Saturday, 28 October 2017

Sailing around New Caledonia - Follow that boat

30th May 2017

Noumea -  New Caledonia

Follow that Boat.

Australia seems so far from anywhere. When you look at the map, it is 800 or so nautical miles to get to  New Caledonia which is one of the closest "foreign" countries. I guess that’s why it seems such a great feat to sail there. I suppose, it’s no problem or hardly a challenge for Europeans, as different countries are so much closer, but for us it seemed quite daunting.To be lead by a fella that has done it eight or nine times before made it a lot less daunting, so we decided to  include our boat in a “rally” of sailing boats. 

By the time the morning of departure came around, all the suggestion, discussion, debating, decision making, planning, organizing, financing, provisioning, learning, talking, shouting, frustration, effort and time that had gone into deciding to go, getting ready and preparation the down under go east rally brought us to the 23rd May 2017. Departure day. Were we ready? What had we forgotten? What could go wrong? How would we physically stand up to the task? All these and many more questions raced around in my head for most of the night before so when the time came I was actually already tired. 

At 6.00am there was plenty of nervous energy on board Easy Tiger as the crew milled around getting breakfast. For Leanne and I it was the culmination of our plans and dreams to go coupled with the anticipation of the 800nm passage that lay ahead, for our son Luke it was the excitement of showing his parents his skills and abilities and for Ian Sulley and Susan Rousalen it was just plain excitement. As Sue said "they didn't know what they didn't know, so didn't know what to expect".

At 6.15am I did a final tour of the boat with Ian and Sue, reminding them where things like fire extinguishers were located, and which rope did what. I had prepared a list of things we expected to be done while on watch and went through the log book that we would keep for the journey, once more.

6.30am came around in the blink of an eye. Easy Tiger and crew anchored up, ready to assemble at the Seaway for an all in 7.00am departure. Many others came past us with their sails hoisted but we decided against hoisting our sails until we were out in the ocean. As we rounded the headland and straightened up, we were alongside our sailing family Eva and Brian on Zofia. Instant flashbacks to 3 and a half years ago when at 4.00am we departed Busselton WA next to each other, bound for what we thought then was a round Australia circumnavigation. Here we are now together departing on an international sailing adventure.

Right on the knock of 7.o’clock am, the Gold Coast Seaway spewed forth 18 or so boats. Easy Tiger was in about the first half dozen spat out of the safety and quiet of the Broadwater, and dissolved into the Pacific Ocean.

Although it was a very well organized and planned rally, it seemed that of the 18 or so boats, there were 18 or so courses taken. Leanne was watching on AIS and Marine traffic and was marvelling at the spread of boats to all eastern directions on the compass. We seemed to be in the middle again, heading due East. Some said this was a good strategy. Me, I was following closely the guy who had been there 9 times before.

It seemed even at that early stage that waiting for the right weather had proved a master-stroke. We had a pretty flat sea except for a small rolling swell and just enough wind to make it worthwhile putting the sails up, while still having to keep 1 motor going. This was fortunate, as Easy Tiger, Leanne and I hadn’t sailed in the actual ocean for nearly two years. By mid afternoon on that first day, the rally had pretty much spread-eagled. We had lost site of most, save for half a dozen immediately around us.

On the first evening, a side on swell had developed as we approached the first lot of ocean table mounts. These are underwater mountains where the sea depth changes rapidly from around 4000metres deep to say 500metres deep. Doesn’t sound much, but the change in depth causes currents that combine with wind to have Easy Tiger doing a kind of bumpy gallop rather than a smooth canter. The result of which saw all on board except Luke, produce burley and feed the fish. Sue was the first to succumb, followed by Ian. On dusk Leanne faded after trying to prepare curry for dinner. Last but not least I was unable to complete my shift after throwing the curry overboard so to speak.

Thankfully, early morning day 2, saw us feeling quite a bit better. We had maintained contact with four other boats, which was comforting. Bossa Nova were one of these, with Neville’s dulcet tones providing encouragement over the radio. Ian says Neville sounds so good on the two-way he should work for the ABC! We had contact with the rally organizer on the vhf radio as well. Once we were well clear of the table mounts the sea flattened out. The wind came and went during the day, which meant more motoring.

