purpledot Introduction

purpledot About Moet

purpledot About us

purpledot Recent Sailing Adventures and Photos

Solomon Islands 2002

Here we are in the Solomon Islands, one week before Christmas, and the temperature is 80 degrees. It's only 7.30 in the morning. This place is seriously hot. After day long tropical downpours in Vanuatu we have reached the lazy, palm encircled lagoons of the Solomons where the sun beats down all day, and all the people and animals seek the shade of a coconut tree. This must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. The lagoon is pristine, tiny islets all around, there is a surf break around the corner, the anchorage is sheltered, there is a bamboo thatched bar on the nearest island and we are here with 2 other boats, both friends of ours we met in New Zealand. We are 3 out of only 7 boats that sailed to the Solomons this year. That's compared to the several hundred sailing through Fiji and New Caledonia. There are no tourists. This is pretty remote.

We arrived in the Solomon islands in November, only 20 hours sailing from the Torres islands in Vanuatu, and since we checked out of customs over a week before this it didn?t really feel as if we were going to a completely new country. How nice not to have a lengthy passage to get somewhere new! Not to feel completely exhausted and dirty and salty but just only a little bit sleepy and a little bit wet. And not to have to sit around and wait for island officials to come and quarantine the boat, but to be welcomed by a fleet of canoes and the villagers paddling by. Although the sail was only an overnighter we definitely arrived in a new place - the first glimpse of the settlement and we knew this was a different country. The houses were built on raised platforms and looked instantly sturdier and larger than the Vanuatu type. Likewise with the canoes; thicker, wider hulls and no outrgigger, just a single hull with a beautifully carved paddle. I snapped away with my camera to add to my study of Pacific seacraft. The best sailing vessel yet was a small canoe, single manned and sailed by a triangular sheet made up entirely from old umbrellas! And it worked pretty good too, though it wouldn?t sail into the wind.

Vanikolo village

After the now common practice of inviting aboard the welcoming committee with cups of tea and home baked cookies we had lunch before going to shore. And lunch was quite an event in itself since half of the lunch had begun to eat the other half. It makes me shudder just recalling it! A scene of utter carnage, the 8 coconut crabs that had sailed with us from the Torres had turned into horrific cannibalistic monsters - two had escaped from their chains and had turned their claws and jaws to their companions. Coconut crabs are huge, a rare delicacy, served only in the finest restaurants where customers are charged a substansial price. We traded a kilo of rice and a cassette tape for ours. They have to be stabbed through the head to be killed, but even after this they can move around for an hour afterwards, they?re tough creatures. But they taste wonderful. We had two on the first occasion, and liked them so much we got 8 more. Unfortunately not all 8 were still with us by the time we were anchored in Vanikolo. We opened the bucket and there were the remains of 4 delimbed, stinking, festering crabs and the 2 escapees munching happily on their flesh. It was really rather grim and not what we wanted to deal with after a sleepness night at sea, like a scene from Braindead or something; but Anna, Rob and Frans dealt with it admirably, albeit with occasional shrieks and grimaces of disgust. Understandable really. We should have woken Nils up to get the footage on film! And I will add that it was hardly as satisying eating them after witnessing such brutality; we half expected them to come alive on our plates and declare mutiny on the ship!

So after lunch we went to shore, bringing with us a small bottle of rum, after receiving a letter for 'mister frances', welcoming us to the village and asking for a present of 'strong liquor'. After hearing reports of Solomon islanders being hostile, theiving and boarding boats with machetes we got a pleasant surprise. Vanikolo island hadn?t had a yacht visit for a whole year, so the whole village was out in full force to greet us. Faithful (yes, his real name) was the letter writer asking for the liquor and a very gentle, well spoken man. He was standing as a candidate in the provincial elections and showed us around the village. When we got to the river we asked who lived on the other side. 'People from Tikopia?' (pronounced like Utopia) said Faithful; 'They are Polynesians'. Which explained their appearance. While Faithful and his village looked like the Melanesians we had seen in Vanuatu and Fiji, these Tikopians had a distinctive Asian appearance, fairer skin, more delicate features, and they were far less shy and much more giggly and high spirited than the more reserved Melanesians. 'Do the villagers mix?' I asked Faithful who replied that they did not. They spoke a different language and had different customs. We are friends he said. But when I asked if there was any trouble between the villages he smiled and said 'Sometimes. There are many Tikopians over here illegally.' I wondered to myself what he would do about that if he won the provincial elections, and decided if Melanesian officialdom was anything to go by, probably nothing. We were paddled over to the other side by a very cheeky and excitable Tikopian boy and greeted by many smiling giggling faces. More houses on stilts and well built canoes, but the inside of the houses was a surprise. For a tiny village, over 100 miles by sea to the nearest shop these houses were full of stuff (in sharp contrast to the Melanesian village) - good quality tilly lamps, fabrics, flippers and masks and a range of other goods. They were certainly more entrepreneurial than their Melanesian neighbours, collecting sea cucumbers to sell to Honiara, the capital.

Being in this anchorage where they haven't seen a yacht for a long time makes me aware of how just a few visitors from a country can really infuence and shape islanders impressions of the outside world. All day long we have had visits from villagers in canoes eager to check us out (we were planning to go to shore ourselves but the torrential rain kind of dissuaded us) so we have been talking and making endless cups of tea and cordial. Peter (the chief's brother) told us stories of old warriors and traditions of the island as he spoke through red betel stained teeth. He then said how much he liked us. 'Some people on the yacht, they tell us to go away' he made a shooing motion with his hands. 'They are not nice like you people. They don?t let us come to the boat.' We explained that there has been many stories circulating among cruisers about attacks in the Solomons - boats being boarded at night by 5 men with machetes, people killed, women raped, equipment stolen, so that may be why people tell the islanders to go away, for they are afraid. I also thought, but didn?t say, because it would be difficult for Peter to understand, that many people are so precious about their boats that they don?t like unwelcome hands on the fibreglass they have been so carefully polishing. What we have to realise is that every encounter we have is shaping the attitudes of the islanders towards subsequent boats that come in. If a yachtie is hostile, then the islanders will not be so friendly to the next yacht in the bay. We try to leave a happy wake behind us so that the next boat to arrive will be treated as well as we have been. And in turn, we are treated better for being welcoming to those first canoes. Peter has invited us to the ordination of a priest in the next village where there will be an all day celebration and feast - this woudn't have happened if we had told people not to touch our boat! Peter said that there were fines in his village of 100 dollars if anyone stole anything from a yacht, even just a piece of rope. These really are some of the kindest and most welcoming people we have met - and there were those in Fiji who thought we were crazy to come here! It is such a shame that fear blunts people to some of the most unique experiences.

Russell islands beach

The more remote a place, the more welcoming the reception. The Banks islands in Vanuatu are out of the usual cruising track but an excellent place to sail. We arrived in the bay under sail and were greeted by tribal calls from the shore (we all called back in response) and 3 canoes paddling alongside as we dropped anchor. Chief Henry and Chief Johnston came aboard and invited us to hear the ladies of the village perform water music. This is the only place in Vanuatu (and probably the entire world) to do such a thing and we weren't quite sure what to expect. We went to the village and first smoked some pure leaf tobacco with Chief Johnston (very smooth, strong flavour), then we followed the women down to the river whereby they waded in, fully clothed, and began slapping the water into a frenzy. It sounded incredible, like a complete drum kit with deep bass notes and high top slapping and the women yelling and whooping. It sounds hard to believe, but 6 women standing in the river splashing about actually sounded pretty damn good. And it was definitely music. Not that easy either, as afterwards we all climbed in and tried it but all it sounded like was 6 people splashing about in the water. Oh well, we?ll keep practicing... We returned the gesture and brought the guitars to the village one evening with Shiralee, our friends who were sailing with us. We drank kava and played our songs, then Chief Johnston and the village boys played some island songs. One very shy teenager had an obvious talent for the guitar, so Frans began teaching him some reggae and blues rhythms. The next morning Chief Johnston came to the boat and said the village had made a story about us. When we asked why he replied that it was the first time the white man had come to the village to make music. We felt very honoured. Moet secures her reputation as the good time boat taking the party with her around the Pacific!

crew of Moet and Shiralee

It has been great fun sailing with Shiralee. There are 4 on board their catamaran, plus Bugger the dog. Suddenly we have a party wherever we go. It has great rocking up in an anchorage together. The locals don?t quite know what to make of it, 10 people on 2 smallish boats, all under 35 - none married, not related, they can?t quite understand it or place it in the context of their own social networks. Here, everyone is cousin-brother, or uncle, or sister. No one is an outsider, everyone is part of an extensive kin network with all the security and responsibiity that this brings.

Every time we go to a new island we are in for a surprise. Every village is so different and the people too - in the way they react to you and to each other. In the Santa Cruz group Pigeon island was a favourite. We dived on the reefs surrounding the bay and windsurfed and kitesurfed in the protective lagoon. The island was the size of a small village green, and it was owned by an old English lady who had sailed there in the 1940's. Diana (a former Vogue model and actress) and her husband Tom Hepworth left England during the war with a small set of rations onboard their 70 foot cutter towards the Caribbean. After working for the government in Panama they sailed across to the Pacific and set up the copra trade between Vanuatu and the Solomons. Diana had many stories to tell. She built her house on Pigeon island herself, while her husband 'did the paperwork'. The old school house, which was built to educate her children, is rented out to travellers bold enough to make it this far. The author Lucy Irvine stayed here for a year and wrote her book ?Faraway' which includes a few chapters on the Hepworths. Diana said 'Lucy is a lovely girl, but I don?t like the book.' Apparently there are many misrepresented facts about her life. It is a shame for she is a remarkable, strong lady who has led an amazing life, which should really be celebrated rather than criticised. For those interested in the place there is a website you can visit: http://www.riverbendnelligen.com/pigeon.html

