Cruising in the Solomon Islands; 2010
The following notes summarise a cruise made through the Solomons from E to W over the period September to December 2010. For photos and a fuller narrative see Solomons on this website.
Cruising Guides. Alan Lucas' 30-year old guide is too outdated to be of much use; Warwick Clay's Pacific Anchorages has much more useful information (but he appears to be paranoid about what he terms “pestering”); the most substantial and useful guide is Dirk Sieling's Solomon Islands Cruising Guide, available through the Island Cruising Association in New Zealand.
Weather: the further to the NW we went and the later the year advanced, the weaker the winds became; thus we were still in strong trade winds (20 to 25 knots) in the Santa Cruz group and en route to Santa Ana, but from Honiara onwards (October) the winds began to die, moving more into the NE and N, and were often calm. In November, however, squalls from the N or NW started to become more frequent; after mid-November would not be a good time to be in Honiara (which is exposed to that direction). Westerlies had not yet materialised in Western Province when we left in late December (we were told they were late).
Formalities. Only at Honiara and Noro can you guarantee that the full range of officials – customs, immigration, health, quarantine – will be on hand. However, entry at Santa Cruz (Lata) is permitted, as long as you make a call on the police. Checking in and out at Gizo is usually possible, but you may have to pay for Immigration to come from Noro.
Security. At almost every anchorage, however isolated it may appear to be, locals will appear, as if from nowhere, looking to trade. We found it politic to do so, even when we were in no great need of coconuts; come prepared with trading goods (we found rice, flour, batteries, pens, exercise books to be most popular).
Like most boats we very rarely allowed anyone on board – only chiefs we had already met on land or, on a couple of occasions, carvers with whom we wished to negotiate. An informal poll near the end of our cruise, in Gizo, revealed however that approximately half the cruising boats had suffered some sort of security “incident” (none violent). Typically they were boarded very late at night and surreptitiously, items from the cockpit/on deck were pilfered when they were not on board. Locations included:
Neal Island (formerly Vulela Island resort), Guadalcanal; there were at least five separate incidents of boarding/robbery here;
Honiara. Tied up next to the Police dock, one boat suffered a robbery through an open port, in mid-afternoon.
Tulaghi Harbour, Florida Islands. Notorious for robberies and also extortion – with both “chiefs” and “officials” demanding USD $30 or more per night to anchor;
Simbo (W. Province); a boat had its outboard stolen when they were on a guided trip on land; they recovered it after paying a “ransom”;
Marovo lagoon; we were boarded at 02:00 at Matikuri Island;
Balira (Rendova). A German boat was boarded and robbed. Locals warned us to beware.
Ringgi Cove, Kolombangara. Dinghy and outboard stolen (not secured); dinghy recovered.
It is some years since any yachts have visited Malaita, on account of that island's poor reputation.
Precautions. It is advisable not to be off the vessel after dark, even in Honiara and Gizo. The dinghy should be hoisted out of the water or otherwise made difficult to steal. Cockpit and decks should be clear of valuables at all times. Close all ports and hatches and lock up whenever you leave the boat. A bright anchor light at deck level (not the typical all-round light at the masthead) is an excellent deterrent. Do not leave fenders out at night; they only facilitate a silent boarding. Finding a secluded location is not necessarily advisable: several locals advised us that the best deterrent to idle/drunken youths was your being visible, in front of a settlement. Treat the locals in a firm but friendly manner; doing at least a little trading, even if you are fully stocked, is good pre-emptive diplomacy. One local recommended a can of Mortein (cockroach spray) as an excellent repeller of humans as well, when sprayed in the face.
Itinerary, E To W
Santa Cruz Islands; see BA Chart 17.
Vanikolo Island. This is a high island with an encircling reef and eight coastal villages, which communicate with each other only by dugout; sailing canoes are still in use; there is no secondary school but most of the villages have primary schools. La Perouse's Boussole and Astrolabe were wrecked on the south coast (near Pallu Passage) and have been investigated by divers with the support of the French Navy. The best anchorage is in Manieve (or Mangadai/Manevai) Bay, on the northeast corner of the main island, where Tevai Island adjoins Vanikolo. Approaching from Vanuatu the logical entrance to Manieve is via the narrow but navigable Dillon Passage, at the west end of Tevai Bay. The narrowest part of the channel is marked by a red beacon and a green, but not on the sides one would expect: the red is to be left to starboard when entering from the east. In normal tradewind conditions there was no swell in the passage and we did not observe depths less than 3m. Very protected lake-like anchorage can be found in either of the two arms of the mangrove-ringed head of the bay, but fringing reefs (visible in normal conditions) should be given a wide berth. We anchored at 11 40.184S, 166 55.823E in 22m. The water is not particularly clear and diving to check the anchor is not advisable; the mangroves are inhabited by crocodiles. Landing is not practical here. The nearest village is Puma (Buma) on Tevai Island, about 3 miles away, but canoes will likely visit you all the same; locals were friendly and more than willing to trade, as the supply vessel is infrequent. There is no airstrip on Vanikolo and no cellphone coverage. C-Map and GPS appear to coincide almost exactly. Exiting to the north, via Hayes Pssage, red beacons should be left to starboard.
Utupua Island is about 30 nm to the NW of Vanikolo and is normally visible from Vanikolo. It also has a fringing reef. Normally entry is made at Ringdove Pass on the SW corner of the reef, although there are several other uncharted passes on the western side. Approaching from Vanikolo, two large black rocks are visible on the outer reef, about a mile before the pass is reached; a little way inside the reef a steel post with a red topmark indicates a tongue of reef jutting out; it should be left to port. The pass leads directly into a long, wide inlet and to the center of the island: Basilisk Harbour. The island's main village (Nemboa) is at the entrance of the inlet, on the N side; on the S side a prominent white cross marks a mission of the Melanesian Brotherhood. Where Basilisk forms into a Y-shape, considerable care must be taken to avoid the fringing reef and two isolated patches. Anchorage is best in the northern part of the Y, Sabeen Bay, which, as at Vanikolo, is mangrove-ringed and where it is not practical to land: 11 15.441S; 166 31.166E, 17m. Several years ago, in front of his horrified wife, a Swiss yachtsman was here devoured by a crocodile; his (few) remains are buried in the village; this hazard may be avoided by anchoring at locations between the main island and the fringing reef, where the water is clear and there are no mangroves; these areas are uncharted but the locals may be able to give advice. There are also dugong in Sabeen Bay. As at Vanikolo, there is no airstrip, no cellphone coverage, and the friendly locals are keen to trade. There are no government officials here but the Reverend Patterson said he keeps track of passing yachts and as at Vanikolo there is radio communication with the provincial government in Lata (Ndende/Santa Cruz Island). Large mud crabs and mangrove oysters are available. C-Map and the GPS coincide closely.
Ndende/Nendo/Santa Cruz Island. This is the largest island in the group, and the seat of the provincial government for Temotu Province. It is of some historical interest in that in 1595 Alvaro de Mendana attempted to found a Spanish colony at Graciosa Bay; it failed and the exact site is not known, but a local told us that his name lives on in that a disproportionate number of the island chiefs have names beginning with “M” (!). There is an airstrip at Lata (today's principal settlement, on the W shore of the bay), with regular flights by Dash-8 to Honiara; Lata also has the province's only secondary school. Graciosa Bay is large and wide, and generally very deep; unlike Vanikolo and Utupua it should NOT be considered as a possible cyclone refuge. There is a concrete wharf at Lata, by the side of which lies the large and semi-submerged wreck of a white-hulled inter-island freighter; the wharf is not practicable for use by a yacht except in very calm conditions: the prevailing winds blow directly onto it and there are 2 to 3 miles of fetch.
We attempted to anchor in 12m to 15m on a shoal in the S end of the bay, marked on the chart, but could not get the anchor to hold. We then moved to the extreme SE corner of the bay, where a river debouches into the bay. Here we found adequate anchorage at 10 45.587S, 165 49.368E, in 23m. There are rocks to the starboard and the river bar to port, both of which are swinging constraints, but the river's outflow seems to hold the boat in the right position, even when the winds fall calm. We were advised that a further possible anchorage is south of Shaw Point, about 2 nm to the north of here, on the E shore of Graciosa Bay; this would offer better shelter should the wind turn into the N; however, it is a much longer walk to town; the old sawmill is no longer active.
On shore to the S, a friendly local called Titus will allow you to land your dinghy; in the past he has maintained a “yacht club” (i.e. bar) here; he has spent a number of years working on large American tuna boats in the Pacific. However, we had a stainless steel shackle stolen from the dinghy when we left it here. Locals will come by dugout to trade but there is a small veggie market in Lata.
Lata is reached via a hot one-hour walk on a good track, which passes through a number of small villages. Few vehicles pass but when they do it is usually possible to hitch a ride; if doing so, check in advance if money is expected in return.
In Lata, notwithstanding signs on the contrary, there is NO presence of customs or immigration. We were told that although this remains a Port of Entry – and if a cruise ship comes in, officials will fly in from Honiara to clear it – there is no budget to house the respective officers. There is however a presence of the Ministry of Agriculture and, if the lone official is not out of town, he will give you quarantine clearance (fee 150 Solomon dollars); he may ask to come on board but is understanding of the difficulty of coming alongside in Lata and in our case he did not insist. You should also check in with the Police; they will ask you to fill in a form with the details of your yacht, and they say that they send it onwards; however, in Honiara no-one knew of us. The visit to the Agriculture official may be useful in that, in case of any later difficulties, the paper clearance he gives you is proof that you made every effort (the police do not give you any papers).
Although there is a bank in Lata and even an ATM, the former does not change money and the latter had been empty of cash for some time. We were instead directed to Russ Hepworth, who runs a small store and who is the only white man in Temotu (!); he will change modest amounts of the usual currencies (USD and Australian dollars) into Solomon dollars (exchange rate about 8 SD to 1 USD). Russ is interesting to talk to. His parents decided to “get away from it all” , and sailed from California in 1948 aboard an old Brixham Trawler; they settled in the nearby Reef Islands and, although the boat was subsequently lost in a cyclone, have been there ever since. Russ suggested there was secure anchorage in the Islands and said that an increasing number of yachts visit; however, the chart is poor and we passed on this; with more information this could be interesting stop.
