Schooner Seawanhaka

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Postings - Papua New Guinea

Date and Time:

August - October 2006


Papua New Guinea

View Photos - Papua New Guinea:


August 16, 2006 - Departing Cairns, Australia for Papua New Guinea

SEAWANHAKA has had a great 2 weeks in Cairns. We're checking out of Australia in the morning and sailing off to Papua New Guinea.

We have a great crew lined up for this adventure into the remote archipelago of the Louisiades.

Alex Tyrell-Kenyon hails from Wrexham, Wales. He's been in Australia for a couple of years. Has the distinction of having driven entirely around the country. Know wonder he thinks the boat life is so great! I met him in Coffs Harbor last December where he was finishing up his PADI Divemaster certification. He's been on the boat for 2 months and is our on-board dive consultant.

Monia Tartarini has been a year in Australia, from her home in Milano, Italy. She's been studying photography in Sydney. We met her on our stop at Great Keppel Island a month ago. She has sailed the entire west coast of Australia from Broome to Perth. She is our photographer.

Florence Voyame, Delemont, Switzerland, has been on an 8-month boat hopping journey around the world. She sailed the Caribbean, transited the Panama Canal. Then sailed French Polynesia, Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia and into Australia. Great news for SEAWANHAKA, she has an allergy to dust, so has been giving her one great cleaning!

We've all spent the past week seeing the sites around Cairns. We all made it out to the Great Barrier Reef for some diving, as well as journeys into the rainforest, and up into the highlands to the mango and coffee plantations.

For those history buffs of you, you'll want to know that the Louisiades, the far southeastern islands in Papua New Guinea we are headed to were named for Louise Vaez de Torres, the Portuguese explorer sailing for Spain, who more notably put his surname on the Straits between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Walker will be doing updates on this page for us so keep an eye on it for all the news from SEAWANHAKA in the Louisiades.

August 25, 2006 - Samarai Island, Papua New Guinea

SEAWANHAKA checked into Papua New Guinea today after a very lively 3+ day passage across the Coral Sea from Cairns. With steady 20 knot SE trade winds, occasionally 25-30, it was a very fast 495 mile passage. It blew from the moment we left Cairns until we dropped the anchor in PNG. That's why they call them trade winds, so consistent that you can trade on them! SEAWANHAKA was in her element. When she puts her rail down and takes off in a sea-way she reminds me of a thoroughbred race horse hitting a favorite stride. And she kept a steady pace for the entire crossing.

Off the record, we first stopped at an outlying island, Delina, Ilo Ilo Bay, on the far southeastern tip of the island of New Guinea. It was an awesome introduction to Papua New Guinea. Several of the villagers paddled out in dugout canoes with fresh produce to trade, and invited us into the village. We spent a lovely day ashore visiting the school and touring the village. We were the first boat to stop in a couple of months, and all of the villagers were very warm, friendly and welcoming. A special treat was seeing several of the local boys showing off their sailing skills in traditional outrigger sailing canoes around SEAWANHAKA in the bay.

Back in Cairns Alex and Florence had scavenged every accommodation in town for items left in lost and found, so we have bags full of clothing for the remote islanders who have very little access to any kind of shopping. We also all contributed to a fund and bought lots of school supplies for the kids. They're excited to get pens and pencils, especially color, but most overjoyed to see their image on the camera! Monia, being our on-board photographer, besides teaching them a song in Italian, took loads of photos, and we printed some off so they could hang them on the wall at school.

After 3 days at Ilo Ilo, we had a very pleasant downwind sail amongst the islands to the island village of Samarai, where we checked in with PNG customs today. What an easy process, and at the end of the day, the customs agent Felix presented Captain Bill with a beautiful large conch shell to welcome SEAWANHAKA to Papua New Guinea! Tomorrow is Saturday, market day, so we are looking forward to a lively day ashore, and Alex has his sights on a well-known Manta Ray dive site on a neighboring island. One happy crew on this schooner!

August 30 - Gona Bara Bara Island

SEAWANHAKA had a pleasant and productive 3-day stay at the island of Samarai, then a light-wind sail up the eastern channel of China Strait to the lovely little island of Gona Bara Bara. We are anchored off of a gorgeous white-sand beach with a small village surrounded by palm trees and a brilliant array of bright flowers.

