We left Vanuatu more than a month ago and on our way out, we stopped in the Banks Islands. We sailed past Vanua Lava and spotted twin waterfalls. We headed closer to the shore and searched for some shallow water to anchor in. Soon after, we were welcomed by Kerele in his canoe who invited us ashore to meet his family. We passed a lovely afternoon swimming in the waterfall and meeting Kerele and his family and the next morning we set sail again. Our plan was to head north and east towards the Marshall Islands but the weather didn’t play ball, so, after a few uncomfortable hours, we changed course and headed to the Solomons instead …
There’s always a Plan ‘A’, ‘B’ and even a Plan ‘C’ when you’re sailing. We’re mostly dictated by the weather and flexibility is just one of these requirements we’ve become very used to. We wanted to sail to Tuvalu from Vanuatu and then onwards to Kiribati and the Marshall Islands. Unfortunately, the weather decided otherwise and we are now in the Solomon Islands.
We always knew it was going to be tricky to do some easting from Vanuatu, but, from time to time, it can be done. With cyclone season fast approaching, we couldn’t wait any longer for that weather window. We have to be north of ten degrees south (the ‘safe’ zone) by early December. So, we changed our plans. Our clearance document form Vanuatu stipulated ‘Tuvalu’ as next port of call, fortunately that was not an issue for Customs in the Solomons who simply crossed it out and replaced it with ‘Ndendo’.
We dropped anchor in the deep bay near Lata on Ndendo Island, early in the morning, after a very calm two-day passage from Vanuatu.
On the way out we had a brief stopover in the Banks Islands. We were sailing past Vanua Lava when we spotted a stunning twin waterfall tumbling down near the coast, pouring all its water into a pool right next to the beach. We anchored near the waterfalls and were greeted by Kerele, who came out to meet us in his pirogue. He told us he lives next to the waterfall with his extended family and we agreed to come ashore. After a brief welcome ceremony, we were escorted to the waterfall by the women and children. It was better than any waterpark you find in the developed world: plenty of rocks to jump off, smooth stones to glide off and high pressure streams of water to stand and swim under. The water was delicious and refreshing (it’s incredibly hot this time of year in the tropics).
Next day we set sail for Tuvalu but soon agreed it was too uncomfortable a course (wind on the nose, swell on the beam) so changed direction and headed for the Solomons.
Two days later we arrived in Ndendo. There was one other yacht anchored in the bay; Bertel passed us all the key information: go to town by dinghy and anchor off in front of the shipwreck on the beach, there’s no ATM or cash exchange but there is one shop that will give you cash on your credit card, oh and watch out for the customs lady as she will try and charge you an overtime fee and pocket it, also watch out as she will try and get her hands on any freebies she can find while searching your boat …
So off we went into town, a very long dinghy ride but sooooo refreshing (it’s even hotter here than it was in Vanuatu). A couple of dozen locals were sitting on the beach, in the shade under the trees, chewing a red nut that rots their teeth and colours their tongues and mouths a bright crimson red. It was quite a scary appearance. Despite their threatening looks, they were very friendly and three of them offered to escort us to the customs building, a five minute walk across town (in the blistering heat…).
When we got to the office, the bank manager (who shares an office with the immigration and the customs officers) told us that the immigration lady had just left to come and see us. Luckily, she hadn’t gone far yet and they were able to call her back to the office. The customs officer apparently never showed up to the office and always ‘worked’ from home. We explained that we had no local money and they told us that was not an issue: we could pay immigration and customs fees in Honiara, the capital. However, the girls from the bank took pity on us for not having any local currency and as we walked out they handed Aeneas a wad of local bank notes.
“So the kids can buy something refreshing at the local market,” they said.
We were taken aback by this generosity, such friendly and welcoming people and instead of asking us for handouts they were giving away their hard earned money. Incredible and very humbling. The boys, of course, were very happy and immediately started to work out how much it was worth in another currency they knew the value of (US dollars or Vatu) and how many sweets it could buy them.
“Perhaps we can buy some Lego with it,” Aeneas said.
“Sure,” I said, “If you can find a shop that sells Lego, you can buy all you want.”
