Proud and Staying FREE
TRUE Story... Guns and Bandits
Bob's Introduction to this article
from TCP # 20..The cover photo
of TCP 19 (above) was lifted from an old file by Cay Hickson
who accompanied Lindsay Walkley of Avalore on a barely
believable adventure originally published in TCP # 3. The couple
that had owned the Aussie vessel in the shot, the Spirit
of Wychwood saw it and got in touch with TCP and also sent
along a story of their adventure. As soon as I read it I recognised
the overlapping details from Lindsays account. I then sent
Lindsays story to them, Roz and Bas Dolkens filled in more
of the details, substantiating even more of the story. How could
I resist?! So here is the whole story, one of TCPs
best and now better.
This is really, really good!!
By Lindsay Walkley, SY Avalore
Photos: Cay Hickson
Avolare was launched in August
1999 and departed from Darwin on the first leg of a circumnavigation
just over a year later. After a heavy grounding on a reef near
the Thailand/Malaysia border, I realized that neither the boat
nor I were quite ready for this trip. A leisurely cruise back
to Australia to repair the damaged hull and attend to a myriad
of other little things was in order. A quick about turn saw Avolare
heading down the Malacca Straits to Singapore, east to Borneo,
then, because it seemed like a good idea at the time, north into
the Philippines. By the time I was ready to leave the Philippines
I'd been away for two years and had worked out that single-handed
cruising was not for me.
It was time to find a crew. Must
be easy going and adventurous the (Internet) advert read.
A little crazy and masochistic I should have added.
Now anyone who has looked at the Pilot
Charts for the Western Pacific might conclude that it would be
easier to sail right around the world than to sail from Cebu
in the Philippines to Cairns, Australia. Light head winds and
contrary currents were to be expected for most of the 3,500 miles,
and these conditions do not suit Avolare's modest sail plan and
14 tons displacement. Being a little naïve, I thought I
would give it a try, and Cay, my new found first mate, having
cut her (sailing) teeth on the South African coast, just wanted
to go anywhere the water was warm.
After a week wandering the back streets
and markets of Cebu, it was obvious that Cay could cope with
a little filth and poverty, and would therefore be right at home
sailing on Avolare for a few months. The next big test came when
we sailed into the Hinatuan Passage and saw the GPS top out at
11.8 knots with the engine idling, but out of gear. Going mostly
sideways through what appeared to be boiling water, I was busy
steering and hanging on. Cay on the other hand had her camera
out and was getting a few happy snaps. It seemed that she had
the nerves to cope with those 'out of control' moments that I
often experience while sailing Avolare.
With knowledge of recent pirate attacks
off the Mindanao coast, it's not surprising that Cay 'lost it'
one afternoon when she saw three fishing boats approaching us
at high speed, each from a different direction. In the dead calm
conditions there was no possibility of outrunning these boats,
which are only a canoe fitted with bamboo outriggers and a motor.
With my handgun securely locked in the ships safe, and the key
hidden somewhere in the aft cabin, I realized that we would have
little chance of successfully defending ourselves if they were
intent on boarding us. Cay was hiding below while I spent twenty
minutes in idle chitchat with these 'pirates' before they lost
interest in us and raced off towards the coast at twenty knots.
Who knows, perhaps they really were fishermen.
After a week lazing on Helen Island, a
tiny remote and uninhabited jewel surrounded by a large coral
reef full of fish and turtles, and covered with thousands of
nesting terns, we found we were running short of fresh food.
It was time to move on. With a strong contrary current, no wind,
and Papua New Guinea's closest port (Vanimo) still seven hundred
miles away, we made for Irian Jaya. Unfortunately, through lack
of foresight on my part, we didn't have the necessary Indonesian
visas or cruising permit, but after three hours of interrogation
by the Chief of Police in Manokwari, he was satisfied that we
were just stupid sailors blown off course, and no threat to regional
security. We explained that all we needed was fresh food and
a few days rest, and he very generously gave us a letter permitting
an unspecified passage along the Irian Jaya coast, with stops
for food and fuel as required.
