Monday, June 10, 2019

The Last Bag of Lays Potato Chips

I know I am way behind in recounting all of our many adventures... Sorry, we've just been having so many adventures that it's hard to keep up.

But.. this is a momentous (and sad) occasion.

We have just breeched our very last bag of Lays Potato Chips. It's a silly thing, but... for those of us out here in the wild... it is difficult sourcing all those things that make us feel at home. Triscuits (my most favorite cracker in the world) ... Cheerios (Dave's most favorite cereal in the world)... Oreos... the special only in America sweetest choclatiest cookies. Cheddar cheese... etc etc.

In Davao, Philippines, there are enough "foreigner" stores that sourcing the kinds of foods that Americans are looking for, is pretty easy. We stocked up "to the max" in December (very thankful for the fantastic shuttle provided by Holiday Oceanview Marina that made it so easy to stock up).

But it is June now, 6 months later, and all our "stocks" are dwindling. I've just opened our last bag of Lays Potato Chips. I am nearly down to my last bottle of ($4US) dark rum. (I priced a bottle of the cheapest rum available here and it was $35 USD).

We stopped in a store today in the Russell Island of the Solomons. They had about 10 cans of Solomon Islands tuna, a few bags of rice, a few cigarettes (what our boat driver was interested in). Wah, I miss the excesses of the First World. Or even the non-excesses of the third world capital city of the Solomons, Honiara.

Fortunately, we have a HUGE freezer, and it is well stocked. Plus my pantry is pretty large and we won't go hungry soon. And I've just convinced my daughter, who's flying in in mid-July, to bring an extra suitcase. We've already got an order into Amazon Pantry for a few food items we can't get anywhere here. (Cheerios, Triscuits, Italian Dressing Mix).

Here, Australian versions of potato chips are available, in some places. But, I'm tellin' ya, there's absolutely nothing like Lays.
At 6/9/2019 6:15 AM (utc) our position was 09°02.55'S 159°05.15'E

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Few Days in Munda

We enjoyed our stay in Munda, Western Province, Solomon Islands. Munda is a small town--about 3 blocks wide and 3 deep, plus an airport. It's primary claim to fame is the airport, plus a road and water link to Noro. A couple of weeks ago they initiated the first direct flight from Brisbane, Australia to Munda, to try to encourage tourism in the Western Province.

Some of the Curious Kids at the Wharf in Munda

In Munda, the cruiser hangout is Agnes Lodge, a very cruiser-friendly/tolerant place. Steps out Agnes Lodge's front door is the local market, and up the main street are a number of small stores, where we were able to buy supplies, fresh bread, and top up our cell phones. We had a couple of happy hour evenings on the deck at Agnes Lodge, and dinner a couple of times too.

There is some diving in the lagoon (WW2 airplanes), but Dave has been fighting a suppurating tropical infection on his leg, and staying out of the water. So we skipped the diving for now.

We did fit in a fun half-day trip with Dive Munda to hike up to a waterfall.

Our Group Crossing the River

Like similar trips we have done recently, we expected a two hour easy hike and it turned out for us as a four hour difficult hike. We marveled at the young apprentice guides who came with us, skipping across the top of the rocks in the river in their flip-flops. Meanwhile, us old folks stumbled and slipped along in our $100 hiking shoes, unbalanced and fearful of breaking a leg 1000 miles from anywhere. We understand why these 2 hour hikes turn into 4 hour hikes. (They can't believe we are so slow, especially when the bird-watchers pull out their binoculars!).

We crossed this river 9 times going up and 9 times going down

Dave Enjoying the Fall
(Note stylish "Thailand Pants" to thwart mosquitos)

Dave Behind the Fall

A Massive Tree Next to the Swimming Hole

It was a fun hike, and it signaled the end of our 4 boat group that has been traveling together since January...

Berserker, Indigo II, Ocelot, & Soggy Paws Crews, looking at rusty bits in the jungle (again!)

The next day Ocelot headed north to park their boat in Liapari for a couple of months, for a trip back to the USA. Soggy Paws and Indigo headed south towards the Marovo Lagoon, and Berzerker stayed behind for a week to wait for Craig's brother to fly in.

More Missing Updates!

Sad face. I have gotten really lame at doing regular blog updates. It's just so much easier to blast a few words and a picture on Facebook (and friend Pam Wilson has been Facebooking lots of our activities before I even get to them). Plus, I am spending a lot of time editing cruising details into my PNG Compendium and Solomons Compendium (cruising guide supplements for cruisers following in our wake).

So again, in an attempt to get going again, I'm going to list what we've been doing without a lot of explanation, and then try to do a post on what we have been up to in the last week.

