Sorry folks- this is a long posting as we have been on the move and there is a lot to share so that I am up to date.
We had thoroughly enjoyed spending just under 4 weeks in New Caledonia, lapping up the French ambience, the food and wine. Being such a stepping stone for yachts traveling to the south Pacific, Noumea also offered us the opportunity to socialize with a number of other ‘yachties’ who arrived during our stay here and to meet several other boats that were also joining the Sail 2 Indonesia Rally.
We formed an instant friendship with Aussies Craig & Del, on board their Lagoon 440 catamaran ‘Storm Dancer’, from the minute they greeted us whilst still anchored under our Q flag (Quarantine) waiting for clearance into Port Moselle, and we shared many memorable evenings during our time in New Caledonia.
The first week in Port Moselle Marina as you kn was spent working on yacht repairs and maintenance, and then we sailed south for a couple of weeks to La Baie de Prony where we enjoyed exploring the long narrow bay which meanders through dense bush land and deep red earth, rich in minerals, especially nickel.
After 10 miles plus, the creek ends in a series of low rocky waterfalls that break the river which winds far into the distant hills.
We revisited pretty little Islot Casy, where we had anchored with friends Dave & Lanie on board ‘Gypsy Lee’ back in 2013 and again when Stars End 2 was en route to Vanuatu in 2015.
“Moose’, a friendly old dog had been abandoned there many years ago when the resort was closed down. Now, he lives well enough due to the generosity of visiting locals & cruising yachts who feed him, and when there is no one else around, we have actually watched Moose dive head first off the wooden jetty into the water to catch fish to eat. He would happily accompany visitors on their walks around his island and when back in Noumea it was heart warming to hear that a vet nurse ‘yachtie’ had been given medication to take to Moose by a local vet for his ailments of old age.‘Storm Dancer’ joined us after we sailed to Ile Ouen, and we enjoyed a few days exploring this large secluded bay even though we ended up with stained feet after walking the length of the beach due to the red sand.
We sailed to Ile Uere, but when the wind shifted we were fairly exposed to the swell and high tailed it out of there first thing next morning and sailed the last 7 miles back to the relative protection of the headland at Port Moselle.
For the last week in Noumea, Frank worked on various yacht issues- the toilet plumbing, loose screws in the water maker system, adjusting ropes and overhauling all our sailing equipment to ensure it was all in good condition ready for the next passage.
I cooked up many meals which I then froze down- beef stroganoff, chicken korma, pork & veal fagioli, hearty beef stew, chunky beef chilli con carne, chicken in leek, mushrooms & bacon sauce, coconut chicken with lime & coriander and trusty old spaghetti bolognese. On passage, we would add pasta or rice I had pre cooked and placed in containers in the fridge, to those meals that needed an accompaniment, to become our ‘one pot’ meals. For lunches, I made up a stack of minced beef burritos that we could take out of the fridge & heat up in a pan, or we might heat up leftovers, or have crackers and cheese and fruit. It’s amazing how many people think living on a boat means eating out of tins, but Frank & I eat just as well as we did on land, with the added benefit of the frequent addition of fresh fish when the opportunity presents.
We cleared out of Noumea on June 15th, and sailed northwards in brilliant sunshine inside the reef for the day, stopping at a little sand cay- Ilot M’boa, for a midday swim when the wind dropped to nothing.
Later, we head out of the reef and continued along the western coast of New Caledonia for over 120 miles until we were level with Koumac on the mainland, where we were able to re enter inside the reef and continue sailing to the far northern tip of New Caledonia through more protected waters, whilst passing many islands and sand cays along the way.
Most of the islands were surprisingly uninhabited and when Frank had to stop to check on an issue with the batteries not charging properly we took time out to stretch our legs with a long walk on Ile Neba before continuing further north.
We had a stopover at Ile Pott whilst Frank figured out why the engine sometimes had problems starting, and this gave us the opportunity to explore the ruins of an old American observation post from World War II.
The walls were so thick and well built that most were still standing, although the area was well and truly overgrown with dense bushes and trees.
We had 73 n miles to sail to Ile de la Surprise the next day and we were keen to pass through the narrow reef entrance in daylight, so we woke at 2.30am and lifted the anchor.
What then occurred is a good example of why it pays not to try and steer out of a tricky anchorage in complete darkness relying on the GPS and resulted in Frank & I feeling complete idiots.
Once Frank had lifted the anchor, I became so disorientated in complete darkness with no stars, moon or lights to guide me, that I had no idea in which direction to steer. I tried to follow the course we had come in by, but it became a pathetic farce as I kept over steering due to the slow response of the GPS and veered off in the wrong direction. Surrounded by shallow reefs and rocky outcrops, I couldn’t afford to muck around so Frank ended up taking over from me, and the picture below shows our ridiculous zig zagging efforts, and made us realize we needed to radically change our night manoeuvre strategies in the future.
