Eating Local: How Sweet It Is

One of the foodstuffs that I always try and source locally is honey. Usually it is a side of the road or local market purchase from a small producer, sold in reused and mismatched bottles with hand written labels. Like wine honey has terroir. The relationship between the land the bees live on and the final product is obvious with the first taste. Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to find Mango Honey, Palm Flower Honey, Sugar Cane Honey, Bitter Orange Honey and Tropical Wildflower Honey. Each as unique as the countries we bought them in.

This season in the Solomon Islands I found honey on the island of Rendova. A local man had a couple of hives in his backyard that over looked the anchorage. His property was more or less just a well maintained garden brimming with budding trees, pineapple plants and tropical flowers nestled into rolling hillside covered in wild forest. His English wasn’t great but I gathered that his two hives yielded about 5 gallons of honey when he harvested every 3- 4 months. Continue reading

Bread Making Workshop or No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A couple months ago I taught a bread making workshop to a group of ladies on the island of Rendova. It was the same village that we found Erol to do the inlay work, which is how it all came about. We had spent over a week anchored in the quiet bay and gotten to know some of the people who lived there. One of the village elders regularly paddled out in his canoe around dusk. The Old Man came for “story”, which sometimes meant to chat and most other times to check up on what’d we done during the day as we had become grist for daily village gossip mill. The day before we left the topic of making bread came up and by the end of the conversation it was organized that I would lead a workshop when we returned.

We sailed away and explored the Marovo Lagoon for more than a month. We planned on stopping back at Rendova for only two days, so I intended on bringing with me the flour and yeast required for the bread making workshop, as the small local store didn’t stock them. I went to three stores in the pouring rain to find the 10kg bag of flour but thanks to our giant waterproof bag I got it back to the boat dry. (Not only was the ship late that week but flour is most often sold repackaged into 1 or 2kg plastic bags, and full of bugs.)

We pulled into the little harbour on Rendova late one Saturday afternoon and the Old Man paddled out shortly after we arrived to remind me about the workshop that had been arranged. I assured him I had not forgotten; in fact I had come prepared. I asked him to rally the ladies for 0800 on Monday morning.
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Home Improvements

Kate is not just our boat it is she is our home, and over the years we’ve made her a space we enjoy living in. We want our boat to reflect our lives; colourful, vibrant, exciting. We’ve achieved this the traditional way, using paint and fabrics; a sunshine yellow transom & matching headsail UV cover and in the head pacific sky blue walls and cheery lime green cupboards. But we’ve recently started doing some rather non-traditional upgrades.

Which is I recently agreed to let an almost perfect stranger in the Solomon Islands take a knife and chisel to the teak trim in the galley.

The western province in the Solomon Islands is famous for their bowls and decorations hand-carved from local hardwoods and inlayed with intricate mother-of-pearl. We heard all about it from friends we met in Vanuatu who had spent just sailed from the Solomons. We knew we have no space for such frivolous souvenirs but Steve suggested that we find a tradesman whose work we liked and him to pretty up the cabin a little. The teak trim in the galley seemed like a good place to start.

We looked at a LOT of carvings and talked to a LOT of carvers before we ran into Erol on the island of Rendova. We had been invited to the village to look at the work of all the local carvers. This suited us fine as it meant we’d be able to see everyone’s work in one hit instead of having a steady stream of canoes visit the boat- a tiresome parade we’d already had our fill of at other anchorages. Continue reading

A History Lesson in the Solomon’s

It is surprising how little I knew about the Solomon Islands before we arrived.

Part of this is because I had such high expectations for Vanuatu that were mostly unfulfilled that I kind of purposely didn’t do a lot of reading. As it turns out years of waiting to arrive and months of fantasying about all the wild, undiscovered places we’d visit just made the real experience in Vanuatu a little “less” than I wanted it to be. I wasn’t about to make our time in the Solomon’s a repeat performance.

