Back to Home Page

Back to Destinations












 Coral Crunch!
Cruising amongst coral reefs is often dangerous for the unwary. Coral just loves to eat yachts, for something so small and innocuos sounding as a polyp, it has a voracious appetite!!!
Unfortunately the 2008 Rally had its share of tribulations. The yacht Quintessence ran aground on the Duchateau Islands. It was subsequently refloated although had equipment taken by the locals (most was returned but not all) and having been sailed back to Cairns she now needs a major refit. The yacht Orpailleur also hit a reef spending a night anxiously awaiting high tide.
The owners of Quintessence left the boat for a week in the hands of locals who subsequently got the boat off the beach rock and into the lagoon, the boat would not be back in Australia without their initiative. However, other locals did take a lot of gear.. this made the yachts ultimate salvage quite a challenge and most rally boats needed to donate gear from halyards to GPS's to get her sailed home. The efforts of a few committed locals and some yachties to get the boat afloat is worthy of another story!
For missing Coral the main lesson is to use the paper charts... whilst plotters and charting programs on laptops are worth having board, plotting ones position on the best scale available, updated paper chart, drawing the course and regularly re-evaluating ones position relative to dangers is vital! The regular and rapid zooming in and out of scale on plotters may reduce the ability to appreciate the scale of the chart being viewed. Aiming straight for a waypoint in the GPS without first checking if there is anything between you and the waypoint can also leave one a bit "stuck"!!


Love the Louisiades! 2009
Guy Chester, EcoSustainAbility, Rally Organiser

Trying Navigation
In 1991 I sailed in (and won!) the Coral Sea Classic from Cairns to Port Moresby. It had been a fast but wet passage, it was completely overcast for the whole trip and our Transit Satnav (before GPS) had last received a position two days ago as we passed the Norman Reef tourist pontoon in Trinity Opening, just outside of Cairns. The now ageing transit Satnav in the best of times got a fix each two to six hours, depending on the passage of satellites, a fix was an agonising forty or so minutes during which one needed to input precise course and speed data for the fix to have any accuracy. Even then it told where you had been forty minutes ago! GPS had recently been launched and the decline in transit satellites meant less reliable and less frequent fixes.

Whilst in those days I was adept at sun sights, even doing dawn and dusk star fixes, one's sextant just could not see through cloud. We knew we had sailed the 420 miles by the log, we thought we had held pretty much to course (but shy reaching in 25 knots with a spinnaker does leave some room for doubt as to both potential leeway and weather helm during all too frequent round ups and broaches!). The light to the reef passage only had a range of twenty miles... whether our cross track error was even within the range of the light was the question.

We also knew we were ahead of larger boats and very well placed on handicap.. in the running for the $10,000 cash prize...the incentive to keep racing was strong. As rain squalls reduced visibility to metres and the on the chart the unbroken barrier reef in front of Port Moresby looked just a tad treacherous, I called to the crew to drop the kite and that we would have to heave to and wait better visibility or dawn. Prudent seamanship ruled over reckless racing. Just then through the gloom a ship was seen just off the starboard bow, we crossed its bow and took a compass bearing down the two white steaming lights (bow and stern). We assumed it must have come through the Basilisk Passage, and we headed along its reciprocal course.. twenty minutes later we saw the light, entered the reef passage and won the race!

Needless to say the $10,000 prize was promptly spent, $5,000 on a GPS.. (remember one can nowadways buy one from Kmart for $200!). The relaxed passage across a windy and overcast Coral Sea and entry into Palm Passage on our way back to Townsville with the new GPS has been at the forefront of my mind whenever we sail near coral or its an overcast on passage. I am embarrassed to say I no longer carry a sextant.

The bar room discussion in Port Moresby was of course our great sailing, and of course our skilled navigation in the trying conditions. We may have neglected to own up to the fortuitous ship and its passive navigational "advice", but I cannot recall, $10,000 goes a long way when you shout the bar! However, I do recall the awe we all had for the early navigators, those without satnav or the new fangled GPS, those without even charts.. who bravely sailed along treacherous reefs charting them.

The conclusion of the Coral Sea Classic was a two week cruise along the southern Papuan coast and the islands of Milne Bay (just to the west of the Louisiades proper).