By daybreak we were sailing out of the protection of the northern most entrance of the reef into a stretch of water called La Grande Passage between New Caledonia and the Entrecasteaux Reefs where we wanted to stop at both la Surprise and Huon Atolls. Once we were out of the protection of the reef the swell gradually increased, but with light winds it wasn’t until 4.30 pm that we finally passed through the reef into the lagoon at la Surprise.
We had the bonus of catching a Spanish mackerel on one of Paul’s new super duper home made lures, and chose to let free a second mackerel we caught an hour or so later as we now had enough fish fillets for 5 good meals.
At la Surprise Atoll, the guano smell from thousands of nesting birds hit us immediately, but we were still keen enough to drop the dinghy in the water and go ashore. It was very reminiscent of Chesterfield Reef, (halfway between Vanuatu and Australia), that we had visited on a couple of occasions, and it is fascinating to watch a variety of breeds of birds warily move slightly out of your way as you pass but not really show any fear.
Trees are non existent and scrappy bushes are overcrowded and fiercely guarded by their inhabitants, so you need to watch where you walk as there are eggs and nests scattered everywhere, even on the bare sand. We are not bird enthusiasts so I cannot pretend to know what breeds of bird we saw, so hopefully the pictures speak for themselves!
We felt rather exposed to the wind and swell here, so next morning we decided to move straight on to Huon Reef. The wind was not as predicted (what’s new there?), or we might have stayed, but once out through the reef, we pushed on for another 38 n miles until we passed through the narrow southern entrance into the lagoon of Huon Reef, and then carefully followed the minimal depth soundings on the charts for another 12 miles to the single sandy island where we hoped to get some protection from the significant winds and swell.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, so we found the best anchorage we could and decided to wait till the following day to go ashore in the hope that it would calm down.
Whilst we sat at anchor about 400 metres off the beach, we became inundated with interlopers – birds kept trying to land on the yacht, obviously seeing Stars End 2 as a wonderful new ‘tree’ where they could lay claim.
I tied empty plastic bags along the handrails of the yacht and on the bowsprit and stern to act as a noisy deterrent once they filled with air and flapped in the wind. This seemed to do the trick, until the following week when we had a couple of unwelcome guests during the night on our passage to PNG who left behind some very smelly and messy calling cards on the solar panels and inside the dinghy.
Next morning, it was still blowing 16-20 knots but nothing was going to deter us from exploring and me from shell collecting (one of my most favorite pastimes). We dragged the dinghy up a steep beach to the high water mark and set off on our 5 km circumnavigation of the island and sand cay exposed at the northern tip. It was hard going walking through the soft sand, with shattered coral fragments digging into our feet, but we still enjoyed walking for hours along the beach and checking out all the flotsam and jetsam.
Add in thousands and thousands of noisy and nosy birds, and the necessity to have a dip in the cool water every so often, that it was many hours later before we arrived back at the dinghy, with heavy bags full of ‘treasures”! Frank found a pvc elbow joint, a perfect Nikko felt pen, some nylon rope and a container, and I had an impressive collection of shells and coral I found lying on the shoreline.
The next day, our legs were so stiff from the exercise, but the the wind and swell had abated enough to allow us to enjoy more time ashore and we explored the southern end of the island at low tide, walking across exposed rocks to a tiny sand cay for a luxurious wallow in the shallows.
We made the most of the beautiful weather and idyllic location, knowing that we were about to embark on another brisk passage.
We had been watching the weather closely and Paul had been sending us updates from WindyTy so we decided that the following day- Sunday 25th June would be a positive day for departure to Port Moresby as the following week seemed to have consistent winds.
We spent some while prepping the yacht- stowing gear, taking the outboard off the dinghy and securely fastening everything on board. Frank prepared ropes and reef lines, and tied down sail covers. whilst I cooked up food and prepared lunches for en route and packed away clothing. I made up the bed in the aft cabin where the motion is more comfortable in a seaway, and had all our sailing gear at the ready.
So once we set off next morning the wind blew at a consistent 20 knots and the swell started to increase as we moved out of the shelter of the reef. The seas were confused and with the wind behind us, we had the inevitable rock and rolling motion that was to become the ‘norm’ for the next 8 days.
I guess the best way to describe our passage was that we could totally relate to Eddie Murphy in ‘Groundhog Day’. In this movie, every day repeated as an identical copy. Every day, our conditions repeated as a carbon copy of the day before- consistent trade winds that blew 15-25 knots, the waves created a large confused sea with swells of surprisingly high- 2-4 metres.
