Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Louisiades Rally – Part 1 (17th – 24thSeptember)

Currently sitting at the fuel dock at the Breakwater Marina in Townsville waiting for customs clearance and quarantine - yes we are flying a yellow flag.

Wow what an adventure we have had in the Louisiades.  Unfortunately I don't think I can come close to describing what an amazing place it is and the wonderful people of the Louisiades but we will give it a go to at least let you know what we have been up to for the last 5 weeks - amazing how quick it went and how reluctant we were to leave and now we can't wait to get back there again.

We have broken the adventure into about 4 parts and will upload it over the next week and will try to fit in as many pictures as we can as a picture is better than all the words.


The Crew Pre-Rally
After the week of food shopping, rally & safety briefings, customs clearance and myriad of other jobs the morning of the rally was finally upon us!  We all met up at the Yorkeys Knob Boat Club for our final weather briefing and confirmation that we are finally going to head on our way.

On Our Way - Grafton Passage
Back to the boat for the very final preparations, let the lines off and finally we are on our way.   It is quite a surreal feeling to be leaving Australia and heading to another country as this is my first time doing a truly blue water ocean crossing (unless you count Tasmania as another country!)  We departed from Yorkeys Knob and head upwind to the Grafton Passage (don’t they know that cruising boats don’t go to weather!).  Once clearing the Grafton Passage we are into the Coral Sea proper.  The weather is fine and the winds fair (approx. 15-20knots SE) with a 2-3mt swell running.  We dined on a lovely chicken curry before settling in for our first night at sea.
The rest of the voyage was pretty uneventful and the time at sea all becomes a bit of a mish mash of events but we all settled in well to the 520nm voyage ahead of us.   One advantage of heading north into the tropics is that the weather gets warmer every day which is pretty nice although the cabin was starting to get quite steamy for the last couple of nights of the trip which was a bit uncomfortable but it did mean that you didn’t mind too much getting up in the wee hours of the morning to do your shift as the conditions were a lot more pleasant on deck than down below.   The course for most of the trip was a cracked reach and the wind varied from 10-25knots so not all bad however, with the short swell the boat did see a lot of green water and to make it a little tough we were pushing into a 1-1.5knot current, which also wanted to take us north, for a fair whack of the trip.  We are now looking forward to what could be a very quick trip home on Sally.  We must give praise to Sally as she did an excellent job on the way over and really could not have performed better.  We have put in our bid for the winning menu at sea which consisted of Lamb Shanks with a Red Wine Jus accompanied by creamy mash and a side of baby peas and corn – we are still waiting for the results!!
Lobster Dinner - Duchateau
 After exactly 4 days we finally arrived in paradise and entered the Louisiades archipelago via the Duchateau Passage at 10.00am on the 21st of September with five boats arriving ahead of us and 7 still at sea.  Our first anchorage is at Duchateau Island and after dropping anchor the first thing we all did was jump in the water for a refreshing swim and bath – please note that the water temp is 27.5oC.   The rest of the arvo we spent sorting out ourselves and the boat as well as a bit of R&R before heading into the beach for drinks and Lobster on the BBQ - not too shabby for our first night!

Track into Pnasia Anchorage!

The BIG Banana
After some discussion the rally group decide to head over to Panasia Island on the 22nd.   The entrance to Panasia is a bit difficult being very narrow with many coral bommies in the lagoon so midday light is essential for a safe entrance so we left from Duchateau at 11.00am to make sure we hit the entrance at 1.00pm.  The rally organisers did an excellent job of leading us into the lagoon and we managed to work our way around the lagoon and eventually dropped the pick in the beautiful Panasia lagoon (see photo below).    You soon find that as soon as you arrive at an anchorage a dug-out or Sailau (sailing canoe) turn up to say hello and see what items you might be interested in for a trade.  The people are incredibly polite & friendly and the kids smiling make your heart melt and we can’t help but want to give them plenty of stuff including the obligatory lollies.  Mark did an excellent trade and we ended up with four lobsters for dinner along with the biggest banana that we have ever seen.
"Hex" at Panasia (Sailau!)
Anchorage at Panasia

Panasia Lagoon
On Friday 23rd we are off in a long boat around to the south side of the island for a walk up to the limestone caves followed by a mumu in the village.  The track up to the caves is a bit rough and rugged and you have to climb up and over a very rickety ladder to get into the caves but we are greeted with an amazing limestone cave and huge pool of crystal clear water – again we can’t help ourselves and are in for a swim.   The Mumu was great although we had quite a bit of trouble identifying the food types that were in the spread but it was lots of fun and again the locals were a joy to be with. 
Limestone Caves - Panasia
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Panasia Welcome
For the trip home in the long boat the weather had turned a bit as there were some rain squalls around so the seas had chopped up quite badly but the sailors all jumped on board with great intrepedation for the trip back.  Robinson (our driver) did warn that it would be a wet trip home and he wasn’t kidding.  Gina and I were in the back of the boat and before we had gone very far at all we were both drenched and encouraged by Robinson to do some bailing as the rear of the long boat was quickly filling up and the drain just wasn’t quite keeping up – our off the beach sailing skills finally were put into action!  Eventually we arrived back at our anchorage and hop into the dinghy for another very wet ride back to the boat. 

After a busy couple of days we are staying on board for a quiet night and will be enjoying Gina’s Tuna Putanesca for dinner.
Little Panasia Village
The action around here never stops and today (Saturday) we are off to Little Panasia Island.  The original plan was to go over in the long boat but as it hasn’t arrived we are going to tackle the crossing in our little zodiac – this was always going to be quite an adventure.  
Skull Caves - Little Panasia
The trip across was pretty smooth apart from getting through a few breakers on the outlying reefs but after negotiating these we arrive safely on the sandy beach of Little Panasia.  There is a small village on Little Panasia and we are made very welcome on our arrival.  As the bay seems quite calm we decide for the first time ever to anchor the little dinghy off the beach instead of dragging it up the sand – could this be a bit mistake???  After a picnic lunch we are taken on an expedition to see the Skull caves.  We have been told that the skulls and bones remaining are that of the rival island which attacked Little Panasia many years ago but the chief was able to overcome them and the remains left at what is now called the skull caves.  The walk was pretty exciting in itself being up and down dale over what was a huge coral bed which is now many metres above sea level. 
Walk to the Skull Caves

Upon arriving back at the village we find that the locals have rescued our little dinghy which had flipped.  We at first thought that it was all OK as the motor started first go but that was about it and we ended up getting a lift back with Buddy & Helen from Desire and Little Sally got a tow back with the Altitude team.  No major harm was done and after a good clean out she is back and running as good as new (well for a bit anyhow!).
Official Welcome Party

Although we have now been in the Louisiades for a few days now tonight is the official welcome party and another Mumu.  It was also time to present some donation items from the rally which were very much appreciated and awards were handed out for the Yorkeys Knob to Duchateau

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