Saturday, November 30, 2019

Back in the Philippines

Over the last couple of months, we made our way from Papua New Guinea, through NE Indonesia, and back to our marina in Davao, Mindanao, Philippines. Our total mileage for the year is a little over 7,000 nautical miles. It was a long and busy trip.

We've just spent 2 weeks doing maintenance and getting ready to leave the boat for a couple of months. We fly out Monday and will be back in late January/early February to get the boat ready for another foray into Indonesia.

I do plan to try to fill in the highlights of our trip down to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, so keep checking up on us here!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Exploring Marovo Lagoon

Exploring Marovo Lagoon
April 22-May 7, June 11-12, July 3-16

Our Tracks (Red Lines) Through Marovo Lagoon
Note lack of detail on chart!
Our Tracks (Red Lines) in the N side of Marovo
Note all the reefy areas! (Click on picture to expand)

We had been hearing about Marovo Lagoon ever since we had a "Tell us about the Solomon Islands" session with cruising friends in Palau in 2014. We were finally there, and in 3 visits during April, May, June, and July, we thoroughly explored the entire lagoon area.

Following Indigo on our First Foray into Marovo Lagoon

On our visit April 22 to May 8, we were on a mission to get further south and east before the SE Trades started increasing--supposedly this was around May 15. So we didn't do as much exploring as we'd have liked to, but we did cover the highlights.

Our first stop was Matikuri, where we'd had a number of reports of the Matikuri Lodge and it's welcome from other cruisers. Sadly, the driving force behind Matikuri Lodge had passed away a few years earlier, and the rest of the family fumbled the ball. A few bad reports on Trip Advisor from disappointed tourists, plus new logging activity in the area, and it was barely operating. They did have 2 guests while we were there, and we managed to get them to make us dinner one night. And we hired them to take the 7 of us to snorkle the small boat tunnel to the WNW of Matikuri Lodge.

Our Anchorage at Matikuri

And a Gorgeous Sunset

We never stopped at Matikuri again, as we found the anchorage pretty buggy (small black flies, not mozzies).

We did a day stop at Seghe, the main town (with an airport). Liz wanted to mail a letter to her mum, so we set about finding the post office. It turns out that there is not one, but we were directed to a small store at the SDA end of the village. The proprieter of that store handled the mail--either putting it on the several-times-a-week Solomon Airlines flight, or on the twice a week freight/ferry. He had no stamps but assured Liz that her letter would get stamped and mailed when it reached Honiara.

The Non-Descript Town of Seghe

The Seghe Airport (A Grass Strip)

We were surprised to find pretty good cell coverage in Marovo. A few places had only a glimmer of a signal, but most places, if we got our phone up high, we had enough signal so that we could do light internet, using our phone as a hotspot. The only challenge was keeping credit on the phone. For some reason, the Solomons Islands are excluded from the countries that our online topup site would work with ( and associated Ding app). Ding has worked in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, but it doesn't work in the Solomons. That meant we had to find someone who could sell us top-up. Sometimes we had to give money to someone with our phone number written on a piece of paper, and they would hike to the next village and purchase credit for us from a tiny store that had both My Telekom credit, and signal.

And if you weren't careful and let your data package run out or expire, it would run through all your credit and you were out of business. This happened to me twice before I got smart and kept the credit on Dave's phone (he didn't do data), and only transferred it to my phone when I was ready to buy a data package.

So we bought some top-up from a store in Seghe, also gasoline, and a few veggies. The first time through Seghe, there was a nice but very small veggie market on the south side of the island, near the store where we bought a few things and some dinghy gas. The next time, when I really needed veggies (Saturday morning when my daughter was flying in for a week in Marovo), the market was not operating! Apparently the big market is Friday, and Saturday is the day off.

We stopped for a day at legendary Uepi Dive Resort on the north side of Marovo Lagoon. (Note: Uepi is pronounced several ways by people in Marovo... some say Yoo-pee, some say Wee-pee, and some say Yoo-ee-pee, we're not sure which is correct!)

This is a beautiful exclusive resort where people pay ~$300 per night for a room and $100 per dive. We didn't expect to go diving, but did hope to go in for dinner. But we didn't have a great experience there. First, as we were trying to anchor in a sand spot (avoiding the coral patches carefully), a boat came out and told us we couldn't anchor there because we were on a heavily traveled route and boats traveled through there at night. (false, it turned out). Dave asked where we should anchor, and the boat led us to a deeper corally spot, and closer to the resort! It was stupid, seemed like just harassment.

