After bloody violence and an ugly civil war between 2000 and 2002, the Solomon Islands disappeared from the cruising sailor’s radar screens. This year, a re-activated Solomons Yacht Club is going to change all that with a ‘cruising in company’ event from Brisbane on the east coast of Australia to these now peaceful Melanesian Islands.
The Gizo Yacht Club takes its name from Gizo, the capital of the Western Province of the Solomons, and is described by its Commodore Dr Ian Hawes as ‘the smallest yacht club in the world, but growing fast!’
As for the Solomons, an archipelago of more than 900 islands, they are undoubtedly among the finest cruising areas in the Western Pacific, and home to some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. There are several huge lagoon regions, including the world renowned Marovo Lagoon. Then there’s Munda and Vonavona Lagoons along with the countless inhabited and uninhabited coral islands. At most the snorkelling and diving is superb, there is almost always somewhere to get out of the weather, and there are plenty of good sheltered anchorages for longer stops.
The province was also a major battleground in World War II, and relics are to be found on many of the larger islands, as well as sunk in shallow water, ideal for divers.
By this week 13 boats had paid deposits, and Dr Hawes says there’s room for not more than 25. The ‘cruising in company’ event (‘It’s definitely NOT a race’, he adds vehemently) begins on 6th May, and, after two leisurely stops along the way at Frederick Reef and then Mellish Reef, the boats are expected to arrive in Gizo on about 15th May.
Prior to 2000, the Brisbane-Gizo yacht race was becoming a regular part of the Queensland yachting calendar. The Gizo Club has decided that it is time for the local people to show their readiness to welcome overseas visitors by re-introducing a similar event.
Dr Hawes, who recently sailed a 14 metre yacht to Gizo from New Zealand, says that “the cruise is all about people having fun. It’s a big event for us here in Gizo and maybe a showcase for the Solomon Islands; but basically the event is about a bunch of yachties having a bit of an adventure in a beautiful and fascinating place”.
The plan is simple; yachts make their own preparations for departure from Australia but will leave Brisbane on or about the 6th of May. The full moon at that time will make the night passages a bit easier. The two stops that have been arranged will allow the fleet to re-gather as they make their way to Gizo. These are superb ocean stopovers, with excellent diving and snorkelling possibilities. The organisers are trying to make arrival as painless as possible; there will be boats to guide crews through the reef entrances and each boat will get a customs clearance kit before departing Australia.
Arrival in Gizo is timed to coincide with the Vaka Tepe/Festival of the Sea, a local three-day cultural event which this year should culminate in the impressive sight of up to 17 tomoko (war canoes dating back to the head-hunting days) racing on Gizo harbour. After these events, yachts are expected to scatter in groups around the famous cruising spots of the Solomon Islands
Dr Hawes says that all cruisers can be assured of a warm welcome and people to help out with all of the hassles of arrival. ‘We can offer help with immigration and customs (the local customs chief is a club member) and visitors can be assured that there will be plenty of locals who are already getting excited about seeing them arrive. Naturally they’ll get a very warm welcome at the Gizo Yacht Club too, and we are arranging a variety of social events as well as more practical help such as a security patrol, laundry and rubbish disposal.
The welcome may be unlike any you have ever experienced. As Dr Hawes explains, ‘You will be escorted through the reef by a Melanesian War Canoe – not many people can make that claim.’
More information can be obtained from the club’s website (currently under construction but it will be at www.gizoyachtclub.com.sb),
E-mail the club secretary, Dr Anne-Maree Schwarz or Commodore, Dr Ian Hawes at email@example.com
Australian contact Dr Alan Profke firstname.lastname@example.org.
The UK established a protectorate over the Solomon Islands in the 1890s. Self-government was achieved in 1976 and independence two years later. In June 2003, Prime Minister Sir Allen KEMAKEZA sought the assistance of Australia in re-establishing law and order; the following month, an Australian-led multinational force arrived to restore peace and disarm ethnic militias.
The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has been very effective in restoring law and order and rebuilding government institutions.