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Trans-PNG expedition is now on the home paddle

Richard Johnson on the canoeIN March, Patrick Hutton and Richard Johnson began an attempt to cross Papua New Guinea from north to south in aid of the PNG-focussed charity ChildFund.

The three month, 1,600 km journey required the expedition to cut through jungle, traverse a mountain range and raft a tributary of the Fly River, which is what they're doing right now. You can read all about their experiences here.

As well as being a huge physical challenge, the team is negotiating with tribal groups as they navigate through largely unmapped terrain.

The two men will be medically independent, relying upon knowledge from previous expeditions and training courses to keep them alert to dangers.

A little over a week ago, on Saturday 10 May at the end of Week 9, the expedition reached Kiunga and began to prepare to canoe down the Fly.

Here is their blog entry at that time written by Patrick Hutton:

The last couple of days have been a whirlwind of activity. As our exped makes the transition from terra firma on to water, our equipment needs and packing routines have changed radically.

Our thoroughly exhausted and scarred jungle boots now lie at the bottom of our bergans, polished and sealed in plastic to prevent mould over the next few weeks.

Our paddles have, for the first time, seen the light of day and we have both been quietly contemplating the prospect of having to exercise our now seriously depleted upper bodies, propelling ourselves along the tidal river to Daru, the end of the expedition.

Neither of us had previously dwelled on stage 3, despite having planned this project over a vast two year period. As nine weeks of physical intensity have taken their toll, we have both begun to appreciate the massive task that we have set ourselves.

This is the second time that I have helped oversee the construction of a vessel suited to a long range river expedition. My first outbreak in to the murky realms of boat building was gained four years ago, as a team of friends and I attempted to cover the Amazon River by human power, navigating our way from source to sea.

Whilst it was a fantastic experience, the fate of our Amazon challenge was ultimately sealed at a geographical mid-way point in the trip, as we moved from land to boat.

After three months of walking, we had taken the decision to build a boat which would allow us to complete the journey on water. In the isolated Peruvian outpost of Pucallpa, the team and I spent an entire month constructing a boat which sucked resources from us, as we methodically paid for power tools, materials, generators, hotel bills and living expenses.

The product of our hard earned time and money was to be our vessel for the remainder of the Amazon River, but ‘HMS Persevere’ ultimately sank several times and helped to terminate our exped before the planned achievement. With hindsight, the biggest mistake was our reluctance to outsource jobs to better qualified people, trying to undertake a job where exacting skill and experience is paramount to success.

With these lessons in mind, Richard and I have designed a craft from two canoes, with a lightweight ‘catamaran’ style mid-section, enabling us to very quickly and easily separate if the situation requires. This will be a massive advantage if one were to be swamped and sink, or caught on a submerged tree.

It is our concession to safety- eliminating the need for a lifeboat. Lashing the canoes together provides essential stability, enabling us to walk, cook and possibly sleep on the boat. This will be especially important when the river widens and we have to deal with a daily tidal bore, in waters which harbour saltwater crocodiles.

To save time and money, we employed a local carpenter to assemble the craft to our specification. Following our arrival last week, the boat took only three days to make, at an extremely low cost. Although the design is rudimentary, the benefits of a reduced build time, nimble river handling and low cost were paramount to helping us towards our objective of crossing Papua New Guinea by human power.

Time is a critical matter at this stage- our two month tourist visas have now expired and a one month extension (we hope!) has been arranged by our immigration support of Brunel, based in Port Moresby. The month extension is the longest stay available to us, and this is in our minds as we continue our journey. 

As we set off to embark on our river adventure, I now feel confident that it is in mine, Richard’s and the boat’s abilities to reach Daru, and by god we intend to try!

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