"Arctracer" Letters

Ndendo Island & Vanikoro Island, Solomons, August 2004

We are finally in the Solomon Islands! We left Nonouti Island in Kiribati on the 13th of August and arrived at Lata, Ndendo Island, in the Solomons on August 24. Our 11 day passage covered 828 miles at an average of 75 miles per day. This is actually pretty good, since the winds of the region are notoriously light, and friends on other boats have taken much longer to do this same trip. We enjoyed the slow sailing and peaceful days very much.

Lata has a terrible anchorage. We dropped our anchor next to the reef in a flat calm, but Nina was properly worried about the place so left Jerry aboard and went ashore as Captain to clear us with the officials. She got money changed at the bank ($1US = $7 Solomons), bought flour at a store, and bought some wonderful fresh vegetables at the market too. She discovered that the Tikopians who had been at the clinic waiting for a boat got their ride last week, and another man who might have given us some things to take to Tikopia had gone to the Reef Islands. She came back to the boat with the Customs and Immigration official, Willy. Just as they arrived a squall came up, so we raised the anchor and motored into the middle of the bay to keep off the reef. We finished our paperwork drifting in deep water. The Quarantine officer, Lionel, came out in his boat to check our stores. They were both very professional and polite, and took care of us efficiently. They left at 2pm, and we decided to leave immediately, rather than try to find a slightly better anchorage.

It took us a couple of days to get to Vanikolo (Vanikoro) Island because the wind decided to blow strongly from the southeast and we had to beat into it. We did catch a nice Mahi-Mahi, so we have fish in the freezer again. We lost a good lure too, perhaps to a wahoo as we were just outside the reef of Vanikolo. We had plenty of 25-30 knots with frequent rains, and it was very pleasant to anchor in the protection of Manevai Bay before dark on August 26. We were visited immediately by two dugout canoes of people from Buma Village. They brought a letter from Benjamin Tua, Paramount Chief of the island, welcoming us and offering to trade some carvings for a radio or tape recorder. We were not impressed with the big mermaid carving or the little "shark killing club" and had no radio or tape recorder to trade. They said we were the first yacht here this year. Our primary contact was Chris Albert, one of the Paramount Chief's sons, who speaks English very well. He was accompanied by son Don (24), brother's son Robert (12), and Walter who paddled his own big dugout. They brought a big papaya, a stalk of "cut nuts" (3 inches long with outsides similar to drinking coconuts), and a big clam (10 inches long and very fat). They went away with instant coffee, a bag of coffeemate, a bottle of methylated spirits (alcohol) to start their kerosene lanterns, tobacco, two notebooks, a pen and a pencil. No doubt they'll be back to do more trading of the same sort.

The anchorage here is at the mouth of a small river, in mud. We dropped our anchor in 50 feet of water, and after letting out just 150 feet of chain we were backed up to the mudbank. It seems secure enough, despite the continuing squalls. There are apparently crocodiles in the river, so we don't plan to do any swimming. There used to be a small village and the island's Primary School on shore nearby, but now nobody lives here so we have a very quiet spot. It is just what we need after our recent passages to rest up and wait for better weather.

We still hope to visit the Tikopian village on the south side of the island, but it is not easy to get there from here. There are no roads on the island. The interior is tropical jungle, including giant Kauri trees. The islanders we met had canoes carved from single Rosewood logs, without outriggers. Although these seemed very tippy, they used small sails made by sewing together a few rice bags. The Tikopians and other Polynesians use outrigger canoes, but the Solomon Islanders stick to their own tradition. Trading boats come at irregular intervals to collect copra and shark fins and bring flour, rice, sugar, kerosene, and manufactured goods. Government boats visit only a few times per year, bringing school supplies and payrolls, and transporting people. It's pretty isolated, with only a few small villages on an island about 8 by 12 miles with the highest peak of the extinct volcano over 3000 feet.

(view Vanikoro photos)