Solomon Islands
General info:

This is a challenging place to cruise and an even harder place to dive.  If you want to meet a few locals and spend a small amount of
time just stop illegally at one of the outer islands and nobody will care.  The only real reason we can see to come here is if you are
serious divers.

The Solomon islands are expensive.  Clearing-in costs about 300 US dollars.  Gasoline is about 8 bucks a gallon, groceries are
pretty shocking and hard to find, beer is about 1.50 in the big city bottle shops and up to 4 bucks at outer island resorts.  Some
locals charge you to anchor and many charge you to dive.  Expect to be hassled by wood carvers, beggars, traders, chiefs, and
pretty much just about everybody else as well.

If this has not scared you off by now then there are the flies, millions of other bugs, birds that love to crap on the deck, saltwater
crocs that can be dangerous, middle of the night thieves, seldom any peace and quiet from all the canoes, rain, thunder, shifty
weather, currents, deep anchorages, lots of floating trash, many drifting trees, etc.  Make sure to carry a few loud motion alarms to
protect your cockpit!  They saved our butt one night.

If you are a diver and can take all the above and are willing to spend the time to explore you are going to find some amazing diving!  
This is a macro photographers paradise.  We have seen easily 30 to 40 new species of nudibranchs,  at least 33 types of
butterflyfish, 8 types of anemone fish, and tons more fish species.  Then toss in some mantas, devil rays, eagle rays, sharks,
turtles, big bumphead parrotfish, etc.

Santa Cruz Islands

This makes a nice first stop in the Solomons and allows you to sail north and east along the rest of the island chain.

They have a agriculture inspector here, but supposedly no customs or immigration.  Somehow we got very unlucky and found there
was a visiting customs agent and she was insistant on visiting the boat, even when told we were about 2 miles across the bay.  We
rushed back to the boat to hide the tons of alcohol before she arrived!  We ended up doing the paperwork here and paying the
massive fees in honaria.  The ag guy also wanted the fees and was even nice enough to tack on another 70 local for himself, but
luckily we also paid those fees in Honaria (minus his 70), because he had no change.

The fresh veggie market in the mornings is a welcome change after the rotten selection of imported stuff in the Marshall islands.  

We did not dive here thinking that the reef islands are close and we could dive there without worries about crocs.  Yes the locals
said to watch out for saltwater crocodiles.

Reef Islands

After sailing 40 miles to windward getting pretty pounded and in squalls we dropped anchor at these beautiful islands.  Of course the
carvers found us pretty quick and some traders...

The village was probably the cleanest and best looking village we have seen in the pacific.  Too bad the big chief was off island and
the next in command said we are not allowed to dive with cameras!  Yes they said they signed a marine conservation agreement
and photos are not allowed.  Fishing is fine!  Please explain the freshly slaughtered turtle in the village?

Since we could not take photos and after a day and a half of hassles we said to heck with it and took a big hop east to Ulawa.  Ever
since we regretted not diving in the Santa Cruz Islands.

Ulawa

This is a nice quiet (ok a bit bouncy) place, with a wonderful village chief.  He gave us a personal tour of his village, fresh coconuts
to drink, told us to dive freely and to enjoy our stay.  Apparently we were the first boat in 4 years to stop here.  Ashore they have
tons of butterflies, insects, parrots, cockatoos, bats, and various other cool things.

Privacy?  Forget it!  We had canoes all the time and more weirdly we had folks on the cliffs behind the boat just sitting and watching
us all day long.  One day it was just kids and they cheered every time we went into the cockpit.  We felt famous and eventually
could relate to those movie stars that just want to hide.  How do you change into a wet wetsuit in the cockpit without showing flesh
and trying to respect the local culture, but with a whole village audience?

We had 3 nice days of diving, before the problems started.  We got summoned to see the chief and found ourselves at another
house with guys we don't know.  They hassled us about not asking permission to anchor and dive.  We explained that we did ask
the chief and they said they were the chiefs!  They claimed to be the chiefs of the anchorage and some of the dive areas and said
the other guy was only the chief of the village.  After much hassle and hints at wanting money supposedly we got it sorted out, but
not really.  We left a day later.

