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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

September 18, 2003-The Solomon Islands-A New Country-A New Time

Solomon Islands Stone Carving

We left Papua New Guinea after a stay of two and a half months. The Lousiades were great, and we could have spent more weeks there and still not seen it all, but it was time to go. The anchorages and islands of the Solomons were enticing and the clock was ticking towards January when we would be heading north across the equator. If we were going to see anything in the Solomons, we needed to move on. At dawn on the 13th of September we weighed anchor in the Budi Budi atoll and set sail to the North East.

The passage was uneventful, close hauled sailing in light to moderate winds, and WINGS performed as only she can, steering finely on the wind vane and making great time to windward. We arrived at Gizo, 8 degrees 6 minutes S. 156 degrees, 50.3 minutes E. at 1:30 the next day, three hours ahead of schedule, having sailed 202 miles in 31 hours. We hoisted a Solomons Islands courtesy flag and the yellow quarantine flag and had a cool drink. We'd arrived in a new country, for a new adventure. (We've visited the Solomons before, if briefly, in 2002, when we sailed in the Santa Cruz Islands, which are part of the Solomons, for a week.)

Before long we were on the dusty streets of Gizo, taking in the sights and marching to the Customs office. The place is fascinating, as is every new place to us, packed with black Solomon Islanders and brown Gilbertese, the Micronesians who have been settled here in years past, and a few, very few, white people, mostly expat Americans, except for three very lonely and bored Australian police sent here as part of the Australian led intervention force. They don't have much to do. The stores, mostly run by Chinese, are of the "general store" type, which you might expect to have seen in 1920's.

Gizo

There are a few private cars and trucks, and eleven of the most beat-up taxi's you can imagine. But they don't have to be very good to attain the maximum speed of 5 miles per hour, which is as fast as you can go on the street crowded with people and full of potholes 8 inches deep. There are however, about 500 panga type speedboats and much of the transportation here is by water. (The airport is on an island; you take a water taxi to and from it). Parking spots for cars on the street are easy to find, but parking on the waterfront for boats is at a premium.

Gizo is the tourist center for the Solomons, but for the last few years that isn't saying too much. There has been a "time of tensions" in the whole country, marked by violent clashes, crime, and a breakdown of government function. The Solomons have been reputed to be a dangerous place visit. There used to be 200 yachts a year stopping in Gizo, now there are less then 10, and mostly those are just passing through. The economy has been in tatters.

But it is a new time for the Solomon Islands. An international force of military and police, led by the Australians have landed, rounded up some of the worst bandits and killers and have restored order. They are also in the process of rounding up a bunch of really corrupt politicians. Many people think that Australia will have to virtually take over the country before they are done. Some other countries in the region are concerned by this, knowing that their own houses are not in order, but in the Solomons, it seems to be a welcome change. In Gizo, people are hopeful. Maybe tourism is coming back. The dive shop has been busy and there are now three yachts anchored in the harbor. People are upbeat. There is new construction going on.

We are excited by the cruising potential here. With no cruising boats here for several years, the place is relatively untouched and there are hundreds and hundreds of promising anchorages to try.

We'll be reporting to you about whatever we find in the Solomons, and if you are looking for an unspoiled hideaway, you'd better book now. This place could take off.


Fred & Judy

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