Logbook Entry 13 – Solomon Islands to Ambon, Indonesia

 

TOTAL MILES TRAVELED ON SAIL to SEE EXPEDITION: 16028

 

THE LAST PASSAGE

Total Miles traveled on last passage – 2206 NM

 

Miles traveled using SAILS – WIND POWER ONLY: 495 NM

 

Miles traveled using both SAILS & ENGINES together:  1593 NM

 

Miles traveled using ENGINES – FOSSIL FUELS ONLY: 118 NM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ship Sightings: A large container ship, called Danny Boy, also headed to Papua New Guinea, overtook us during the night. many fishing boats.

 

Animal Sightings: Brown Noddy Bird, Sailfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Mackerel, Possible Sperm Whales, Spinner Dolphins, Possible Minke Whale, Thresher Shark

Reef Fish Sightings: Anenomefish, Mantis Shrimp, Moorish Idols, Blacktip Reef Sharks

 

6 VOS Reports Filed: -- VOS weather reports were filed with NOAA on this passage through our satellite communications.

 

Average Air Temperature: 87 f/ 31 c

Average Sea Temperature: 86.6 f/ 30 c

Strongest Wind: 40 Knots (knots are a wind measurement of Nautical Miles per hour)

 

Plastics Collection: We did a trawl for micro-plastics between Rabaul, PNG and Ambon, Indonesia. We are sending our results to 5 Gyres Institute for a world database of micro-plastics in the oceans. You can find out more here.

 

 

PASSAGE NOTES:

The Solomon Islands have been a favorite stop of the Elcie Crew partly because of the people we met.  Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. It is not a wealthy country and many people have to work very hard to support their families. Few sailboats visit the islands and those that do make many friends.

On the way into Noro, New Georgia, we entered a river-like passage called the Diamond Narrows. Several dugout canoes were traveling along the mangrove-lined shorelines. We anchored south of the town of Noro in a small bay with thatched houses built up on stilts over at the water’s edge. Noro is where we would clear into the country with the officials

Our first visitors in Noro were three little boys in a dugout canoe. They paddled out and circled Elcie at a far distance. They made several more passes, each time coming closer. When they were about fifteen feet off our transom I walked down to the bottom step to say hello. Despite their initial shyness, I learned their names and told them mine. They spoke very little English. We had just finished lunch and had three leftover pieces of pizza. I asked the boys if they wanted it. They giggled and ate it as they paddled away – one with pizza in one hand and a paddle in the other. 

 

Our second visitor was a man named Rima-Billy or just “Billy" as he told us to call him. He introduced himself and told us that his grandfather had helped to rescue President John F Kennedy after his PT Boat was sunk by a Japa­nese destroyer not too far from Noro. Billy had a letter from the White House written to his grandfather by JFK’s secretary in 1961. It thanked him for his service to the president. When Kennedy and 10 of the sailors on his destroyed boat swam to an island, a few local men aided in their rescue by carrying a coconut with their position scratched onto it to the base on Rendova Island. We watched a movie called PT-109 and all of this was depicted in the movie. It was great to have history come to life here. Here are some photos of the PT-109 and President Kennedy. You can read more about JFKs heroics by following this LINK to the John F Kennedy Presidential Library website.

 

 

 Billy pulled out some stone and wood carvings from his village. The Solomon Island carvers are incredibly talented. The animal carvings, like fish, frogs and octopus, all have loads of character. In the end, we traded for many of them. I had been saving up things we may have easily discarded in the states. They were all wanted – a frying pan, a tea kettle, swim goggles, a swim mask, old tools, and many, many tee shirts and caps. We found that many Solomon Islanders wanted to trade carvings with us for clothing and tools and fishhooks and sewing needles. These things are hard to get in these remote Islands.

 

The Solomon Islands money used to be in the form of shells, some strung as tiny beads and others were circles carved from large shells like the one in the left photo above. The Solomon Islands $2 coin still has a picture of the round shell money on it. 

