With stage 3 of the Lapita Voyage (Jayapura to Rabaul, 25th December - 12th January) we entered a new phase. We finally got a chance to meet and study the local canoes, one of the main aims of this voyage for James and myself. The other aim was to discover how the Tama Moana design sails in all sorts of different conditions and this stretch of the voyage gave us several superb sailing test opportunities.
From Jayapura we sailed direct to Wewak in Papua New Guinea leaving on Christmas Day (25th December). Wewak was our first New Guinea port, we had hoped for a rest here in a nice place, but with large waves rolling on to the shore, landing was difficult. Also we were told by the locals that we had to be very careful with security as another yacht had had ‘Rascals’ come aboard to rob them.
At this time (Jayapura to Wewak) we had 5 crew on each boat and two were to leave to travel overland. At first these were going to be Eve and Philip, but then Ruedi became ill with a serious leg infection and septicaemia from just a tiny scratch. He needed daily antibiotic injections for 10 days at a hospital. James was also suffering from exhaustion and needed a break from the continuous sailing regime, so the two of them got flights to Rabaul to await our arrival.
We planned a route to Rabaul via some of the smaller islands in the Bismarck Archipelago. The first one of these was Karkar Island as we had heard from Chris Bone of Oceanswatch that there were many canoes here. We also had names of some of the locals, who were Chris’ friends.
With little detail of the island on our small scale chart we had to explore a suitable anchorage ourselves. The two boats, ‘Lapita Tikopia’ and ‘Lapita Anuta’, arrived together and we on ‘Anuta’ sailed into the bay in front of the village named by Chris Bone. We were watched by waving people from the shore, however this bay appeared too deep for anchoring, particularly in an onshore NW wind. So we tacked out again, meantime ‘Tikopia’ explored the next bay to the North, which had more surrounding reef and they found shallow water and helpful people. We joined them there and managed to find a small patch of black sand amongst the coral to place our anchors in. Immediately we were surrounded by canoes and many friendly people.
Without James, I took every opportunity to photograph and sketch the canoes and ask questions. Generally it takes one or two weeks to make a small ‘dugout’ outrigger canoe, depending on the skill of the builder. The canoes in Karkar were for fishing and were fairly short and fat, but many were painted nicely with patterns on the sides. They all had two upright notched sticks on which fishing spears could be laid, which were decorated at the top with either fish, birds or dolphins.
We were told by an older man called John that up to the 1970s there was a trade by sailing canoes from the mainland at Madang to Karkar, bringing pottery in exchange for food produce. This trade was apparently stopped by the government because it was claimed to be ‘unsafe’, i.e. canoes sometimes got lost. Nowadays most transport in New Guinea is by ‘banana boat’, a long narrow fibreglass speedboat with large outboard motor(s).
After one day visiting the people on the island we had to sail on. That morning the wind sprang up early, quite strong, and we made haste to leave, as the NW wind is directly onshore in this bay. Sailing out of a situation like this is called, in sailing terms ‘clawing off a lee shore’, so this was going to be a test if the boats could do it. We hoisted sail and got ready to raise the anchor. ‘Anuta’ was quite close inshore, so I told my crew we only had one chance to get this right (or we would be on the rocky shore). It was important to get off on the right tack, so we were ready to back the mizzen as a wind rudder to get the boat pointing the right way. Unfortunately, though the anchor came up clean, the tripping line was caught round a lump of coral, the only thing we could do was cut the line and leave the buoy behind.
This little emergency had slewed the boat a bit and we had to get her round on the starboard tack so the sails would start to draw. With the sails held aback to turn her, she at first was sailing backwards, but just in time the mainsail started to draw and we pulled away from the shore that was only about a boat-length behind us. Pfeww!! We sailed close-hauled and cleared the reef at the South headland of the bay; ‘Anuta’ had proven her windward ability!