My position reports via Winlink are now pretty much up to date, so you can see where we've been and where we are now.

Our Position Reports for the last few months

Follow our position reports in the future on this link:

Here are all my missing posts in the last month:

Mar 16-17 PNG, English Cove to Buka
Mar 18-19 PNG, Buka to Shortland Islands, Solomons
Mar 20 Solomons, Checking in to the Shortlands
Mar 20-25 Solomons, Fun in the Shortland Islands
Mar 26-27 Solomons, Sterling Island
Mar 28-30 Solomons, Sterling Island to Liapari
Mar 31-Apr 1 Solomons, Arrival in Gizo
Apr 2-13 Solomons, Exploring Vonavona Lagoon
Solomons, A Few Days in Noro

Monday, April 8, 2019

Rabaul to English Cove

Mar 14-15

We checked out of PNG with the Rabaul Customs officer with next port listed as Gizo, Solomons. While in town, we all hit the stores and the market for one more round of provisioning. We bought some very expensive marine 2-part epoxy in one hardware store that had some marine supplies--so we could pay back the epoxy we had borrowed to make our rudder repairs (done in Kavieng), and have a small supply on hand in case we need it again.

We left Rabaul in the early morning, headed SSE to a pair of coves on the SW end of New Ireland, named Irish Cove and English Cove. As we motored out in the glassy conditions, we motored right past the smoking volcano that we had hiked a couple of days before.

Once the wind came up, we were able to sail most of the way with the NW wind mostly behind us. However, as we approached the coast of New Ireland at Lamassa Island, the wind switched 180 degrees and came strong on our nose (some weird land breeze).

Dave wanted to see a cove that Rod Pearce (famed WWII airplane hunter in PNG) had said we could anchor, and from which we could scramble up on a ridge and find a downed Japanese plane. So we let the other boats go on to the anchorage in Irish/English Cove and we explored around a bit. We found that there was indeed an anchorage where Rod had pointed out, at approx 04 43.56 S / 152 48.08 E, in about 20-30 feet of sand/mud. This is probably only a one-boat anchorage.

There was a big thunderstorm building offshore and we still had at least an hour to go to get to the anchorage, so we didn't explore too much, but maybe we'll get a chance to go back on our way back north.

Being last in a 4 boat fleet into a tiny anchorage meant we got the outside spot. But fortunately our buddy boats had left enough room for us. We were wedged into tiny English Cove two-by-two, with Ocelot behind us hanging in 12 ft and we had to drop in about 40 ft.

It seemed like the cove was exposed to the prevailing westerly winds, but the outside reefs blocked the swell and we were fine in there. We had checked out Irish Cove and found it much deeper--we probably could not have fit all 4 boats in Irish Cove.

By the time we came in and anchored, our friends were surrounded by canoes. These were friendly curious people and it turned out that most of them were from Lambom Island nearby, where we could see a fairly large village on the satellite charts. Lambom does not have a water supply, so the villagers come daily to Irish Cove in their canoes to get water from the fresh water river that empties into the bay.

Only a few families actually live in this bay. Eventually the Lambom canoes departed as the sun started to set, and we met Passie (pronounced Posse, like the American west group that forms to hunt down the bad guys) and Joel, two of the men who live in English Cove. Both spoke really good Englsih, and neither chewed bettlenut (a mild drug from a local plant that leaves the chewers with red stained and broken teeth). So we had a nice chat with them. Passie told us we could come in to the river to get water or take a swim in their swimming hole. He also told us there was a waterfall a little ways upriver that he could guide us to if we wanted.

We had planned to depart for Buka the next morning, but we had a little happy hour conference and decided we'd stay for the day.

Passie guided us up the river to the small waterfall. It was more like a small rapids than an actual waterfall, but it was nice to get out and walk some (though a little of it was walking up the rocky river bank, and those with flip-flops struggled a bit). On the way back, we took a shortcut through some of the village's gardens. The birders in our group were happily spotting birds, too.

Back at the swimming hole, we had a nice time splashing around in the surprisingly cold clear water. Liz from Indigo brought her laundry in--the laundry she'd sent out in Rabaul came back no cleaner than when it left, and a little smelly because it never got properly dried.

The next morning we did an exhaustive look at the weather. The weather didn't look great for a long passage to Buka, but it didn't look great the next day either. So we collectively decided to go ahead and go, knowing that the forecast showed either light wind directly behind us, or light wind on the nose... we would be motoring most of the passage.

At 3/14/2019 10:31 PM (utc) our position was 04°46.28'S 152°51.42'E

Friday, March 22, 2019

Missing Updates

I hope to back-fill these one day, but for now I've got to note that I've no time to fill them in and I'm going to get "terminally behind" if I keep waiting to do it.

