And On Into the Solomon Sea

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Sat 7 Dec 2013 04:19
Noon Position: 10 08.2 S 151 20.0 E
Course: North Speed: 4 knots
Wind: North east F3 gentle breeze
Sea: rippled Swell: NE 0.5 meters
Weather: overcast, warm and humid
Days run: 76 nm sailed, 66 nm made good.

We have had an interesting twenty four hours, but first let me clear up a blog administrative matter. For those who follow and have been paying attention (all three of you – you know who you are) then you will have noticed that my blog entries have been jumping all over the place. Unfortunately I have been having some satphone reception problems which are likely to be ongoing until I can have the whole set up looked at by someone a little more computer minded than I am. I suspect it is mostly an antenna issue, but there seems to be minor problems with the phone, turning itself off for no reason for instance, and some software issues on the computer (bloody Microsoft!). Anyway, read the blogs in order of their geographical positions (no I am not going backwards, but I do like the suggestion that it is a clever ruse to confuse potential pirates), not their date and time, and it should all more or less make some sort of sense.

Despite my concerns over the accuracy of Sylph’s charts, they have in fact proven quite reliable thus far. As we sailed over the shoal patches the depth sounder indicated depths which were consistent with those shown on the charts, and disturbed water appeared precisely where the charts indicated they would. This did not lead to complacency on my part however, and we have continued sound navigational practice of using all information to hand to ensure we have a reasonable level of confidence as to where we are in relation to navigational hazards (most of the time).

Late yesterday afternoon we exercised our right of innocent passage though PNG territorial waters, at times coming very close to the coast. In fact with the light airs and interesting coastline I decided to take a bit of a short cut and motor through the strait in between Basilaki and Kiati Islands. Initially I thought the landscape was uninhabited, as I could see no sign of human activity anywhere, but, as we approached the strait, a couple of small outrigger dugout canoes appeared. I have no idea what they made of me. From the distance I was at observing them through the binoculars they seemed curious but circumspect. I waved and they waved back, and then continued about their business, presumably fishing, with an occasional glance my way. How many cruising boats might come this way I do not know. This is my first time in these waters and I regret not having the opportunity to stop a while. I imagine during the cruising season they must get quite a few sailors passing this way, hence perhaps the only passing interest in me, but with a quizzical curiosity about what I might be doing in these waters at this time of year.

As we entered the straits I could see children playing on a beach and in its shallows on Kaiti Island. I felt a strong urge to sail over, drop anchor, swim ashore and join in the fun. As we entered the small strait between the islands I got the impression that the small crowd on the beach had made its way to a clearing in the dense foliage which acted as boat shed to a number of canoes hauled up under the arbour’s canopy. A larger fibreglass runabout lay at anchor a short distance offshore, with a good sized outboard hung off the transom. I suspect this may have been used more as a trading vessel between villages than for fishing, for I saw numerous canoes on the water as I motored by, but not a single runabout. In one canoe, a strong looking young man with a full dark beard paused in his paddling to give me a wave and a bright smile as Sylph passed by. The spectators ashore seemed wistful, looking at me, as if they were just waiting for me to come ashore so they could break out in song and dance. I felt positively guilty at my lack of solidarity with my fellow humans.

The main reason I chose not to stop in PNG was that, because of my rather haphazard planning, I did not have time to acquire a visa before departing Cairns, but also because of the number of reports of attacks on cruising sailors, some of which have been life threatening. It is a shame, but as I looked upon this scene, I, who am quite poor by western standards, must look incredibly rich to these people. I am able to imagine the young men of some villages, perhaps less successful than others in acquiring status and a partner, like alienated young mean anywhere, seeking means perhaps not approved of by their culture to acquire compensatory material benefits. After all, why should I have so much, and they so little, at least in material possessions? Life is hardly fair. I do not complain, but simply observe that it is a pity it is not otherwise.

We cleared the strait and were back into deep water before sunset, where we regained a little wind and managed to sail for much of the night. At three this morning we encountered a very heavy downpour. Lightning flashed to the north east, but now that I reflect upon it, I heard no thunder, so it must not have been as close as it appeared. I reduced sail just in case there was any wind in the passing thunderhead, but no wind followed, in fact no wind at all is what followed and we were left wallowing, becalmed. At six we were still drifting, a small sea was running causing Sylph to bob and roll, and the sails to slat. I dropped the sails. We were in clear water, so I returned to my bunk, the fan directed at my face to reduce the humidity and to make sleep possible.

Come mid-morning there was still no sign of any wind. Looking at my forecast this seemed likely to be the case for the next several days. I hoisted the mainsail, just in case, started the engine, donned the MP3 player and listened to some "Moby Dick" as we motored at low revs to the north. What an incredible life Melville led: a merchant seamen, a US naval sailor, a deserter, a whaler, a brilliant writer, and lastly an obscure forgotten customs agent, dying ignorant of his genius. I was listening to the second half of chapter eighty one, where Pequod’s three whale boats bring an old blind whale with a damaged fin to a standstill for the final kill:

“. . . horribly pitiable to see. But pity there was none. For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.”

Japan is going to be interesting.

We now have a little wind. The motor is quiet, the sails are drawing and we are making a comfortable three knots to the north. We are ahead of schedule and despite the calms, continue to make good time.

All is well.