Oh I forgot to mention the kid who boarded the boat, while we were out diving and took the tennis ball that keeps our door from
flopping around at sea.  Really no big idea other than he was on our boat and took something.  We did get it back, but it pissed off
some folks.  We later found graffiti on the underside of the boat and beetle nut (disgusting nut they chew that stains their teeth red
as well as where they spit it out) stains on the swim steps.

Yes we found out from them that the village (really the chief) owns the land and the waters to deep water.  Whoever heard of owning
reefs and anchorages?  This is certainly the only place in the world we have run across this problem.  What was all those high fees
we paid customs good for?  Apparently nothing at all.  We learned that even if you want to hike from one village territory to another's
you might be charged!  Yes they have a great word called Kastom fees and some places love to charge them.  Want to visit a WWII
site?  Pay the fee.  Want to dive?  Be prepared to pay in some places.  Ironically around the Gizo area, where most boats tend to
cruise, we were never asked for any fees.  That might explain why we only saw two other boats before Gizo in about 2 months time.

Rua Sura

This is a nice stop close to Honaria, with no village and fairly quiet.  Of course we still had folks begging for gasoline, cigarettes, etc.

The diving is pretty good in a couple of places outside the lagoon, but nothing special inside.

Honiara / Guadalcanal

We were in fear of this place, based on all the stories of crime we had heard about.  We even met a guy in the Marshalls that had
his outboard taken one night here.  So we expected that only I would go ashore and Claudie would guard the boat by day.  At night
we had planned to alarm the boat and have defensive aids ready to go.  Now you might ask why the heck would you go here?  It is
the only port of entry, until Gizo in the north.

We had some amazing luck in Honiara.  I was chatting with another boat (japanese yacht) in the customs line and met their friend
Mike that manages a tuna boat helicopter service in Honiara.  Mike is one great friendly guy and asked us if we wanted to join his
friends on the other boat and anchor off his helicopter business.  He said he was providing a guard and a place to land our dingy,
showers, laundry, etc!  Talk about being lucky!  Suddenly we have a guard for the boat and can leave together to explore and shop!  
Not to mention every evening we joined them for dinners out.

We can't thank Mike enough for all his help, hospitality, and just plain great conversations.  He took us out to dinner many times,
his guys rigged a fix for our broken jib.  Nothing like having the clew rip out on our 1.5 year old UK Genoa and having to sail on our
tiny windward jib for about 800 miles in light winds.  Mike even had his cook take us and the other boat food shopping in the van,
took us to pick up Claudie's mom at the airport, and the list goes on.  How can you thank a guy enough for all this?  We especially
were happy to be asked to fly in the back of one of his helicopters to "play ballast" to test out the new blade adjustments.  For sure
Mike took our scary Honiara visit and turned it into a great safe week.  I sure hope he comes to visit sometime so we can start to
repay his kindness.

Florida Islands

We were approached in Honiara by a village (Roderick Bay) that was hosting a yacht festival and asked to come.  The tourist office
said they pay for it and it was free.  Luckily the New Guinea consulate was fast and we got our PNG visa on time so we could make
the festival.

We had a nice test sail in winds to 30 knots to test out the jib fix and it held so life was good.  Too bad we never got a response
from UK sails in Alameda letting us know where and how we could get the sail fixed properly.  We are waiting for some sort of
resolution.

Roderick bay offered 3 free moorings, a "yacht club", two guest houses, and a small village.  Somehow they started this yacht
festival years ago and keep getting money to host it.  Beware that the yachties maintain the moorings and with no boats around
they are not really safe to use now.  The village makes sure the boats are safe from crime so this is only one of two places in the
Floridas that is safe for yachts.

Now the bad side of the "Yacht Festival" was that we were the only yacht!  So basically take a 3 day festival for visiting yachts and
sort of modify it to a Yacht Lite festival and that is what we had.  Too bad it was not made into a one day event.  It turns out that in
past years they had up to 6 boats.  Each year they had less until just us.  Everyone kept asking us throughout the solomons where
the boats were and we could not answer them.  Maybe the higher fees or the crime kept most of them away?  For sure the Gizo
area is not hurting so much as we saw at least 7 boats.

