Skimpy made it again! The slowest 350 miles against wind and strong currents! Thanks Poseidon for the challenge and the big tuna. Active volcanoes all around us! Happy!
After several days of fish drought Poseidon provided an amazing catch. 2.5 hours fight by all crew results in a 50kg Yellowfin. Anyone needs tuna?
In order to stay stress-free Skimpy sailors visited ULO thermal area enjoying hot-springs and mud masks in the jungle...here we come PNG!
Today it's been exactly three months since the sad day when I, together with my two Skimpy mates Mette and Charlene, waved goodbye to Skimpy and its crew (Simon, Tue, Alessio, Thomas-Jamon and Sushi-Anne) on Bora Bora. I still believe and hope that a "see ya' later" would have been more appropriate than goodbye since my mind is dead set on jumping back on board - the sooner, the better! It's almost like I've been possessed. For someone who has spent more time than most puking in cars, busses, airplanes, on boats of all sizes and even under water while diving, it feels strangely odd to be haunted by an intense urge to go sailing. Nevertheless that is exactly how I feel. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone! Therefore, I've decided to write a warning to all of you who still haven't been aboard Skimpy, but are considering embarking the proud ship some time in the future. My advice to you is - drop everything and GO! However, I must warn you. Your life might never be quite the same again.
I was lucky to be part of the Skimpy-gang for nearly two months roaming and exploring in French Polynesia, aka Paradise on Earth (yes, I know it's a cliché, but French Polynesia really IS paradise!). Needless to say I had the time of my life - who wouldn't if "stuck" as the only girl on a boat in Paradise with four hot guys for five weeks? J
Thus, not surprisingly, when it was time to leave Skimpy my emotions were in turmoil. I was filled with sadness because Skimpy continued her quest without me. How was that even possible? At the same time my mind was happily crammed with vivid visions of floating in an insanely turquoise sea, whilst indulging in gourmet food, diving in coral gardens with sharks and millions of colourful fish, swimming in crystal clear waters on deserted motu's, snorkelling with majestic manta rays, spotting reef from the bow when sailing in and out of current laden lagoon passes, picking sweet juicy mangoes, bananas, limes and coconuts along the roads of exotic islands, sharing sun downer cocktails with my new friends and sailors from all over the world, making sushi of a beautiful freshly caught yellow fin tuna, drinking rum straight from the bottle, dressing up in sailor gear when going on shore, sharing random fits of laughter and partying in the flickering light of the disco ball - and many many more priceless memories.
But DAMN you Skimpy, I didn't expect those memories to keep on bugging me on a daily basis for months and months! How am I to concentrate on anything, when memories keep popping up, instantly causing my mind to drift far far away to the South Pacific? It happens in the supermarket when I'm shopping limes for mojitos and BAM - I'm next to a perfect white beach on Tahuata, where Andre and Tue swam to shore to scavenge for limes and came back with a 10 kg bag of freshly picked limes. When I eat sushi with girlfriends I can't help but think how tasteless and scrawny the tuna is compared to Skimpy standards. Even when I sit on my fancy toilet that flushes with fresh water at the push of a button (a lot easier than pumping 25-30 times in one of Skimpy's three toilets!) I miss being on Skimpy and the option of jumping in the water for a pee and a swim.
Of course, there are many perks to being home in a spacious modern apartment. Like a big bed with clean sheets, electricity galore, running water, washing dishes in fresh water, a large sofa to lounge in, my espresso machine, a stuffed wardrobe AND the possibility of having showers more than once every two weeks. But guess what? I'd still rather be on Skimpy!
