Tulagi, some history

While we’re in Tulagi – waiting for some spare parts to arrive from the US – the boys and I have been brushing up on the history of this fascinating tiny island.

Tulagi once was the capital of the Solomon Islands, when it was a British Protectorate. This small island is only 1km by 5km and was chosen by the British as a comparatively isolated and therefore healthier alternative to the disease-ridden larger islands of the Solomon Islands archipelago. The island also forms part of the very sheltered Purvis bay, which hosted many US navy ships during the Pacific War. It’s one of the most weather protected anchorages in the Solomon Islands.

The Japanese occupied Tulagi in 1942, with the intention of establishing a seaplane base nearby. However, the ships in Tulagi harbour were soon raided by US forces (primarily the 1st Marine Raiders) who landed on August 7 and captured Tulagi after a day of hard fighting.

There are many war relics dotted around the island. We visited two of the several ‘Japanese’ caves on the island where Japanese soldiers hid when the US forces landed. The caves were hidden in the bush and we had to ask some of the locals to show us the way. As we stood inside the cave, I thought about the bloodbath that occurred there and the many lives lost, which sent a shudder through my spine. War is such an awful thing.

After the island was captured by US, it became the base for its fleet of Patrol Torpedo boats, including the one captained by JFK, as well as other warships.

I didn’t realise this before, but former US president John F. Kennedy was a marine during WW2 and captain of a Torpedo boat. His mission was to intercept a convoy of Japanese ships that were transporting soldiers. His ship was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and Kennedy was one of the few survivors. They swam 4 miles to the nearest island, which was uninhabited. After a few days they swam to another island in search of water, food and any sign of life. They were spotted by two men in a canoe who happened to be part of the Coastwatchers, a network of agents tasked with keeping and eye on the enemy and reporting back to the Allied forces. Kennedy managed to get a message back to base which was delivered by these locals (with great risk to themselves, paddling 35 miles to the base through waters patrolled by Japanese ships). The message, in the absence of pen and paper, was carved into a coconut. Later, when he made it to the White House, Kennedy kept the coconut on his desk as a reminder of the war and how lucky he was to be rescued. What a great story.

Today Tulagi is a sleepy little town. There is one hotel, a few shops, some houses, a police station, a school and a church. The only tourism here is related to diving. There are some amazing shipwrecks around and within the dive world, especially in terms of wreck diving, it is considered one of the top destinations in the world.

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Japanese cave, hidden in the bush

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the view at the top, with local dog Nama, all three enjoying the refreshing breeze

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‘The Cut’, as the road through the hills is called. It was dug by hand by prisoners

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second Japanese cave and tunnel

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Tulagi waterfront with Raiders Hotel

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Tulagi Sunrise

 

 

 

 

 

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Earthquakes and Tsunamis

We’re anchored in a very calm bay in Tulaghi, 23 miles north of Honiara. This is exactly where all the warships used to come and hide in bad weather during the Pacific War. It’s one of the most sheltered bays in the entire Solomon Islands. While Honiara and Roderick Bay had been getting some nasty squalls in the last few days, we had enjoyed very flat water and calm weather with hardly any wind during the squalls. So far so good. Until yesterday, when suddenly, I received a tsunami alert on my phone. There had been (another) massive earthquake (8.4) in Bougainville, a few hundred miles north from here. We were warned to be on alert as a tsunami could hit this area an hour and a bit later around 17.13 local time. Our friends on Fieldtrip where in Honiara and raised anchor to go into deeper water. Just in case. That’s the best way to make sure one is safe during a Tsunami. We looked at the charts and figured that we were pretty safe in this sheltered bay. We were anchored in 20 metres, far enough away from the shore. However, we kept monitoring the situation closely. Five fifteen came and went, nothing happened. The water was as flat as can be, not a ripple. We were still very relieved when the tsunami alert was lifted and enjoyed a lovely calm Sunday evening in Tulagi bay. Phew.

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Rehua anchored in Tulagi bay

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After the tsunami alert was lifted we enjoyed a very calm evening with beautiful pink sky

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View from the cockpit (Raiders Hotel, Tulagi)

 

 

Out of the Water

It can be hard to find a boatyard that can lift out a catamaran once you are in a remote location. And when we heard the yard in Tulagi could lift us, we didn’t hesitate and took the opportunity for a quick haul out, in order to do some annual maintenance and replace the shaft-seals.

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The Iron Bottom Sound

‘The Iron Bottom Sound’- that is how the water between the Florida Islands and Guadalcanal was renamed after WWII. One of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific War took place here between Japanese and American forces. The name ‘Iron Bottom Sound’ is derived from the 200 odd ships and 700 aircraft that lie within this small stretch of water. These wrecks are one of the reasons why the Solomos are such a popular destination for dive fanatics (stunning underwater fauna and flora is another one).

We visited a couple of wrecks near Tulagi. One was a Japanese destroyer, barely submerged. The other one a US tank landing ship that was struck by a Japanese torpedo in 1943 and broke in two. The stern sank but the bow was towed to Purvis Bay where it still sits.