Samarai was a nice stop. It is a quaint, sleepy, former capital from colonial days. The hustle of commerce has long-since moved to the mainland to Port Moresby and Alotou, but there is still a nice little town where we met plenty of locals, toured the island, which took a whole 45 minutes to walk around, shopped the local market, and swapped sea stories with a couple of other cruising boats. We attended the Sunday service at the historic Anglican church. The parishioners are very proud of the fact that the occupying Japanese attempted to burn it down, but despite being fueled by kerosene and gasoline, the timber structure just wouldn't go up in flames. They are quick to point out the charred timbers that resisted the attempt at destruction. We experienced a full-on tropical downpour during the sermon, with the priest, churchgoers, and even a few dogs sleeping under the empty pews scrambling to find a spot that wasn't leaking! We were invited to stay for lunch at the rectory, with much singing and local food. Then Jacki at the local guest house and her crew put on a wonderful traditional Sunday evening dinner for the crews of SEAWANHAKA and EMILY JEAN, 3 Aussie blokes who had just sailed in across the Coral Sea.

Monday morning found us weighing anchor for points east. Our plan is to spend the next month or so working our way east toward the Louisiade Archipelago. There are islands and reefs scattered all over the 200 miles to the eastern fringe of the group, so even tho it is predominantly upwind, there should be plenty of anchorages within a day's sail no matter which way the wind blows.

Gona Bara Bara is the site of the Manta Ray "cleaning station" that we have heard so much about. We have been doing a lot of snorkeling and searching, and although the girls each had a ray sighting yesterday morning, so far we haven't seen the numerous rays we've been expecting. Apparently, at least during the right time of year, the rays all visit by a coral bommie just off the beach to have a school of "cleaner wrasse", a tiny fish, nibble along them to remove all the sea-growth that has accumulated. We're sending out snorkeling forays every couple of hours to try to find just the right combination of tide, current, sunlight, location and time of day to see the full process in action.

As we strolled the beach yesterday afternoon the small cruise ship NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENDEAVOUR steamed into the bay and dropped anchor outside of SEAWANHAKA. It was a bit of a disruption to the tranquility of the bay, but mitigated by the fact that the Captain extended an invitation to the crew of SEAWANHAKA to join them for dinner! We think maybe it was a coup by Alex who was up on the list to cook dinner, but as he said "If I can work us an invitation to a free dinner instead of cooking dinner that's just as good, and you don't have to eat another one of my meals!" And it did turn out to be a very enjoyable evening. We had an extensive tour of the ship, including the sophisticated nav process on the bridge. Then the crew of SEAWANHAKA was introduced to the passengers and crew over drinks in the lounge, and we were hosted to a fine dinner, endless pour of nice wine, topped off with a selection of ice cream desserts. We motored home to SEAWANHAKA under the guidance of their huge spotlight, and ENDEAVOUR steamed off to points east, bound for the Deboyne group, Solomon Islands, and Fiji.

The Gona Bara Bara Islanders have been very good to us. The women of the village make up attractive presentations of baskets full of produce in a flower array and send the little boys out in their dugout paddling canoes. Mostly they want "books and pencils", and we've been giving them some of the clothing we've brought with us. The boys are all laughs when I use my electric pencil sharpener, and they always thought you sharpened a pencil with a machete! We are planning to sail east tomorrow, loaded up with bananas, citrus, papayas, pumpkins, beans, eggplant, sweet potatoes, and lots of fresh-cut, colorful flowers!

September 10, 2006 - Hastings Island, Bonvouloir Group, Louisiade Archipelago, Papua New Guinea

For those of you who think the crew of SEAWANHAKA are just frolicking around the tropical South Pacific, swimming, snorkeling, diving, and exploring, without being of any use to humankind, we want to share a note that was paddled out to us just as we were weighing anchor and sailing out of the lovely island of Gona Bara Bara:

"To Captain Bill and Crew Monia, Alex and Florence:

Subject: Appreciation Letter

Dear Friends:

On behalf of the family here at Gona Bara Bara Island and my loved son Joaf, who is adopted to me as an aunt. I would take this very time to thank you, Bill and your friends for your big (heart drawn) in sharing your wealth, your love and concern and friendship, may the lord bless your travel.

I thank you also on behalf of the Chief Gansen Ledibo for helping us with clothing, books, biros (pens), writing pads, envelopes, and batteries for the children which was very much appreciated.

We look forward to see you in the near future and wish you all the very best trip and travel.

Included is an address. Please could you pass your photos of each of you to Joaf, for his memory sake to keep. He really love you all and speaks often of you and all during your stay he speaks well of you. Ta! Miss Nydia G. Ledibo"

SEAWANHAKA then sailed east along the coast of the large island of Basilaki. We anchored in Salewai and Pitt Bays. Saw lots of rain, filled the tanks, solar showers, had tropical fresh water showers and did the laundry. Pitt Bay has been the only place we've stopped where a canoe quickly paddled out to tell us that the shore of the bay was a favorite with the crocodiles, and not to try swimming. They didn't have to tell us that twice! Actually the swimming and snorkeling, which has been spectacular at every other anchorage we've been in, has been a real unexpected treat of PNG. We really did think the crocodiles would limit us to bucket baths, but apparently they are only prevalent around the mangroves and don't frequent the coral islands and reefs.