The Earliest Navigator
With a name sounding quite French and an interest in the Louisiades I started to investigate the history of the area. Of course the local folk have lived there for many many years.. but how did the Jomard Passage, Duchateau islands, Rossell and the Louisiades get their names? Well it turns out there was a French navigator named, well you guess it Louis! Louis-Antoine de Bouganville was a French Navy navigator who sailed through the Louisiades in 1768, yes that's two years before Captain Cook "discovered" the east coast of Australia. Bouganville had been instrumental in fighting off the British in whats now the french speaking part of Canada and after being involved in settling the Falkland Islands (subsequently given to the Spanish by the French, much to Bouganville's disgust), Bouganville set off on Pacific voyages of discovery.

Bouganville gave his name to the tropical flower and his son, forty years later, followed his father as a navigator and named Bouganville Island in northern PNG. However it is thought that in 1768 the name Louisiades is in honour of France's head of state, Louis. In 1768 Bouganville sailed along the southern reefs of the Calvodos Chain of the Louisiades. The chain of barrier reefs are ten to twenty miles south of the islands. It would have been a treacherous voyage, headwinds and cloudy skies making depicting reefs ahead difficult as he worked east to what's now Rossell. He then headed off to the north west to the Philipines and the Far East via the South China Sea. In those days, when not "discovering" the navigators could only go where there were known charts and places (New Guinea, Torres Strait and Australia were only dimly known of from earlier Dutch navigators).

Bouganville missed out on discovering Australia, but did find this jewel of a chain of islands, the Louisiades. With Bouganville coming so close to Australia I am left wondering how "G'day Mate" would sound in French!

Interestingly it was an English navigator Owen Stanley who spent the time charting the Louisiades with two vessels in the early 1800's. He went ashore rarely as he found the locals a tad aggressive, although less so in the Louisiades Islands than the Papuan coast to the west. Owen had a seizure or stroke during this voyage, his surgeon thought this from the worisomeness of such perilous navigation around coral reefs. He died aboard his ship anchored in Sydney Harbour shortly after his charting of the Louisiades. Owen gives his name to the Owen Stanley Range along Papua New Guinea (the "hills" the Kokoda track climbs over).

Re-Discovering the Louisiades
My brief sojourn to the PNG islands in 1991 left a lust for more, and after fifteen years of Queensland coastal sailing and a two year Pacific cruise it was time to head back to the Louisiades for a better look. So in 2007 we headed up to the islands for a five week planning trip to determine the feasibility for a rally. We found the locals support for a Rally was overwhelming and we felt an obligation to bring the event to fruition.

The Islands and People
The Louisiades are a chain of tropical reefs and islands to the east of mainland Papua New Guinea and are just 520 nautical miles across the Coral Sea north-east of Cairns. The islands are spectacular and provide many safe anchorages. With abundant coral reefs there is snorkelling, diving and fishing galore. There are skull caves and hills to climb, coral reefs to snorkel, cays visit, mangrove lined creeks, coconut shaded beaches, lagoons, creeks, waterfalls and shady forests to explore.

They are inhabited by very welcoming Melanesian people who have little cash economy and look forward to festivities and trading with the yachts. The islands and people are fantastic, so welcoming its often embarrassing. Most folk live in villages with from one family to hundreds. There is no formal traditional chiefly system but it seems every island has a councillor who sits on the local government. Councillors are elected so they do change each five years or so.

The Rally
After our planning trip in 2007, we ran the first Louisiades Rally last year. The Rally is a great experience for us, the yachties. Those with no previous offshore cruising experience to those with tens of thousands of miles of bluewater experience enjoyed the Rally last year. The locals also enjoy the Rally and the islands we visit are already planning their welcome for yachts this year!

Based on other cruisers experiences and local knowledge from the Louisiades, June-August can be pretty windy and wet, the south easterlies tend to be a bit fiercer at this time. Returning to Queensland by mid November gets folk off the Coral Sea for the cyclone season (although they can occur earlier!) and allows an easier return down the Queensland coast with the November/December light northerlies.

Why Join a Rally?
We planned the Rally as a cruise in company across the Coral Sea to the spectacular Louisiades, with a mix of events (ranging from sailing canoe racing, feasts, sing sings, skull cave visit, traditional dancing, a remote river trip, school and hospital visits etc.) and time for independent exploration of the islands and their friendly communities.

