Legendary Luf - The Hermit Islands

Luff Island Village
As we’ve traveled, there have been a few places that become legendary in the cruiser circles.  For some reason or another, a location would be mentioned over and over by various cruisers, making it a “must stop” in our own plans.

Luf Island in the Hermit Island Group is one of those such places.  Every time I emailed a friend who’d already sailed through PNG or read a cruising blog about this country, Luf Island village was always mentioned as a highlight.

That’s a lot to live up to!

Getting there was a slow slog.  We left New Hanover when all of our weather prediction models promised wind enough to sail.  SO, of course that meant that there was absolutely zero wind for the entire first day and a half!  It would be months before we’d be in a place to refuel, so Mark was going nuts, trying as many sail configurations as he could think of to catch even the slightest puff of breeze.  Finally, we decided just to take advantage of the positive current and drift for a half a day.  Our average boat speed was a whopping 2.1 knots!!  Would we ever get to the infamous Luf?

Three days passed before the winds kicked up and pushed us to Luf, but the sporadic sailing had delayed our arrival time to 8 pm that night.  We had to make a decision.  Go through the wide pass at night or drift around outside all night until daybreak.

Tour of Luf island village
Recently, there had been news of a few family yachts that had run aground on reefs - one that was attempting to enter a pass after dark.  We checked, double-checked, zoomed in, zoomed out, compared charts and satellite images, read blogs and compendium notes.  Finally, it was decided that we would enter the pass after sunset.  I won’t say that doubts didn’t criss-cross in my mind, but the pass was over 3 km wide and very deep, without obstructions.  We could get through the pass and anchor out in the open area just to the south in 20ish meters.  Navigations went off without a hitch, we anchored and slept for the night before navigating further into the lagoon to drop the hook near the village at Luf Island.  Well, somewhat near the village...

The bay is deep, with very few spots less than 35 meters.  Originally, we anchored in a spot up close to the village, but after a few harrowing squalls blew through, our nerves forced us to move out to the 10 meter pinnacle quite a way from shore.  The anchor set well, and we had plenty of room to swing (or drag, heaven forbid).  It made our dinghy commute a trek, but at least we had peace of mind!

Ashore, things were quiet.  A few children greeted us as well as some folks that were there visiting to do health check-ups for the government Health Department.  Turns out, all the teachers and many of the students and community members had gone to the Ninigo Islands for the Independence Day futbol tournament, so it was a bit of a ghost town.  The village tour guide, Ben, was up working in the bush, so we just chatted for a while with the few people we could find, and then asked them to let him know he was welcomed to come aboard for tea when he returned.

Smiley face of Luf village

More happy kids
In a few hours, he brought us the visitors book to sign and welcomed us to the island, apologizing that he had missed our initial arrival.  As we talked, we gathered around the visitors book and squealed with delight each time we spotted the entry of cruising friends who had already passed through here.  It was like looking through an old high school yearbook, remembering faces and wondering where they were now and what they’d experienced while they were here - relishing the notes that were written in their familiar handwriting with drawings and photos attached.
Guest book entry from our friends on s/v Lumbaz over a year prior to our arrival
Mark was curious as to the number of boats that visit each year, so Elizabeth made a spreadsheet on her iPad.  He flipped through the pages and called out each entry while she kept a running tally by year.  Then, she converted it to a bar graph that displayed all the data.  2011 saw by far the most yachts (45), and the lowest (4) in 2003.  So far in 2017, we were the thirteenth boat to visit.  It was a fun exercise in collecting and analyzing data as we sat around and tried to figure out which factors contributed to the high and low years.   The economy?  The PNG political unrest periods?  Weather patterns?  I imagined sending the case into the guys that do the Freakanomics podcast to see what conclusions they could come up with!

Ben and Mark
Ben ended up hanging out and eating dinner with us - creamy potato and veggie soup and quick biscuits with jam.  He shared stories with us and made sure we had all the information we needed about the village - no crocs nearby, some malaria cases recently, trading is appreciated.  We asked about swimming with the mantas and about diving as well.  He said that he really enjoyed diving and he’d gone a couple other times with cruisers, but we refrained from extending an invitation to come along with us.  We just don’t feel comfortable not knowing someone’s training or experience so are very cautious when bringing anyone diving with us who does not have an actual certification.  In this culture, retribution is a very acceptable way of dealing with things.  If someone gets hurt due to something you have done, their family has every right to come after you for money or for revenge.  In fact, we were told in Honiara that if we rented a car and accidentally hit a pedestrian, we should flee or risk being hurt or killed ourselves in retribution!  That little tidbit of information has left us a bit more guarded than usual.

By the time the first stars showed up in the dusky sky, Ben headed back to the village, leaving us to get rested from our sluggish passage.  I laid in bed that night with my mind full of anticipation, excited to finally be in Luf Island.


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