Escape from Honiara

After two and a half days in Honiara we had to do a runner. It truly must be one of the worst ports in the WORLD: on a lee shore, incoming swell, bad holding, no breakwater protection, noisy and dirty. The rubbish is literally floating around and one has to be careful not to get a plastic bag or some other piece of garbage caught in the props. You can’t leave the boat unattended, as you never know when a sudden weather change will hit.

We managed to do most of our provisioning but on Wednesday afternoon the wind continued to build and the anchorage became untenable. Without having completed our shopping, we left town and headed for the safe shelter of Tulagi, which is only a four-hour sail away. It was an oasis compared to the madness of Honiara. Bob and Yvie from Raiders Hotel welcomed us back as we tied our stern lines to their palm trees. It felt a bit like coming home. I hope we don’t ever have to go back to Honiara, it’s not a good place to anchor your boat.

Yesterday was a big boat tidy up (everything got thrown around as we left Honiara), we still had to pack away our provisions, and, we also had to catch up with school as it hadn’t been possible to do any studying in the bouncy conditions of Honiara. So now it’s back to normal and we’re happy to once again be in Tulagi.

We managed to do another family snorkeling trip and a dinghy trip up the river to see some very old mangroves. We looked out for crocs but they were all hiding… Probably a good thing!

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Back in Tulagi, view from our cockpit


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The anchorage in Honiara


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The photo doesn’t capture it but it got rough


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Lifting the dinghy in these short, steep waves was almost impossible


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Back in Tulagi: dinghy trip up the mangrove river


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Mangrove trees at the river entrance


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Is that a croc in the water?


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Local boys in their canoe


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Some very old mangrove trees


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Jungle everywhere


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Local canoe with palm leaf sail


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family snorkelling trip


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Aeneas blowing some bubbles


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Upside-down Tyrii

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Kawanishi Seaplane Wreck

Seathan and I did a wreck dive yesterday with Bob and Yvie from Raiders Hotel & Dive. It was another awesome dive. The wreck was a Japanese reconnaissance seaplane, which sunk after an airstrike conducted by the US Navy in 1942. This was before the Marines landed here; nine or so of these seaplanes were moored in a bay just outside Tulagi and all of them went to the bottom. One of the planes now sits in about 30 to 35 metres and is still intact. You can see the seats, the steering wheel, filming equipment, bullets, drink bottles, etc. The corals growing on the wreck were pretty impressive too, featuring stunning colours.

Meanwhile the parts we were waiting for here (the new engine mounts) have all been fitted and Rehua is ready to go again. This was quite a big job and not easy to complete in such a remote location. Seathan is very happy with the result. The shafts are beautifully aligned and the engines are running much more smoothly.

So, where to next? Once the weather permits we will head over to Honiara for a quick provisioning stop and then we will aim for Marovo Lagoon in the Western Province. We hear the diving is pretty amazing there too! But as always, plans are subject to change 😉

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Kawanishi seaplane wreck


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Filming equipment


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pilot’s seat


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Yvie and I exploring the wreck


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colourful corals


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crew’s drink bottles


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twin props


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crazy colours


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action shot


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tail of the plane


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tail of the plane


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filming away


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and then a well-deserved post dive beer (with a view)


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We’ll miss Tulagi; this has been a great stop

What’s For Dinner?

That dreaded everyday question. It’s hard enough to come up with creative ideas when you live in the “first” world, where literally everything is readily available. Here, in the Solomons Islands, the choices are more limited. It is possible to find most Western type non-perishable foods in the capital Honiara, where we have loaded as much food onboard as we could. Our freezer is stuffed with vacuum-packed meats, leaving just enough space to fit in a freshly caught fish.

We home-bake bread and have plenty of flour, rice and pasta onboard. We are stocked up on all types of beans, lentils, tinned tomatoes, cereals, crackers, pickled vegetables, popping corn, etc. We make our own yoghurt, hummus, pitta bread, bagels, …

But I digress. So what about dinner? Once a week is pizza night; we mastered the art of making thin crust pizzas in our small oven and they are a definite favourite. The boys started enjoying spicy food, so a curry is now firmly on the weekly menu too. We love a juicy steak and if we happen to have a lean filet mignon I will throw together a steak tartare (with kumura chips – yum). ‘Poisson cru’ is another weekly treat. This Polynesian dish similar to ceviche consists of briefly marinating cubed fish in limejuice and then mixing it with coconut milk and crunchy vegetables. We also enjoy a pan-fried fillet of fish, some barbecued sausages or a simple spaghetti bolognaise.

So in the end, I guess we have plenty of options to choose from. So why do I still struggle with this daily question? Our biggest adjustment has been in relation to fresh produce. We have learned to cook with what’s available. Many things you just can’t get outside Honiara (think apples, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic). And when we run out, we rely on local produce. Instead of potatoes we eat kumura, instead of apples we eat pineapple and coconut. And I have to admit; I have never tasted a pineapple so juicy and sweet as the ones they have here in the Solomon Islands. And for only 10 SD a pop (around £1) you can’t go wrong. Coconuts you can literally just pick from the trees in most places. Or, you can wave to one of the canoes peddling past and ask a local to bring some to the boat. They love to trade fresh produce in return for t-shirts, soap, pens, paper, fishing gear, etc. There are always plenty of limes around and sometimes even oranges and grapefruit. Once we even got some fresh mushrooms.