Feb 16-17 Three Island Harbor, Clem's Place, and the River Trip
and diving on the Submarine
Feb 18 Three Island Harbor to East New Hanover
and diving on the airplane
Feb 19-Mar 4 Kavieng, Rudder Repairs, and Road Trip
Mar 5-6 Kavieng to the Duke of York Islands
Mar 7 Duke of York Islands to Rabaul
Mar 7-13 Rabaul, Smoking Volcanos, and Lots of History

At 3/20/2019 10:31 PM (utc) our position was 07°04.58'S 155°51.40'E

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Passage from the Hermit Islands to New Hanover

Feb 13-15, 2019

The next islands to the east of the Hermit Group is Manus Island and surrounding islands, a short overnight away (approx 92 miles). Another boat had anchored in a couple of spots along the north coast of Manus in 2017 and agin in 2018, but the people of Longan in the Ninigos told us to avoid it. Apparently a boat of theirs had gone missing on the trip back from Manus and they felt it was due to piracy, not weather. In PNG, the "pirates" are called "rascals". Typically they are not pirates, but young drunk men looking for easy money or free beer. But in a few places there have been reports of armed gangs pillaging small towns. With a very ineffective and fairly poor and corrupt central government, not much is done when there is a report of such activity out in the outer islands of PNG. So cruisers are well advised to keep asking the question as they move through the islands "Where is it safe for us to stop?" We had decided to give Manus a pass, and go straight to New Hanover, about 300 miles to the ESE.

On our CSY, we'd normally figure 120-130 miles per 24 hour day on passage. I think our record was around 145 miles, as we tended to reef early and jog along comfortably rather than pound along will full sails up. On the catamaran, with a favorable wind, we can easily do 7 knots, making 170 nm per day if the wind stays steady.

The goal is to arrive in daylight. It's tricky, when you have unpredictable weather, and it's more difficult to guess arrival time, the longer the passage is. You have to do the math "If we make 5 knots, we'd arrive at X time, and if we make 7 knots, we'd arrive at X time." As we found on approaching the Ninigos, it's not easy to slow a catamaran down with the wind and current behind you.

Looking at the weather, which forecast 15-20 knots behind us, Indigo, who has a full complement of sails and tends to actually use them, thought they could make the 300 nm in 2 long days and one overnight, averaging around 8.5 knots. So their plan was to leave at "sparrow fart" (aka Oh-Dark-30) and press on as fast as possible. We reluctantly agreed to try, knowing that if we couldn't keep that speed up, we'd have to arrive in the dark. But we had good satellite pictures for the arrival harbor, and it looked pretty wide open to come in. And Indigo would presumably be there to help guide us in to a safe spot to anchor in the dark.

But at departure time the next morning, we had heavy rain, 100% overcast and squally weather. With the adage "You can't pick your weather on passage, but you CAN pick the weather you leave in," Soggy Paws and Ocelot decided to stay put for a day. Indigo chose to leave, as the wind was forecast to lighten up the next day. Berzerker, our token monohull, who has a slower top speed, decided to leave mid-day, after the worst of the rain cleared out, knowing that it would take them at least 2 nights, maybe 3, to make the 300 mile passage.

So Ocelot and Soggy Paws departed Alacrity Harbor together at 0630 am. We managed to get ourselves out of the 6ft deep anchorage and into deeper water with no problems. But somehow... as we were navigating around to an open space where we could put the sail up, a coral head jumped off the bottom and bumped us. It was one that didn't show up in our satellite imagery (or at least one I hadn't noticed). We would have seen it in daylight, but being dawn, we didn't see it. Fortunately, it was just a momentary bump on the keel, and no damage to the rudder or saildrive. Whew!

With the lighter winds, we averaged about 6 knots. We had to reef in a little bit to keep from running away from Ocelot, who is quite a bit heavier than we are.

Besides a few squalls, the biggest challenge--as usual--were lights in the night. On an open sea, in the dark, a small light could be a small light in a fishing boat 1/2 mile away, or a big light on a tanker 10 miles away. It's hard to tell. AIS helps a lot, but not every boat has AIS. Radar can help too, but mainly with the bigger ships, and those usually have AIS. On my watch, I could see a glow on the horizon, no AIS, and no radar signal. Hmmm, what the heck was that? It turned out to be a stationary (fishing?) platform beyond my radar horizon. It took several hours to pass, and I worried about the possibility of smaller boats out with nets. But never saw another light.

