01/18/2009, Green Island
Everyone in our three boat group was up at 4:30 AM today to make the, go/no go, call. It was a no go. Squalls and Thunderstorms were about and the wind was stronger than forecast and from the NW, the worst case from a pass exit in the dark stand point. In consideration of the fact that the forecast indicated a motor sail today and a beam reach sail tomorrow, we decided to postpone our departure.
Hideko and I relaxed on board and watched some more of our best picture marathon. The Life of Emile Zola has been our favorite to date. My friend Jeff gave me program sheets from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts, which he received when he attended a multi night program for the 75th Anniversary of the Academy Awards. We have greatly enjoyed reading them and watching the films. We started with Wings, the first best picture in 1927 and have gone on from there. It is a real cultural trip through the past.
Of course visiting Green Island is a contrasting cultural trip. We had a great chat with a school teacher today. She brought us some Green Island Oranges, which are not oranges and are unlike anything we know. They are citrus though. She told me that Green Island felt no real impact from the struggles in Bouganville. They were facing another problem though, which we have found in many places throughout the Pacific islands, not to mention the rest of the world. Overpopulation. She told us that there are over 5,000 people living on this atoll. Things are ok for now but soon gardens will be pressured to produce enough food, and we have already seen that the fish in the lagoon are far from plentiful.
Eric played volley ball with the local crew today. They used to play every day at 3PM but they lost their volley ball. We have volley balls as part of our aid package so Eric was a hit.
My friend Max came to see if I wanted to go night fishing with him. While I really wanted to, we decided to have a quiet night before our early departure tomorrow. It has been another lovely day at beautiful Green Island.
|Papua New Guinea||
01/17/2009, Green Island
Everyone in the fleet was up early today. At's call came on the radio at 4:20. Groggily we all reported in good to go and the weather looked fine. Fine is not a good thing in sailor's parlance because it means no wind except in squalls. That is basically what we had all day. It was a beautiful day, blue sky and fair weather cumulus, but there was little wind.
We made our way out through the easy exit in Queen Carola Harbor before sun up. Angelique discovered a canoe already out fishing. We were the last boat out the pass but ended up in front by Green Island. The trip was uneventful. We didn't even catch any fish, which was surprising.
As we approached Green Island I could see that the chart was pretty far off by the radar. As it turned out the charted position of the island on our Navionics charts was a good nautical mile east of where the island really is by WGS84 datum. Another way to say it, is that the island is a mile west of the charted location. A turn to port was required because our track line approaching the pass from Buka went over land in the real world.
As we approached the island we could see cumulus building over the island. It seemed to focus right on the pass. Of course. We zig zaged our way in to give the rain some time to let up and improve our visibility, but also to get a feel for the pass and the breaks on either side. Like most passes, it is not too bad after you've done it once, as long as you don't go when the current is ripping. It was, of course, our first time.
Hideko was on the bow guiding us in and I was glued to the sounder and watching the water color up ahead. The good news was that the sun had come back out and the water in the pass was crystal clear. The closest tide station was back in Buka but we expected to be in during a long mid day slack with no more than a tenth of a foot change between low-high and high-low tides. There wasn't more than a knot of current as we came through and the visibility was great. I later snorkeled the pass and can report that it is fairly wide and without any obstructions if you stay off of the edges.
The shallowest bit is a 20 foot bar and that comes at the very end, once you're inside, just before reaching deep water (100 feet). Once in the lagoon we called back waypoints for the entrance to the other two boats since our route was useless here (due to the chart offset). We turned to starboard and came in on the lovely beach, just inside the pass, and anchored in a comfortable 40 feet of water with great holding sand.
This is one of those anchorages where you get mobbed by kids and young adults on canoes when arriving. They all want to look around and see this crazy contraption that you live on. It is tough after a long sail to have not a minute of peace until sunset, but it is the way of things in Melanisia. We did trade for some nice fruits.
I also met a guy named Max who was on the way to go spear fishing. I asked him if I could join him and he said sure. So I kissed Hideko and hopped in his canoe with my spear and mask. I asked him how many folks lived on the atoll and he said 3,000. Wow. That's a lot of people. I asked him if there were still fish in the pass. He said yes.
He told the truth, but the size of the fish was left out of the response. I saw perhaps one Doctor fish and one Hind that were eating size. The only other things big enough to eat were two black tip reef sharks, one white tip and a nurse shark, which I found sleeping under a reef. Max speared four aquarium sized fish and assured me that the pass was better at night with lobster and bigger fish. I believe him but I think the people here just don't realize the pressure that 3,000 folks can put on two passes in such a small lagoon.
