We left Sola on Vanualava in the Torres islands in northern Vanuatu around the 30th September. We then went via the remote Banks Islands to Santa Cruz or Ndendo Island in the eastern Solomons. We had a fairly unpleasant, rolley trip of about 170NM. As we arrived in Lata on Ndendo Island, a cup of boiling coffee spillled onto Paul's ankle. This became quite a severe scald which the local "hospital" was unable to treat. With advice from the Burns Unit at Concord Hospital, Medi-Honey (from Two Up) and gauze dressings, it cleared up after a couple of weeks. Being unable to walk properly, we stayed in Lata before heading off.
We left Lata around 5pm on the 18th October in fairly calm conditions, heading for Santa Ana island, about 200NM west. Two Up delayed their departure because they travel faster than we do. Around 7pm, the breeze picked up and continued to build with a corresponding increase in the seas which were coming in on the port beam. Sometime around 10pm, there was a loud clatter on deck - the lower stays of the mast had come undone and fallen on the deck. With the loowers fgone, the base of the mast was wobbling around quite a bit. We pulled in the sail, and put on the running backstays which attach about 2/3rds up the mast. We managed to contact Two Up on the VHF radio; they hadn't left Lata yet. Peter said he would wait for us to return, so we turned around. At this stage we were about 25 - 30 miles out.
The seas had continued to build, and motoring into them was shaking the mast considerably. after further discussions, we decided to resume our course with a small amount of sail out. We continued for a couple of hours, but still taking quite a lot of movement from the waves which made the mast wobble even more. It was too dangerous to try to attach more lines to stabilise the mast. Eventually, the lower spreaders were pulled out of their sockets. This destabilised the mast even further - there was nothing we could do but go below to the safety of the cabin and wait.
Around 2:30am, the inevitable happpened; the mast had flexed so much that it fractured and fell down, over the starboard side. The lower section was held up by the boom, which had come down on top of the dodger, bending the bars.
At 6am Two Up caught up with us. Peter had an extremely difficult job getting his dinghy down in the 2m seas. He was able to, and again with difficulty, boarded Meridian. We then set to, trying to raise the mast and headsail with a winch. With the mast hanging vertically down, it was an impossible task. Without a mast, the seas were causing Meridian to roll excessively - so much so that Peter and Paul were seasick, the first time ever for Paul on Meridian. We were able to unbolt the boom gooseneck so that the mainsail was saved. In the end it was decided to cut the rig free so the inverter was switched on and the angle grinder used to cut the remaining shrouds.
With all of the wires and ropes out of the way, we were able to start the motor. We maintained contact with Two Up by radio throughout the remainder of the journey which was not pleasant. The winds and seas kept increasing, with squalls up to 40kt at times. It was with great relief that we reached Santa Ana around 3pm on Friday afternoon. Soon we were approached by canoes wanting to trade and ask where our mast was.
We went ashore on Saturday to meet the Chief and other villagers, and were taken to the freshwater lake by some local children. On Sunday we went to the church service at 9am. It was the end-of-year session for the Sunday School, so we were treated to presentations, readings and prize-giving for every class. Our pleasant stay in Santa Ana was cut short by a Tropical Cyclone Warning. The early predictions showed Xavier heading west, directly towards us! We made our farewells after church and headed west to Star Harbour, about 15NM on San Cristobal island.
As we approached Star Harbour, we caught a 1.2m Wahoo, our first. This was filleted and shared with one of the locals. We anchored in between mangroves with a good holding, mud bottom. We put out lots of chain and waited. Xavier defied the predictions and headed south then southeast towards Vanuatu, leaving us alone. Meanwhile we tried to contact a boat-builder who might be able to make us a temporary wooden mast. In the end, we decided that it would be too difficult to do there, so pressed on towards Honiara.
The next stop along the northern coast of San Cristobal Island was KiraKira, the provincial centre. It was a reasonable-sized town with quite a few stores , police with RAMSI presence, and a fuel depot. As we were now motoring everywhere, we bought some more diesel. From Kirakira we proceeded west via Ugi island and Maro'u Bay.
The distance from Maro'u Bay to Guadalcanal was 35NM, so an 8am start. We were heading for Tivanipupu Resort, located on a small island inside the reef on the far eastern end of Guadalcanal. Around 4pm we tied up stern-to to a tree, with Two Up rafted alongside. This was quite a convenient arrangement for socialising, so ofcourse we took full advantage of the situation.
