Brisbane to Port Moresby in a Roberts Longboat 21
Well, here I am back home forty – six days after leaving Brisbane. My Roberts Longboat "MUTA" has covered 2580 nautical miles in that time and another 960 to date.
The trip up the Queensland coast saw some rough weather, as did the crossing of the Coral Sea from Cairns to Samarai. Several times I was caught by 30 knot winds and it was only the innate design and exceptional strength of "MUTA" that saved the day.
The vessel has far more sea sense than any other boat I have owned and I have no doubt at all that few other boats of this size could have handled the voyage.
As you can see from my log after departing Tingalpa Creek on 30th October 1980,myself and Robin Muir took two days and one night to get to Bundaberg. The lighthouse keeper at Sandy Cape was of great assistance in crossing Break Sea Spit, and VH4-ATT waited up till after midnight with coffee and sandwiches in Bundaberg and also organised a berth for us for the night. People like this are the ones that keep boating safe and a joy to all those with whom they come in contact.
We remained in Bundaberg for a day and then left and got caught in a storm off Gladstone when we had to turn tail and run back to Port Curtis. With the autohelm handling the steering and the "MUTA" handling the seas, we got inside Port Curtis and anchored at midnight. The trip up the "NARROWS" the next day with 3ft of water and 2ft 6ins of draught was a slow one but calm after the previous night.
Roslyn Bay, our next stop, was a pleasant surprise with the canteen selling excellent takeaway food and ice. We were here for three days and met another Roberts Longboat owner who uses his vessel regularly to get out to the Barrier Reef. We were fortunate to be allowed to use the Yacht Club showers and toilets and be generally made to feel at home by the caretakers. After several days, the weather cleared and we moved on up the coast in beautiful conditions passing Shoalwater Bay and moved into the Whitsundays in calm seas and, regretting our lack of time, moved on to Bowen.
In Bowen, Robin Muir left to return to New Guinea as his leave was over and I met typical North Queensland hospitality in the form of Warren and Norma McEwan from Mackay on the yacht "CARELLA". Their big white steel ketch was huge compared to the "MUTA" and the three of us shopped around Bowen and talked boats until the wee hours.
I stayed there for three days and then departed for the first leg of the voyage by myself. I picked a bad day and about nine o’clock the wind started rising and by the time I reached Cape Bowling Green I was looking forward to making a safe anchorage behind Cape Upstart.
Owing to the size of the waves and the low level of one of the fuel tanks, the engine got air in the injector pump and I took almost 45 minutes to change tanks and bleed the engine. Most of the time was spent holding on as "MUTA" was battered by the waves. During this time, only once did I get any water on board, this was the foamy crest of a particularly large wave. Two hours later, when I anchored behind Cape Upstart, I was still shaking.
The next few days were also rough and I passed Townsville and anchored in Pioneer Bay on Orpheus Island and the day after I moved on to Dunk Island. Almost everything on Dunk Island placarded "House Guests Only" and I couldn’t buy a cold drink there. From about 1500 hours onwards I was watching a chap on a small 15ft cat about a mile off the island. When it got to 1730 hours I decided he may be in trouble although he wasn’t showing any signs of distress. I pulled in the anchor and went out and one of his hulls had become detached from the platform at the stern and he was unable to sail it back to Dunk. A tow saw him safely ashore and that was my good deed for the day.
I arrived in Cairns the next afternoon after a long beautiful day but couldn’t get ashore because my inflatable dinghy had sprung a leak. However, the next day saw me hitching a ride ashore where I stayed with new found friends for three days. The Buellers looked after me like family and Peter Bueller volunteered to crew for the next leg across the Coral Sea, which is just as well as the first night out of Cairns through Fitzroy Passage saw the autopilot going u/s. We stood three hour shifts for the next 65 hours when by my only good sight and dead reckoning I put myself 6 hours off the New Guinea Coast. We were both very tired and the sea was by now calm for the first time so I put out the sea anchor and drifted for seven hours and had a good sleep. Next morning 25/11/80 at 1100 we sighted land at Amazon Bay and travelled along the New Guinea coastline that afternoon and night to the east, arriving in Samarai at 0800 and took care to anchor downwind from Customs. That afternoon, Peter left on a plane for Port Moresby and on to Cairns and I stayed on in Samarai area for three days and rewatered, refuelled and recovered. Samarai was very friendly and the people at Belesana Slipways provided showers and fresh water at no charge.
