About the Ship
Meet the Skipper
Coral Sea '07 Postings
Date and Time:
April - October, 2007
View Photos - CORAL SEA :
4 June, 2007 - Mackay, Queensland Coast, Australia
SEAWANHAKA is poised at Mackay on the Great Barrier Reef to commence another tropical cruising season. The plan for the year is to sail a circumnavigation of the Coral Sea. We started in Cairns a month ago at the end of April. It was a good trip, being inside the Great Barrier Reef, smooth with no swell, but the SE trade winds arrived early this year. Of the 23 days of sailing, all but one were to windward. As the crow flies, or as we say in the nautical world, "as the motor yacht travels", it's only 320 miles from Cairns to Mackay. But as the sailboat to windward travels, SEAWANHAKA put on 820 miles. Great sailing. I did have one particularly good day of east wind on a solo sail from Dunk Island to Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island, just off the coast from Townsville. I did 85 miles in 15 hours without having to touch the sails, on a nice close to beam reach. I sailed into Horseshoe Bay at 0200 under a full moon. In the month of cruising we found lots of great anchorages on the reef, at some spectacular islands, and some well protected bays on the mainland.
Unfortunately at Dunk Island I lost one great crew in Spaniard Daniel. He had planned to spend the season on SEAWANHAKA. He is a 26 year old engineer with a specialty in automotive steering systems. BMW offered him a job test driving state of the art steering systems in Detroit, a position he obviously counldn't refuse. Fortunately he was on board long enough to have some good sailing, snorkeling and diving, and work through my autopilot system!
We spent a week at Horeshoe Bay on Magnetic Island, great for cycling and hiking. The highlight of the stop was a dive I did on the historic YONGALLA wreck. The YONGALLA was the flagship of the Adelaide Steamship Company on a passenger and cargo run from Mackay to Townsville in 1911. They did not have a radio on board, and failed to receive the warning of an impending cyclone. It went down with all hands. Actually only a few remnants ever washed up on the the northern Queensland beaches, and it's fate remained a mystery until the 1950's when a US Navy minesweeper encountered it in 100 feet of water off of Cape Cleveland. It is a spectacular dive, having created its own "artificial reef" in an area of all sand bottom. Every kind of marine life, from sea snakes, turtles and rays to outstanding soft and hard coral and giant clams. Often called the most outstanding dive in Australia, it sure rates at the top of the list of dives that I have done.
From Horseshoe Bay it was a tough trip around the capes to Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. Cape Bowling Green proved to be a challenge in 25-30 knots of SE wind. Our first day out we beat for 52 miles to windward, when at 1600 in the afternoon the wind went even stronger, and we decided it was prudent not to spend the night out in it, so we ran back to Bowling Green Bay. 71 miles for the day to end up in the same anchorage. That's windward sailing for you.
Airlie Beach was another nice week-long anchorage where I did the major provisioning for the season, picked up great fresh produce at the local Saturday market, and added Alabaman Dan Fritts to the crew. He is fresh off of boats in the Caribbean and Hawaii and eager to sail the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea passage to the Solomon Islands.
Arriving in Mackay, we did a quick haul out to tighten up a few seams, a project that went very well, and we are back in the water finishing up last minute chores aiming for a mid-week check out and departure from Australia.
8 June, 2007 - Refuge Bay, Scawfell Island
Crew Dan Fritts - Alabama Dan
Itís early evening on our second night away from the Australian mainland and Bill, Dimity and I have just finished watching an amazing sunset that seemed to last forever. With every passing moment, the sky became even more amazing until finally the light was gone and the stars began to appear. We departed from Mackay late yesterday morning on an overcast day with a gray sea and gray skies extending to every bit of the horizon. This was actually good news as all we had seen for the past week were gray skies and rain. Lots of rain. It seemed like it was never going to end and we were all beginning to forget what sunsets and the stars looked like. Fortunately that all changed today with clear skies, strong gusts and cool air surrounding us.
Yesterday was a wonderful day of sailing. With the wind at our backs and fishing poles out, we departed Mackay, heading for Scawfell Island. It was only about 25 miles away, but a good place to anchor for the first night out. The winds were light but very cool and after pulling in a healthy sized Queensland School Mackerel, we pulled the fishing lines in as our mackerel would suffice to feed the three of us quite well for a couple of days. At sunset, we arrived at Refuge Bay which we found to be a pretty popular spot compared to some of the more recent anchorages we had been in. It looked like it would be quite a peaceful spot. We would later realize that would not be the case.
After a dinner of fresh fish, some music, and some wine, everyone went to sleep. The night seemed to last forever. It was like the current and the wind were fighting in opposite directions. Strong gusts were howling through the shrouds and the changing current kept the boat on a constant roll. Between all of the movement and noise, I donít think anyone got a full nights sleep. Captain Bill fortunately was up and decided it would be a good idea to let out more rode on the anchor to make sure we werenít going anywhere. By early morning, the weather had not changed and we all woke up thinking the same thing, we werenít going anywhere today.
With the rough and shifting weather, we decided it would be a good idea to take care of all of the finishing touches of getting the boat ready for our journey to the Solomon islands here in Refuge Bay. After a quick breakfast, I spent the morning reworking all of the waterproofing around all the hatches while Dimity cleaned and stored all of the potatoes. In the meantime, Bill tuned the rigging and rigged us up another support for our second fishing rod so we can have a way to mount two rods and catch all the more fish while underway. From there, we emptied the cabin of all the cushions, carpet and anything that had gotten even moderately damp during our 10 day rain streak. The rest of the day was filled with a few miscellaneous projects and lots of relaxing on the first clear and sunny day we had seen in a while. Although the air was cool, it was still amazing to sit on the deck of the boat and look out at the bay. About every five minutes, someone would spot a turtle swimming by. Of all the places I have ever been, I have never seen so many turtles in one day. The day finally ended, with the toasting to the dropping of the Australian flag with some beer, wine and a few group photographs to capture the moment for a lifetime. Combine that with a beautiful sunset and I canít think of a better way to say goodbye to Australia.
