Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Passage to the Land Down Under

June 30, 2010-On the morning of June 26 Steve went to meet the PNG Customs officer at 7:30 as they had agreed. Of course, he did not show up, and Steve had to call him. When he did come, he brought along another agent and charged us three hours of overtime for each of them. Papua New Guinea has been an expensive venture for us with all the visa and quarantine and Customs fees.

We pulled out of our slip at 8:50 a.m. and waved goodbye to Hans and Gaby. The winds were light so we motored out of the harbor and through the pass in the reef; however, we didn't mind the calm conditions in which to exit this pass. We continued to motor until late afternoon when the winds picked up, and we could sail at about four knots.
Around six o'clock in the evening we were both in the cockpit when we heard a loud bang. We looked around to see what had happened and saw a Boobie who was out cold and lying on its back on our coach roof. We think that it flew right into the sail or the mast. Anyway, it became almost comical because it was on its back with its webbed feet sticking straight up in the air, and they were twitching. We knew that it was probably hurt, but the scene was just so funny. Finally, it sat up and looked around as if to say, "What happened-where am I?" It lay back down for a short time and then finally made it to its feet. Just as it was regaining its balance, a wave rolled the boat so it was knocked to the side deck. The poor thing was trying to walk around, but the deck was slippery from the water, and it was sliding all over the place. The next wave to hit the boat washed it over the side. We have no idea if it survived or not; however, it left a lasting impression on us because it regurgitated its last meal and pooped as well. It was too rough to go up and clean the deck so we just had to live with it.

We continued to sail throughout the second day until early evening when we approached Bramble Cay. Shortly after that we entered Bligh Passage, which meant that we were in the Torres Straits. The Torres Straits is the only way vessels can cross from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean without going south around Australia or north through the Philippines. The strait is intensely reef strewn, very shallow, and mostly unsurveyed because it is an extension of the Great Barrier Reef surrounding Australia. To facilitate shipping, a safe route approximately 150 miles long and 2 miles wide has been surveyed from the NE to the SW. You leave the Pacific Ocean at Bligh Entrance and exit into the Indian Ocean via Prince of Wales Channel. This passage is notorious for big short seas, high winds, and no place to find any protection. Additionally, there are many ships traveling in both directions, large trees adrift having flowed down the Fly River in PNG, and even fishing fleets trawling for mackerel. What was notorious for us is now confirmed as reality. We had 3 to 4 meter (10-15 feet or so) seas on a 3-second period (these are VERY short steep seas), and 30+ knots of wind. It was basically a white out. We took more water over the boat than we have taken in 7 years of sailing. What a scary night. We almost stopped at Coconut Island to get a break, but we decided to continue on, and we finally made it to Thursday Island. In talking with local professional mariners here in Thursday Island, they said that the strait is one of the most dangerous places to sail and that we managed to do OK in what were very bad conditions, even by their standards. We asked why they thought we did OK, and they said, "Because you made it, and we did not have to conduct a search and rescue (SAR)! " We were very reassured!

Our last bit of drama for this passage occurred about 30 minutes before we arrived. I was down below and Steve noticed that the boat was not steering at all. He looked back and saw that the water vane on our wind steering unit had broken in two and was just dragging in the water. Luckily, it had a safety line on it so Steve was able to retrieve it. If it had broken during the night, we are not sure how we could have stopped to fix it with the conditions that we had and continuing on would have meant hand steering in difficult conditions. We are so thankful that we did not have to deal with that situation.
We were very tired when we arrived on Monday afternoon; and, as usual, Steve had not slept at all. We contacted all the officials, had a slight run in with Quarantine but worked it out, ate a quick bite, and then CRASHED.

The next morning all the officials arrived in the Customs tender, and we were cleared into Australia without too much fuss. As the Customs officers leaving, they were nice enough to point out a very large "saltie" or crocodile on the beach. We unloaded the dinghy and went to shore to catch the ferry over to Thursday Island because we were actually anchored at Horn Island just two miles away. As we approached the dock, we saw that a local had hooked a 4- to 5-hammerhead shark. Welcome to northern Australia!