The coral are healthy though and the water is beautiful. The water temperature is 88F and the visibility is 100 feet. I didn't get close enough to the two terrified fish I saw that were eating size to even take a shot, but I had a lovely time snorkeling about. It was also fun to be the only white guy in a duggout canoe.
An inter island freighter came through the pass (it comes once a month) while we were out paddling, and all of the PNG guys on deck gave me a funny look. I just kept paddling. They threw some Betel Nuts out into the water on their way by, which the locals swooped up quickly.
Hideko held court back at Swingin' on a Star and ended up with some tasty grapefruit, oranges, coconuts (for drinking), pineapple, some kind of potato, and snake beans. Poor Hideko was very tired when I got back.
Eric ran about on his kayak during the day, but later ended up at Angelique in the engine room. We didn't realize it at the time but they lost all power right in the middle of the pass! No sounder, no plotter, no nothing. They made it in fine of course but were intent on figuring out what had happened. Eric tightened their alternator belt, which seem too loose for comfort, and the charging system seemed to be working much better there after. This would not be a great place to have to get parts for electrical! The fix seems to have them going again.
After a quick chat late in the day we all decided to make for Nugarba tomorrow first thing. It is another atoll 82 miles closer to Kapingamaringi. Kaping is our real destination because we have an aid package to deliver to them ASAP. If we make Nugarba (it is an atoll and there is some question as to how safe a pass entry late in the day will be) we will leave for Kaping the next day. If Nugarba is unsafe to enter (charts are not good and the only guide that mentions it has a one sentence pilot) we will just press on to Kaping. It will be nice to finally get to Kaping and take a few days off.
|Papua New Guinea||
01/16/2009, Buka Island Lagoon
What a difference a day makes. Yesterday we were tying up to nasty wharfs and dealing with officials, while thunderstorms and water spouts caterwauled all about, and today we awoke to the bluest sky you could imaging, flat calm, lovely little swell curling on the reef and we were anchored off of a perfect tropical sandy island.
Everyone enjoyed the morning in the sun. Eric kayaked about and fraternized with the single women in the area (I guess there are advantages to being a single, single hander). At and Dia enjoyed the idyllic anchorage. Hideko and I took a dinghy tour, hiked along the beach, went for a swim and snorkeled the reef. It was a fantastic day at the beach.
After chatting with the local chief (or so he said, you never do know) and a variety of other folks on outrigger canoes, we decided to set off for Kulu in the north of the lagoon. Kulu is in Queen Carola Harbor and gets us about 20 miles closer to our next destination, Green Island. From Green Island we will be able to strike out for Kapingamaringi to deliver the aid package we're carrying, thanks to a miraculous east wind. Hopefully the forecast will hold.
The trip up the lagoon was uneventful and the channel is deep and fairly wide. Shallowest we saw was 50 feet. The anchorage to the west of Kulu is very protected and, shocked though we were, in less than 50 feet of water! We almost didn't know what to do. Hideko couldn't remember the last time she had put out less than 200 feet of chain.
Hideko is making us a delicious looking shnitzel as we lie quietly in 37 feet of water. It will be an early day tomorrow because we need to reach the pass at Green island (which is a high atoll) at a reasonable time and tide.
|Papua New Guinea||
01/15/2009, Buka Island
We left Teop this morning a bit tired. This was because a crew of 10 guys in three canoes who were out fishing on the reef last night came by to say hello at 9:30 PM. I wasn't asleep when I heard the knock on the boat but I was in the rack.
I got up and turned on some lights, hailed the other boats and then went out to see what was happening. A wad of guys were staring at me. I said, "hello, what can I do for you?". They said, "we're from the village on the other side", in rough English. I said, "I see, well we're all sleeping here, perhaps we'll see you tomorrow then? Good night."
They hung around talking in pigeon a bit and then moved off. The nice thing about our boat is that the 5 feet of freeboard puts the port lights out of easy view from a surface boat. Many of these folks are so fascinated with yachts that they want to peer into the boat, and do so without asking. Even to the extent of shining a flash light inside. There may be some bad seeds also, who are casing the boat for theft targets. It is hard to know, they haven't had a yacht here in 15 years or more.
