Story and pictures copyright © 1999 Julia Hazel
Jeshan goes to PNG - Page 2
August-October 1999

Wednesday, August 25, 1999

Anchored at Bwagaoia at the southern end of Misima Island now, but let me pick up the story from page 1 when I left the windswept isolation of Liji Liji Bay.
In between curtains of rain the slopes of Sudest gleamed lush and green, but the mountain peaks remained hidden in cloud. And the reef waters showed flashes of turquoise in rare patches of sunlight, only to be transformed into rumpled grey streaked with whitecaps as the next squall came through.

Further north I had glimpses of small groups of thatched houses, too few to describe as villages, barely hamlets. The forest was interrupted here and there with grassy patches and small areas cleared for food gardens. But fringing reefs kept us too far off to see much detail.

Although you can sail inside the main barrier reef there are a lot of scattered reefs along the way, so I had set off very nervously. And got more so each time another squall blotted out all visibility. This was usually just as we got near to the next bunch of obstacles!

In better weather it would have been nice to investigate potential anchorages along the way. As it was, poor visibility ruled that out. All likely places were tucked in between and behind assorted reefs, and as far as I'm concerned it's just too difficult and dangerous to go poking about amongst uncharted shoals when you can't see them in time to dodge them.

Conditions were not exactly encouraging for photography, so there are no pics of this part of the trip. Sorry.

Instead it was a long and nail-biting sail all the way up the coast of Sudest and across to the southern end of the next island, Pana Tinani. Several times I had to down sails and wait for a rain squall to pass in order to see anything ahead. It was too gusty even for a cup of coffee en route - how the crew complained again!

I had picked Pana Tinani as our destination because it has a nice big bay (Hata Lawi Bay) with its reefs most considerately confined to the edges -- something of an exception in these parts. What a pleasure to anchor in the late afternoon in almost smooth water, and hear bird calls all around. No doubt our previous surroundings also had birds in the forest, but distant land sounds were drowned out by wind and waves.

Next morning seemed to be less windy with a few patches of blue sky, quite a novel sight. Full of optimism I started on a long overdue cleanup, putting stuff out on deck to dry before dismantling one of the winches which had started to slip under load.

No sooner had I spread out tools and winch parts than the rain came. And the wind. Toss all the clothes and bunk cushions below. Watch out -- don't lose vital winch bits. Quickly re-assemble the winch before something goes missing. Back to the wet and salty cabin. At least I can make a cup of coffee...

OOOOPS! Violent gusts bounce off the hills and tip Jeshan this way and that. Hang on to that coffee cup!

From there it was on to Gigila, a small island further along the Calvados chain. The anchorage turned out to be more coral cluttered and also very much disturbed by sudden gusts off the surrounding hills. By now it was getting harder to ignore the "what the !#@$%!%% am I doing here" thoughts!

Next morning the winds were at last easing, and people came out in log canoes, keen to trade local produce. The only complication was that they had very little produce to offer, their island being small and steep with poor soil and hardly any permanent water. But they had a long "shopping list" of things they would like: clothes, fish hooks and line, rice, sugar, soap and laundry powder, tobacco, hand tools, any magazines with pictures, cassette tapes, chewing gum, pens, pencils, exercise books...

Everyone was pleasant and friendly -- and in fact happy to settle for whatever was available. And I was glad to get some fresh stuff, in this case a small pawpaw, a few bananas and two "bush chicken" eggs (maybe scrub turkeys, judging by the size of the eggs), in exchange for ballpoint pens and rice. They were also quite keen just to sit and look at the boat and talk, some speaking fairly good English and then relaying my answers in the local language to the others.

A day later in came a Canadian yacht, Canik. A pleasant surprise, the first yacht I had seen since leaving Cairns. Lovely people aboard, and together we went for a very nice walk right around the small island of Gigila the next morning.

Unfortunately I had to leave them there and move on the next day, since I had to get to the Customs port on Misima island in order to clear into the country, and the weather at last seemed better. Canik had already cleared in, a few weeks earlier, so they were taking it easy, pottering about the Calvados islands and maybe heading down to Rossel Island. I hope I will see them again somewhere near by.

[But as things turned out, I went on northwards later, and didn't see them at all. If any of the Canik crew get to read this, please drop me an email sometime - see contact info please.]
The route to Misima was out through a narrow pass in the surrounding reef, where strong currents cause steep breaking waves even in moderate weather. And like everywhere around here, it is a matter of "eyeball navigation". No beacons or buoys or any such luxuries. It was a relief to get through quite early in the day, and have open water the rest of the way. Especially as the weather soon went back to what has been the norm for the past couple of weeks -- overcast and squally.

That was Monday, and we were anchored by mid afternoon in Bwagaoia Harbour. We even got cleared the same afternoon -- amazing good fortune in a place were time ticks at a very different pace to most of the world.

In case the official title of 'Harbour' gives the wrong impression, I should say that this is just a tiny, muddy bite out of the reef with space for a few small vessels to anchor. There are mangroves on one side, scraggly palms at the end, and some ramshackle jetties on the other side where local launches and canoes tie up.

Yesterday, after another attempt to dry out damp stuff (foiled yet again by rain squalls arriving just after I hung everything out) I went to have a look around ashore.

Behind the jetties are a few fibro and corrugated iron buildings, and when you skip and hop across the muddy, pot-holed expanse that is used as a road, you find these buildings comprise the "town centre", though you could hardly call it that.

There are three small trade stores, each selling about the same range of general goods, and a tiny market which at the time had little besides betel nuts and a few scrawny yams. There's a post office (closed when I got there), a bank housed in a kind of converted shipping container on a rotting timber platform (also closed just before I got there) and a bakery (open but bread not yet baked). Two public phones too, but neither works.

Perhaps a good omen, today has actually been sunny since dawn -- almost too good to be true! I will try "the town" again today and see if I have better luck - most of all with the bank where I need to exchange Aussie dollars for PNG kina in order to pay the clearance fee and buy fresh fruit and veggies, if I can find any. Time to paddle ashore now and see.

Next: Jeshan goes to PNG - Page 3

Story and pictures copyright © 1999 Julia Hazel

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