Friday, January 30, 2015

Isabel Island: we made it!

We finally made it to Isabel Island. This is the place we have been sailing towards for months. Because it is the monsoon season, it has been really tricky getting dependable winds to bring us here. And really, it just took us going for it to make it. 36 hours to go 60 miles. The most enormous, smashing squall I’ve ever experienced, and just as we are getting there I see our boom has split. But who cares??! We made it!

 (repairing the boom)

We first anchored off a little island, Vohinara I think it’s called. Beautiful reefs, and perfect mini island nearby where we swam off the beach and made a campfire. Dreamy.

This was on the Western side of the island, though, and we had to get to the Eastern side to find surf. Because Isabel Island is broken up into many pieces, we were able to motor along a waterway that went through to the other side of the island past the largest settlement, named Kia. The day before, we took the dinghy over to Kia to visit the chief and ask permission to visit Isabel island. We offered him a bag of rice and 100 solomon dollars as a gesture, and he welcomed us to go about as we please.

 (bok choi gardens in Kia village)

 (Kia Village on the water)

We were very lucky to have timed this trip, without knowing it, to catch the tidal current going about 2 knots in our direction. There were very big whirlpools and scary currents as we went past Kia. A very new experience for us, being in this river! It was about 10 miles through to the other side, then another 10 to our anchorage. I chose this anchorage by looking at the charts and google earth, hoping there would be surf at the nearby reef passes, and based on the color of the water in google earth I was hoping it wasn’t too deep to anchor. I also used google earth to plot all the waypoints through the passes, weaving in between all the coral. 

We anchored in about 60 feet of water over sand. Many reefs nearby, but plenty of swinging room. Many many little islands everywhere. We noticed some locals on the small islet we anchored near, so we took the dinghy over to make sure it was ok for us to anchor. We brought a bag of rice as a gift, and they were happy to have us stay. A very nice family who lives in Kia, and just comes out to the island to fish and camp. We got the lowdown on all the local gossip, too.

The surf is.... GOOD! Long period swells come all the way across the north pacific. Crystal clear water over reef. Fun and fast, and barrels. Some days there are surfers from the guesthouse surfing, but most days I am out by myself. Surfing alone is very different, even much different than if there was just one or two other people. It becomes less about getting any wave you can, and more about experiencing the peace of just sitting in the ocean. I loved it, and it made me appreciate sharing the surf when there were others there.

(lightning storm heading our way)

We heard about a small guesthouse nearby, so we went to visit them. A Kiwi married a Solomon Island lady, and they opened this place called Vavaghio Guesthouse. Very very nice and low key. If anyone wants to visit the Solomon Islands, I would recommend this place.

(our canoe, Patient Walker)

We find out that only one boat a year comes through this area, and often many years pass with no boats at all. That is just mind boggling to me, considering how beautiful it is out here! Also, they tell us that we’ve anchored next to the best right hand reef break on Isabel Island! I knew there was a reason I’d chosen this anchorage.
We trade with them for veggies, and top off our water supply.

The fishing is amazing around Isabel Island. We caught fish tolling when sailing between anchorages. Spanish mackerel was our favorite! I also caught lots of fish trolling behind the dinghy. I would go for a surf then troll with the hand line on the way back to the boat, pull in trevally, and we’d have dinner.

(Genesis Earthling at anchor)

I had a simple rod and reel setup with little shiny spoons and rapalas I would use while fishing on the reef. I lost tons of lures, though, because some of the fish have sharp teeth and would just bite through my line. And most of my lures were old with rusty hooks, so I probably hooked four times as many fish i brought in. The reef fish were very tasty, too! In many places we’ve sailed, you have to be careful about eating fish from the reef because of ciquatera poisoning. However, in most parts of the Solomons this does not exist. All the reef fish were safe to eat. We loved our coral trout, and those yellow stripy ones, and the black and white spotted ones... We had no idea what we were eating, but it was good!

We found many different ways to cook fish, too. Baking and frying was great. Our small bbq on the stern cooked great fish whole and wrapped in foil. Our favorite was when we would go to the beach in the evening, build a small fire and cook the fish that way. All alone, cooking wish by campfire, we sat and watched the sun go down. This was a special time, reflecting on this place we were at, and the iconic nature of this experience. Dreaming.

We were able to trade with a village called Kopikolo for our favorite fruit, paamelo!!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Paradise Harbor

From Kolombangara we sailed across the Kula Gulf to New Georgia Island. Here, we came to Paradise Harbor.

A very narrow channel through the reef marked by sticks led us into the small bay, protected on all sides, 40 ft deep, and great holding in mud. Well, the mud was really a mess...

The village here is big! Almost 3000 people. We watched hundreds of canoes paddle across the bay every day. Women heading up the river to clean pots, or do laundry. Heading out to the gardens. Men heading out to fish. Kids goofing off.

We were visited by canoes constantly while at anchor, beginning at about 7:00 in the morning! Usually it was kids with things from the garden to trade for candy, cake, clothes, or hair pins. We often would send the kids on missions with very specific instructions just to keep them busy, “We need 11 oranges, 3 peppers, 20 tomatoes, and 1 pineapple!” It was like managing a circus! We appreciated having all of our groceries brought to us.

Here, we bought a dugout canoe. And it was not as easy at it looks! Growing up paddling these very narrow canoes, the locals are brilliant at it. With a bit of practice, we managed to get both of us cruising around if we sat in the bottom of it. Loving the glide.

We loved the river here!! When living in a hot and humid tropical clime, you really appreciate abundant, cool, fresh water to swim in. We bathed everyday, just because we could. Scrubbing ourselves with soap all over, even though we had only been showering once a week for the past few months and totally adjusted to that. We would paddle our canoe up the river everyday, swim, then hike around the jungle.

One afternoon we took the dingy out of the harbor to find some snorkeling. We anchored on a reef shelf and jumped in. This ended up being my favorite snorkeling I’ve had on the trip. The shelf dropped off down to the deep with tons of fish swimming around. Big tunnels and gaps in the reef to swim through. Also, some very curious black tip reef sharks coming through checking us out, obviously doggin us.


We anchored here to wait for a weather window to cross the 70 miles to Isabel Island. While we were waiting though, we got a report of a tropical storm developing to the north of us, and it was headed straight towards us. We didn’t really know what to expect as the forecast kept changing, showing between 25 and 40 knot winds, and one day the forecast had it moving to the east of us, and the next day the forecast would have it moving to the west. Which side of us it went would make a big difference as to the weather we would see. We were very well protected in the harbor, but just to make sure we’d be safe, we hauled up the anchor, took off the danforth, attached the fisherman’s to the end of the chain, then attached the danforth to the same chain about 25 ft up. So, both anchors were on the same chain. This is supposed to give better holding compared to putting out two separate anchors. As it turned out the storm went right over the top of us, so the winds weren’t as bad, just tons of rain for 3 days.