Chapter 21

 I finally left Australia at the end of May. The boat had been there since November 2009 and I’d been back in Oz for six months so I was ready. I had a French crew named Manon. She had done very little sailing but she was excited about the trip. We spent a couple days getting through the islands and then headed out through Palm pass in the Great Barrier Reef. As soon as we got clear of the islands the wind went up to 20 knots and we had 20 to 30 on the beam the rest of the way to the Louisiades. The seas never got very big but this much wind on the side meant that there was always spray in the cockpit and so it was a bit of a swamp for the next few days.

Our course took us very near an isolated reef called Holmes reef on the second day so we stopped. This is one of those odd places that is almost never visited. It looks like open ocean but we were able to anchor in 10 meters of water on a sand bottom with the reef to windward. There’s no land anywhere in sight and the wind was still blowing pretty hard but there are no seas at all. I thought that this should be a fantastic place to dive and the water was crystal clear, in fact, I was able to measure the visibility at better than 100 feet but there was almost no life underwater. Above, there were hundreds of boobie birds all of whom thought they should come sit on Daydream for a while and leave presents.

We left the next day and had a fast rough passage to the Louisiades. The boat was wet in the cockpit and wet down below. Manon was sick 15 times in one day but she still was pretty game. On our last 24 hours we did 196 miles which is the third best day that Daydream ever had.

The Louisiade Islands are an archipelago off of the East end of Papua New Guinea. They are almost completely undeveloped, one small airport and no public transportation at all amongst the islands. The people live incredibly simply, growing their own veggies and fruit, a few pigs and chickens and catching fish. There are no cars anywhere except the largest island, very few outboards, no phones, no computers no internet and really almost nothing made of metal not even fishhooks! Every day in the islands people would row or sail out to Daydream and ask to trade. They’d have some fruit or veggies or maybe a couple eggs and they wanted fishhooks, teeshirts, paper, pencils, tools, sugar, magazines, canned food, rice etc. What they didn’t really want was money, cause they had no way to spend it except on the rare occasions when they went to the big island (Misima).

The first place that we went was Panasia. This is maybe the most beautiful island I have ever seen. It has incredibly steep black limestone cliffs, white sand beaches, palm trees lining the water and zero people. This doesn’t mean that no one came to trade, just that they sailed over from the next island 4 miles away. My friends David and Gay had been here in 1998 and had found a cave full of broken skulls from a cannibal feast so me and Manon searched pretty hard for that. We never did find it, but a local guy guided us to another one on the next island.

We spent a few days there and met one of only 3 cruising boats in all of the Louisiade chain. This was Catnap from Australia with Graham and Amanda onboard. These two had really got the trading bug and were trading away everything on their boat. They had traded all of their bedding except for 2 sheets, all but two towels, most of their tools and fishhooks and clothes, and all of their paper and pencils. In fact they had cut their last 20 pencils in half in order to make them go a little farther.

One of the really interesting things about the Louisiades is that many of the WW2 sea battles were fought in this area and as a result there are still sunk ships and planes and other artifacts around. There was a fuel tank from a plane on the beach at Panasia but we were never able to find the rest of the plane. I’m guessing its in the lagoon but that’s several square miles, most of it to deep to free dive and not super clear. We had heard that there was a Japanese fighter plane in shallow water at an island called Nivana so that was the next stop. Nivana is a tiny island about 1 mile away from a large island called Pana Pom Pom. (btw, Pana Pom Pom means something like the island of people with Elaphantitus) Toward the end of WW2 the Americans held Nivana and the Japanese were on Pana Pom Pom so there was a lot of activity here. The lagoon is enormous and quite deep in places with good deep passes so both sides had ships inside at various times. There is at least one large ship somewhere at the bottom and at least 2 planes. One was a twin engine American plane that was in only 2 or 3 feet of water right near Pana Pom Pom. The local people have cut up everything except the engines and props and used the scrap for coconut scrapers etc. The other plane is the Japanese fighter. Its in about 10 feet of water and its in great shape given its age. Just by chance Manon  also found a big ships anchor in about 20 feet of water.

No one lives on Nivana but there are around 1000 people on Pana Pom Pom. We went ashore on a Saturday and were mobbed with little kids, most of whom wanted to rub me to see if the white would come off. They loved seeing themselves in photos so I took hundreds of photos of smiling little kids. 

We were invited to church the next day for the 11 AM service. We got there at 5 to 11 and sat around playing with kids until after 1 PM when the minister finally arrived and got the show on the road. The service was similar to a church service at home except for these differences.

  • We sat on the ground
  • Men and women sat separately
  • Dogs were welcome to come and go
  • Singing was incredibly intense
  • The minister cried at times during the sermon
  • Several people stood up to welcome Manon and me
  • There was no request for money

When the service ended the minister asked that we leave first so that the entire congregation could have a chance to shake hands or hug us. It was really a lot of fun and we got to know some of the people pretty well.

We still had not checked into PNG so next we headed for an island called Samurai. This island is about 100 miles West of Nivana, easy to get to cause the wind blows that way but very hard to get back to the Louisiades from. We had a nice overnight passage there and the check in was simple, no fees, no bribes demanded. Samurai used to be an important port but these days its basically a ghost town with almost nothing going on except some pearl farming. Definitely no Internet, and no airport. The plan had been for Manon to leave the boat there, but the nearest airport was several hours away by open launch and PNG has a very bad reputation for robbery and worse, so she decided to stay with the boat until I got back to Misima in the Louisiades. We left Samurai the same day we arrived and just at sunset got the anchor down near Wari island. The next morning there was a crowd of maybe 200 kids standing on the beach nearest the boat and screaming. We couldn’t hear what they were saying but they clearly wanted us to come ashore. We went ashore and shook hands with all 200 of them and then had a tour of the whole village. It was pretty big, they said 1000 ‘people’ and an unknown number of children. I was in a rush to get to Misima at this point so we left before noon and did the rest of the trip no-stop. This was the hardest passage this year I think. The wind was from dead ahead, pretty big seas and it rained quite a bit. We had a few hours of calm and appreciated the chance to make some miles under power. By the time we made it to Misima, Manon was calling this the ‘death march’.

Misima is the big town. Maybe 3000 people, an airport that takes turbo-props and a few cars and trucks. There are 2 stores and they had fishhooks and some veggies. woohoo! This is really the commercial centre for the Louisiades so all the local people come here from time to time. There are basically two ways to get here from the other islands. One is to sail your own canoe. These are some of the coolest sailing boats I have ever seen and these people do long trips in them. The second is to take a cargo canoe. These are the exact same design as the private sailing canoes but bigger. The biggest one in the islands is 43 feet long. These cargoe canoes are owned by local people who fill them up with bags of rice and noodles and deliver that to tiny stores on each island. If a local person wants a ride on one of these canoes, they go sit in it and wait until it leaves. I saw some people at Misima who sat in a canoe for more than 24 hours. They aren’t charged for the ride so I guess you just have to be patient. The canoes are incredibly fast and incredibly weirdly rigged. Tacking is the oddest thing you ever saw. One guy unhooks the boom from the bow and runs to the other end of the boat with the sail still attached at the masthead, The other guy (who’s steering) takes his steering paddle and runs to what used to be the bow and is now the stern. They don’t actually tack so much as reverse the front and back of the boat. Somehow, I managed to leave the islands without a single good photo of any of these boats, but I do have some decent video so I’ll put that up on flikr soon. At the same time I’ll add some photos of the Louisiades. I’m leaving Internet-land tomorrow morning so it likely won’t be for a week or two

I’m going to stop here and post this and I’ll try to get the website up to date over the next few weeks.

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