By the afternoon of Day 2 we had settled in to our 3hour rotation on the helm. Sue, even if she was still a little queasy, took to the helming and “on watch” tasks with aplomb. Luke showed his skills and proficiency by plotting our position on the paper charts and getting weather updates via satellite email from Metbob. Metbob’s weather reports were compared with the Predict Wind Offshore app that I downloaded each day and from that we formed a plan for our route. That plan normally concluded with “follow the guy who’s been there 9 times before.

At nightfall of Day 2 we had a weather forecast that said the winds could get upwards of 20knots. We decided to reef in the sails for the night. This means that we decrease the sail area to reduce the stress and strain on the rigging. Unfortunately this also means that the boat slows down, which meant that we lost contact with the other boats.

Our third day at sea, the 25th of May, was my birthday. For me it started early as I completed my shift from 3 to 6 am. My son Luke wrote a nice message in the log book. It was just so nice to have him crewing on the boat. As I sat at the helm as dawn broke I reflected on my good fortune. To have a wonderful life partner who has supported my crazy ideas (such as buying a catamaran and sailing around Australia), my two children who continually amaze me and my great fortune to have been born in the wonderful country that is Australia. 

By midday on the 3rd day there was plenty of crazy stuff going on, onboard Easy Tiger. There was a bit of a competition to see who had the craziest music on their play list and even crazier dancing and wobbling about as those crazy tunes were blaring. Lot’s of nice birthday wishes came over the satellite communications. It was also nice to no that the crew onboard San Souci had scones with jam and cream in my honour.

At night fall on the third day, there was a beautiful sunset. We had been maintaining a due East course until we received word from Metbob that we could alter course and start easing our way North. That was a nice feeling to be actually aiming at our destination. Also that night we were treated to a lightning show on our southern horizon, that went for most of the night.

Friday, the 4th day at sea, we ran out of wind and fired up another motor. On my dawn shift I started to ponder many of life’s burning questions, like why are there so many there’s. Could we think of a better word for their, they’re or there. Another of those questions was “if they call them apartments, why are they all built together?”I think maybe I was getting a bit bored or maybe conditions were that nice for sailing along, that I had time to think a bit too much.

Friday was probably the crew’s flattest day too. We did break out a few conversation type games and then resorted to the crossword and Sudoku puzzles in the Brisbane newspaper someone had brought on board. 

Saturday,The knowledge that we should arrive the next morning kept spirits pretty high. Predict Wind, Metbob and the guy who had been there nine times before, all showed a direct route to Amedee lighthouse that is only a handful of miles from Noumea. The wind was constant in direction but ranging from 5 to 15 knots. It kept teasing us to put up our screecher and when we did it would disappear, to have us pack the sail away again.

The sixth day, Sunday, everyone was up and about a bit earlier than usual. There was a real buzz from the feeling of relief that today we would arrive. We made the way point to turn into the pass between two reefs at exactly high tide, 9.30am. We arrived with another rally participant, the lovely ketch Suena Azul. Luke got out his drone and after a really hairy take off was able to get some great pictures of us sailing past the Amedee lighthouse which marks the entry into the New Caledonia Lagoon, which is the second biggest barrier reef system in the world.

At 11.30am we dropped our anchor in the Bay de Oliphant right next to the guy who has been here 9 times before, the organizer of the Down Under Go East Rally, John Hembrow. Their crew aboard Songlines were on board to wave, cheer and clap, as were Bossa Nova, Skellum and the Albatross. 

At midday the champers and beers were all cracked and the arrival celebration commenced. What a terrific experience we all had shared, what a relief that we made it safely, in good weather and had no trials or tribulations to report. How nice it was to be anchored in calm water and to watch the rest of the rally boats arrive one by one.  

So now if you ask me, what was the best part about sailing to New Caledonia from the Gold Coast of Australia? I would answer without any hesitation…arriving.

The Amedee Lighthouse just inside the lagoon of New Caledonia is a welcome sight for tired eyes.

EasyTiger about to drop anchor in a foreign country!

Warm greeting from our mates on the Bossa Nova.

Crewman Ian decided to hand deliver a couple of coldies.

The number of boats in a small area in Noumea was overwhelming, particularly trying to find a spot to drop anchor.

A warm welcome from the guy who's been here nine times before, John Hembrow on Songlines.