There is a small daily market in Lata, five or six small shops and a hospital. Bread is usually available at the market. There is a gas station near the wharf, where diesel and gasoline can be obtained. There is a Telekom office where you can buy SIM cards and/or make long-distance phone calls; there is cellphone coverage in the area of Graciosa Bay; there is also internet access at the Telekom Office (and, in school hours, at a school on the road from the anchorage). The villages along the road all have piped water.
Exit to the west is most conveniently made through West Passage, South of Te Motu Island. A steel post with a red topmark marks the southwestern extremity of a reef that partially blocks the eastern entrance to the Passage; it should be left to starboard; charted beacons indicating the southeastern extremity of this reef and the southwestern tip of Te Motu Island are missing.
Santa Ana Island. Off the eastern tip of the large Makira (San Cristobal) Island lie Santa Ana and Santa Catalina Islands, separated from each other by the two-mile-wide Paraghawa Strait. On a strong ebb we experienced a two to three knot east-going current here which, as it met the swell kicked up by the tradewinds, created steep and breaking waves. There is a good anchorage on the W side of Santa Ana, formed by a curve in the coastline and two arms of reef; favour the N end of the bay when entering. We anchored at 10 50.210S, 162 27.087E, in 20m.
This is an interesting, densely populated island, with three villages; Gupuna (on the bay) and Nafinuatogo and Natagera on the east side. Chief John of Gupuna welcomes visits and it is advisable to check in with him. He is a carver; the carvings of Santa Ana are distinctive but not as finely executed as those of the Western Province. They are also expensive; several times a year, small cruise ships call in here and keep the prices high. John specialises in carving a half man/half shark figure, which depicts an episode from a local legend. There are more carvers on neighbouring Santa Catalina Island, but this lacks a good anchorage.
John keeps a logbook for passing yachts, and so does Katie, who can arrange fresh bread, laundry and other services. Katie is a member of an interesting local family descended from a German trader, Heinrich Kuper, who arrived in these islands in 1912 and married a local girl. Other members of the family in residence when we visited included the very helpful Greta (Katie's cousin) and Greta's brother Henry, who has a 20ft sailboat that he periodically sails over to Makira or the Three Sisters. Henry has a small shop.
Gupuna has piped running water of good quality. Ten minutes' walk away through the woods is a large freshwater lake, excellent for swimming; there used to be crocodiles here, but no longer. The path to the east coast leads over the top of the island, past the secondary school, to Nafinuatogo, then Natagero. There is a very interesting “kastom” house at the latter village, which you can visit after seeing the chief (men only; contribution of 15/20 SD expected). This contains old miniature canoes in which the bones of former chiefs are buried, many carved dishes for offerings, and the bones and skulls of village elders. Photography is permitted.
Cellphones do not work here; the nearest tower is at Star Harbour, on Makira Island; locals often paddle to Star Harbour to make calls. However, Santa Ana has an airstrip with weekly flights to Honiara.
The two charted lights on the N coast of Makira (Kirakira Bay and Wangoraha Point) were not functioning at the time of our visit.
Three Sisters Islands (Tres Marias/Olu Malau). We intended to anchor here but found the obvious anchorage (Mosquito Bay) had been rendered inaccessible by a buoyed shark net all the way across its entrance. We briefly considered a N-S running enclosure in the reef about one mile to the N but decided that there was insufficient swinging room; there was no other obvious place to anchor.
Uki Ni Masi Island. We found good anchorage towards the southern end of Selwyn Bay, in good visibility over sand at 10 17.033S, 161 43.553E, lying in 23m. In case of a NW blow, shelter might be found in the NE extremity of the bay. Above the anchorage and a little to the N of it are the relatively modern buildings of a large secondary (boarding) school: Pawa. Distinguished alumni include Fr Walter Lini (first PM of Vanuatu); formerly run by the Church of Melanesia, the school is now run by Makira Province and could do with some new investment. It is interesting to chat to the teachers and older students, who come from all over the Province. There are small one and two-family villages along the shoreline, hidden by the trees, with the main village at the N end of the bay, where Lever Brothers formerly ran a plantation; trading for vegetables and fish was possible. Local coasters call at the island quite frequently: be sure to use an anchor light. There is cellphone coverage here; “top up” cards reportedly available at the school. Fair snorkelling.
At the east end of Guadalcanal is a complex area of small islands and channels known as Marau Sound, protected by an outer barrier reef. We entered through the SE entrance, which is marked on its western edge by a metal post (indeterminate colour); several other beacons mark a route northwards from here to Tavanipupu Island (the most popular anchorage), with red beacons to be left to port. The range markers which used to indicate the preferred line through the SE entrance are long gone.
