Kariba is an Integrity 340 sedan motor yacht, which we are to deliver to her new owner in Madang, in Papua New Guinea. The boat has been brought up from the Gold Coast to Yorkeys Knob, near Cairns, ready for us to complete Customs clearance before our voyage.
After a couple of days provisioning, getting the feel of our craft, and fuelling up - we have 200lt of fuel in containers as well as the 980lt in Kariba's two tanks - we are ready to go.
Day 1 - Monday
The forecast for the next three days is 10 to 15 knots from the north to northwest, with sea and swell less than a metre. Perfect! After completing Customs clearance, we head out of the harbor. The sea is calm and wind less than five knots. We put out our fishing line straight away and let the autopilot take over.
We pass east of Pixie Reef as we approach Trinity Opening, 20nm NNE of Yorkeys, and our passage out through the Great Barrier Reef. In an attempt to increase our chances of catching a fish, we change course to pass close to Norman Reef, easily identifiable by its large snorkelling pontoon. We are rewarded with a mahi mahi just north of the reef.
At 1520 hours we clear the outer reef and are now in the Coral Sea, 35nm east of the Daintree. The mahi mahi makes a delicious dinner. Keeping to our usual routine, Morrie heads to bed and I take first watch. It's a quiet watch, with good visibility once a hazy three-quarter moon comes up.
Day 2 - Tuesday
Salt spray and humidity have deposited a damp film on every surface, and the floor is now quite slippery. No point in cleaning up yet, though, as we still have five days to go and need to conserve water for our own use.
By 0300 hours the sea state and wind direction have changed and we are starting to roll. By noon the wind has increased to 15 knots, but we are travelling well and our speed is back up over seven knots. Our 24-hour run has been 154nm. We need to pick up speed, though, to stick to our timetable. Going by our weather data, tomorrow should be our hardest day.
Day 3 - Wednesday
We have had to close the clears around the cockpit and keep the bottom half of the saloon door closed to try to keep the salt spray out.
Conditions deteriorate further during the morning, until we find ourselves being tossed around in 30 knot winds and 4 to 5m swells, with an occasional squall for good measure. The little boat rides the big seas surprisingly well, and we are still making good progress, but we are on edge all day.
Twice we cross current lines carrying huge logs and big tree branches. We are still 150nm from the reef. This is definitely not the place to have a log spear into the hull or through a window!
A few huge waves crash into the cockpit, leaving water more than ankle deep swirling around trying to find a way out. We have been at the mercy of the Coral Sea for a full nine hours. Meals have been impossible. Lunch was a nut bar and an apple; dinner is a sandwich. We haven't even been able to make a cup of tea or coffee.
Conditions start to ease just on sunset, and the seas feel a lot calmer now. The night is clear and starry, and moonrise at 2130 hours reveals calm seas and light winds once again.
Day 4 - Thursday
At 0500 hours we arrive at the pass in the Sunken Barrier Reef and cross into sheltered waters. Our entrance location is 449nm from Yorkeys Knob and 459nm east of the tip of Cape York. We put up our Australian ensign, PNG courtesy flag and yellow quarantine flag, and open clears and hatches to get some air through the boat.
After rounding Rogea Island, we enter China Strait and pass Samarai Island, where we had originally planned to stop for fuel and to clear in to PNG. However, we have arrived earlier than expected and have enough fuel left to get us to the larger mainland town of Alotau, 25nm further up in Milne Bay.
We arrive at Alotau just after 1230 hours. On the eastern side of the harbour are loading wharves and the Customs offices, and on the western side the ferry terminal, Islands Petroleum depot, and the 'government wharf', to which a couple of men direct us (see Keen for kina sidebar).
With the paperwork filled out and 'fees' paid, we take on 507lt of diesel, and another 144lt in seven of our containers. We are pleasantly surprised at the price, which is only 3 kina ($1.64)/lt.
Meanwhile, back at the boat, I have a number of people wander out along the wharf to have a look at the new boat in town. They are all friendly and polite, and all softly say "hello" or "good afternoon", but then just stand there and say nothing more. It is slightly discomforting. Most of the men (and some women, we later find out) chew betel nut, and their teeth and gums are stained blood red, giving them a creepy appearance when they smile.
Alotau is the capital of Milne Bay Province, and there is a canoe festival here in November each year, featuring war canoes and locally made Kundu drums. Near the harbour is a large Transit Hotel, some covered markets, and the large Jade Island Trading Supermarket and Department Store.
As soon as Morrie returns we pack away the fuel containers and leave the wharf with the assistance of a few men who stay to wave us off. We head a little further west and anchor just off the shore for the night. We treat ourselves by starting the genset to run the aircon for a few hours.
Day 5 - Friday
We weigh anchor just before 0700 hours and head east along the north side of Milne Bay in calm conditions. Men and boys in single outriggers are dotted around, fishing in the bay. A small pod of dolphins swims with us briefly, then disappears.
We round East Cape (Kehelala) on the end of the mainland and into the narrow Hornbill Channel, which runs between the mainland and Meimeiara Island. There are lots of canoes near the entrance as we approach, and we see breaking waves towards the top of the channel indicating a strong current.
Much of this northern coastline is unsurveyed, so we will follow the marked preferred route and stay out in the shipping lane for much of the way, in order to safely navigate the reefs, rocks and shoals.
As we approach Cape Vogel at dusk, the sea narrows into the Ward Hunt Strait, which separates the cape from Goodenough Island. The wind is funneling down from the high peaks on the island, and we have an unpleasant and bumpy ride in the dark, occasionally lit by sheet lightning. The preferred route we are following is only a narrow strip of water, with unsurveyed areas on both sides.