Once Billy left, we went into town to start the clearing in process. Little did we know it would take most of the day – and part of the next. Four offices had to be visited and paid fees, many forms filled out, standing in line at the bank, taking a receipt here or a signed form there.

 

We sailed over to Gizo the following morning. In Gizo, we anchored off of the PT-109 restaurant. WWII history is a recurring theme here. Gizo is the second largest town in the Solomon Islands and it is not very big at all. There is a hotel or two, a dive shop, a market and many Chinese merchants. A local charter boat, anchored near us, gave us a good idea of where to find the type of things we may be looking for – bread, eggs, cabbages and carrots. A few women at the PT-109 offered to do our laundry. I only found out after Richard dropped it off that it all had to be done by hand and hung out to dry. This would take a couple of days in intermittent rainy weather. We would meet our next crew in Gizo. We had passed the “airport” which was just a strip of flattened land on a nearby island. Over the next few days, we were joined by four new crew.  

 

I went to the market in the morning. Instead of the typical plastic ribbon and bags, everything was tied with natural fibers and wrapped in leaves. Baskets were woven and offered for sale for anyone who did not have a bag. A local woman, named Deanne, was wearing a tee shirt that said “Beat Plastic Pollution in Gizo.” She was leading an initiative to make the market plastic-free by the end of June. They want to get rid of ALL plastic bags and twine. Her group also coordinates beach cleanups several times a month. We were so inspired by the work she is doing.

 

We snorkeled on a reef at nearby Liapari Island and saw one of the prize sightings of divers – a Mantis Shrimp. It is a brilliantly-colored shrimp that has eyes poking above its head allowing 360 degree viewing in more colors than any other creature on earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On many islands, the people are completely crazy about the Soccer World Cup. Everyone has picked a favorite team and they are likely to stay up late at night or to get up early in the morning to watch games. We could hear cheering and celebrating across the anchorage the two nights we were close to town.

 

We met up with Billy again and he took us to a spot where we could dive and see a HeliCat – a small WWII Bomber Plane. It was in about 30 feet of water. We went further inside the lagoon and anchored near Boeboe Village (Billy’s village). He took some of our crew to see several more WWII sites and artifacts.

 

 

Before the sun got too low we headed south inside the lagoon. We wound our way between many low mangrove islands following a rough track that had been given to us by another boat. The crew took turns standing on the bow, directing the helmsman around reefs and shallow areas. It rained on and off for much of the trip which made it more difficult to see the color changes of the shallow areas in the water. We saw few boats but quite a few white parrots flying over. A half a dozen dugout canoes were fishing here.

 

We were headed back to Noro, the second time through Diamond Narrows, to do our clearance out of the Solomon Islands. This time we anchored right in front of the market having passed over a shallow break in the reef to get there. There was a constant flow of traffic past the boat.

 

Leaving the town anchorage, we moved around the corner to a less busy spot for the night. One last boat came by to show us carvings. This was a giant dugout with three men. They climbed on board and laid out wood and stone carvings. One of the men had a four-foot long stick of Kerosene wood which is black like ebony. Into it, he had carved at least fifty fish, crabs, squid, turtles, rays – all with inlaid shell eyes. It was a Spirit of the Solomon carving and it was amazing! We traded some wood carving tools for it. It is really special.

 

 

We went to the fuel dock in the morning to top up with duty-free fuel anticipating much motoring on the way to Ambon. While we fueled, a dugout with two women heading to the market sailed by with a canoe full of coconuts. The sail was patched together of scraps of fabric including several old umbrella covers. It was truly a work of art. I asked if I could take a photo and they showed off big smiles. Just after I took the photo their tiny mast almost fell down but they just laughed and carried on.

 

After a crew safety orientation we got underway to Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. It is a relatively short passage of 385 NM to the island of New Britain on which Rabaul is located.

 

 

The first night of the passage was calm and uneventful. We passed close by the Treasury Island group, silhouetted against a starry sky, during my watch. A large container ship, called Danny Boy, also headed to Papua New Guinea, overtook us during the night. The next day, a Brown Noddy Bird rested on deck while we kept sailing.