We ate lunch, provisioned with fresh vegetables, and filled out more Customs and Quarantine forms at their offices. It was nice to walk around for awhile after being on the boat for several days. We then returned to the boat to relax for the rest of the day.

Yesterday we prepared to leave, and Steve had to do a check of the propeller. He was in and out of the water very quickly as we did not want to tempt fate or the aquatic life in the area. Today we will leave for Darwin. The winds and tides look favorable for the passage that will take us about a week. We could stop along the way; however, we plan to do a straight run and stop only if necessary.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Samarai Island to Port Moresby

June 25, 2010—We stayed over at Samurai Island for one extra day and then left for Port Moresby on Friday, June 18. I thuoght that you might enjoy seeing the dinghy dock from Samarai. The double rainbow at the left came out after a rainstorm.

We had to motor for the first hour to get out and through the surrounding reef, but once we cleared the reef, we were able to sail. The weather was lovely, the sea state was not bad at all, plus the stars were spectacular. As usual, though, we had trouble sleeping the first night out.

On the second day we did have a small tanker come up behind us. Our AIS told us the name of the vessel, so we called him on VHF. He answered and said that he had just received our AIS alarm and would turn to port to go around us. We thanked him and watched as he made a wide turn and left quite a bit of room for us so that his wake would not cause any problems. Late in the afternoon Steve looked back and saw that he had another Dorado on the line. We can’t believe it. We keep trying to catch a tuna, and all we get is Dorado. Gaby and Hans on sv September want a Dorado, but all they catch is tuna. Oh well, we won’t complain.

Early on the morning of the 18th we were approaching the reef entrance to Port Moresby and saw that another commercial ship was coming up behind us, but we watched the AIS and saw that he pass us without any problems. The entrance to the reef was not that wide, but it was well marked, and we had enough light to clearly see the reef. Once we got through the entrance, we began to notice several sunken ships close by, which is always a sobering experience.

We called the Royal Papua Yacht Club to let them know that we had arrived, and then we wound our way through quite a few anchored fishing vessels and through the breakwater to the club. We anchored temporarily while Steve went to check in, and when he returned, we went over to the work dock to moor for a couple of nights. We had some major repair work to do on the dinghy, and the boat needed a thorough cleaning.

Brian, who is the Seven Seas Cruising Association’s representative here, introduced himself to us and was very helpful answering our questions regarding Port Moresby. The second day we were here, he took us to lunch at the best Chinese restaurant that we have been to in a very long time. There is a big campaign on to stop the chewing of betelnut, but you can still see the remnants on the pavement.

We have spent the past few days doing what we are always doing while in port--going to the bank, doing laundry, cleaning, etc. The laundry here costs $1.50 U.S. per load, which is the best deal since Mexico. No wonder I have washed just about everything on the boat. The yacht club is very nice, and we have enjoyed a few lunches and dinners there. It has been fun spending time with Gaby and Hans, who will be here for another few weeks, and then we hope to see them again in Indonesia.

We will leave Port Moresby in the morning as a weather window suddenly opened up for us. Papua New Guinea has been a very interesting experience for us, and we are glad that we came here. It should take us about three days to reach Thursday Island, where we will clear into Australia. We still have quite a few miles until we reach Darwin, and our time is running short, so we are glad to be able to leave earlier than we thought.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Samarai Island

June 17, 2010-We left the Louisiades around two in the afternoon and sailed out through Cormorant Pass. Actually, we drifted out the pass as the winds were very light but the ebb current was pretty strong. This pass was much, much easier than the one we entered a week ago.

We headed due west and around five o'clock, we approached Jomard Channel. This is a major shipping channel for commercial vessels going from the Torres Straights north of Australia to China, Japan, the Philippines, etc. we began to see a ship to our starboard, and when it was within five miles, our AIS alarm system sounded. The ship was 950 feet, and it was huge. It easily passed in front of us, as did the next ship. A few minutes later we saw one ship to port and one to starboard, and the AIS again sounded. At this point we are preparing to cross the channel so we are obviously watching very carefully. The AIS lists the closest point of approach, and both vessels were at one mile-no problem. Then one of the ships, a tanker, began to close on us, and the CPA was down to 0.2 miles. We had slowed down a bit to allow him to pass in front of us, but then we noticed that the tanker had changed course enough that he would now move behind us, which was very nice of him to do. That left the other ship to pass in front of us with sv Linda in the middle. It was an exciting hour or so. Even after we were through the channel, we kept seeing ships for several hours.

It was dead calm all night. In fact, I could see the Milky Way and other stars reflected in the water because it was like glass. It was a beautiful,calm evening; however, no wind meant that we had to motor, which we did the whole way.

We arrived at Samarai Island around 9 o'clock and were listening to Australian Broadcasting Company on the single-sideband radio when we found out that it was the Queen's birthday. That meant it was a holiday and we could not clear into Papua New Guinea until tomorrow. We decided to go ashore anyway and found out that Felix, the customs officer, was out fishing. Who could blame him-it was a holiday. We did locate some diesel and a place to exchange money so everything was fine. Our only problem occurred when we returned to our dinghy. The dinghy dock moves quite a bit because of the swell. Steve got in, and I was looking at the situation. Steve said to just lunge for it, so I did. As I lunged forward, the dinghy lunged to the side because of a swell. I did a beautiful face plant right into the dinghy. My left thigh hit something on the dinghy that has left a nice bruise, but I was otherwise unhurt-only my ego since about 20 locals were in the area watching.

On Tuesday, Felix met us on our way to his office, so we all returned to the boat so that he could check us in, take care of immigrations and also quarantine. This was a very laid back operation, which was just fine by us. We then got our jerry jugs and lugged them to town to fill up with diesel. We needed just four jugs this time so it was a bit easier. In the afternoon we took a walk around the island because we have had so little exercise lately, and it was interesting. We found the central market, and on around the island, we found the hospital. The island is only 64 acres, so it did not take long to complete the walk.

On Wednesday, we were preparing to leave for Port Moresby, but we learned that sv September was coming in to get diesel before they continue on to Port Moresby so we decided to stay. Hans and Gabriele arrived around noon and had us over for a tuna dinner because they had landed a lovely tuna on the way in.

Steve helped them get diesel today while I took care of chores. We prepared the boat to leave in the morning to do a two-night passage to Port Moresby. Since we can't find a weather window to cross to Australia, we will move along the coast of Papua New Guinea instead.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Leaving the Louisiade Archipeligo

June 13, 2020-On June 9 we left Kimuta Island in less than ideal conditions. The wind was blowing nicely, and it was overcast, which made it difficult to see the reefs. Luckily, we had our GPS track in so we just stayed as close to that track as possible on our way back out. We were able to sail with 15 knots of wind just forward of the beam and were making good time until we had to make a course change and then the wind was on the nose once again.

We turned on the engine and motored toward No Name Passage just east of Wuri Wrui Passage in order to enter the fringing reef for a different set of islands. It rained off and on, and the winds picked up to over 20 knots. We had some difficulty seeing the pass as we approached but were finally able to see the entrance. I went up on deck to a watch and was amazed and the wind gusts and opposing waves while we were right in the middle of the pass. I didn't think that we were moving at all, but we made it through and finished the last 10 miles to Bobo Eina Island where we anchored in 30 feet of water. About 30 minutes after we arrived, it began to rain heavily and continued for the rest of the evening. At least the boat got a nice bath.

The next day the locals began to arrive at our boat. Tem and his wife Victoria were the first. They were very friendly and just wanted to welcome us. Several more came by offering fruit and vegetables for trade. It was another busy day. The next day we went ashore to walk on the beach. We also went over to Tem 's place to visit. We then returned to the boat so that Steve could relax. He pulled his back somehow and is having trouble moving around.

We stayed at Bobo Eina for one more day and spent the day with more of the locals. We picked up a nicely carved mask and a basket, and we gave out clothes, epoxy, pliers, fish hooks, sugar, flour, laundry soap, and even Ibuprophen. The people here are warm and friendly but are in such need. Right now there are just three cruising boats here, and we talked to the other two on the radio once but have not seen them.