Steve mainly plans passages and researches anchorages so I was full of confidence that he knew what we were getting ourselves into. At least as far as boat safety and general sailing timeline were concerned. I figured if I just showed up I would see everything with fresh eyes and an open heart and our time here would be all the richer for it.

Not long after we arrived in the Solomon’s my lackadaisical approach starting causing a little friction between the two of us.

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Lagoon Life; Exploring the (mostly) Uncharted Vona Vona Lagoon

We weren’t sure how far we’d get. Beyond the depth soundings over the Katherine bar on the western edge, some details around the perimeter and a small scale chartlet of the port of Noro, home to the Sol Tuna factory, the rest the Vona Vona lagoon appeared as an empty grey expanse on both our electronic and paper charts. The few small islands enclosed within the lagoon looked as jagged yellow triangles, obviously not accurately drawn, and there was no indication of any reefs…at all. We were heading into uncharted waters, literally.

Well, kind of. We had an old guidebook that outlined some hazards we would have to watch out for. The author had drawn mud maps of his track through the lagoon, so we had some idea of where to go. And for the first time we started using some navigational software that incorporated Google Earth satellite photos. If taken on a clear, sunny day these images show incredible details; reefs, shoals, islets and sometimes even waves easily readable. But, if snapped on an overcast day, or too far into the evening, the pictures were muddy, hard to read and somewhat distracting. None the less, they proved to be another tool in our navigation arsenal as we heading into the abyss.

We usually move only when there is enough wind to sail but with incomplete charts, restricted room to manoeuvre and not great water visibility to spot hazards the slow and steady pace of motor seemed more sensible. That is besides the fact that we’d been having weeks of windless, blue sky weather, so there was no breeze to sail anyway. Our first two days inside the lagoon were fairly stress free; we made it across the bar, found a few nice places to anchor and had between 10-20M under the keel. It seemed like we had the lagoon to ourselves, only a small local boat now and then whizzed by on the distant horizon.

On the third day navigating in the lagoon things got a little more interesting. The water had gotten murky, in our anchorage the night before and I couldn’t see the bottom, despite the fact we had thrown the pick in only 6M. Steve drove the boat and I stood on the bow willing visibility to improve and straining my eyes looking for rocks and reefs ahead of us. We were passing through the shallowest part of the lagoon, a bottleneck where the maximum depths were 3-4M and rocks hid along the edges. Steve pulled back on the throttle and we crawled along at a snail’s pace, blindly groping our way forward, fingers crossed. Occasionally a turtle surfaced and I watched as it dove and quickly disappeared into the murky shadows, it’s presents both reassuring and troublesome. I turned and asked in our sign language how much water we had. Steve held up 1 finger, a closed fist and two fingers…1.2M below the keel, and it still looked like we were gliding through milk stained tea. Continue reading

Galley Notes; How to Dress a Squid

So, you’ve managed to convince some cephalopods that your lure looked tasty and now you’ve got a bucket full o’ squid. Visions of calamari are dancing in your head, but just how to you get from whole animal to delicious, deep fried morsels?

“Dressing” a squid does not involve turtle necks or tutus, it is just a fancy word for cleaning, gutting and preparing an animal for eating. The great thing about squid is that there isn’t anything too stinky, slimy, bloody, nasty or gross about cleaning them. Even people queasy about handle a dead chicken will probably find squid rather benign.

After 50 odd cephalopods Steve made cleaning them look dead easy, and it is. Here’s he fool proof method for dressing a squid.

EQUIPMENT NEEDED: A sharp knife, a good cutting board, a bucket of sea water, maybe an old tshirt and a cold beer. Continue reading

How to find the Perfect Anchorage, Just Squidding

What constitutes a great anchorage?

Everyone has their “must haves”, for some it is a WIFI signal, for others it is easy access to a resort or restaurant ashore. Some people choose an anchorage because the guidebook recommended it, some like to anchor where other boats are. Some people are into kite boarding or windsurfing and anchor close to prime beaches and shallows, the surfers pick spots within reach of all the great waves.