 

 Approaching Rabaul, the gaping steaming mouth of the most recently erupted volcano, Mt. Tarvurvur, looks over the harbor. We arrived in the anchorage on Saturday morning around 9am and contacted the officials on the VHF radio. We were flying our Q Flag and the small PNG flag that Molly and I had hand-stitched and painted on the way. They told us to stay aboard and that they would come to us. After an all hands clean-up to be ready for them to board, we waited and waited and waited. They never came. At 4 o’clock we gave up and all went into the yacht club.

 

Everyone was pleasant and we learned a good deal about the town. In 1994, an eruption of Mt. Tarvurvur covered half of Rabaul in three feet of ash. Many buildings collapsed. Fortunately, the yacht club was rebuilt as it was the center of activity for us while we were there. The Rabaul Hotel was also recovered and is still hosting guests.

 

Following is Emma’s description of first seeing and then climbing the active volcano of Mt. Tarvurvur:

 

We sailed into Rabaul, Papua New Guinea early morning after a two-day sail from the Solomon Islands. Straightaway, all eyes were drawn to a large and still very active volcano by the mouth of the harbor. Steam was rising out of the crater and in the early morning light it gave off an eerie appearance. Immediately the crew of Elcie wanted to climb it. After getting the anchor down we took the dinghy ashore and walked to the local hotel to see if climbing it was even possible. The lobby of the hotel was covered with pictures of the volcano erupting in 2004 and a few feet of ash still covered the ground in places. The locals told us it still grumbles occasionally. Hiking the volcano is possible, however, it is dangerous and we must be careful. We got a guide and hopped in a van to the volcano. We had to pass through three gates, each gate requesting $5 per person, until we reached the base of the volcano. The volcano was surrounded by very hot water that hurt if you put your hand in for longer than a few seconds. We began hiking and by poor planning it was midday and the sun was beating down on us. The closest thing I could describe the volcano to was a giant pile of gravel. We started climbing and the most important thing was to be cautious about displacing rocks in case they hit the person behind you. After about 45 minutes of hiking we reached the top and it was so hot it was hard to breathe. The sun was beating down on us and the heat of the active volcano was coming up from below. The smell of sulphur was also overpowering. We did have a great view of the harbor. We began our scramble down the rocks which was a lot faster than going up. I was amazed how quickly the local men could climb in just flip-flops while I was struggling in sneakers. Overall, it was a great experience to climb an active volcano but if I was offered to hike it again I would politely decline.

While most of the crew went to climb the volcano, two of us went into town looking for some food supplies. We caught a small bus that rambled down dirt roads through the old ash covered town until it reached an area with the market and a few grocery stores. The market was open even though it was Sunday. It took a while to find what we wanted – bananas, pineapples, cucumbers, peppers. I found cabbages! Who would ever think you could get so excited about cabbages but I tell you they are a sailor’s best friend in the galley. I call it “sailor’s lettuce”.

 

Several of the tables had baskets of eggs on them. Upon closer inspection, the eggs were humongous! They were about 3 inches long and very narrow. I had to ask. They were Megapode eggs from a type of bird that lays its eggs buried deep in warm, volcanic ash. The eggs incubate for a longer than usual time in the ash and the chicks hatch fully developed and ready to fly. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see any of the birds. This is the third place we have been with Megapodes. I am glad we got to see the eggs though.

 

After the market, we went into the stores looking for a few items on my list, but mainly cheese. A few frozen veggies or meat would be good too. In the end, we visited three stores, lugging our bags of market veggies along and found everything we needed except cheese. Apparently, the only store that sold cheese would not be open until Monday.

 

Pulling out the chart and doing some quick calculations along with looking at some weather maps, we realized that we had to leave that evening. There was some wind for the next few days and we wanted to take advantage of it. We had a long way to travel. We got underway an hour before sunrise and didn’t stop moving for about seven days. Overall, it was a pleasant passage in relatively calm seas and motoring at times in light winds. Our speed was helped considerably by a knot and a half of west flowing current. The moon was full we enjoyed the extra light on deck at night. We were very close to the equator but only one day felt uncomfortably humid. 

