Practical Information for Yachts going to the Louisiades

When we were preparing to leave we spent hours trawling the internet for practical information for yachties going to the Louisiades, and found very little. I have attempted to compile a list for future adventurers based on our experiences and needs. All additional questions, information and comments will be gratefully accepted and I’m sure indispensable for sailors and travellers alike. Hope it helps.

Fuelling up at Townsville Breakwater Marina next to the Red Baron tourist charter sea-plane

Checking out of Australia

We were staying at the Townsville Yacht Club but since the Customs Officials did not check anybody out from there we motored around to the Breakwater Marina just around the corner for a night. Be aware of tidal timing when entering the Breakwater Marina; there is a very narrow and shallow channel at the entrance and can sometimes be inaccessible for bigger boats at low tide. There are fuel pumps at the Breakwater Marina, but not at the Yacht Club. There are also wonderful showers that I made the most of before leaving!

We had contacted the Customs Office a few days before to make a rendezvous, they kindly emailed the necessary documents to us that we filled out prior to save time when they boarded the ship. We were advised to keep all our receipts for alcohol and beer (wine was different for some reason) as we were able to claim tax back on these items through them. They turned up and checked our documents, stamped our passports, took account information for refunding the tax directly into, asked a couple of questions, shook our hands and left again – all very easy.

Once we have been checked out we have 48 hours to leave Australian waters, and cannot leave the boat until we do so. Luckily the customs procedures did not take as long as we expected; the tide was still high enough to head off to Palm Island.

NB: We heard a rumour that they were no longer going to check people out of Townsville, but I have not had any further information to confirm this.

Skull and Crossbones; Illegal to fly in International Waters

Timing, Length of Passage and Weather.

We left from Townsville on July 2 2011, stopping for a night at Palm Island approximately 30 nautical miles (NM) away. This gives us a direct path towards Palm Passage; a safe exit over the Great Barrier Reef.

The anchorage was mediocre at Palm Island – we were on the lee side of the island but great gusts of wind that had picked up steadily during the afternoon were funnelled through the valleys and straight on to us. Luckily by the next afternoon the wind had dropped right off and we started our journey around 1400 hours, July 3 2011.

We passed through Palm Island Channel without difficulty at 2200h that night. We start our three-hour watches and although it is very dark with the new moon disappearing not long after sunset, we have a great crossing of steady 15 – 25 knot winds, a few squalls and showers, one day of 3 – 4 metre swells where we start to feel a bit bumped and bruised, sails mostly reefed and only using the motor very occasionally when the wind dropped.  We spot land at 1000h July 7 2011; four nights and five days after departing Palm Island.

Half way across we are treated to some stunning sunsets, strong winds and impressive swells.

Louisiades Entry Points, Customs Clearance, Checking In, Ports of Entry

Customs Clearance Ports: Samarai, Alotau. Both in the North Western point of the Louisiades quite close to mainland Papua New Guinea. We had mixed information about the ability to check in at Misima Island, but the general consensus is that they used to check people in but no longer do.

We made the decision not to make the trip to Alotau, instead to pass under the radar without checking in for the few short days we spent visiting little islands and catching up on some sleep after the crossing. We have seen no sign of customs officials anywhere, and not needing any fuel or supplies for now we have avoided Misima Island.

With a plastic sail and small holes in the dug-out, the shark fishermen of Duchateau Island take to the seas everyday no matter the weather to set the lines and battle with the big sharks, bailing water as they go.

We entered the Louisiades at Duchateau Islands (pronounced doe-sha-toe), a series of three low-lying islands surrounded by shallow reef. Sounds a bit daunting, but there was a clear deep channel on the chart to the lee side of Pana Bobaiana (the middle island) and we entered without difficulty. Captain had saved some Google Earth photos of this island which really helped with the anchorage; there is a definite white sand path that leads us as close to the island and shelter as possible, and a local shark fisherman jumped on board and expertly directed us to the perfect position.

Lead Point to Anchorage: 11’16’.398S 152’21’.205E

It wasn’t the most sheltered anchorage; a few rollers and a bit of wind whipping over the little island, but after five days at sea it was comfortable enough to cook a huge bacon and egg breakfast quickly followed by a decent sleep.

We are woken later on by the fishermen who have bought us some fresh (still bleeding) Kingfish. Absolutely delicious. One comes on board and gives us some invaluable information about anchorages and passages to other islands in the area, recommending Motorina, Bagaman and the Blue Lagoon and pointing them out on our navigation chart. I don’t think you can go wrong with the choice of islands to visit – we received a warm welcome wherever we went. It was a windy time of the year, sometimes blowing 20-30 knots for days on end. This combined with strong currents between the islands made for slightly less optimal conditions for cruising, but there is no shortage of sheltered anchorages on the bigger islands.

The boys borrowed our mask and snorkel and bought back two huge crayfish that we traded for a pineapple and some tinned veges.

Fuel, Water, Cell Coverage, Internet,Supplies

There is nothing but small villages, coconut palms and banana groves on most islands, some do not even have villages. No shops, markets or food stalls, certainly no cell phone coverage and although there seems to be wells in most places if you are desperate it would be tricky getting it onto the boat and courageous to drink it without treating it first.

Small village on Motorina Island on a rainy day – the only form of running water!

Misima Island sounds like the place where all the locals go to get supplies, food, fuel and internet access at this end of the Louisiades. As we have not been there I can only confirm what the locals have told us.

Trading With the Locals

Do not leave home without things to trade with the hundreds of locals that flock to the yachts with veges, fruit, carvings and necklaces to offer. There is very little money around the remote islands, people’s needs seem to be basic and it doesn’t take much to help them out. We had no PNG Kina currency at all and so relied on what we had on board to trade with in the old barter system ways.

Three little local boys coming to trade with two green-skinned oranges

 

We went to the Salvation Army second hand shop before leaving and loaded up with clothes for kids and adults, remembering that most Islanders are religious and quite puritanical so nothing too short or flashy. We also found kids reef-walker shoes for 50c a pop that have been a real hit. Other essential non-clothing items that we have often been asked for or traded with are:

  1. Rice, flour and Sugar
  2. Glue (good stuff, used to repair holes in their canoes)
  3. Tools; knives, pliers, sand paper, drill bits
  4. Exercise books and biro pens for school children
  5. Paint, wire, building equipment (!)
  6. Torches – the wind up ones would be ideal
  7. D Cell Batteries
  8. Nylon and fish hooks
  9. Deodorant, soap, washing powder, moisturiser
  10. Soccer boots, uniforms, netball uniforms, balls
  11. Guitar strings

The hardest thing we have found with trading is just how much to give away. The locals do not ask for much to trade with, but the sheer volume of people who visit the yacht in a day has been quite tough on our meager trading supplies that are intended to last through the Solomons and Vanuatu (we have given over a quarter of it away in a week), not to mention tough on my morale having to turn a lot of people away without anything.  An easy offering is a bottle of water with cordial (sachet or liquid) which is enjoyed by them and gets rid of a bit of recycling for us!

They trade with what they have; mostly pawpaw, banana, coconut, spinach, beans, limes, sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes,  eggs, fresh fish, crayfish as well as carvings and necklaces. The fresh food is good and delicious, we have never had a problem from eating it, get into it. (Cook your crayfish in boiling water for seven minutes – always perfect)

Chief Gulo from Oisi Village, Bagaman Island. One of the most enjoyable encounters in the Louisiades. “We no rascals” he says, “we come, we story, we friend.”

The annual Yacht Rally that comes through here each year in September seems to boost the local economy ten-fold. The locals rave about the good work that the yachties have done for their community like installing solar panels, generators, water tanks, bringing school supplies and clothes and general good trading. Good work guys.

Safety

If you are working with digital charts it pays to keep an eye on their accuracy. Ours were out a few degrees and it took a day of fiddling and plotting to get them correct. A bit dodgy in some tight entrances into lagoons and shallow anchorages but ended up pretty accurate after our adjustments. As far as the locals go we had no problems whatsoever with the curious hoards, other than a few early wake up calls with them coming to ‘story’ with you; although we didn’t let anybody come on board to look inside we invited a few on deck to share a juice or coffee and never felt threatened or had anything go missing, something that we would be hesitant to do in the Solomon Islands.  Be prepared to be bombarded with locals laden with lists of things they need and are interested in trading for. Have fun, they are a lovely people.

Misima Language Guide

There are over 200 languages spoken in Papua New Guinea, all very particular to the region the people are from. The islanders in this part of the Louisiades speak the ‘Misima’ language, and even have difficulty understanding people on the mainland in Port Moresby.

The following is a little guide of helpful Misima words and phrases. The spelling is mostly phonetic, written as I sound it out. So although not perfect, it will be a helpful start to creating a bit of fun banter with the locals.

WORD PRONOUNCIATION TRANSLATION
A teu owa Ah-tey-wo-wa Thank you  (can also be you’re welcome)
Eweiss Ear-whyce Good
Eweiss e ya Ear-why-see-yar That’s good, all good, its ok
Eweiss e nabi Ear-why-see nar-bee Good Luck
Bainunuatu Buy-a-nu-nu-watu No worries, no problem
Nu auw Noo-wow I like it
Ni gen auw Nee gen wow (hard g, not j) I don’t like
Unem Oo-nem Come, you come, come here
Kyoni Kye-oh-nee Goodbye
Mweluluga waiwaisana Mwe-la-LU-ga why-why-sarna Good morning (I think adding waiwaisana makes it more polite)
A lala tey waiwaisana Ah-lar-lar-tay Good afternoon (12pm – 3pm)
Koko ya ve waiwaisana Koh-koh yar vey Good afternoon (3pm – 6pm)
Bulin waiwaisana Bull-een why why sarna Good evening
Nolu Noh-loo yesterday
Rane Rar-nay today
Bwalugumwa Bwa-loo-goo-mwa tomorrow
U wa he Oo-wa-hey Take it
A bwe taki tela Ah-bwe-tar-kee-tell-a I see you, like hello (my favourite)
A bwe taki tela aa Ah-bwe-tar-kee-tell-a-ARR I see you again, nice to see you again

 

Louisiades: Inspirational, remote, generous and FUN!

About Imogen Throp

Imo takes life as it comes, fueling her wander-lust with hard work along the way. She loves the lessons learned through shared experiences, interaction and bloody good yarns. Imo is humbled and awestruck by stories, situations and stunning panoramas that she encounters on her path. Often, all it takes is a smile.

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