10 June, 2007 - Departing Australia
SEAWANHAKA is exiting the Great Barrier Reef through Hydrographers Passage, entering the Coral Sea bound for the Solomon Islands. We are 3 days out of Mackay. It is a 120 nautical mile sail from the mainland out through the islands and reef to reach the Coral Sea. We did it in 3 days, with a couple of nights anchored at Scawfell Island, and a very unique stop at Bugatti Reef right out on the rim of the Coral Sea. It's quite amazing to be anchored inside a reef, with no land in sight, the waves crashing on the windward side of the reef, very protected inside. We finished up last minute projects to be ready for sea, and this morning weighed anchor, and sailed out through the pass. Our entrance into the Coral Sea was spectacular. We have very calm seas, a good southerly to set our course to the east, with fair skies and warming temperatures.
SEAWANHAKA is well provisioned for what we expect to be 4 to 5 months of sailing in the Coral Sea. We also are carrying about half a ton of cargo, goods for the tsunami victims, primarily in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. An earthquake in April set off a wave that devastated many of the communities of the islands. Fortunately we have a benefactor in the good citizens of Mooloolaba. Led by fashion designer Carmel Patchett, who donated quite a bit of her own stock, they mounted a fundraising effort, allowing us to be loaded with clothing, school goods, construction materials, and other aid to help them recover. Thanks to Carmel and Mooloolaba for that great effort!
12 June, 2007 - Paget Cay, Marion Reef
Latitude: 19 15 South
SEAWANHAKA is anchored up at an incredible location. Marion Reef, a complex of reefs extending for 25 miles, laying 200 miles east off the Australian coast.
We had a great sail getting here. Sailing out of Hydrographers Passage through the Great Barrier Reef we had a southerly breeze that let us sail a course to the east to get here. It was a lovely night of sailing with just the right wind and very calm sea conditions. A half moon rose just after midnight to light our path, together with all of the stars of the southern sky.
It's a rare opportunity to anchor up at one of these outlying reefs. In fact it is the first time I have ever done it! I've made attempts in the past, but the wind, weather and routes just never coincided to let it happen. I think Marion Reef is very rarely visited, though there is evidence that at least one ship came to misery on the reef here. We are anchored to leeward of a beautiful sand cay, Paget Cay, and just to the south is the wreck of a ship on the reef. Paget Cay is on Long Reef, a 19 mile long reef giving great protection from the waves that roll in here unencumbered by any land for a thousand miles or more.
As we anchored just at sunset, we were visited by a number of sea birds interested to see what this new addition to their habitat was. Could be that they've never seen a tree, but being such a bird thing, really wanted to land in our rigging. In fact we had one inhabitant all night. Didn't mind at all cleaning up evidence of him this morning.
It was a spectacular day of exploring. As the tide went out this morning miles of sand and reef became exposed. We took the dinghy in to the beach, and found some incredible snorkeling in the lagoon by the wreck. Everything from a half dozen curious white-tipped reef sharks to large Wrasse, that are called "Napolean fish". Hundreds of different variety of fish. Then we had a nice hike along the beach, making sure to stay clear of all of the birds nesting on the cay. They were on eggs, with evidence of a chick or two.
Did I mention that we have had some very productive fishing? A good catch of yellowfin, fresh ahi sashimi every night, as well as fish steak and eggs for breakfast and fish tacos for dinner! The sea has been bountiful.
Tomorrow we set off on the 750 mile sail to the Solomon Islands. Because we were able to get way out here to the east, we shoud be able to lay a good course and not be too hard on the wind. We'll keep you posted on our progress.
17 June, 2007 - Coral Sea
Latitude: 9 58 South
We are 4 days out of Marion Reef, 650 miles across the Coral Sea. Despite my optimism at Marion Reef, and a great weather forecast, from the very first mile out of the reef the wind has gone to the east at 20-25 knots, with a very choppy swell, making it very difficult to sail our course to Honiara. We have been on a close reach, a very fast, wet, wild ride. We have finally determined that we just can't make Honiara, and have altered our destination to Gizo, capital of the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. It has also been very gray and rainy, not at all what you'd expect for the Coral Sea cruising season. This afternoon there was such a torrential downpour that we hove-to for a couple of hours as SEAWANHAKA was pelted with rain. It was a large black squall, with thunder and lightning, and stole all of our wind. Once it blew past it took a few hours for the wind to re-establish itself in the east, and we were able to continue on our way. More rain off and on through the night.
19 June, 2007 - Gizo, Western Province, Solomon Islands
SEAWANHAKA made landfall in the Solomon Islands yesterday morning at sunrise, with the many islands of the Western Province reaching across the horizon. And it was a sunrise, the first in 5 days. We had to hove-to for another squall just before daylight, but once that blew through there was clearing on our route to the northeast, and we had some fine sailing in sunshine and fair winds. By mid-afternoon we were approaching the fringing coral reefs of Gizo Island, with good visibility to navigate our way through the pass and into the fine harbor, and drop our anchor in the bustling little village of Gizo. It was market day, very colorful all along the waterfront, and 2 inter-island ferries were unloading and loading on the wharf. It was wonderful to sit on deck in a very calm anchorage and watch all the activity.
After a peaceful night's sleep we made our rounds of Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine, a very smooth process. We lowered the Q flag, hoisted the colors of the Solomon Islands, and headed into the PT-109 Gizo Yacht Club to toast our passage. The now famous "Kennedy Island", where JFK swam when his PT boat went down, is located just 5 miles to the east. Reports are that the area surrounding Gizo was the stronghold of the Japanese in the Solomons in WWII and that relics from that period are everywhere in the area, on the islands and in the surrounding lagoons. Lots of exploring ahead of us here in the Islands.
22 June, 2007 - Gizo, Western Province, Solomon Islands
We are having a great time exploring Gizo and the surrounding country. Most notably, the island of Gizo is at the center of the area of destruction from the tsunami that occurred following an earthquake a few months ago, 2 April , "Wet Monday" as it is now referred to here . The quake was an 8.2 with the epicenter only about 35 miles from where we are anchored. In the anchorage from SEAWANHAKA we can see tent villages encamped on the hillside. Reports are that there are more than a 1000 families that have suffered complete destruction of their homes, and that 70 schools were washed away.
