Bonjour & bienvenue from la nouvelle Caledonie!
After a 7 day ocean passage leaving Brisbane on Monday May 4th , we have arrived at Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia.
For the first 4 days of the passage we had incredibly calm seas and virtually no wind, so we had to motor sail to make any headway. I have to say, despite the frustration of the noise (and fuel costs) it was a perfect opportunity for Frank and I to rest up after the busy time over the past couple of months.
Due to the conditions, we were not making fast progress, and stayed within sight of our friends on board ‘Periclees’ for those first few days.
We had first met Isabelle, Dave & their children Yara & Lanie back in June 2013 when we had flown to Noumea to join Dave & Lanie on board ‘Gypsy Lee’ for one of our many sailing adventures.
‘Periclees’ had also been moored at Newport marina over the past year, so we had got to know each other well during our frequent stays there. They were headed for New Caledonia and on to Fiji for the season & cleared customs the same morning as us on Monday May 4th.
Each morning and night, we both shared a ‘radio sched’ with friends on board yacht ‘Diivine Wind II’ that had left Brisbane on the same day as us, and were also, bound for Vanuatu to offer donations and help to the cyclone ravaged islands.
We had fist met Deb & Alan back in May 2011, when we joined their Vanuatu Rally – a spectacular 3 month cruise around the northern islands of Vanuatu. After sailing to Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo, we sailed through the Palm, Reef & Torres Islands, experiencing amazing celebrations with native islanders plus offering donations to schools whilst Alan held naturopathic clinics.
We have kept in touch with Deb & Alan, who divide their time living between Vanuatu & Australia. They run charters from their beautiful home at Paradise Lodge on Aore Island ( sailingvanuatu.com) and continue helping the Nivans through their charitable organisation ‘The South Pacific Association’.
After Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, they were the first people we contacted to see how we could help. In ‘Divine Wind II’, they plan to visit a number of islands that still need help, offering donations and clinics along the way.
‘Divine Wind II’ is a 57 foot Beneteau, so she travels at a faster pace than both ‘Periclees’ and ‘Stars End 2’, and they soon overtook us both, and the gap between the yachts increased. Our new AIS unit (automatic identification system) stopped tracking on the third day (though later seemed to be fine), so once ‘Periclees’ and ‘Stars End 2’ lost visual contact and location tracking through our AIS units, we were left completely on our own sailing the ocean.
Frank & I settled quickly into a rhythm at sea – we read books, did plenty of sleeping, taking turns in the sea berth set up in the saloon where part of the table drops down to create our snug cocoon once padded with blankets and soft pillows. We enjoyed the sunny days & balmy nights, always trying to tweak an extra knot out of the sails, whilst maintaining an easterly course away from the Australian coast to allow for the prevailing south easterlies that were bound to step in before too long.
The seas were calm and apart from a long sea swell, it was very comfortable and relaxing sailing. By day 3, the ocean had turned the most brilliant shade of blue (hence the colour Pacific Blue??) and flying fish were also jumping out of the waves to fly for many metres with their transparent wings before diving back into the sea.We would have dinner around 5pm on the yacht, whilst it was still light, so that we were ready for the 6 o’clock radio sched before settling down for the night.
On the morning of Day 5, (before I had even had time for my morning cuppa!), a strong sou’easterly blew up at over 33 knots (the weather map we downloaded through our HF predicted 5 knots!!). We pfaffed around a bit, quickly reefing in sails that were overpowered in these conditions. It didn’t help that the mizzen sail had broken it’s heavy stainless boom vang fitting, and the 2nd reef snap shackle broke, so we could only tie it up until conditions were calmer to tackle the problem & use just the front reefed sail to propel us along at 6-7 knots. The seas quickly became like a violent washing machine and it was very uncomfortable sailing.
Neither Frank nor I felt like doing much during the whole of that day whilst the strong winds persisted. As the huge waves crashed over the side of the yacht and heeled us over at 40 degrees our buttocks were getting their own aerobic workout simply gripping the seat whilst trying to compensate for the rocking movement! We munched on jatz crackers and museli bars, and quickly upped the dose of sea sickness tablets we had been taking nonchanantly during the calmer conditions. It was even hard to sleep in our comfy sea berth with the persitant and violent rocking, but we tried to be grateful for some wind to help fill the sails!
What we have appreciated on many an occasion are the clear covers that we made to enclose the cockpit. With them firmly zipped up against the elements, every time a huge wave crashed over us, we would decide on how much the saving from the cold water douse would be worth towards the cost of having them made- “Wow- that was a $20 wave!” “No, definitely worth more like $30!”
By nightime, it has eased to a consistent 25 knots, and by next morning (Sunday) down to 20 knots. The sun peaked out from behind the clouds and the whole world looked brighter again! The seas flattened out somewhat and we spent day 6 simply enjoying a good sail with seas that were somewhat larger than we were used to in Moreton Bay! WE made good headway and by that evenings sched we were on a straight course of 150 miles from Noumea, with mild sou’easterly winds predicted.
By Sunday morning, we had less than 100 miles to go and Divine Wind 2 had scooted ahead, so she was just 8 miles from the reef entrance at the Passe de Dumbea near Noumea Harbour. ‘Periclees’ was further behind as they had taken down all their sails and let the yacht drift for the night to allow his family a better nights sleep whilst the seas were so rough.
I went onto our ‘sailmail’ to send a happy birthday message to our gorgeous daughter in law Jenny for May 10th, & was surprised to find beautiful Mothers Day wishes from both the boys and Avery. I had forgotten all about Mothers Day, but proceeded to make the most of it, by requesting Frank indulge me by making lunch for us both- cuppa soup with a slice of rye bread- not hugely exciting, but the best we could come up with at the time.
During the day the wind continued to reduce until it remained consistent at a pleasant 11-15 knots. ‘Stars End 2’ bobbed along gently across the swells at around 5 knots and this was how we remained for the entire day. The sun shone, the seas smoothed, and Frank & I sat back and relished the great conditions.
We realised we would cross the Passe de Dumbea in the middle of the night. We made a decision to slow our pace in order to co ordinate our entry into Port Moselle marina at Noumea for 8am when the marina office opened and we could radio in to organise a berth for customs clearance.
Knowing we were on the home run, how those last 100 miles seemed to pass so slowly. We started to feel really excited at arriving into New Caledonia, and apart from the odd nap, Frank & I kept each other company for most of the night in the cockpit, sipping hot chocolate and analysing our sail across the Pacific. Apart from that one nasty day, we reckoned we had enjoyed a pretty good run, especially compared to our previous trip to Vanuatu in 2011 which was horrendous.
As dawn broke, we crossed the Passe de Dumbea and slowly sailed the 12 miles across the bay towards Port Moselle. We dropped our sails and motored into the marina to cheers of welcome from the crew of ‘Divine Wind II’ who were already tied alongside the wharf.
At 9am on Tuesday morning, ‘Periclees’ also arrived into the marina, and we welcomed them with fresh french baguettes and chocolat du pain! Tonight there will be a celebration on the marina so that we can celebrate our safe arrival with all our friends.