Logs at night

The island of New Guinea has huge rivers going into the sea. The largest in all of Oceania. I have been warned that there are many big logs in the sea in this stretch of coast and we have seen a few gigantic logs in West Papua that we would not want to crash into. Best solution is to travel by day and keep a lookout for logs. But as we entered Papua New Guinea, I was faced with a dilemma. Do I choose to take my chances with the logs in the night or do I choose the risk of pirates?

This northern coast of Papua New Guinea has reports and rumors of pirates roaming around. These pirates don’t kidnap, like in captain Phillips, but they may steal your valuables. It’s a relief knowing that our lives are not in danger, but I would rather not bump into pirates regardless. One strategy is to only anchor in the islands. Island communities are tight knit and it is hard to get away with stealing. On the mainland, it is easier for opportunistic pirates to get away.

The first island from Vanimo is over 70 miles away which means we will have to sail overnight in order to set anchor in the daytime. I decided to take my chances with the logs in the night than to face the threat of pirates. After all, in West Papua we had seen logs, but they were few and far between. I figured that we would be 90% safe from hitting any logs. What I didn’t take into account was that this is Papua New Guinea, not West Papua, and things are different here.

It was the eve of the new moon, meaning the night was pitch black. We had some stars, but not much light. The steaming light only illuminated 20 meters in front of us, and even though we have a strong handheld torch, it won’t last the whole night. So as we settled into our night shifts, we decided not to keep a lookout for logs as they would be near impossible to spot. Also, I figured our chances were low. I was wrong.

I was on watch while Naomi was steering. We were motorsailing into the night with a light landbreeze helping us on our way. I was adjusting the sails as we suddenly hit something big. The whole boat jolted and nearly stopped in its track. I could feel the boat going over a big log and as it came out the stern we heard a loud CRACK! As soon as we passed the log another big one hits us and now we have pretty much stopped dead in our tracks.

Sammy and Paul scurries out on deck. They had been trying to get some sleep and were awaken by a giant earthquake. I was in the back, assessing the damage to the rudders. It was hard to get a proper assessment, but it seemed both rudders were intact and working fine. The other thing that could be broken is the depth sounder that is mounted on the back of the keel. Sure enough, the depth sounder hangs off by its wire, and we are able to pick it up. It is intact and only the screws are missing. Maybe that could be the crack? Or did the log break as we came over it? Or did the rudders crack? We decided to continue and have a closer look in the morning.

Now we are all on edge. Crashing into a log was not fun and I doubt we would be able to take another hit without significant damage. I check our bilges to see if there is any water leaks, but it all seems fine. Our V hulls don’t have any keel sticking out and the shape of our hulls makes it ideal to climb over logs. That’s how we get our boat on land after all. Our rudders on the other hand stick out a foot below the keel at the stern, and they are the weak point. The port rudder now sits a bit lower than it used to, but it works fine.

As I try to sleep in my four hours of rest I hear commotion on deck. Paul and Sammy are on watch and they have seen a big log! They have the torch ready and are able to dodge the next one, and the next one. We are in a minefield of logs and we have to slalom around them in the darkness. I stay in my cabin, listening as they avoid log after log. It takes nearly one hour to get out into clear water, and then it is my watch.

Sammy stands up at the front of the boat with the torch ready. From time to time he shines out into the darkness as he thinks he may have seen something. Most of the time it’s nothing but then he sees a log and helps me to avoid it. Our watch together is 2-4 AM, the worst one to stay awake. Still Sammy keeps awake and alert and we dodge a few more logs. At 4 AM it is Naomi’s turn at the helm and Sammy goes to bed. I stay up to be on the lookout for logs. It is so hard to see anything in this darkness, but thankfully we don’t see many more logs that night. Dawn is breaking at 6 AM and it is time for me to get some sleep.

Four hours later we arrive at our island. The charts indicated that it would be a good place to anchor and the satellite images looked promising. But when we got there, I discovered that my information was wrong. The depth sounder showed 30 meters right next to the island and no slope up to the reef. I motor around, trying to find alternative anchorages, but I find nothing. I go to the next island and no luck. People on land are greeting us and cheering and in that moment I don’t know what to do. With little sleep and little patience I forget the whole reason we did the night sail in the first place and I start heading to the mainland, 5 miles away. One more hour, then we can rest, I say to myself.

Turns out, we didn’t get to rest much at all that day. It became one of the most intense days of my life. And we got a staunch reminder of why I wanted to stay away from the coast in the first place. But that is a whole other story in and by itself.

As for the rudders, the saga continues. I inspected them the next day and the starboard rudder was severely cracked. If it wasn’t for the fiberglass, it would have broken in two. Instead we have the whole rudder, and even though the shape may be a bit bent, we can fix it with a couple of layers of fiberglass and epoxy. No setback, just a little hickup.

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