Owl & Pussycat / Sonsie of Victoria BC

The adventures of Jim and Isabel aboard S/V Sonsie of Victoria

12 July 2019
11 July 2019
10 July 2019
09 July 2019
08 July 2019
24 May 2019
23 May 2019
22 May 2019
21 May 2019
20 May 2019 | Nelson NZ Aotearoa
21 March 2019
20 March 2019
19 March 2019

Arrival. Exciting day!

13 July 2019
Isabel Bliss
Saturday July 13

Sparkling bright sunshine on the water, 10 rising to 25 knots of wind. These are the southeast trade winds that kick up every morning until nightfall.

Land ho!

Terrific sailing on course for the northern section of Boulari pass. Exciting if not a little terrifying to watch the huge white bubbling smash and splash of sea waves up against the reef as we sail alongside it some distance away. And there is Amedée Lighthouse, tallest in the world, showing us the entrance through the coral reef atoll ringing and protecting New Caledonia.

Separately, quietly, our hearts are in our throats after our experience in Fiji in 2014. However it is important to appear brave for each other, to encourage each other. So we affirm our good planning - 1 paper and 2 electronic charts, and strategize accordingly. We speak of furling foresails in readiness, but of leaving up the reefed main, in case of engine failure at various moments during our transit of the pass.

We make it through going 2000rpm, splashing through sharp waves, so busy checking for other vessels and navigation/range marks and checking depths that we forget to admire Amedée lighthouse until we've made the proper turns and are well on our way steaming north in the lagoon.

Unfurl the staysail and off with the motor - we sail north in the large lagoon's boisterous water. The breeze is great, but Jim suggests closing the side panel of our plastic cockpit covers. Just in time as once it's up a smasher comes along side and drenches Sonsie in salt the length of her starboard side!

We radio Port Moselle marina and are expected by 2pm. Jim goes on deck to raise the yellow "Q" Quarantine flag. Past small resort islands with their thatch-canopied huts, local boats, and kite surfers we sail with the thrill of seeing a new land.

Port prep: fenders and mooring lines on both sides so we are ready for either a port or starboard tie. Entering a new harbour can be daunting and it's gusty out at the entrance. Thankfully it's much calmer within. We get our preferred berth with bow in, port tie. Jim expertly docks. I tie us up and chat in French to the marina hand who is Kanak, a local.

George welcomes us and announces very proudly that we have arrived in time for Bastille Day celebrations! He gives us the official paperwork to be completed. Quarantine authorities will be by shortly but we will only be able to check in with Customs & Immigration on Monday. The official check in process is super chill here compared to most countries we've entered!

Mr Quarantine arrives at 5pm. In all the other countries that we have been to there are substantial fines for trying to bring in undeclared foodstuffs, so I behave according to those rules. But this official seems ...half-hearted, embarrassed even. When he gets distracted I take advantage of the moment to hang on to a third of our fresh food. I reluctantly hand him the rest. I keep an eye on where he disposes of the bags when he leaves so as to surreptitiously retrieve it all, but rather than put them in a nearby dumpster he puts them into his car trunk and drives off.

I'm so disappointed!! Delicious lettuce, carrots, mandarins, apples, etc. all gone! I realize in retrospect that he actually expected me to only make a nominal effort - hand over a few, token items - and wisely hide the rest. Because what sensible person would ever want to throw away good food when it costs money, but more to the point, when so many go hungry? I can only hope he took it all home with him to eat and enjoy!

Despite not being officially in the country, despite tiredness from incomplete sleep, and despite being in need of real showers, we walk around town during the evening hours. Some 5,000 lanterns are being distributed and lit at the mairie, town hall, for a parade of the townspeople to the main park where the Bastille Day celebrations are taking place. The large, three-tiered fountain is gorgeous, lit up in red, white, and blue. Fireworks (which terrify the birds), dance displays, an outdoor community dance, and food kiosks make for a festive atmosphere and a fine welcome to la nouvelle calédonie!


12 July 2019
Isabel Bliss
Friday July 12

Waking at 04:00 I find Jim in the cockpit snoring peacefully away. It’s easily done, especially after the moon sets and the night gets thickly dark. Fatigue is a constant hazard. When the sails are set and the winds blow calmly, being on-board Sonsie can be like being tucked inside a lullaby. What with the soft, languorous sounds of water bubbling and gurgling by, and the rocking, swaying, sleepy motion, heads start sailing towards dreamland readily enough.

A quick check of the radar shows no other vessels,. Our course (320 True) and speed (5 knots in 6-7 knots of wind) are good, so I head down to pee. By the time I pull on some clothes and resurface something is awry: we are heading 150 True ! In the few minutes I was down below the wind backed 170 degrees - and our trusty wind vane has dutifully followed the wind and steers us accordingly.

Rather than speed off in the wrong direction I need to 1. hove to, and 2. wake Jim so as not to startle him with sudden movements and clattering rigging. He‘s so fast asleep that calling him does no good even though he is a mere metre away! Touching his leg I manage to wake him and he springs Into action mode, and we are soon on a starboard tack. We make good way for about an hour and then the wind dies down so on comes the motor. Meanwhile, we feast on eggs and toast.

The coffee is hot, eagerly anticipated, and ready to be poured when I mistime a movement in the rolling balancing act that is life aboard and knock it over. In a thrice it spills all over the galley! Instead of into our waiting cups it pours down into the pothole (pot compartment below the counter) splashing onto everything inside it! Not content with that in less than an instant it has lurched over to tip again all over the stovetop which, being gimballed, makes sure that the coffee gets sloshed about, splashing down onto the floor, seeping into the wine cellar (small space below the cabin floorboards)! Scrub, rinse, and clean time!

Later, after Jim has a nap, I make a new pot, this time keeping it in the low sink so if it decides to be naughty, no problem, it won’t be able to do as much damage. Jim pours milk in his coffee, realizing as it slides from the container that it has coagulated. I smell it for hm - sour! so another cup of coffee gets dumped down the drain!

I’m sure wherever you are, dear reader, you had a more interesting day ! We write these accounts for those who are curious about life aboard and our sea journeys!

With it being so windless the sea has flattened somewhat and the sun is shining. It’s scrub, rinse, and clean time again - this time for us! We go onto the forward deck in our birthday suits to use the shower bags. These 2-1/2 gallon plastic bags lie tethered on the deck in the sunshine to be passively solar heated. We tie them up in the rigging when we want to use them, unscrewing the little nozzle attached to a short, wildly swinging hose, and try get most of the water on us without sliding around the deck, or slipping off all together!

What a delight! What an amazing treat it is to get clean ! We brought our towels but air dry in the breeze and warm sunshine, admiring the blue blue blue.

Jim keeps busy making water to replenish the watermaker tank, and calculating diesel usage to date and requirements for the final leg of this passage. Meanwhile I make a banana walnut cake.

By mid-afternoon we pick up the southeasterlies. At nightfall we sail along on a port broadreach beset by some blustery squalls. When all looks settled, sails and vane set just right, whoever is on watch nips down to grab a drink or go pee. But the wind watches what we are up to and plays tricks on us: gusting to double strength and heeling us over drastically just as we are in a compromised position, pumping away (flushing!) as quick as we can! A quick scramble back up into the cockpit to reduce sail, adjust heading, do whatever it takes to calm Sonsie down. Half asleep in the quarter berth down below during one of these heel-over’s, I hear Jim quietly sing away: “Nothing faster ..than disaster”!

Best sailing day!

11 July 2019
Isabel Bliss
Thursday July 11

We pick up the trade winds and get our best day sailing so far! Easy seas and happy winds keep us trucking along on a port tack all day. We review our timing and charts and start planning for our arrival.

Wide-ranging discussion during the day about whether we keep Sonsie, where do we go from here with her, after Nouméa? What else would we do, what other plans, obligations, dreams do we have?

Lighter discussion later on, this time focussing on whether we leave the full main and genoa out all night? The gribs (weather charts indicating upcoming winds) indicate a steady 5 - 15 knots so we will stick with what we have as we want to keep trucking along in order to reach our waypoint at the entry to Boulari Pass by late morning on Saturday.

Dolphins arrive and sluice alongside Sonsie in the pearly, darkening waters. They are hard to discern, sleek dark flashes in inky black waves, but it's a real treat to catch glimpses of them enjoying a little sport in the splays of water rushing alongside.

What a difference a few degrees of latitude make to the temperature! Night watch now can be done in a T-shirt!

Out there

10 July 2019
Isabel Bliss
Wednesday July 10

Blue blue blue as far as the eye can see. Mere piffles of wind, zephyrs, mean we must motor motor motor all day. We are under a dome of blue sky on a wide-stretching liquid blue prairie.

We are in a part of the sky called the sea. At night, waves of star sparkles swoosh by alongside us, frothy phosphorescent foam, just like a liquid extension, or reflection of, the Milky Way above.

Around 04:30 Jupiter sinks low to the horizon, pretending for the last 20 minutes that it is a ship at sea whose bright artificial lights shine in the far distance.

Peeves and planets

09 July 2019
Isabel Bliss
Tuesday July 9

The constant balancing is a form of exercise but my legs start to get crabby; they badly want to walk! The lack of walking, the initial nausea and the noise of motoring begin to grate. Passages can be monotonous - or terrifying - and I don’t do well with either ! They are like childbirth - arduous, something to be got through with gritted teeth! Jim declares sailing to be a special form of torture, which calls to mind my Dad’s famous expression: You have to suffer on vacation!

When I tell him that I miss my garden birds, Jim plays me birdsong recordings from his bird app. When I moan that my life has no meaning or purpose and I’m drowning in boredom, Jim lends me his device so I can listen to all sorts of excellent science and history podcasts. This helps my mind and mood - but my legs are still restless and grumpy.

The moon is waxing so every night brings 45 minutes more moonlight (unless it’s cloudy). Moonlight is always beautiful and cheering, but it also interferes with star viewing. Jupiter shines resplendently in the Fish Hook, aka Scorpio. Saturn hangs nearby, slower moving, sterner, the serious gas giant sibling in the solar system.

Lumpy start

08 July 2019
Isabel Bliss
Sunday-Monday July 7-8

Jim as usual is energetic and feels in tip-top condition but I struggle to overcome feelings of nausea for the first two, lumpy days out. It takes time to get used to the motion and the inconveniences which don't amount to much in the long haul but seem to be of importance at the moment.

Our first days out we are quite often motorsailing as the nice weather (High) makes for calm conditions. Overall this is a welcome change from what we experienced in 2014, when we faced two storms and a front after departing Opua! Three cheers for an iron sail but the noise gets on our wick.

We are following a route planned out based on "MetBob" McDavits' advice. Jim makes a nightly contact / check in call on the HF with NZ's Taupo Maritime Radio.
Vessel Name: Sonsie of Victoria
Vessel Make/Model: Southern Cross 39'
Hailing Port: Piers Island BC
Crew: Jim Merritt & Isabel Bliss
Retired from aviation, Isabel and Jim enjoy sailing in the South Pacific when not busy in the Northern Hemisphere with home & garden, family & friends. Jim is a former member of the Yellowknife NWT's Great Slave Cruising Club, Isabel of White Rock BC's Lower Mainland Yacht Club. They thank all [...]
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