We spent a week exploring the Engineer Group, a seldom-visited group of 20 wonderful islands. The area isn't particularly well charted, so I spent much of my time up the rigging looking for coral heads and shoals. The color definition of the water is extraordinary, so I feel pretty safe even without great charts. Half of the islands are uninhabited, with long, delightful white-sand beaches. Everywhere we anchored we've been able to snorkel to the beach right from the boat. The islands that had villages were very happy to see us and trade. Lots of fish, along with the produce, and the last evening we had a wonderful crayfish (lobster) dinner, courtesy of the village teenage boys who traded for the soccer ball we had on board! On the crossing to the Engineers we caught a very nice "big-eye tuna" that kept us in sashimi for several days.

Yesterday we had a great 40 mile sail east to Hastings Island in the Bonvouloir Group, the northern most of the Louisiades. We are anchored in crystal clear blue-green waters at the base of a 500 foot granite cliff, with just a small beach and a few coconut palms. As we sailed into the cove, a manta ray was feeding along the rocks. Alex jumped in with his snorkel even before the anchor was set, and the manta ray swam right up to him to check him out. A white-breasted sea eagle soared overhead to watch. At sunset I counted 15 of them soaring on the winds over the cliffs. It's a bit windy and overcast today, so we're spending a quiet Sunday on the boat, with an occasional snorkel, and if it clears our divemaster Alex has plans to put a rare Hastings Island dive in our dive logs!

September 27, 2006 - Bramble Haven, PNG

SEAWANHAKA is anchored up at Bramble Haven, reputedly one of the best dive sites in PNG. We've had a bit of rain and cloudy weather this morning, so divemaster Alex is doing a second check through the dive gear to make sure it is ready to go when this 20 knot SE trade wind blows the clouds away and the sun shines. We are anchored in 20 feet of water off the bow, but just 20 meters off of the stern there is a wall that drops away rapidly to at least 500 feet! Looks to be a pretty spectacular wall dive right off of the boat. Meanwhile we are getting a few boat projects done and tidying things up. Despite the less than perfect weather, we realized that the toughest decision we were going to have to make all day was whether to eat lobster for lunch and fish for dinner or fish for lunch and lobster for dinner! The entire lagoon and 5 islets of Bramble Haven are uninhabited, but a flotilla of 3 traditional sailing canoes sailed in just before SEAWANHAKA yesterday, and a lobster (what they call crayfish) order to the boys produced 4 fine crayfish delivered at midnight. We traded some of our old snorkel gear and some nails. On the sail across from the Louisiades yesterday we caught 3 very nice fish in the first 40 minutes. Two nice mackerel tuna that made for an appetizing sashime and seared serving for dinner last night, and our new favorite, a large Spanish mackerel, which our fish book gives 4 stars on a scale of 1 to 4. We've been eating very well here on SEAWANHAKA.

Since the last update, we spent a nice week sailing through the Bonvouloir Group and east to Misima Island, the heart of the Louisiades. About half of the anchorages have been on uninhabited islands, and at the other half we've had a great time meeting and trading with local villagers. Our first anchorage on Misima was on the north shore at Rijak Bay, a very well protected bay with a good size village, Siagara. A special treat was the "16th of September" celebration of the independence of PNG from Australian colonial rule in 1975. We were invited to the school to see the 300 students in a bright array of colorful school uniforms march for the flag raising and speeches by the local dignitaries. Monia and I pulled the bicycles out, unfolded them in front of a beach full of curious kids, and had a 10 kilometer ride through the jungle to the village of Liag, where there was another independence celebration underway, with foot races, net ball, and volleyball.

Misima Island is the epitome of the boom/bust impacts of a gold mine that has operated on and off since the second world war. As many as 400 Australian miners have been flown in on a bi-weekly basis to work, as well as the operation employing as many locals. For an island that had previously had rare contact with the outside world, such an impact was dramatic. It is the only place we've been in PNG where we've seen motor vehicles and an airstrip with regular service (2 flights per week). The mine generated a huge cash flow to the island's economy. The flip side is that the mine is now shut down, all the Australians are gone, the economy is in collapse, and no one can afford to live the life they had become accustomed to. On one hand most of the islanders were happy to see a few cruising boats arrive to spend some kina, but many were resentful that we had money and many of the conveniences that they enjoyed not long ago.

