"Arctracer" Letters

Morovo Lagoon, Solomons to Giglia Island, Louisiades, PNG, Oct 2004

Our last letter ended in Morovo Lagoon, which almost surrounds the island of Vangunu and is just to the east of New Georgia Island. We rested for a day at an uninhabited islet, and caught up on some of our email. A pair of carvers paddled a few miles across the lagoon to show their wares at our isolated anchorage because they feared (correctly) we would skip their villages. They traded a "Spirit of the Solomons" carving of many fish, plus a small carved turtle and a jar of cracked Ngali nuts for two pairs of reading glasses, a sewing machine needle, and a spool of thread.

We motored to the village of Chea on the afternoon of October 6. We bypassed the major carving center of Telina, which we have heard is now so famous that all its carvings are overpriced and the carvers are very aggressive. The Chea people were very polite, with just two canoes coming out to welcome us and make an appointment for us to see the carvings of all the village people on shore the next morning. This is a good system, which eases the pressure on us by reducing the almost endless stream of visiting canoes. We made an appointment to have the village kids aboard for one hour in the afternoon. Thirty-two of them came, with one chaperone, and they all got photographed, ate popcorn, looked at our photo books, tried pulling with a winch, then left us in peace at 5:30. Roy, who "Journeyman" said makes the best bowls here, came to visit. He considers himself an artist, producing higher-quality work than those who produce in quantity for the Honiara shops. He is used to getting good prices selling to yachts, the occasional cruise ship, and customers at the nearby Uepi Island Resort. That night Nina had a nightmare (a VERY rare occurrence for her), apparently involving pushy carving salesmen.

In the morning we went ashore to see the carvings displayed in the community center. There were some nice ones, but many had defects of one kind or another and all were expensive. They hoped that we would make appointments to bargain for carvings we liked, but their starting prices were so high that we simply said goodbye. Chea was the village where the first SDA (Seventh Day Adventist) missionaries arrived on their very successful mission to Christianize the area's natives. We did buy a couple of lobsters just before raising anchor, so as we motored through the maze of shoals and islets Nina boiled the lobsters and picked out all the meat. We went through a narrow passage into Nono Lagoon at Seghe Village, famous for the WWII activities of a coastwatcher named Donald Kennedy. As rain started to fall, we motored to Mbareho Village in the northwest corner of the lagoon and anchored at 2:30.

The kids of Mbareho frolicked all around us, both in and out of canoes. They are so at home in the water that they should be considered amphibians. We were anchored in 60 feet of water, where there are both sharks and crocodiles, but the kids seemed totally unafraid and enjoyed themselves thoroughly. A few carvers came, and we eventually got a small shell-shaped bowl from Edward. His grandfather was the man who found J. F. Kennedy after his PT boat was run down by a Japanese destroyer in Blackett Strait. We also met Gilles Palmer. One of his grandfathers was an English trader. Gillis is quite an entrepreneur, and was extremely interested in trading for our Dremel tool (about $80 US). He had a beautiful Nguzunguzu of king ebony for which he asked 2200 Solomon dollars (about $315 US). This is the most famous traditional design of the Solomon Islands. It is a bust of their old war god and was always mounted on the bows of their war canoes. The god held a head if they were on a headhunting misson or a dove if they were on a peaceful mission. Gillis also wanted an inverter, so he could watch videos without turning on his generator. Whenever he starts his generator the neighbors all come over to watch too. We all decided to think overnight about a deal. Pita came to invite us to his house to see carvings the following day. The villagers are all SDA and seemed very nice, but we still padlocked our outside lockers for the night. We dined on delicious Lobster Newburgh, using the last of our sherry.

The stiff breeze shifted from west to south the next day, and we continued to get some showers. It was market day in Mbareho, and people had come in boats from as far away as Viru Harbor on the south coast of New Georgia. One market boat stopped by to sell us vegetables and fruit. We bought some small bananas which surprised us by needing to be cooked. We had never seen such small plantain before. They also had a basket full of megapode eggs, so Jerry bought two to try. One tasted like a regular chicken egg, but the other was bad as an embryo had started to develop. Uck!! We don't think need to try those again! A few carvers showed small items, some very rough, which were easy to refuse. Gillis did trade his Nguzunguzu for our Dremel tool and inverter, and everybody was delighted with the deal. Nina also traded a Nautilus shell and some earring hooks for his ebony mask pendant. The carvers use bits of Nautilus shell for their inlays, and normally have to buy the shells from other islands, so Nina was smart to pick up several in the eastern Solomons.

That afternoon we went ashore to Pita's house. He and wife Raylene showed us several gorgeous large shell bowls, but they didn't interest Nina. We did buy three small bowls for $50 SD each and a woodblock print. He makes his own paper in addition to carving the blocks and printing on his own jack press. He is certainly an excellent artist, though he has almost no schooling. We rowed to visit Gillis on the neighboring island too. He keeps bees and has a store in addition to his carving shop. We gave him a photo of himself and his Nguzunguzu, and Nina bought a lava-lava which he had printed. Back aboard, Nina organized a diving contest off our back steps and awarded prizes of noodles and marbles for the best flips. The kids had a blast, as always. Pita brought his print and bowls, and we gave him a photo of himself in addition to money. A rather scruffy guy came and traded a small bowl for a pair of shorts and $10 SD. When their Sabbath started at sundown we were left in peace, and enjoyed another great Lobster Newburgh.

