Our general rule for night watches is simple. No-one goes on deck without first waking up the off-watch person. It’s our safety policy to ensure that the off-watch person can get a good sleep safe in the knowledge that the other one hasn’t slipped overboard in the dead of night. But tonight on my watch I’m sitting perched on the bow seat, with PFD (life jacket) and tether, torch in hand, scanning the water ahead. The half-moon is obscured by clouds so there’s a tiny glimmer of light on the water but not much. I’ve been here for two hours and have one more to go, and my eyes are starting to play tricks on me. This is definitely not our normal night watch routine so what’s going on?
Logs, that’s what’s going on. We leave the Duke of York islands on the promise of a breeze, but like a dysfunctional relationship the weather forecast is nothing but a lying, cheating bastard. And we keep believing it, because what else can we do? Our first day of motoring takes us up the channel between the large islands of New Britain and New Ireland, and at regular periods we find ourselves dodging huge floating logs, often carrying several sea birds atop them.
Some of them are massive, and we get the heebie-jeebies as night starts to fall. Our only option is to slow right down and try and spot the wooden monsters before they’re on us. Under just the jib we coast along at 2-3 knots. It’s a long, long uncomfortable and boring night watch and probably futile – we never spot anything so we have to assume we’re just lucky and the monster logs are gliding silently by on either side.
After we clear the top of New Ireland we breathe a sigh of relief as there’s no more land masses between us and Manus Island, just open ocean. And yes, because of all the motoring we’re doing, we make the decision to stop in Manus to top up our fuel. The alternative would be re-fuelling when we get to Vanimo, our last port in PNG, but we want to spend as little time as possible there due to safety concerns – our plan is to get our Indonesian visas and check out the same day so we avoid an overnight stay.
Apart from the logs and the drone of the motors, this trip is punctuated by more squalls and rain (of course). We get a couple of visits from pods of dolphins which relieve the boredom for a while. We trail our lures all the way but get nothing except one massive strike as we’re approaching Manus that breaks our line and takes our lure. So our dismal fishing record of 0 still stands…
The skies clear and the stars finally come out on our last night. We weave our way between the outlying islands to the east of Manus and are alarmed to discover that our electronic charts are almost 1NM out. It doesn’t pay to cut those corners too close!
It’s been another challenging passage for all sorts of reasons, but at least the weather has made for some interesting cloud formations and beautiful sunsets.
We’re interested, and a little apprehensive, to see what the real Manus Island is like. We’ll be anchoring well away from the town centre which we’ve heard can be problematic. We’ll let you know how we get on in the next instalment!