But there were more tests in store for us. After a day of changeable winds (5th January) getting round the South of Karkar and neighbouring Bagabag island, by 10 o’clock in the evening the wind and waves increased, the wind was now North, slowly turning more NW, but much stronger than the forecast NW 3-4, more like 4-5 with 6 in the squalls, with rough seas increasing in size. We were down to the small mainsail on the foremast only. Still 150Nm to go, due East, to our planned next stop at Garove island in the Witu group. Garove has a large crater lake that would give good shelter.
On our second day we did the best mileage in 24 hours so far, 120Nm, mostly our mileages are 60-70Nm on the good days and a lot less when we have changeable or light winds, which is very often.
There was worse to come, day three (7th January) started at midnight with a change to the stormsail as the wind was now WNW around force 6, the seas very rough with much water coming on deck and the cabins getting wet inside, the large deck hatches are not completely watertight. By 02.30 the wind got even stronger and we took down the stormsail and I tried out the sea anchor (made from two nesting rattan fishing baskets and a weight). The sea anchor was not effective to keep the sterns into the wind, the boat determinedly turned beam on, as she always does when all sail is taken down. This however was more comfortable than expected, the big waves just rolled under the boat, the hulls lifting over the crests, with only the odd awkward breaker coming over the decks. We lashed the tiller and ‘Anuta’ moved at a gentle 1.1 – 1.2 knots sideways in the direction we wanted to go until dawn, while we tried to sleep in our wet cabins, at 6am we hoisted the stormsail again, we had another 22Nm to go to Garove waypoint and we wanted to get there as soon as we could.
With the following wind from the West we were sailing at 5-6 knots with rain as well as waves making everything and everyone very wet. By 10.30 the waves were huge, the wind around force 7 gusting 8 and we were getting near the waypoint, which I had set about 2Nm SSW of the island, thick rainclouds were making visibility terrible and we could not see the island.
As we drew close to the waypoint still no land in sight, so I asked Peter to get me a new waypoint right in the entrance to the crater lake off his computer chart, as my paper chart was rather a small scale. As I entered the waypoint into the GPS, to my horror I found we were 9Nm South of where I thought we should be, I must have made a mistake with my waypoint latitude, what now? Would we have to bypass Garove altogether and face another day or more in these storm conditions? What would Klaus do if we did not turn up, we could not reach him on the VHF? To make the harbour we would have to take the wind on the beam, would she be able to sail like this in these huge seas? Matt encouraged me to try, so we did.
Here is where ‘Anuta’ showed us once again what she was capable of. Under tiny stormsail she ploughed on taking the wind forward of the beam, so we could make track for the harbour entrance (including about 15-20 degrees leeway and drift). The next problem was how to get in, for the wind started to head us as we drew close to the island. Two canoes, without outriggers, came paddling out, handling the big seas beautifully. The half naked men inside them were also beautiful and savage looking, but in fact friendly and giving us advise to head for the NW side of the entrance.
In order to be able to manoeuvre into the harbour entrance we needed more sail and a mizzen for tacking, so a fast sail change was required as soon as we had some wind shelter close inshore. In 5 minutes the storm sail was dropped, the small mainsail hoisted and the storm sail set as mizzen, my crew excelled themselves as we were drifting close to the rocky shore. Now some tricky tacking, close to a rocky islet with a ‘Cross’ on it, then two more tacks and we were in the sheltered NW corner under the mission church. Using the mizzen as ‘wind rudder’ she never missed a tack. The canoe men caught up with us and helped us lay out a second anchor close inshore, as usual the bottom dropped off steeply, making anchoring difficult.
Soon the decks looked like a market stall with clothes, mattresses and blankets draped everywhere. Then to our surprise, two hours later, ‘Lapita Tikopia’ appeared from round the headland, motoring with the dinghy between her bows, we had not been able to make VHF contact with them for over 36 hours.
Garove is very remote as it is quite a distance from mainland New Guinea, the people live in simple, small huts on stilts made of wood and thatching, mainly self sufficient for food. The village is nestled in a wooded hollow under the rocky hill on which the mission church is built, with many huts built under the shelter of the cliff face.
