Basilaki Island

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wl-iife cross on grassy bluff.


wl-iife cross on grassy bluff.


ENGINEER GROUP Making up part of the huge Louisiade Archipelago, the Engineer Group lies seven miles east of Basilaki Island and is twelve miles from west to east. It consists of numerous small and large islands, the most important being Slade (or Berri berrije), Skelton (Nara Nara wai), Watts and Hummock Islands. The water is always crystal clear over the excellent coral fringing reefs and there are a number of villages scattered around the group. Occasionally a very ornate canoe or two will be seen at the village on Watts Island.

SLADE ISLAND Called Berri berrije originally, this 197 metre high island has a large village on its western end called Tubetube.

Typical of most villages, it is clean and tidy with a school, boat repair shed and community hut. The locals are friendly despite their reputation as being fierce warriors in the past. Prisoners taken during raids to other islands were loosely tied to a tree, and a burning coconut frond was tucked into a belt behind their back. Their antics were then watched with great amusement by the Tubetubeians. Perhaps this was a tenderising process before the final dispatch with axe or club.

The approach from Basilaki Island is clear of all dangers and the anchorage is in 15 metres close against the fringing reef which is very obvious beneath the clear water. It is not comfortable during medium to strong trade winds and is quite untenable during the summer north westerlies.

BUTCHART ISLAND Going ashore here we found three beautiful Siamese cats. In our ignorance we almost took one as a pet until it dawned on us

Above: Approaching the Engineer Group. Butchart and Slade Islands (arrowed left and right respectively) bear approximately east. Below: Anchored off Tubetube Village. This anchorage is only recommended in light weather at which time it is perfectly safe to anchor over the fringing reef which is clearly seen through clear water. During the south-east trade wind season protection is enjoyed but a swell attacks the area.



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Hummock Island bears west.

that this island is the garden for Tubetube Village and the cats were there to keep the rats down. Permission should be gained from a village elder before going to Butchart Island where the anchorage is only acceptable during calm to light conditions.

HUMMOCK ISLAND There is a large village on the western side towards the north of this island which is called Teuateua. I stood outside the fringing reef searching for access to the lagoon between the island and the fringing reef but failed to get through. Unless there is a passage unseen by the author, the only anchorage for visiting yachts is outside the lagoon in 21 to 38 metres. Otherwise shoal draft vessels can enter where indicated on the map. The anchorage outside the reef is not comfortable during medium to strong trade winds.

PASSAGE FROM ENGINEER GROUP TO THE CONFLICT GROUP There is naturally some doubt as to whether this stretch of water is navigable because of the rather vague map notations and sketchy soundings. Such statements as 'HMS Beagle, 1881' do little more than confirm that you are not the first to venture into the unknown.

In fact it is safe to steer direct from one group to the other, although as a safety measure I would not promote this course after dark.

A little over half way across, there will be encountered large shoal areas of reef which appear to have a least depth of seven metres. Along the southern edge of these shoals will be seen a line of breaking water caused by the off running current folding under the deeper water. In calm to light weather the fisherman will be well rewarded by sailing along this break where surface fish abound. In strong trade wind conditions it would be advisable to hold south of the shoal water to guard against the possibility of depths less than seven metres existing.

Top: Butchart Island is used by Tubetube Village as a garden. Centre and bottom: Tubetube Village is situated on the western tip of Slade Island in the Engineer Group. Its cleanliness is a credit to the locals.

Panasesa Island bears approximately east (top). Its dominant reef boulders are shown (bottom).

CONFLICT GROUP Basically one huge atoll with a number of small cays situated on the oval shaped reef, the Conflict Group is uninhabited and does not offer the variety of anchorages one might presume to be available from the first glimpse of the chart. In fact, without venturing into the south east corner of the lagoon, anchorages are very poor in moderate to strong winds and the bottom is either deep or foul. The best anchorage for a casual overnight slip is behind Gabugabutau Island as is described later.

Early in the 1960's the Conflict Group was owned or leased by an American group intent on promoting the area for tourism. An airstrip was cleared on Panasesa island and a few shacks were erected but so desolate and poorly patronised was the resort that it is said the manager put a bullet through his foot to necessitate his removal back to civilisation.

Whatever happened, the venture died leaving only the remains of the airstrip and a building or two.

PANASESA ISLAND is a low coral cay being on the southern side of the north western entrance to the Conflict Group lagoon.

The water is very deep right up to the fringing reef on top of which will be seen many large boulders thrust above the high water mark. The only anchorage possible is over coral in 5 to 10 metres close off the northern tip where it will be found to be uncomfortable in trade wind weather and quite impossible during the summer north westerlies. During the latter season it is possible to tuck inside the lagoon against Panasesa Island where shown on the map by a half anchor. Approach this with care as it was not surveyed by the author but it appeared possible to enter it.

GABUGABUTAU ISLAND lies on the northern side of the above mentioned lagoon entrance and offers superior anchorage during the south east trades. The best anchorage is over 5 metres coral where the Admiralty Pattern anchor should be dropped. In light weather a reef pick might be suitable.

The island is singularly unattractive being low and stunted but the fishing can be excellent if the deep shelf is worked offshore from the anchorage.

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