Our days only varied in proportion to the weather, either dropping or adding sail area as winds increased or decreased. We usually woke to rainy overcast skies that most afternoons would clear for a few hours of sunshine before clouding over again.
The only variances were the strength of the wind, the size of the swell, and what we ate! For the rest, our days and nights consisted of sleeping (at least trying to in the frustratingly roly conditions), reading, eating and watching the ocean.
It also took almost 2 hours to complete our daily morning radio skeds first with Gulf Harbour Radio (New Zealand) at 6am and then Magnet West sked at 7.30am, (this one was mainly with our contingency of Sail 2 Indonesia yachts on transit to Port Moresby from Vanuatu and New Caledonia). Some days it was very hard to get reception or be heard over the crackly airwaves, but luckily, our friends Rick and Glad are cruising the north east coast of Australia on their motor launch ‘Jake’, and Rick was able to relay our position when we had insufficient reception. We also place daily position reports on winlink, (see right hand side of blog for link) and our children and friends avidly watch the red marker slowly moving across the ocean to denote Stars End 2’s progress to our next destination.
It was apparent that our speed through the water was noticeably less than our speed over ground and this continued for the entire sail to Papua New Guinea, giving us daily runs of between 140-174 n miles a day. Obviously, within the confined gaps between islands and headland, tide and currents prevailed, but even once out in the open ocean, we had current in our favour of not less than half a knot, and mostly around one and a half knots (a few times it even reached two and a half knots). This was in direct contrast to our sail from Fiji to New Zealand when we had an ocean current of half to one knot against us the entire way.
We were amazed at the size of the waves on this leg of our trip. It is intimidating to see a wall of water rushing towards the yacht, and particularly when SE2 is deep in the trough of the last wave, the huge swell towers up so high above yacht you cannot help but think it will come crashing down on top of you.
Then, like rising in an elevator, we are picked up on the crest of the wave and pushed forward at an increasing speed. Sometimes, just as the crest of the wave would rise high out of the water before breaking, the water shone a magnificent opaque turquoise colour.
Night time, it was a lot more nerve racking- you would hear a sudden growling that quickly turned into a roar as the wave hurtled towards us and you had no idea of what to expect. More of that later.
We noticed around Day 4 that each evening we would hear sharp little bangs against the hull, as the flying fishes flew up out of the water and then kamikhazied themselves against the boat. It was too rough to go on deck a lot of the time, and when we arrived at Port Moresby, we found around 15 dead fish caught up in the scuppers and wedged in behind may areas on deck.
So the days passed smoothly enough until Paul alerted us to a new low predicted to hit PNG just as we were due to approach Port Moresby. There was little we could do other than head slightly closer to land where the wind appeared to be slightly less, so we were not surprised when just as we were finishing our evening meal on Day 7, the winds started to pick up to 30 knots plus and we found ourselves hurtling down the face of a huge breaking wave that was definitely steeper than we had experienced until now. It was scary enough to prompt us into action, reducing sail that entailed motoring into the wind so that Frank could venture on deck in his safety harness and put a third reef in the foresail, precariously sea sawing on the front deck in the breaking waves. It left us with a ‘handkerchief’ of a sail, but it was still sufficient to propel us through the water at a speed of up to 61/2 knots.
Saturday ended up being a “WILD’ night that we will long remember. The confused seas were huge- 41/2 to 5 metres, it was consistently 38 knots and gusting more and waves were breaking all around SE2.
The noise would start off with a low grumble that grew rapidly into a loud roar, not unlike the approach of a train. It’s bad enough during the daytime, but in the pitch black, it was nerve-racking not knowing what to expect. As the boat pitched, you momentarily glimpsed the phosphorescence glinting in the breaking waves all about you, but there was hardly time or occasion to appreciate the beauty of this moment before SE2 would be lifted up precariously from the rear as the wave took possession of her. Sometimes forewarning us with an unwelcome dousing from a wave breaking against the yacht, it would send the yacht helter-skelter corkscrewing down the swell with the surf breaking all around as we surged down the wave like on a surfboard.
I am not too proud to admit that I am a confirmed ‘pussy’ and have NEVER had any interest scaring myself ridiculous riding roller coasters at funfairs or braving the huge waves on surf beaches.
However, here I had no option but to sit tight and wait for the inevitable ride- if we were lucky, the wave would break to the stern or against the side of the yacht as we were lifted high on the crest and thrown forward amidst surf and tons of water. Not so lucky, and the crest of the wave would slam against the yacht and despite the clear protective covers surrounding the cockpit and dodger (hard roof), water would find it’s way into little gaps and crevices and the yacht would keel over with the pressure of tons of water.
It was a damp and uncomfortable night, near impossible to sleep with all the rolling and my nerves were on edge constantly listening out for noises and breaking waves. When I did try to rest, with every loud bang or crash I wanted reassurance that Frank in the cockpit and the yacht were OK.