Manokwari, Biak and Jayapura are all very
colourful and have multiple layers of history, but our real interest
in this area was the spectacular bird life. Yopi, who had acted
as our interpreter during the interviews with the Chief of Police,
had befriended us and was very knowledgeable about the local
Flora and Fauna. He suggested a small detour to the island of
Miosnum as offering the best chance of seeing Bird of Paradise
in the wild, with an alternative location on Yapen, where the
local people had encouraged wild Bird of Paradise to come down
to a jungle clearing by putting out food. A short overnight sail
and we found ourselves in an anchorage with verdant jungle running
straight into the sea, but after a few days of scrambling around
in the jungle we had to admit that we really needed a guide.
We could hear birds calling from all around us, but the jungle
canopy is so thick that all we saw were occasional flashes of
colour high in the trees. All was not lost as we still had Yapen
Island to try, and a visit to this clearing early in the morning
or late in the afternoon was guaranteed to get results. We arrived
late one afternoon at Pom (World port index 52960), a tiny notch
on the north coast of Yapen Island surrounded by a stilt village
built over the mud flats, and having a rickety 'jetty' about
ten meters long. We were immediately surrounded by thirty (I
counted) canoes with three or four people in each. Unfortunately
for Cay, who by this time was suffering severe nicotine deficiency,
no one spoke a word of English, and her tyrannical skipper was
not sufficiently interested in her plight to permit a trip ashore
until after the level of interest in us had died down. It was
well after nightfall before the last of the canoes departed and
I started to relax a little, but that didn't help Cay get any
cigarettes, so I was not her favorite person at that time.
We later learnt that the locals were familiar with motorized
trading vessels, but the overwhelming interest in Avolare was
because no one in this village had ever seen a boat with 'this
big thing (mast) sticking up'. The next day, with the aide of
the only person in the village that could speak a little English,
we were able to obtain some fags for Cay, and organize a guide
to take us into the jungle to see the Bird of Paradise. Though
we tried hard to clarify with our interpreter every aspect of
what we thought was to be a three or four-mile walk along the
beach, followed by a short hike into the jungle, things started
to go terribly astray. Our guide arrived at the appointed time.
Accompanied by his father and a few others, it now seemed that
we were all going on an overnight sailing trip up the coast to
some place where there was no anchorage. There was much disappointment
on both sides when we were eventually able to explain that it
is just not possible to park Avolare on the beach, as they can
with a canoe.
On to Biak, where we were finally able to see many of the 38
endemic Birds of Paradise, and numerous other equally spectacular
birds, albeit housed in large aviaries. We wandered around the
war memorials, scrambled through large caverns where hundreds
of Japanese soldiers made a last stand during W.W.II, and generally
acted like tourists for a few days before moving on to the Padidio
Islands and then Jayapura, a bustling little city near the border
While Jayapura may have it's attractions
I was unable to find them. After a few days we were eager to
move on, hopefully to catch up with friends in another yacht
that were making the same trip, but were a month or so in front
Now perhaps I should explain that following
a couple of years cruising in South East Asia I had become a
little tired of dealing with the language difficulties, the filth
and disorder in many of the cities and the almost total lack
of privacy. Neither of us could get used to people looking in
through the portholes at any hour of the day or night, nor the
annoying tendency of some people to climb aboard Avolare uninvited.
However, not once in my travels up to this point had I felt any
threat of violence, or been the victim of any theft or dishonesty
other than a few minor attempts by officials to (unsuccessfully)
obtain a little graft. Little did we know that things were about
to dramatically change, and not for the better. We were both
looking forward to a leisurely few months cruising among the
beautiful islands of New Guinea and the Solomons, prior to heading
for Australia before the start of the cyclone season. With the
'difficulties' of South East Asia behind us, and only the pristine
Islands and smiling faces of Melanesia in front of us, we drank
a toast to the Sea Gods as we sailed over Longitude 141 degrees
East into PNG.