Sometime during the 2nd day, we saw a signal on the AIS about 6 miles in front of us, going very slowly across our path. Hmmm, not a factor. But wait, he turned around, and now he's going the other way at 8 knots. Then he stopped almost right in our path. As we got closer, we could see he was a fishing boat. To make sure we stayed out of his way, we called him on VHF and asked him what his intentions were.

"I am chasing the fish," he said.

"Are you going to continue on your current course?"

"I am chasing the tuna. Where the tuna goes, I go."

He never would say that he was continuing on his current course, or what he was doing, except chasing a large school of tuna. He told us to maintain our course and we would be OK. Thankfully, the tuna must have headed NW away from us, because he soon ran off at 8 knots. So we avoided any close encounters with a tuna boat.

After a gentle second night, mostly going wing on wing, we arrived at Three Island Harbor, New Hanover, and anchored around 8:30am. This spot is also known as "Clem's Place" after the name of the most prominent person on the island. Clem and his wife run a backpacker surf resort on the island.
At 2/15/2019 2:00 PM (utc) our position was 02°22.21'S 150°07.27'E

The Hermit Islands of PNG

Feb 5 - 13

After hanging out at Longan in the Ninigos for 8 days with crappy weather and poor protection from the wind and waves, it was really nice to be in a calm, protected place (Manta Harbor), and we had sunshine!

On the first morning we were there, a couple of our group dinghied across to Bob's place to see the Manta Rays. They said it was a great experience, with Bob actually in the water with them, guiding them to the cleaning station. Definitely worth a small fee to Bob to see the Mantas. Unfortunately, I was among the "walking wounded"--my small scratch from a branch, and a minor nip from a dog who's tail I stepped on, had turned into a raging tropical infection. I was on antibiotics and definitely staying out of the water. Craig on Berzerker was in the same state, and Chris on Indigo had a cold. We were all just happy to spend a couple of days resting up.

The next day, a few of the healthier crew walked to the new high school that had just been built. In Longan they had told us it was not opening until April, but there were already teachers and kids attending the school. Rumor has it that eventually they will have cell service.

We were really interested in going up and checking out Alacrity Harbor, a shallow sand area in the NE corner of the atoll. Bob offered to come on board and guide us up there, but then what would we do with Bob? Bob insisted that the route to Alacrity was to go outside the eastern channel, and up the east side of the atoll, and into Alacrity Harbor from the channel there. But Jon on Ocelot and I both had very good satellite imagery and we determined that there was a fair chance we could go up on the inside.

So we did... The entire way was scattered with shallow reefs, but on a sunny day, with the satellite images to assist, it was not difficult to pick our way up there. The small passage on the south side of Alacrity, inside the reef, was the point that we were not sure we could get though. One catamaran that had done a lot of diving around the Hermits, had stopped short and anchored south of that passage. But with good light, we passed right through with 18 ft minimum depth. Easy peasy.

The next question was, could we find shallow enough anchoring in this basin, for 4 boats. It was hard to tell from the satellite imagery. We did! Indigo, who arrived first, tossed their anchor on a sandy ridge that was about 30 ft deep, with plenty of room on either side of them. But Dave was keen to explore the really shallow areas on the edge of the reef. We checked out two spots, one with a 6ft depth and one with an 8ft depth. The 8ft depth one probably had enough room for 2 boats. And, unlike Indonesia and the Philippines, the tidal range in the Ninigos and Hermits was only about 12". So the reef provides good protection even at high tide.

We spent one night anchored next to Indigo and Ocelot, and then moved up to the shallow 6' reef anchorage for a couple of nights. With the wind blowing NW-N at 15-20, there was some chop but no waves. Dave scrubbed the bottom of the boat in the shallow clear sand. Again, I was boat-bound due to my infected leg. (By now, I was on heavy antibiotics, and it was starting to look better, but I needed to stay out of the water).

There is a little island on the west side of Alacrity with a nice beach. It looked like an ideal beach BBQ spot, but those that went ashore said it was buggy. I never got to step foot ashore.

Dave and Sue and Jon from Ocelot went for a snorkel out in the pass. Dave said it was mediocre.

We stayed a few days at Alacrity Harbor, doing chores and planning the next hop. Jon on Ocelot wanted to wait a few more days to get more moon for the 3 day passage, but we looked at the weather and decided it was time to go. With the wind that was forecast, Indigo even thought they could make it to Three Island Harbor, New Hanover, in 2 days. Ha!

