PS Papua New Guinea to Torres Strait

Best time:1

April to September

Tropical storms:

December to April

Charts: ,

BA:1039 US: 603



Cruising guide:

Cruising the Coral Coast.


Intermediate Landfall


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PS851 Basilisk SW

PS852 Portlock PS853 Bligh

Thursday Island


9'34'S, 147'05'E

9'15'S, 145'00'E 9=15'S, 144'00'E

10C35'S, 142'13'E

In the days before satellite navigation, Port Moresby was the preferred port of departure for the passage to the Torres Strait. This was a logical choice as the various difficulties associated with navigation through the Torres Strait made it essential to plan the time of arrival in the eastern approaches to the Strait so as to minimise the risk of passing close to some of the reefs at night. Although satellite navigation has greatly simplified matters, a start from Port Moresby still makes it easier to time one's arrival more accurately than if one leaves from a more distant port.

The first danger en route is Portlock Reef, at a distance of 130 miles from Port Moresby. Goldie Reef is 20 miles NNW of Portlock. Ideally one should try to arrive off Portlock Reef in late afternoon, so as to pass between it and Goldie Reef during daylight. The next point to make for is Bramble Cay, lying some 65 miles further west. The distance between Portlock and Bramble Cay can be covered during the hours of darkness, and as there is a light with 14 miles visibility on Bramble Cay this should be sighted before dawn. Such a timing would mean that Bramble Cay is passed in the early morning and that most of the subsequent reefs and islets will also be negotiated in daylight. The other alternative, especially for faster boats, is to arrive off Portlock Reef in the morning so that the remaining distance to Bramble Cay is covered in daylight. The disadvantage of the latter alternative is that Portlock Reef has no light, thus making it very dangerous to arrive in its vicinity at night.

Leaving Port Moresby through Basilisk Pass, from WP PS851 a course can be set for WP PS852, north of Portlock Reef. The course is then altered for WP PS853, in Bligh entrance, 10 miles SE of Bramble Cay. From Bramble Cay the route enters

North East Channel. This well marked channel runs in a SW direction for some 130 miles to the Prince of Wales Channel that finally opens into the Arafura Sea. The continuation of this route is described in IS11 and IS12 (page 400).

The winds on this passage are predominantly easterly and between June and August they are often strong. The currents running through the Strait have a strong westerly set at the height of the SE trades, but their rates are unpredictable. The currents are also tidal and in the Strait itself they run WSW on the flood and NE on the ebb tide. The strongest sets have been recorded in the Prince of Wales Channel, where 5 and 6 knot currents are the order of the day. Another hazard in the eastern approaches is the shallow water that extends far offshore so that the depth sounder cannot give a reliable indication of one's position. Yet another cause of confusion are the murky waters met far offshore caused by a muddy discharge from the Fly River. The colour of the water gives no indication of its depth.

Although navigation through this reef strewn area is not difficult after landfall on Bramble Cay, it is easier to sail in daylight and spend the nights at anchor behind one of the many cays. It must be pointed out, however, that landing on any of the islands is not allowed, as these belong to Australia and legally one should clear in first at Thursday Island. This is impossible for boats coming from the east, so one should heed the above advice and only anchor if absolutely necessary and neither go ashore nor have contact with any other vessel. Australian Coast Guard helicopters regularly overfly the area to ensure that these regulations are not violated and those who ignore them are severely punished.

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