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Admiralty islands, Papua New Guinea 2010

By Val Ellis last modified Dec 19, 2010 12:05 PM

Published: 2010-12-19 12:05:41
Countries: Papua New Guinea

This describes our one month visit to the northern PNG islands during mid 2010. We are on a 3 year circumnavigation and took the route from Vanuatu to PNG and on to Malaysian Borneo, skipping out Australia and Indonesia. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole trip.

We sailed straight to Rabul in New Britain (north of the main island). Had a good fast trip, strong 20-30 knot trade winds behind us for the first five days and only one day of calm. After losing two lures (one to a huge Marlin) we hooked a pair of Dorado at the same time so were well stocked for fish. Otherwise our only mishap was we got the spinnaker blown out – we've had it up in windier conditions so perhaps it is just worn out with the UV. Beyond our ability to repair unfortunately so not sure what can be done about it – has been such a useful sail.

Rabaul was the old capital of the area but hit by a volcano around '94 and smothered by ash. It was a sad shadow of it's former self with a few run down wharves and almost deserted yacht club which was now not much more than a bar. Some amazing live volcanoes spurting smoke and the odd squirt of ash, my crew had a hot day climbing one of them. There were also reportedly a lot of Japanese detrius from the war in local caves which we never got around to visiting.

Got all our visas sorted out OK, the customs people were among the friendliest I've met though not at all familiar with processing yachts – they are only getting a few through each year. While we were there another yacht did come in, a Morrison and Caine built in China and on delivery to Aus – the crew had quite a few moans about Chinese construction quality and their inability to tighten bolts up !

There was no internet in Rabaul so we went on to the new capital at Kokopo but it had all been down there for the past few days ! They did however have the biggest Pamplemouses we have ever seen and an excellent fruit and veg market. Trying to find anything out was not easy though, the town was spread out over several miles of shoreline and asking directions to anything obscure like an internet cafe would be met by blank looks – or perhaps someone would adopt you and we would get guided around the town but not necessarily finding the right place. In the end we discovered all the internet in Kokopo was down ( as it was for the rest of PNG we visited).

Despite some warnings to be careful where we went, at no time did any of us feel at all concerned for our safety and when we took our dinghy ashore all the locals waiting for the market kept an eye out on it for us.

Grove Island
Next stop was Garove island, a volcano culdera which we were able to anchor inside of near the old German mission church. Stunningly beautiful island and got to do some snorkeling around WW2 Japanese wrecks – Katharine refused to go in because of the salt water crocs but apparently they seldom attack people so it was quite safe !

Then on to Manus and the Admiralty islands, north of New Guinea. Here we had such a warm welcome it was sad to leave. The local tourism officer (nick Solomon) took us for a tour of the island including all the detrius from WW2 – floating harbours, landing craft, steam rollers, plane wrecks etc, and later, out fishing – got given a big tuna and 13 lobsters. We also met up with the ex-minister of defense for PNG who took us drinking at the local carry out (NO DRINKING ON THE PREMISES), later had us over for a family feast and presented us with a heap of gifts.

The customs would call us up most days we were there and ask if there were anything we needed ! They were really the friendliest warmest people I think I have ever met. We did get told the usual story – the people here are fine but watch out when you get to the next island as there are some dodgy characters there but that seems to be a feature of Pacific island culture.

Hermit Island and Ninigo Atoll
After Manus we visited a couple of the smaller islands heading West, first Hermit (swimming with 10' manta rays) and Ninigo atoll. Was really looking forward to it as had heard they were still using traditional sailing canoes. We had a difficult trip there, not enough wind on the way across so we arrived at the pass later than expected. Then our charts had so little detail (less than anywhere else on the whole trip) we weren't sure of the entrance. Fortunately a local canoe turned up and they boarded and guided us in. Then we had to get 10 miles across the inside of the atoll to our village, half way across we came across an unmarked reef so with the winds squalling up and with darkness approaching, we anchored in the lee of a tiny island.

The next morning a couple more sailing canoes turned up and one of them guided us over to the village while the other took Chris off fishing for the day. We had a great time at Ninigo, the locals plied us with vegetables and got to see around the village and a few canoes under construction. They were all built in a traditional way – no metal parts. The bottom plank carved from a drift log (they were running short of big trees on the islands) and the sides planks hand cut by chainsaw and jointed together with wooden pinned dowels. Sails were made from tarpaulins and had to be remounted whenever they changed tack, and steering done with a heavy paddle. We all got to go for a sail and they were pretty fast – the islanders had had someone over studying them a few years ago and he measured them at 24kts for the larger ones and 18kts for the smaller sizes.

Slow trip from PNG to Borneo, less than 10kts of wind most of the time. All the crew are pretty frustrated with the mainsail as in these conditions it is just a pig – too heavy and too much roach so it wants to flog away all the time and we often had to keep it reefed. On top of that it is beginning to develop a few holes because of another manufacturing flaw. Saw a lot of dolphins and some pilot whales but caught no fish – we did get visited way out to sea by 3 Phillipine fishermen in minature 9' plywood boats (their mother ship was away in the distance) powered by lawnmower engines who gave us a pile of tuna !

Tyrone Currie
s/v Gillaroo
August 2010
(some pics. on my web site )