Clipper Odyssey at anchor off Purvis Bay, Solomon Islands, 4 April 2005, with Tulagi at right and Savo Island in the left distance.
“Our driver isn’t ready to go yet so I may have to entertain you,” said our guide Cheli in her thick New Zealand accent as we sat in stifling heat on the small bus at the Port Moresby airport.
Ed Bearss

Above: Ed Bearss.
Below: Bob Reynolds.

Bob Reynolds

“What entertainment do you provide?” came a voice from the back.

“Well we’ve just had a shipload of nudists, so I’ve got some new ideas,” she replied.

Thus was the tone set for a trip to the Solomon Islands and beyond, eleven nights on board the 338-foot Clipper Odyssey, whose annual schedule consisted of short cruises for up to 128 passengers from Antarctica to Alaska. With her fleet of ten 10-passenger Zodiac boats and her crew of 70, she followed the sun—in this case making her springtime passage from the southern to the northern hemisphere with passengers sharing a common interest, World War II history.

We were well guided by historian Ed Bearss and followers in the “Bearss Brigade” led by Pete Brown, HistoryAmerica Tours, and Bob Reynolds, Valor Tours. Both led shoreside walks and offered lectures each day, Ed’s regarding the Marine Corps in the Pacific—including his own experience—and Bob’s regarding history plus geography, culture and other matters of general interest. Outstanding were landings:

  • At Beach Red, Guadalcanal, the first since the Marines did it 7 August 1942—we in our Zodiacs, line abreast, arrived to a hearty greeting by local villagers.
  • At New Georgia’s beautiful, landlocked Viru Harbor, one of several locations were fine carvings and other artwork were for sale by their makers, and
  • At Bougainville’s narrow Buka Passage. All of Buka, it seemed, turned out in a royal welcome. Captain Frank Allica treated them to a tour de force of shiphandling, turning our ship in the narrow channel and, making sternway against a very strong current, ferrying her sideways into her berth while dancers and musicians performed alongside.
Capt. Frank Allica

Above: Clipper Odyssey and former Aussie destroyer skipper Capt. Frank Allica. Below: With cabinmate Warren Gabelman (left), Nicholas communications officer and GQ OOD ’43–’45.


Also outstanding were active volcanos on Bougainville and at Rabaul, where one obliged by releasing steam and ash every 10–20 minutes.

The ship’s staff included speakers on such topics as marine biology and volcanos. They also skippered our Zodiacs and led us on a wonderful afternoon of snorkeling at Plum Pudding Island. There at the junction of Ferguson Passage and Blackett Strait, where contrast with World War II associations reached a peak, a long afternoon of swimming over the coral reef in a spectacular volcanic island setting proved a highlight of the trip.

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The Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea are beautiful, wild, hot and home of English-speaking Melanesians, including—at the time of our trip—some coast watchers from World War Two. They always waved at us when we passed. Their shy friendliness, openness and sincerity were a revelation for most passengers including the twelve South Pacific veterans on board, who had had scarce contact with them during the war.

In their mother tongue, “savo” translates to “kindred” or “bretheren.” As Savo Island is the main landmark on the horizon from every viewpoint around Ironbottom Sound, this—rather than characterizations attached to it from wartime—seemed a more fitting description of the tranquil scene that greeted us, and of the entire Clipper Odyssey voyage.

Dave McComb