We learned to cook green beans in many different ways. It seems to be the most easily obtained vegetable, long and thin and very tasty with some garlic and butter. Aubergines (eggplant in American) are also very popular and I tricked the boys in thinking they were mushrooms, given their similar texture. There are very large snake beans and other weird veg I don’t really know what to do with apart from turning them into soup. Pumpkins are also everywhere. But it feels kind of weird eating a winter type veg in this hot climate. Cucumbers are huge but deliciously crunchy and tomatoes are not as sweet and juicy as back home but we’ll take some when we can get them. And I almost forgot to mention papaya or pawpaw, the number one fruit or vegetable (it actually tastes great in savoury, curry-type dishes).

So what’s for dinner tonight? Well, we got lucky this afternoon and ‘scored’ three decent sized tropical rock lobsters. Also called painted spiny lobster or coral lobster, these colourful shellfish feed on hard shell molluscs, crustaceans and algae. They are not interested in the bait used for creel fishing and can only be caught by hand or by spear. One of the locals had gone fishing outside the reef and brought them over to our boat. He wanted 20 SD (£2) for one or 50 SD (£5) for the three. What a bargain. They will go nicely with some garlic and butter linguine and some frozen peas thrown into the mix. Yum.

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tropical rock lobsters

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Have you ever seen such crazy coloured beasts?

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the Solomons have the juiciest pineapples I ever tasted

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One of the local markets, a great place to buy local produce

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Selection of local fresh produce

Twin Tunnels Dive

Sunday is ‘Funday’ on Rehua and while in Tulagi it would be a shame to miss out on the fabulous dive opportunities here. Bob from Raiders Hotel was so kind to take us all out on his boat and one of his local guys stayed with the kids, who snorkelled for a bit, while we descended to the Twin Tunnels.

The coral bommie featuring these tunnels is approximately 120 metres in diameter and the top of the reef is in 12-16 metres of water. The two tunnels are on the edge of the reef and descend down into a common cavern exiting to the wall at about 40 metres. It was my deepest dive yet and with trepidation I entered the dark void that was the tunnel. Bob had assured me beforehand that it was wide enough and not very long, 16 metres or so, and easy to get out of at the bottom. Still… when I saw the entrance it didn’t look easy or short, I couldn’t even see the exit from above. I struggled a bit going down at first but soon enough got the hang of it. After a while I enjoyed the thrill of descending the tunnel and when I exited to the wall at about 40 metres, I was rewarded with a magnificent view. The reef itself was spectacular in its own right.

After half an hour or so we started making our way back to the boat and had to stay close to the bottom as the strong current made it challenging. But it’s also thanks to these strong currents that this is such an interesting place and they are the reason why so many pelagic fish can be seen here.

After a good 5 minutes decompression time we ascended and clambered back onboard. The kids had been watching our bubbles come up and were happy to see us. We raced back to Tulagi and Aeneas got to steer the boat (Tyrii had had his turn on the way out). What a perfect Sunday morning.

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Heading out for a Sunday morning dive

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The first of the twin tunnels

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Second of the twin tunnels

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Descending into the black void

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Exit at the bottom of the tunnel

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Looking up through the tunnel

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Blowing some bubbles

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Arty shot

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Stunning corals

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Great colours

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Different shapes

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More colours

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Driving back to Tulagi

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Approaching Tulagi

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Arriving back at Raiders

 

Catalina Wreck Dive

I did my first wreck dive yesterday and it was absolutely awesome! This Catalina aeroplane crashed in 1943 and sits completely intact in 34 metres. It was discovered only a few years ago and still has bullets and everything on it.

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Catalina aeroplane wreck from 1943

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Lionfish sitting on the wreck

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Exploring the wreck

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Deco time

Sunday Walk

What to do on a cloudy Sunday morning? The perfect time to go for a walk. Tulagi is a small island and has a road all the way around. So we went for a decent 10k walk. The boat safely anchored and tied onto a couple of trees with two stern lines, we set off. Nama, the local dog from Raiders hotel, joined us. First stop was the old harbour with some rusty ships and old machines. Further along, we stopped at an old WW2 US Quonset Hut. Around the top of the island the shallow green water looked inviting for a swim but this is crocodile territory so we stayed on the road. Nama didn’t risk going in either. Only a few months ago a small boy was taken by a crocodile there. We kept our eyes peeled but didn’t see any crocs. Back over on the other side of the island, we passed a few houses with people relaxing outside, all of them keen to have a quick chat. We ended our walk in the main village and our untrained sealegs started to feel like jelly. Back at Raiders, fish and chips were on the menu, perfect for a well-deserved Sunday lunch!

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Rehua anchored outside Raiders with stern lines to the trees ashore

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View from the cockpit

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The ‘road’ goes all the way around the island

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One of the shipwrecks in the bay

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The old harbour

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Rusty ships

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Some people were actually living onboard

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WW2 US Quonset Hut

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A local house

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The water looked inviting but this is crocodile territory, so we didn’t go in

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The island even has a cathedral…

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Corals being gathered for land reclamation

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Almost there, ready for lunch

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Local kids outside Raiders hotel

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Kids hiding in the trees everywhere

 

Drift Dive

Tulagi is famous for its wreck-diving but the snorkelling is not bad either. We dinghied to a nearby small island for some much needed time in the water. No crocs there, we were told. We had a beautiful drift-dive while Seathan held on to the dinghy line. Afterwards we explored some of the caves on the shore and found a small underwater swim-through which the boys loved.

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Short dinghy ride to a nearby island for some snorkelling

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Aeneas in the water

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Near the drop-off

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bright blue starfish

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Beautiful soft corals

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And lots of fish

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Small cave with underwater swim-through

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Tyrii explores the caves