Sailing to the Solomon Islands on a Helia 44

Tim and Sandy Armstrong onboard 1 Giant Leap, a beautiful 2013 Helia 44 by Fountaine Pajot, share their experience sailing to the Solomon Islands…

After many months of planning, adding new improvements and general maintenance of gear it was time to leave Australia and tackle our first foray into international cruising on our own boat.
We set off from Pittwater on a cold clear morning bound for Newcastle where we planned to checkout prior to heading for New Caledonia. We were glad to finally be leaving as there comes a time when you feel as though you are never going to leave.

The sail from Newcastle to Noumea was challenging as we had lots of wind, no wind, and somewhere in between. Our chosen weather window reflected more our desire to get going than a fast passage.
Noumea was a quick stopover after our 8 day passage. Our experience of Noumea was: great baguettes, nice people, expensive groceries, and everything was in French. Didn’t expect that!
So shortly after we took off for Anatom Island in Vanuatu with our friend on board. After two days great sailing with wind on the beam we arrived at Anatom at 11pm with another yacht turning onto the transit lines 100m in front of us. They had just come in from Fiji and like us were keen to get out of the 30 knots and big seas, so neither hesitated to tackle the new harbour at night. The bay here is wide and deep and beautiful. This was our first real stop cruising and what a great stop.

So from there we spent the next 2 months wandering around Vanuatu. I think Vanuatu is a great cruising ground as everything is about 1 days sail from everything else. The people are fantastic, the Government encourage cruisers, the islands are beautiful, and the water is great. No nasties, clear and great coral. Being a diver this was what I was looking for.

The Bank Islands would have to be our favourite here. People are great and welcoming, willing to trade for fruit and veggies and always fun to be around. What was best was they recognised that the yachts were a benefit to their villages and took care to make them feel welcome.

We had a few favourite places in Vanuatu and one of them was Port Orly. A great place to stock up on meat at $3 per kg!

But we had to head on to our planned destination being the Solomon Islands. We planned to start a business there but were realising this was to be our scoping year. We left the Banks Island group and headed straight for Lata in Temotu Province. What a change from the pleasant bay anchorages of Vanuatu. Lata was deep and forbidding, until we found Shaw Bay and Titus. He is the traditional owner of Shaw Bay and welcomes yachts. Next year we will be helping put down some moorings as Shaw Bay is protected but 12m deep on coral gravel. The kids there were great. Rose liked to skip school and swim between the hulls singing. Beautiful voice for a 10 year old. All the kids were great and we ended up staying a few days.

From Lata we travelled to Mosquito Bay in Makira then onto Tevanapupu Island where we anchored stern into the village. The kids found the stern line great entertainment and played for hours on the line. We introduced a ball into proceedings and this really took off.

On to Honiara after a brief stop at Rua Sua Island. We found this beautiful but it has a reputation for slightly aggressive locals. Not that we saw anything. The closer to Honiara the more caution we took in this regard.

Honiara felt like coming home as we had lived there for a number of years. I would recommend getting a mooring here and a number of ex-pats have them in place for $100SBD per day ($16AUD). Definitely recommended. Don’t anchor in the channel into the Police Jetty. It’s the only sand bottom, but it just annoys everyone. If you want contacts for the moorings get our contact details from Mutlihull Solutions.

We were fluent in pidjin and I believe that helped us on our way. There are a number of Solomon Islanders available to sail with you on your yacht. They can help with translation, security, and pointing out all the best secret spots. John from Roderick Bay, Titus from Lata, Ricki from Gizo, and numerous others who are all trying to encourage yacht tourism. I recommend the Solomons but take lots of chain. We didn’t see another yacht for 6 weeks in the Sollies whereas in Vanuatu every anchorage had three or four. I won’t bore you with the rest of our adventure. Suffice to say we enjoyed it immensely, but the Solomons were hard work. But this was made easier by the Helia. A fantastic cruising boat that handled anything we could throw at it. Were going back next year and this time seeking even more remote places.

Sandy and Tim.
SV 1 Giant Leap (Fountaine Pajot – Helia 44)

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