As soon as we crossed from Irian
Jaya into Papua New Guinea the language difficulties disappeared,
the overcrowding and pollution problems were dramatically reduced,
and our privacy was restored. On the other hand, crime and violence
problems appeared to be everywhere, to the extent that it is
now difficult for me to use the words 'leisurely cruise' and
'Papua New Guinea' in the same sentence. After five weeks in
northern PNG coastal waters we had survived numerous threatening
situations, and were more than a little jumpy. By the time we
had been in Madang a while, our perception of the crime and violence
situation got far worse. Unfortunately we were stuck there until
Cay's Australian Visa came through. Our own recent experiences,
and the numerous accounts of assaults on other cruisers in the
area finally led me to conclude that my firearm would be more
useful if it was not locked away in the ships safe.
Now it is not my intention here to get
into the perennial argument about firearms on board cruising
yachts, nor the difficulties involved should you declare a firearm
to Customs in a foreign country. Suffice to say that I had a
firearm, and I did not declare it on arrival in PNG. This in
hindsight may have been a mistake, and turned what was to be
a leisurely cruise into dash to the (relative) safety of Australian
My perceptions of the social problems in
PNG may not be accurate and I fully accept that I created some
of my own problems by breaking the law, but never in more than
twenty years as a Police Officer, have I experienced such a level
of crime and violence. That may be a little harsh on the vast
majority of PNG's gentle and honest people, and perhaps I have
completely misunderstood the prevailing social standards. If
that is so, then perhaps I should make my apologies, or offer
thanks, to the following people encountered on the PNG leg of
To the man who swam out to our boat in
Vanimo (our port of entry into PNG) at 2am and against my warnings
tried to climb board, I sincerely hope that your injuries have
healed well. (This initiated unplanned departure No. 1).
To the young man on Kairiru Island who
attempted to rob us of a watch and clothing, I hope you have
recovered. You should be able to find your machete 100 meters
off the beach, directly out from the hot water spring on the
beach. (This initiated unplanned departure No. 2).
To the man in Wewak that one night paddled
his canoe out to our friends yacht and attempted to cut their
dinghy from the davits, it is sincerely hoped that you made it
safely to shore, and regrettable that your canoe was reduced
to match wood. (there is the connection... read on!)
To the five Police officers armed with
automatic rifles that boarded us in Bogia Harbour, we thank you
for your honesty, courtesy and sound advice. (This initiated
unplanned departure No. 3).
To the unknown person near Jais Arben resort
that stole one of our dinghy oars, if you need another one I
have a spare that I no longer need.
To the woman fishing from a canoe in Sek
Harbour, I hope you find a good use for the items you stole from
our dinghy, however it is generally not acceptable behavior to
threaten people with a machete if they approach you to recover
their possessions. (This initiated unplanned departure No. 4).
To the crazy Expat Irishman in Madang,
thanks for your guidance and protection during the volatile situation
that followed the murder in the street, and further thanks for
those Borowors sausages. They were delicious.
To those numerous drug dealers of Madang,
I stand by my advice that the back yard of the Customs office
is not an appropriate place to conduct business, and confirm
that not every yachtsman is interested in purchasing your goods.
To the customs officers in Madang, I fully
admit my guilt in not declaring the possession of a firearm,
and was happy to be dealt with according to law. I sincerely
hope that you were not trying use the threat of an inordinately
long delay in bringing this matter before the courts to extort
money from me, and I further hope that you had no trouble in
accounting for my firearm in the subsequent investigation into
your actions. (This initiated unplanned departure No. 5).
To Peter from Rabaul, who gave us the benefit
of his experience, and advised us to move Avolare away from Ratung
village to a place of (relative) safety, we thank you for your
good advice, friendship and hospitality. (This initiated unplanned
departure No. 6).
To the Customs Officer in Rabaul who used
lies and deceit to get hold of my passport and then issued a
receipt for it AND my Yacht. You should know that seizing a person's
passport and his yacht might not always be effective in preventing
the departure of that person and his yacht from your custody.
(This initiated unplanned departure No. 7).
To the Police officer, also in Rabaul,
that went out of his way to keep me informed of developments
(or lack thereof) throughout this unfortunate incident. I regret
that I was unable to say my good-byes but I can advise you that
we made it safely to Australia without further incident.