I'd rather bum around in nothing but my slightly filthy board shorts, bikini top and sunscreen every day, go for a stroll on a deserted beach with my camera, have daily saltwater baths in crystal clear lagoons, lounge on the trampolines with somebody playing the ukulele in the background and drink café latte made with long-lasting milk, feed sharks and stingrays with fish skeletons and canned tuna respectively, watch billions of bright stars in the Milky Way instead of TV, read in the light of my headlamp and be lulled to sleep in a cosy smallish bed, whilst listening to the sound of clucking water against the hull and just maybe wake up again to the excited shrieks of the Skimpy-boys catching yet another delicious fish generously provided by our Fish-God Moooùhu of Tahuata (long story, but the local dude Moooùhu from Tahuata in the Marquesas, who could spot and catch fish at any time any day, taught the guys how to spearfish and catch lobsters at night, in total darkness, using only tiny flashlights, mask and snorkel, gloves and a spear gun!).
Basically what it boils down to is that life is eons simpler on Skimpy and feels "right" despite the lack of many necessities we in a modern society take for granted and think we can't live without. I love the concept of travelling, exploring and indulging in life while being almost self-sufficient, with Chuck Norris (a small wind turbine) kicking out electricity on windy days - the faithful solar panel doing ditto on most days, and catching enough seafood to keep our stomachs full. Fresh food and veggies are sometimes scarce and are thus treasured more and lovingly turned into mouth-watering dishes. Sometimes you have to travel extremely far to fill up with clean fresh water, making water more cherished than fuel - like it should be all over the world.
If everybody lived like we do on Skimpy the world would be a much happier, cleaner and sustainable place with food, cocktails, and energy enough for everybody. Therefore I urge you to jump on board, join the fun and bring all the good habits with you back home to create a slightly better world. But don't come crying to me when you keep daydreaming about your adventures on Skimpy, have a strange craving for dark Rum at odd hours and can't seem to fit into your "normal" life again. I warned you J
Cheers everybody and THANK YOU Captain Simon for sharing a little snippet of your dream with me.
Skimpy has spent a couple of uneventful days in Gizo, the second largest "city" in Solomon with 5000 inhabitants. We have handed in one well-worn sailor, James, and received a fresh Irish woman, Eilis. Unfortunately, the small island of Ghizo on which Gizo is situated is in short supply of water, so we have made our way to Kolombangara Island just a few hours sail away. Over the island hovers a majestic volcano with a crater large enough to satisfy any James Bond villain. In the small village we have anchored, the fresh water flows from a stream and the entire crew had a much needed shower with the local boys. Rumor has it that it is possible to buy a pig from the agricultural school in the village and nothing would fit better in our almost empty fridge than 20kg of pork.
Skimpy Survivor was held on a postcard perfect island. Despite adversity the salty crew prevailed and were rewarded with amazing food and perfect sailing conditions
Tired of bad anchorages we set up an exploration thru uncharted lagoons finding the best place so far: white sand beach and a 5* wall dive just off Skimpy
The price for primo diving is sailing through uncharted reefs and extreme anchoring in little known bays but nothing can stop our hunger for adventure
West of Guadalcanal Island lies a small cluster of islands which seems to come straight from the ocean bottom. All of them are surrounded by magnificent reef, the like which we have not seen since Tuamotus in French Polynesia and teem with big fish and sharks. Of course we haven't seen it all, but everywhere we dropped in the water seemed to be the same. And we have it all to ourselves. We are nearing the end of the season in Solomon, so the little boats that come to these islands are now headed either south to Australia or north to Asia (like us). We haven't seen a fellow sailing yacht in more than 10 days so we are not exactly swarmed by tourists.
But of course there are snakes in paradise. The fact that all islands are surrounded by vertical coral walls with drops of at least 40m, makes anchoring a somewhat more challenging exercise. Not helped by the fact that the only cruising guide we have is from 1981 and have hardly any positive things to say about anchorage in Russell Islands. Most anchorages are 20 meters and very close to coral walls which leaves you in an exposed position if the wind swings around and pushes you against the reef.
