find as many KIAs (killed in action) and MIAs (missing in action) sites as possible and return the deceased's dog tags to relatives in the US.
We approached Munda with anticipation of finding a tourist town with amenities and a bit of class, but found Munda to be a charmless dusty town of concrete utilitarian structures in a spectacular location, deep inside a shallow, island-dotted turquoise lagoon and overlooking the tall jungle clad peaks of Rendova Island. Still, our stay was interesting as we visited with friends aboard Tribute, met and talked with Shane ourselves, and tipped a couple at the Agnes Lodge, the only watering hole in the town. Finally realizing that our post restante package addressed to us at Munda had been stuck in Honiara and could just as easily be forwarded to Gizo, we escaped Munda for the Vonavona Lagoon.
The Vonavona Lagoon is barely charted...that is that the only charts are mud maps, hand drawn charlets of soundings most taken by persons unknown. In our case, we had the definitive but dated and often inaccurate Solomon Island Cruising Guide (with the mud maps) supplemented by Google Earth photos. Unfortunately the latter had clouds obscuring areas of dubious depth or with known hazards, so our trip into and through the lagoon was done using a bow watch.
Our first stop in the lagoon was the lovely shallow bay at the cute Zipolo Habu resort on tiny Lola Island. Here we met Joe and his wife Lisa; he a bearded former Peace Corps volunteer who worked in fisheries in the Seattle area before coming to the Solomons to volunteer, marry a local girl and settle. The resort is the only thing on the island and it offered us a wee bit of yacht-friendly civilization - wifi service, book exchange, mobile phone top ups, tours to cultural sites, deep sea fishing - in the middle of "nowhere". Wallowing in its hospitality and secure anchorage, we slept soundly, hiked across the island (and found some pretty frightening looking spiders) and even treated ourselves to a rare meal out in their restaurant as we celebrated 24 years of marriage. That evening, sitting in the cockpit awaiting the arrival of cooler air, we heard voices and looked forward to see a small armada of dugout canoes that approached, passed us and then disappeared into the dusk, waving but never missing a note in their cheerful harmonious singing.
Departing a couple of days later - armed with what we thought were perfected waypoints to avoid hazards in the lagoon - we puttered over towards a boat called King's Ransom. We'd briefly met the captain in Roderick Bay a month or so prior to this, so we thought we'd say hello. Turns out that they were also passing through the Vonavona towards Gizo and were concerned with the uncharted shallows to the NW. Idling off their starboard beam we chatted in the bright calm morning about going NW; they seemed delighted we'd lead and that we drew a depth of 1.6 meters and they only 1.5!
Going up through this lagoon we quickly learned that our research had been good, though not perfect, as we came upon shallow coral patches in unlikely locations (mostly those which had been obscured by clouds on our GE charlets) and drifted anxiously across bright yellow sandy patches where water depths rose from a comfortable 25' to 10' or even a few inches less. Since the water color didn't seem to change much regardless of the depth, this gave the trip a high "pucker factor". Despite a few moments of interrupted breathing, all was well in the end and Carina never so much as kissed the bottom of the Vonavona lagoon thanks to the vigilant eye of Philip's bow watch.
Passing finally into more comfortable depths, we veered off course a wee bit and tucked into the NE end of Vonavona Island. We aren't sure anyone has ever anchored here but it seemed like a good and shallow spot where we could be protected from SE winds and possible squalls. Before dark we entertained a few traders, one in particular was a young man descended from Malaitans who was eager to trade. He seemed almost embarrassed to tell us of his cultural roots since Malaitans aren't well liked by competing tribes; of course we harbor no such prejudices but he didn't know that. Shy or not, he was still keen to strike a deal or two. He even offered to trade us for shell money, a currency little recognized outside of the clans. We declined this offer as we had shell money souvenirs we'd acquired as gifts but traded as fairly as we could - goods-for-veggies.
Just after it got dark, a solo dugout canoe approached and Philip went out to investigate. A man, inebriated, and his young son were aboard. The man began to come aboard, uninvited, and Philip yelled "NO, GET OFF! NOW! I wouldn't come into your YOUR home uninvited!" The guy backed down and sat back down in his canoe and he and Philip calmly discussed trading items. All this time, Leslie was slowly placing our "arms" - a billy club and pepper spray - on the top step of the companionway within easy reaching distance should our friend decide once again to try a forced boarding. In the end we realized this guy was not using good judgment as the result of his altered state and meant us no real harm, though this encounter shook us up a bit and we didn't sleep quite as soundly as we might have.
The following day we up-anchored and motored out to Katherine Bar at the western end of the Vonavona Lagoon, where we encountered significant ocean swell for the first time in weeks - on the bar! Thankfully the water was deep enough that none of the swell morphed into one of the Western Province's famous surfing waves, but it was just a wee bit disconcerting nevertheless. A few miles further on, we passed into Gizo's reefs at Kennedy Island and puttered on up to the tiny bight off of PT109 Restaurant & Bar (in a squall as per our habit) and anchored next to Tenacious with good friends Brett & Susie aboard. It felt good to be stopped once again.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake