After a week of enjoying the hospitality of Santo, filling Ah Ma up with fuel and supplies. On the 24th of June we decided to let go of the mooring and move on.
Ahead of Ah Ma lied 4 to 5 days of downwind sailing towards the port of Honiara in the Solomon Islands. The journey was uneventful. A little rain now and then, good winds from astern sending us in a straight line to our destination. We could take out the Code0 on our new halyard and go goose-winged for many many miles. Ah Ma was in her element, cruising at a steady 7 knots making 180 mile days.
The mood aboard was excellent, with the drunk gone and Alma aboard we had a great team. Everyone knew what they had to do, and the sailing and boat chores quickly got into autopilot mode.
The days flew by. We passed east of San Cristobal Island, into the indispensable straight in between Malaita Island and Guadalcanal, on our Honiara.
On the afternoon of the 28th of June we dropped anchor in front of the rather uninspired town of Honiara. The next day we went ashore to go through the check-in proceedings. All went relatively swiftly, although it took most of the day.
We had to first go to the immigration office which was easy to find, then get a payment slip and bring that to the finance department, a few blocks down. And then bring the proof of payment back to immigration to collect our stamped passports. A day of standing in queues and waiting for officials, island style. We had no intention to stay long in Honiara. The streets were covered in red spit from the betel nut that the local people chewed. A mild stimulant that was used by almost everyone. It felt like the streets were full of drugged people aimlessly sitting around waiting for things to happen. The place had a gloomy vibe.
With all administrations completed and some more last minute supplies from the farmers market, on the morning of the 30th of July, we pulled the anchor. We were towing the dinghy as our next hop would only be a couple of hours. We were off to Roderick Bay on the small island on Ngella. A small bay and village that we found through research.
Roderick Bay was advertised to be a super friendly and safe anchorage. The place was true to advertisements. Upon arrival we were welcomed by a couple of kids in a wooden canoe called a dugout. The boys tried to keep afloat as we towed them along into the bay. They helped us to a solid mooring in front of the village.
We were offered a welcome gift, a nice bouquet in a coconut. A small gesture that made us feel especially welcomed.
Hooked on for the evening we were visited by the village chief. A friendly guy that went by the name of John. He assured us we would be safe in his bay and offered his assistance in finding good snorkeling spots. Of course there was the ask for all sorts of things but nothing as pushy as in Vanuatu. We helped him with some rice, flour and the charging of some of his devices.
We enjoyed a calm evening in the bay, occasionally dodging the rain squalls. I took the opportunity to use the heavy rain to wash down the deck.
Further down the bay was the wreck of the World Discovery. We could see it lying there from our mooring. The World Discovery is/was a small cruise ship that hit a reef in the passage between the islands in the year 2000. The captain decided to beach the vessel to avoid a humanitarian disaster. The ship has been lying on the beach since that day. Around her a whole new ecosystem evolved with all sorts of colorful coral and fish. A perfect and idyllic spot for snorkeling.
The days in the bay were filled with swimming, snorkeling, boat chores and shore visit. Alma climbed the mast to untangle our quarantine flag. It had been wrapped in such a way that it was stuck beyond rescue. But as idyllic as the bay was, we needed to move on as we had a crew swap planned in port Moresby in a couple of weeks time.
Another testament to the fact that one should not sail with a schedule. You never know when you find a spot you want to stay in for a couple of weeks. Roderick Bay was such a spot. You could easily spend a couple of weeks in the bay, or at least until you run out of refreshments.
On the 3rd of July we let go of the mooring and waved goodbye to our new friends. Leaving Roderick Bay behind we set sail for the port of Noro. This would be our check out point from the Solomons. A short hop to another uninspiring village. The passage would take no more than 3 days, but we decided to break up the trip for a late lunch and a quiet evening at the Arnavon Atoll. But not before returning the visitors book to John in which we left a page to mark our short visit.
The islands serve as a nesting grounds for hawksbill turtles, supporting one of the largest populations of this species in the South Pacific. As planned we reached the atoll late in the morning and threaded our way through the reefs to find safe anchorage. Atop the atoll has not much appeal, no more than a dead tree that marks the spot.
But under the waterline it was supposed to be a magical wonderland. So after a nice and calm lunch, we lowered the swimming platform and took to the seas in the hunt for turtles, sharks and other sea creatures. Some of us were lucky to see them, myself I just saw a whole lot of little fishies. But as we all returned to the boat after a couple of hours, the skies turned dark and suddenly there were 40 knot winds and horizontal rains pushing us back into the coral. All alarms started screaming, ‘Anchor Drag! Anchor Drag!’.
A moment of organized chaos commenced. I started the engine, Ben made sure all machines shut up and helped Alma to pull up the Anchor. With the black skies and horizontal rains I could see nothing else than the screen of the plotter with the line on it that showed how we came in. I tried to the best of my ability to follow the line out, but with 40 knots on the nose it was a struggle to keep the boat from being blown to either side. But we managed to escape the Atoll unharmed and were a bit startled. No quiet night for us, the Atoll spit us out, so we were on the open ocean again, making our way to Noro.
Noro is an industrial tuna processing harbor. The smells welcome you when you enter the bay. We reached our anchoring spot in the morning on the 5th of July. Talk about a ‘sh***t’ hole. We dropped anchor near a giant floating metal tank up the bay. The waters were calm, but the many transport skiffs that raced full boar in front and back of the boat made for an uncomfortable stay.
We went ashore to find the officials with stamps and forms. They immigration officials were found above a small complex right outside the market. Customs however was some way up the road in what I can only describe as someone’s back-room. Walking through the town of Noro made Honeria look like an urban oasis. Red betel spit everywhere. The shops had nothing for sale other than processed foods from China or Bangladesh. I was hoping to find a restaurant or coffee shop to sit back and relax for a bit. But there was absolutely nothing in the town, other than a dodgy Chinese restaurant. We ended up having an ice-cream at a small convenience store and headed back to the boat.
After a team meeting, we unanimously decided to move on, and so we did. Off to Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby. A long passage lied ahead full of obstacles and surprises.