They proceeded on to Angelique, where At, in a better humor than I was, entertained them for a half hour or so. This was much to the chagrin of Eric, because that just meant that they did not get to his boat until 10:30. They finally left at 11PM. It was a fairly selfish visit and the first I would condemn since we've been in PNG. Curious and amazed is fine, but not while people beating up the coast at 4:30 AM each day are trying to sleep.
In the morning, as we left Teop, I noticed that the Cape L'Averdy light was working. Amazing really. The day turned out to be lovely. We saw the sun rise and had as much as 40% blue sky, both a novelty. The wind was on the beam for the run to Buka Passage. The wind was well under 10 knots but it was on the beam. We motor sailed at 8-9 knots right up to the first squall.
The Buka area seems to breed a lot of squalls and thunderstorms this time of year. Not sure what the local affect is that causes this, or if it has just been a chance condition over the last three days of observation. Regardless, we had to drop the jib and sheet in the main as the wind came on the nose. We didn't get much rain though.
On the other side of the cloud mass we reached the passage entrance. The passage is well marked and plenty deep. We arrived, by design, at slack water and had no problem coming into the town quay. The currents in the passage can reach 6 knots setting southeast on a rising spring tide and 4.5 knots setting NW on a falling spring tide.
The wharf had the Spirit of the Solomons, an inter island transport, on it. She was a stout steel affair. Behind her I could easily see that the fixed wharf fenders would just bend our stanchions. The old wharf is a rusting hulk. The only choice was to raft up with the Spirit. So we did.
I must say, the banana boat drivers that zip back and forth between Buka, Bouganville and the other little islands in the passage, are anything but courteous. They blast right across your bow, and think nothing of pounding by at top speed, feet away from you, leaving a wake that racks you against the quay, or the ship you're tied to, in our case.
I jumped ashore, through the Sprit, and headed across the street to the police station. At the station I was escorted past the cage like holding tank, which was full up, and back to an office with the Lieutenant in it. I told him that we had emailed our consulate in Port Moresby and that they had been in touch with the customs office in Rabul, 48 hours prior to our arrival, as specified by PNG regulations. We had been instructed to see the police department in lieu of the customs official who was not in town due to a housing shortage.
The lieutenant copied our passports, ships docs, and clearance out of the Solomons and said good day. Wow, my easiest check in ever. I knew he was going to get yelled at but there was nothing I could do about it. I hurried back to the port.
Once in the port I asked a few guys about getting diesel for Angelique and Whistler. They indicated that we could have it delivered but that you would have to pay first. The bank was a mob scene (I later found out that it was a 2 hour wait for service and that it is always like that). The guy that helped me was half Australian and half Bukan. I passed his name on to the other boats and then got back out into the channel so that they could tie up without me in the way.
We left at 10:30 as Angelique was just arriving. Hideko and I motored out the north passage following the well marked channel and enjoying all of the wonderful little islands and rock formations in the area.
Once outside we could see that a lot of squalls and thunder storms were moving about on the west coast. After moving north a little we decided to anchor off of a beautiful island with sandy beaches and reefs all around. The anchorage is deep, 100 feet plus, but it is nice in the NW monsoon conditions. It also kept us close enough to keep in touch with our friends as they worked through the process of clearing in and getting fuel, not to mention keeping us from driving right into a big thunder storm which was sparking up track.
A local fisherman with an outboard driven fiberglass boat stopped by to say hello and gawk at our boat. He gave me permission to anchor in exchange for a walk around the deck. As we were talking I saw a waterspout sucking the ocean up into the sky to the south just off the coat. I pointed at it and said, "whoa, check that out". He looked and said, "yes a cyclone", and then went back to interrogating me about our boat. Spouts can have 120 knots of wind at the edge of the vortex. They don't live long and they don't go fast or far but still, yikes. I guess the locals see them often enough not to care too much. The fisherman later told me that a spout wrecked a house in his village last year.
Things continued to clear and the lovely little island convinced us to stay the night. Late in the day came the arrival of Whistler and Angelique. Apparently their clearance was far more involved than ours. If the sun is out tomorrow we will snorkel on the amazing reefs surrounding the little island and then head for Kulu up in Queen Carola Harbor.
|Papua New Guinea||
01/14/2009, Bouganville Island
While I can recommend the people of Cape Mabiri, some of the friendliest and most helpful folks you'll ever meet, I can't recommend the anchorage in the NW Monsoon. It is safe but not comfortable. The reef does not do much to stop the chop until low tide. Fortunately it was a full moon and the low tide was particularly low and time centered in the middle of the night. There is no protection from the wind should it go even the slightest bit east and even when it is west it comes around the low point in gusts. The holding is good so we all managed a fair nights sleep regardless.
