Sailing to the Solomons

On paper, this was to be a beautiful sail - winds abeam or just behind the entire way, winds between 12 and 18 knots, and swell of about a meter from behind. BUT… gribs aren’t always accurate and passage planning is never a sure thing. If I’ve learned anything over the past 25,000 miles of sailing, it is this - never set your heart on what weather forecasts or route planners predict. Plan for the worst, and be pleasantly surprised at anything better.

Mark had high hopes to not run a motor the entire 28-hour trip, but within the first few hours, we were bobbing along with flapping sails at less than 2 knots. Where was that 12-18 knots? Motors ran for 8 hours total on and off and the sails went up and down during a squally night.

By 9 a.m. on the first day out, Mark realized that our fishing lines had been tangling for the past 2 hours. They were a twisted, knotted mess! We figured out a detangling strategy and took turns unspinning and re-winding the line on two had reels. It was a tedious task, but doable given the light weather (I couldn’t imagine sitting there examining knots in rough seas! Makes me ill just thinking about it!)

Finally, at about 2 in the afternoon, we got to a knot that was impossible to untwist and untangle. We had to cut and splice the fishing line, but Mark was glad to have saved the amount of line we did after his initial, less hopeful assessment. It kept us all busy and distracted, though. Even provided a few laughs seeing who could think up the best techniques. At one point, Elizabeth was lying face-up on the floor, making one spool orbit the other. Who needs iPads and movies when you’ve got tangled fishing lines to entertain you?

When we were an hour away from the entrance to Nnendo, a strong squall came across us bringing a torrential downpour that forcibly rinsed any saltwater off the decks and revealed a leaky hatch in the salon that would need to be fixed. It also brought a cool breeze that filled the sails and had us broad reaching at 120 degrees and speeding along the flat water at 8 knots. Not all storms are bad news…

There are two entrances to Graciosa Bay - one narrow pass on the southwest side between Mola Island and the mainland, and the wide mouth of the bay on the north side. It’s always a tricky decision to make whether to navigate the pass or take the long way to the easy entrance. Many factors are in play now that we are in a very remote area. Fuel is a precious commodity, especially since winds here at this time of year tend to be light to non-existent. Motoring around to the top would be using fuel unnecessarily, perhaps. On the other hand, tide and current tables aren’t very accurate for this region, and we’ve never been through this southern pass before. Would the current be with us or against us? How strong would it be? Mark looked at the satellite images, and traced a clear path onto the chart plotter, but we’d need good lighting and with these squalls coming through, there are no guarantees of that.

I tend to be the cautious one. I’d take the long way around. If we ran aground in the pass and damaged the boat, there are no marinas or chandleries within hundreds of miles. And certainly no coast guard or emergency rescue services! But Mark thinks in terms of efficiency. Why burn fuel to go around when there’s a clear entrance nearby? Since I was at the helm, Mark said it was my choice. I do not make decisions easily. I put the engines in neutral while my mind plays all the possible scenarios on overdrive. Finally, I decide. It’s not worth the risk - we’ll go all the way to the north. But Mark has already put all the sails away and does not want to bring them out again, which means burning fuel. I turn away from the pass entrance, prepared to take the long way anyway. Mark concedes, and heads to bed for some much-needed rest.
I sit idling, still not confident in my decision. I know what Mark would do. I don’t want to be a wimp about it. Matt breaks my contemplative silence with a call on the VHF.

“We’re going through the pass. These clouds aren’t moving, and it looks good from here.”

“Okay. You go first, and I’ll follow you in!”

What a sheep I am! I turn the wheel back toward the entrance and say a prayer.

“Light is good. Reefs are easily visible and there’s plenty of room. We’ve got 1 knot with us now, “ Matt updates from the pass.

I get Mark up, and tell him we’re going through and I need him on reef watch at the bow. I know my indecision tests his patience, but thankfully he doesn’t complain.

Matt gives another report. “No problem. Just leave the anchored boat to starboard and it’s wide open.”

The clouds loom over the nearby shore, threatening to block the sun, but they never do. We glide between the visible reef walls on either side of us, around the anchored boat, and out into the choppy water where the current meets the calm water of the bay. It sure was nice to have someone go first, though!

I relish the calm waters of the protected bay and the idea of entering yet another new country. What will this season be like? What adventures and challenges will it bring? What will the Solomon Islands teach us?

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