Monday, October 13, 2014

Louisiades - The Cruise

Quick links to posts about the preparations for this cruise.

Louisiades Prep - Navigation
Louisiades Prep - The Boat, Health and Safety
Louisiades Prep - Anthropology
Louisiades Prep - Wars

Friday Sept 12th 2014

We cleared customs in Townsville Breakwater marina and left at 10am. George’s brother Ken and his crew in their bigger faster cat ‘Resolute’ left a couple of hours later. Not much wind, and too easterly to point to the South Flinders reef, so we motor-sailed with a view to stopping at Holmes Reef.

Leaving Townsville

A small Spanish mackerel

 Lunch at sea

Sunset over Hinchinbrook Island, the last sight of Australia.

The wind picked up in the evening and we started our watches under a full moon. All exciting and beautiful.

Saturday Sept 13th

Resolute overtook us in the morning, and were anchored in Holmes Reef by the time we arrived. Just as we arrived I inconveniently hooked a large barracuda. George brilliantly kept us off the bommies until I got it landed after a big fight.

Sunday Sept 14th

We rested up overnight and set off again at 7am for the bigger jump to the Louisiades, four days away. The wind was 25-30 knots and we started with the storm jib and two reefs. Bumpy and sea-sicky. Stugeron helped.

Monday and Tuesday

Something of a blur. Its a long way. It was windy. It was tiring.

A white-bellied storm petrel

Wed Sept 17th

A critical issue with cruising around coral is to negotiate shallows in good light, preferably as close to mid-day as possible, so you can see the bommies, helped by polarised sunglasses and a position up on the cabin roof. We arrived near Gwa, on Rossel Island just before dawn. It seemed prudent to kill some time by sailing down to the western end of the Rossel lagoon and motor sail up through it to Tryon Bay, the main Rossel harbour. Two big Spanish mackerel, one of which we gave to Pastor Sigi. He was recommended to us by Phil Bailey, a missionary who produces one of the better blogs of the Louisiades. The religious issues on Rossel Island are contentious, as you can read here.

The local kids were very friendly.

Resolute had arrived about 12 hours before us, and were in Gwa. Later on they joined us, with some local girls guiding them to a good anchoring spot.

We had a good time catching up with the Resolute crew and had some fun dinners.

Ken (George’s brother)

Janice (Ken’s wife)




Here is a YouTube video/slideshow produced by the Resolute team about their trip.

Thursday Sept 18th.

We had an informative talk with Daisy, the wife of the local ‘big man’.

Rossel Island is the eastern-most island of the Louisiades. It gets the least government attention, and also relatively few visits from yachts. It was badly hit by Cyclone Ita in April. The PNG government allocated two new boats to the island, one for the northern areas and the other for the south. Rossel now has PNG Govt representation, the Honorable Titus Philimon, who was visiting as part of the launch festivities. Torrential rain and wind did not dampen the celebration.

Daisy gave us a guided tour in the rain.

Ken talking to the Tryon Bay teacher from the Uniting Church

The exchange rate is about two kina to one Australian dollar.

Pastor Sigi’s wife and tribe.

Skinny ribs and pot-bellies reflect malnutrition after Cyclone Ita trashed their gardens in April.

Friday Sept 19th.

A big advantage in starting with a eastern island like Rossel, and going through the archipelago from east to west is that we had the wind behind us throughout the cruise. We sailed with Resolute down through the huge Rossel lagoon, and crossed over to the main Louisiades lagoon, entering through Snake Passage, which is quite a phenomenon.

A sailau on the way to Nimoa.

We had a nasty reminder of the inaccuracy of charts in the Pacific, when we hit and stuck on some coral just as we were approaching Nimoa Island. A big fright. The charts were about half a mile out! Fortunately we got off easily, and there appeared to be no serious damage when I dived down to check.

Our trampoline was ripped on the crossing, and Ken did a fantastic job repairing it. We were feeling a bit bruised and vulnerable.

Saturday Sept 20th

Dawn on Nimoa Island

Peter, an elder, was reading 'The Count of Monte Cristo'

His wife

This banana boat is replacing the sailaus, when they have fuel....