I had the opportunity to get my cycles out and do a ride over to the other side of the island, where the main thrust of the wave came ashore. I had met Kiwi Justin, Disaster Coordinator with the Council for International Development, and took him along for the ride. He is out here providing coodination of various agencies to improve the efficiencies of the relief efforts. It was a very humbling experience as we rode through villages that had been entirely destroyed, and witness the force of the wave that came ashore. The island villagers literally lost everything. There were many sifting through the debris trying to find anything left that might be useful. Clothes, pots and pans, bedding, family momentos, everything was washed away by the wave. Bridges were washed out, trees down along the trail. Water systems destroyed. There is a major reconstruction effort needed here, in one of the countries of the world least likely to be able to mount such a recovery effort. The economy and government of the Solomon Islands was enshrouded in chaos and corruption even before this disaster struck. There is virtually no infrastructure or ability to respond internally to the very serious needs of the people in this far flung Western Province. The effort is very much dependent on international aid agencies, primarily organized through Australia and New Zealand, with assistance from the Japanese present as well.
Being loaded up with our own small kit of relief goods, we are assessing where best to center our distribution efforts. After spending the week in Gizo, tomorrow we are going to sail out to some of the more outlying areas to help the villagers who don't have access to the resources of Gizo.
Swedish crew Johan flew in from Dunedin to sail with us for a week. He hails from Uppsala, is in NZ finishing up his studies in theology. He's very enthused about the opportunity to sail on SEAWANHAKA and we're pleased to have him on board.
There are a few other cruising boats in the anchorage. And of course whenever that occurs it's a good opportunity for a party on SEAWANHAKA. We hosted a sunset event a couple of nights ago. Swedish boat, Aussie boat on their way back from the Melbourne to Osaka race, and we were joined by Michelle Carson, a Fed Ex pilot based in the Phillipines. She had just done the 2-day trek to the summit of Kolombangara, a beautiful volcano on the neighboring island to the northeast. It's been a while since I've had the opportunity to swap Air Force Academy stories! Yesterday I joined Michelle and Dive Gizo for a great day of diving walls and wrecks, adding 3 Solomon Island dives to my log book.
June 25, 2007 - Liapari Lagoon, Vella Lavella Island, Solomon Islands
Aussie Crew Dimity
Summing up my offshore adventure from Mackay to the Solomons is quite a challenge, as words are inadequate.I feel incredibly privileged to have visited Marion Reef. Such a unique place, highlighted by its inaccessibility.The entire reef, and cay is magical; visiting borders on sacred.
During our offshore trip we established a watch system of 2 hours on, 4 off. I was fortunate to be able to choose my time, picking the 4-6 slot, to see the sunrise/sunset. I feel gratified to finally experience what I had heard about for so long. The perspective to look around you, and for days on end, all in sight, is horizon. The omnipotence of the sea is one of the reasons I'd been captivated to do this. The first night could be likened to being in a spaceship. Traveling at approx 8 knots, hurling along a sphere of seemingly infinitesimal darkness; trustingly into the starry void. The dynamics of the microcosm and macrocosm is ever present. Totally independent, reliant on one's self sufficiency, interplaying with the power of mother nature and the sea demands reverence.
I have always loved SEAWANHAKA and her history. Now, I have a deeper respect for her. The opportunity to sail from Australia to the Solomons, will be an adventure always remembered.
26 June, 2007 - Kololuka Island, Solomon Islands
Today marks 12 years of my owning SEAWANHAKA. Log total shows 45,514 nautical miles. Great to be celebrating that event in such a splendid anchorage.
We've spent 3 days out sailing. First stop was Liapari Lagoon on the southeast corner of Vella Lavella, a lovely lagoon formed between Liapari Island and the main island of Vella Lavella. To get here we had to work our way out through the northern lagoon of Gizo, through the reef, across Gizo Strait, and through the pass to anchor in the sheltered waters of this lagoon. Navigation in the Solomons we've discovered is a challenge. The GPS coordinates have been consistently 3/4 of a mile off, so we're relying completely on visual and depth. Makes for challenging sailing, but also very satisfying. I spend so much time up the foremast on the rat lines scoping out the passages that I'm thinking of installing an easy chair and snack bar! Fortunately the water clarity is superb most places we've been, and it is pretty easy to see the color differentiation of the depths.
Liapari is connected to Vella Lavella by an old causeway and bridge constructed by the Japanese. It was a beautiful hike around the smaller island on a very bright sunny day, with a swim in the clear waters of the lagoon never far away.
The anchorage saw us visited by lots of locals with produce to trade. A few of the special treats were fresh oysters, which grow locally on the mangrove stalks, and loads of fresh wild mushrooms just poking up in the jungle after the recent rains, and of course an endless supply of fresh ripe papaya.
We sailed back across the strait into Konggulavata Bay, into this very protected anchorage in behind Kololuka Island. The real treat is that just around the corner, a 15 minute dinghy ride, is the wreck of the TOA MARU, a Japanese supply ship that was run up on the reef after being hit by an attack of bombers and Grumman Wildcats, launched from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. I'm still trying to work out the dates and details, but it may well be that those planes were put in the air by my Father who was an aircraft mechanic with the US Marine Corp at Henderson Field.
Dan and I did a wonderful dive on the wreck. The TOA MARU is laying on her starboard side with depths that vary from 30 to 90 feet, perfect for exploring. Good visibility and lots of marine life made for a great dive.
29 June, 2007 - Simbo Harbor, Simbo Island
Dan, Johan and I sailed out of Gizo yesterday to the lovely volcano island of Simbo. We had heard a lot about Simbo during our time in Gizo. There is a large encampment of Simbo evacuees from the earthquake and tsunami damage living in a tent camp in the hills up above Gizo. A couple of their leaders had visited SEAWANHAKA in the anchorage at Gizo when they heard that we had some relief goods. Simbo is a small island with a beautiful, still-active volcano. Unfortunately the populated side of the island faces directly at the epicenter of the earthquake, and suffered a direct blow from the big wave, as well as earthquake damage to buildings up the hill out of the range of the wave. We decided to sail over and see if we could help them out.