Hermit Islands waypoints:

West Pass, large opening: 01-30.53 S / 144-57.44 E
Our anchorage, Mantas: 01-32.51 S / 145-01.99 E Shallow!
Alacrity 18' Pass (inside): 01-29.76 S / 145-08.15 E
Alacrity 23' Anchorage: 01-28.72 S / 145-08.04 E
Alacrity 6' Anchorage: 01-28.55 S / 145-07.81 E Shallow!
Alacrity 8' Anchorage: 01-28.46 S / 145-07.99 E Shallow!
Alacrity 25' Pass (outside): 01-29.02 S / 145-08.29 E

Sherry & Dave

Cruising SE to PNG, Solomons, Vanuatu
At 2/12/2019 7:00 AM (utc) our position was 01°28.55'S 145°07.81'E

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Ninigo Islands to Hermit Islands

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The sun finally came out and the squally weather went away, as the tropical trough moved off to the west. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay and play at the Ninigos forever--we needed to be moving on, as we have many miles to go before we reach Vanuatu in mid-May.

We discussed among our buddy boats, whether to move down to the SE pass (we were 9 miles away in the NW part of the atoll), for an early morning start. The distance, anchor to anchor, from Longan, was nearly 60 miles. Figuring 5 knots sailing speed for light wind down wind sailing conditions, and with our 12 hour tropical daylight, that we'd be cutting it close for sunset on the other end. However, there were no good anchorages protected from NW down near the SE pass. And, the Longaners were putting on a last dinner for us. So we stayed put and planned a "sparrow fart" departure from Longan. We did have tracks for the first couple of miles, and good Google Earth to take us all the way out the SE Pass.

Berzerker, our token monohull, knowing that their boat speed is slower than the cataramans, had left at 3am. The rest of us pulled anchor in unison at 0615 am, at the crack of daylight (sunrise is around 0630).

We all made it out of the atoll and the pass without any problems. As we went out the pass, the wind was SW, not the NW we expected. Well, "sail what ya got." And we did. But it died and we had to turn the engine back on. Eventually, however, the wind filled in from the NW as forecast and we ended up with a rousing beam reach, in fairly flat seas. For awhile we were making 7 knots, but the wind died and went more behind us, and we ended up turning on one engine to keep our speed up. Fortunately, the wind came back enough to turn off the engine again, and we were able to sail all the way into the West pass at the Hermits atoll.

Though I had plotted a route around the south side of the first island, the lead boat had gone north. Apparently they had discussed the chart with Stanley at Longan and he assured them that "Manta Pass" was deep enough to go through. So we followed them north of the westernmost interior island, and down through Manta Pass, to anchor on the west side of Manta Pass.

Berzerker and Indigo settled for anchorages in 45-50 feet of water, but Dave wanted something shallower. So we nosed up into the shockingly shallow sand area, and found it was 6 feet deep. There were some scattered coral heads ("bommies" as they are known out here), but we were able to work our way into a clear sand area with plenty of depth for our 3' catamaran. We anchored at 01-32.51 S / 145-01.996 E. Eventually Ocelot came in and anchored in the shallow sand area just west of us.

This turned out to be a great spot, fully protected from the wind and seas, no matter how far west the wind went. With minutes of dropping anchor, "Bob", the guy we'd heard about who knew where the Mantas were, came out to say hello.
At 2/4/2019 12:57 AM (utc) our position was 01°32.51'S 145°02.00'E

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Longan Island, Ninigos, PNG

January 28-Feb 4

Our first visitors were Stanley and Oscar. We had already been told of these two from other friends who had visited in prior years. Oscar who seems to be the patriarch of Longan, and Stanley, his nephew, both speak good English. They understand cruisers and wanted to both welcome us to their island, but also ensure that we could rest up today, and be officially welcomed tomorrow. He also wanted us to understand that when his people came by with gifts of fruit and veggies, that we consider them gifts, and that we were not required to trade for them.

We told Oscar of the piles of donated items and trade goods that we had brought for them, plus some specific items other cruisers had sent us for specific people on the atoll. Oscar said "That's very nice of you, but first we want to welcome you to our island in our custom." He invited us all in for a welcoming ceremony the next day.

The day we arrived, we had a number of visitors in wooden dugout canoes, bringing us gifts of bananas, sweet potatoes, coconuts and "cabbage" (local greens, not cabbage). In return they asked for T-shirts, cigarettes, rice and sugar, and movies on their cell phones. There is no cell network out this far, but some of the younger crowd had acquired cell phones that they used mostly for movies and music. It was hard to get much done that first day, with a fairly constant stream of visitor. Fortunately, once they felt they had properly welcomed us, the visitors dropped off almost completely, unless specifically invited.

The next day, we (as we had been asked to do), all arrived on the beach at the same time, while the villagers gathered to welcome us. They sang a beautiful song of welcome, and then they fed us. And at first, only we sat at the table, and only we ate. It was weird, but once we cruisers all had a generous plateful, the rest of the two families who were hosting us (Oscar and Stanley), all dug in to what was left over.

