The plan was to take shelter and rest behind Doini island for 2-3 days before we set sail for Port Moresby. This was not to be, as the Predictwind Offshore forecast for the next 10 days indicated very strong winds for the next 7 days, only moderating by Sunday the 11th June. It indicated a window of 3 days of 14-15 knot winds along the South PNG coast, which would allow us a two-day sail to Port Moresby. We went ashore, meeting the friendly staff at Peter Neville’s resort and tackled a walk to the airstrip to stretch our sea legs. Did we stretch the legs – it turned into a 3,5h walk around the island, visiting the skull cave and Love Beach and then back to the resort. We slept well!
Our nights were interrupted by strong gusts coming across the island, swinging the boat wildly from side to side, seriously testing the ground tackle and anchor chain. Michael, one of the staff invited us to bring our washing to the land. As they had to turn on their power generator to pump water to their tanks, they could also run the washing machines in their laundry. We fetched water from a rainwater tank at Cecilia and Margaret’s house. We were most grateful for this and donated all our remaining trading clothing, fishing line, hooks, etc. to them.
On the Thursday we tackled the walk up to the lookout, which afforded good views over part of the island. Friday and Saturday was spent packing up to sail North.
Our weather routing programme indicated a break in the strong S-E winds, so on Sunday the 12th June we lifted anchor at 7am, or rather thought we would be lifting the anchor. The anchor and chain was wrapped around a coral head and after motoring in all directions to try and unwrap it, I dived down to try and dislodge it. It was beyond my 70-year-old depth limit at about 8 metres, so more forwards and backwards with the motor, until an hour later, we got the anchor up.
The first four hours was spent motoring until we passed Brumer island, when the wind picked up. Not only did it pick up, but we sailed into increasingly confused seas, eventually resembling a washing machine with 3-5 metre swells and breaking waves – the remnants of the week long strong winds. The wind increased overnight, forcing us to reef the main first one and then two reefs, before furling the jib. The wind increased to 35 knots, until the autopilot decided it had enough and shut down, forcing us to steer the boat for the next 14 hours.
We expected to reach Port Moresby by 2pm, but no such luck – the sector on the Navionics GPS chart for the approach to Port Moresby was blank and showed no depths or reefs. Fortunately, it was still light, so we had to visually navigate around some seriously treacherous reefs, lining up the final 30 mile run into the harbour by an occasional full moon – due to cloud cover.
After 262nm, we anchored in the yacht club basin at 1:30 am, downed a beer, had a shower and hit the sack – dead tired. At 7:30am the next morning, we were called from the shore, by a gentleman named Brian Hull, inviting us to sundowners at 6:30pm! He is the chairman of Century 21, a property sales/management company employing about 50 people and at 79 years, still running his business! He came to PNG from Australia at age 19, sixty years ago and at independence, became a PNG citizen.
But first we had to welcome Andy from Customs aboard to check us into PNG (having already been there for six weeks!) and then Jimmy from Quarantine Services, who charged us 55 kina (about $22) to go through the boat, remove our three bags of rubbish and take it ashore. Royal Papua Yacht Club (RPYC) allocated us a berth and by 11am, we were enjoying a great cup of coffee on the deck. The club is comparable to RMYC, our home club, with a 256 berth modern marina. The club has a large restaurant, café, bar, boat shed, gymnasium as well as shower and laundry facilities.
RPYC has approximately 3,200 members and is very secure with 24-hour security. They have approximately 130 members living on boats in the marina. We relaxed the rest of the day and went for sundowners as requested. Brian arranged for Stephen, his offsider on his two boats and Paul, his driver, to take us around Port Moresby the next day to show us around and to do our shopping at a modern supermarket and at the fresh product street market. We had to join him and his lawyers for lunch at a Japanese fusion restaurant. Very generous indeed – hopefully our company was OK.
We had a busy day next, doing four loads of washing at the laundry. Stephen, Bill’s offsider, found us lock washers which we fitted to the anchor roller bolts, as these worked loose every time we used the anchor winch. The club’s free Wi-Fi also came in handy to catch up with emails.
Emails were going to and fro to Sydney, to find out how to sort out the autopilot. I spent a couple of hours crawling around inside the guts of the boat to locate the rudder response unit and follow the cable back to the bus to check the connections. Then re-programming the Chartplotter to get the system going again. Friday night we had Brian Hull and Ernie Lohberger for dinner. Ernie at 80 years is sprightly and slim and still running his company Lohberger Engineering.
Having tried all week to phone the kids on Skype, the RPYC Wi-Fi allowed us to connect by WhatsApp to Michelle in London and Karen in Tweed Heads – for the first time in two months! They were relieved and stopped short of calling us irresponsible parents. Both are well, with Michelle’s manager requesting her to apply for a new position at her NGO and Karen having decided to do a Master’s degree in Surgery through Melbourne University.
On the Sunday we took Esprit out for a test drive to see if the re-connection of the cables to the bus bars activated the autopilot. However, there was still no steering from the autopilot. Back to crawling into the lazarette locker to get to the steering quadrant and the rudder response unit to check for a mechanical reason for the malfunction. It turned out the Rudder Feedback unit packed up and needs replacing. Our fantastic marine electrician in Sydney, Adam Russell of Ocean Phase Marine Electrical dispatched a replacement unit to us by DHL courier – we hope it will get here by Friday, so that I can install it.
Brian had invited us to lunch on Sunday at a nearby village, so we set off with him and Peter Goodwin (past commodore of RPYC) to a quaint restaurant on the coast where Bill and Ranu Seneka run their Water’s Cafe. Ranu means water and the cafe is on the beach. We enjoyed a fantastic meal of prawns, salad and chips.
Brian drove us back to Port Moresby through some of the villages, very few of the expats ever visit. Third world, with graffiti and rubbish – far removed from RPYC.
On the Monday Brian’s driver took us to Lohberger Engineering and Steel Industries, where we bought stainless steel threaded rod, tube, lock washers and nuts to reinforce the anchor and mooring bow rollers. The installation took us the better part of a day, but the anchor roller fixings are now secure.
The next good weather window will come around on Saturday the 24th June. So Andy from Customs will check us out on Friday arvo, we will settle our account with the club and set sail early on Saturday. We will cross the Gulf of Papua, before chucking a left at Bramble Cay to follow the Great North Eastern Passage to Thursday Island for re-entry into Australia. Then, westwards to Darwin.
Some friends asked where these places and islands are, so I attach a few screenshots of the Open CPN charts on my MacBook. These charts are not as detailed as the Navionics charts on Esprit’s chart plotter, so we only use them for route planning. Here they are:
Our next post will be from Australia.