On leaving Belesana, the weather continued fine with light south-easterly winds. Over the next three days I travelled north-westerly up the New Guinea Coast, hand-steering now by myself and trying to make a good landfall each afternoon by 1500 hours and departing the next morning at 0600; nine hours nonstop at the wheel through those reef-infested waters is about all I could handle. Every day I saw large schools of porpoises, mackerel, tuna and the odd shark.
Anchoring each night in a supposedly uninhabited area, I was soon surrounded by canoes full of wide-eyed children, who were content to sit and stare at me for several hours. Luckily, in Cairns, I bought up large quantities of sweets for just such occasions and I was able to send the kids back to their villages munching happily. Many of them would not have had lollies before.
On 4/12/80 I entered Tufi Fiords and tied up at the fisheries wharf to meet Trevor Bell, the Fisheries Officer there and his wife Dorothy. I stayed with the Bells for two nights, topped up my tanks and headed off on 7/12/80 for Lae, some 240 miles distant. This leg took four days and I was running before a S.E. swell. Each night I anchored in a coral lagoon and two nights running was kept awake by dugongs cavorting about the boat and bumping it.
On the last day, entering Lae, I was held up for 30 minutes by a large school of whales that I took for pilot whales. They surrounded the boat and I couldn’t move for fear of hitting one of them. Many had calves with them, the calves coming up against the hull and rolling against it. Their dorsal fin was black, as was their body, but had a peculiar wart-like growth on the top of the fin. Eventually, they moved off and I continued into Lae where I stayed for three nights becoming a social creature again.
On 13/12/80, I set out for Kimbe on my final leg. The run up to Fincheschaven was uneventful and I anchored in a small bay full of wartime wrecks beside an abandoned airstrip and made ready for the crossing of the Vitiaz Straits. The Vitiaz are renowned for their rough weather and seas caused by strong currents running from the Bismark to the Coral Sea contrary to wind direction.
The day started well but rapidly deteriorated with irregular seas, peaking in all directions. I was battened down and the spray and light rain hampered visibility to the extent that I steered on D-reckoning for four hours for the tiny Nessep Island marking the only navigable passage into the Dampier Straights. Wind speed increased and the white water and foam streaks made reefs invisible.
The vessel thrived in these seas as only a displacement hull can and at 1130 I was abeam Nessup Island and guessed the 200 yard gap in the reef correctly. All through the Dampier Straights the sea continued slightly abated and even when I eventually anchored behind a reef near a village called Sag Sag, the waves were thumping down on the beach. I slept from 1500 to 2100 when I was awakened by a discreet coughing to be told by a young girl that she wanted to "marry" me. Carnal pursuits being fairly well back on the agenda of desires at this time, I sent her off with some lollies to await the next unsuspecting traveller. I was trapped in this area for two nights when the wind eventually dropped and I departed on the afternoon of 16/12/80. But at 2000 that night the winds came up again and I steered nonstop from then till 1215 the next day before able to see. I estimated Cape Holman Lighthouse at 1230 and it appeared at 1235. Much to my relief, on rounding the Cape, the seas dropped and I raised Kimbe Base on 27.91mz directly. They had me on relay through Australian Volunteer Stations for the whole trip so Kimbe knew I was getting close. By 1900 that night I had the end in sight and at 2000 hours I tied up to our wharf, the voyage over. Many people were there and celebrations and tall tales and true were spun far into the night.
In retrospect, it is not a voyage to be lightly undertaken and the planning for it took several months. Obviously, a sound vessel and a reliable motor are essentials but probably the most crucial factor is the ability to recognise your limits and not to carry on regardless in the face of danger. A 21ft vessel has limitations and battleships have been lost in rough seas. The Longboat has had nothing but praise for all who see her and the proof of the pudding was in the eating.
With high regards and many thanks,
Dennis F. Scott.