December 6, 2003-Leaving the Solomons
Today at 13:00 we passed out of the Vela Gulf, where Kennedy became a hero after the sinking of PT109, where last month nature gave us a wake-up call in the form the white squall, and where we have often sailed on this Solomons cruise, but today we only motor.
There are no white squalls today. This is a windless day, a hot and humid and airless day, through which we drone under the power of our diesel engine, sails remaining furled or stowed below still in their bags. What slight breeze there is is with us, at our exact speed and heading, and the cups of the anemometer have hardly turned a single revolution the whole day. We swelter. Below decks we lie around naked in front of a pitifully weak fan, on deck, wearing little more, we find a shady spot, and wish for wind.
WINGS is ready to sail, ready for sea. The anchor is stowed and the chain pulled aft, this dingy is put away, and the lee clothes have been rigged. Even the jack lines are attached to the deck ready for our safety harnesses. All we need is some wind, any wind.
But no, we continue to motor.
After Vela Gulf we turn left, into The Slot, where the Tokyo Express steamed at night in 1942 and 1943 to assault and harass the American forces on Guadalcanal. Today there are no warships or even any canoes steaming The Slot, just WINGS plodding slowly to the Northwest towards Bougainville, on her way out of the Solomons.
During the afternoon we pass the Ulo Thermal Zone on Vela LeVella Island, and see the gray steam and smoke rising from the jungle up at the crater where once we slogged, ankle deep, and sometimes knee deep in sticky red, rainwater cool mud on our way to see the bubbling hot red volcanic mud and smoldering trees of the thermal zone, where the guides watched our every move lest we stray more than a foot from the path and step onto the softer surface where we would instantly sink into the super heated slime, ruining everyone's day.
Behind us, fading from view, is Gizo, that wild west town we learned to love, and the cluster of cruising boats which remain there, VELELLA, DJAPANA, CALIFIA, and NATIVE DANCER, the crews of which are friends of ours whom we are now leaving, and who we will dearly miss. Also behind is JOLIGA II, anchored safely where we left her at Liapari Island, waiting for John Sloboda to recover from his illness and return, or sadly, to perhaps await a new owner…we don't know the answer to that one.
Gizo Dancing Group
Also behind us are our new friends among the expat community in Gizo, Danny and Kerrie from the dive shop, Joe and Lisa from Lola Resort, and Gareth and Rebecca, and Patrick and the other westerners who choose to live in this out-of-the-way corner. Behind us is the Gizo Hotel and happy hours spent there drinking Sol Brew beer.
And most of all, behind us are the Solomon Islanders, those dark and usually happy Melanesians who laughed and sang while they paddled past our boat in their dugout canoes, or drove their long boats with the big Yamaha motors at reckless speeds while standing at the back with shirts or hats blowing in the wind, or walking, standing sitting, lying all over the town of Gizo, filling the market with fresh food, their canoes with freshly caught fish, and the air with their pidgeon words and laughter. We'll miss the Solomon Islanders, and the Solomon Islands, as we move on westward, on our continuing trek.
Kolombangara, The Solomons
Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, at sea.