We're now headed west, working our way through some lovely anchorages along the 450 mile-long "Sunken Barrier Reef". We're ultimately headed to Alotoa, on the north shore of Milne Bay. We hear it is a great stop, what Lonely Planet describes as "a sleepy little of the most laid-back, secure, enjoyable towns in the country." We're hoping we can find internet access to post some of the great photos of PNG we've been accumulating.

October 24 - Doini Island, PNG

Wow, it's been almost a month since I did the last update! Read that as "too much fun and great sailing and not enough time to write!" It continues to be wonderful sailing and adventuring here in Papua New Guinea.

From Bramble Haven we had a marvelous reach north to the Deboyne Group, anchoring off of Panapompom Island. Of particular interest was a snorkel on a Japanese Zero that was shot down in WWII, and the fact that the Deboyne Group is known for their skill in building and sailing traditional outrigger sailing canoes. We hired one for a day sail to Panaete Island 10 miles across the lagoon and had a wonderful day. They are rigged with one sail with a bamboo gaff. To change direction (would you call it a "tack" or a "jibe"?) they just swap ends of the boat with both the tack of the sail and the rudder, leaving the outrigger on the windward side. Pretty slick. There was a crew of 5 working the craft we were on. And when the sail rips in a fresh tradewind breeze, just sail the canoe up onto the beach, pull out another piece of plastic, and stitch it on! On both Panapompom and Panaete there were a number of sailing canoes in various stages of construction and we had a good chance to see the process in action. They use a lot of great timber harvested on Panaete, much like mahogany, and copper rivets just like the original fastenings on SEAWANHAKA.

Another week of beautiful downwind sailing brought us through the very narrow Sawa Sawaga Pass, between Sariba and Sideia Islands, with a 5 knot following current. We had pleasant stops at the uninhabited Conflict Group, and the delightful village in Oba Bay. Once through the pass it was a wonderful reach to the head of Milne Bay, home to the provincial capital of Alotau.

Alotau is a bustling little provisioning port, with the entire cove lined with small timber-built cargo boats loading wares for the outer settlements. Everything from fuel, to lumber, to sugar, to pigs! . Unfortunately the internet access in Alotau was too slow for photos, so you'll just have to wait until we get back to Australia to see the PNG photo page on the website.

We made a nice weekend sail across Milne Bay to Waga Waga. A good, sheltered anchorage, with an outstanding dive on a WWII Australian Navy ship sunk in the bay. The bow is out of the water, the stern in 27 meters. Alex and I had a great dive exploring the wreck, and went in again for a night dive.

We cleared out of PNG Customs in Alotau, and are now anchored at lovely Doini Island, poised for the departure to Australia. A bit of a blip on the weather scene this week has been the development of a tropical cyclone 1000 miles east between the Solomons and Fiji. It looks like it is going to dissipate without causing any concern in the western Coral Sea, but is of particular interest because it is VERY early in the season. October, into early November, is historically a very safe time for crossing the Coral Sea. Further evidence for those of you who are still not believers in global warming.

Next stop Australia!

October 29, 2006 - Cairns, Australia

SEAWANHAKA made a successful crossing of the Coral Sea and is back in Australia. It was a 4-day passage, with some good sailing, but unfortunately the trade winds died the last day and we had to motor in incredibly calm seas the last miles into Cairns. We arrived just off Grafton Passage through the Great Barrier Reef at dawn, were cleared through Australian Customs, Immigration and Quarantine by noon, and managed to find some good, cold Aussie beer shortly thereafter!

Papua New Guinea was a spectacular area to cruise. There are literally hundreds of islands virtually untouched by the outside world. There are very few cruising boats there, and even though we did a lot of sailing in 2+ months, we barely even touched all of the cruising potential. I've sailed in nearly every island group of the South Pacific and would rate PNG at the top of my list of cruising destinations.

Thanks to Walker for keeping the updates posted while we were in PNG!

View Previous Postings:

November, 2005 - August 2006 -Australia
October - November, 2005 -Fiji to Australia
May - October, 2005 -Fiji Islands 2005
April - May, 2005 -Voyage from New Zealand to Fiji
December, 2004 - April, 2005 -New Zealand
November - December, 2004 - Voyage from Fiji to New Zealand
September 15 - November 14, 2004 - Fiji Islands 2004
July 26 - September 14, 2004 - Kingdom of Tonga
July 5 - 24, 2004 - Apia, Samoa
May 31 - July 3, 2004 - Pago Pago, American Samoa
April-May, 2004 - Pacific Ocean Crossing
May 17 - 21, 2004 - Fanning Island, Kiribati
April, 2004 - San Diego Bay, California

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