(view Marovo Lagoon photos)

On Saturday we raised anchor at 7:45 and motored down Nono Lagoon to Hele Bar. The wind was southerly at 15 knots, and visibility was not great, so we made slow progress until getting over the shallow bar at 10:00 and turning to the northwest. Then we had a nice sail up Blanche Channel, despite occasional showers. A squall at 2:00 gave us 25 knots and gusts up to 36, but we reduced sail just in time. We caught a beautiful wahoo of 43 inches, just before taking down all sails and motoring into Roviana Lagoon at the western end of New Georgia Island. Our friend Zed from "Journeyman" met us at the entrance with a local guide to direct us along a twisting route between shoals and islets to Doke Doke Island where Barry Ford lives. It rained quite hard, so it was good to have a local guide who knew where all the shoals were even if he couldn't see them. We took one side of the wahoo and gave the rest to Barry. His dogs got all the parts people didn't eat. Barry was in the Australian army, then came to the Solomons 17 years ago to supervise construction of some schools and roads. He married the local chief's daughter, Selina, and settled here to raise a family. Fay had roast chicken and potatoes ready for all of us aboard "Journeyman" and we had a very pleasant evening.

Barry and Selina built their house on a big concrete platform which was used for American workshops in WWII. This was where the Americans crossed from Rendova Island to New Georgia and fought their way through the jungle to eventually capture the airstrip at Munda. Nina's father and two of her uncles were in the 43rd Division which had such a difficult time in that operation. We did boat projects all day on Sunday, then had a "sundowner" ashore, and had Fay & Zed aboard for dinner. On Monday, for the cost of the petrol, Barry took us in his outboard to Lambetti Village which has the Munda airstrip. En route we saw several rusting hulks which were WWII barges, and places where troops crossed the lagoon. The town wasn't much, and most of the market was devoted to betel nuts. The highlight was a visit to the house of Jimmy Bennett, who helped the 43rd Division as a scout. Although he doesn't like "tourists", he had a long chat with Nina after she mentioned the "magic" words "43rd Division" which her father was in. He even put on his old uniform shirt for photos. Back at Doke Doke Island we walked up the hill to see the graves of the area's first missionaries who were Tongans and the foundations of the American mess hall. We saw an old Coke bottle in the underbrush, and though we didn't take it we know they are collectors items. Jerry got a sample of one problem the infantry encountered when a red ant got into his shirt and gave a few very painful bites whose welts didn't go away for a week.

(view New Georgia photos)

On Tuesday, October 12, we motored behind "Journeyman" across Roviana Lagoon, past the Munda Bar, and up through Diamond Narrows between New Georgia and Kohinggo Islands. We passed the major fishing port of Noro, and finally anchored in Ringi Cove of Kolombangara Island. This cove is now the quiet base of a logging operation, but in WWII it was a Japanese port. The destroyer which ran down PT109 was on its way here. We were surrounded by brash kids in canoes, and bought a pineapple and a papaya. Jerry took the starboard water pump apart and changed the impeller but was unable to stop a leak. The redundancy of a catamaran was helpful today when this engine overheated and we simply switched to the other engine and continued on our way.

On Wednesday we motored up Blackett Strait to Gizo, anchoring there shortly after noon. Seven other yachts were already there, most getting ready to sail to Australia. Ashore there was a motley collection of small shops and a big market where we bought some veggies. After eating aboard, we went to the "PT 109" bar to watch the local Gilbertese dance troupe perform. The Gilbertese were resettled here by the British administrators in the mid-1950s, and still have their own village on the north side of Gizo harbor but seem to have integrated fairly well. The Gilbert Islands are now part of Kiribati and some of the locals noticed Nina's Kiribati tops and were surprised we'd been there. After many quiet nights, in Gizo we had to endure loud music until midnight.

A local named James came to the boat on Thursday morning, claiming to be a repairman for outboards and generators. Jerry gave him our towing generator to look at, since he had been unable to diagnose its problem. Jerry took it back a day later when it became apparent that James didn't even know how to reassemble it, having broken the brushes trying. Jerry managed to find brushes of nearly the same size in a shop ashore, and will try to repair it eventually. Roger on "Sowelo" took our leaky water pump apart but didn't have seals of the right size and Jerry could not find any in town. The pump was reassembled with extra grease, but still leaked. It will get us to Australia okay if we don't use it too much. "Journeyman" tried to get cooking gas, but the only shop which had any would not refill or exchange any bottles but their own, so we loaned one of our small tanks for their journey to Australia. They acquired an extra Australian crewmember too, since they do not like to make long passages alone. We bought 100 liters of diesel for $480 ($2.75 per gallon) which should last until Australia. We sailed away from the Solomon Islands on Saturday, October 16.

(view Kolombangara & Gizo photos)

Our passage to Papua New Guinea took three days. It was very slow sailing with little wind for the first two days, but we had a beautiful last day reaching in 10-15 knot breezes with slight seas. We had multitudes of small flying fish rising from our bows in silvery swarms, and caught a small striped tuna. Just after sunrise on the last day, Nina hooked a giant marlin and watched six awesome leaps as it took our lure far away fast. We are now anchored near Giglia Island in the Louisiade Archipelago at 11 degrees 10 minutes South and 152 degrees 56 minutes East. In just a month we will meet Hilary in Brisbane!