Written by Guy Chester
Beautiful, remote, with a surfeit of natural attractions, the Louisiade Archipelago has for many years been a favourite stop for yachts cruising the Coral Sea and beyond.
The archipelago consists of a string of more than 90 islands, 100 nautical miles east of mainland Papua New Guinea and 520 nautical miles north-east of Cairns.
Stretching north to south over 160 kilometres, the group comprises sand cays, lagoon reefs, limestone outcrops (uplifted coral reefs) and continental islands with many safe anchorages. With abundant coral reefs, there is snorkelling, diving and fishing galore. The local people are exceptionally welcoming to yachts and will paddle out to greet visiting vessels and, of course, to trade.
I first visited the Louisiades during a short cruise after the 1991 Cairns to Port Moresby ‘Coral Sea Classic’ offshore race. In 2007, I spent two months cruising east from the PNG mainland to the Calvados Chain and Deboyne Lagoon.
It was at this time that the idea of the Louisiades Yacht Rally was born. We ran the event from 2008–2013, until cruising intervened for me. The area still beckons, though, and we hope to sail through the Louisiades on our way back to Australia (not for a few years though!)
Over the years of running the rally, supporting other cruisers transiting PNG, and developing programs for superyachts visiting the Louisiades, we have identified some key places. This is not supposed to be a definitive cruising guide – like Mark Twain said: “Explore, dream, discover”.
Leaving from Cairns is most popular, although Townsville is also a viable departure point. It’s a straightforward, nice reach across the south-east trade winds. Folk sail up from May onwards, but we found September and October the best weather for the passages out and back and for stable weather up in the islands.
The wind can get a bit fine on if the north-west-setting current is strong as you get closer to PNG. The best time to leave Australia is just as the front of the high is leaving the Australian coast as this gives more southerly quadrant in the wind. The further off the coast the high goes, the more east the wind goes, which can be a problem for the last 100 miles or so.
See formalities below – if no arrangements have been made for special clearance, the port of entry at Alotau must be visited. If Misima clearance has been arranged, most boats head for Bramble Haven or the Duchateau Islands to start their cruise. These are both only occasionally inhabited and are a great place to recover from the passage. Think azure coral lagoons, coconuts and sandy beaches ashore.
It is likely you will soon be visited by folk sailing their traditional outrigger canoes, called sailaus. These sail at up to 15 knots and are the economic mainstay of the islands. Trade for lobster, fish and coconuts among the settled islands. You can also find tomatoes, tropical fruit and a wide variety of fantastic local handicrafts.
Take t-shirts, shorts, skirts, bras, fishing gear, woodworking and outboard fixing tools for trade. Even better, also take a supply of exercise books and pencils for the schools, early age readers and first aid supplies for donations. Folk need cash for school fees and other living expenses, so be prepared to buy some stuff – bring along some of the local currency, the Kina.
After the initial arrival its best to make your way to Misima Island for clearance. See the quarantine officer and await the arrival of the plane for customs. Misima once hosted a gold and silver mine that is now defunct. It’s a quiet happy place. The bakery is a must, as is lunch or dinner at the guesthouse.
All the islands are great to visit. My favourites are:
The above is only a snapshot; there are many other islands to visit. The more adventurous can go north, to Budi Budi, Woodlark and the Trobriand Islands, which are easily within the range of a two-month cruise. Budibudi is spectacular, with very isolated folk. Take a lot of trading and donation goods as they don’t get many visitors.