Day 6 - Saturday
The approach to Cape Nelson is through a 6nm stretch of reefs. The cape is made up of a number of fjords (mostly unsurveyed), which give it a frilled appearance on our charts.
Just before 0600 hours we round the point and find ourselves in a little sheltered bay with a couple of decent-sized boats at anchor, and some new-looking runabouts and Hobie cats on pontoons. This looks promising!
We approach a red and white motorboat tied up to a pontoon and ask if we can get diesel: "Yes no problem. You can organise a fuel drum to be delivered after eight o'clock. You can tie up here next to us." We raft up to the MV Glory, which runs passengers and cargo to and from the islands between Alotau and Oro Bay.
We discover that this is Tufi Dive Resort, established 16 years ago. Tourists from Australia, Europe and America fly in for some of the best diving in PNG.
The resort manager arranges for a drum of diesel to be delivered at a cost of 6.50 kina ($3.55)/lt. A little later we meet the resort's Australian owner, Stuart, who organises for a pump and hose to be brought down to us and by 0900 we are on our way.
Although some of the locals had appeared quite fierce at first, they have all been friendly. The biggest problem we have had is understanding them, as they all speak so softly we can barely hear what they are saying.
Next stop Madang. By nightfall there is no wind at all and we are flying along in absolutely flat seas as we head up towards Cape Ward Hunt. We also have the current with us, which pushes our speed up over 8kts.
Day 7 - Sunday
We have now crossed the Huon Gulf and are heading north up the east coast of the Huon Peninsula. Just north of Cape Bredbow, the sea state changes, due to the current, and we are getting tossed around in the short, steep waves brought about by wind against tide.
As we pass Kitimula Point light, we are level with the south coast of the long island of New Britain (which has five active volcanoes) to our east. This is the start of the Vitiaz Strait, which can be a very nasty stretch of water. We are staying as close to the coast as we can to try to stay out of the worst of it.
The coastline here is stunning, formed by long limestone terraces, which are old reefs, now covered in short, almost iridescent green vegetation. The high peaks behind are swathed in cloud, there are thin strips of white sandy beaches, and the water close in to shore is a beautiful turquoise blue. We are less than a mile off the coast and the water depth is 300m.
As we round the end of the peninsula we can see the peaks of Umboi Island, which lies off the western tip of New Britain Island. As I settle in to the first night watch, we have rounded the northeast corner into the Bismarck Sea and have set our course for Madang, now just 108nm away.
Day 8 - Monday
We have made good time during the night, and our Madang ETA is 1030 hours. We clean the boat inside and out as we cross Astrolabe Bay. The new owner, Lynton, hasn't seen his boat yet, and we want it to be looking good for him.
We pass the Madang Resort and turn into the little Madang Club marina. We squeeze into the only remaining berth, where Lynton and a friend are waiting to take our lines. Lynton is quietly excited to have his new boat at last - and it is our great pleasure to have safely delivered Kariba almost 1000nm for him. A fascinating voyage, with a surprise around every cape and corner.
Keen for kina
Dealing with the paperwork and the, ahem, 'fees' on first arrival in PNG...
After identifying themselves as Department of Transport workers, Pascale tells us that he will arrange for Quarantine officers to come to us, and that we can refuel from the pump on the wharf. We need to clear in with Customs and, after a couple of trips between the waterfront and the town office, we eventually end up in the right place.
Matthew, the Customs officer, takes his time going through our papers, checks our visas, stamps us in to PNG, and then tells us we have to go into the town office to find out how to deal with the importation of the boat.
"I have a private car - come with me. Just give me some kina for fuel," he instructs in a soft voice.
We stop off at the boat on the way. Edward and Bill, from Quarantine, are waiting for us. All three come aboard. Matthew has a brief look around inside and the others ask if we are carrying any cargo. We tell them we only have food for our trip, and three bottles of wine. Edward writes out a receipt for the Quarantine fee of 56 kina and they leave.
Matthew drives us into the town office, where he consults with another officer and makes copies of some of our papers, then we head back to the wharf. Back onboard again, he announces that he will give us Customs clearance, and makes a great show of signing and stamping the form. During this procedure we offer him a ginger beer, but he refuses.
The fee for the form is 50 kina, he tells us. He looks put out when we say we need a receipt and makes a show of searching through his bag, finally telling us that he doesn't have his receipt book with him. We find some paper for him to write out a receipt and sign and stamp it. As he leaves, he says: "You offered me ginger beer before. Instead I will take one of your bottles of wine!" We have also given him 20 kina for his fuel...
Next to visit is the Department of Transport again, who give us a bill for 27 kina for three hours' berthing fees. Morrie walks up to the Islands Petroleum office to arrange to take on fuel. On the way he runs into Pascale, who asks for 100 kina for his brother, who is in jail! Instead, Morrie gives him 40 kina for looking after the boat.
We had expected there would be costs, but the need for 'payoffs' is annoying and we were keen to see Alotau fade into the distance.
Safe and secure coastal cruiser
We found the Integrity 340 Sedan to be a well-built and solid craft that was reasonably stable in the conditions we encountered. It certainly felt safe out at sea, and we were able to make good headway, even in the heavier weather conditions.
Running the 150hp John Deere diesel engine at 1800rpm, average fuel consumption was around 10.5lt/h, giving speeds of 7 to 7.5 knots (13-14km/h).
The engine room is well laid out, with good access. Storage space was quite limited in the single cabin layout, but the galley was well designed and the saloon was comfortable.
We both agree that the Integrity 340 is a good little coastal cruiser.