We left in the morning on June 12. The weather was beautiful, but we had very little wind so we motored. We went about 22 miles west to the island of Panasia. Now we have a cruising guide with a drawn picture of the island and surrounding reefs; however, as we approached, we could not locate the pass through the reef. Luckily, we had very calm conditions, so I climbed up on top of the boom where I could see better and finally located the pass. I was calling down directions to Steve (we had given up on the chart plotter at this point), and he steered the boat accordingly to get us through the pass. The sun was out and slightly behind us and that made it possible for me to spot the coral heads inside the lagoon, and we picked our way through until we arrived at a good spot to drop the anchor in 30 feet of water. There were a few locals here fishing, but they left at sun down to sail back to their islands.

The island was once a volcano so you have the south side, which has high, steep, sheer walls, and then on the other three sides you have a fringing reef. The scenery is spectacular, and the water was wonderful to swim in. An old cruising guide indicated that there were crocs here, but we have not seen any. Never-the-less, my swim was a quick one with Steve joking the whole time he was standing watch for me.

We have done little sailing in this area and have had to motor most of the time. The lack of wind along with the squally weather has made it difficult to see all that we wanted to during our time here and that has been frustrating. This afternoon we will leave Panasia and sail, or more likely motor, overnight to Samurai Island, where we can get some provisions and more diesel, and wait for a good weather window to cross to the Raines entrance through the Great Barrier Reef. The forecast for the next few days has high wind and seas, so we prefer to wait it out.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bwagaoia Harbour and Kimuta Island

June 8, 2010--On Friday, June 5, we pulled our anchor at Rambuso Creek at dawn in order to make it to Bwagaoia Harbour by afternoon. We made our way back out through the reef entrance and motored the 60 miles to Misima Island. The entrance to Bwagaoia is well marked, although a bit narrow. There is even a flashing light to starboard. We haven't seen too many navigation lights lately.

We anchored at the end of the bay where we would be clear of any fishing boats or supply ships that might need to move around in the anchorage. The bay is lined with mangroves with a mud bottom that provided good holding. The bay offers excellent protection; however, that also means that there is not a lot of air movement--that means it was hot!

On Friday we arrived late in the afternoon, so we just stayed aboard and tried to get some things done. On Saturday morning, we took the dinghy ashore to look for diesel fuel. We were able to find a place to pull the dinghy up on the sand that was not too far from the diesel storage. We took our four jerry jugs up and had the man fill them for us. The cost was $4.30 kina per liter, which is about $6.00 U.S. We thought that that was pretty reasonable considering how remote this place is.

While he was filling our jugs, we walked over to the store to see about exchanging some money and found fuel for $4.10 per liter. After exchanging some U.S. dollars for kina, we picked up our four jugs and returned to the boat to put the fuel into the tanks, and then returned for more diesel. This time we went to the store since the price was better. We left those four jugs on deck so we now had a full load of fuel to get us to Australia.

We spent the afternoon walking around town, which wasn't much to see. However, when we walked up the hill, we found lovely homes with well manicured grounds. We met Peter, the local minister of the church, which was a open-air facility with a thatched roof. We also met a man who was making a boat out of a large tree trunk. We even stopped to watch a volley ball game that was in process. Everyone was very friendly.

At the market we discovered little that we could use. The main item for sale was beetle nut. This is a pod about the size of a lime, and it has a seed inside. The locals cut the pod and seed in half and then chew the seed. Just about everyone chews this--men, women, and even some of the kids. It makes their mouths red, and it does nothing for their teeth. There is red spittle on the ground all around where they have spit out the juice, much like chewing tobacco. We don't know if it is an addictive substance or just a cultural thing. One thing I do know is that we have not tried it, nor will we try it.

On Sunday we left the harbour for Kimutu Island, but the north winds would be make the anchorage difficult, so half way there we turned back to Bawagaoia. Monday morning we left again and motored into the wind the 13 miles to Kimutu. When we arrived at the island, we had to wind our way around and through coral in Dim Dim Passage to make it to an anchorage just down the beach from the village. We pulled in slowly and ended up in very shallow water, so we had to back up into about 20 feet of water, where we dropped our anchor. We are surrounded by coral; however, our little spot has a lovely sand bottom.

