Monday, 21 October 2013

More about the Louisiade trip....

An early night time view of some of the yachts in the rally fleet.  We were lucky with the moon in both our Coral Sea crossings ... we had an almost full moon both times.  The moon became full during the first week of the rally so the nights were even more beautiful than we expected.

We entered the Louisiade Archipelago through the Jomard passage on the 5th day out from Yorkey's Knob marina in Cairns.  The Jomard Passage or Channel is a narrow strait that connects the Solomon Sea with the Coral Sea.  It is also the route that many many huge ships take in their journey from China & Japan to Australia and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere.

As we approached the channel the AIS - a great piece of marine kit that sends and receives signals from ships and other vessels equipped with the same - was showing us ships coming through about every 30-40 minutes.  From the vantage point of our little boat it seemed like we were headed for a super highway of marine leviathans!  On several occasions the AIS was flashing up the message COLLISION WARNING!.  And it looks just like that!  All capital letters and exclamation point flashing off and on.  Scares the hell out of you.  But in reality its just the track of the ships as they navigate the narrow channel and then they quickly steer away towards their destination.  We had to cross the channel between ships and then go up one side of it to an entrance that would lead us toward the Duchateau Islands free of reefs.  We motored like crazy to try and get there before dark and arrived just after the sun had set.  That night we missed the big welcoming crayfish BBQ on the beach.  It was blowing hard, we couldn't see anything much on arrival and I must say after 5 days at sea we all looked and felt a little tired and disappointed.

But, as usually happens, after a great night's sleep we woke up to this view (above pictures).  A beautiful calm day welcomed us and - you can't see it because the picture doesn't do the scene justice - a vista of turquoise water, islands and reef fringes as far as you can see.

Our first sighting of a Sailau - the traditional sailing vessels, and in most cases the only transportation, in the Louisiades Islands.

As the three of us - me, George and Catherine - stood on the deck "Ohhing" and "Aaaing" at the view we sighted our first Sailau sailing vessel as it passed near by.  These sailing boats are made of dugout canoe and outrigger tied together with whatever remnant of fabric can be stitched together to make a sail.  And they go FAST!

We were only there for a few minutes before the 7:30 radio sked came on with the now familiar and welcome words, "Louisiades Rally Fleet, Louisiades Rally Fleet".  Guy Chester, the creator and organiser of the Rally, made contact with everyone at 0730 every morning and 1830 every afternoon - regardless if you were at sea or sitting next to him at an anchorage.

I can't say enough good and wonderful things about Guy and his partner Narelle.  They ran a great program and worked their butts off for all the participating yachts as well as the locals on shore.  We were welcomed with open arms by so many and treated to events they must have planned for months.  The local people shared their food and families with us and the reason it all went so smoothly was Guy's dedication and professionalism.

So with the first morning's radio sked came instructions on how to move to the next rest now for us.  We were moving to Panasia Lagoon not too far away but it would be tricky going in through the reef to the lagoon.  Everyone was told to up anchor at 10:30 and move quick smart to be ready to move into the lagoon when called on.  Guy arranged for two boats that had participated in the rally the year before to go in with him and then get in their dingys and act as pivot points on the trip in through the reefs for the uninitiated.

All the yachts lining up to start to make the passage in through the reef to Panasia.
We needed the sun to see the reefs well and, of course, a rain cloud came up as it was getting nearer our turn to make the turn and run the gauntlet of the entrance.

We made it in safe and sound and the view from our boat was just what we came for - breathtaking!
The people in the little village of Panasia were so welcoming ... we had a great time over 3 days here.

While in Panasia we got to know the other people on the rally so much more and did some exciting adventures!  Tomorrow I'll tell you about the skull cave, the limestone cave and the sailau races on Panapompom.

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