Here on Kate when searching for that perfect place to throw the pick we look for a spot that is: Continue reading

The Photograph-ed vs. the Photograph-er

Photography, like most other artistic activities, was once only practiced by the elite. To do something solely for the purpose of creating, one needed to invest not only time but money; two things that the working class had precious little of to spare. This changed slightly with the invention of roll film and handheld cameras but not drastically. It wasn’t until the medium became mechanized, and the average Joe could take their exposed film to someone to get it developed and printed by a machine in one hour, that photography became a hobby of the masses. Then digital cameras were invented and photography became even easier for people to play with. As the years and technology advanced cameras got smaller, cheaper and eventually have been incorporated into every phone, device and electronic gadget out there. Photography has evolved from a purely artistic endeavour, to a profession, to a hobby, to an everyday/everybody activity.

I mention this because yesterday, as we motored down the Diamond Narrows inside the Vona Vona Lagoon we passed by a well-kept house with a sprawling front yard that fronted the water. In the garden was the large Solomon Island family that lived there; the adults sitting in the shade of a big tree and the kids playing on a rope swing that swung out over the water. As the name implies the waterway we were navigating wasn’t particularly wide so we were virtually in their front yard. As usual when we pass other boats or people onshore we smiled and waved and said “Halo!” We were greeted by wide smiles and enthusiastic waves . I wanted to take a photo as their property was well kept and their house brightly painted, in fact I had my camera in my hand, but now that they were all looking in our direction it felt intrusive.
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Sailing, Storms and Safety in the Solomon’s

We made it to the island of Ghizo, Western Province, Solomon Islands just before Christmas, as was the plan. It took us four very windless days to sail the 250NM from Honiara, by far our slowest passage in years but that is typical in this area for this time of year. We were thankful that our previous passages-Vanautu to Ndende, to San Cristobel to Guadalcanal to Honiara-had gone so smoothly. Sure we hadn’t broken any speeds records but we put a solid 1000NM under the keel while averaging 4kts, the wind aft of beam and only flying a poled out headsail. The boat was comfortable, the skies clear and the weather warm enough to sit night watches in shorts and a light shirt-a far cry from our wet/rough/windward passages earlier this year. The 50NM days, the drifting for hours at a time, having rain squalls dump on us then steal our wind and see us tacking back on our own track when winds did set in again were frustrating, but they were offset by the night we had dolphins playing in our bow wave, shimmering with phosphorescence as we blasted along for a few short hours at 7kts, and the hours spent gazing at stars and watching some of the biggest, brightest meteors streak across the endless sky.

The reason we pushed so hard to get here is because we are now above 10* south and far enough west to be considered in a safe zone for the South Pacific cyclone season. We read recently that Ghizo has not suffered a cyclone in recorded history, a statistic that has to be taken with a grain of salt as who knows how long people have been keeping records. But comforting none the less.

However this is considered an area of cyclone genesis, an area where cyclones form. Which means the season will still be punctuated by low pressure systems that will bring wind and rain. These systems can then move further east where they may deepen into a tropical depression and then intensify further into a tropical revolving storm, or cyclone.
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Sailing to the Solomon’s

We stopped for the last time in Vanuatu at the small town of Sola on Vanua Lava island in the Banks island group. We thought it might be an opportunity to pick up a few veggies to replenish the stocks that we’ve eaten through over our last week of delays.

It is a pretty little town, much more organised and tended than a lot of the outer island towns we’ve visited. As usual there are several small stores along the stone and dirt road but we missed the market where veggies are sold by a day. When we inquired at one store if they had any tomatoes or kumala (sweet potato) to sell the old lady who ran the tidy little shop said no then asked us if we’d come by boat. When we replied yes she called to her husband in the back and a great flurry of activity and conversation ensued and she produced a small bag of tomatoes from her garden, a little cabbage, two choko, and two large hands of green bananas. They insisted we take them, free of charge. We couldn’t possibly eat that many bananas before they spoil so we settled on only one hand and insisted we pay, something. All they would accept was 300 vatu, or about $3.50.
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