After lunch, one of the teen age girls (plus a few trailing kids) took us on a tour of the southern part of the island, including the school. This was an incredibly clean and neat village, with every path swept nicely and lined with flowering shrubs. All of the houses were constructed of wood frames with woven pandanus leaf walls and a thatch roof. During our stay there were several we visited that were under construction. The houses are traditionally built on ground level, but we were told that new construction would be built up on posts, about 4-6ft off the ground. (anticipating sea level rise)

In subsequent days, about every other day, someone on the island invited all 8 of us in for dinner. It was not a potluck invitation--we weren't supposed to bring anything. It seemed to be a genuine desire to get to know us, and be hospitable. We all felt like we were eating them out of house and home! Though every meal featured some seafood from the lagoon, every meal also included a chicken and some rice, both precious commodities in this village 300 miles from the nearest store. We brought gifts and food items to share that we knew they would not get on the island--a big pan of brownies, some fresh-baked bread, etc.

Our friends on Carina, who had last been to the Ninigos for 5 weeks in 2016, had written a "Cruiser's Guide to the Ninigos", providing helpful information about the entire atoll--the 4-5 communities scattered around on various islands and who the "players" were on each island. We had hoped to get around an visit all the communities, but the weather didn't cooperate, and we are on a bit of schedule and feel like we need to keep moving east while the wind is favorable. So we had a decision to make--hit every community for a day or so visit , or stay at Longan the whole time and really get to know Longan. We decided on the latter.

Longan is not the most populated island in the atoll, and in some seasons is on the downwind side of the atoll, and therefore not as often visited by prior cruisers. But in the NW season (now), it is the most protected from the winds we were experiencing. However, a bit of the outside wave action rolls in around the southern tip of Longan from the west-facing opening. With winds constantly varying between nearly north and nearly west, and between 5 knots and 25 knots, we often had quite a bit of wave action in the anchorage, which we hadn't expected at all. We had nearly a week of fairly squally weather while we were there--not the idyllic light wind weather I had pictured, and which we had left behind in Indonesia.

The main atoll is 18 miles long and 9 miles wide, a circle of islands with a deep lagoon inside. And there are a few surrounding smaller atolls nearby, with about 10-12 miles of the primary atoll. Most of the larger islands on the rim of Ninigo are inhabited by a related set of families, though there is a lot of sharing, trading, and intermarrying going on between the families on the various islands.

One of the most amazing things about Ninigo is that the people are still using traditional sailing canoes for their local transportation around the atoll. We managed to arrange a trip up to a "Bird Island" in the NW corner of the atoll, on the traditional sailing canoes. It was really wild skimming along inside the reef, on the sand banks, over the tops of coral heads. It was a squally day and we got into a little squall on our way up--I had my phone out with OpenCPN on it, and my GPS said we were doing 13 knots! There were a lot of common sea birds on the island--one of the young girls climbed around in trees gathering eggs from the bird nests. There were also a number of pigs on the island--it's easier to let them roam on the island with no people and no gardens than have them running around on the home island. There were a couple of cute little piglets--two of whom came back with us in the canoe.

On Sundays, the people of Longan and the people of Amik, the island just opposite Amik, get together for sailing canoe races. On this Sunday, they were to be held at Amik. Indigo II, one of our cats, offered to take Oscar and Stanley, and a couple of us across to Amik. The rest of us were going to sail across in canoes.

It was a rainy day, and it started pouring just after we arrived at Amik. No problem, everyone just holed up under someone's roof until the rain stopped.

We had all packed a lunch and left it on Indigo, thinking we'd be able to hang out on Indigo and watch the races. Well, it didn't work that way. For whatever reason, they directed Indigo to anchor at the east end of the village, and the canoes ended up doing their start from the west end of the village. Poor Liz and Chris felt that the anchor spot was a poor one, with a rubble bottom they didn't trust, and they were backed up to the reef. So they didn't want to leave their boat--they ended up staying aboard the whole day.

Once the local villagers heard about Indigo going across, several people asked for rides for themselves or their kids across to Amik. Apparently, on the following Monday, school was going to resume. The elementary school for Amik and Longan is split across the two islands. Amik houses the school for the lower elementary grades, and Longan the school for the upper elementary grades. So on the weekend prior to school resuming, there was a flurry of travel back and forth getting the kids and teachers to the appropriate islands. The kids who are not going to school on their home island board with someone--a relative, usually, on their school island. On the way from Longan to Amik, Indigo ended up with about 10 locals riding along, and on the return trip, about 14, and a bed mattress!