To the five armed men that boarded our
friends yacht and terrorized them in the Buka Passage one night,
stealing everything that was not bolted down, and some things
that were. Your actions, along with the numerous media reports
of criminal and other social problems in the region, have finally
convinced me that Papua New Guinea (and perhaps the Solomon Islands,
though we were by then not game to continue on that far), are
best seen looking astern. (This initiated unplanned departure
To the very professional Customs, Immigration
and Quarantine officers in Cairns, I thank you for your understanding
and assistance upon our arrival in Australia.
And finally, to the staff of the Australian
High Commission in Port Moresby, I thank you for recovering and
returning my passport so promptly.
And Now the
Rest of the Story from the Crew of the Vessel, Spirit of wychwood" meets the Bougainville
Roz and Baz,
the warriors of Wewak!
By Bas Dolkens,
SY, Spirit of Wychwood
(at the time, now land bound)
Well, if the Australian supplier had not
decided to use that Unbelievably Procrastinating Service to deliver
our new oil coolers to Wewak in Papua New Guinea, we probably
would never had a visit from the Bougainville Bandits. As it
was it took the transport company more than a month to deliver
so we left Wewak after the South East Trade winds were well and
truly established. What was planned to be a somewhat boring but
smooth passage along the PNG North Coast in the transition period
turned into a battle against adverse currents and winds on the
So it was that we found ourselves on Saturday,
24 August 2002 aboard our 45-foot ketch, Spirit of Wychwood,
battling a 50 knot plus Southerly on our way South from Rabaul
to Budi Budi. After three days and two sleepless nights, whilst
the mountains of Bougainville beckoned us on the horizon and
still no sign of a favourable wind shift, we radioed some yachties
with many years experience in PNG and discussed whether it was
safe to go there. After some assurances that the rebel situation
was now under control and that Dive boats had resumed operations
on Bougainville, we turned East and a few hours later anchored
in the lee of a sandy cay near Buka.
Instant heaven! Despite the wind, still
blowing 35 knots, the water was smooth and warm, clear as crystal
and we were soon refreshed and sound asleep. The next day we
were visited by some expats, an Australian working with an Australian
charitable organization and his wife and children, a German establishing
a copra buying business and an Englishman also in business. They
also assured us that we were safe as houses anchored where we
were and we would have no problems waiting for the winds to subside.
Whilst there was considerable passing traffic from fishermen
and others going to and fro about their normal business, unusually
we had no other visitors apart from four young men in a banana
boat asking for petrol. Having explained to them that our
boat used diesel, they left.
It was Wednesday night at about 9 pm that
Roz woke me to say that she could hear a boat coming our way.
Then there was a thump as it pulled alongside and I went on deck
to say hello to our late night visitors. I was not in the least
bit concerned as it is not unusual for fishermen to call past
after having caught some crayfish to trade for cigarettes, sugar
or whatever else they might need. However, these were the same
young men who had previously asked for petrol plus another, older,
person. When I again explained that we had no petrol one of the
young men shouted We don't want your f*****g petrol, we're
going to rob you, burn your boat and kill you, we hate whites,
especially you Australians and f*****g Americans, now get into
this boat! Then, instead of smiling faces I was looking
into the muzzles of four machine guns. Well, they looked like
machine guns to me but I don't watch Rambo movies. Roz says they
were semi-automatics and the pirates later proudly boasted that
they had taken them from PNG Defence Force soldiers and that
the weapons were from Australia. At that time I thought, that's
nice, our government buys weapons with our Medicare funds and
sends them here so we can get robbed.
The idea of getting into the banana boat
and leaving Roz did not exactly appeal to me and I said to the
loudmouthed lout, No way mate, this is not just my boat,
it is my house, it's all I have and I am not leaving. He
again shouted at me to get in his boat and I suggested that maybe
we could help him some other way but I was not leaving my boat.
He then had some discussion with the older man and announced
that I could stay but he was coming on board. I didn't feel that
I could argue with that and he, two of his mates and the older
man boarded whilst one stayed on the banana boat. Roz, who came
on deck armed with a winch handle, quickly dropped it when confronted
by four semi-automatic weapons, and we were again yelled at to
get into the banana boat and I again said, No way, we're
staying! They then shouted at us to tell them where the
guns were and refused to believe us when we told them we had
no guns. Yes, shouted the loudmouthed one, you
have guns, we know you have many guns, where are they?
At this point the older man took over whilst one of the young
men stayed on deck waving his gun at us and pretending to shoot
us and imaginary enemies passing by, whilst shouting, ranting
and raving incoherently about white bastards and redskins. The
older man, who by now we thought to be either a customs official
or a policeman, searched the Spirit of Wychwood from stem to
stern looking for the guns.
The loudmouthed one came on deck and proceeded
to lecture us on the evils perpetrated by white men against His
People and claimed to be descended from Bougainville Royalty.
He called himself Prince Something or other but refused to clarify
his name when we questioned him further. We then tried to convince
him that we would take a message for him to the Australian Government
and Roz went down below to get pen and paper to record the details.
The loudmouthed prince soon became a puffed
up prince but the process failed when he refused to identify
himself. You couldn't be anonymous and famous at the same time
could you? He resorted to raving and ranting, claimed he was
going to rule not just Bougainville but the whole world, he was
a good friend of Osama Bin Laden and hated President Bush and
the Queen would bow before him. He went on and on until he went
down below to do his bit of plundering.
Having established that there were no guns,
the Official took over the role of guarding us whilst
the lads spent the next four hours pulling the inside of the
boat apart looking for things to steal. The official also told
us not to worry about our safety, Just go along with the
boys when they talk he said, you'll be alright.
We spent the next three and a half hours talking about everything
from family, to politics, religion and cruising. It also became
obvious that he had received information that we were carrying
a shipment of guns and he was disappointed to find that he had
been miss-informed. We had previously been anchored alongside
an Australian yacht [Editors note; that would be our boy Lindsay]
that had been in trouble in Madang for having a pistol aboard.
When a thorough search of that vessel near Rabaul failed to find
more guns, it was decided that these must have been transferred
to the Spirit of Wychwood. When we were spotted near Buka Passage
officials had to make a choice; an official search would see
the weapons confiscated and the profits would go to Port Moresby,
but if they staged a pirate attack the proceeds would stay at
It may have gone on longer but then the
Prince asked Roz to help him find the mobile phone. It was no
longer in its charging bracket and when Roz said one of the boys
must already have it, he suggested that it could be in the bedroom.
At this point Roz immediately tweaked to the direction this was
taking and rushed up the companionway ladder gagging loudly and
complaining that she was going to vomit. The noise Roz was making
was turning all five of our very black visitors a distinct shade
of green. Then Roz, who had winked at me as she came up the stairs,
announced that she had soiled herself. What,
said the official, what does that mean? That
means that she has shat in her pants I explained.
That was enough for them and they left
As they left they threatened to come back
and kill us if we hadn't gone by 7 o'clock. Roz told them we
couldn't leave until 10 o'clock because we could not see our
way out of the reefs before then. Alright said the
Prince, If you're not out of here by 10 O'clock we come
back and shoot you! When they departed I noticed a large
plastic container with boxes of breakfast cereal in their boat.
Hey, I said, we have a long way to go to Australia
and we have no money, give me back my Weetbix. And they
G'Day again Bob,
Thanks for that story from Lindsay.
As you have no doubt gathered by now, it was Avolare that was
the suspected "Gun Runner" after Lindsay was found
to be in possession of a peashooter. The story about the unfortunate
fellow that raised the wrath of Roz when he tried to steal our
inflatable in Wewak was another of those episodes that, whilst
it wasn't really funny at the time, has brought many a giggle
since. If the man survived his backward summersault off his canoe,
he has no doubt departed Wewak never to be seen again. After
all, how do you tell your mates that a naked white woman hit
you with a dolphin torch, stole your machete and then threw you
off her boat when you were only trying to borrow her dinghy?
For weeks after, Roz was the toast of Wewak. We have thrown away
the machete, it turned to a lump of rust, but we still have his
paddle. His canoe was converted to matchwood whilst I was inviting
him to come back so that I could feed him to the sharks. He declined
Over all, we had a lot less trouble than Lindsay and Cay on Avolare.
And that, dear readers,
is how it sometimes occurs. Then other times it can end in tragedy.
Click here for the report of the English
couple attacked off Thailand.