 

Here is the crew enjoying a meal. Fishing was productive – one yellowfin tuna, two mahi-mahi, and one mackerel.  One day was almost cool and very productive with a few projects accomplished including a patch on a tear in the mizzen sail and a hatch was re-bedded that was nearly removed by the mainsail sheet. Calm enough to get out the sewing machine, I made an Indonesian Flag. Along the way, most of the crew did laundry with some of the 40 gallons of rainwater we caught in showers.

 

 

Still north of Papua New Guinea, we were sailing with light winds – a very pleasant motion and doing 9 -10 knots in the right direction. This was unexpected in a typically low wind area. We were going to pass by two small islands (hopefully uninhabited) where we would try and make a brief stop so the crew could perhaps stretch their legs and have a swim.

 

The anchor went down in about 40 feet over sand. The snorkeling was fantastic – one anemone was neon green which made a stunning backdrop for melon-colored clownfish. We also saw a ray and a moray eel on this healthy reef. It was just nice to be off the boat for a couple of hours. Later, while fishing, we caught a plastic bag. This is when we first started seeing a lot of trash in the water.

 

The last few days of the passage to Ambon were both challenging and tiring. The autopilot stopped working altogether and we had to hand steer. There was much navigating to do through narrow inlets, at times during periods of torrential rain. The last day was very windy. A 40 knot gust over a hill sent us scurrying to take the mainsail down. After that, we had to motorsail hard on the wind for about 30 miles to the entrance to Ambon Harbor. We arrived at night and it was difficult to find the mooring we had heard about in an anchorage.

 

In the morning, Richard went into the city center of Ambon to clear into Indonesia. One of our crew went along with him because he spoke Indonesian. Emma and Jonny, one of the crew, went for a walk ashore and met a local family. Our four crew would be departing from Ambon the following day. We were sad to see them leave.

 

A pier just in from the boat was always busy with lots of laughing and swimming kids. The beaches are sadly littered with trash and plastic bottles. Twice a day, the tide turns and carries a slick of trash, mostly plastic bags, bottles and containers past the boat. It is some of the worst plastic pollution we have seen yet in the water.

 

 

There was also a great market in Ambon with so much fresh food and it all looked beautiful. We bought papayas, and mangos and a stalk of bananas. We even found avocados. There was fresh made tempeh and tofu that was still warm. We bought eggs from a stall that had a giant bin piled high with brown eggs. The young man packing them for us held them up to a bare lightbulb - eight at a time – to make sure that they didn’t have chicks in them. I was glad that he checked. It would be pretty disturbing to crack a baby chick into a frying pan.

 

Our new crew are arriving in a few days and we will be sailing to Bali via the land of Komodo Dragons. We hope you will join us via the next Sail to See logbook entry!

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHERE WE VISITED: SOLOMON ISLANDS

 

Former Name: British Solomon Islands

 

Population: 545,000

 

Area: 10,954 Sq. Mi./28,370 Sq. Km

 

Capital: Honiara, Guadlacanal

 

Type of Government: a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, represented by a governor-general who must be a citizen of the country.

 

Currency: Solomon Islands Dollar

 

Language: Melanesian Pidgin, Indigenous Languages, English

 

Highest Point: Mount Pompomanaseu 8,028 Feet/ 2,447 Meters

 

Climate: Tropical Monsoon

 

Economy: Some tourism, Subsistence, Exports

 

Major Exports: Timber, Fish, Copra, Palm Oil

 

Natural Hazards: Typhoons, Earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanoes

 

Country Flag:

 

Interesting Fact: Skull Island in Solomon Islands, is a small island located in VonaVona Lagoon that contains a headhunting shrine. The centerpiece of the shrine is an elaborately carved container that holds the skulls of the chiefs of the local village. Littered around the chief’s shrine are the skulls of the chiefs victims. A very eerie and interesting look into the headhunting days of the area. Its hard to get an accurate idea of when headhunting actually ended in the Solomons (if at all), but apparently it continued pretty widespread until about 40 years ago.

 

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