We were not as impressed by the small pool east of the Tavanipupu resort as many people seemed to be. Space is very limited, meaning a stern-tie is necessary, to one side of the pool or the other; but the current can run at up to two knots through the pool, which can make tying up difficult; and the wind can blow strongly through the wide gap to the north, leaving you beam-on. Furthermore, the resort manager told us that there would be a fee of SD250 (USD $30) for tying up – payable to the resort if “their” trees are used, or to villagers on the other side if theirs are used. Villagers later told us that they do NOT charge. But given all these difficulties we chose to go around to the N of Tavanipupu Island instead, and anchored in sand and coral on a 15m shelf at 9 49.343S, 160 51.334E.
Notwithstanding the fee requested, the resort management are reasonably friendly and, provided one asks in advance, will let you use wifi (free) in the bar area. They will only serve drinks and meals if there are other guests in residence; we had an excellent lunch, including one beer each, for SD125 each. The resort is very beautiful and tranquil, with a fifteen minute walking track around its perimeter. In an enclosure at the end of the main jetty are three hawksbill turtles – which would otherwise have gone in the islanders' cooking pots.
There is a small village opposite the resort. The Chief, Justin and his son, Joe, are friendly and keen that you sign their logbook. They will also let you know which areas are taboo for snorkelling. Trading is possible; there is a weekly market on the “mainland” at Conflict Bay (near the airport; about three miles away). Relations betweeen the villagers and the resort management are not hostile, but we did sense some mutual unease. The resort management advised us to remain on board the boat at night and Justin confirmed that there had been cases of thefts from boats.
There was considerable trouble in this area in the “Tension” (1999-2003); the inhabitants of Marau Sound are of Malaitan descent and there was serious conflict, leading to several deaths, with natives of Guadalcanal Island. During this period the resort was closed down (but not sacked/destroyed as others were).
A popular stop for yachts heading west to Honiara has traditionally been Vululela Resort/Neal Island. The resort was burned down during the Tension (and has not reopened) and there had been reports of several yachts recently being robbed at this anchorage, so we passed it by. More positively, the charted lights on the N coast of Guadalcanal (and on Rua Sura island) were all functioning as advertised, allowing for an overnight passage from Marau Sound to Honiara.
Anchoring/mooring options at Honiara are poor, but it is a quasi-obligatory stop for the completion of customs and immigration formalities. Point Cruz is a small promontory jutting out from the E-W-running shoreline; the commercial and ferry docks lie to its E, the usual anchorage for yachts (in the SE season, at least) to its W. Another reef further to the W, however, restricts the space for anchoring while giving little shelter from westerly swells and winds, none at all from the NW. A red and a green buoy indicate the entrance channel to the bay.
There is sometimes one yellow mooring buoy available for use by visitors (inquire at the Yacht Club, at the head of the bay re payment); this and a couple of other private moorings occupy most of the available space and mean that swinging free at anchor is not an option. Instead most yachts are obliged to tie stern-to, to the wall on the E side of the bay, which is formed by concrete wave-breaking structures. It is necessary to leave sufficient space for vessels coming in and out from the Police jetty in the SE corner of the bay (off-limits to all except police boats); there is usually space for five or six yachts tied in this way, with the anchor in 15 to 20m, two stern lines ashore.
Landing is best at the Point Cruz YC, at the head of the bay. The dinghy can be left here in reasonable security, though local members of the YC advise that it is best to return to your boat (wherever it may be moored) before dark. A neighbouring yacht was broken into in broad daylight, in the mid-afternoon, when its owners inadvertently left one porthole open.
The YC is open for drinks and meals every day and there are frequent social events; the meals are reasonably priced but of only average quality. Once you have introduced yourself to the security guard on the gate you will be free to come and go at will.
First stop for arrivals from the E will be Customs, located in the dock complex behind where the yachts tie up. They will likely wish to board the vessel; we were subjected to a short and politely-conducted search. Customs will then either arrange for Immigration and Agriculture to come down to the YC to complete formailities or give you directions for finding their offices; both are about ten minutes' walk away. We were not asked how long we had already been in the country.
Honiara is dirty, typically very hot and not very attractive, but the shopping is reasonable. Duty-free alcohol is easily available from Sullivan's, close to the Customs Office; you make your order, they give you a form to have stamped at the Revenue Office, and you return to pick up the items just before your planned departure (allow for weekend woerking hours when making arrangements). The banks (several with ATMs) are five minutes' walk to the east, long queues on pay-day (Fri pm). The Post Office is ten minutes to the west. There is an internet cafe at the Post Office.
Diesel and gasoline can be obtained at the gas station just behind the YC.
On the street behind the Post office (i.e. to the S) is the Ministry of Lands; on the ground floor is a separate office with the sign “Maps”. Here you can obtain a number of relevant BA charts, plus some key locally-produced charts, notably SI07, of Marovo Lagoon (SD 150). If the office is down to oits last BA chart, they will copy it for you (full-size, but b&w).
There is a small museum on Mendana Avenue but even the keenest culture-vulture may find it difficult to enthuse about it: there are a number of collapsing “kastom” houses in a garden, and one room with miscellaneous items that look not to have been renewed or dusted in thirty years. Entry is however free; and the museum shop contains a surprisingly good collection of reasonably-priced carvings; a visit may be useful if only to give you an idea of how much such items (which will be encountered in Western Province) should fetch. There is also a good shop in the Mendana Hotel, adjoining the YC. In the hills behind Honiara (45 mins walk or a minibus ride – frequent service) is an impressive US war memorial, with full details of all the major battles fought around here in WW2.