The races were a hoot. They start standing in the water, and must put up their mast and their lateen-rigged sail before jumping aboard and taking off. So part of the crew work is getting the sail up and rigged quickly. These boats don't beat at all, so they do long, fast reaches out into the lagoon. Then when they want to tack, they have to take the sail down and turn it around and put it back up on the other end of the boat. They only have one outrigger, which is always to windward. (pictures and videos will follow).

One day, we took all the donated goods into Longan, and held a big swap meet. Everything was priced very low. According to Oscar, it was better to put a small price on it than give it away for free, that way people weren't just grabbing stuff they didn't need. All the money collected went to Oscar for the common benefit of the village (some to the school, some for gasoline for their supply boat, and some for materials for common use projects). Not only did we have the usual donated good--clothing, school supplies, etc, but we also had a package of 350 copper nails donated by our friends on Carina. Copper nails are especially valuable for canoe-making, as they don't rust, and they are soft enough to be pulled out and re-used. We had also bought 2 Garmin Etrex hand-held GPS's, plus donated a couple of older handheld GPS's we didn't need any more. Shoes, hats, sunglasses, reading glasses, cookware, shorts, and t-shirts, all were rummaged over by the islanders. Terri, the school teacher, collected the money and kept the records.

The islands were originally a copra plantation (making coconut oil), but when other sources of oil became cheaper to produce, the copra business died out. Now their main cash crop is "beche de mer" or sea cucumbers. For some reason, the Chinese think these are delicacies (medicinal?), and they will pay top dollar for properly preserved sea cucumbers. In other countries, the lack of control by the government have led to wholesale destruction of the reef ecology. Fortunately, in PNG, the government is trying to control the harvesting of sea cucumbers. There is a distinct season, and who can buy and sell is tightly regulated. But a couple of months of gathering sea cucumbers, and the Ninigo Islanders have enough cash to buy the things they need.

When they heard we were coming back to the Ninigos later this year, individuals would sidle up to us and ask us to buy things for them. They wanted to know what it would cost, and when we would be back, so they could save their beche de mer money to purchase the items from us. First and foremost on the list were Garmin handheld GPS's, and not the cheap Etrex 10's we had brought with us, but mapping GPS's that run $300-$400 US dollars. We ended up with "orders" for several GPS's, hand-held compasses, binoculars, solar controllers and batteries, and even a laptop. We'll do our best!

We didn't have the best weather when we were there--it was squally nearly every day. So we didn't do any snorkeling or diving, nor get a chance to explore as much as we would have liked. Next time!

On our last full day, the village held a good-bye dinner for us at the school. We took in what school supplies we had and donated them to the head teacher. We had a great time at Longan, and really hated to leave, but we have a lot of miles to cover if we're going to get all the way to Vanuatu before the SE trade winds set in in late May.
At 2/4/2019 00:00 AM (utc) our position was 01°13.32'S 144°17.96'E

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Passage Maggawandi to The Ninigos

January 25-28, 2019

The Ninigos are a large atoll with a few surrounding small atolls, that lie roughly 140nm off the coast of New Guinea, just northeast of Vanimo, the westernmost city on the north coast of New Guinea. It is possible to day hop down the coast, along coastal Irian Jaya Indonesia and into coastal Papua New Guinea, to within a short overnight sail of the Ninigos. Both because the coast of New Guinea is considered dangerous (because of social issues) and because in NW season, any anchorage we could find would be swelly, we decided to do it as a direct shot of 460nm almost due west from the islands east of Biak.

The forecast looked like it would be a slow passage, with winds on our port quarter at 10 knots, plus a little helping current, we expected to have a nice drift and arrive in 4-5 days.

It started out that way, with sunny skies and 8-12 knots WNW. We all (4 boats--us and Ocelot, Indigo II, and Berzerker) had our anchors up by 9am. For the first hour we threaded our way through the last atoll, and then around 10am, we turned the engine off and were actually sailing! Everyone else had their big sails out, but just as we were finally getting around to thinking about putting up our Code Zero (a big light air jib on a furler), the wind came up a bit and we decided to stick with the working jib.

Everyone has AIS, so it was fun to keep track of who was where and how fast they were going. We managed to stay within a few miles of Indigo for the whole 460 miles, but Ocelot and Berzerker (a 37' mono) gradually fell far enough behind that we couldn't pick them up on radar.

By late afternoon, with 15-20 knots of wind, we put a reef in the main. With a 1 knot following current, we were still zipping along at 8-9 knots speed over ground (SOG)! Later that evening, I calculated that if we averaged more than 6.5 knots, we'd arrive in the middle of the night. (We'd been averaging about 7.5 knots all day). And we'd have to average 8.1 knots to arrive in the late afternoon--not happening. Fortunately, the wind started easing a little overnight.