A visit to the resort was quite an eye-opener. There were no guests, so the restaurant was closed. It certainly looked an up-market resort, well away from everything. We also managed to get a ride to the local markets on the mainland This was a disappointment as there wasn't much of interest to us - we don't chew betelnut. After a few days lazing about here, we decided to move on towards Honiara. The next anchorage was at an island that had a resort many years before - there was no sign of it now. After an overnight stop, we arrived in Honiara around 4pm. With the assistance of John on 'Amante' we got our sternlines tied to the breakwater not far from the Point Cruz Yacht Club.
Honiara is not a great town - pretty grubby with uncollected rubbish and betelnut everywhere. The wharf area is very busy, much more so than Pt Vila. The Government buildings look more substantial, there are even muli-storey buildings, but the main drag is nothing like Vila with its upmarket duty-free stores. Being near the PCYC was very convenient as we could leave our dinghy on the beach while we went shopping. It also was a great shady building with a breeze flowing through - and we did buy an ale or two while sheltering from the heat. The meals were pretty good too, and relatively cheap.
While in Honiara we chased up steel wire and pipe for a temporary mast. We also spoke to Noel from Liapari about building the mast - he assured us he could do it. Of course we also shopped for groceries and other bits and pieces in the many Chinese stores. It was with great excitement that we discovered the supermarket out at Palatina Plaza. Here we could buy blue cheese! and Pringles! all at a price of course.
Guadalcanal was a major theatre of WWII with the Americans and Japanese having many sea battles in the waters around the Solomons. The strait north of Honiara is known as 'Iron Bottom Sound' because 60 ships were sunk there. We had a brief tour around Honiara seeing some of the battle sights and the war memorials to the Americans and Japanese.
Peter and Donna on Two Up were waiting for a new gearbox for one of their engines. It was shipped from Sydney and was expected to arrive a few das later. After nearly two weeks, Peter was becoming extremely frustrated trying to find out where it was. Eventually Greg in Sussex Inlet was able to track it down - it was in Fiji! Eventually it arrived and after clearing Customs, Peter had it aboard. The day it arrived the weather turned nasty with a bad swell throwing us about, so we decided to leave that afternoon.
Our destination was the Russell Islands about 60NW west. We motored through the night in fairly calm conditions, arriving around 7am for our entry into the Sunshine Passage. We found an anchorage in Tillotson Cove which wasn''t very scenic but it was fairly quiet. We had a few canoes wanting to trade, but no carvers. Peter caught a 11.2m wahoo just outside the passage.
After a day's rest we went further down the Sunshine Passage into an inlet with a fairly shallow entrance over a reef. This was negotiated without incident and we were soon anchored some distance away freom the village. Very soon after we were inundated with canoes, most of them containing children. Again the trading started, mainly for fruit and vegetables. One man offered to find crayfish for us, but his search was unsuccessful - in fact we haven't seen a crayfish in the Solomons. The next day we went ashore to meet the chief and talk to the villagers. Some older boys offered to take us for a walk to the beach so off we went, accompanied by about 30 children. When we reached the beach they happily dived in and had a great time.
When we left we had a convoy of about 20 canoes escorting us down the inlet. Our next destination was West Bay. We anchored in a narrow river near a small village with only a couple of families in it. They were all very friendly and of course wanted to trade. A highlight of our stay there was being taken up the river to a fresh water swimming hole. This was much appreciated, particularly as we saw a crocodile sunning himself on a log not all that far from our boats.
Once again we did an overnighter as the distance was around 65NM, too far to do in daylight. We arrived next morning off the islands in drizzly weather, visibility not good and uncertain GPS position. We managed to sort out our position and make our entrance through the reef at Wickham Passage, then anchor nearby. The weather eventually cleared and we had an enjoyable exploration of the reef at low tide, and a snorkel. Peter was examining the beach as a likely place that he could careen Two Up to put the new gearbox in. He decided that the tidal range wasn't big enough to allow him to do the work. (He did it later at another place, with the higher tide from a full moon).
It wasn't long before the carvers found us. A boat with three of them arrived with samples of their work. Some of it was very good, and we managed to trade for some nice pieces.
Time was marching on, and we had to get up to Liapari to get Meridian settled before we flew back to Sydney to see the family on the 14th. So we headed west while Two Up went north to see more of Marovo lagoon.
This was an easy daysail from Marovo; we arrived around 3pm and anchored some distance from the village. It didn't keep the carvers away though, we soon had them knocking on the hull. We convinced them that we didn't need any more.
This also was an easy daysail, and again the entrance was narrow, over a reef. The anchorage was fairly small and deep but safe. The villagers here were in two areas; one lot being SDA, the others Uniting. We only stayed two days, then it was time to move on.
That was the plan, except we had more Disaster!