"Arctracer" Letters

Santa Ana Island, Solomons, Sept 2004

Santa Ana is a small island just off the southeast tip of San Cristobal which the locals call "the mainland." They call the big island Makira rather than San Cristobal too. We arrived on Friday, the 18th of September after an easy passage from Tikopia. The wind was southeast 15-20 knots almost all the time, as the trade winds are supposed to blow, and our course was westward so we did not have to beat at all. Downwind sailing was a real treat! We might have finished the 400 miles before dark on the 17th, but that would have meant pressing faster and having a more uncomfortable ride, so we chose to sail slowly and rest after our busy days at Tikopia. We caught two wahoo, one mahi-mahi and one barracuda without fishing at all on some days. The last 30 miles were sailed at over 4 knots with all sails furled, delaying arrival until daylight. Santa Ana has a beautiful little harbor, and we anchored in its shelter at 8:30. Nina needed sleep, so Jerry chased the many friendly little kids in dugouts away until afternoon.

"Journeyman" is an Australian ketch made of wood and restored completely by our friends Fay and Zed over the past five years. We met them in Coffs Harbour, Australia when they were in the middle of the job. Jerry helped sail the boat to Sydney for the Wooden Boat Show in 2001, and we cruised Broken Bay with them. We followed their progress from Brisbane through Vanuatu by SSB radio, and planned to meet them at Santa Ana. They arrived about 2:00, just a few hours after us. It was great to see them again!

We went ashore about 3:00 and gave a wahoo to the "second chief" as a present for letting us anchor in their bay. Then we followed Amos, our guide, across the small island to Natagera Village. Along the way we passed many gardens, growing the familiar staples in fertile ground. This is a fairly rainy place, and much of the vegetation is like that of a rain forest. Epiphytes grow on coconut palms, for instance. It is a raised coral island, and we saw many walls made of coral rocks. The primary and secondary schools, built with New Zealand aid, are atop the small hill in the island's center, and are attended by the children of all three villages on the island. The rate of population growth in the Solomons is among the highest in the world, so there were many little kids and the villages are growing rapidly. There are no automobiles or trucks, so the roads are just footpaths. It was a pleasant half-hour walk.

The attractions of Natagera are two "custom houses," one for the snake clan and one for the turtle clan. These used to be off-limits to all but chiefs, and women are still not allowed inside. They contain the bones of chiefs, each in a decorated canoe, plus the skulls of other prominent men. There are many old carvings on the posts, and some bone-holders are shaped like fish. Other carvings included ceremonial food bowls and rooftop decorations reminiscent of New Caledonia's Kanaks. These places are gradually deteriorating, and the other villages apparently do not maintain such places any more. It was interesting to see them before they disappear completely.

The islanders make carvings for sale, and we were shown several. Most were very highly priced, and were not interesting enough for us to haggle the sellers down to more reasonable levels. While some were of good hardwood and inlaid with shells, the overall quality was not wonderful. Jerry did buy a little fishing float of light wood shaped like a bird for $10 SD (about $1.40US) but we turned down pieces priced as high as $400US. Maybe a cruise ship (one due next month) passenger will pay that amount, but not us!

Nina did a tremendous amount of trading. We got eggs, bananas, beans that turned out to be too stingy to eat, papayas and a huge number of shells. Her main weakness is little kids with big eyes who have nothing except some pretty shells and want only a packet of noodles. Fay and Zed traded lots of lollies (Australian for candies) but we prefer giving other things.

Zed and Jerry went ashore on Saturday afternoon. Zed presented custom chief John with a new machete, and they got permission to visit the "custom drum." This turned out to be more of an adventure than expected. Amos was the guide again, and led them straight up the cliff behind the village. The coral rocks were very sharp, and Zed was soon trying to buy Jerry's shoes. Eventually they reached a small cave with some stalactites and stalagmites. The "drum" was one of the latter, which produced a tone when struck. Perhaps it was used to warn villagers of approaching canoes during the headhunting days. It was so hard to get there that we doubt it has been seen by very many Europeans.

Back in the village Zed asked to meet the Kuper family, and Amos led the way to their house. The present owner's father and mother were coastwatchers during WWII, and Zed had a book with a photograph of them standing in front of the same house. Zed is writing a book about the coastwatchers of the Solomons, and may get additional information from some writings started by Mr. Kuper which his son may copy and send to Australia. Zed had a career in the Australian army SAS and is very interested in WWII.

(view Santa Ana photos)

We had a nice dinner aboard "Arctracer" on Saturday night, with both Fay and Nina serving delicious dishes. We had mahi-mahi, wahoo, peas, plantain, mashed kumara, and apple-bottom cake. Both crews were running out of days to see the Solomons before the start of the cyclone season, so we raised anchor at 7:00 the next morning and sailed away towards Guadalcanal. It was a very rainy trip with light and flukey winds. We knew it was miserable in the open cockpit of "Journeyman," just as it used to be on our schooner, and we got pretty wet even in the covered cockpit of our catamaran. It was only 120 miles to the southeastern tip of Guadalcanal, so we entered Marau Sound about noon on the 21st.

We're anchored at the Tavanipupu Resort with friendly people coming out to visit and trade in their dugout canoes. For four years during the "tension" here in the Solomon Islands no one visited the resort. We've heard that it is the only resort on the island of Guadalcanal that wasn't burned during the tension. And after a walk around the small island with the resort on it, we learned that they will have 15 guests (Europeans that live in the Honiara area) for the weekend. We'll be here a couple of days, then sail to the nation's capital, Honiara.