If you tire of YC food, the Lime Lounge is an excellent alternative for light meals; turn left out of the YC, down the main street for three or four mins, left again; it is painted a bright lime colour; very popular with expats.
Tambea Resort. The resort was burned down during The Tension; there are however still people living in this bay at the west end of Guadalcanal, including, apparently, the elderly former owner of the resort; there is a road to Honiara. Approach should be from the north, giving appropriate clearance to Mary Shoal (to the E) and Paul Shoal (W). Steer for a prominent white-painted concrete block (a Japanese war memorial) on the black sand beach. We anchored at 9 15.835S, 159 39.858E, in 10m, sand. Shelter is adequate in normal conditions, except from strong winds/swell with a northerly component. We only had one visitor, an annoying child who tried to persuade us to give him 100SD for anchoring. Later we were told that there is a sunken Japanese submarine in 20m of water, somewhere in this vicinity.
The Russells are a convenient stopover en route to Western Province. However, good anchorages are not as numerous as one might think from a first glance at the chart – most bays are deep and/or encumbered with coral. Pre-independence, the Russells were effectively owned and managed by Lever Brothers, as a vast plantation, employing 2000 or more people; Yandina was a western-style company town. The plantation then became a joint private/govt enterprise, but all activity ceased about seven years ago – on the one hand there is an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions, and on the other the main installations were burned down. As a result of this, there is some social discontent.
We initially attempted to anchor W of Alakon island (in the S of the group); Alakon is uninhabited and there is ostensibly reasonable shelter off its NW corner. The bottom was sand, but obstructed by large coral heads; although we were able to place the anchor in sand, we were not confident of remaining clear of the coral, and moved on. This would howver be a pleasant day anchorage prior to making an overnight passage to Western Province. Water visibility was excellent and there was a pod of friendly dolphins in evidence.
We then tried an anchorage north between tiny Tuul island and the big island of Pavuvu, about two miles west of the southern entarnce to Sera Me Ohol (Sunlight) Channel. There was a small village on Pavuvu and huge logs on shore were evidence that this was once a log-loading ramp. However, the water was deep (20m plus), there was a W-going current of about 2 kts and the bottom looked to be very uneven, perhaps encumbered with waterlogged timber and/or industrial equipment. We decided again to pass. Fishermen in this vicinity were engaged in fishing for sharks, with very long unbuoyed net systems (2kms or more); a local boat warned/asked us to make a long detour to avoid his nets.
We finally found secure anchorage in the southern end of the west arm of Sera Me Ohol (Sunlight) Channel, west of Hoi island, at 09 06.914S, 159 08.835E, 13m in sand and coral. There is a bommie with only 2m of water over it, about 100m north of here; C-Map seemed to be spot-on Good visibility but there are crocs in the vicinity and locals warned us that last year two people had been eaten in the eastern Russells. One or two canoes passed, on their way from a village on Hoi island (not visible) to their gardens on Pavuvu; friendly, with good veggies to trade. Leaving the Russells, a canoe paddled out to intercept us from Taina Island; they were keen to trade and had another good selection of vegetables.
We made landfall at Peava, on Nggatokae island. The anchorage is in a small standalone lagoon off the small village of Peava; it is not not evident on any chart, but is clear on Google Earth. Entry into the lagoon is via a 60m-wide gap in the reef, at 8 47.143S, 158 13.966E (note that Dirk Sieling's longitude is thirty miles out!). When we entered, the starboard hand was marked by an oildrum-sized cylinder of styrofoam, the port hand by a smaller spherical buoy. There is room for four or five yacts; we anchored in 22m at 08 47.165S, 158 13.857E. Visibility inside the lagoon is so-so but there is good snorkelling on the encircling reef. Shelter is also so-so; at mid to high-tides the chop outside made it over the reef and set us rolling. The village is very tidy and friendly; there are many carvers here but they are not at all pushy; like many of the villages in the Marovo Lagoon, this is a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) community, whose holy day is Saturday; visitors are asked not to snorkel on that day. There is a tourist lodge, here, the Wilderness Lodge, but at the time of oiur visit they were not in the least welcoming to yachties; signs on their jetty warned that it was STRICTLY for the use of hotel guests. However, yachts are welcome to land their tenders at the second jetty (just to the S), which is owned by Lisa, an expat American who runs a dive operation here. The two tourist operations, for reasons to do with lurid soap-opera goings on, are not on speaking terms with each other. Good drinking water from a tap at the head of Lisa's jetty.
From Peava we proceeded to the Marovo lagoon, via Mbili Passage. For navigation in the lagoon, Solomon Islands Chart SI 07 is invaluable. C-Map is of some use, but latitudes require significant adjustment – for example our charted position at Seghe was 8 34.200S, but the GPS showed 8.34.583S. Most of the charted beacons (painted steel posts with topmarks) are in existence, but at least the following (numbered from Mbili counterclockwise, as per the chart) are missing: 1, 17, 18, 19. Most of the villages on the E side of the lagoon are SDA but Seghe is United Church (Methodist). Most villages in the E and N of the lagoon have carvers; visits are to be expected; the preferred mode of payment seems to be a combination of cash and trade goods; it is a good idea already to have priced carvings in Honiara.
