600 nautical miles from Santo to the Russell island group in the Solomons translates into 3 days and nights at sea on passage. We motor steadily making around 9 knots, trading watches, two hours on six hours off for each of the four of us. There is not a lot to do except watch, sleep, read, and look out at the passing ocean. It is a flawless passage; gentle seas, following wind and waves, balmy breezes, and no breakdowns. We are assured by our captain it doesn’t get any better than this, and that future cruising in these latitudes will offer up much more of the same.
I was assigned the dawn watch from 4-6 a.m. each day. My watch would begin under a night sky with a rising crescent moon closely followed by a bright Venus low on the horizon. Even without moonlight, the brilliant southern hemisphere stars provide enough glow to help with night vision. Astronomy apps on my iPad provide real time replicas of the heavenly bodies for our education and entertainment. An hour before official sunrise the horizon begins to lighten, and half an hour after that the colors of the dawn start to glow, ranging from delicate pastels to fiery and full of color.
In the evening after dinner Mike and I made it a habit to sit on the foredeck and watch the sun set. I have a theory that sunrises and sunsets at sea are more dramatic than on land, regardless of the candlepower exerted by nature. Here there is nothing to interrupt the view…no trees, hills, mountains, houses, roads, telephone poles, street lights or anything else except the foil of a flat ocean reflecting the changing hues of the sky.
On the horizon in the heat of the afternoons huge cumulus clouds build up over distant islands producing curtains of rain squalls, sometimes flickering with lightning, occasionally generating rainbows. We first saw the mountainous coastline of Guadalcanal lit up at sunset in a pink glow under an ominous overhang of gray cloud.
We scare up flying fish on a regular basis, day or night. Usually they skim off over the wave tops gliding amazingly long distances before splashing down, a useful evasive maneuver for escaping hungry predators. One night, however, a flying fish launched himself to great heights and passed by my shoulder while I was up on the bridge, maybe 15 feet above the waterline. Judging from the black ink spatters on our saloon windows one morning, a passing squid must have tried to equal this feat. We had calamari for cocktails that evening as part of our arrival celebration, but Rod assures us is was not ‘road kill’ harvested from AVATAR’s deck the previous night!
I tried photographing the flying fish one morning, a thankless task on a moving boat, but was soon diverted to focusing instead on the boobies that flew by to look us over during their fishing expeditions. And in the first 24 hours in the lagoons of the Russells we were joined seven different times by pods of dolphins.
We are in the tropics for sure now. We haven’t reached the equator yet (next trip) but we are less than 9 degrees south and the weather is warm and steamy, much warmer than Vanuatu’s refreshing spring air. In the afternoon in full sun it is downright hot and AVATAR’s metal deck is hard on the soles of our feet. Rod has put out our canvas sun awnings to shade the windows and hatches from the heat of the sun. And lucky for us the boat has full air conditioning, probably the only AC around for hundred of miles! This is truly a decadent style of cruising! No wonder yachties on the sailboats decline to speak to us;-) Having experienced both cruising lifestyles, Rod assures us he is a convert and has no desire to revisit the more basic conditions of his early sailing days aboard Uwilhna.
It is, however, perfect weather for enjoying the water. The ocean temperature is about 84 degrees and a snorkel near our first anchorage cools us off beautifully. And the underwater scenery is spectacularly awesome, some of the best I’ve ever seen and one of the draws of the Solomons. Wading distance from shore are shallow reefs, teeming with prolific healthy corals and colorful reef fish bright in the clear water and then plunging precipitously down steep walls into intense blue depths and big fish.
Nature even provided us with a generous freshwater washdown on our arrival, rinsing the salt spray off the decks in a drenching downpour at cocktail hour that created its own kind of scenic island beauty.
Photo Gallery includes additional photos: