May 2012: Sydney to New Caledonia

Click the thumbnail for photo gallery

During our Eden stopover we studied the passage weather for the run to New Caledonia. The prevailing tradewinds meant that typically the route from NSW Australia to New Caledonia would be upwind most of the passage. But we hoped to get lucky.  The developing pattern appeared to offer the possibility of “hitching a ride” atop a LOW transiting along 30 degrees south latitude. To catch the ride we needed to depart Sydney as soon as the cold front had passed over on Friday night. Leaving later would cause us to miss the best winds, and would guarantee days of beating into the prevailing SE tradewinds. So we had a blowtorch to our tail to get north to complete Australian exit formalities at Sydney early Saturday morning.

On Friday, 11 May we stopped for the night in lovely Cronulla in Port Hacking, south of Sydney, and contacted Australian Customs in Sydney for instructions.  The forecast for Saturday and Sunday was for 20 to 30 knot southwesterly winds, with swells from astern building from 2 metres to 4 metres.  We were up for that!

At dawn on May 12th we were underway from Cronulla Marina to meet the officials at the Customs buoy just inside Sydney Harbour. Enroute to Cronulla we received Rick’s forecast for the passage from Australia to New Caledonia: 

High pressure should be re-establishing after a brief period of falling barometer. So some post front, unsettled skies, may still be present for a few more hours.

But all in all looks like a fast transit under a strong high pressure bringing following wind speeds to 30+ kts and total combined seas 4.5 meters. Waves will be a combination of SW wind waves of 5-7 sec period and SW swell of 10-12 seconds.

Click the Day 1 May 12 thumbnail to view the full size passage chart

For the Noumea run, Rick’s passage package was comprised of our routing table plus three charts of our course and wind/sea-state for the first three days enroute. Rick’s forecast for Saturday and Sunday was for 20 to 30 knot southwesterly winds, with swells from astern building from 2 metres to 4 metres.  We were keen to go – but Customs did not arrive at ADAGIO until after 1100.  

Day 1- 12 May 1320: The barometer was falling as we departed Sydney. We had light winds at first as we were sailing north parallel to the coast. Then it was rough going as we crossed the East Australian Current, which decreased our boat speed by a knot.  A small flock of wedge-tailed shearwaters circled ADAGIO, dipping behind the waves with admirable agility.  

Our four hours on, four hours off watch schedule soon became routine.  When not on watch, the most comfortable place to be was in bed.  We had meals available to eat when it suited each of us, and we tried to sleep as much as possible, to be rested for our watch and for any activity which required two sailors on deck at the same time.  

During the first night, off the east coast of Australia, we monitored a Mayday Relay conversation on the VHF radio between a sailor whose boat had become entangled in a large fishing net and a commercial ship whose officer was relaying the messages to the authorities in Sydney.  As the drama unfolded during the night, the captain and crew were lifted off their boat by helicopter from Sydney.  The seas and winds were quite energetic.  That could easily have been ADAGIO caught in the net.

Day 4- 15 May 1320: After three days of what our friend Jeremy Firth likes to call, “ocean walloping”, by 15 May the true wind speed had decreased to 11 knots from astern, so we motorsailed under jib and one engine.  Truthfully, we needed a break from the wind and seas, and going on deck in our foulies to set up for flying our reacher.  The day was  exquisitely beautiful with cumulus clouds all around like moutons grazing in a sky blue field.  The wedge-tailed shearwaters accompanying us were like fighter-jet versions of a tiny albatross.   

We had traveled 197 nautical miles in the first 24 hours, 180 nm in the second 24, and 199 nautical miles during the third 24 hours of sailing.  The following 24 hour runs were 166 nm, 174 nm, 124 nm and 108 nm, as the wind eased.  The Big Fat High pressure system that was ridging over us was blocking the Low pressure systems where the wind was.  Now we were able to do some real cooking for a change.  Otherwise we would have to relinquish our fresh meat to the New Caledonia Agriculture inspector.

Day 5- 16 May 1320: The wind had returned with 16 kn true wind speed!.  Beautiful cumulus puffs surrounded us and occasionally floated above ADAGIO, bringing gentle showers.  The sea swell was still about 3 or 4 metres, but coming from astern and helping us along.  Our reacher was happy as could be.  ADAGIO was dancing among the waves.  A tiny flying fish landed on the aft deck of the boat in the night, with its wings spread beautifully.  We usually have a few flying fish landing with a thump on one of our front windows, and washing up and then down with the waves, but with the winds and seas from astern, there were no  waves washing up our windows.  We were making really good time, so ETA in Noumea was estimated for Friday, unless the wind were to disappear, requiring us to motor.

In one gust of wind the leach line pocket began to separate from our reacher headsail.  We were able to furl the sail before it became an emergency.  Having served us well for twelve years over tens of thousands of nautical miles, the sail had suffered UV damage while it was furled.  We had the sail repaired in Noumea, and since then have stowed the furled reacher in a bow locker when not in use.

Day 8- 19 May 0100: Approaching the reef entrance to Noumea at Passe Boulari, we were  arriving in New Caledonia ahead of schedule so we sailed along under reefed jib at 2 knots, to avoid arriving in the dark.  The passage through the reef and the channel to Noumea was well-marked by lighted navigation marks, but we preferred a daylight entry. Besides, the scenery was too beautiful to miss.  We hailed Port Moselle on VHF 67 and were politely and efficiently guided to a berth on the Visitors Pontoon.  The Agriculture inspector allowed us to keep all of our Australian meat, but took our produce.  No worries because the best open air market in town is adjacent to the marina.  We and all of the other boats who arrived over the weekend made the trek to the other side of town on Monday to search out the Immigration Officer.  

We met many other cruisers at Marina Port Moselle, and heard their stories of woe about broken gear and difficult passages.  These stories would increase in number as the race boats arrived from Auckland and Brisbane during the following weeks.  Sometimes it is not easy getting to New Caledonia.  We shared information about where to buy groceries, where to buy the best patisserie and baguettes, and also which WiFi and mobile phone options were available.  Over the next few months in NewCal, we would stay in touch with the new cruising friends we had made at Port Moselle during that first week.   It was not long before we were enjoying the beauties of the Isle of Pines, and the friendships we had made there during past visits.

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