Heavy showers overnight, the distant sea shows through the entrance all whitecaps and grey, pushed along by 30 kts of sou’easter. We sit motionless in this protected anchorage. Brian locates a small low developing immediately north of us. With any luck, it’ll move off to the east and leave us alone on our westwards journey. But we should wait a while – great! I love Egholo.
Chief Ngana takes us today on a stroll through neat and tidy houses and paths, vegetable gardens and fruit trees, of all sorts. Nut trees too. Similar names to Kavieng for a couple of the nut trees. Crab holes everywhere. Solomon Islands name for Abiu is Portera. They grow well here.
Ngana’s wife gives us a demonstration of recovering coconut oil. About 80 coconuts and a lot of work go to make about ten half litre bottles of clear oil. A lot of time and effort.
A walk past village houses and gardens takes us to the local school. We meet two of the teachers, young and dedicated Solomon Island girls.
Our friendly head man Gnana brings out his village visitor’s book, carefully wrapped in plastic.
With two artists on board in Linda and Carol, the ladies work on a page for our visit.
Village life flows on around us, canoes with kids, canoes with mothers and occasional men. This is much better than tackling that low-pressure system waiting outside for us.
We’re invited to leave Drumbeat for a while to check out a project of one of the villagers.
Can you imagine trying to build accommodation for backpackers when there’s no Bunnings handy? Local man Pesec, a Solomons entrepreneur, is building out over the water. All disparate bits of timber, but bedrooms and an already functioning flush toilet. He’s started bringing fish into the verandah each morning … something for tourists, he says. A triumph of spirit over
All disparate bits of timber, but bedrooms and an already functioning flush toilet. He’s started bringing fish into the verandah each morning … something for tourists, he says. A triumph of spirit over
He’s started bringing fish into the verandah each morning … something for tourists, he says. A triumph of spirit over environment. I hope his dream becomes reality. Very basic, very beautiful, very friendly. If any backpacker reads this and has a sense of adventure, get yourself to Egholo and stay a while, living over water. Tell ’em I sent you!
all too soon, it’s back to Drumbeat to think about the weather…
No swell. No waves. Deep clean anchorage almost completely encircled by jungle and coconuts. A couple of small villages. Fresh water creek in S.W. corner, the mandatory mud bank for crocodiles in the opposite corner. No crocs, though, and apart from a vague hint that one visits occasionally no apparent concern. Still, I didn’t stray far from Drumbeat when I slid in for a swim.
I’m pleased the weather’s looking crook, this is a lovely place, pretty good to be stuck in.
We’re right on track for the kids paddling to school from the village closest to us behind the stand of coconuts. Some as young as four. All with happy smiles and shy grins, brilliant flashes of white teeth.
The old ‘foot pump bailer’ hard at work in a leaky canoe – there’s a few like that…
A paddling woodcarver calls by for a bit of trade, introduces himself as Soga. Very switched on, good English. Mixed with pidgin. Brian is excellent at this = more providing a spectacle than hard bargaining. Seems to be enjoyed by both sides. A lot of long silences, while I wonder have they drifted off somewhere. But no, all calculations and tactics. Until loudly “OFF the table!!” indicates a deal has been reached.
The kids soon learn that one square of chocolate is a prize they can collect. No greedy kids, no shoving or trying to get more. Smiles and “tenkyu tumas.”
Today we’ve been invited to the Gnana’s village, scrupulously neat and clean. By the water woodworkers are carving canoes. Using a short handled adze with a wider and thinner blade than I’m used to. Shaping is done by eye, and we can see the expertise as he slices layers of timber. The finish is as smooth as any table, inside and out.
The canoe carvers are busy men. Canoes from 1.5m (for the littlies) to 7 or 8m are everywhere, taking the place of our cars, bikes, trains, buses. And clearly a lot of pride goes into the art/skill of carving a canoe, symmetrical and seaworthy.
Our pace has slowed to that of the islands. Nothing happens real fast. A wonderful life-style, so different from our lives in Australia.
Right now I can think of nowhere I’d rather be. A bit of sun’d be nice, and those showers can go elsewhere, but motoring down the Diamond Narrows between New Georgia and Kohinggo Island takes some beating.
The barge hauls off to somewhere else, and we’re passed by a local ferry as the narrows open up into a huge lagoon area dotted with islands and reefs.
The dull sky tries, but can’t hide the beauty. We pass a canoe with fishing detail – how many can they fit in one of those things? A lunch stop near the fishermen, and feeling pleased we have an enclosed cockpit and bridge deck as rain showers pass through.
We work southwards along the eastern side of Rendova Island, heading for an anchorage at Egholo. If a sailor wanted to design the perfect anchorage, this is what he’d come up with. Deep water, plenty of protection, reef across the front, friendly villagers, laughing kids. Heaven on a stick.