We had a great trip across the 20 mile channel from Gizo. Hooked up and landed a couple of very nice Spanish Mackerel, which made for one of the best fish dinners ever on SEAWANHAKA.
Since we had fairly calm conditions, we were looking for an anchorage at the NW tip of Simbo, which would provide for a nice sunset, plenty of nearly full moonlight, and some protection from the predominately SE wind and swell. The guide book described the anchorage we were looking for: "Upon rounding the northern headland a very attractive village behind a lovely white sandy beach will be noticed. There is a fine calm weather anchorage here off the beach." We rounded the headland and came abeam of the beautiful white sand beach, looked for the village... but the village was gone. An entire village of 500, only one lonely structure well up in the hills. The earthquake and wave had combined as a double punch to wreak total destruction. We found a good spot to anchor in 30 feet of water off of the beach, and one lone boat came out to greet us, explaining that the village had been wiped out. Some of the villagers had been moved to Gizo, others are scattered in tent camps up in the hills. They were very friendly, almost apologetic that they could not welcome us to their village, and came out the next morning to see us weigh anchor and move around to Simbo Harbor. Many of them then paddled their canoes over and paid us a visit in the protection of the harbor. We helped them as much as we could with clothing, school supplies and building materials.
We are the lone boat in the harbor. We've arranged a guide for a hike up the volcano tomorrow. We've also received a note addressed to: "Captain Sailing Boat", from Jonathan Rakena, explaining that he is "a disable person, I am not able to come out. I need your assistance. Would you kindly please do give me one short trousers and one shirt short hand." We're going to pay Jonathan a visit tomorrow at "Green House. Road Side, Lengana, Simbo Island". This small, fairly remote island looks to be a good place to focus our relief help.
1 July, 2007 - Gizo Harbor, Solomon Islands
...The first Swedish crew member, Johan Sunnerstam.
SEAWANHAKA had a perfect sailing day today. We left Simbo harbour in the morning and had an absolute fantastic cruising day northeast back to our "home port" in the Solomon Islands, Gizo Harbour. After some heavy rain the sun came out, and in 20 knots of wind we were cruising along on a close reach doing 6-8 knots. I must say that she is a great boat to sail. Even though we had some rough swells, Seawanhaka is very smooth in the water. There's not much a helmsman has to do other than to let her do the job. I've only been sailing for 17 years and she has been out on the oceans of the world for 82 years, so I guess that says it all. Just keep your hand on the helm and give her a push in the right direction sometimes, that's it, she is doing the rest of the job.
This is my last day on board this lovely schooner and it's really been a great time. Two weeks in the Solomon Islands is definately not enough for me, but my studies in New Zealand call so I have to leave tomorrow... But for all the new crew coming on board this and the next cruising seasons: you will have a great time! To sit on deck in the mornings, drinking my morning tea, looking out over the horizon trying to predict the weather; sail in the southern pacific with all three sails up; meet these incredibly friendly locals and help them as much as possible recovering from the tsunami and earthquake disaster and to sit on deck eating a great dinner prepared by one of the crew or the captain, drinking some wine and watching the moonlight and the stars; have been a wonderful experience to me. The sailing and the food; especially captain Bill's dinners and Dan's breakfasts and his banana cake is something the future crew should ask for...absolutely amazing! Sometimes I've wanted to call the schooner Seawanhaka the restaurant Seawanhaka.
Another great memory is the sailing down to Simbo when Dan came up with the idea to get our fishing rods out. It didn't take too long until Bill and myself got two great Spanish Mackerels on the boat, which gave us another great dinner on board. I love the way one lives with the nature on board this schooner. When it rains we collect the water to get some drinking water and we also get up on deck to get our fresh water shower; when we are sailing we try to get our food by fishing and when the weather is beautiful we either sail, go snorkeling or explore the island we are anchored next to.
To sail on Seawanhaka with her very competent and generous captain has been a great pleasure for me and I want to wish the best of luck to her, her captain and her crew in the future. Keep sailing her on the oceans of the world with a big and mixed crew, that's what she is built for. I'll see you where the wind is...
14 July, 2007 - Lola Island, Vona Vona Lagoon, Solomon Islands
"Honeymooners" Crew Michal and Monika - Warsaw, Poland
We have just got married and started our one-year-long honeymoon :). We are not that type of people, who would need a romantic days and nights alone at the beach in big resorts with posh, all inclusive cocktails and food, and waiters dancing around us. Our wedding didn't took place in any dance hall either but outside under the sky in Polish, beautiful countryside by the lake in the Polish sailing center. So, we'd rather spend our honeymoon in remote places, without tourists and with locals. What could be better than sailing in Pacific then?...
So, we decided to take a risk and spend the first months of the honeymoon on Seawanhaka with Bill and his crew members. It took us a few days and 9 flights to get from Poland to Gizo in Solomon Islands. The bigger risk the better prize you can get. And we got the very first prize!
The yacht is great, the landscape amazing (and romantic!). Atmosphere on the boat and captain as we expected - relaxed, open-minded but also very much to the point. The first week let us catch up with sleeping and relax due to a few days of tropical rains. But once we left Gizo and started sailing between islands and coral reefs it has been like honeymooners like us should expect. Dinners on the deck under the sky full of stars with Bill's lessons about stars, snorkeling on reefs with beautiful fish, sharks and sting rays, great sailing with clear instructions on how to do things, beautiful anchorages in bays and lagoons...
The only thing we need to be worried about are crocodiles and mosquitoes. We still need a bit more wind and less rain. But that is indeed the beauty of sailing that you have to integrate with nature. So, we are staying onboard Seawanhaka and continuing our honeymoon (unless Bill is fed up with honeymooners ;).
22 July, 2007 - Ketuketusoa Island, Solomon Islands
Crew Dan Fritts - Alabama Dan
Though surrounded by islands, there are no lights to be seen along the entire horizon, only the outline of the palm trees and mountains against the last of the sun's rays. The stars are out and there is not a cloud in the sky. Sitting on the deck of SEAWANHAKA, I just finished a wonderful dish of fresh Mackerel along with some kasawa, the local version of a potato.