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Off to see some wrecks, with the boys from s/v Perry


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Submerged Japanese destroyer


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Japanese destroyer

 

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US tank landing ship in Purvis Bay


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USS-LST-342 ended up here in 1943 after being torpedoed by the Japanese


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US tank landing ship


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exploring the shipwreck, it’s huge


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the boys in their element


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what a huge shipwreck

Solomon Observations

The Solomon Islands are an interesting country. We didn’t expect to come here but nevertheless the place is growing on us.

The Solomons are often referred to as ‘Vanuatu’s poor brother’ (and Vanuatu is not particularly affluent either). Despite their poverty the people are friendly, welcoming and they smile a lot. They lead a very simple life. Except for the main towns like Honiara, most people still live in traditional villages with zero comfort. They live of fish and what they can grow on the land. It is very hard for them to generate any income. They can raise and sell pigs and, if any tourists are around, they try and sell traditional woodcarvings. But tourism is very thin. Apart from the odd dive enthusiast, there are hardly any holidaymakers around. And very few yachts visit these islands, especially the more southern provinces. So, I think you get the picture. No tourists, no income, and, on top of that a government that doesn’t seem to get involved. There is no welfare or social infrastructure to speak of. The education records are very low, school is not mandatory and most children don’t even finish primary education.

In summary, the Solomons Islands are the most remote and most traditional country we visited. And we noticed a few funny peculiarities recently.

Yes is the answer.
Whenever you ask a local a question, the answer, most likely, will be yes. Is is safe to swim here? Yes. So there are no crocodiles? Yes. So there are crocodiles? Yes, yes, no crocodiles. And what about sharks, are there any sharks? Yes. There are sharks? Yes, no sharks. How many people live in this village? Yes. What do you want to trade for these fruits? Yes. Do you want a t-shirt or an exercise book? Yes. Are you from this village or from the one at the other side of the lagoon? Yes. As you can image, this can be confusing at times.

Yesterday or last year.
The concept of time is pretty vague here. ‘Yesterday’ could mean last week, last month or even last year. When we asked Felix (a local) when was the last time someone used this mooring, he answered that the big dive boat used it yesterday. Ok, great. But when we prompted him for more information it became obvious that yesterday was not in fact this year or even last year. The last time they used this morning was in 2015. I guess to them it’s just all in the past.

Age is just a number.
Out of politeness we often ask for the ages of someone’s children. But funnily enough this is something the natives usually can’t answer. When one of the local guys came over to say hello with his wife and two kids yesterday, we asked how old his children were. I could see the father was trying to count out roughly how old the first born was and from there he tried to work out how much younger his other son was. And we’ve noticed this several times now. Parents don’t seem to readily know the ages of their children. For us it is usually one of the first topics when making polite conversation but it’s obviously not something that matters to the locals.

So anyway, the Solomon Islands are a fascinating country… I’m sure we’ll discovery more oddities as we get to know the place better.

Christmas Holidays

We spent the Christmas period in Rodrick Bay, Ngella islands together with s/v Fieldtrip and s/v Perry. When we left Honiara and approached this remote island group, with its steep and rugged green hills, it somehow reminded us of the Scottish isles. That is, until we came closer and noticed the palm trees and turquoise lagoons with corals and tropical fish. The weather of course is also nothing like it is back home; it’s still stifling hot and humid although it seems we are slowly getting used to this climate.

 

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Some very impressive fishing boats in Honiara


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No wonder there’s not much fish left, we haven’t caught anything yet


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Aeneas getting the fishing line in (unfortunately sans fish)

One of the families that live in Rodrick bay had installed three mooring balls for yachts to tie onto (it’s slightly too deep to anchor comfortably). One of the moorings was submerged and Seathan and Mark from Fieldtrip offered to dive to reattach it. The chain at the bottom was attached to coral and then a line from the chain attached to the mooring ball. They ended up having to dive 40 metres.

Johnny and his family were extremely welcoming. They put on a show with welcome dances, music and dinner and invited us to use their ‘facilities’ anytime we wanted: a shaded covered area where it is always cool, a volleyball net and a sandy space to play football or rugby. This was a great hit with the kids and many afternoon play-overs were  had on the beach during the holiday period.

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The welcome sign in Rodrick Bay


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Johnny’s family welcome us with flowers, dances and dinner


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coconut water, such a refreshing drink


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with our friends from s/v Perry and s/v Fieldtrip


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Boat kids


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traditional dance in grass skirts


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the youngest boys don’t wear skirts (or anything else for that matter)


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and they keep on dancing


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Santa managed to find us after all and brought some very cool presents


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Homemade holiday decorations, kirigami


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volleyball with the local kids


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drone shot of Rodrick bay, courtesy of Fieldtrip


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droneshot of Rodrick bay, courtesy of Fieldtrip

To start the New Year with some exercise we hiked to the top of the hill, the local kids showing us the way. We were rewarded with some stunning views.

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We hiked to the top of the hill and were rewarded with stunning views


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Fieldtrip with all the local kids who walked to the top of the hill with us


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Sunset view from the cockpit