01 December 2010 | Sepik River, Papua New Guinea
We woke to the sounds of a bustling market just a hundred feet from the boat and spread out across the mud river bank and underneath a huge tree for shade. Peter, with hundreds of mosquito bites all over him (reed somehow has not been bit once), had come down with malaria and even though we had pills to cure it on the boat, he insisted he take off to the nearest major town – Wewak. We left him in the care of the catholic missionaries.
Upon arrival to shore we were greeted by the head of security for the Sepik region/intelligence officer/abassador to port morsby/ and head of developement. Seemed like he was quite the busy guy but he spoke very good English so we let him adopt us and show us around. Like everywhere else in PNG we had a group of 30 people follow us around whispering, pointing and laughing at us strange white folk. We were told that the last sailboat to make it this far up river was Chinese and had been burnt and sunk by locals. When learning that we didn’t have a Sepik man on board he quickly arranged for a police officer of great respect (from the cannibal tribe – the tribe that makes peace) to join us on Bubbles and tried to allocate a whole division to us for protection but we insisted one police officer was enough.
Back to business – we needed deisel and Angoram being the capital of the Sepik river (the sepik river is home over 1 million inhabitants including the prime minister) it was one of the few places along the entire river we could get it. We took our many jerry cans to the fuel depot but was dissapointed when we bought the last 8 gallon. We werent going to get very much farther up river on that so I began the hunt and after meeting with a member of parliment and the hospital administrator, both stopping what they were doing to help me, we were off in a police truck into the bush. We finally found a drum hidden away in a palm frawn shed well away from town and at the steep price of $10/gallon were fueled up.
With our new friend, Mr. Mobo, aboard we set off from Angorom with a crowd gathered along the river bank to see us off. Mobo directed us to the left (a shortcut he says) even though our maps and gps show us to go right and after half an hour we had saved four hours of river winding. The river had a cut a shortcut joining two sections that saved us 12 miles of zig zagging that would have taken us to the same place. Having Mobo aboard was already paying huge dividends.
Later that evening with Ben at the helm I was taking a nap below preparing for the night when I was awoken to a huge THUD from the front of the hull followed by a grind from the propeller that killed the engine – not good. We all grabbed our flashlights to have a look first toward the prop but with zero visibility in the murky water we couldn’t see a thing. Then Ben noticed a log sticking out eight feet on our port side and interestingly enough drifting down river at the same speed as us. Then reed noticed an even bigger log sticking out to starboard. It appeared that we had multiple logs stuck in our prop! I jumped in the dingy and began wrestling the logs taking pointers from Mr. Mobo. Apparently wrestling a log out of a prop was a common thing here and there was more technique to it than I thought. Ben jumped down to help and together we freed one side and were amazed to see that in fact the it was one ginormous log (20 feet) with a large branch in it that now floated freely away from us. We started the engine and luckily no major damage appeared to have been done. We were on our way again but this time with a more alert log lookout at the bow.
By a little after midnight I asked Reed to take the wheel so I could take a 20 minute nap. We were only 2 hours from our destination but I was falling asleep and almost ran us onto the river bank twice. I handed him the wheel and went below waking 20 minutes later to Reed suggesting we anchor. He couldn’t see where we were as the flashlight batteries were all drained as well as the gps batteries. He said we had been making good speed (over 6 knots) and must be close however when I got the gps up again I realized why the speed was so good – we were going the wrong way (down river with the current)! The 20 minutes the wrong way would take us an hour to gain back (going up river we only make 3 knots). In the darkness I must have gave the Reed the boat facing the wrong way and in the pitch black and with the river winding a back and forth it is difficult to have a sense of direction. As for the speed we had the mainsail up and reed thought we were catching the wind just right.
By half past three we were where we wanted to be and anchored on a bend in the river in 3 meters of mud. If anything is easier about river travel by sailboat it is the anchoring. With the ever opposing current the boat digs itself easily into the soft mud. We were asleep within minutes.