After putting away my plate, I laid my head back and took up my favorite position, lying on deck using a propped open hatch as a backrest and looking up at the stars. After noticing that the moon was bright enough tonight to block out many of the stars we usually see here, I saw a bright glowing light with a tail that seemed to reach across the entire sky. I tried to tell everyone else to look, but the words never came to my mouth. The only sign of anyone else on deck seeing this glowing object streak across the sky was the gasp of Siv, one of the girls from Norway. This was by far the most amazing shooting star I have seen in my life. It came from right to left streaking across the sky, brighter than Venus and with a tail that stretched halfway across my entire field of view. I can only guess that it must have lasted six or seven seconds!
Today, we set sail from an enormous lagoon, complete with islands as far as you could see and clear shallow water surrounding each of them. Most of the islands around seemed to have lots of mangroves so we didnít do much swimming for fear of crocodiles out hunting nearby. After departing from the lagoon late in the morning, we caught our first fish of the day. This time, Bill grabbed the rod and started reeling it in. We could tell it was pretty big and it was fighting differently from most of the fish we had caught. Surely we were catching something different. As the fish was pulled closer to the boat, I was ready with gaff in hand to pull him out of the water. I noticed what I thought was a yellow tail and thought that we were just catching another yellow fin tuna. As he came closer to the surface, I realized that the color I was seeing wasnít a yellow tail, but the lure had hooked the fish along his back near his tail! Bill brought him to the surface and with one swift plunge, I drove the gaff through his head and tossed the fish into the cockpit. I canít imagine we could be any luckier! This fish was at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was just swimming along when our lures must have passed too close to him and caught him in the back. Either way, he was the biggest Spanish Mackerel I have ever seen and would be our dinner for the next couple of nights!
The winds were pretty light today so after we caught the fish and realized we werenít making too much progress toward our destination, we decided to fly the spinnaker. It is such a beautiful sail to have up. Thin and blue, the sun's light passes right through it, still leaving a nice shadowy retreat on the bow of the boat. I had been waiting for a good clear day to get some good photos of the spinnaker flying. After taking a few from on deck, I decided I would take my camera up the rat lines into the rigging to get some shots from up high. While contemplating what would make a good photo, everyone below started shouting about a turtle that had popped up on our port side. I looked down to see one of the largest turtles I have ever seen. He swam alongside the boat for a bit and as I watched him begin his descent, I saw a pair of mahi mahi, come from under the boat heading out to sea. I cried out for everyone to look at the two dolphins, but no one seemed to see them. I then realized that most people call them a mahi mahi or dorado whereas in the states we also know them as dolphin fish. Not the flipper kind, the beautifully colored, flat headed fish with a long dorsal fin. As I watched the two fish swim by, they took a sudden change of direction and I yelled ďtheyíre going for the lures!Ē At this point no one else had seen them. As we all watched the rods, me still up in the air, we werenít sure if we were going to get a bite. Then one of the rods let out a long zipping sound and the chaos began. With my camera, I scrambled down the ratlines while Bill and Michal began dropping the spinnaker. Someone else was dropping the main staysail and we were struggling with sheeting in the main as we had rigged a preventer to keep it from rolling around in the light winds. This was the most difficult time you could ever imagine on board SEAWANHAKA to stop the boat. I grabbed the rod and the fun began! After seeing the fish dance on the water and still waiting on the other one to bite our second rod, I began working him in. It wasnít too much of a fight but seeing him leap in the air several times and dance across the water on his tail was amazing! The other one did not bite so Katrina pulled in the other line to avoid it getting snagged on my line. Pulling the fish to the edge of the boat, the wonderful greens and blues of the fish were glowing in the water. Bill drove the gaff in and tossed him into the cockpit. Another successful fish brought on board for the day! A *** and ****, on a scale of 1 to 4 in the same day! We arenít going to starve, at least not for a couple of more days!
After all that fishing, I didnít think that you could have anything else to make it a better day here in the islands. As we began dropping the sails and slowly motoring toward our anchorage, we all noticed an enormous fish nearby leap out of the water. On its second jump, we saw that it was a Marlin leaping. Three enormous leaps later, we realized that this fish must have been over ten feet long! What a performance from an amazing creature! The excitement ended and we pulled into our west facing anchorage to reveal crystal clear water and an enormous coral reef. Combine that with an amazing little coastline of palm trees, sandy beaches, tropical flowers and driftwood and you canít find a better place to spend the night. I spent the remaining hours of good daylight exploring the shore, taking about two rolls of film worth of photos that I hope turn out to be some of the best of the entire trip. Every day here reveals something more amazing than the last and I still have three months to go on this leg of my journey!
25 July, 2007 - Kombana Island, Manggo Bay, Choiseul Island, Solomon Islands
I've seen many of the great creatures of the world from the deck of SEAWANHAKA. A variety of whales: humpbacks, grays, orcas, pilots, minkes. At least 3 or 4 species of eagles. Osprey, albatross, petrels, boobies, frigate birds. Grizzly and black bears and deer. Seals, sea lions, elephant seals, fur seals, playful and curious sea otters. Even little "fairy" penguins. But I must say one of the most dramatic has been the first sighting of a big salt water crocodile.
Required reading for everyone who comes on board in these waters is "Big, Bad and Deadly", a Cruising World article from 2000 that describes the death of a Swiss sailor in the Solomons to a crocodile. Like many of us, sailing across the Pacific, he was in the habit of jumping in the water with a mask and snorkel to check the set of the anchor when he pulled into a new anchorage. All his wife on deck heard was "Help, a croc!" and saw a violent thrashing of several crocs, and then silence as her husband was gone forever.