So the festival was nice, but way too long for just us.  Most events were cut short or even cancelled, but we did not mind.  The
dancing was so similar that we could not tell one dance from another.  The food was good and huge and only for the visitors.  The
kids got what we could not eat.

The diving is decent on the outer reefs and silty inside the lagoon.  Don't expect much fish life.

It seems that most villages in the Solomon Islands think that if you build a guest house or two then the tourists will come to visit and
you will make money.  Some government agency is funding the construction of lots of guest houses, but nobody is organizing
promoting tourism in the solomons.  Mostly you have empty guest houses and no tourists.  Who wants to stay in a traditional
village eating rice and fish, no electricity, no running water, using an outhouse, having no alcohol (forbidden in many places), crocs
to deal with if you snorkel, mosquitoes with malaria and dengue, flies, and pretty much nothing to do.  If you want to walk past the
village be prepared to pay the Kastom fee at the next village.

We made one more stop in the Florida islands at Nugu resort at the north end.  Like Roderick it was free moorings, unlike Roderick
it had coldish beers.  The diving was bad, with dead corals and not much fish.  The snorkeling in the grassy shallows had pipe fish,
a seahorse in one foot of water, ghost pipe fish, nudies, etc.  They also have a few sea eagles here that hunt the fish in the
shallows.  Nugu seems to be the only guest house in the Floridas that is making a go of it.

Russel Islands

Basically you can skip this area for diving.  

We found one outer island that was nice diving, but had to bow and stern anchor in deep water parallel to the reef.  It was fine until
the wind came up and blew the stern anchor off and we had to go.  We tried another outer island or more of a sand spit with a reef,
but the corals were dead and the anchorage was bouncy.

There are very few places shallow enough to anchor and only one place has decent diving close by.  This is another time we had
folks asking for stuff and had to give the chief a gift to dive.

We dove an old WWII Japanese freighter at an old american PT boat base, which was a nice dive.  Watch out for major current if
you get the tides wrong.  The wreck is small so one dive is fine and two was one too many we found out.

The second place in the Russels was interesting, due to the polynesian influence.  Yes this was the only place in the solomons that
we saw outrigger canoes instead of just the usual heavy unstable dugout canoes.  The village was friendly, but they wanted to
charge us 60 local a dive to dive at some of the same spots the live-aboard boat goes to.  First of all those spots were 2 to 3 miles
from the anchorage and 60 local is about 8-9 bucks US a dive.  We dove some free places, but it was nothing special.  Mostly we
had high winds and rain and were happy to leave.

We wanted to stop at Mborokua (also called Mary Island) 20 miles east of here where the dive boats go, but it was way too rough
and exposed for us.

New Georgia

Our first stop was Porapora island in Morovo Lagoon.  We skipped the anchorage nearer the village, due to reports from others that
the villagers hassle the heck out of you.  The pass diving here was OK, but the water was not clear and the currents make diving a
challenge.  Of course we had the usual carvers visit, but nobody charged us so that was a surprise.

Sarumara was our next stop.  Again the water was not clear, but nice soft corals.  We even got in a few dives on the outside of the
island only to find it was not very exciting.  Again carvers, but no fees.

Luminehe was the best for water clarity and life.  Of course this anchorage is popular for diving and yes the village dings you 200
local for diving.  They claim it is a diving fee and not an anchor fee, but we met another boat that paid and were not divers.  Of
course the usual 3 to 4 carvers a day bug you in the beginning then they tend to leave you alone.  We even met a local dive operator
on arrival there and she told us what sites are good for diving.  Too bad they hit our bow with their aluminum boat and took some
gelcoat out.  The diving in the pass was intense and great, but the visibility was down due to a plankton bloom.  Still lots of jacks,
sharks, fans, soft corals, etc.  Diving the open ocean side turned out to be rather dead and silted up for some reason.

