Reef Islands

Sun 12 Oct 2003 23:51
13th October 2003. From the Indispensable Reefs!

Dear All

Today we caught our first Mahi Mahi or Dolphin Fish, and I really hope it
will not be the last time we catch this wonderful fish. It put up a great
fight as Peter pulled it in. At first we couldn't guess what type of fish
it was as it changed colour so dramatically as it tried to escape. It leapt
clean out of the water several times as it tried to get off the line, bright
bright blue, with a dazzling yellow tail and we were sure at one point we
could see great splashes of pink. I knew it was likely to need 'playing'
before we would be able to land it, but I was not expecting this array of
different colours. By the time we got it along side it was truly warn out
and had reverted to their usual pale green colour indicating that it had
given up the fight, but this was not until it had swam twice around the
boat, trussing us up in our own fishing line. It was over 1.5 metres in
length and we estimated it weighed about the same as a full 20 litre jerry

The size of each fillet was quite something and I think we nearly managed an
eighth of the fish for an enormous lunch (with delicious freshly baked
bread, hot from our pressure cooker oven!) Our problem without a fridge is
keeping the fish. It would seem such a waste not to eat all of it, so we
are experimenting with pickling and bottling, hmm we shall see. But for now
the fresh flesh is simply delicious!

We have spent the last week in the Reef Islands, one for the groups of
islands in the Santa Cruz (Temotu) Province. There have been a number of
important jobs to get done, not least, gluing the bottom back into our
rapidly deteriorating Zodiac, which was only connected to the inflatable
tubes by clinging glue at the front and back with both sides gashed open to
the sea.

In 1958 an English couple set themselves up as traders on the tiny Pigeon
Island in this remote archipelago and the family still lives there today.
It was a perfect place to find ourselves dinghyless, as Ben seemed happy to
ferry us to and from the island for tea and dinner ashore. (We ate turtle
which was surprisingly good. The meat from a turtle goes a long way and so
is a popular catch out here!) He even took us twice on his night-time spear
fishing expeditions on the reef drop-offs. I thought I would be terrified
but not at all, and when we did see a small shark, Peter and I actually
followed it to for a closer look, something I never thought I would find
myself doing! Most exciting of all was when Peter speared a lobster. It
looked really huge under the water, but when we got it above the surface it
was minute. Ben decided it was not even big enough for a starter for the
two of us and so supplemented our supper by spearing us a large adult one.
We feasted.

In exchange we had his daughter's school (all 8 of them) on board to show
them the boat. Peter took them right around the boat getting the mainsail
up and down and teaching the rudimentaries of navigation. They seemed to
enjoy it and we were even asked back to give a further lesson in the class
room. Whether or not they understood anything we don't know but some of
them may have taken something in.

On our last day when the dingy was finally fixed, we went for our only real
explore on our own, just around the nearby island. Five thousand people
live on these very low and fairly small islands, by far the largest
population of anywhere we have been so far, and the village we passed looked
substantially larger and somehow more 'urban' than villages elsewhere. All
the village boys seemed to be out spear fishing and insisted on guiding us
through their shallow reef in safety! The seaward side of the island was
amazing. It is a raised coral atoll and so the overhanging coral cliffs
were very pronounced and a perfect spot for plucky Black-Naped Turns to
breed, who showed their distaste for our presence by vicious aerial attack.
The jungle creeps right up to the edge, with surprisingly large trees
sitting on precarious overhangs. But it was really below the water that was
so amazing. It was an extremely steep drop off that seemed almost to be a
reflection of the scene above. But instead of trees there was amazing,
colourful coral, and instead of birds there were endless schools of fish,
all clearly visible, as though we were looking through glass. The
impression was that I was looking at a mirror where I could see one world on
one side and a related, but totally different world on the other. It was
quite an uncanny experience.

I am now writing two days later. Not having our fridge really has for the
first time taken its toll. We have preserved 3 jars of fish which has
worked and the lids have sucked in, but it looks absolutely revolting, more
like medical specimens than oceanic delicacy. Unfortunately, bottling
(canning) fish takes rather a lot of fresh water and gas and we found
differing instructions, which was confusing. If starting the trip again I
would have taken detailed instructions on how best to preserve fish and
meat. We will let you know how it tastes if we ever pluck up the courage to
eat it!

Thirty hours after catching the fish we tried to cook our last fresh meal in
a delicious tomato sauce. It smelt absolutely fine, and tasted good, but no
sooner had we finished than severe food poisoning set in. I was extremely
sick several times and Peter was nearly as bad. We were still at sea so
which ever of us felt least ghastly stood a watch. Hellish, and worth
noting that fish in the tropics without a fridge simple does not last at
all. Such a shame as I am loathed to catch fish we can not eat. If we had
been hours from land we could have given it away to villagers, but when we
are at sea the sad fact is that we will eat and preserve all we can and just
throw away the rest. I do not want a repeat of last night that is for sure.

Now we are in Star Harbour at the east end of San Christobal (or Makira)
Island, after an extremely fast run from the Reef Islands where we must have
averaged almost 7 knots. We arrived at dawn this morning to negotiate the
tricky entrance, which was not helped by several new islands having been
created during recent cyclones. These islands, now heavily wooded, cover
areas marked as reef on our chart which was surveyed as recently as 1973.

We leave you as we are in the Indispensable Reefs, 40 miles south of Rennell
Island, the most southern island in the Solomons. They are a group of 3
landless reefs and we have the impression of being anchored in the middle of
the ocean with no protection. We can see the breakers just the other side
of the lighter coloured water we are anchored behind, but that is it. No
land at all, not even at low water. We hope to do some snorkelling here,
but so far we have had very overcast conditions and torrential rain!

Hope this finds you all well and happy, and our huge congratulations to
Richard and Harry on the birth of their son. We also know that the birth of
Sass's and Rich's baby is imminent so we are thinking of you!

Our love as ever

Katharine and Peter