Mbili Passage. We anchored just north of the passage, in the well-protected spot recommended by Dirk Sieling, at 08 39.838S, 158 11.212E, 10m sand. Although the main village, Mbili, is a little distance away, visits are to be expected. There is a small one-family settlement on the S tip of Sanihulumu island, just east of the anchorage; here John is the boss; he seems to be on uneasy terms with his brother and neighbour Alexander; John's son Paul (who is very helpful) also lives here. All are accomplished carvers; John maintains a logbook for visiting yachts. One way of dealing with the many carvers is to ask them to organise a show on shore; let them choose the location, however. The community is nominally SDA but no-one has any qualms in fishing for crayfish (lobster) for you.
From Mbili it is about 6 miles to the principal community in the E side of the lagoon, at Mbatuna. Anchor north of the village, good visibility and protection, at 08.33.431S, 158 07.475E, sand and coral, 15m. This is the regional SDA headquarters. There is a well-stocked shop and a good weekly market on Thursdays; it starts promptly, but check the time; we had thought 10:00 a.m. But in fact it was 09:30, and by the time we got there, there wasn't much left. Veggies may also be available at the SDA Vocational College up the hill. Fresh water from a tap on the stone jetty. Fuel (gasoline and diesel) may also be periodically available. The sawmill and airstrip mentioned by Sieling are defunct.
For solitude and beautiful surroundings, Sarumara Anchorage, at the S end of Matiu island, is hard to beat. The approach is only sketchily charted and requires some care: approaching from the SSW (Mbatuna) steer to 08 29.510S, 158.08.150E to locate a 5m pass between reefs before turning to the SE and the anchorage proper at 08 29.746S, 158 08.951E, 5m sand. Very quiet; we had only one canoe (with fish to sell) in four days. Good snorkelling (fan coral; sharks) in nearby Kokoana Passage.
From Sarumara we sailed west past Telina (the carving “capital” and home of John Wayne, whom we had met at Mbatuna) to Sasaghana, and anchored in Kalivera Bay, just to the SSW of the village. The approach requires some care, but the port hand marker reported as missing by Sieling (#12) has been restored. Position yourself to the S of Sasaghana, as if to enter the channel behind Marovo Island, before cutting across to Kalivera Bay. Anchor to the W of the three prominent wooden houses on Kalivera Point, at 8.30.955S, 157.58520E, in 8m. The three houses have ceased to be a lodge and James Lam has passed away, but his son Moly J (sic...) is keen to reopen an Eco-Lodge here and will show you around; he is a carver and there are more in nearby Sasaghana (where we asked for a small show to be organised in the village hall). No shops in Sasaghana but locals were keen to trade and one young woman did our laundry for us.
From here many yachts go to Uepi Resort, on the outer reef (approach not charted); there are however mixed reports as to the yacht-friendliness of the place and we passed it by. The resort arranges a aweekly show for all local carvers; this could be a good way to do your carving shopping, but prices at the show are higher than you might otherwise pay. Experienced divers rave about Uepi.
The approach to the New Georgia Island anchorage just west of Mbuinitusu island is around the south end of the Mindeminde Islands. Two of the beacons in this vicinity (see above) are missing. Mbuinutusu is densely populated and the houses on its southern shoreline are visible from several miles away. We anchored in the uninhabited mangrove-lined bay 1 mile to the NW of the island, on the “mainland” of New Georgia, at 8 29.259S, 157 53.896E in 9m. At the time of our visit, the water main pipe to Mbuinitusu had fractured so many villagers were coming to this bay for water – it was not as quiet as we had hoped and there were some moderately annoying children. Good quality fresh water runs abundantly from a pipe 50m inshore from the W side of the bay (landing place visible); we saw a crocodile here.
Six miles south, on the W shore of Njae Passage, is Seghe; currents run at up to 2kts in the Passage. We anchored 150m north of the village wharf (which in turn is close to the airport runway's east end) at 08 34.579S, 157.52.792E, 7m sand and coral. In a strong norther this could be a little exposed, in which case it would be better to cross the channel to the twin village of Patutiva. Seghe has two shops (by the wharf) and a small market (also by the wharf – it does not function on weekends). The airport has regular flights to Gizo and Honiara; the Pelican Express passenger ferry calls here; there is a small hospital; cellphone coverage; the town generator was “out” at the time of our visit so hoped-for cold beers and ice cream were not available. The village, which is United Church (Methodist) is of modern construction. Divers often dive on a plane wreck (P38 fighter) just off the end of the runway.