But it was Dave's birthday, so we really wanted to go in for dinner. We cleaned up and put on our best yachtie dress-up clothes and took the dinghy in to look around. The workers at the dock were friendly enough, but when we went in and tried to make a reservation for dinner, we were told they couldn't accommodate us. What about the next night? Nope. We never did get to meet/talk to the owner/manager--just an underling who couldn't make a decision on her own. The owner/manager was "unavailable". Probably some yachtie took advantage of the situation some time in the past, and screwed it up for the rest of us... That's why we (and Seven Seas Cruising Association) emphasize the need for leaving a "clean wake". One bad deed by one yachtie can screw it up for all yachties for years to come.

We did enjoy the weekly carver's display at Uepi. The resort permits all the local carvers to come one day a week to exhibit their carvings. They are strictly regulated by the resort as to negotiating tactics, etc, so as not to bother the guests. This is a great place to see all the best carvings in one spot. But because it is held at an upscale resort, the prices that the carvers are asking tend to be fairly high.

An Exquisite Bowl with Shell Inlay

Several Items Including an Ebony War Canoe

A Muzu Muzu Carved out of Ebony

Nearly every carver had Muzu Muzu's for sale. These were traditionally mounted on the bow of the war canoe, and when the canoe was going out to collect heads, the man had a skull in his hands (this one has a bird, which signifies peace).

A Wall Hanging of the "Spirit of the Solomons" Style

Many carvers also had "Spirit of the Solomons" carvings, depicting the many facets of Solomon Islands life. Some were carved as wall hangings and some as stand-up statues.

From Uepi, we took a break from carvers and canoes and anchored off a beach near Lumalihe Pass. We took the dinghies out for a snorkel on the outer wall. The water was very calm and clear. I would have like to stay another day and make a dive there, but Dave and our buddies wanted to press on to the next carver village.

The next stop after Lumalihe was looking for the world renowned carver called "John Wayne" in Telina Village. We're pretty sure that that's not his real name, but it is the name that all the cruisers passing through over the years have referred to him as. Supposedly he is/was the best carver in Marovo. But we were a little disappointed in what he showed us. Apparently most of his carvings are already consigned and he didn't have a lot on hand.

Dave Looking at Rocky's Artifacts

We did really enjoy meeting his nephew, Rocky, who lives on the island just offshore of Telina. Rocky is a very talented and imaginative carver. He is not happy to just keep making the same tourist pieces, but is more of an artist exploring his art. He showed us the book he was studying, with pictures and sketches and mythology from early explorers in the Solomons.

Rocky's Oceanic Mythology Book

A Collection of Some of Rocky's Carvings

One of Rocky's "Spirit of the Solomons" Carvings

The next day we moved 2 miles east to Cheke Village. A couple of the Cheke carvers had come out to visit us in their canoes when we were anchored at Lumalihe Pass, and we had put them off then by saying "We'll come visit your village later." "Later" came quickly and as soon as we dropped our anchor, visitors came by in their canoes.

A Drone Shot of our Fleet at Cheke Village

A Close Picture of the Point at Cheke Village

They are quiet and respectful but very canny in their dealings with visiting yachts. We had trouble saying "no" even when we had acquired way too many carvings or didn't need any more veggies. But it is exhausting having visitors stop by.

Veggies for Sale!

More Carvings!

We Call These Kids "Lolly Hunters"

Often they will pilfer a few fruits or veggies from their family garden, and come out seeking "lollies"

One we didn't buy, that we wish we had

All of the villages are on the "mainland" island of Vangunu Island. There are no villages on the outer rim, though all the reefs and islands are owned by someone. The villages stay on the mainland due to a lack of water on the outer islands. But men and families in dugout canoes travel all over the lagoon under paddle power. There are a few motor boats--each village owns at least one--to go the long distance into the main town of Seghe.

So, when we wanted to take a break from all the visitors, we headed back out to the outer rim. This time we anchored on the NE side in a place called Pore Pore. We didn't have any other cruiser's tracks going in, but we did have good satellite pictures. We found a gap in the reef that was 8-10 feet going in over the reef, and then it deepens out to 20-25 ft nice sand, off a pretty beach. AND NO VILLAGE! We stayed a day there the first time and came back twice more later for several days at a time.

Pore Pore Anchorage

The final stop on our first pass through Marovo Lagoon was a village called Mbili. (pronounced Billy with a short mm at the beginning). The actual village is on an island just outside the main lagoon rim. But the anchorage is inside the pass, next to a small dive operation called Solomon Dive Adventures. Lisa has been running a dive operation in Marovo for a bunch of years, but has moved locations several times. She is current located on a Tambapeava Island, just inside Mbili Pass.

The first guy out to see us in a canoe was Paul, and he offered to arrange a "showing" of carvings that afternoon, so all the villagers could put out there wares at once, and we wouldn't be inundated by canoes for the next 2 days.