What delighted me were the beautiful sleek outrigger canoes, pulled up all along the rocky waterside. The headman, Terence, paddled out in one and I got a close look at the beautiful fixings of the crossbeams and float. These canoes are about 7m (23ft) long and very slim, with two cross-beams placed close together and a sleek outrigger lashed on with U-shaped attachments. Terence explained how it was built by his father, taking approx. 2 weeks, and what woods were used. I was very pleased to find these same canoes in Haddon and Hornell’s ‘Canoes of Oceania’ showing all the same details and names of the parts. Everything was built using natural materials, including the rattan lashings and even the black, blue and white paint. These canoes last about 4-5 years, but many of the small parts and lashings are renewed once a month.
We spent one day in Garove, hoping the wind and seas would go down. The next day ‘Lapita Tikopia’ left first, at about 10, the wind was still gusting strongly, so we on ‘Lapita Anuta’ prepared the boat carefully, fitted extra hatch ties, ate some lunch and left early in the afternoon under stormsail.
The waves were again rough outside and the wind strong. Then “bang”, the starboard rudder was loose, the figure-8 knot (which I had made new as the rope had chafed during the gale) had slipped off the end of the rope (lesson: leave a longer tail, don’t cut off the old knot). We had to cut the tie holding the tillerbar to get the tiller out quickly, so Matt could steer with the port rudder. Meantime we were heading straight for the shore!! Fortunately Matt was able to hold course with just one steering paddle, even in the large following seas. No way we could re-fix the loose paddle in these seas while sailing, so we waited till we came into the lee of the island, lowered the sail and retied the paddle while drifting. Another lesson in how to handle the boat!
Over the next two days, on our way to Watom Island, off the North of the Gazelle Peninsula, the wind and seas slowly decreased and the last night had calm seas under a full moon.
Watom Island was where the first Lapita pottery shards were found by the German missionary Otto Meyer in 1911, so a significant stop on our Lapita Voyage. ‘Lapita Tikopia’ had people on board who needed to catch a plane so Klaus decided to continue straight to Rabaul.
Watom was a friendly little island, where our guide was called Pentecost, who knew all about the Lapita finds and the various archaeological digs that had taken place. The anchorage was right in front of the original site of the finds.
I again was fascinated by the canoes, different in shape from the previous two islands. I looked at them and said: “These have a hull shape like the Samoan canoes, with a kind of ‘Clipper’ bow.” Out came ‘Canoes of Oceania’ and to my gratification there was a description, by Otto Meyer himself, written in 1911, of how a new canoe shape had been introduced from Samoa!! Talking to the various canoe men, the names for the canoe parts are also still the same as in 1911.
Our final sail test was when we sailed into Rabaul. Rabaul lies on the shore of a large natural harbour, once the ‘Pearl of the Western Pacific’, now a grey ash heap under the billowing ash clouds that continuously spew out of the very active volcano.
We had to circle East and South round the headland with the volcano, dodging under the edge of the ash cloud, then we had to head back North West into the large harbour, dead against the NW wind. The wind was nice and steady, a force 3-4, the sea smooth with just small waves, we were sailing under large mainsail and small mizzen, an ideal setting for a test of windward performance.
With compass and GPS I plotted every tack; the boat sailed at an average of 4.1 knots making 100 degrees between tacks on the compass. When plotted on the chart the angle between tacks was 120 degrees, this meant we were making 10 degrees leeway as I don’t think there was any current. The wind was very steady, every tack on the same compass course, so a perfect test. For a ‘Stone Age’ boat with just 60cm draft and no keels or boards, with self-made ethnic design sails on bamboo spars, I think this was a remarkable performance and proves that Pacific double canoes in the past could have sailed to windward.
On the little pontoon by the yachtclub stood James and Rudy waving us to the best place to anchor. Time to go ashore for a cold beer.
- Hanneke Boon