Passage to Kavieng and checking in.

Wed 14 Sep 2016 08:56
Terns hitching a ride out of the Steffen Strait.

The weather gribs told us there’s be no wind, but it was time to move on and it says that most days so we set off for the overnight passage to Kavieng anyway, whilst the thunder rumbled around the horizon. But, as we’ve found often be the case, there was wind, again from behind us, so we poled out the jib and goose-winged the main, with 2 reefs in it so it balanced the jib, and off we shot up the coast thinking that the wind was due to die so we’d better make the most of it. As night fell some Boobies came to check us out. The word that we’re a good place to chill for the night has evidently got around the Booby population because these chaps were clearly looking for a place to stay. They had some trouble though, as the wind was coming from behind us and they had to head into the wind to slow down. This meant the sails were in their way. Most gave up after half an hour or so except one very determined chap who eventually settled on our windex. The windex is a little arrow that sits on the top of the mast and tells us exactly which direction the wind is coming from, which is obviously rather important for a sailing boat. This little chap had landed right on the arrow and was spinning around and around, having to flap his wings frequently just to stay holding on. I thought he’d probably just get dizzy and give up after a while but Phil was worried he’d break it so tried to get him to leave. Phil shouted, blew fog horns, flashed bright lights, waved flags, banged on the mast… in fact did everything known to man to try to get that bird to go but no way was he moving, having landed he was going to stay there as long as he could still hold on. In the end we all became resigned to each other’s company and reached a compromise when the Booby moved a couple of feet and sat on the spinnaker halyard’s crane instead. 

Motion blurred and low light levels but you can see him clinging on as hard as he could!

By the end of the first watch it was clear that we’d get there far too early at the rate we were travelling so we dropped the main completely and half furled the jib. Then, in the early hours of the morning, the wind dropped, as promised, and we came to a complete stop on a silvery smooth sea. We were a good few miles from land, and only 10 miles or so from the entrance to the passage, so we simply drifted for a few hours, at about a knot and a half, happily in the right direction, before starting the engine to motor in when daylight arrived. 

One of the many islands we passed on the way in.

Aren’t charts good things to have? If we hadn’t had one we’d have had no idea which way to go. The Steffen Strait and Nusa Channel take you through a maze of little islands with what look like channels between them, but most are actually blocked by reefs. Thanks to our charts we were able to safely find our way in to the little anchorage next to Nusa Island Retreat, opposite the Government Wharf.  Harlan, from the village on Nusa Island, came out to the boat to greet us and offered to show us where customs were - they have port-to-port clearance in PNG so we have to check in with customs at all big ports and get clearance to go to the next one. We were glad to accept his help and set off to the Government Wharf, where our pilot guide had said one needed to go to check in.

Harlan outside his bachelor pad.

We took the dinghy alongside the wharf and tied up by the pilot boat, well out of the way should any ships arrive, and we asked for the office. We were directed to the port office and, wishing everyone a good day, we asked for customs. We were told to go into an interior office where the Port Officer, she didn’t tell us her name, proceeded to berate us for about 3/4 of an hour. 

It turns out that the customs is no longer at the Government Wharf, it’s now in town. Our crime was coming to the Port Authority grounds without permission (and not wearing hi-vis jackets and steel toe caps) and not having radioed the Port Authority when we entered the port. We apologised, explained that we’d been misinformed, but that wasn’t the end of it. This woman was clearly spitting mad. She must have told us 20 times at least that we should have radioed her, she even called poor Harlan in, who was watching the dinghy for us, and told him off for bringing us there. She described us as “just wandering around PNG without respecting the requirements”, ignoring the fact that we’d got visas and boat clearance from the consulate back in Australia, checked in when we arrived and have been following port-to-port clearance ever since. Ignoring the fact that we anchored in full sight opposite the wharf and came straight away to try to find customs. Eventually she let us go, although Phil had to ask a number of times before being given back our original boat documents that she had taken for photocopying. We were told to report to customs (which was where we were going anyway) and that if they wanted to board our vessel to inform her as she would want to accompany them. She took our card and said she would be sending us an email.

Now we have, as you know, sailed half way around the world. There has been no other port that has been interested in small craft radioing in for permission to enter. The only places we’ve done it, out of curtesy not obligation, have been ports with small river entrances where we might have been an obstruction to larger craft. It’s not unusual for customs to be in the Port Authority, in Fiji and in Tonga they were, for example. I would advise all yachties following us to stay well clear of the Government wharf and go straight to customs in town. Ask for Harlan in the village on Nusa, he’ll show you where it is.

Harlan took us to the dinghy beach near the market, where lines of local boats tie up whilst waiting for the villagers from all the islands to finish marketing. Harlan took our dinghy fuel tank and hose to the market office for safe keeping and led us up the hill. Customs were very friendly, had no desire whatsoever to inspect our boat and checked us in within 5 minutes. All good.

Once we were safely back on Lochmarin we headed ashore again, this time to the Nusa Island Retreat resort for a well earned G&T! Despite all her posturing, she never did send that email…

Looking over the whale bones at the cabins of Nusa Island Retreat…now, where’s the bar?