George, the shoe saleswoman. Tracey Tinga's white joggers go to a good home.

The local policeman, Raphael, came on board, and we started a protracted negotiation to trade an obsidian stone axe.

George trying on a 'bagi', or necklace.

Another sort of 'bagi'

An outrigger canoe, and a 'sailau'.


Sunday Sept 21st

Another scary moment with our anchor chain entangled round some coral. I dived down with our 'Divemaster' 12 volt compressor and hose and managed to free it.

Then off to Mass! We had heard of the lovely singing, and it was indeed impressive. I recorded some audio of it. Click here.

The Catholic church on Nimoa

Father Tony

After church we checked out the Nimoa Health Centre, and George was asked to do a ward-round and see some of the patients.

'Guardians'. Nursing is done by family members or surrogates called Guardians.

Dr George's ward-round

Nurse describing how she amputated the patient's toe. No anaesthetic available.

It was quite a shocking visit. The two nurses running the show were very brave, and hopelessly under-equipped. Hardly any medication, antibiotics, pain-killers, anaesthetics. No running water. Next best hospital is five hours by sailing canoe to Misima. They handle 200 births a year. A woman in obstructed labour has to endure this trip across choppy seas without pain relief.

The birth rate is huge. One youngish woman, called Mary Magdalene, had eight children in spite of the best efforts of the Catholic family planning clinic and the local herbalist. Clear signs of hunger in some of the children, especially since their gardens were trashed by the cyclone.

Monday Sept 22nd.

A big walk over Nimoa Island hill. We were accompanied by a tribe of charming kids. 'Dim Dim' is the local word for 'white person'.

 Dim Dim George and her entourage

Dim Dim George teaching the alphabet


Louis at the summit

Monday Sept 22nd

We sailed from Nimoa to Hati Lawa harbour.

Tuesday Sept 23rd

There had been much talk of 'The Tournament', a Louisiades-wide soccer cup, to be held at the Hobuk School.

We walked round to see the tournament.


One of the Nimoa Island team about to go on


Father of one of the team with his grandson

Laundry station on the walk back to the boat

Wednesday Sept 24th


Its been my experience in life that when I push off into some area that is aligned with my passions, but off the beaten track, I bump into like-minded people.

The pattern held true here.

Chris, from 'West Wind', an old Tasmanian wooden boat. He is very experienced.

Gilli, his wife, a German teacher.

Brian, a Tasmanian economist with a 43 foot catamaran. He manages the finances of a Tasmanian eccentric gambling squillionaire with the MOMA modern art gallery in Hobart.

Jono, crew on the cat, senior public servant in the Antarctic Dept.

Pierre, retired judge in Australia and Samoa, with a tattoo to prove it.

Thursday Sept 25th

We motored from Hessassia Bay to Grass Island.

Friday Sept 26th

A pleasant sail from Grass Island to Sabara Island.

Sabara Island, inside some lovely limestone islets.

Sailaus are not just men's work. Rosalind is skipper of this one.


George, the 'big man', not feeling well. In his village on the north side of the island.

Saturday 27th Sept

We visited a different village on Sabara, as guest of James the teacher.

James in his classroom

This new baby is to be called 'Georgina' in honour of George.

We traded six painted crayfish today and a sail in a sailau.

Sunday 28th Sept

Sailau sailing (Click this to play in Vimeo)

Sailed from Sabara Island to Robinson's Harbour on Abaga Gaheia Island. Met Rex and Louise on 'Six Pack'.

Monday 29th Sept.

Dinghy ride to Gigila Island. Met an Aussie yachtie called Joe who had helped to build the islanders a school.

Later a dinghy ride with Rex and Louise to Taipwa Islet where we went for a walk with some villagers. George checked out a kid with a rash.

Some of the kids have such dignified faces.

Tues 30th Sept.

We sailed to Blue Lagoon, but it was too inclement to stop, so we went over to Hoba Bay on Pana Numara Island.

Blue Lagoon

Carolyn cooking pipis

Careful of that machete, Eugene!

