The Louisiades Archipelago

Sep 14, 2013| 0 Comment

It is decided:  We are going to the Louisiades Archipelago.  Never heard of the Louisiades Archipelago?  Not to worry, for not many people have and even fewer have been there.  Apart from the determined yacht, not many tourists set their sights on this remote section of the Pacific.  Peopled mostly by small self-sufficient villages living barely on the edge of subsistence, little in the way of visitor accommodations or support is offered.  Isolated, seldom visited and about as untouched by the developed world as possible, we are headed into a true Pacific Paradise of blue lagoons, gorgeous beaches, friendly locals and colorful coral reefs — or so we have read and now do so hope.


So where is the Louisiades Archipelago?  They are located about 100 nautical miles southeast of the mainland of Papua New Guinea or about 415 miles from Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. The Louisiades Archipelago is officially part of Papua New Guinea.  For us aboard Avante, we will be leaving from Yorkeys Knob, and it will require a passage of approximately 500 nautical miles northeast to get there or about 3 days of sailing.

And what is the Louisiades Archipelago?  As the name implies, they are a group of ten large volcanic islands and about 90 small coral islands.  A quick study of the charts shows the area well populated with coral reefs.  The Captain well knows that these will offer fantastic underwater exploration for the swimmer and challenging navigation for the boat.  “Fiji,” he murmurs.  This will be just like the vigilant, cautious motoring into and out of lagoons that we did in Fiji.

Part of the reason, the Louisiades see so few visitors is that in order to get there, one must first clear customs at Port Moresby on mainland Papua New Guinea (PNG) and then sail on over or fly on a questionable island plane to the little town of Misima in the Louisiades.  The city of Port Moresby, unfortunately, is not the safest place to visit.  Think walking around downtown Detroit at 2:00 in the morning on a very dark night.  We are avoiding this visit to Port Moresby by joining a Rally where part of our $1,000 entry fee goes to paying for PNG Customs officials to come over from the mainland to meet our little fleet of boats.  We will then be cleared into and out of PNG right there in the Louisiades.  We will never set foot or keel in Port Moresby, and that is fine with us.

Friday, August 30th – After an all too short 2 months in Telluride, we are back again aboard Avante in her berth in the Breakwater Marina, Townsville, Australia.  We lug, haul and heave onto Avante the almost 200 pounds of boat parts and supplies we have brought over from the States.  We are old hands at this by now, but after a trip of over 29 hours, we are tired and feeling more than a little grubby and travel-worn.  The First Mate eyes the bed with longing, but a quick splash of water on the face is all she gets.  There’s work to do, and we set to it.  Absolutely amazingly, we set a record and are motoring out the harbor in 3 days! 

Tuesday, September 3rd – Catching the high tide, we motor out of Breakwater Marina at 0900 headed to Magnetic Island, so named by Captain Cook because the island did disturb his compass.  As we pass Nellie Bay, our radio is abuzz with boats announcing their departure from the narrow entrance of the marina.  A race is about to start, and The First Mate, intrepid sailor that she is, is glad that it is them racing in these 30-knot winds and not her.  Shortly, we round the southeast corner of the island to seek the sheltering anchorage of Horseshoe Bay, but to our dismay, it is not at all sheltering.  The winds whistle around the corner and over the hilltops churning up seas and boats.  With no place else to go within a reasonable distance, we drop anchor with about 25 other boats. 

All thoughts of launching the dinghy to head ashore are squashed.  Attempting to lift the dinghy off the bow of the boat would be like trying to fly a 150-pound kite, and even if we did manage to get dinghy into the water, it would have been a wet, wild ride.  Disgusted, The First Mate sticks on a seasickness patch.  She had felt queazy on the ride over but fully expected that in the “calmer” anchorage they were going to she would be fine, and she would have been just fine if the anchorage had been calmer!  So starts her sailing adventure this season.  Some sailor!

We are headed to Yorkeys Knob Marina where all Rally boats are supposed to be gathered by September 7th.  It will take us 4 days of island-hopping to get there.  The distance between anchorages is not so far.  We should arrive in plenty of time each day to launch the dinghy for some exploring after we anchor, but our plans are dashed as winds continue well into the 20‘s with double-reefed sailing each day.  That’s fine.  Sailboats like wind, but the anchorages are not sheltered enough to induce us to launch the dinghy.  Rain soon plagues us, too.  Orpheus Island to Dunk Island to Fitzroy Island – wind and rocking anchorages.  Fitzroy Island is a bit quieter.  With several trails to hike and a welcoming resort, we would have liked to head ashore, but rain keeps us cooped up on the boat.   We are so glad that this is not our first bit of traveling around the islands off the coast of Australia.  Since our arrival on these shores last October, we have had the opportunity and good weather to do some great island exploring.  If not, this would have been a disappointing few days.


Saturday, September 7th – Green shallow water, as we expected, awaits our arrival at Yorkeys Knob.  We have to time our entry into the harbor with the high tide and even then, have just a little over 9 feet below us giving us just inches before hitting the mud.  We ease into the harbor grateful for those few extra inches below our keel.  No problem! 


The berth assigned us will not be free until Monday so we are told to tie-up to the fuel dock until then.  Our friends from our sister ship, Salacia, are there to give us a helping hand with the ropes.  It is great to see Stephen, Ron, Dian and Ross who will be joining us on this Rally.  It’s a bit rare for two beautiful dark blue J/160’s to be cruising the South Pacific together.  What a treat!

Weather permitting, the Rally is planning to set sail on Saturday, Sept. 14th.  In between arrival and departure, there are all the last minute details of readying a boat and crew for a passage, but what we must prepare for is so much more than just this 500-nm passage.  Once we arrive in the Louisiades, we can expect nothing in the way of stores or groceries or any kind of support.  We will be on our own.  For The First Mate, that means provisioning for 7 weeks with everything from soup to nuts and in between.  For The Captain, that means the boat must be in tip top shape as well as fully supplied with replacement parts.   We are both a bit stressed.  There is so much to do, but we are in good company.  19 other boats are in this Rally, and all are scurrying around getting ready.  This reminds us of the preparations for setting sail on the first leg of our trip across the Pacific from Puerto Vallarta.

The Rally to the Louisiades is the brainchild of Guy Chester who has been running it for a number of years.  He has established relations with various communities in the Louisiades and has seen that such donated goods such as school materials, medical supplies, a water ambulance, generators, solar panels, water tanks and much more have made it to various villages.  His supporters are widespread, but he is honest with every boat that joins his rally.  Our purpose in his Rally is to donate and help the people whom he has befriended in the Louisiades.  That is fine with us, for we have always followed a course of giving back to the communities as much as we are able to out here in the Pacific.  Every participant we talk to supports the wider purpose of the Rally, but each boat is also going out there to explore and adventure on its own.  The dream of a quiet anchorage off a native village in a blue, blue lagoon — all alone — is in everyone’s mind.  20 boats in one spot does not equate to any part of that dream.  We know we are going to go our own way at times, and we know we are not going to do everything with the Rally.  We’ll see what Guy says — for now, we are going with the flow.

What does “going with the flow” mean?  First:  Guy has amassed an incredible amount of stuff to bring to the Louisiades, and, of course, his boat alone cannot take it all.  Every rally boat is expected to take something.  We on Avante, because we do have space and can take the weight, have 7 large, heavy-duty bags of ropes and books.  Our already over-loaded aft cabins are filled to bursting.  What will PNG customs say?  Will we all be impounded or assessed importation fees?  “Not to worry,” Guy says.  Though he is still working the red tape out with an aggressively waffling PNG Customs, he says all will be fine by the time we clear in — or so we hope. 

Second:  Every rally boat is to attend mandatory seminars on such topics as boat safety, navigation, medical safety, weather, facts about and etiquette around the islands, etc.  Several boats in the Rally have never made a passage of this kind, and they can definitely benefit from these talks. 