Seghe town has a great veggie market on tues afternoons and makes a great stop out of Morovo Lagoon.  It also has regular flights
so we could have Claudie's mom fly out from here.  We also learned at 3:30 on a Tues morning someone tried to visit us and left
some muddy foot prints before setting off the motion alarm.  Having spent several days here we really believe it was not a local, but
someone in for market day and likely the agresive carver that visited us later that morning who barged on the boat without
permission.  There is also a great P-38 WWII plane wreck in 20 feet of water just off the runway that is worth a visit.  We did not see
any crocs, but watch out.

We also learned that Solomon Islanders hunt dugongs, turtles, and dolphins.  This is a hard concept to grasp for us western folk,
but I guess if you are hungry then you need to eat.

Seghe area is the first time we came across massive logging.  The locals sell the rights to the loggers for very little money and then
the loggers come in and devastate the forest and cut roads and bring the logs down to the water.  Next, tugs and barges bring them
to big asian freighters who spend days loading then take the wood to Asia.  Now you have silted lagoons, bare hills, and not much
money to show for it.  Solomon islanders are trying hard to make money and have no concept that selling off the fishing and logging
rights will harm them in the future.  Meanwhile Asia gets cheap lumber and fish.  So why are folks always only accusing the big old
bad USA of raping and pillaging the world?  We have not even caught a tuna in over a year due to all the commercial fishing fleets
out here and only one of them is US owned.

There is a nice anchorage outside the lagoon near Penguin reef that is quiet and you will be alone!  The entrance through the reef is
tricky so have good light.  Diving Penguin is decent with nice corals and some ok fish life.

Tetepare Island is a "marine" park and the fees are supposedly 500 local for the boat and 100 per person.  I have no idea what these
fees really do...  They claim they pay for the rangers so they can patrol to protect the turtles, but yet they claim never to have much
fuel to run the boats.  Of course we daily saw them out fishing rather than patrolling so where does the money go?  They also get
aid from wildlife groups.  Supposedly they protect the turtles, but mainly they fish and run a guest house if anyone ever visits.  Now
they said the last visitor was two months ago, but they had a small group for two nights while we were there.  They claimed you
could see dugongs here, but we never did.  If you anchor off the actual rangers station I hope you draw less than 6 feet and bow and
stern anchor and have great light at slack current.  Otherwise go 2 miles around the corner to the back side and anchor in 80 feet off
a croc area.  The diving at the park really is mostly dead corals, lots of old fishing line, some nice devil rays, not much fish, really
not much of anything.  There is some hiking to the croc lake and some nice bird life, but really not a dive destination.

Munda town is rather nice with a small market, bakery, aussie run coffee shop, some decent stores, etc.  Don't make the mistake
of anchoring at the far end by the old pier (not even there) at the end of the runway.  It is very tricky to get into and if you follow the
channel markers you will be on the reef.  Also it is not safe from night boardings so we were told.  There is another anchorage right
off the town that is supposed to be safer and it saves you a mile of walking.

Lola island resort is a place many cruisers rave about in their logs.  I am not so sure why...  The diving around there was pretty bad,
the resort is nice, the drink prices are crazy expensive and the food runs 150 to 200 a meal.  I guess if there were other boats to
socialize with it might be a nice place to hang out, but the resort had only 2 guests and there were no other boats.  Apparently there
is nice surfing around there.

Gizo Area

Gizo is a small town with very basic provisioning.  Don't expect to find half of the supplies you are looking for.  The Wing store (also
yamaha dealer) is the biggest and the back room has a bottle shop and freezers with meat and cheese.  If you are getting a bunch
tie the dingy to their dock and pull the string to ring the bell.  They will help you load it even.  The cheapest and cleanest fuel is at
the main fueling facility just past the PT-109 bar.  They filter the fuel as it is pumped out of the drums and they are cheaper than the
other fuel shacks.  They also sell oil and two stroke oil much cheaper than the stores, but bring your own jugs.  If you want to fill
your own propane tanks you will have to rent a local one and gravity fill yours with your own fill arrangement.  You will have to hit
every store and try to find stuff as you can.  Only two sell pasta and maybe 4 sell some meat.  The best anchorage is behind Loga
island off a small beach.  It is way quieter than the town and calm in all weather.  There is a channel marker behind the anchorage
that marks a coral head that has OK muck diving for nudies and a juvenile ribbon eel.  Keep your expectations low.