We were up a 4:30AM again and after all three of us checked in on the VHF ready to go we made way out the north side of the reef. It is a fairly easy exit and the water is 100 feet in the shallowest bit. Once past Mabiri reef we headed out to deep water leaving another reef to port. From there we picked up the track line to Teop Harbor.
Our tentative plan was to get to Teop, which is behind Cape L'Averdy and then decide whether to go on to Buka or stop. After getting this far up the coast of Bouganville during the NW Monsoon I can heartily recommend Kieta and Teop harbors. Everything else I've run across would fall into the category of fair weather anchorage (fair weather is not a hallmark of the NW Monsoon). Kieta is a day sail from the Solomons in the South and Teop is a day sail from Buka in the North. Teop and Buka are a long daysail apart. If you expect squally weather you will be snug as a bug in either of these and quite a bit less so in any other spot you might pick out.
Things are very different during the SE trades and my brain is not in that mode so things would have to be re-thought during that time of year. There are a great many little islands within the barrier reef area that would be lovely stops for beach combing, diving or exploring. There are no doubt heavenly anchorages at each, suitable for constant winds in settled weather.
Our day traveling up the coast was far from settled. It started out gray and overcast with a light drizzle. We made good way dead into the light NW wind though. Then things got squally and the apparent wind got up to 20 knots or so and the seas got a bit sharp. This took a good 2 knots off of our way. After an hour or two things began to clear and the pressure ultimately came up as high as 1014 from a morning low of 1010ish.
The passage to Teop was offshore, short circuiting a large bay, and safely outside the reef, which was nice in the low visibility. It was a bummer though because Bouganville is so beautiful that we were sad not to get to see the coast go by.
At Teop we called back to the fleet to see if they were game for pushing on into what looked like a pretty nasty thunderhead over Buka. No would be the resounding response. Whistler's auto pilot was not coping with the heavy seas in the middle part of our 7 hour trip today, forcing Eric to hand steer. Being a single hander and having to hand steer will take it out of you.
Teop harbor is big. It is completely protected by islands and reef but the reef system that layers back into the bay gives it a wonderful open feel. The anchorage area in the NW winds is in the NW part of the bay and there's room for everyone. Of course there was only us.
In fact the few people we talked to don't really remember the last yacht to visit. They also report that the war is long over and it is apparent that none of them had anything to do with it. Many canoes came to see us (as a curiosity) but they are all very shy and don't pester or even speak to you without you speaking to them. Not one person in Bouganville has ever asked us for a single thing. Can not say that about the Solomons or Vanuatu.
This is a place you could easily stay a week. No worries about your boat (from the weather or human elements), lots of bay and reef to explore, a big crock infested mangrove swap to dinghy or kayak through, a small village to visit and old plantations of Cacao and Coconut Palm to explore. You would be a pioneer diving these reefs.
Hideko and I were chatting with Eric on the bow as the sun set and Eric said, "every time I visit a place people say not to go to because it is so dangerous, I find it is one of the best places I've ever been". I think I might agree in some ways. There certainly is some logic to the notion. No yacht visits produces people who are amazed and happy to see you but who have no expectations. Lots of yacht visits may breed some contempt (particularly when the less pleasant yachties drop in) and expectations of gifts and cash purchases.
We would love to stay here and get to know the people better but Buka and the officials are waiting for us and we are eager to get north and into the blue sky again.
|Papua New Guinea||
01/13/2009, 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.
|Papua New Guinea||
01/12/2009, Oema Island
We stayed in harbor today. Everyone was up at 4AM ready to go. The forecast was ok but calmer days were coming. We decided to give it a shot even though thunderstorms were sparking off in the distance to every point of the compass. A few miles out of the anchorage the apparent wind had climbed to the high teens and folks were worried about being able to keep way on at the cape. So back to the harbor we came.
The whole day the seas lightened and the wind dropped. Of course. It would have been a perfect day to go. Fortunately we have the same forecast tomorrow. Everyone used the day to get small projects done.
One of our favorite new tricks has been making yogurt. At and Dia, on Angelique II, gave us the starter and instructions. Now have perpetual yogurt, as long as there's milk. How awesome is that? We just spoon four teaspoons of the current batch of yogurt into one liter of milk at 50 degrees centigrade, let it sit in a thermos overnight, and voila, yogurt.
|The Solomon Islands||