We were given a very friendly reception by Benjamin at the his low-key Eco-lodge on Matikuri Island; anchor in the bay on the E side, south of the southernmost guest house, at 08 39.723S, 157 52.011 E in 18m, coral (we had some trouble getting the anchor up). Good snorkelling on the W and N sides of the island, also on the N tip of neighbouring Kembe Kembe island (owned by Benjamin's brother) but Benjamin warned that crocs are occasionally seen at the yacht anchorage. Benjamin cooked us a fine, relatively cheap crayfish dinner. We were here the victim of a nocturnal intruder/Peeping Tom, who boarded our yacht with great stealth at 02:00 a.m. and who was in the main cabin before we scared him off with much shouting. We were not able to identify the perpetrator but it was most likely a young man – Piasi - from the small nearby settlement on the mainland who had earlier given us a false name (Nicholas/Nick) when making two visits ostensibly for trading (with hindsight, he was likely casing the joint); this young man had earlier been responsible for the theft of some diving equipment from another yacht and is well-known to Benjamin and his staff. Benjamin took the matter seriously and reported the intrusion to the police in Seghe. Precautions recommended; Benjamin will supply a guard if you are off the boat after dark, the anchorage is just out of sight of the resort and is thus relatively “lonely”.
We crossed the Hele Bar where recommended by Sieling and never had less than 5m under the keel; good visibility. The yellow buoy reported by Sieling has gone. There was some current-induced turbulence on the bar, but the position of several islands to the S means that, in S or SE conditions, you actually pass into calmer water when proceeding to the SW.
The entrance to Viru Harbour is between high cliffs; it is deep but could be daunting in a heavy S or SE swell. Entry waypoint: 08 30.716S, 157 43.523E. There is a range consisting of two white-painted triangles, but the upper of these is 99% obscured by dense vegetation. The beacon that Sieling shows immediately in front of the range is missing, but there is a near-submerged green-painted beacon on the reef to starboard as you enter, and another red (port hand) beacon further in. There are substantial villages on either side of the entry channel, but the once-active logging operation that was based here is nearly defunct; a Korean company is still engaged in eucalyptus planting and harvesting. The Pelican Express calls in at Tetemare, on the W bank. We anchored in the NE extremity of the inlet, which is very quiet and surrounded by mangroves; 08 29.333S, 157 44.524E, 10m. The water visibility is poor and there are many crocs about; the previous evening a croc had taken a dog in Tambe (E bank). However, this is a well-protected location and would be good to ride out heavy weather from any quarter. Friendly locals traded veggies.
From Viru we sailed west to Balira Harbour, on Rendova, anchoring at 08 24.280S, 157 20.742 in 13m. Quiet and mangrove-surrounded, open only to the N. We had a quiet night but the next morning two locals came by separately to warn us that in this location, a month earlier, a German yacht had been boarded in the middle of the night, allegedly by youths from the Malaitan village in the bay immediately to the West; notes from another yacht told us that they had to deal with “aggressive” youths wanting money and cigarettes when anchored in the N part of Balira, just S of Kukurana Island. Accordingly we decided to move on. The anchorage at Egholo Bay, two miles to the E, may be less private but could be more secure.
From Balira we continued to the NW in the direction of Munda Bar. There is an excellent range consisting of two bright orange boards; contrary to Sieling, there is no buoy on the bar itself. Approaching the bar from outside, there are two very conspicuous beacons – one a framework tower, the other a black and white concrete post – at the location two miles SSE of the bar, where the chart indicates a light; there is a large and dangerous tongue of reef (which could usefully be marked) 0.75 of a mile to the NW of this pair of beacons (we were not at all clear why there are two beacons so close together).
Another yacht had warned us of a recent robbery from a yacht at Munda – later confirmed by Joe, the owner of the Zipolo Habu resort on Lola Island, so we decided to bypass it. Approaching Diamond Narrows from the South, past Kuri Point, the first three beacons indicated by Sieling (two to port, one to starboard) were in place. Close to the starboard beacon we turned to port (W) to enter the Vonavona Lagoon; there was another stbd and another port-hand beacon before we turned into the lee of Nusapate Island. We anchored in loose coral in 6m at 08 17.461S, 157 11.826E; next morning we had some trouble retrieving the anchor; with more time and better visibilty it probably would have been possible to find a sandy spot. Nusapate is inhabited but we had no visitors.
We closely followed Dirk Sieling's map and directions from Nusapate to Lola Island, deep inside the Vonavona Lagoon. There are one or two sticks and no beacons proper but in good visibility the channel is reasonably easy to follow and is never shallower than 5m; as Sieling notes, you would need to be quite confident to actually sail it (first time, anyway). The “conspicuous church and village” on Repi Island are completely gone as is the beacon at its W end, but there is a bright white sandy beach on the W tip, that is highly visible. At Lola we anchored at 08 18.383S, 157 09.817E, 11m sand. This is a good place for a quiet, relaxing time; local canoes pass by but do not bother you. Joe and his wife, at the resort, are very welcoming; the bar/restaurant is open every day; good fish and chips for 100SD, beer 20SD. There is a well where yachts are welcome to do their own laundry. Wifi: 50SD for one hour. Cellphone coverage. There is a walking track around the island; nearby is Skull Island, which can be visited once a “kastom” fee of 25SD is paid to the resort.
