September 15, 2004
Honiara, Solomon Islands
Honiara is the "Big Smoke" in the Solomon Islands and very depressing. We arrived on Friday to finish customs clearance and pick up our DHL mail delivery that Nancy had sent to the Yacht Club. After securing Onora we dropped the dinghy in and motored past the Australian peace-keeping war ship to the Point Cruz Yacht Club. The club has three walls. It is completely open to the water but has a private security force guards the street entrance. It shares the beach with a multitude of fifteen-foot open orange and white fiberglass runabouts that serve as the bus service for all of the islands. Outside the fence the passengers wait with bundles in the heat for the next unscheduled departure for their island and village.
The main road, built by the US during WWII and updated by the British under their "protectorship", is crumbling. Most days there is a shower to wash away an all-covering layer of dirt that seems to return as soon as the rain stops. Yet it is alive with people, cars and shops.
Our mail was not at the yacht club. We went to customs and finished the check-in. This included paying a fee for the buoys and lighthouses that were more often than not, missing or dark.
After I handed over the equivalent of fourteen dollars I quipped, "now you can turn one on!" The customs officer was not amused. My guess is that it has been about ten years since anyone even checked to see that they are still there (many are not) let alone worry about lighting them. His response was "come back at 4:30 for your permit and change". I did and he was gone for the weekend.
We found DHL in the back of a souvenir shop. After inspecting the records they announced that the package had not yet been received. As the week's records totaled only half a page I asked if I might have a look. Sure enough-one package from the US and it had been sent from Chicago to the Point Cruz Yacht Club.
Back at the YC with document in hand I found the manager who called Albert who had signed for the package. Albert claimed that it was not for me but for a member. The next day Albert was at work. I showed him the paper and he rummaged through the desk to find papers. It was certainly ours.
"Actually, there is no package. These are the papers and DHL has the package."
Back at DHL with papers in hand I was told that this package was at customs. I would have to wait until Monday. We were waiting until Monday for customs anyway so we set off to see the sights.
There are many Chinese stores that sell whatever they can get their hands on. You have no idea what is for sale until you go inside. Most sell tee shirts, batteries, and machetes but next to these you might find cans of tuna, DVD's, tires and bibles. The next store sells dresses, spark plugs, fishhooks and shovels.
We were looking for fly swatters. No one knew what we were talking about.
Monday at 7:30 I was standing in front of the Customs office sign that read "Hours 7:00 to 5:00". At 8:15 the officer arrived and handed me my permit and change. I asked for help on the package and handed him the papers.
"DHL has it."
I thanked him and returned to DHL where I related the story. There as a flurry of radio calls and finally the driver at the airport reported, "We have found the package and it will be delivered at 11:00."
"I will wait." I busied myself looking at the carvings in the front of the shop. Surprisingly, the prices were all lower than I had paid in the villages. So much for the middleman.
At 11:45 the package arrived. Fifteen minutes later we were on the boat and underway.
September 25, 2004
The Russell Islands
Two days later at noon we were anchored on a shelf entrance to a lagoon with an uninhabited island guarding us from the trade winds. Before we were finished covering the mainsail a motorboat that started as a dot on the horizon was growing bigger and was clearly heading our way.
Shortly, Baddelley Vaurou and his entire family climbed over the rail and into the cockpit. "Who said you could anchor here?" When I told him no one he was relieved. This meant he had the rights to "Kustom Fees". After the usual, "where do you come from, how many children do you have and do you want any vegetables?", he asked if I worked for the government. I told him I did not but I did have several business interests he was amazed.
"Anyone with a yacht like this must work for the government".
"Kustom Fees" totaled a gallon of gas and a cup of sugar.