We were enroute from Vanuatu to Honiara on a tight schedule as Marley was arriving in 3 weeks time. Usually you would think this being ample amounts of time to sail the 1000nm to greet the little guy at the airport, but of course things do not always go to plan...
We left Santo island of Vanuatu with a good breeze and we had our ups and downs along the way, but arrived to the Santa Cruz islands, the most eastern group of islands in the Solomons, in expected time and happy to check into a new country. These islands are very remote and how I have previously explained about the cities of the Solomons taking a step back in time compared to the western world, well the Santa Cruz islands were just getting up to speed with 2G phone service and money as a commodity. After anchoring Nandji and going through all the formalities of entering a new country, we went to leave with a forecast of zero wind for days, only to discover that along the journey from Vanuatu we had a diesel leak from the freshly installed fuel injection pump that was fixed in Port Vila. The mechanic had threaded a connection and we had a leak that was not gushing, but enough to lose our precious diesel into the bilge. Of course I fixed the bilge pumps in Port Vila so the float switch was operating exactly how it should and pumping all this diesel out of the bilge without us even knowing until we wanted to leave the Santa Cruz islands... Down to our last 50 litres of diesel with a forecast of 0 knots of wind for days and 500nm left to sail in under two weeks, the odds were stacked against us. That was until we thought about our situation and what have we got that someone here might want. Of course we instantly thought of booze.
This light bulb went off as when we had the customs and police and friends and another person who had never been on a yacht before, come inspect Nandji for our clearance into the Solomons, we could see the eyes light up and glisten upon spying our duty free booze from Vanuatu. So when we were stuck with no diesel, we quickly came to the conclusion of booze for diesel.
Heading back to the cop shop where I went and spoke to the helpful and nice head of police on the island that we had no diesel and some booze to sell to get diesel. He got on the phone and within ten minutes we had a crowd of prison wardens and police officers gathered around whilst I auctioned off two bottles of spirits. Quickly learning that it was not me that needed diesel as much as these guys wanted some Captain Morgans, we ended up with a good solid trade of two bottles of booze for another 55 odd litres of diesel. Combine that together with the 50 litres still in Nandji, we should have enough diesel to motor 200nm if needed. So in the back of the paddy wagon we went as the two police officers happily sang "we are police officers" as they escorted us down to our tender with the diesel and waited upon their delivery of Captain Morgan.
So that was in the Santa Cruz islands, now we are in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, a good 600 or 700nm west of the Santa Cruz islands in the town of Gizo. This place used to be a port of entry and the city is the main tourist hub for the Solomons, if you could say a tourist hub as we are basically the only white people walking around town. But we went waltzing around town looking for the customs office and the immigration office. We had heard months ago that the immigration officer in Gizo had passed away and to check in or out of the country in Gizo you had to pay $600 Solomon Dollars (approx. 100 AUD) for the immigration officer to travel from Noro, 30nm away. However it had been months and we understand how island time works but we were hoping that maybe after three months it was possible a new immigration officer had been posted in Noro.
Walking around town we discovered the customs building up stairs of a dodgy building where you would never expect to find a government official building, but that is the Solomon way. Not getting any hints or guidance to where the immigration office is located, we walked into the friendly police station to ask where abouts and if there was a new immigration officer in town. After some talks in Pidgeon English, which I am understanding quite well but unfortunately not talking, they officers debated weather there was or not a immigration guy in town. Deciding it best that they take us to the old building as there was talk there could be a new guy around. So in the back of the paddy wagon we go once again, we drive the mammoth 70 metres down the road and around the corner to the old run down building that resembles a kids cubby house more than an official government building. But once again, we are in the Solomons. Expect the unexpected or do not expect anything at all is the best way to go about things. Smile and enjoy the ride!
Climbing out of the paddy wagon, we are shown the office and sure enough we discover a young man who renewed our visa a couple of months back in Noro taking up residence. He explained that he had just arrived and was organising the office and he would be here for the next few days whilst he "set up the office"
Happy days for us as we have finally been given approval from the PNG authorities that our visa is almost approved, kind of. But that is another story in itself. Thanks Mister Police man, you guys have been a real help for our time in the Solomons