Even The First Mate with her 30,000+ nautical miles of sailing has picked up some good ideas and thoughts, but for The Captain with his level of experience and the amount of work remaining to be done on the boat, these lectures could be condensed into an hour and no more.  Yet, he is surprisingly indulgent, at least by the standards The First Mate has been accustomed to after 43 years of marital accord.  He acknowledges that setting up these seminars as mandatory is the only way Guy can make sure that those who really need the information get it. 

Guy, of course, is not responsible for any boat but his own, but he does want to make sure the novices in the group know what they are getting into and how best to be prepared.  There is always a mishap on any Rally.  Boats have to turn back for some mechanical reason.  Some don’t make it at all.  One may end up on a reef.  One may lose a mast.  Water gets in the fuel tank.  A lacerated finger, a broken bone … things happen out there.  There is no medi-vac, and there are no chandleries. 

Third, we are all expected to leave at the same time and to take the exit route through  Grafton Passage out through the Great Barrier Reef.  We are to report in on the daily radio skeds with our location and, once in the Louisiades, with our intentions for the day.  That makes sense to us and is what we have done with other rallies or even when traveling informally with other boats.

A 1030 start on Saturday is planned. Avante, Salacia and a few other boats are all ready upsetting things  — not intentionally, heaven forbid, but because at that hour in the morning, we are all depth challenged.  The tide is too low for us to do anything but sit in the mud in our berths.  A glance at the depth meter at low tide showing us in 7 feet of water, or with the keel well sunk into the soft mud, fully confirms that we are not going anywhere at anytime near low tide.

Our choice is to either leave at 0600 in the morning or wait until 1430 in the afternoon.  To The First Mate’s immense relief, The Captain says that an afternoon start works for him.  We’ll have a relaxed morning, an eggs and rashers breakfast and leave with the rising tide.  No one doubts that we wouldn’t be overtaking most of the fleet by the time we get there anyway, and though THIS IS NOT A RACE, The Captain does enjoy passing boats along the way.

Friday, September 13th – 1430 – All skippers meet with Guy for a final weather briefing.  All agree that, unless there is a drastic overnight change, we will be off in the morning, for the weather looks to be quite favorable for our passage.  Guy states that it is one of the best weather windows he has seen in years.  15 – 20-knot winds.  Quite manageable, though The First Mate does wish the winds were at least abeam instead of right on the nose.  Maybe the seas will lay down, hopes she.  Well, all passage food is made and only needs to be dished out and nuked, and her seasickness patch is on her desk waiting to be stuck on tomorrow morning. 


At 1500, we all troop outside to the front steps of the club for a group photo. 


After that, each boat and crew are called up to clear out with Customs.  One of the benefits of joining a Rally is that they usually organize with Customs for them to come to us rather than us to go to them.  That certainly makes life easier.  All the paperwork had been done in advance, and all goes impressively quickly and smoothly. 

A final check with Guy is required to make sure every boat is ready and that every skipper is clear on the route to take and knows the nearest port of calls to veer off to in an emergency.


We are back on the boat by 1630 enjoying an “illegal” beer from our duty free store, for now that we have cleared customs, such stuff is supposed to be locked up until one is off shore.

Both of us work quietly at final tasks.  The Captain on some paperwork and chart details.  The First Mate on a last stowing of fruit and veggies bought this morning.  Assessing everything they have purchased and hoarded away, she determines that there is enough on board to last 6 months, not 6 weeks!  Always there is one more thing to add on.  Who knows?  We may need it, and for sure, we can’t get it out there!  Talking to the other boats, she knows she is not the only packrat in the group.  This fleet is going to wallow out to sea, not sail!

1830 – We are back at the club for a final round of drinks and snacks before we all take off tomorrow.  There’s an eager excitement in the air.  We are as ready as we are going to be.  Tomorrow we are off!  We enjoy a final dinner at the club with our friends on Salacia who will be leaving with the morning high tide at 0600.  We are waiting out the low tide to leave with the rising tide at 1430.  They joke that they will have drinks and dinner waiting for us when we finally get there.

We have been told to expect little to no internet access for the whole time we are in the Louisiades so it is uncertain if there will be follow up blogs until we return to Oz.  Do take a look at to see what is planned for us and to learn a bit more about the island themselves.  Adventures we will certainly have to tell about at some point!

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