Finally the end of the 900Nm long second leg of Lapita Voyage was reached when we dropped anchor at 2am in the morning on Christmas Eve in the smelly harbour of Jayapura. We did a rather neat entry under sail in the dark and rain and felt pleased with ourselves, we had a drink of rum punch to celebrate Christmas and our arrival, but we were exhausted.
It had been 3 weeks of hard sailing since we crossed the Equator off the West coast of Halmahera in Indonesia, too much sailing and not enough time to relax ashore. We anchored a few times in pretty anchorages, but had to leave again the next morning without time to explore the shore. It was difficult anchoring on the steep coral ledges that surround islands, too shallow close to shore, too deep just 20m further out, so the only way was to anchor parallel to the shore with fore and aft anchors hooked into the coral slope at about 6-8m and hope there is no strong onshore wind in the night, or the tide dropping and one hull scraping the coral!!
There was one idyllic bay with white sand beach at the South end of Gebe Island, the last island off the South East end of Halmahere, but this beautiful place was spoiled by the visit of an intrusive policeman and his mates, who we found it hard to get rid of. He spoke no English at all, but was still capable of making us all feel thoroughly uncomfortable. This was the time that Christoph on the other boat got ill with a bladder complaint, that turned serious as time passed.
After Gebe we had to negotiate Dampier Strait at the NW end of the head of New Guinea. We had no tidal information and were faced with contrary currents in the narrows. Later we heard the times the current would be in our favour and made use of this.
On the North side of Dampier Strait is the small island of Kri, here we stopped for one day (9th December) at a luxury Dive Resort, run by a nice Dutchman called Max, and enjoyed, just briefly, some shore luxuries and nice meals. Unfortunately the anchorage (mooring) was in a tiny lagoon where the surf rolled in and made sleeping aboard very uncomfortable. In Kri the two Christophs left us, one was too ill to continue and the other needed to catch his plane on time. There were now just three crew on each boat. On Anuta this was James, myself and Eve, a German journalist writing for ‘Stern’ magazine about women aboard.
We now faced a long distance without stopping, 300Nm to Biak Island, where three new crew would come to meet the boats (rather than wait in Jayapura) and one would need to leave. We were still well behind schedule so could not afford more stops and anyway, there isn’t much to stop at along this coast. This was a hard sail taking 6 days, with as first challenge a short (4 hour) gale in the night, probably about force 7, along the coast off the ‘head’ of New Guinea, running before the wind under stormsail, where James and I both steered, one on each tiller as one rudder did not give enough steerage in the breaking following seas. The next day I made a sea anchor from two nesting rattan Filipino baskets, so if we are ever caught out like this again we can keep her stern to the waves. A few days later I also fitted a tillerbar, connecting the two rudders, which does make steering more powerful.
By sunset the next day we suddenly got a huge swell with little to no wind. With no wind we loose steerage and the boat then naturally lies beam on to the seas, so you can imagine lolloping about for hours in huge beam seas going nowhere. Later we discovered there had been a cyclone near Guam, North of the Equator and this swell was probably the result of this. Then some more strong wind in the night and the inevitable sail changes. Eve was feeling sick, but she always came to help me do the sails while James steered. Next morning back to the swell and no wind, then cloud and pouring rain, will this ever be a nice sailing voyage?
The last three days more of the same, clouds and rain to no wind and very hot. The first 4 days we averaged 68, 73, 72 and 53 Nm per 24 hours, but on day 5 we made just 16 Nm, due to total lack of wind, and what wind there was, was against us. We were looking at the Western end of Biak Island all day, but could not get there. ‘Lapita Tikopia’ had been a bit luckier and was about 8-10Nm ahead of us, they decided to use the dinghy motor to try to get into the village of Korido before nightfall, so Gisela could get to her aeroplane on time, she just made it!!
We carried on through the night and finally had a beautiful breeze, self-steering on a flat sea, this was more like it. About 3-4 Nm from the village I could not see it, as there were hardly any shore lights, but could hear it and pinpoint its position on sound. Somehow they had disco music on loud at 4.30 in the morning! We arrived in Korido village early in the morning, just as the clouds opened with more pouring rain.
A couple of days in the nice little village of Korido did something to get over the overdose of hard sailing, but it was not long enough. We sailed on to the port of Biak to buy supplies and unknowingly anchored off the Naval base (again in the dark). The naval officers were nice and helpful and gave us a lift to town in their truck, but we again had to go through the usual endless Indonesian paperwork.
The final long stretch to Jayapura, another 300Nm, took us 4 days. One day in this typical Indonesian town was enough (we did have a little Christmas Eve party ashore), we cleared customs and left on Christmas Day for Wewak in Papua New Guinea, where we hope to find nicer surroundings and some peace for a rest!?
- Hanneke Boon