A local woman came by in her canoe with her daughter and her niece to visit with us. We then ate some lunch but decided to stay aboard for the afternoon as Steve has done something to his back and is moving very slowly. On Tuesday we had hoped to go ashore; however, Steve is still not moving very well, and I felt that unloading the dinghy and the rough ride ashore would not improve the situation so we stayed on board. We planned to leave on Wednesday but were disappointed because the weather was not very good. The skies were overcast, which would make it difficult to see our way to the next anchorage. It also looked like it might rain, so we decided to lay over one more night.

Last night was very uncomfortable as we are getting wrap around waves, and the boat is heaving in all directions. We slept on the settees for the second night. Neither of us slept very well last night and woke to the same dreary weather, but we have decided to move on because we are just too uncomfortable here.

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Arrival in the Louisiades

June 4, 2010-I just checked the date of my last blog and can't believe that it was May 28. Needless-to-say, I am really behind.

Our passage was a difficult one, not because of too much wind but because of too little wind. Our conditions were not anywhere close to the forecast we had received, so we ended up motoring much more than we wanted to. Because of the light winds, we could sail at only about 2 knots, and our wind vane just doesn't steer well at that speed, and we don't want to sit at the helm all day long. Therefore, when we could sail at 4 knots or better, we did. Otherwise, we motored with the main sail up. We also had pretty confused seas, which made for an uncomfortable ride and some difficulty sleeping.

Late in the afternoon of June 1, we got a strike on our fishing line. When we pulled it in, we had a nice little barracuda on the line. Now pulling in a barracuda is a bit tricky as they have some very nasty teeth. Steve was able to get it on the side deck, and we threw a towel over its head to calm it down. We figured that we would just let him expire, but he started flopping around so Steve had to speed up the process.

Now we realized that the lure, which had been thrown back in the water, had another fish on it. This time it was a Dorado, not as big as the others that we have caught, but a nice one to keep. We hauled him aboard, and now Steve had two fish to clean. He decided to filet the Dorado first and was working away with the barracuda about six inches from his feet. I noticed that the barracuda's gills were still moving, and sure enough, he started snapping. Steve jumped out of reach and then made sure that the "cuda" could do no more damage.

We got the Dorado and the barracuda all done and went to retrieve the line for the evening. To our surprise, we had another fish on the line. It was another barracuda, and this one was bigger than the first. We wanted to throw him back since we didn't have enough room in the reefer; however, he was securely hooked, and because there was no safe way to remove the lure, Steve had to kill him. At least when we threw him back, we knew that he would feed something else in the ocean.
We arrived at our destination late in the afternoon on June 2 and were worried about making it into the anchorage before dark. We were both very tired and did not want to spend another night keeping watch. Luckily, the tide was with us, and we made it through the opening in the reef and slowly motored into the lagoon at Rambuso Creek on Tagula Island in the Louisiades. The anchorage was beautiful with mangrove trees all around us.

Soon after we were anchored, a canoe with four local men came by to chat with us. Three were brothers and one was a brother-in-law. We visited for awhile, and then we told them that we were very tired and needed to get to sleep. They understood and left our boat and were kind enough to stop some of the local kids from coming by that night. We took a quick shower, ate a cold dinner, relaxed for a little while, and then went to bed.

The next day was filled with visits from the locals. Many of the children came by in their canoes on their way to school, during their recess, and after school. They all spoke very good English, and one group sang the Papua New Guinea national anthem for us. They were despite for school supplies so we gave them anything we had that might be useful. They brought us coconuts, papaya, and bananas in return. The clergy from the church, along with his wife and son, also stopped by to visit for awhile. One woman came by with her four kids and offered us eggs. She also had a live chicken with her, and there was a knife beside her in the boat. We decided that if we had wanted the chicken, she would have killed it for us. Thankfully, we have more than enough meat in the freezer.

Today we left very early to make it to Bwagaoia on Messima Island before dark. This is the only place where we can get fuel, and since there is still no wind, we are motoring the whole way. Luckily, we still have enough fuel to make it the 65 miles. From there we will have to decide which islands to visit during our two weeks here.
This area is lovely, and there are, I believe, just two other cruising boats in the area with us. More will arrive from Australia later in the season, but for now, we will enjoy the solitude.

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