[121109, 0300 UTC, Liapari Island, Solomon Islands, 08º06' S / 156º 50' E]
Gizo is the second largest city in the Solomon Islands but to call it a city is a stretch. It's really just one dusty street of ramshackle buildings running along the shoreline with dozens of speed boats and seemingly hundreds of dugout canoes pulled up helter skelter in every available nook. But maybe we're not giving Gizo a fair shake; the post office and SI Telekom offices are neat and clean; brightly painted in primary red, and sitting nearby the active public market that offers gorgeous (organic) local produce - green onions, eggplant, rainbow colored peppers, pineapples, watermelons, tomatoes, kumala, cassava, taro - and just one block away is the simple but spectacular Catholic "cathedral". But like all places of its genre, Gizo is "not quite right". The prominent concrete building housing Customs, WWF, the EU, etc. is substantially built but its second story porch is unfinished and one end of the porch lacks a railing; an unwary person could fall 30' to the rubble below. But of course the attitude here (as it would be in Latin America) would be that it would be your own fault if you were dumb enough to be not looking where you were going. Bright and copious betel juice spit gathering in gullies outside of rustic buildings, which house Chinese-run general stores, completes the picture.
There are few deep draught vessels here; commercial boats are landing craft, inter-island ferries and the occasional resort boat, as the commercial port of the region is at Noro on New Georgia Island. Still, Gizo serves as the business center for residents, visiting villagers and resort managers, and it seems like every one of them descends on Thursdays and Fridays when the market and city buzz with commerce.
Gizo is generally safer than Honiara but there is still an undercurrent of gang activity. One Friday night recently, a rumbling battle erupted in the streets and pretty soon there were two police boats and a whole fleet of helicopters (!) descending and hauling the perpetrators off the prison. We were pretty much oblivious to the goings on until the following morning when, behind Carina, we saw an open boat with police aboard chasing, yelling at, and attempting to club and capture a man who was swimming. Eventually they gave up and a dugout canoe slinked off the far shore and came to the escaped thief's aid. The police, including RAMSI the Australian peacekeepers in residence since the end of "the tension", were not amused and soon alcohol sales were banned for a period of time, beginning on that Friday and through the weekend until the time we departed.
Although Gizo is dirty and hot, it isn't too unpleasant. The deck at PT109 Restaurant (home of the Gizo Yacht Club) is an agreeable, though spartan, spot to enjoy a inexpensive hearty lunch or SolBrew along with expats or other yachties from the far reaches of the earth. PT109's owner, Lawry, is an intelligent and entertaining chap who's traveled the world and who enjoys a good gab about world affairs. Gizo also offers 3G internet service which allowed us to stay close to family using Skype.
We actually had two stays in Gizo. After saying goodbye to Tenacious who was heading SW towards Papua New Guinea and the Torres Strait, we ourselves headed NW out to Liapari Island for a brief haulout and out-of-water insurance survey for which we had a deadline. Liapari is a tiny jewel-like appendage of the island of Vella LaVella from which it is separated by a shallow brilliantly-turquoise passage. The remnants of a bridge, originally built by the Japanese 70+ years ago, still connects the two, though the steel beams are gone in some places and the deck has been replaced by the trunks of coconut palms teetering over the rushing water. Crocodiles are said to lurk here in the evening and early mornings.
We experienced light winds on our second trip to Liapari but were still able to sail, albeit at a slow 4 knots. We decided to see if we could catch a mahi mahi or yellow fin tuna for the freezer so we trailed a lure but, when nothing hit at first, kinda forgot about it. Suddenly, three or four frightened squid bombed the side of the boat leaving a mess of squid ink and we noticed sea birds screaming and wheeling over the water 100 feet behind Carina. We couldn't see anything at first but then spotted the olive green color of a very large predator just below the surface trailing behind our lure. We were quite pleased with our luck, that is that the fish refused to take the bait, as it would have been too difficult or impossible to land. Later we were told this behavior was indicative of a marlin and that squid is a favorite food for them. We do not ever want to hook a marlin.
Liapari was a copra, cattle and swine plantation that has been transformed into a small shipyard and budding resort and yacht club. Since its location is outside of the South Pacific cyclone zone (though in the region of cyclogenesis), the weather is moderate and this makes it an attractive location to work on or store a boat. Too, Liapari's bay is a lagoon that's in turn inside another lagoon with entry via a narrow channel that had been blasted in the coral reef. Even within the inner lagoon there's a mangrove lined bight should one feel the need for further protection.
Noel Hudson is Liapari's managing partner, and he, along with his lovely Solomon Island wife Rosey and a competent cast of shipwrights, carpenters, machinists and welders, welcome commercial vessels and yachts, sport fishermen and other tourists who seek a quiet, picture-perfect location off the beaten track. Guest bungalows sit on a broad, manicured lawn with views of Kolombungara's distinctive volcano. Waves crash just off the porches on the reef to the windward side while the turquoise lagoon and swaying coconut palms lie calmly on the leeward side. It's a peaceful spot.
We won't bore you with all the details of our slipway stay, high and dry above the sea. We won't even whine about our two and a half days of non-stop sweating as we dabbed on (highly toxic) anti-fouling paint and pulled apart the entire boat - batteries, water muffler, all our sails and all our spares - to change out our PSS shaft seal and, at the eleventh hour, how we found an irreparable, stripped bolt in our Drivesaver. In the end, it all came together, Carina slid gracefully back into the sea (and stayed dry inside), Noel was able to put a pen to our survey, and we departed for Gizo to post it through cyberspace to the insurance underwriters waiting in their glass skyscrapers someplace in Europe.
While back in Gizo we had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with smart and funny Jan and Eli aboard Jenny, a spectacular 58' Norwegian-flagged, Hoek-designed dream boat that arrived in Gizo with a 300 kilo marlin on deck! They caught this leviathan while heading into Gizo and ended up donating it to the Gizo Hotel.
We also met newbies Amanda and Graham from Thursday Island in Australia - aboard Catnap - who decided, after leaving home for a seasonal tour, to not return at season's end. They were flush with the excitement of their new adventure and their enthusiasm was infectious. Here too, we finally met Tom and Colleen aboard Mokisha, an S&S 38 (later sold by Catalina) who seemed to have plied the same waters as we for years but who we'd never met.
We are back now at Liapari, dealing with a few issues discovered since we rushed away and finalizing our passage departure checklist: lights, instruments, rigging check and tune, sail repair, engine alignment. We hope soon to be heading north bound for Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia, approximately 900 miles away. Actually, we'd hoped it would be tomorrow but it does not appear the wind gods will be blessing us this soon. Jenny, Tomboy and Auspice, all currently or recently underway, are reporting calms and slop between squalls and the absence of tradewinds. So we draw on our limited supply of patience and wait in paradise...
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake