[120724, 0505 UTC, Tavanipupu & Honiara, Solomon Islands,
09º26' S / 159º 57' E]
Tavanipupu Island sits almost exactly in the geographic middle of Marau Sound, a cluster of islands protected by a coral reef just off the southeast end of Guadalcanal Island in the Solomon Islands. We arrived at the "cormorant" entrance to the Sound at midday, expecting good reef spotting as we wound our way around extensive reefs at the entrance and also deep inside. Unfortunately, high thin clouds had crept in and obscured visibility through the water, forcing us to creep in slowly with a bow watch. Thankfully, we had confirmed the location of reefs using satellite imagery and had placed our waypoints carefully on this photo chartlet. Even with this, it took faith to follow our instruments instead of our instincts as we wound through the hard crunchy hazards. Even given our chartlet, we nearly skimmed a reef just entering the narrow pass between Tavanipupu and Marau Island.
The anchorage at Tavanipupu sits between these islands in a tiny, deep circular pool, forcing most boats to anchor in deep water and to tie off to a tree on shore. When we arrived, Aletis with friend Maarten aboard, a shoal draft (centerboard) Dutch-flagged vessel, was swinging at anchor in the pool, giving us pause. Rather than crowd Aletis, we instead anchored in the narrow channel on the bar of the pass, in thick sand, hoping the current would keep us from bumping the coral on either side. We stayed in this location for four days and thankfully came no closer than a half a boat length from the reef and only then during a change of tide when a breeze was blowing. For the most part we went round and round our anchor chain which we could follow in the pool-clear water 20 feet below the surface.
Immediately upon arrival, we received visits from canoes wishing to trade or to sell us shells or carvings. Later we were visited by Joseph, son of Justin, the chief of the village immediately onshore on Marau Island. Joseph came with the chief's yacht guest book which we signed after enjoying the entries of many boats we knew who'd visited in past years.
As the sun set over Guadalcanal to the west, we were finally able to rest from our overnight passage and were lulled into contented silence by the low roar of the ocean swell hitting the reef three miles away and the scene of graceful dugout canoes silently moving people and cargo across the smooth water. Overhead, pairs of white parrots and smaller colorful parakeets flew to and fro, squawking at each other as if arguing over some important detail of their flight. Ever so slowly, pockets of fog formed on Guadalcanal Island and made the undulations of the terrain apparent and brought a third or perhaps fourth dimension to the peaceful scene.
The following day, we ventured ashore, landing our dinghy at the site of the original resort, marked only by the skeleton of a steel A-frame and a bungalow that appears to be used for storage or the housing of employees. A golf-cart-wide muddy path disappeared north and we followed this past more employee bungalows and workshops and in just a few minutes came upon the back side of the new resort that sits at waters edge on the NW side of the island. Three gigantic open air structures (by island standards) composed of traditional materials and filled with Solomon Island carvings, dominated the scene: one the office, one the restaurant, and one the bar. A handful of luxury bungalows with steep palm roofs, broad terraces and chic furnishings, set amid shade trees and lush lawn, stretch east and west along the sandy shore. The resort appeared to be abuzz in activity, though when we inquired, it was currently closed. Seems the staff and manager, Paul - a tattooed Irishman-turned-Aussie, a third-world-spa aficionado - were frantically preparing for a visit from a party from Buckingham Palace, coming in two days time, to vet Tavanipupu for a visit by the young royal couple. (The resort passed the scutiny and the booking was secured!)
The resort re-opened for the Palace's visit and also for the expected influx of visitors to the Solomon Islands for the Festival of Pacific Arts, beginning this same weekend in Honiara and other venues around the country. Learning this, we made arrangements to return to the resort with books to trade, our computer to access wifi and to enjoy lunch - a rare splurge on our cruiser budget. Settling into projects, we spent the rainy weekend aboard or visiting with Maarten to exchange resources and information.
Monday dawned bright and sunny and we looked on as the Palace envoys arrived by boat and were toured past Carina before alighting on shore for business. By late morning, we set out to walk around the island and to climb to its lovely deck/observation platform, and to arrive after the English had departed but in time to do our business before lunch. Lunch was a artfully presented piece of wahoo in an Asian marinade, served atop sweet potatoes and with a soy sauce and ginger spiced veggie medley. Desert (we get desert too???), was homemade sherbet with papaya and pineapple. Oh, what a rare treat to enjoy truly fine fare ashore!
We stayed one more day at Tavanipupu, pulling up our anchor for a short ~70 nautical mile overnight trip to Honiara. Convergent weather systems meant we had little wind and we motored most of the night close to the coast, dodging ferries, long liners and a few barely lit landing-craft that we could only see on radar until they were upon us (despite the full moon).
Arriving at Honiara's sorry little port at dawn, friends dinghied out to help us nuzzle our way into the crowd. We finally settled on anchoring between a large steel ketch and the police dock, anchor to the center of the bay and with our stern tied to friends on Love Song, a Mapleleaf 49. This location proved bad as tidal variations in depth and aft quarter afternoon tradewinds often put Carina frighteningly close to the large hulking police boats. (Which in all fairness were piloted by skilled men who took great care.) And, though we had no serious incidents, we did eventually abandon our tight spot when a hole in the fleet opened up further down the rip-rap along the harbor's eastern shore.
Arriving in Honiara was like arriving at a reunion and our time there went by in a blur of visiting, provisioning and attending the Festival of Pacific Arts. Also there for the festivities were friends of our past and of late: Tribute, Fifth Season (from Ecuador in 2006), Kalalau, Stella, Aletis, Love Song and even Susie of Tenacious, who became our Honiara tour guide extraordinaire. We quickly made new friends with Tacoma-natives aboard Distant Shores and with Vida Nova, a Canadian-flagged vessel with lively Azores-Portuguese Dinis aboard. Filling in the entire inner bay - and the yacht club - were the lovely Polynesian catamaran "vakas" of the Pacific Voyaging group and seemingly hundreds of zippy little island punts. What a festive zoo!
The open-air, semi-ratty, Point Cruz Yacht Club was a center of activity, though its sad little beach - where dingies land - almost washed away in a flood of mucky, disgusting, garbage-filled storm drainage water with each passing squall. The day we arrived, weary from trudging around town trying to avoid stepping in betel-juice spit while visiting the ATM, the public market, Customs and Quarantine, we happened upon a regatta of war canoes there. There were 12 canoes in all, elaborately adorned with high bow and stern decorations, each being paddled by 12 traditionally-dressed (or undressed) fit-looking men. To begin their demonstration, all 12 canoes made an assault on the beach at the YC, chanting and whooping rhythmically as they padded aggressively and raced (on plane) right up to the beach. Later, they raced in pairs and also sent "warriors" ashore to capture on-lookers to take for spin around the bay. This was the first of many wonderful Festival events we were to enjoy over the following week.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake