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Sailing the Sepik River

By doina — last modified Jan 31, 2006 09:57 PM

Published: 2006-01-31 21:57:44
Countries: Papua New Guinea

Have you any information on navigating the Sepik river? Are there charts of the river and if so available from what organization?

Brian Hull of the RPNGYC writes:

Personally I have travelled up & down the Sepik, from the mouth as far as the Leonard Schultz River in forty two foot diesel powered work boats & outboard powered dugout single canoes & house boats.

My travels were in the early 1960s, however little has changed since then. I think there are some German Administration charts from the late eighteen hundreds/early nineteen hundreds but today they would have little relevance as the river is constantly changing course.

Navigation is relatively easy. One soon learns to follow the current where the deep water is found. Depending on the season - wet or dry - the levels in the river can change by up to ten metres. The hordes of mosquitoes also fluctuate with the seasons.

Trees, logs & grass islands are navigational hazards, particularly at night when anchored or tied up to the bank. One must try to locate a backwater deep enough to anchor in & also to cope with a possible overnight drop in water level of some meters. The same overnight drops in water levels are a major problem when tied to the bank. Many houseboats have been sunk & damaged by these sudden drops in water levels.

Sailing/motor sailing will be impractical most of the time. A motorised speed in excess of five knots will be necessary to navigate the river as currents can be up to four knots. With a bit of experience one can learn to utilise the back currents to one's advantage. Most workboats travel between seven/eight knots, house boats six/seven knots & single canoes up to thirty knots.

No bridges. Organising enough fuel & sealing the vessel against mosquitoes will be necessary tasks before proceeding upriver.

Because of language problems, employing a local guide/pilot for the trip, could be an advantage.