Between Honiara to Gizo, Solomon Islands

This is the land of betel nut, crocodiles, head hunters, amazing wood carvings, and the ring of fire. We have been in the Solomon Islands for almost two months now and have enjoyed them immensely. During this last month, we have not seen any other cruising boats. All the people we have met are the most sincere, friendly race of people we have ever experienced in our travels.

Many areas, especially in the lagoons, are unsurveyed on the chart and very shallow, so it requires great diligence and someone at the bow watching the depth at all times. One crossing of a reef up to Uepi Island was touch and go. We crossed a large area of reef as shallow as 10 feet and we draw 9 ½!

The last several weeks here in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands has been just so phenomenal and special that we thought we would share them with you. A good friend of ours, John Rice, suggested we stop at Tengamo Island in the Marovo Lagoon, to visit some friends that he made during his visits many years ago. Here we met Peter and Judith; her mother, whom we nick-named the Queen, owns the island. There are only about 25 people in the village, all descendants of the Queen. We managed to fix a few things for them and make a much needed new sail for their canoe. It was a treat to be away from the carvers for awhile. Peter himself is a master carver, and was sent to the Pacific Festival of Arts in Palau this year to represent his country, and now he does only commission work.

As we were leaving the lagoon, Jim saw a beautiful kingfisher bird fly right under our main awning. It was not flying very well and almost fell in the ocean. We captured it and put it in a box with some water and seeds. By the time we reached Rendovo Island, it seemed to have recovered and we released it there. The Solomons are rich with sea life and the reefs are alive and vibrant. Jim and Dylan have had some of their best dives here on the spectacular reefs. Also, on the way to Rendovo, we were surrounded by dolphins, which stayed with us a very long time. Then a very large pod of whales passed us and then another school of dolphins joined us. This was all in a 6 hour passage! We didn't do very well fishing on this short trip, catching only one barracuda. In the last few months though, we have been very successful; we've caught a sailfish (about 125 lbs. and then released a smaller one), and many mahi, yellowfin tuna, and wahoo, our favorite.

Our first stop in Rendova Island was at Egholo Bay and village. We were swarmed by woodcarvers there. We invited 4 or 5 at a time to come aboard and display their work. All the carvers seem to have natural artistic talent and a unique style. They use local wood: rosewood, ebony, kerosene wood or coconut. Most of the carvings have intricate inlays of nautilus shell. During our three weeks in the Marovo Lagoon, we purchased many bowls, fish, walking sticks, spiritual statues, gnuzgnuzus, war canoes, turtles, and masks. In Egholo we purchased about ten carvings to add to our growing collection. For payment, the carvers usually like to receive one half in money and the other half in trade. (We will leave the art of trading for another time, for it is quite complicated affair!) Part of our huge treasure stock of trading items is clothing. While in Honiara we purchased three 55 lb. bales called 'village packs'. We now have a storage problem, but we have enjoyed the interaction with the local people, and have justified our acquisitions as a way to help support the local economy.

Our most special stay of all was at Rendova Harbor. We were welcomed by many, many canoes. It seemed that everyone in the village wanted to greet us and inspect our boat. Many of the people are light skinned with ginger colored hair, and everyone in this village of 200 is related. There is a great story by a man from England, William Randall, who visited here several years ago, and wrote a book titled Solomon Time. He tells of his own experiences living with them and also the story of how these Malaitins came to the Western Province decades ago to work for the Commander, a British plantation owner. It is a delightful book to read!

The chief invited us to hear pan pipe music, which the Malaitins are famous for. 'Pan Pipes' is a general term, referring to traditional music that includes several different instruments. The smallest is the pan pipe flute - a row of narrow bamboo sections woven together and played in a fashion similar to a harmonica. Then there are the 'drums', which are of a similar construction but much larger, from 2 to 6 feet long, all strapped together. These are played by banging the sole of a flip-flop on the upper opening; the tone is determined by the length of the pipe. The final variation is the stamping drum, which is a large diameter section of bamboo that is played by pounding it onto the ground. The music is amazing! We were entertained by a group of two dozen young men and boys. The ones playing the 'flutes' danced in unison as they played.

On Sunday, the church (Anglican Church of Melanesia) choir of about 30 came out to Firebird in the evening and sang 'Christmas' songs for us - a cappella. They did not resemble our 'American' Christmas carols, but they were sung from the heart and the last one was sung in their local language.

Chief Gordon is about 73 years old. He has no teeth so it is difficult to understand him. He has a distinct British accent and a commanding boom to his voice, which he surely picked up from the Commander years ago. Gordon has been trying for many years to get the government to provide a school here; there are over 100 children. It was heartbreakingly sweet to see them paddle out to visit us every day in their small dugout canoes, with only a few inches of freeboard. There would be as many as six kids, half of them naked, with a toddler or two on board as well, and no adult in sight! (And ashore, the littlest ones who cannot 'toddle' yet are carried by the next size up - maybe someone around four years old!) They would say - "Missus, pen-so plez, sha-pen-a, booka". (Also, la-lie, and bah-lune). And when we gave them pencils, sharpeners, exercise books, lollies and balloons, they were ecstatic! We made a donation to the school fund and will attempt to see some officials in Gizo to plea their case.

Also here Dylan and Jim dove on a US Douglas SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber, sunk in 45' of water, which crashed during WW II. The plane sits up right and is completely intact. The pilot who was flying this plane actually came and sat in the cockpit on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. This harbor was also a WW II base for PT boats, most famous for PT 109, skippered by John F. Kennedy. We met the son of the Solomon Islander who helped rescue Kennedy and the crew after they were run down by a Japanese destroyer, which sunk their PT boat.