We pulled into Mbaroko Bay on New Georgia Island, which the cruising guide described as well protected, with a good snorkel on a sunken freighter in shallow water. As we searched for a spot to anchor Siv asked me: "Do you think this is too far to swim to the wreck?" My response as usual was that I know more about grizzly bears than I do about crocs, and that's not much! It's up to each individual to make their own decision whether to swim or not, but at least they've had the opportunity to read the account of one croc disaster in these waters. No one felt like it was a safe place to swim. A local or 2 paddled up with fruit, veggies and carvings, but we've found that their advice on crocs is not very valuable. They don't swim except by necessity for fishing, and seem to always want to please by answering "yes" to every question.
Sitting on deck enjoying our cocktails, eagle-eyed Dan sights a croc moving along the shoreline about 50 meters from the boat! Visible is the head (large), eyes, and back (a long way from the head!). We estimate 4-5 meters, but never see the entire body to know for sure. Fair to say we are all duly impressed with the size. It moves along the shoreline, around the corner, and up the river flowing into the bay. We don't swim in Mbaroko Bay, and have been very cautious about where we do swim since that sighting.
Fortunately we have found some wonderful offshore islands and reefs that have afforded us some of the best snorkeling I have ever seen. There have been some incredible walls that drop from a few meters off to what looks to be infinity. Coming into one anchorage, Wilson Harbor on New Georgia, the depth sounder was reading 300-500 feet just before it jumped up to 50! Made for a great place to snorkel. Then in the next few days at both Ondolou and Ketuketusoa Islands we had great walls very close to the boat for more great snorkeling. But no swimming anywhere inshore, or where there is murky water or mangroves!
24 July, 2007, Vanga Point, Kolombangaa Island, Solomon Islands
Norway Crew, Cathrine and Siv
Sitting encapsulated in rain between the mountains of Bergen in Norway during the autumn months, two girls were dreaming of sun, open ocean, lovely sandy beaches and the wonders of marine life. Here, many months later, we are, on Seawanhaka in the Solomon Islands. Cathrine arrived in Gizo on the 5th of July, and Siv came down from her backpacking in China on the 7th of July. The next day we raised sails.
With the crew consisting of captain Bill, Dan and the Polish honeymooners Michal and Monika, we started our paradise cruise through the western province of the Solomon Islands. A new harbour was found each night, from lonely beaches, sheltered lagoons to small villages, that all gave us good shelter for the nights. The local people were extremely friendly and traded wooden carvings, fresh vegetables and lobsters. In the town Mase we invited the village kids to a soccer game and the response was enormous. But the challange was - how to play a soccer game with over a hundred kids? It was chaotic, but it worked - and afterwards there were over a hundred smiles.
One of the highlights of the trip have been snorkeling in the many reefs inhabited by the numerous and diverse marine life. We met several sharks, all kinds of coloured fish, dolphins and turtles, which made the experience spectacular for us northern girls.
26 July, 2007 - Gizo, Solomon Islands
SEAWANHAKA is back in Gizo after a 2 1/2 week, 300 mile sailing trip around the islands of the Western and Choiseul Provinces of the Solomon Islands. In the course of that trip we managed to sail completely around the large, beautiful volcano island of Kolombangara, so we're calling it the "Circumnavigation of Kolombangara Cruise". At times it was a challenge with 6 of us on board, more than we usually cruise with, but we had awesome sailing, never motoring more than in and out of our anchorages, mostly sunny weather, just enough rain to fill the tanks, absolutely beautiful anchorages every where we went, some of the best snorkeling ever, and a full array of marine life. On our sail back across New Georgia Sound ("the slot" as it became known in WWII) we had the most stunning display of dolphin: about a hundred of them came charging across the sea and frolicked around SEAWANHAKA for quite a while as we sailed a wonderful southerly breeze. One of the challenges was the lack of detailed charts for much of the area we were sailing, with lots of coral reefs, and the inaccuracy of the GPS where there were charts. We spent a lot of our time with a lookout up the rat lines scouting a clear course, and I'm pleased to say that we never bumped the keel.
SEAWANHAKA will be in Gizo for 10 days as we do a crew swap, and I am going to do a week-long trip to Guadalcanal and Tulagi, my "war memorial pilgrimage" in the memory of my Father and Uncle Bill.
7 August, 2007 - Guadalcanal Day, Solomon Islands
I am back in Gizo after my "War Memorial Tour" to Guadalcanal and Tulagi. Today is "Guadalcanal Day", the 65th anniversary of the US invasion. The timing of my trip was very fortunate, as there was a week-long celebration to commemorate that effort. This is likely to be the last major celebration that any of the veterans will be able to attend. I had the pleasure of meeting several Marine Corp, Navy, and Army veterans who were young troops in the Solomons in 1942. It was a very special experience to be having a beer at the yacht club, with the sun setting to the west casting its last rays over the infamous Savo Island, listening to those men tell stories of the massive war effort that they took part in. One particular man, Buzz Miller, from Ohio, was only 17 years old, told me he hadn't even started to shave yet! This was his first trip back to Guadalcanal. During the war he had a small Brownie camera with him (which was against military regulations). He showed us original Guadalcanal WWII photos, including one of him digging into a fox hole on what is now known as "Bloody Ridge".
I flew into Henderson Field, where my Father was one of the first Marines ashore in the invasion to take Guadalcanal from the Japanese. It seems a rather inconsequential place to have been the focus of such a major war effort, but the plains where Henderson Field is located is one of largest expanses of flat land in the South Pacific, perfect for a major airfield, and was seen as hugely strategic to both the Japanese and Americans. The US and their allies were worried that if the Japanese established an airfield there, they would have control of the entire South Pacific, and be able to sever supply and communication to Australia and New Zealand. Tulagi Harbor, just 20 miles to the east, is a large deepwater port that was the perfect complement to the airport at Henderson Field. Both the Japanese and the Americans put all of their military might on the line; land, air and sea. The US victory at Guadalcanal was a major factor in the outcome of WWII.