Sieling's directions and maps should be followed carefully when exiting in the west; it is highly advisable to travel on a sunny day, with the sun behind you. Meanwhile, you can anchor almost anywhere; we spent a night just off the main route at 08 06.862S, 156 52.830E, in 13m. There are no sticks or beacons anywhere on the route. Only in the far western section, just before leaving the lagoon over Katherine Bar, were we unable to find the direct route and had to make a loop to the south, around a large coral patch. We passed over Katherine Bar at 08 10.320S, 156 57.435E.
We approached Gizo via the pass just E of Kennedy Island (Plum Pudding Island on older charts). Nearly all of the marker beacons approaching Gizo were as advertised. Before reaching Gizo (or as short day trips from Gizo) many yachts spend a night or two anchored off one of the two resorts on Mbambanga Island: Fatboys (anchor at 08 07.162S, 156 53.698E, 17m) and Sanbis (08 06.862S, 156 52.830E, 13m). Both anchorages are coral-encumbered and can become uncomfortable in a strong norther. The management of both establishments welcome yachts.
At Gizo, the popular area for anchoring in 2010/11 was off PT109; we anchored at 08 05.968S, 156 50.394E in 15m. This is better protected than off the market and the staff at PT109 will keep an eye on your boat and allow you to land at their dock. For most of our stay, there was also a Police boat (RAMSI) moored here (until it broke its mooring...); this was manned 24/7 and afforded an additional measure of security. In 2010 there had been a total of two security “incidents” involving yachts in Gizo; in one case a fellow yachtie was the prime suspect.
Launches buzz through the anchorage at all hours, often at high speed, but – after an initial visit to see if you wish to buy carvings - the locals will not greatly bother you. PT109 operates a very loud discotheque three or four nights a week; this can be heard all over Gizo!
There are a dozen or so Chinese shops along Gizo's main street and most staple items are easily available. Water can be a problem: the town water supply is in disrepair and most people buy from a tanker; ask what the situation is at PT109 and/or catch rain when you can. Diesel can be jugged from the fuel depot 200 metres west of PT-109; with care it may be possible to back your boat in to a small dock there to take on fuel. Wifi is available throughout town but patchy in the anchorage; buy a “Bumblebeee” card from the Telekom office. Restaurants: PT-109, La Masa and the Gizo Hotel. There is air service at least daily (sometimes twice) to Honiara.
Customs, Agriculture and Health all have officers supposedly seven days a week in Gizo, but during our stay the customs officer was not always on hand. Immigration does NOT have an officer based here but he will come from Noro, by arrangement with customs; a USD $100 flat fee applied, to cover his transport, so it is worth clubbing together with other boats if you wish to check in or out here (at the time of writing there were mixed reports about security in Noro). Customs will not check you out unless Immigration has also done so.
Bound north to Micronesia, we backtracked from Gizo first to Ringgi Cove on Kolombangara Island, anchoring in the eastern arm at 08 07.116S, 157 06.862E., 17m. The anchorage is very well protected but there are crocs around so swimming should only be done with car. The once very large logging operation is now at a very low ebb but there remains a settlement about 1km up the road from the obvious landing place on your right as you enter the cove. We found the locals friendly and willing to trade but in December a yacht had a dinghy and outboard stolen here; the police later recovered the dinghy. Locals (as everywhere...) blamed “Malaitans” - many of these communities saw an influx of Malaitans some years ago, when there were many jobs available, and they have not gone home, even though the jobs are now finished.
On the eastern shore of Kolombangara, fronting the Kula Gulf, Jack Harbour (or Mbambari) is also very well-protected; we anchored in the North arm at 08.03.264S, 157 11.349E, in 21m. The village on your right as you enter is Seventh Day Adventist; in the South arm, however, are the inevitable Mailaitans, who were noticeably rowdier and more nosy.
Choiseul Island is hardly visited. We made our landfall from the South, west of Manning Strait and first checked out Ondolou Island. The anchorage here (as featured in Sieling) would be adequate with winds with a S element, but in the northerlies we were then experiencing, the recommended bay was quite choppy, exposed as it is to a three or four mile fetch. Accordingly, we headed straight to windward and anchored in a lee of the southern tip of Eretata Island, at 07 29.458S, 157 43.777E, in 21m. This anchorage is subject to a reversing current of 1 to 2 knots. Although the setting is idyllic, in the morning we noticed two crocodiles basking on the beach; we were briefly visited by a Gilbertese man from the one of the villages that are visible to the E on Wagina Island, but otherwise this location is quite far from any settlement.
For passing through Hamilton Channel, (between Wagina and Rob Roy islands) careful study of the tide tables and of the current stations (marked on the paper chart) is advisable, but even so the current turned to run to the NW earlier than we had predicted and, by the time we were emerging from the NW end of the passage – three or four miles long - we were getting a lift of nearly four knots and significant turbulence and whirlpools were starting to develop. Heading to the NW, it is advisable near the NW end of the pass to take a jog to the N, leaving a clutch of low islands to port, so as to avoid a shallow rock that obstructs the wider channel. Although the chart here is GPS compliant, you would not want to undertake this passage in the dark or in a strong wind against current situation.