The Mbili Carving Show

We stayed nearly a week in Mbili. It was a nice anchorage. Lisa was friendly, and even shared one of her favorite lagoon dive spots with us.

Lisa's Deck

The dive is called "Pipes" it the terrain is so-so, but the "critters" were pretty cool. We encountered 2 big, friendly octopi, and a bunch of other smaller critters.

A Very Curious Octopus

A Large School of Squirrelfish

Great Shot of a Hermit Crab

Lisa also arranged for us to take a trip up a "river" to see a family of canoe makers. The primary canoe maker moved out into an uninhabited area to be close to where the trees grow. He moved his extended family with him, and there is now a small school and several families with a lot of cute kids.

The Gang enroute to the Canoe Carver's Abode

The Channel Marker for the River Entrance

At the Canoe Maker's Village

Everyone Wants Their Picture Taken

Checking out their Pictures on the Smartphone

A Canoe in the Making

Shaping the Canoe

More Shaping

And We Buy a Souvenir

There are two weekly ferries that transit Marovo Lagoon in both directions, they leave from Honiara and go to Gizo, making several stops in the Lagoon, including a stop near Mbili, and also at Seghe. They turn around in Gizo and head right back to Honiara. It would be a cool way to see a good cross section of the Solomon Islands.

One of the Weekly Honiara to Gizo Ferries

We came back to Marovo Lagoon when daughter Nicki visited. More on their visit in another post.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Repairing Your Boat in Exotic Places (Solomon Islands Version)

We are currently in the Solomon Islands. The Solomons are a tiny island country of approximately 900 islands, located off the east coast of Australia. They have had an interesting and varied history, but they are most famous these days for being the site of some major World War II battles (Guadalcanal being the most famous). They achieved independence from Britain in 1976, but still consider Queen Elizabeth II their queen (according to the Wikipedia article).

Like many other developing countries, a lot of the working infrastructure is created and maintained by foreigners. In the Solomons, it is mainly Australians who support the first-world infrastructure that can be found here.

After an encounter with a log in February on our way to PNG (account here and emergency repairs here), and another encounter with a reef also in PNG, we needed to do a little repair work on our bottom. It wasn't urgent--we weren't sinking, but we had a few weeks with no commitments, so Dave decided it might be a good time to get hauled out. It was also about time to change the oil in the saildrives.

We discovered that there are actually 3 haulout facilities in the Solomons (that we know of). We contacted all 3 shipyards and got verbal quotes to haul our 44 foot (14m) catamaran, and have her out for 5 days while we did the repairs we need. The two shipyards in/near Tulagi (Sesape and Avi Avi) are commercial yards. Tulagi is an island that a ~one hour (wet) outboard ride to Honiara, so getting supplies and repair materials is simpler. But neither location is very nice. Tulagi has a bad reputation for theft and boardings (though once up in the shipyard, there are probably guards/dogs).

The 3rd option, Liapari, is semi-commercial, but also a cruiser hangout. Noel and his wife Rosie have a nice area with a pavilion for cruiser happy hours and potlucks. With some forward planning, Noel can get stuff shipped in from Australia, or tell you where (if) you can find it in Gizo or Honiara. They do have some basic cabins on the property, so you can live aboard or in one of their cabins (at extra cost, of course). Noel runs a shuttle to Gizo at least once a week.

Liapari has 2 slipways, one set up for monohulls and a new one that Noel has recently commissioned for wider/bigger vessels up to 200 tons. The carriage on the big haulout is 24 feet wide, but there is a frame that can sit on the carriage and go under the bridge deck of a catamaran, to haul cats wider than 24 feet. Power is available (240v) and water is nearby, out of a rain-fed tank (we used buckets as we didn’t need much, but you could rig some kind of a hose if necessary).

Noel also has space at his dock for a few boats, and also a few moorings (lots of anchoring space too). A number of cruisers have left boats in the water at Noel's dock for several months at a time. Liapari is above 8 degrees S, so theoretically out of the cyclone belt. The harbor is completely enclosed by 70% land and 30% reef, and would be fine to weather anything but a direct hit from a major cyclone (unlikely given its location). Noel provides a water taxi once or twice a week so cruisers can get needed supplies from nearby Gizo. Gizo also has an airport link that, via Honiara, can get you to Brisbane and international airlines.

Noel has an extensive workshop and can do fabrication and welding, as well as mechanical repairs.

If you are in need of a haulout in the Solomons, we can recommend Liapari. Our Solomon Islands Compendium, a free downloadable PDF found on our Files Page, includes pricing and contact details for all 3 shipyards. SW Pacific Compendiums

Dave Surveying the Haulout Mechanics

The 200 Ton Trolley

Approaching the Ramp with Trolley Down

Up We Go!