Jocelyn, the bagi-maker

School at Hoba Bay

Wed Oct 1st

Easy sail through the Wuri Wuri Passage to Misima. Anchored in Bwagoia Harbour and found John Metu, the quarantine officer.

Is that George haggling for betel-nuts in Bwagoia market on Misima Island?

Thurs 2nd Oct

We left Misima in pouring rain and sailed along the coast to Panapompom Island in the the Deboyne Group.

Snorkelling over a Japanese Zero fighter on Nivani Island. The Japanese briefly had a sea-plane base here in 1942. 

The anchorage was pretty rolly, so we went round the north-west side of Panapompom Island.

Friday Oct 3rd

Panapompom is an island in the Deboyne Group, outside the main Calvados Chain lagoon, and famous for the boat-building that occurs there and on neighbouring Paniete Island. We were keen to see the carvers and boat-builders in action.

We met Nono and his mates building a couple of sailing canoes on the shore.

Nono the canoe-builder

This shows the carved headboard, called a Tumwitumwi

We negotiated to trade for this one.

Nono teaching his son

Some the stuff we gave them. We felt more sympathetic to people like these who were actually making things, and keeping a traditional craft alive and passing it on. Some islands seemed to be basically hanging around hoping for hand-outs from yachties.

Showing the crowd a video of sailau sailing on an iPad

Elizabeth, Rose and Rita

Proud of his new hat!


A type of puffer-fish

Fishermen in canoes

Saturday Oct 4th

We left Panapompom and the Deboyne lagoon, and entered the Cormorant Passage into the main Louisiades lagoon, en route for Panasia.

On the way, George was phoned by Amy McDonald of the ABC and they did an interview on Coast FM.

You can hear it here.

Nimrod under the cliffs at Panasia

Monday Oct 6th

Severe wind bullets in the night, and the chain wrapped around a coral head made for an uncomfortable anchorage. One half of the anchor bridle broke. It was hard to get the anchor up.

We sailed off to Bramble Haven, a large lagoon with few people living there, but a good spot to leave from to cross back to Australia.

We caught up with our friends Rex and Louise from the yacht 'Six Pack', and spent three nights there with them, socialising and snorkelling.

Six Pack




Cecily from  Punawan Island at Bramble Haven

Cecily in her hut making a mat

Louise and George

George snorkelling

A school of giant parrot fish

A feather-star

George and Louise haggled a spin in a sailau in return for a mountain of trading booty we were keen to dispose of.

Sam, the one-armed helmsman. He lost his arm to a shark.

Thursday Oct 9th

Good weather outlook to sail for Cairns. Lets go!

Rex up the mast spotting coral as we leave Bramble Haven.

We caught a 10 kg Trevally as we left the entrance. Then a pretty good sail for the next three days and nights, mostly reaching at 7 - 8 knots.

Sunday 12th October

Tired and happy we pulled into Mission Bay, just outside Cairns. Customs and Quarantine happen best on weekdays, so we got approval to anchor and wait until Monday to check in the Marlin Marina in Cairns for clearance and pratique. They took a while, but all went well.

Good to be back in the world of reliable charts, no begging and post-industrial facilities like phones, email, and the internet!

Confusing to go from one of the poorest places on the planet, to a marina full of super-yachts.

Here is a YouTube video/slideshow by the Resolute team about their trip.


  1. Looks epic G&D. Awesome camera work Dave. Jane

  2. How did the tennis balls go
    George & Wendy

  3. I keep coming back to this post...thank you for the retrospective of your cruise to this amazing and heartbreaking place. Your photos are spectacular! You for paint such a vivid picture with words and images. I hope so much we can get back someday. And- I recognize the men from Panapompom, I believe we met Nono in 2012! It was one of our early stops in PNG... I wish we had traded/left more with them. We have a tumutumu from there as well. :-)

  4. Wonderful blog, loved seeing and reading your story. Having had a less than fun time in the western province of PNG several years ago I lost interest in PNG but your blog has me now thinking of now visiting the the more pleasant Louisiades :)
    Cheers Robin Jeffries
    M.V. Flash Dancer