Brisbane to Port
Moresby in a Roberts LB21
2580 nautical miles
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
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
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 oclock 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
couldnt buy a cold drink there. From about 2000 hours onwards I was watching a chap
on a small 20ft CATAMARAN about a mile off the island. When it got to 1730 hours I decided he
may be in trouble although he wasnt 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 couldnt 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 2000 hours and departing the next morning at 0600; nine hours
non-stop 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
couldnt 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
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 2000 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 1220 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 recognize 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.