SE Asia to Australia via Selat Muli in West Papua

My wife and I have just returned to Australia from cruising SE Asia for 3 years. For the return journey, I studied what routes other cruisers have taken and have spoken to a number of them also. I was not convinced the most common route via Tual, Gove and then across the Gulf of Carpentaria was the best so I looked at other routes. The article is about returning to Australia via Selat Muli in West Papua to Thursday Island Australia. It worked very well for us.

Published 6 years ago, updated 4 years ago

Australians Graham and Julie Swannell spent 3 years cruising SE Asia on their Fountaine Pajot Belize, “New Views”.

After 3 years cruising in SE Asia, it was time to return to Australia and we had to face the more challenging conditions of sailing to windward back to Australia.  My research showed there are two main routes back to the east coast of Australia.

– The first and most popular is to check out of Indonesia in Tual and position at the bottom of Aru Island until a weather window opens up to cross the Arafura Sea to Gove.  This will normally occur from the middle of October onwards as the monsoon changes from SE to NE.  After checking into Australia at Gove, the Gulf of Carpentaria is crossed and one tracks down the Queensland coast when there are periods of less SE trade wind blowing.

– The other route is to sail to the north of New Guinea and then southwest across the Coral Sea to Queensland.  This is a much longer route.

After doing some research I decided to try another route back to Australia via the SW corner of West Papua.  This turned out for us to be a good decision and we had a great trip back to Australia hence the reason for writing this article.

After spending a month in Raja Ampat cruising the islands and diving at one of the dive resorts we checked out of Indonesia from Sorong.  On the way back to Australia we wanted to visit Triton Bay, approximately 300nm south of Sorong.  This was an easy sail with moderate southerly winds and we enjoyed diving with Triton Bay Divers including diving with the large whale sharks.  When a weather window seemed to be appearing to the south we sailed south to the northern entrance of Selat Muli.

If you do this trip, beware of fishing nets north of the Selat as we encountered multiple nets, 6 miles long, across our track and had to find a gap between those multiple nets.  It will be difficult finding any gaps at night.

Selat Muli is a channel approximately 60nm long between the West Papuan mainland and an island to the west.  It is over one mile wide and has strong currents, so timing is important to avoid adverse currents.  We were fortunate to have easterly winds blowing and sailed most of the way south in the Selat.

It may be possible to purchase diesel at a large fishing base in the north of the Selat, but we did not need that as we carried about 800 litres of diesel from Sorong for the 1000nm journey to Thursday Island.  We anchored overnight at the southern end of the Selat ready to cross the bar first thing the next morning at high tide.  Barges use the Selat and enter and leave across the bar and that is how we determined waypoints for our bar crossing.  There is plenty of depth over the bar at high tide for sailing vessels.

Although choppy across the bar, the seas calmed down in the deeper water and we crossed the Arafura Sea and Torres Strait to Thursday Island in just under 2 days.  This route saved us hundreds of miles of ocean crossing.  The border control and quarantine inspections at Thursday Island took place efficiently and the officials were very helpful and friendly.

So our experience for returning to Australia via Selat Muli was very good. Not only did we significantly shorten the ocean crossing, we required only a short weather window to cross to Thursday Island.

Graham Swannell
SY New Views

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or the World Cruising Club.

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