I had a great time hiking up to the US War Memorial, taking a war sites tour, hiking the Matanikau River trail. I also took a boat across what is known as "Iron Bottom Sound" to Tulagi Harbor. My Uncle Bill was navigator on a US Navy supply ship in Tulagi Harbor in July 1943. I did 4 great dives, including a wreck dive on a 4-engine Japanese float plane. In Tulagi Harbor I had the good fortune of hooking up with an Aussie fellow who is a real war history buff. He was doing a Gavutu Island tour and let me tag along. Gavutu was a really tough fight for the US Marines. They stormed ashore onto the 16 acre island, and lost 800 men on the beach. We did a hike up to the Japanese fortifications, where they had tunnels dug through the hills. Lots of relics, and the locals on the island had a bag full of human bones that they still find as they dig their gardens! We then hiked down to the beach, which, 65 years later, is still littered with evidence of the Marine invasion. Boxes of dynamite in the sand, and I was able to find 30 caliber rifle and 50 caliber machine gun shell casings. I collected a few as momentos.
When my Father went ashore on Guadalcanal he met his cousin Lt. Lawrence LeSage. An article I have from the front page of the Los Angeles Times tells the story:
"TWO COUSINS MEET, ONE DIES, ON GUADALCANAL.TWO SOUTHLANDERS SEPARATED AS RESULT OF BATTLE
Death has ended the companionship of two Southern California cousins, who found it a small world when they met on Guadalcanal. John J. Hanlon [my Father], Marine Corps private first class, went to the South Pacific last June .
His cousin, Lt. L. D. LeSage, Marine Corps flyer, followed in October, and they met on Guadalcanal Island.
Lt. LeSage died nearly a month ago of injuries received in action. His parents said yesterday they were consoled by a letter from his cousin, John, saying he had been with him at his death."
Having concluded my "pilgrimage" to Guadalcanal, I am left with an understanding of the magnitude of what the US Marines did there. Every single man was tested to the limits of his endurance. Because of the strength of the men who fought there, the Japanese were defeated for the first time, pushed north, the beginning of the end of Japanese threat to the world. It has been described as "the worst six months in the annals of American military history... there were men who were decorated for particular acts of valor, mostly posthumously, but the phrase 'heroism at Guadalcanal' is redundant. Many served, a few were decorated, all were heroic."
9 August, 2007, Buri Harbor, Ranongga Island, Solomon Islands
Back in Gizo, honeymooners Michal and Monika had their first days alone together in a month! (Is this the start of a new Polish joke? Q: How many does it take to go on a Polish honeymoon...? A: At least 6 on a 20 meter boat!) While I was on my Guadalcanal tour architect Dan traveled to the island of Ranongga to help a local fellow we had met, Waldy, build a new house after the devastation of the quake and tsunami. Waldy and his wife had their first child born just 2 months after they lost their house. Also during the week Michal did a PADI dive course with Dive Gizo and discovered a new sport that he likes very much.
At the end of the week we all gathered back in Gizo, cleared out of Solomon Islands Customs, had our last beers at PT 109 (aka Gizo Yacht Club), last supper at the Gizo Hotel, and set sail on our journey north towards Papua New Guinea. Dan had such a great time at Ranongga that we decided to make that our first anchorage, and what an interesting stop it turned out to be.
The local villagers, led by Waldy and his family, were very hospitable, great hosts and tour guides. But what was most astounding was the geological calamity that Ranongga suffered during the earthquake just a few months before. In what to a geologist must be an incredible display of small-scale plate tectonics, the entire island of Ranongga was elevated 3 meters (10 feet) after the quake! That doesn't sound like much, but think about what the neighborhood would look like if all of a sudden every house on the block was up 3 meters. The impact is even more dramatic for all of the villages around the island that are located on the water. All of the wharfs, landings, and canoe passages are completely altered. As one who is sailing a schooner with a 3 meter draft around the world, I think that first 3 meters is pretty important! One of the most devastating aspects is the fact that the entire first 3 meters of marine life on every shore and reef around the entire island is now high and dry and dead. All of the habitat below is raised to a new level above the conditions that marine life is accustomed to at the lower level. To the villagers, the phenomena is very confusing. At the time of the quake they all ran up to higher ground as the ground shook, and watched as they saw what looked like the water receding. Then they waited, and waited, and waited for the water to come back, and now, 4 months later, it has never come back. They are being told that it never will. They have a huge question: what happened?
I must say that it is a bit mind-boggling to comprehend how such a thing could have occurred. We are talking a good sized island, 15 miles long with a highest elevation of 850 meters (2800 feet). There are no rifts or chasms. In fact, we walked into the church, which is built on a concrete slab of maybe 5,000 square feet, and it didn't even have a crack in it! What is just as amazing is that the 2 islands to the north and south of Ranongga, each less than 5 miles across a channel, had a lot of shaking and wave damage, but no change in elevation. Apparently Ranongga sits on a very stable isolated plate that was pushed up with great uniformity during the quake. Four months later, the villagers are slowly adjusting to a life that has changed very dramatically.
20 August, 2007 - Buka Passage, Papua New Guinea
SEAWANHAKA is anchored in Buka Passage, what Lonely Planet has described as "perhaps the world's best water feature". We are now cleared into Papua New Guinea, the second year in a row for SEAWANHAKA. Buka Passage is the very narrow, winding, reef-strewn passage between the big island of Bougainville ("big Buka" in the old days) to the south and Buka Island ("little Buka") to the north. These islands are home to the true "melanesians", reputedly the darkest skinned people in the world.
It has been a very interesting 10 day trip from the Solomon Islands. We've sailed through the far reaches of the Solomon Island's Western Province to the Shortland Islands, across Bouganiville Strait into PNG waters, up the east coast of Bougainville Island, and into Buka Passage. We've managed to find some very nice anchorages, had some great beach combing and snorkeling, and even had 2 anchorages where we witnessed large crocs swimming across the bay in the morning (no, those weren't the good snorkeling spots!)
To say the least, this is a very remote area of the Pacific. I've never known anyone who has sailed this area, or even thought about sailing it. In fact, for the past 15 years it has been a war zone and very much off limits. It all goes back to the age of colonialization. At the end of WWI the "winners" met in some Western European capital and carved up what had been a German colonial empire in the islands out here. Unfortunately they didn't have much sense of the cultural and geographical history of the area and drew a line between islands that were only a few miles apart, sending some to what is now Papua New Guinea and the others to what became the country of the Solomon Islands. The most immediate catalyst for what is known around here as "the crisis" was a copper mine on Bougainville Island, the Panguna mine. Pouring out some $10 million worth of copper a day, it is the "largest artificial whole in the world". With all that money at stake, most all of it going to the PNG capital of Port Moresby or overseas, it generated a lot of controversy. Francis Ona, local rebel, the "Che Guevarra of Bougainville" and his followers caused so much havoc that the mine was shut down years ago.