No chance of finding Lego in this part of the world. We are far way from all those luxuries now. Apparently, we were only yacht number 19 to check into Ndendo this year. And there are no tourist facilities at all. So you can imagine, when we walked into town, everyone wanted to meet us and talk to us and find out where we were from (which is always a tricky question to answer: well … we are Scottish/Belgian but the kids grew up in England; and then some blank stares as they have no idea where any of these countries are. After a while we just said we are from Europe).
But back to the immigration officer … who returned to the office to tell us she and customs lady and two police officers would come to the boat. They had their own transport (‘the’ police boat) so we raced back to Rehua (after buying a local SIM card and waiting for half an hour in another shop for the credit card machine to work so we could get some local currency).
A little later six officials boarded Rehua and we had a pile of forms to fill in (in duplicate as well). The customs lady, sporting crimson red teeth, searched through the boat. It’s a first on Rehua: we’ve never been searched by Customs before (by Bio Security yes, but never by Customs). She looked through all he cupboards and counted the bottles of wine (the ones she could find) but we were within limits. She then returned to the cockpit and demanded some juice and a coffee. The other officials all seemed very embarrassed by her attitude and behaviour.
Check-in done and we were allowed to take down the yellow Q-flag, but, unfortunately, we don’t have a Solomons flag to hoist instead (remember we didn’t plan to come here in the first place…). We will have to get creative and make one, as they don’t sell flags here.
Later in the afternoon, at high tide, we ventured up the river next to the anchorage where, we were told, we would find a natural spring with some of the purest mineral water in the world. As we paddled the dinghy up the river, we admired the lushness of the jungle. The size and colours of the plants and flowers were absolutely breathtaking. It was completely still and as if we had been transported into ‘Jurassic World’ and a dinosaur was about to pop out from in between the huge leaves. The water was very refreshing (did I mention it is hot here?) and tasted delicious.
Everywhere along the river, locals were having their daily shower, washing clothes and cleaning dishes. At the top of the river, at the spring, people came and went to fill up water bottles. One of the locals told us that some Chinese guy was trying to set up a factory here to bottle this top rated spring water and sell it around the world. I guess you never know, look at Fiji water, which is sold on the other side of world for an exorbitant amount of money.
After one night in Ndendo we headed to the nearby Reef Islands. More to follow about our adventures there in the next blog.
Unfortunately Internet is very patchy here. There is not much network coverage and 2G is the best we can hope for. We can send basic emails using our HF radio and there is a way to write blog posts via email (they then should be uploaded automatically on the blog and on Facebook) but unfortunately that hasn’t been working very well recently, as you may have noticed. We’ll keep trying and as soon as we have better network coverage we will post photos too.
So, anyway, here we are in the Solomons; enthralled by the friendliness of the locals and the lushness of the landscape.
We don’t know how many shops we will find up north so we better stock up here in Vanuatu. Last week we started with ‘phase 1’: non-perishables. We managed to get our shopping delivered right onto the beach so we could transfer everything from there straight into the dinghy and then ferry it across the water to Rehua. We also completed ‘phase 2’: meat (directly from the abattoir in Luganville, pre-frozen and vacuum packed), eggs, potatoes, onions, garlic. Yesterday we finished our provisioning ‘phase 3’: fresh fruit and vegetables. We always leave this until the last minute, on the day we clear out. Luganville has a great fresh market so we are lucky to get plenty of produce.
