Six Navy members attached to HS Red, currently embarked in HMAS Leeuwin, were recently deployed to an uninhabited island to erect and maintain a tidal and boat camp as part of the ship's survey deployment to Papua New Guinea.
The tidal and boat camp, also know as a tide camp, was established on Panuwaiyayapuna Island, near Milne Bay and the China Strait, for the purpose of gaining 'on the ground' information. As such, was a vital component of HS Red's survey tasking on the south east of Papua New Guinea.
The Island sits in the centre of Jomard Entrance, a major shipping channel for vessels trading between Australia and Asia. Panuwaiyayapuna Island is also surrounded by a glorious reef, home to an array of marine life, small and large in size. Well placed, it allowed for specialist hydrographic observations to be made, ensuring the accuracy of data collected by Leeuwin for the area.
All experience levels were involved in the shore deployment, some participating in their maiden tide camp. One of the 'first-timers' was Seaman Hydrographic Systems Operator Mitchell Gardener.
"It was an exciting experience, allowing me to hone in and advance my hydrographic surveying skills," Seaman Gardener said.
One of the main tasks was to observe the tidal movement, so this information could be used to increase the accuracy of any charts updated using Leeuwin's survey information.
Lieutenant Simon Wolski was in charge, and this was his sixth tide camp during his time in both the Permanent Navy and as a Reservist.
"Tidal camps provide inexperienced personnel with ample opportunities for training and exposure to field surveying in a remote environment," Lieutenant Wolski said.
In this survey, HS Red's crew had the chance to walk in the footsteps of the ship's forebears by following the work done by HMAS Lachlan during World War II. Lachlan was a River class frigate deployed on hydrographic survey operations to assist the US Pacific Fleet in the Philippines and Borneo before exploring the waters of Papua New Guinea. In April 1945, Lachlan, operating under war time conditions, surveyed the area using mechanical equipment. Leeuwin's survey of the same area used highly accurate, 'hi-tech' equipment, including GPS, sonar and multi-beam echo sounders.
The barrenness and remoteness of the environment that the tide camp crew experienced during their deployment was a stark reminder of the conditions that Lachlan had to deal with.
Midshipman Samuel Bayagau, one of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force liaison officers embarked in Leeuwin, was part of the tide camp, allowing him to gain valuable insights into the specialist skills involved in the conduct of the surveying activity. Being from that region of Papua New Guinea, Sam's local knowledge also proved invaluable in helping the Australian sailors and officers understand the local weather and nature of the island.
While it was a change to normal Navy life at sea, all members of the tide camp enjoyed the great professional opportunity it provided, and all acknowledged that the unique environment they operated in was something 'enjoyed by only the lucky'.
Panuwaiyayapuna Island brought a little slice of heaven to these mariners.