I know, I know, I can hear some of you saying- “well it is a sail boat and you have chosen to put yourself in this position”. So without making excuses to justify expressing myself ‘creatively’ I will just say that I find my blog a wonderful medium through which I am able to share our adventures and fulfill my love of the written word.
Frank & I are becoming more experienced sailors & gaining skills to cope with the varied conditions we are faced with on board SE2 and like many situations in life, it is all too easy to forget the bad times when we are rewarded with so many wonderful memories along the way.
Thankfully by daylight, the winds started to reduce and as we converged with the Papua New Guinea headland, and turned the corner towards Port Moresby, the seas also calmed significantly.
We entered the marina on Sunday afternoon, our 8th day after leaving Huon Reef, and some 1300 miles from Noumea.
Royal Papua Yacht Club is a huge modern building on the foreshore, with restaurant, cafe & gymnasium, and every area of the enclosed compound is strictly supervised by many security guards.
We had been warned against coming to PNG with tales of theft, mugging, rape and worse from other ‘yachties’ before we came here. We have been well advised by the marina office not to venture out of the marina compound on our own or walk the streets at night,. We can be driven places in the complimentary marina car or take a taxi if you want to go downtown, but during the day, it is safe to mix among all the crowds and walking to the local supermarket 5 minutes away.
We have noticed the locals go out of their way to be friendly and pass the time of day, but we have admittedly spent most of our time in the marina, working on the yacht, preparing for the next leg of our trip, catching up on the internet, and socializing with the 7 yachts that have also arrived here, that are part of the Sail 2 Indonesia Rally.
The supermarket is amazing- huge wide aisles and the neatest shelves we have ever seen, with many staff constantly ensuring every tin and packet is facing the same way and the shelves are immaculately organized. The choice is great, with imported food from NZ and Asia as well as cheaper local brands, and you can buy pretty much anything if you are prepared to pay the higher costs.
The butchery section has a huge choice of lean meat (admittedly not cheap- 16 small chicken thigh fillets cost me 81 Kina /$32 ($1 = .4 kino) and a Primo brand roll of salami is 23 Kina but the local brands of smoked cooked sausages were a fraction of the cost).
The fresh produce aisles have 2 sides- on one side is the imported products where a bunch of imported coriander is 23 Kina (about $11) but on the ‘local produce’ side, their bunch is 8 Kina ($3). The same goes for all the products that are grown locally, although some veggies and fruit are not available so you must decide if you are prepared to pay the cost. I have cooked up a storm of meals for the next passage, and baked so we have plenty of cake and biscuits too .
There are a great many ‘live-aboards’ at the RPYC (Royal Papua Yacht Club) in large power boats, houseboats or catamarans, and they all appear to have their own ‘Mary’ who cleans and washes for them on a daily basis. I have been asked several times why I don’t have a ‘Mary’ helping me with my chores, but I smile and say I am used to doing things myself. The marina is a hive of activity every day as local men work industriously cleaning, scraping hulls, sanding & varnishing and maintaining boats for their owners. They work very hard in the sweltering heat, as do the hoards of workers around the marina, restaurant and cafe’s. The saving grace in the heat is the constant breeze from the trade winds which arrive most mornings and regularly seem to blow around 20-25 knots.
The last leg of our passage is across the Torres from Port Moresby to the Bligh Passage, over the top of Thursday Island and into the Arafura Sea up into Indonesia, a trip over almost 1000 n miles. The Torres is renowned for particularly strong winds, so for that reason Frank has adjusted our sail configuration to cope for the conditions. We have un-hanked the mizzen sail completely and put up a small tri sail instead, and on the front sail, we have eliminated the first reef completely so we only have the second and third reefs ready for use, to give us a smaller sail area.
The Rally has planned for a team of officials to be in Debut, Indonesia between 20-23rd July in order to specifically clear in all the yachts arriving from Thursday Island (about 50+ yachts in the ‘Australian’ contingency’), plus the 10+ of us yachts sailing from PNG (who have mainly arrived from NZ and the Pacific).
We should be leaving Port Moresby between this Wednesday and Friday the latest in order to arrive in Debut in time for this. However, the weather prediction forecasts for winds in excess of 40 knots sweeping the entire region on Tuesday and lasting until Saturday, so we are faced with a dilemma! Plus which, the wind is invariably greater than the predicted forecast, as we have repeatedly experienced.
So over the next few days, we will scrutinize the weather carefully, plot our course and hope that the winds will subside in time for us to make passage to Indonesia for the start of the rally. It will be a god feeling to know we have arrived at Indonesia and enjoy the next 3 months of cruising after sailing over 3,500 n miles since leaving New Zealand in mid May.