Fully Out

Because we opted to just sit on our keels, rather than on Noel's strong frame that would allow lifting under the bridge deck, we stayed at a minor tilt during our haulout. But if you haul out using Noel's frame, it is angled a little bit so that you end up with the boat level. Noel has, or can build, whatever structure you need to make sure your boat sits on it's strongest part for the haulout.

Oops, Just a Small Scrape!

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Last Bag of Lays Potato Chips

I know I am way behind in recounting all of our many adventures... Sorry, we've just been having so many adventures that it's hard to keep up.

But.. this is a momentous (and sad) occasion.

We have just breeched our very last bag of Lays Potato Chips. It's a silly thing, but... for those of us out here in the wild... it is difficult sourcing all those things that make us feel at home. Triscuits (my most favorite cracker in the world) ... Cheerios (Dave's most favorite cereal in the world)... Oreos... the special only in America sweetest choclatiest cookies. Cheddar cheese... etc etc.

In Davao, Philippines, there are enough "foreigner" stores that sourcing the kinds of foods that Americans are looking for, is pretty easy. We stocked up "to the max" in December (very thankful for the fantastic shuttle provided by Holiday Oceanview Marina that made it so easy to stock up).

But it is June now, 6 months later, and all our "stocks" are dwindling. I've just opened our last bag of Lays Potato Chips. I am nearly down to my last bottle of ($4US) dark rum. (I priced a bottle of the cheapest rum available here and it was $35 USD).

We stopped in a store today in the Russell Island of the Solomons. They had about 10 cans of Solomon Islands tuna, a few bags of rice, a few cigarettes (what our boat driver was interested in). Wah, I miss the excesses of the First World. Or even the non-excesses of the third world capital city of the Solomons, Honiara.

Fortunately, we have a HUGE freezer, and it is well stocked. Plus my pantry is pretty large and we won't go hungry soon. And I've just convinced my daughter, who's flying in in mid-July, to bring an extra suitcase. We've already got an order into Amazon Pantry for a few food items we can't get anywhere here. (Cheerios, Triscuits, Italian Dressing Mix).

Here, Australian versions of potato chips are available, in some places. But, I'm tellin' ya, there's absolutely nothing like Lays.
At 6/9/2019 6:15 AM (utc) our position was 09°02.55'S 159°05.15'E

Friday, April 19, 2019

Rendova and PT109 Base

April 17-18, 2019

After saying goodbye to Ocelot, who are headed back north a little ways to store their boat in Liapari for a couple of months, and Berzerker, who are hanging out in Munda waiting for brother Scott to fly in, Indigo and Soggy Paws headed out of Munda for the next island south, Rendova.

The North End of Rendova

It's only 5 miles as the crow flies from where we were anchored in Munda to where we anchored in Rendova, but it's 15 miles by boat, because there's a large reef system protecting Munda that has to be navigated around. It was an easy trip in flat calm windless conditions.

We had reports from cruisers around 2010-2011 about some armed boardings in the middle of the night, in Rendova Harbor. But inquiring with Dive Munda, before we left Munda, they didn’t know of any problems in recent years. So we anchored right in the harbor, next to the village. The only problem we had while there was too many friendly kids!

We dinghied ashore and met Daniel, who is the (expired) chief's son, and also the head man in the Catholic church. He was very friendly and spoke good English. The chief had recently died, and the village had not yet decided on a new chief.
(Apparently being chief in the Solomons is not hereditary).

The Church

Daniel and his Youngest Son

Daniel gave us a tour of his small village, and also took us to a man who had some World War II "relics". The American forces took Rendova in the fall of 1943.

World War II Stuff

Old Coke Bottles!

Old Coins!

Everywhere we went in the village, we were followed by a gaggle of kids.

Liz from Indigo, and our Gaggle

Our Gaggle, Assembled (mostly)

The next morning, we went in our dinghies to the World War II PT Boat Base on Lumbaria Island, where John F Kennedy was based on PT109 for a few months. The family that owns the island are trying to establish a museum and guesthouse there.

The Former PT Boat Base

A Memorial to JFK

Right now the museum is housed in an open building. The display items are meager because during "The Troubles" (in 1999-2003), the museum was destroyed and all the items stolen. So now they are trying to rebuild the museum. The owner, Mr Nicely Zongahiti, is now building a concrete block building that can be properly secured.

GI Helmets

Guns and Cartriges


Coke Bottles

For someone who wants to visit the museum that doesn't have their own boat, the best way is to go to the Agnes Hotel or Dive Munda, in Munda, and take a trip over with them.

The Grounds of the Island-Lovely Orchids

As we got ready to pull anchor to move to another anchorage, the kids came back! Liz generously handed out cookies in exchange for photos of the kids in their canoes.

The Kids and Their Canoes Getting Cookies from Indigo