Time to leave New Caledonia.
23 June 2015 | Townsville, Australia
June 18, 2015
We left New Cal on June 12th several weeks earlier than we had anticipated. Our big plan had been to use New Cal as a stepping-stone to the archipelago Louisiades, which is a remote group of islands a few hundred miles east of Papua New Guinea who owns them. We were to sail there directly, a passage of about 1250 miles and then we would rest up and time our departure to pass through the Torres Strait and then be in Indonesia on about July 26th or so. ..So much for plans! As we were acquiring information about our 2500 mile passage we began to realize why most people go through Australia. We vehemently tried to avoid Australia because of their stringent entry requirements as well as their exorbitant entry fees. But after studying the weather maps and exploring other areas to rest it became clear that we would be opening ourselves up to the possibility of very heavy weather, high probability of squalls near the ICTZ and then transiting the Torres Strait potentially being quite fatigued. So instead we are heading to Australia anyway! By going to Cairns we can cruise inside of the Great Barrier Reef up to the Torres Strait and clear our of Australia from Thursday Island fully fuelled and rested with the added benefit of reuniting with old friends in Cairns as they start the Indonesian Rally as well.
We left after experiencing a week of heavy winds and rain and were very disappointed that out of the six weeks we were in New Cal that we had maybe only a week of good weather. Before leaving New Cal we had to procure our travel documents from the Indonesian Consulate a process that required about a week of waiting, two visits and tons of paperwork. We even had to surrender our passports for a week.
So in the rain we left expecting high winds and high seas for the first several days and then diminishing. We left on a tear, sailing with 20 to 30 knots of wind behind us at speeds of 8 knots or more and clocked off the miles. Getting used to the motion was hard and uncomfortable and most importantly we tried to avoid getting hurt. Fortunately the wind stayed pretty constant so I didn’t have to go up on deck much to tend the sails. We did have swells of maybe 4 meters from the south while we were heading west so the boat was constantly rolling. After completing about 5 days or maybe 800 miles the wind died down and this was hard because the seas kept on knocking the wind out of our empty sails. We didn’t want to motor as the distances were too great. We ended up lying a-hull for a few hours until a wind came back and we tried to rest.
Daily we use our SSB radio to stay in contact but the radio hasn’t been working well and we haven’t been able to get reliable weather forecasts except by spoken radio nets. What we did discover is that Australia charges double and triple for entry during the weekend and holidays. Since it will cost at least 400 dollars during normal hours we need to time our arrival. The Great Barrier Reef system is so large that if you come through the reef in daylight you can’t arrive at the mainland until after hours! So we are now hove-to awaiting a new front that will bring heavy wind and seas and as long as we don’t make too much progress we can time our entry for next Monday am. We are now sitting about 400 miles from Cairns in a beautiful part of the Coral Sea bobbing around to kill a day or so.
The boat has been performing well and last night both Nancy and I got some needed rest so we’ll be ready to go when the weather changes.
We did have a challenging experience when Nancy while on watch fell asleep and was thrown out of the cockpit seat into the steering wheel. One would normally tie themselves down or harness themselves in so that they wouldn’t be thrown but Nancy had been manually holding on instead! Lest you all think that falling asleep on watch is verboten, it’s really not. Well, sometimes it is, but not quite in the middle of the ocean. When far away from land, we very rarely see other boats and when we do they are usually large commercial vessels. This means that they have an AIS instrument on-board, required by international law. The AIS receives VHF radio signals from other AIS boats (ours included) and plots out our position, Closest Point of Approach (CPA) and time to CPA on their instrument LCD. What this means is that 10 to 30 miles away we know when there are other boats around and they know where we are and can easily avoid us even before they see us. So if we fall asleep for short periods of time in the cockpit, no harm.
Well when she fell for some reason the autopilot malfunctioned and stopped steering. In heavy winds this is big thing. The boat started to round up into the wind and the sails started flogging. We quickly hand steered to get the boat back on course but the damn autopilot refused to do it’s job! This occurred at 0 dark 30 with no moon and steering by compass was challenging. So once Nancy was comfortable hand steering I was able to go below and monkey with the autopilot. I finally turned it off and waited several minutes. That was all it needed to fix itself. During this time it was comforting to know that we have two installed autopilots and it was likely that even if I couldn’t get the first one working that there was in fact backup.
We are now in Townesville having decided to enter the reef in a way that would allow us to check in to customs earier than in Cairns. All is well on board and we expect to leave today to complete the last 150 overnight to Cairns. We now have good internet and we certainly have been spoiled.
From the Crew of Always Saturday