Cape Mibiri Roadstead
13 January 2009 | Bouganville Island
We had our standard pre-start VHF call at 4:30 AM this morning. The weather forecast was not perfect, but not bad, and the lion's share of the thunder storms seemed to be to the south of us. It was a go.
We raised anchor in the dark a couple hours before sun rise. We were still on Solomon time so it was just after 3:30AM in Papua New Guinea. We made good way motoring into the light wind. The anemometer rarely showed over 10 knots apparent, but it was all within 20 degrees of the bow, with rare, short lived, exceptions.
As we crossed from Oema to Bouganville the overcast and some coastal mist made it hard to make out the big island. We came across several large floating logs near the mouths of some of the rivers along the coast.
None the less we made it to Papua New Guinea. The coastline of Bouganville is majestic. The south part of the island is supposed to be highly populated but we didn't see any people, probably because it was 5AM. The islands along the broken barrier reef are beautiful and there are lots of gorgeous beaches mixed with black volcanic cliffs. Everything is covered in lush vegetation.
We kept to our route inside the reef system. The bottom was pretty much 100 feet or more everywhere on our track, as charted. We found no isolated obstructions or dangers along the way. The reef doesn't break up the North swell much if at all with few exceptions outside of the Kieta area.
At times the sea was glassy as we motored up the coast, with the main setting now and just hanging there a minute later. A huge pod of spinner dolphins came to visit us for more than an hour. They were everywhere. In fact they seem to own Bouganville, as we could spot their fins arching through the water at a distance the entire day.
Our previous attempt at this stretch of coast three days ago was a very different experience. We had 18 knots from 320 and the seas were steep and building to 2 meters. At the end we were all having a hard time making 4 knots. Today we rarely fell below 6 and the trip was far more pleasant. It is almost always worth it to wait for weather. We would have saved a lot of diesel and had a lot more fun playing poker in North Bay.
Kieta is a wonderful harbor. Totally protected in any conditions and very large with lots of places to anchor inside. The bottom is not too deep to anchor in mid harbor (110 feet, hmmm, perhaps I'm getting used to this Pacific anchoring business) and there are bays with charted depths of 30 feet (haven't see that in a long time).
There are a fair amount of folks in the Kieta area but things looked very peaceful. We saw a nice market on shore as we motored by and a wharf that looked as if it was under expansion on the south shore.
We came in the south entrance and found no hazards along the way. Kieta is certainly the place to stop on this part of the Bouganville coast. We didn't however. As I type I am regretting it a little too.
It was not even noon when we entered the harbor and it seemed a waste to shut down in these conditions. If we pressed on we could shack up in a less than perfect anchorage but then perhaps make Buka tomorrow. Whistler, Angelique and Swingin' on a Star all agreed to make for Cape Mabiri.
Leaving the harbor we took a short cut between Arovo Island and Kieta Point. The water is 100 feet plus mid channel (don't cut the corners). The main coast and island are lovely here. There is a ship wreck smack in the middle of a perfect yellow sand beach on Arovo island inside the pass. Arovo would be fun to explore and snorkel/dive.
Exiting the cut we ran along Anewa Bay and noticed a picturesque waterfall running down the cliff at the back of the bay. Anewa is the port that serviced the copper mine which seeded all of the conflict between Bouganville and PNG 30 years ago.
The open copper mine in the hills here was a huge revenue producer. The locals did not want to pay the high taxes to PNG when they received so little from the central government in return (perhaps because they had the highest per capita income of any PNG province?). There were issues with the foreign ownership of the mines as well. Regardless the locals blew up everything industrial in revolt, reducing their own lot to subsistence operations and creating a civil war that cost many lives and shut Bouganville down for commerce, not to mention tourism, for many years.
Now Bouganville has a peace accord with PNG and a path to independence has been laid out. I don't know who was in the right all those years ago, probably both and neither, but from a yachting perspective, the civil war has been a bummer. There are many unfounded rumors about Bouganville and things are certainly improving. That said it is still a place best passed through quickly. Too bad, it is such a lovely island.
We motored up inside the reef to Ambun Rock and then cut across the deep water to enter the general anchorage area behind the reefs running up to Cape Mabiri. I could tell right away that it was not going to be pretty.
Reefs are underwater. They may break the seas down, but, in general, you still have lots of chop behind a submerged reef. Hard to tell from a chart though. Does the reef dry a lot? Just a little? Not at all? This reef would be the later type. The good thing was the bottom was sand as best we could tell and of a reasonable depth behind the cape.
This is not harbor. It is a roadstead and if there is any swell from the north to SE you will know it. The wind also needs to have west in it to gain protection here. In other than calm and settled conditions I would not recommend this spot.
But here is where we are. We could have made the next harbor but it was hard to tell from the chart if it would have been any better or if three boats could have made it in. Angeliqe was a couple hours behind us so we had limited range to work with.
Mabiri Reef anchorage would have to do for the night. We dropped the anchor in 70 feet of water to ensure that if we blew back to land we would have enough sea room. We put out the whole box (300 feet) and set the anchor angling to shore with the expected worst case wind and the swell.
We saw some folks out in canoes and all of them were so kind and friendly. They spoke English much more effectively than the people we typically met in out of the way places in the Solomons or Vanuatu.
Once Whistler and Angelique got in and settled an envoy came out to offer us fresh fruits and vegetables. We accepted of course. It began to rain then. We were sad assuming there would be no fresh produce trading.
Then in the middle of the downpour they came out laden with all kinds of yummy things to eat. All organically grown and fresh today. We traded tee shirts, school supplies, ball caps, sugar, a can of beans for a whole line up, including: watermelon, onions, papaya, peppers, beans and mangoes.
The folks were wonderful. One of the ladies had lived in Australia for some time but they all spoke great English. They kids were thrilled to see the yachts arrive. One even came out in the outrigger canoes to see us in the rain.
I asked them about security and they said that the area is very safe. The war was propagated by a small group of people (big surprise) who made many miserable for their own ends. They were happy to say that the war is long over (at least three years I suppose) and that people should come to visit their lovely island.
I couldn't agree more.
It looks as if we will make for Buka tomorrow if the weather clears by sunrise (which it generally does). I hope to come back to see these wonderful folks again though. The islands along their reef are beautiful and there are some amazingly long point breaks for the surfing crowd, not to mention one of the the worlds top two reefs for biodiversity.