Saturday, February 16, 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

Thursday, February 14, 2019

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

Wednesday, February 6, 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.

Indigo Sailing inside Ninigo Atoll at Dawn

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).

And Ocelot Following Right Behind

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

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Longan Island, Ninigos, PNG

January 28-Feb 4

Our Lovely Anchorage off Longan Island, Ninigos

Once we got anchored, our first visitors were Oscar and Stanley.

Oscar (front) and Stanley Greet Us

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. They also wanted us to understand that when their 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).

One of Our Many Visitors On the First Day

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.

The Lovely Greeting from Longan People

The song they sang us was a variation of a gospel song called Sailing Toward Home:

I stood upon the sandy beach
Looking out across the ocean
I saw your ships come sailing in
To rest beside the shore
The friends of those aboard
Were gathered there to meet them
It made me think of Heaven
Where friends will part no more

You're sailing toward home
On the old ship of Zion
You see the lights upon the banks
Across the misty sea
Angels guard your vessels
'Til you're safe within the harbor
Captains guide your ships 'til you get home

Mama sailed the ship of life
And all the storms and weather
She told me of the Savior that would chart your destiny
The misty veil has lifted
You can plainly see the harbor
And Mama standing on the bank
She smiles and welcomes you

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.

Our Tour Guides
The Main School Building in the Background

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.

What Well-Kept Grounds!

More School Buildings

In all, the school has 4 rooms and covers 4 grades. The school for the other 4 grades is on Amik Island, across the lagoon. The kids who go to a school that is not on their island board during the week with a relative on that island. (and everyone is a relative of everyone else in the Ninigos).

Longan School Kids Coming Back from Amik

During our stay at Longann we visited several houses that were under construction. The houses are traditionally built on ground level, but we were told that any future construction would be built up on posts, about 4-6ft off the ground. (anticipating sea level rise)

A House Under Construction

Hand Weaving the Pandanus Wall Segments

On another day, Stanley also took us on a birdwatching/garden tour.

Looking for New and Exotic Birds

One of the Longan Vegetable Gardens

One of the staples on the island is Cassava. We had seen Cassava plants before, and seen Cassava roots sold in the markets, but had never had the process required to make Cassava into an edible food explained to us. Stanley showed us the process.

First the Cassava Plant is Pulled Up to Get At the Roots

Then the Roots are Peeled and Grated

A Cassava Grater

Cassava is fairly poisonous in it's raw state. There is a high level of cyanide in some strains of cassava. So the grated root must be soaked in water and then boiled.

Soaking and Boiling the Cassava

After boiling, the mixture is strained and dried, and when fully dry, becomes Cassava Flour. Cassava Flour is then used to make Cassava Cakes and other local staple foods.

Another local staple is coconuts. Young Coconuts provide drinking water, the meat from older coconuts is scraped and processed to produce coconut oil and sweet coconut milk, which is used in making most of their foods.

Traditional Coconut Scraper
(Straddle the seat and scrape the coconut meat on the rasp)

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. They also included Cassava Cakes and coconut sweets. 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.

Another Dinner Ashore

These dinners were just a part of Pacific Island hospitality. But also a way for the islanders to learn about the outside world. They are intensely curious about who we are and what we're doing there.

Pam from Berzerker, showing Photos of Sailing on Berzerker

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 and 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.

Overview of the Ninigo Islands Atoll

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. Mal is the most populated island and is where there is a small clinic, and another primary school. If the kids want to go to high school, they must go to the school in the Hermit Islands (50 miles away across open ocean).

After our first couple of days getting to know the Longan People, we arranged with Oscar to bring all our donated goods ashore for a good old fashioned "yard sale". 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.

Though we had intended to GIVE the stuff to Oscar to distribute, Oscar felt that this wouldn't benefit his people in the long run. He wanted us to sell the donated items (for a very low price), and then use the proceeds for the community good. He felt that, because people had to pay hard earned money for items they wanted, they would appreciate them more. So we brought everything ashore to Oscar's house, and Oscar and his wife Keren, and Eileen, one of the schoolteachers, helped us price everything.

Then we laid everything out on tables, and Eileen was designated to take the money.

The Longan Yard Sale

Shoes, hats, sunglasses, reading glasses, cookware, shorts, and t-shirts, all were rummaged over by the islanders.

After the Yard Sale, the villagers held a meeting in the schoolhouse, and Eileen gave a report.

Eileen Recaps the Yard Sale Proceeds

Oscar and Eileen split the money 50/50--half going to the village expense pool, and half going to the school. The village expense pool goes to things like fuel for the outboard motors for provisioning trips to Manus Island, several hundred miles away.

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.

Getting Ready for our Sail

The Helmsman Steers with a Paddle

Our Canoe Arrives Safely at Bird Island

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.

The kids on these islands grow up on the water, so they are permitted out in canoes on their at a very young age.

A Group of Small Boys Just Back from Fishing

On Sundays, the people of Longan and the people of Amik, the island just opposite Longan, 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.

Canoes Arriving at Amik
And Indigo in the Crummy Anchorage

Boys On the Beach At Amik, Watching Us Arrive

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.

Taking Cover During a Rain Shower

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!

Indigo with Hitchhikers to Amik

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. (I am working on getting a video uploaded to our YouTube channel).

Getting the Boat and Sail Ready

The Start of the Race

The Start of the Race

They were in the process of building a new 9 meter canoe where we were watching the race. As there are no large trees in the lagoon, they capture huge logs drifting from Indonesia, and use them for their canoes (and other construction). The bottom part of the canoes are hewed out of the logs, with additional boards used to build up the sides to give the canoe more freeboard. There is no working sawmill in the lagoon. Most of the woodwork is done by chainsaw.

A New Canoe Under Construction

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 this time, 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