Another problem is the quick infestation of wounds that seems to get worse the further north we venture and have peaked here in Solomon. It starts out as a tiny scratch and even with regular use of antiseptic or even antibiotic powder it evolves into festering wounds that refuse to close. Every morning you can start the new day with a good squeeze of puss from the wound and every idle moment of the day must be used to nurture and treat them; like a Tamagotchi that never is satisfied. Then finally one day the inevitable swelling starts and soon your foot looks like a neoprene boot filled with water and you can feel the fluids in your foot sloshing around for each step you take. Ahh yes.. and then the magic of good, strong broad spectrum antibiotics that kills every germ in your body and leaves you with interesting fungus in interesting places.
But back to Russell Islands which is what this was supposed to be about; it is a truly magic place. Our dive guide on two wreck dives in Honiara had told us about a wall dive on the most eastern island in the group, a small speck of sand surrounded by reef. This part of the world is not the best surveyed and the various charts and guides at our disposal could not even agree on the name of the island. This only made us want to get there even more. The only possible place to anchor was a small inlet in the reef with a 45 degree slope of sand coming up from the abyss. We let out 40m of anchor chain and reversed back to the slope. It was an impressive sight (I was in the water to direct Skimpy) with the anchor slowly descending into the deep blue tied to our ship by an improbable small link that seemed incapable of somehow linking our safe haven to the bottom so far below. It did though and we secured the stern with a long rope to a palm on the island beyond the reef. Skimpy was now hovering 2m above incredible coral and with 10m on each side to the reef. All was good and we enjoyed an afternoon of superb snorkeling. Alas, it was not to last.
The days of constant, predictable trade winds are now over and is replaced by strange weather systems, impossible to predict. Winds are generally weak, changing several times a day and with the occasional squall, showering us with water and a following strong blow which always seems to choose the least favorable direction for our anchored boat. So also this time. After a successful executed cocktail hour and in the middle of dinner preparations, the wind picked up from north within a minute and pushed us towards the reef. With Skimpy only a few meters from the reef, we quickly had to swim to shore, untie the rope from the palm and then pick up the anchor while the rain and wind increased. Picking up anchor from 40m depths are not a trivial task and put our windless to the test. In the safety of open waters we decided to stay offshore for the night and then return the next day.
The anchor situation had not improved overnight so we decided to do a dive from the back of Skimpy. Until now, diving on Skimpy has always been a bit of a battle consisting of the following items:
Now the instruction manual for the live aboard dive boat Skimpy is:
Needless to say, diving directly from Skimpy was an instant success and repeated on the dives the following days. In fact, we never lowered the dingy while in Russell Islands.
On the beach outside Honiara we had spoken to a man who claimed to own an island in Russell Islands and he had lavishly offered that we could anchor in front of his island as long as we gave his caretaker who lives on the island a bit of canned food. On the chart we found a small speck of sand with a name somewhat close to what he had mentioned and decided to check it out because that's what you can when you're playing around in your own boat. It turned out to be a beautiful lagoon with the best anchorage since Bora Bora. 4 meters of water over pure white sand and with the outer reef just a quick 100m swim away. The reef turned out to be another impressive wall, in places overhanging and to finish it all off a shallow section of caves and canyons in 6-10m of water.
In a quick boat council it was unanimously decided to stay for the night and do a dive before leaving the following day. The only negative thing to be mentioned about this exquisite place was the total lack of lobsters. It is difficult to imagine a more perfect location for lobsters with its little caves, overhangs and nooks and crannies just shaped by nature for the demanding crayfish but they were nowhere to be found. Perhaps we are dealing with a lobster who is able to disguise itself better than its non-Solomon peers, a superhuman lobster looking at the bewildered hunters from it position deep within the reef and laughing at their feeble attempts to locale it. In either case there was no lobster for dinner and we had to make do with some Vanuatu steak, renowned (at least by people who has been to Vanuatu) as some of the finest beef in the world.
After a morning of Skimpy love (maintenance of the boat), we had a beautiful dive on the outer wall before setting sails for Marovo lagoon in the western province where more adventures awaits. But that is a completely different story.