For SEAWANHAKA it was a very interesting transition. For 2 months we sailed in the islands that had been devastated by 15 minutes of natural disaster: an earthquake and tsunami. Then in a matter of 2 days we sailed into an area that had suffered similar devastation by 15 years of human conflict.
The good news is that the conflict has found peace. The former province of PNG has now been designated the "Autonomous Region of Bougainville", elected their first parliament, and we found that all of the locals, out in the villages and in the capital of Buka, have a very positive outlook and are optimistic about their future. There is a lot of rebuilding to be done. Francis Ona died last year of natural causes, though his spirit certainly lives on.
Sailing up the east coast of Bougainville we anchored at the island of Pok Pok across from Kieta Harbor, the former center of mining operations that is now destroyed. We then had a very nice anchorage at the friendly village of Numa Numa. It is the locale of the largest coconut palm plantation in the world, 6 million trees! This area hasn't seen a cruising boat since the commencement of hostilities 15 years ago. The villagers were very happy to see us and invited us in for a tour of the village, school and plantation.
Buka is a lively little village nestled on the north shore of Buka Passage. It has the feel of a frontier town that is bursting with activity as people get back to the work of re-building. We had a great anchorage in a small channel between a couple of islands, reefs close to the boat, very clear water, and good access to town and exploring. A few days here, cleared into PNG Customs, re-provisioned, we set sail across the Solomon Sea bound for more new islands.
7 October, 2007 - Waga Waga, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea
SEAWANHAKA has had another great stretch of sailing. In my last update I called this area remote. In the 7 weeks since leaving Gizo, Solomon Islands, until we arrived in Alotau, the capital of Milne Bay Province, PNG, we did not see another sailboat! Many of the anchorages and villages we visited had never seen a cruising boat before. Try to find that anywhere else in the world.
Sailing out of Buka Passage into the Solomon Sea, our plan was to sail to the southwest to Woodlark Island. That plan was quickly thwarted by the SW wind and we had to keep updating our intended destination over the next few days as the winds dictated. So true, that old saying "whatever which way the wind blows". Well, it blew us a few hundred miles to the northwest along the coast of the big island of New Guinea. Not what we had planned, but it introduced us to an incredible new cruising area, Cape Nelson, the "fiordland of Papua New Guinea". The Cape is 50 miles of coastline indented with beautiful long, deep fiords with steep forested shores reaching up to the heights of major volcanoes. Over a period of a couple of weeks we anchored in 5 of them, did lots of hiking and village tours, and had some great diving.
The first anchorage was at Porlock Harbor on the northwest side of the cape. We were greeted by canoes from a few houses along the shore. Very friendly, industrious people. But the real highlight was the village of Mapuia, about a thousand feet up the ridge on the slope of the volcano. A lovely village with a commanding view out across the Solomon Sea. When the fishermen from the village heard we were interested in doing a hike, they invited us up to the village the next day, but curiously, wanted to "confirm" that we were going to do it. We thought that a little odd, but the next day as we approached the village, we were greeted to a beautiful traditional welcoming ceremony. The entire village turned out, many of them in their traditional dress, being loin cloths, grass skirts, bare breasts, bird of paradise head dresses and lizard skin "kundu" drums. They sang, danced and played for us as they showered us with flower petals. They placed us on the balcony of a grass hut, served local refreshments, coconuts, bananas, sweet potatoes, and held a wonderful dance performance. We all described it as the "greatest travel day ever".
We worked our way around Cape Nelson to Tufi Harbor, home to a dive resort and grass airstrip. We had a nice week there, bidding farewell to our Polish honeymooner crew, a bit of diving (nice sighting of a hammerhead shark!), met some nice folks at the resort, great villagers, hiking and re-provisioning.
From Tufi we had a very tough sail to the D'Entrecasteaux Islands. The passage was into a stiff SE wind, with a current against us.To make the 50 miles we sailed 207 miles, with 52 tacks over 3 days! We were very happy to arrive at Goodenough Island, the spectacular northern island of the group. It is the smallest island of the group, but rises from the sea to over 8,200 feet, the "steepest-sided island in the world". Over the next 10 days we worked our way to the SE to East Cape, the northern entrance to Milne Bay. We visited all of the D'Entrecasteaux group, and several nice anchorages on the big island of New Guinea. More great sailing, nice hikes, and friendly villagers. That sure is the theme of cruising in Papua New Guinea!
29 October, 2007 Ė Cairns, Australia
SEAWANHAKA is cleared back into Australia after a fantastic season of circumnavigating the Coral Sea. We did a crew swap in Alotau, Milne Bay, PNG, and picked up an American sailor and a Greek fellow, Yiannis. Yiannis had been living in Sydney, was doing a land and local boat trip in PNG. He was very enthused about joining a cruising boat. Despite that he had never sailed and never cooked, he turned out to be great crew. In fact, a month later he was headed back to Sydney to cook his flatmates dinner and sign up for more sailing classes!
We cleared out of Alotau, PNG, and had a lovely 2 weeks working our way east through the islands and lagoons of PNG. Not an area that sees many boats, and we continued to have a great time swimming, snorkeling, hiking and meeting the local villagers. After a very bumpy night at our last anchorage, we weighed anchor and had a very quick trip back to Cairns, Australia, sailing into the calm waters behind the Great Barrier Reef through Trinity Opening four days later. The season ended with the transmission linkage taking a break as we entered Marlin Marina, but with my great crew of Dan and Yiannis reacting quickly we managed to get SEAWANHAKA to the dock with no damage to her or the dock or any neighboring boats!
Log for the seasonís circumnavigation of the Coral Sea shows 5 months of sailing, 4,000 nautical miles, 80 different anchorages on 40 wonderful islands.
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