Onwards to Papua New Guinea

Fri 5 Dec 2003 14:27
6th December 2003. Leaving the Solomon Sea after over two weeks in Gizo.

Dear All

From Rendova we moved quite quickly to try and get to Gizo in order to sort
ourselves out before clearing out for PNG. We stopped at Noro which is the
Solomon Islands up and coming port and is the heart of Soltai, the tuna
canning company. It is a horrid commercial port, but it has diesel half the
price of anywhere else so worth the stop. We then sailed around the coast
of Kolombangara (Water King Island) stopping at various places en route. We
had a lovely swim in a fresh water river, a dinghy explore around an island
lagoon, and were given a huge coconut crab which had the strongest claws
imaginable, able to completely crush a drinks can, and doing quite a lot of
damage to the handle of our washing up brush, but delicious!

Gizo may be SI's second largest town but it is actually pretty small.
However it has a good array of Chinese shops and supplies of almost anything
you could want. We had a number of plans for Gizo: Get Peter his diving
certificate; buy all the bits to build a new dinghy; see if we could get the
fridge mended and generally make the boat more prepared for the trip up to
PNG, Micronesia and the Philippines.

Dive Gizo have not had very many customers recently as there have been
"tensions" (conflict largely over land ownership disputes) in SI between the
islands of Malaita and Guadalcanal and the Australian government had put out
a warning advising no travel to the whole of SI for the last few years. We
hoped that this meant a diving course would be cheaper. Indeed they did us
a huge favour and put Peter through the whole Padi course as an experienced
diver and let me sit in on the whole thing and effectively do a full
refresher course for the price of just the dives. It was great and such a
brilliant place to do the diving. The coral reefs are amazing and we saw
the most enormous array of different corals and fish from huge and vast fan
corals to the tiny very pretty nudibranch worms and everything in-between.
There has just been a coral bloom, where the coral all simultaneously
spawns, so at times the visibility was not as perfect as it sometimes is and
it was a little like swimming through a pink snow storm, but it was still
amazing. The highlight was certainly diving on the wreck of the Japanese
cargo ship that was sunk during the war and lies in between 8-37 meters
close to Gizo. It was amazing to see. The actual hole that sunk the ship
was surprisingly small and was full of coral and fish. It was an
extraordinary mixture of fantastically beautiful coral, 100s of different
fish and the great hulk of the huge rusting ship. There was all sorts of
cargo still there from saki bottles and ammunition to a very obvious tank
and a totally non recognisable motorbike. We were able to swim right
through one of the holds and out of a hole in the bottom of the ship made by
the initial salvage team. I was particularly struck by the sight of three
enormous yellow and black angel fish, swimming in graceful formation against
the backdrop of the huge rusting ribs of the ship's hull. It was absolutely
stunning to swim up the outside of the hull and find yourself looking down
(she was lying on her starboard side) over the deck and open holds with
coral dripping off every surface and layer.

The fixing of the fridge was less of a success. It started so well with
Lawrence Omo absolutely convinced that it would be easy to fix and that ours
was a simple and small system. And we so nearly did get it fixed! We
ordered the gas and refrigerant oil from Honiara and despite everyone else's
difficulty in getting things sent up by ship, it duly turned up within three
days and on the right boat. Lawrence found the leak in the condenser and it
was mended and is now back in situ. But we ran into problems over the
compressor. Peter has always been very dubious about getting it going again
as it had totally seized, but Lawrence was sure it was usable. He got it
freed and moving, all be it a little stiffly, but we all thought it was
enough to give it a try. Then Lawrence was drinking with some of his
'wontaks' and they had some sort of disagreement. He left the party and
sadly it was decided that it would serve Lawrence right if they stole one
vital bolt from our compressor and threw it away to "do him over on the
job." It is unfortunately an unusual thread size and so no chance of just
buying another here. Lawrence cobbled together some sort of alternative,
but it first caused the compressor leaked refrigerant gas when under load
and then broke, so we had to give up. It was such a shame, but we are much
further down the line of getting the fridge up and running than we were. We
own enough gas and our own set of refrigeration gauges so that that if we
can sort out the compressor we should be able to fix the rest ourselves.
And there is hope as it is the same compressor that is used in some car air
conditioning systems and so we will just keep trying! Apparently this is
not an untypical story!

The parts for the new dinghy were bought and the wood cut and planed to
size, but building it in Gizo would have meant endless 'help' from the local
children and men and although very friendly it proved quite a hindrance! But
other small jobs were achieved. The awning improved and strengthened, the
leaking windows fixed, the engine thoroughly checked over. But each small
job takes a day as so much of the time was spent finding any breeze at all
and standing in it to try and evaporate some of the sweat that literally
poured off and the other part of the day was spent either fending off
carvers and children in canoes or socialising. It was the first time since
Vanuatu really that we have seen any other yachts and we met some very nice
young couples from the US and spent some time with them. We even went to a
'potluck' dinner for thanksgiving to which I brought my banana and lime
cake, again.

So what with socialising with other yachts, two English medical students on
their elective and some Canadian cyclists cycling the "ring of fire",
diving, and attempting to tackle our bigger failures like the fridge and our
unusable dinghy, we had a very interesting time in Gizo, but we were not
sorry to leave a town after two weeks and are now on our way to try out PNG.

We have just sailed (motored) past the stunning Bougainville Island which is
technically part of PNG although ethnically more part of the Solomon
Islands. It sounds like a very interesting place but civil war makes it
unwise (or just plain stupid) to stop so we had to look at this densely
wooded volcanic island from 7 miles off shore and read about it in the
Lonely Planet. We are heading for Lihir Island which is north of New
Ireland and has a volcano and a gold mine and is apparently a port of entry.
We shall see.

We have decided that our next post restate will be on Yap in Federated
States of Micronesia. If all goes to plan we would like to leave there in
the third week in January, and we are not sure how long things will take
from the UK, but I don't expect Christmas helps. The address to send stuff
to is:


British Yacht 'Kokiri'

General Delivery



Federated States of Micronesia


We would love to hear from anyone who felt like writing. We are also
checking our email whenever we can, which admittedly is not very often so
far as internet was not the first choice method of communication for most
Solomon Islanders, but internet cafés should get more frequent. The address
of that is pingmarine {CHANGE TO AT} hotmail {DOT} com

Hope that the Christmas shopping rush is not getting you all down in Britain
too much. We are thinking of the toiling up and down Oxford Street in the
sleet as we steam in 35 degrees C.

Love to you all as ever

Katharine and Peter

PS. We've just stopped in the northern lagoon of the Green Islands to repair
the leech cord in the genoa. This is our first PNG harbour, very
unfrequented, and the ominous drumming from the natives in the nearby
village is eerie at least, if not thoroughly disconcerting. What's for