For Guy Chester, organiser of the Louisiades Yacht Rally, the annual trip from Coral Sea is a case of "once more dear friends", and safety in numbers for those new to offshore sailing who join in.
They are truly paradise found, 100 beautiful islands with a friendly people living a very simple life who welcome cruising yachts.
The Louisiades Archipelago is 100 nautical miles east of mainland Papua New Guinea, 520 nautical miles north-east of Cairns. They comprise sand cays, lagoon reefs, limestone outcrops (uplifted coral reefs) and continental islands with many safe anchorages. The local people are exceptionally welcoming to yachts and will paddle out to welcome yachts and, of course, trade.
The Louisiades Rally was first held in 2008 and has been an annual event to date.
The Rally leaves from Cairns bringing Australian and international cruising yachts to the islands for a month or so. The Rally was first established in 2008 by Guy Chester of EcoSustainAbility, with the sponsorship and support of the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority. The Rally is a cruise in company across the Coral Sea and then four weeks throughout the spectacular Louisiades, with a mix of events and time for independent exploration of the islands and their friendly communities. For 2012, events include sailing canoe racing, a sail on a Sailau, feasts, sing sings, skull cave visit, traditional dancing, handicraft workshop, village visits, a remote river trip in long boats, the Showcase Misima cultural festival, village school and hospital visits and a sports day
So far the Rallies have seen many yachts have a great time in these islands and for many it was their first introduction to international cruising and a bluewater passage. The locals give their fantastic welcome, from John and Mackenzies families who host our arrival at Panasia, to the Panapompom community who organised the most spectacular Sailau (traditional sailing canoe) Regatta. Keith Parascos and his team at Misima put on the most amazing weekend ‘Showcase Misima’ supported by the local member of Parliament, Gordon Wesley. The hospital visit gave an insight to the community’s hardships and playing soccer against ten years olds the joy of a good laugh.
In the words of Joel Dalia, Councillor for Bagaman Island: “The Rally must come back, its great fun and we like your support.”
The Rally invites monos, multis, power and sail and a wide range of vessels have joined the rally to date, from new fibreglass production boats to older steel and ferro yachts. Many sailing catamarans have participated with Crowther, Catanas, Perry, Grainger, Simpson, Lightwave, Schionning and Leopard among the models.
Motor yachts have also participated, with an 18 metre Riveria and 20 meter Crelock having been on two Rallies.
But I don’t have offshore experience
The Rally is for seaworthy yachts with the gear and an experienced crew. Yet it aims to cater for those with coastal sailing experience who have yet to venture offshore.
Given the remoteness, lack of emergency and logistical support, the poor communication and the fact that for many entries it is their first bluewater passage the Rally includes safety and navigation briefings during the week before departure. These briefings include the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Coast Guard, a liferaft demonstration and resuscitation refresher. The Rally also includes special Customs arrangements in PNG.
From the start, when a cruiser enquires about the rally we provide support for a cruiser to decide on their level of experience, on their yachts suitability and its equipment. The Rally provides entrants with a Getting Ready Guide. This covers the equipment necessary, and also the preparation. The Guide has been developed from experience over the previous Rallies and covers many aspects from medical supplies, to cockpits draining at sea to sealing anchor chain hawsers: the practical side of taking a seaworthy yacht and readying her for offshore.
Practical aspects are discussed such as battery management when on passage and radio interference with the autopilot are discussed in the Guide. Such issues are best discovered on the Queensland coast than in mid Coral Sea.
A thorough skipper’s declaration is used as a safety checklist. The Rally recommends Yachting Australia’s safety Category One, yet finds that many cruising sailors remain unaware of such a checklist and guidance is provided on applying this to the modern production or older cruising yachts. For the Rally we do allow some reduction of the YA requirements, but do have some additions. We require an all chain anchor system, essential in the coral reef anchorages of the Louisiades.
We are definitive on some aspects, one skipper was “vociferously reluctant” to buy a drogue, as its only a trip across a warm sea. After their rudder failed he graciously acknowledged that without it they would have had trouble navigating to and through Grafton Passage and the safety of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.
Before the yachts muster at Yorkeys Knob, the skipper and at least one crew must have completed recent qualifying voyages of 150nm and an overnight passage and a further at least 50nm to windward. This can be coastal sailing, but ensures the crews know the boat. The qualifying passage gives the rally organiser confidence that the skipper and crew have tested out their boat and, just as importantly that the boat has tested out the crew!
One aspect for those new to offshore and international sailing is the bureaucracy. Whilst there are not many folk in uniform nor forms to fill out whilst at sea, getting away and arriving seems to wear out a few biros at each end. For the Louisiades yacht rally the support starts months before. Owners are guided through getting their yacht to be an Australian Registered Ship. On getting their MMSI number if they have DSC VHF and/or HF or AIS and then registering all this with AMSA and linking it to their EPIRB numbers.
Closer to departure the need to obtain visas and the processes to gain these are outlined. With the Rally now being well established, dealing with the ladies at the PNG Consulate in Brisbane are a pleasure.
Australian Customs and Quarantine arrangements when one returns to Australia are serious and daunting. Again, the Rally helps to demistify this by providing an opportunity for the yachties to be briefed by Australian Customs and Quarantine officials before they leave. With Australia’s notification rules the Rally ensure that all Rally participants put their pre-arrival notification in before they leave PNG. Whilst in PNG, we have also gained experience on what handicrafts cause hassles with Quarantine and advise yachts on treatment of woven and timber handicrafts prior to re-entry to Australia.
Another aspect is insurance and the rally has developed relationships with an insurer and broker and offers support to rally yachts to gain their bluewater insurance if desired. One major insurer has recognised the value of first time offshore folk joining a rally and offers substantial discounts in premium and reducing the pre-insurance qualification for Rally participants.
For the Rally we have specific sessions on the practicalities of making a passage, and focus on couples and those sailing short handed. Such practical experience is discussed in the week leading up to the passage, over a quiet drink we chat about watch systems, feeding the crew, sailing to conditions (particularly in swells that may not have been previously experienced), on managing communications and battery life, on night vision and staying onboard.
Such discussions are by no means lectures by the Rally organisers, the rally also attracts many experienced sailors and their experience is brought to the fore as well.
One aspect that is often not the drivng reason for joining the Louisiades Rally but is seen as its greatest success by past participants is the cultural exchange opportunities that rally organises and the opportunities to see parts of the culture that even independent cruisers rarely see. The rally also gives cruisers confidence by advising on appropriate cultural protocols and, in the background, we have relationships with officials and community leaders in an attempt to ensure safety and security for the yachties.
Camaraderie and community
The Rally is fun and enjoyable for the yachties, however there is also a serious side: to give something back to the Louisiades community.
Few yachties go to the Louisiades just to look, they get there and realise that they can help the local folk who have so little. For the last two years the Rally has provided welcome cash, paying for events and making donations to a local clinic. The rally yachts also take up many donations including clothes and medical supplies (in 2009 a heart monitor, asthma ventilator and defibrillator were donated).
The Rally leaves Cairns 15 September 2012, yachts muster a week prior at Yorkeys Knob Boating Club for briefings and preparation.
The Rally is supported by the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority and the Yorkeys Knob Boating Club.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain.
Further information: www.louisiadesrally.com
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