I've written a lot more these past few weeks as the trip has progressed. As we?ve got to know each other on board and become more comfortable around each other there has been more time for reflection. It feels like a lot more time has passed than actually has - as it has been filled with so much. The crew are coping well with the new surroundings and the daily trials of life at sea. There are many challenges on a boat - storms, being becalmed, engine failure, sails ripping, running out of water, maggots invading the food supplies (well, mainly the flour); plus the continual motion while sailing and sharing a small space with complete strangers. It?s a great adventure, but it?s not always easy. Even in paradise. There are mosquitos, and coral cuts and dodgy drinking water and clothes going mouldy and no shops to buy coffee when you've run out. But that is also what is so attractive about this lifestyle - you are completely dependent on your own resources. The engine breaks, Frans fixes it. The sails rip, I repair them. We run out of water, we catch the rain. There are maggots in the flour, we eat them anyway. (Well, protein is hard to come by sometimes!) This is very much a wind and solar powered life. The sun charges our batteries, the wind gets us from place to place and the sea gives us our food, with a little help from our lucky lure. It is a simple, healthy and self-reliant way of life and I like it very much.

We've been lucky enough to see some custom dances and music in Vanuatu and the Solomons. One was a fundraising event by the Ambae islanders for their cultural centre, another an evening exchange in Loselava village dancing circle, with custom dances and string bands, then Shiralee and Moet performing their music, and the third was part of the ordination festival on Vanikolo island. This event was excellent - feasting on turtles and pork and many traditional dances.

Vanikolo festival: mens custom dance

Now that we're here, at Lola island, Vonavona lagoon, we have decided to stay here until after New Year. Our ambitious plans to reach Micronesia by January have been replaced by the unhurried influence of the tropics. We found so much that we enjoyed in Vanuatu and the Solomons that it seemed silly to leave a place just to stick to a schedule. Cruising is very much a spontaneous lifestyle where opportunites arise day to day and plans are made to be changed. Besides, the crew knew it was the rainy season in Papua New Guinea and after the 10 day rain cloud over Vanuatu were happy just to be in a place where the sun was shining and there was beer to drink! It is perfect here, we have met up with our friends, there is a surf break just around the corner and we?ve got a big party for Christmas. Unfortunately Shiralee didn?t sail with us but went North to Kiribati.

We?ve covered a distance of about 1700 sea miles since we left Fiji, which equals about 17 days at sea (more for us as we were becalmed for 5 days) if you take it all together. The last passage from Santa Cruz to Gizo was a long one, as the winds were averaging about 5 knots or less most of the time and we weren't getting anywhere. Passage making is an unusual experience for the newcomer and even many hardened sailors admit it?s their least favourite part of cruising. An overnight sail, or a sail started at 4.00am is fun, but when a sail lasts 3 days or more and becomes a passage a strange form of malaise sets in over the crew. A kind of reluctant apathy, as if an invalid who wants to be active but is confined to the sick bed. Even the simplest task, such as getting a glass of water, requires great planning and concentration. Move from seat - balance - open cupboard - make sure nothing falls out - hold on so you don?t fall over - walk to tap - balance... see what I mean? It tires you out just thinking about it! So days at sea are spent very lazily, sleeping, reading, moving when the wind changes trying to find a comfortable spot. And talking about food (generally beer, pizza and icecream) and other indulgencies we want as soon as we reach land. Clean clothes! A fresh water shower! A non-moving bed! We have a rota system for cooking and watch keeping and every day someone bakes bread and cookies - chocolate brownies and banana cake being the top 2 favourites at the moment.

Time becomes a misplaced concept at sea. After 3 days on the ocean it is difficult to know how much time has passed - you sleep in snatches and are awake on watch in deepest night and the endless swells are never changing that all becomes one long blur of sea and sky. It is an existence in itself. You forget you had a life before and find it hard to contemplate one after. It exists outside of time and is its own complete world. A blue world where small and lovely things can happen. The highlights of the day may be seeing a whale or a dolphin, or a star rising, and they are the only events which distinguish one day from another. The ocean certainly makes you aware of the fragility of life and how small you actually are. Looked on from above our sailing boat would be no more than a grain of sand in a vast ocean where the landmasses look no more than isolated rocks. Passage making is a humbling experience, and as you realise this it becomes easy to let go of your troubles when you can put them in this perspective. It gives you a sense of the enormity of the universe and also its simple, if sometimes terrible, beauty.