Taken over a set of averages, both in time and place, the weather in Papua New Guinea can be described as gentle. Quite often it is too gentle for a sailing boat, particularly in the northern areas where calms often dominate.
The most conspicuous exception to the above is the south coast from the south east tip of the Louisiade Archipelago to the Torres Strait where during winter (April to November) the south east trade wind is very well developed and blows consistently and with great force.
Actually, thé south easterly trade wind dominates the winter weather pattern over the entire country but its influence decreases the further north you go. Indeed, this difference can be surprisingly marked. On more than one occasion I have crossed the Coral Sea from Cairns to Samarai in typical, boisterous south east trade winds only to emerge from the other side of the China Strait to find no wind at all and then be plagued by little or no wind for many days after.
So, broadly speaking, it can be said that the south coast is windy during winter and the north coast is not. However, to be a little more specific the following descriptions of particular areas will be useful to visiting boatmen.
SOUTH COAST This includes the Louisiade Archipelago and the south coast of Papua New Guinea from Samarai west to Port Moresby and beyond into the Torres Strait.
Winter, April to November, very strong and persistent south east trade winds which might ease into variables as early as October or maintain their strength until as late as December. Typical wind force of 15 to 25 knots with higher gusts for two to three days of every fortnight.
Summer, December to March. Starts as an easing of the winter south easterlies with calms, northerlies, southerlies, south westerlies — all light in nature and with occasional thunderstorms. Eventually the north westerly wind establishes itself from around early January to late February or early March after which variables again fill the transition period'back to the winter trade winds.
Very strong gale-force northerlies can occur in the Port Moresby area which can rise to destructive force for a few hours. These are known as 'Gubas' and are usually heralded by dense black rain cloud coming down off the mountains. Lightning and torrential rain usually accompany a Guba.
NORTH COAST of the Papua New Guinea mainland experiences similar conditions to those described for the south coast with the difference that many more calms occur during the winter trade wind period with north easterlies and even very light northerlies occurring along the far north coast (towards the Irian Jay a border).
Winter. The south east trade wind is best developed along the coast from Samarai to the Huon Gulf and on into the Vitiaz Strait where it is famous for its strength and longevity. Around the corner from the Vitiaz Strait, along the Madang coast, the wind typically reduces in strength and mostly changes direction into an easterly or north easterly.
Because the moisture-laden trade wind drives straight over the coast in the Huon Gulf (Lae) area, winter is the wet season for that part of the coast with summer being the dry season. Along the remainder of the coast the reverse is true.
Summer. As stated, this is the dry season around Lae and the wet season around Madang and to its north west. As there are many variables throughout the entire year, the changing of the trade winds from the winter south easterlies to the summer north westerlies is scarcely recognisable as a 'variable' period. But this is essentially what it is. When the north westerlies become properly established along the coast from Samari north, they can blow with amazing strength and endure for two to three days at a time. Their total life is only about two months stretching between early to mid January and late February to early March.
BOUGAINVILLE AND NEW BRITAIN share the same weather pattern as that described for the north coast of Papua New Guinea although each has localised wet and dry seasons.
Winter is once again south east trade wind time but it often does not come in until May and sometimes June and commonly goes again by early October with many variables and calms before, during, and after.
The south east trade wind is best developed in this area along the south coast of New Britain where it can sustain itself for weeks at a time at considerable force. Because it drives onto a lee shore, the high mountains readily cause precipitation which in turn cause a winter wet season along the south'coast of New Britain with a winter dry season along its north coast. The identical thing happens to Bougainville although the winter trade wind does not seem as well developed that far east.
Summer in both islands brings in strong north westerlies for the months of January and February with occasional extensions into March. Because it drives onto the mountains along the north side of both islands, the wet season for their north coast occurs in summer.
It is a fairly rare occurrence to cruise Papua New Guinea without using the engine on passage. It is, as stated before, a gentle area towards the north leaving only the south coast to give promise of good honest days of sailing. I, personally, have never travelled so far with so little wind which made it a most comfortable trip but expensive in terms of fuel. But while the wind may not be up to the requirements of the sailing enthusiast, the knowledge that cyclonic winds are almost unheard of and that the worst that can be experienced is the trade wind or the sharp sudden squall of a thunderstorm, makes the area very appealing for the average boatman; especially the family afloat.
Where the water is exceptionally deep, this method of anchoring is often the only way. It is certainly convenient.
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