We drop anchor right where shown on the map. Not because of the map, but because the village chief met us in his canoe as we came through the narrows and guided us to that spot. Completely enclosed by jungle, except for the entrance – and a transverse reef guards that. The anchorage is watched over by a mountain shrouded in cloud. Misty rain falls on glassed off water. We mightn’t see the near full moon coming up due to cloud, but we’ll get a good night’s sleep on this calm water. How could we not nickname this delightful place “the egghole?”
The headman, Gnana, welcomes us to his village, and we become the centre of attention for the village kids in their canoes. Shy, polite and gentle, with flashing smiles they are born to canoes. Little ones 4 years old, even.
Overcast and rainy, the forecast is not excellent. 25kts ESE blowing harder outside, and weather seems to be deteriorating. We decide a few days here might be nice, as we close up for the night.
A break in the rain and it’s all kids and canoes.
The beauty of this place isn’t diminished by the overcast sky and misty showers. We join Brian and Linda on Drumbeat off Noro, on the island of New Georgia, anchored inside a shallow reef separating us from the channel. I eye off the pass through the reef, and automatically compare the width of our boat. Hmmm…
A visitor drops in by canoe for a bit of “story”. And maybe a bit of bartering.
Soon it’s dusk and the sun shows momentarily below cloud as it waves goodbye for the night.
Tomorrow is another day, and the local market calls.
Our last chance for fresh stuff, so we stock up. Jakfruit? Yes. Coconuts, pawpaws, bananas, all types of fruit and veg.
Market bartering done, we dinghy out past a line of big fishing boats that supply the local tuna cannery, and back to Drumbeat after clearing customs and immigration. That took a while, lik lik longtaim, but hey – who cares? They certainly don’t and that’s a contagious attitude.
We swing out past Noro houses, slide through the narrow gap in the reef and turn to follow the barge that just left the Noro wharf. It seems to disappear into the jungle as it turns into Diamond Narrows. On my last trip through here in a Beneteau 44, maybe ten years ago, it seemed too tight for boats to pass. Not so – deep water to the banks, and sufficient room as it twists and turns westwards. Overcast and windless, we motor on calm water.
Trying to picture racing down this channel on a stormy night with a squadron of wartime US Navy torpedo boats. It was much easier to fictionalize in Payback than it could ever be in real life.
These pics don’t do the narrows justice.
Check ’em out some time on Google Earth, it’s Diamond Narrows in the Solomon Islands, near New Georgia.
When you are making an 1100+ km car journey, it is easy for the mind to wander … and when this car journey is taking you towards the destination of the Solomon Island’s the mind wanders to reflections of past …
The drive is from Airlie Beach to Brisbane; then flying on to Honiara, Solomon Islands.
Carol & I received a call, or was it the sound of distant drums, from Drumbeat, a magnificent 60ft performance cat owned by Brian and Linda Forrester of Airlie Beach. The four of us will sail the boat back to Airlie Beach from the Solomons. It doesn’t get much better than that! Bluewater sailing is both a challenge and an exhilaration.
A quick flight in comfortable (take note Jetstar) Solomons Air economy seats delivered us to Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. A short taxi ride to Domestic, then we board our Dash 8 to Munda, on the island of New Georgia, a scenic hour-long flight to the north. There Brian is waiting with a small bus for the meandering drive to Noro, our clearance port for the sail back to Oz.
Munda and Noro … along the Bruce Highway the mind wanders … as these are near where I set the naval battle scene in Payback, where fictional Ben Williams guided a squadron of American PT boats, led by 901 and its skipper, J.K. (any resemblance to PT 109 and JFK is purely coincidental, of course).
Not so coincidental is that my uncle, Lt. Stan Bell, was attached to the US navy to guide torpedo boats and submarines in these waters, for which he was awarded the American Legion of Merit. The highest award the US can give a foreign serviceman – Stan’s was No. 35.
It is hard not to reflect on the research and stories handed down which evolved into Payback when you visit these magical pacific islands.
From the tropical Noro foreshore it is a short dinghy ride across the smooth, protected waters to our home for the next while, Drumbeat.
She’s a far cry from the warships of 75 years ago. Back then this was the battlefront between Japan and the US, one where carrier borne aircraft came into their own. And one where the Australian Coast Watchers – you may recall mention of these brave souls in Payback – played such a major and decisive part in those sea and air battles, warning the allies of the pending arrival of enemy aircraft. Most times when Japanese aircraft attacked allied forces they’d find themselves pounced upon by US fighters that with early warning from a Coast Watcher had been able to climb to altitude. From height they had the elements of speed and surprise over the attacking aircraft.
An interesting book to read – The Coast Watchers by Eric Feldt. (And, of course, Payback, by John Bell)
Now, to unpack and prepare for our bluewater adventure!