The support we provide for the Rally yachts includes safety and navigation briefings, Cairns marina berth (Yorkeys Knob Boating Club), weather, radio skeds, Australian/PNG customs arrangements and many events in the Louisiades. Additional support includes attractive Bluewater extension insurance arrangements with Club Marine, arranging radio checks and rig checks and equipment suggestions.

2008 participants said the major benefits of the Rally were the safety briefings and cruise in company aspects, and the community events which would otherwise not be experienced by independent cruisers.

What's Planned for 2009
Events include farewell drinks at Yorkeys Knob, arrival BBQ, skull cave visit, traditional dancing, village visits, cultural festival, traditional sailing canoe regatta, beach BBQ, "Showcase Misima" festival, remote river and waterfall trip, school visit, clinic visit, sports day, traditional canoe making, traditional carving and the rally end party.

The muster at Yorkeys Knob and the week prior to departure is about final preparations, briefings and getting to know the fellow yachties. We are also arranging radio inspections and rig checks for yachts as required.

The departure date for the passage is of course weather dependent, and each skipper makes their own decision to leave! Once the 520 mile passage is completed yachts meet up at the beautiful Duchateau Islands. The after a few days of snorkelling, beach walks and beach sundowners, we all move on the spectacular Panasia island.

After entering the narrow passage into the lagoon, yachts have a BBQ with the local villagers and have the "official' passage "presentation". A few days to relax, or visit local islands such as Brooker before moving on to the Deboyne group.

One of the highlights of the Rally is the traditional sailing canoe (lakatoi) regatta, held at Panapompom Island (one of the Deboyne Group), which after a hectic day last year will be held over two days and see 30-50 of the traditional sailing canoes racing. Lakatois are the local transport, they are the truck, car and school bus for these island communities, but they are no slouch, they will race past at 12-15 knots.

Again a few days before the next event at Bagaman Island, where the locals arrange a cultural festival for the day. Then the next day yachts go to the beautiful blue Lagoon for a BBQ and day on the beach.

Misima is next, the small town of Bwagoia and its tiny harbour venue. Yachts must raft up and this is where the PNG customs formalities are completed. The locals put on a major two day festival "Showcase Misima" in 2008 and they are planning a similar event for 2009!

With a week or so to cruise to any of the many islands such as Jimmy's yacht club at Kamatal or the magical lagoon at Sabar, yachts meet back up again at Wanim for a party on the beach. Then on the next day a short sail to the Nimowa mission for a one day river trip in long boats and then a day visiting the mission school and clinic and a sports afternoon where the yachties get to try their hand at soccer and netball.

Between the official events there is ample time for individual cruising/exploring the many great anchorages in amongst the protected waters of the Calvodos and Deboyne groups which make up the Louisiades.

When two yachts sail on the same horizon they are of course racing…, however the rally is not a race, nor do the organisers condone any activity arranged outside the international rules for the prevention of collisions at sea…(well OK, we do organise the Canoe Regatta which appears to be "ruleless"). There are of course many competitions (biggest fish, biggest sob story, worst dressed crew, worst breakage, best navigator etc.) and some of these are fought over more seriously than the Americas Cup. Well OK, not quite as seriously, the rally organisers decision, whilst open to bribes (which go into the community benefit kitty) is final, there is no recourse to the New York Supreme Court to sort out serious sailing stuff here!.

Community Benefit
Whilst the Rally is organised for the yachties safety and enjoyment, we also aim to support the local community and last year the rally yachts took many items to donate to local schools and the local clinic. Trading for items is also very popular and by rally's end most yachts had exhausted their trading supplies (but had their fill of fruits and lobster and returned with great carvings and handicrafts).

Last year we took many goods to donate (as well as trade goods), we spent over $15,000 on the events, food, handicrafts and fuel etc., raised over $4,000 in donations to clinics and the government spent over $15,000 on supporting the Misima event. All support that would otherwise not reach this remote and largely forgotten community.

The Rally is supported by the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority and the Yorkeys Knob Boating Club. For 2009, Yachts muster at Yorkeys by September 6 and depart 12 September, yachts return to Australia mid October to mid November. Power and sail boats are welcome!

2010 Rally
Cairns (Yorkeys Knob) to Louisiades (PNG)
Departs September
Return mid to late October
Further information:
Guy Chester on 0407 391211,