Sailing to Noumea

After setting off from Melbourne  on 11 November 2011 we sailed leisurely up the east coast of Australia to Sydney. We took our time waiting for good sailing weather, doing repairs along the way, trying ourselves out at this new skill of offshore sailing, and getting to know the boat in these different conditions. It felt like a long relaxing holiday for both of us, after something like 37 years of fulltime work. 

Arriving in Sydney

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We arrived in Sydney a month later, having done a tour of the fishing ports of southern NSW, and spent six glorious months on Sydney waters. We both have family in Sydney, and it was a wonderful time to have so much time with them. In particular we spent a lot of time with Glen and Kath who gave birth to young William (now universally know as Billy) in March. It was wonderful to be able to spend so much time helping out and being first time grandparents.

We also spent a lot of time getting the boat ready and adding more equipment. They say that cruising is the art of travelling to exotic locations to do maintenance and they are right. The list seemed windows fitted, made shelving for the V-berth, put in new switches for the starter motor and saltwater pump, added a satellite phone and antenna, additional solar panels, a tow generator to generate power for the instrments and equipment when the solar wasnt adequate, new floooring for the cabin and curtains for the hot days coming up, and of course, a baby blanket for young William... the list goes on! 

 In early June 2012, we left Sydney Harbour and sailed to Coffs Harbour. Our friend Dennis joined us for the trip from Sydney and fortunately he was able to stay with us while we waited for the right weather and changed plans several times in order to have the best crossing possible.Eventually we decided to make Coffs Harbour our launching port into the Pacific, after giving up the plan to go to Lord Howe Island on the way. We had spent quite some time waiting for various low pressure systems to move through, and finally in mid-June, we had a good 5-8 day weather window to head east to New Caledonia. 

Below is a screenshot of the chart of our passage. – the red line shows the actual route that we took. The blue lines are the two alternative routes and you can see that we took the more southerly one, taking account of the winds and swells. We needed to make the most of our easterly direction before the wind was due to swing to the east on the last two days. The stats were - 915 nautical miles from Coffs Harbour to Noumea – in 191 hours, motoring for 58 hrs largely because of the wind change at the end. 

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We have put a photo album of our trip from Sydney to Noumea on this website. It was some trip! It took 8 days and nights and was both beautiful and scary. The expanse of the ocean, and its power, are breathtaking. The ocean changes so quickly, from mild swells and velvety surfaces, to rolling rising 4m swells and whipped up waves that have tops looking like cream sprayed from a can. Birdlife was glorious to watch as they circled and performed stunts just for our entertainment....It was challenging at times but the good days outnumbered the bad. We had a couple of nights of squalls, rising seas and waves, and winds gusting to 35knots. Other times it was glorious as we skipped along in light breezes, doing 6 knots with a spinnaker.  We even set up the cockpit table one night and had a roast dinner as we bowled along at 5 kts in a 12kt breeze. It felt like we were on a big lake, especially at night when the horizon was fringed by clouds that looked like far-off mountains. That was a very consoling feeling at times! Dawn was always rejuvenating.

While we had a wonderful time we also had a couple of problems we could have lived without. One was the poor performance of the satphone which we were relying on to get weather forecasts via email. It was so unreliable for this that we gave up and used it slightly more effectively to phone Paul, Michael's brother in Sydney, to get weather information.  Without Paul's patentice anad support we would have a great deal less information and more concern than we did.  Similarly Chris's sister Jill gave us a lot of help in relaying messages and dealing with our provider to find out answers to mysterious questions like why we were not able to use hte phone to call New Caledonia - a mystery we never solved.  We solved this and other problems by changing providers.  If yoiu would like to read out thoughts on this and other matters which we learnt along the way you could follow this link to an article we wrote for some of our cruising friends.

Our biggest loss was the auto-helm, two nights out of Noumea. We did one hour shifts at night for the first night, and as the storms and swells gathered on the second night, we took on half hour shifts throughout the night. We all stayed in the cockpit to give each other support in the quite heavy conditions. It was hard to navigate with the absence of stars and it was good to have someone else there to double check instruments and points of reference. It was very physical work, and many times waves sent water over the bow and starboard side of the boat, into the cockpit. Saturday, our last day, dawned with a glorious pink sky and it felt good to be just about there.

© Michael White 2013