Dave and I are still on 6 hour night watches. We have an early dinner, and then I take the watch from sunset to about 1am. Then Dave takes it from 1 am to about 7am. The time shifts a little based on when sunset and sunrise actually are, and whether Dave really gets off to be around 7pm. But we try to each get 6 hours off watch, so we can get a good deep sleep. When you are on watch, a 6 hour watch is a long time, especially in challenging weather on a dark night. But it's worth it to get a solid block of sleep. After trying 3 and 4 hour watch schedules, this is what we have stuck with for the last 10 years.

On Day 2, dawn showed overcast skies and light winds. Around 10am the wind was light and almost dead behind us, so we motored most of the middle of the day to keep moving. Around noon, with both of us below doing something, we felt a thud on the hull and then another. We had hit a 12" diameter log, 20 ft long, crosswise on the port hull. And it was stuck between our keel and our rudder. We pulled back the power immediately. We had been motoring on the port engine and feared for damage to our rather fragile saildrive. We were still moving enough to keep the log pinned to the forward side of our port rudder. Dave dumped the mainsail and I turned a little, and the log finally slid out. The engine seemed to be working OK, with no odd noises or vibrations. It was sloppy enough seas-wise that neither of us wanted to get in the water to take a look. So we powered up and kept on. (Note: at this point, Dave still hadn't resolved the cooling water issue on the starboard engine).

A few hours later, with the wind getting lighter and lighter, we went to put up the Code Zero. While we were messing about on the foredeck, I could hear what sounded like an odd-sounding whine coming from the port engine. With no sails up and the power back, and much calmer seas than earlier, I jumped in to take a look at things. Fortunately, the saildrive and prop looked untouched. The log must have bounced off the keel and totally missed the saildrive. The leading edge of the rudder was another matter. There was a softball sized dent in the leading edge of the rudder. Fortunately, the impact didn't seem to have hurt the rudder shaft.

Once we finally got the Code Zero up, after sorting out things after our hurried takedown a few weeks earlier, the wind started rising immediately, so we took it right back down. We finally turned the engine off about 4pm, and at 5:30 put a nighttime reef in the main. We were still doing 6+ knots over the bottom, in part due to the 1.5 knot current behind us. Near midnight I logged that we were doing 8.5 knots, and that I heard a thunder rumble. But with no moon it was hard to tell what was happening weather-wise.

Day 3 was full of squalls with rain and wind to 30 knots (none of which was in the forecast). With two days of solid overcast, and the extra power requirements of the instruments and the autopilot, we were worrying about low batteries. I started managing the refridgeration systems, turning the thermostat up on the freezer, and turning the fridge off during the night hours. The fridge needed a good defrost anyway!

In the middle of the day, I logged that we had taken the main completely down, as the wind was dead behind us. And we only had 10 feet of the jib out, and we were still doing 7 knots. We spent the rest of Day 3 and overnight with just the jib out, using it to control our speed so we would arrive at the pass around 7:30 am. Once the wind died down, we were left with huge seas and not much wind, but with the current and a full jib, we could still make 5 knots easily, but it was uncomfortable sloshing around like that.

We were in VHF and HF contact with Ocelot, who was only 15 miles behind us. They could just reach Berzerker, who was another 25 miles behind them. So our little band carried on for a 3rd night. It was another squally night, with winds up and down, and some rain.

At 7:30 am, we were entering the SW pass at Ninigo, just behind Indigo. We saw a least depth of about 45 feet in the pass, and then it deepened up to 100-150 feet once inside the lagoon. The pass is well protected from the NW swell, so it was an easy entry, with little to no discernable current.

We had another 9 miles across the lagoon to make it up to Longan Island, on the NW corner of the atoll. Though this was the smallest village, this looked to be the best protected from the WNW-NW winds we were experiencing. The western side of the atoll was pretty open to the swell, so the anchorages inside the lagoon off the eastern islands would not be very good.

We had fairly rough conditions going NE to Longan, but thankfully we were squall-free during this time. We could see the scattered reefs and coral bommies on our satellite charts, but they were difficult to see visually in the overcast low-light conditions. Fortunately the GoogleEarth charts are spot on, and as long as we stayed on track, we stayed in depths over 100 ft deep.

At 0935 on Monday Jan 28, we anchored next to Indigo of Longan Island in 45 ft of nice sand, at 01-13.322S / 144-17.96E.
At 1/28/2019 2:15 AM (utc) our position was 01°13.32'S 144°17.96'E