Another beautiful anchorage and this time we are all on our own. The approach was not for the faint hearted though and could only be attempted at high tide and good visibility around noon … And yes they have oysters here and they are delicious
We had a birthday to celebrate on Rehua today: Aeneas turned 7. The day started with presents and a birthday cake, then we took a walk around Ratua island together with Bruce and Di from Toucan. We had a lovely lunch onboard and a chilled afternoon and it turned out a perfect day for everyone 🎂
We love the anchorage near Ratua island and find it hard to leave: crystal clear water, great snorkeling, lots of turtles to swim with and some great friends to hang out with. Our buddy boat Toucan turned up from Fiji; they are on their way to Australia and stopped in Santo to do one more goodbye. We also met a few other boats including one other kid boat. We could stay here longer but we need to start thinking about provisioning and getting organised for our trip north…
Santo island has several ‘blue holes’ – a small lake in the middle of the jungle with a fresh water underground spring. As you can guess from the name the colour is an intense and vibrant blue. We went to look for the blue hole on Malo island, about 2 miles from where we were anchored. We drove the dinghy across the bay and into the river that connects the sea with this particular blue hole. The river got narrower and the jungle more dense as we continued. We spotted several groups of locals swimming or relaxing near the river (it was Sunday). After about a mile the river ended up in a lake and then we found another smaller river leading us to the blue hole (thank you Sel Citron for the hand drawn map!). As we got closer the water became a milky blue. Apparently the mixture of fresh and salt water gives it this intense colouring. It was quite spectacular and we had a refreshing swim in the blue hole. On the way back we spotted more locals lurking in the bushes, almost invisible. For a moment we wondered whether cannibalism really is gone, apparently the last recorded case was as recent as 1969…
It’s a tough life… We are waiting for a small parcel to arrive from the US (replacement part for the transmitter of our outside VHF) and decided to anchor near Ratua private island to get away from town for a few days until it arrives. It’s only 9 miles around the corner and stunningly beautiful: turquoise water, sheltered anchorage, beautiful corals for snorkeling, and lots of turtles!
Dolphins! We still get excited every time they turn up. Such intriguing animals that always put a smile on our faces and get everybody on the foredeck. They like to do tricks for us: loops and jumps as they swim in front of the bow. As we entered Palikulo bay, just east of Luganville on Santo Island, they turned up to welcome us into the bay. There must have been at least 20 with a few baby ones included. Palikulo is a large bay with plenty of hazards making navigation tricky. Several rusty shipwrecks litter the coastline and there are many coralheads which are not marked on any charts. We’re used to the charts being inaccurate in these regions and we have google earth overlay to make sure we don’t run aground. But in Palikulo bay the strangest thing happened. These dolphins didn’t just come to say hello. They were trying to direct us into the bay, leading the way through the unmarked channel, zigzagging between bommies and reefs. Truly amazing. As soon as we reached the sandy spot where we could drop our anchor they disappeared. Perhaps this vast bay is their home and they are used to showing yachts the way in?
In Luganville we anchored just west of the town centre and caught up with three kidboats: sv Perry, who we hadn’t seen since Fiji, sv Field Trip, our sister-ship which we last saw in New Zealand, and sv Aorua, with Yves and Tama onboard. As soon as we dropped anchor the kids jumped in the dinghy and went to see their friends. Sarah and Mark whisked all the kids away to the beach later in the afternoon. It’s been a fun few days catching up with everyone.
Luganville is the second biggest town in Vanuatu but don’t expect a buzzing city life here! The town has a tropical, sleepy, laid-back feel to it. We’re here to catch up with our friends of course, but we’re also waiting for a small parcel from the US: a replacement part for our outside VHF which is currently only able to receive but can’t transmit. We have a back up system inside and also a portable handheld but it would be good to get it working again. After several attempts to pay the company in the US (our bank kept declining the transaction because ‘someone’ in the US was trying to use our credit card) and many phone calls later, we finally managed to order the part and it should be on its way. Fingers crossed it gets here soon!
Quick stop in Port Vila for some provisions and to complete the rest of the clearing in formalities. We also visited the national museum of Vanuatu which features some beautiful carvings and interesting artefacts. Then it was off to Santo as we heard a few kid boats we know are there! As soon as we were offshore we caught a BIG wahoo. Probably the biggest fish we’ve caught to date. Thanks to George and Harry from Port Vila, the fishing upgrades obviously worked.
In the afternoon three visitors stopped over and they stayed for the night, huddled closely together on the pulpit. They weren’t shy at all and we could even touch them. The overnight sail from Port Vila was very calm and with a full moon at least it wasn’t so dark. The heat of the day brought on thunderstorms at night, the light flashing all around us. We sailed past Ambrym island and could see the volcano glow in the distance, a mesmerising sight…