Across the equator from PNG

Sat 20 Dec 2003 14:36
21st December 2003. From just north of the equator, en route for Micronesia.

Dear All,

You'll hopefully be pleased to hear that the native drumming that haunted
our arrival at Pinipel in the Green Islands transpired to be nothing more
ungodly than Kundu drum rehearsals for the village school end-of-term
celebrations. These were due to take place a couple of days later and would
have offered the full eclectic range of traditional dancing, biblical
re-enactments and feasting, although on this occasion we were obliged to
turn the invitation down. Our worries about explaining an inordinately
lengthy journey to a suspicious customs officer meant we wanted to keep
moving and we were hoping to explore the Feni Islands before clearing in at
Lihir Island (all of these places are the island specks off the north east
coast of New Ireland, by the way). We therefore didn't even go ashore in the
Green Islands and having patched up the genoa leech cord, scrubbed the weedy
waterline that had been slowing our motoring, and entertained a few of these
isolated islanders on board, we passed back through the lagoon entrance the
next day.

The Feni Islands comprise the two islands of Ambitle and Babase, both of
volcanic origin. We arrived at the stunning anchorage behind St. John's
Island just before dark and found our way in between the heavy surf on the
fringing reefs. We'd heard from the two Canadian cyclists in Gizo that
Ambitle had plenty of volcanic activity, including springs emerging at
snorkelling depths among the coral reefs, so we were keen to see whatever we
could of the island. We were entertained well right from the start and
traded soap and hooks for lobster, a fresh (but thankfully plucked and
drawn) chicken and four pineapples. We had a well needed wash in the nearby
stream, marvelling once again at the stunning bathroom scenery and not
wanting to compare it to the mouldy ceilings of home.

The 'ring road' for the islands two tractors would have lead us towards the
hot springs but we decided to take Clement (the man with the chicken) down
the coast on Kokiri and find the anchorage that he talked of nearer to them.
The Admiralty pilot mentions an anchorage here but gives no details as to
how to find it. We rounded the poorly charted coastal reef where the
submarine hot springs were, unable to stop because of the swells and the
lack of a dinghy, and stopped at a well protected bay. The walk through the
jungle up to the springs was fascinating and we sorely needed to stretch our
legs after the passage up from Gizo. We crossed and re-crossed a river that
got hotter and hotter and eventually arrived among a great complex of
steaming pools, bubbling puddles and erupting geysers. Evidently this was
where a lot of local cooking was also done, which I guess saves on firewood.

As there was a slight breeze we let that afternoon and headed (motoring
mainly) for Lihir Island where the new gold mine has been deemed worthy of a
customs officer and so become a Port of Entry. Lihir was unlike any other
place that we have seen on this trip so far, excepting perhaps the oil
refinery at Whangarei. The open cast mine workings fill an ancient volcanic
crater that is open to the sea and the underground workings are apparently
even more extensive. The large plant for separating and refining the gold is
made more wondrous by the streaming fumaroles that still surround the
crater. We were not welcomed by mine security personnel when we tried to use
their small boat harbour but found good anchorage just up the coast in
Londolovit Bay. Clearing in presented no problems and Cyril, the customs
officer, did not even raise an eyebrow above his wrap-around shades
regarding our eight day passage from Gizo. The mine has changed the face and
feel of the island over the last five years, removing and even obliterating
the traditional subsistence culture and replacing it with two huge air
conditioned but weevil-ridden supermarkets. The islanders have managed to
squander the initial dividends given to them, largely on new cars and car
accidents apparently, and now work as security guards on a 12 hour a day, 7
day a week, six week on two week off basis, for very little money. Much
immigration from other mines around PNG and Bougainville has brought people
in and so the place does have a backwardly cosmopolitan feel about it. One
worries about how the place will feel when the mine here closes after its
expected forty year lifespan. The Tabar Islands have a mine under
construction and the beautiful and unspoilt Feni Islands are already
discussing whether they will open up their gold deposits to the mining
company as well. The islanders are torn and we can only hope they get some
sensible advice rather just money waved in front of their noses.

The engineering facilities are however excellent and so another brief bout
of refrigeration fixing ensued, to add to the previous saga. However, after
only one cold beer and fortunately before a trip the freezer section of the
supermarket, a host of leaks in the 'repaired' condenser and a
crossed-thread on one of the expansion valves meant that the system was in
pieces again. Having borrowed all the equipment from one of the engineering
shops and gone alongside the primitive wharf to get 240V to run the vacuum
pump, we eventually gave in at 0530 and will now investigate getting some
new parts!

Eager to get on after this unrefreshing stop back in civilization we set off
round to the other side of the island in what we hoped was to be a
reasonable breeze. Yet again however, the breeze soon died and we motored
close along the coast investigating the interesting volcanic rock formations
and considering what we'd do to find more wind. A day of heavy ran followed
and with the water tanks at last full we decided that trade winds were the
answer and that we'd sail back to Londolovit, clear out of PNG without our
planned stop at Kavieng in New Ireland, head up to Micronesia in time for

And so here we are, now definitely in the wind. Since leaving Lihir we have
made our best daily runs clocking up over 150 miles per day, skirting an
almost-unheard-of low pressure system sitting just north of the equator. The
wind has been reasonably constant from the WSW with regular squalls offering
very heavy rain and 30 knots plus. We surged across the line yesterday
afternoon and celebrated with early drinks all round (a small glass of wine
each (Neptune included) as our stocks aren't well set for the festive
period). We passed close to Kapingamarangi Atoll but are now aiming for
Nukuoro Atoll which is described as a delightful friendly Polynesian island
and sounds an ideal place to spend Christmas.

We plan to clear into the Federated States of Micronesia at Chuuk between
Christmas and New Year, spend New Year somewhere suitable and find a lovely
spot for some diving on Katharine's birthday. Then still aiming to make it
to Yap to depart for the Philippines around third week in Jan.

We Hope You All Have a Very Very Happy Warm and Cosy Christmas with All Your
Families and Friends and We Will Be Thinking Of You All.

Take Care everyone,

Lots and Lots of Love to One and All,

Peter & Katharine