Two miles away is Kennedy island, where JFK and crew washed up in WWII after getting his PT-109 cut in half by a Japanese
destroyer in the night.  The diving in the pass is OK, but the outer reefs near there were pretty dead.  The nearby anchorage is
bouncy and the two resorts are expensive to visit.  One has wood fired pizzas that cost a mere 100+ and leave you hungry, but the
aussie drunk owner can be entertaining or annoying.

About 5 miles north is the Toa Maru, a WWII Japanese freighter wreck with two army tanks, artillery shells, sake bottles, and
various other things.  If you want to anchor close to the wreck it is deep  (100 feet to get swing room).  Otherwise behind the island
is quite protected.  Another 3/4 mile away is a shallow reef that is a world wildlife spot called the Hot Spot.  I am not sure why,
since the corals are dead, the mooring is broken, and the place has lots of fishing line.  I guess protected in the Solomons just
means less fishing?  For sure there is current, some nice fans, and pretty decent schooling fish life.

Vanga / Kolombangara Islands

A mere 13 miles from Gizo this place is a small piece of quiet paradise.  This anchorage is also tricky to get into so make sure you
have the two outer poles on either side and take the third pole to your port side.  Inside the lagoon is good holding and is generally
calm.  Expect tons of bugs and bird droppings.  There is no proper village, but ashore is a church run trade school to teach locals
how to garden, carpentry, motor repair, etc.  It sure seems like a great idea.  The staff is really nice, nobody will hassle you, you
can buy veggies from the school, and it is safe.  The diving along the outer walls either side of the pass have nice corals and not too
much current.  There is no real big fish action, but lots of fans and soft corals as well as pretty clear water.  There are at least 6
species of anemone fish in the shallows as well as many nudies for macro photography.

Woi Island

This is a nice anchorage on your way toward PNG, but the locals are a major hassle.  Some want to come on board to have stuff
repaired, others to sell carvings, others just like to hang out feet behind the boat and look.  One local said it was safe there, but I
would be unwilling to stay more than one night.  For sure you can get carvings, lobsters, coconuts, fix some stuff, and listen to the
local woes of trying to build yet another guest house for the 10 or so tourists a year that visit the Gizo area and don't hang out at a
dive resort.  The diving is mostly dead corals below 25 feet and there are big currents around here.

Sterling Island & Mono Island (Treasury Group)

Sterling Island was an old American WWII PT boat base and airstrip.  Mono Island had a small garrison of Japanese
troops.

There is only one village on Mono Island, with about 1000 people.  They are quite friendly and use outrigger canoes,
which is quite uncommon in the Solomons.  The chief is a friendly guy that only requests that you sign his logbook then
appoints Louie to show you around the village.  There is some minor tension between two other folks that want to "deal"
with the yachties and try to get stuff out of you.  There are no fees and folks will try to trade or ask for things.

Sterling has a few remaining pier pilings from the PT boats, an old airstrip still in use, and a few plane wrecks.  Most of
the wrecks were salvaged by some Australian company and melted down.  There goes history...  We saw 3 B-24s and a
P-38 fighter.  One local told us where to look for two sunken PT boats, but I could never find them in the terrible vis inside
the lagoon.  Likely they don't even exist, but you will find other junk on the bottom including the good old coke bottle.

We anchored at Sterling in very clam waters, rather than off the village.  The anchorage is quiet with just the sounds of
birds and fish splashing.  It is polite to dingy over to the village and meet the chief.  The diving was nothing special at all.  
Mostly dead corals, some WWII machine gun and artillery rounds, few fans, and not much fish life.  Other than the WWII
history or meeting the villagers it is not worth the 50 miles out of the way.  Likely that is why we were only the second boat
of the year and that was mid October!