Sunday, 8 November 2015

Final Journey to New Zealand

New Caledonia to New Zealand 21 October – 29 October 2015

This was always going to be the most challenging sail, 900 miles south east straight into the prevailing wind. The added complication is the weather systems that originate in Australia and come up the Tamsan Sea, across to New Zealand and then head north along the route we have to take. The weather fronts are coming every 3-4 days so we will have to take at least one on route and the advice is to be above 30 degrees south as they are much less ferocious.

We had been monitoring the weather for the previous week and Wednesday 21 October looked good – right up until Wednesday morning when the predicted NW wind did not materialise and we set off straight into a 25 knot SE wind. The forecast for the following two days was for light winds and so we decided to go – you can get stuck in Noumea waiting for the perfect weather window and never leave.

The first Leg to Norfolk Island - Wednesday 12 October to Saturday 24 October

The first 18 hours were very uncomfortable with waves continually crashing over the boat as we sailed close to the wind to head SE. If we had not been confident that the wind was going to change we would have gone back, but we battled on. At 11pm, at the end of my first night watch, Catherine took over and I went to go to bed. I found the aft heads under water and we spent the next 30 minutes bailing out the water with no obvious sign of where the water was coming from. I closed off all the seacocks in the area and exhausted I went to bed. Three hours later I was up for my second watch and we did not seem to have taken on any more water, helped by the fact that the wind had abated and the sea had calmed down.

With the wind dying, we were forced to motor but the motion of the boat was much more comfortable. The next day we had almost no wind and drizzle all day and it felt like sailing in England, particularly as the temperature had started to drop as we headed further south. We motored all day. The following day the wind was NW ahead of the next front coming through and we managed to sail with a poled out genoa for much of the day, arriving at Norfolk Island at 3pm in the afternoon.

Norfolk Island 24 – 25 October
Our first view of the Island

I was nervous about anchoring in Norfolk Island to wait out the coming front since the swell can reach 3m and therefore remaining at anchor is not possible. The supply ship that had arrived the previous week had to wait six days at anchor before they could unload their cargo before the swell calmed down. You hear many tales in Noumea about boats losing anchors, having to leave anchorage at night and people saying they would never anchor there again.  Only about 20 boats each year stop and anchor at Norfolk Island.

With the NW wind we anchored in Ball Bay in the south of the island in very pleasant conditions. The wind was not due to go South until the following morning when we would have to move anchorage. We could not go ashore because we had not cleared in (it is owned by Australia) but we enjoyed a restful afternoon at anchor and pleased for at least one night we would have a comfortable night.

Checking in at Customs
We moved round to the east to Cascade bay the next morning as the wind had turned south and we tucked into the shore to get out of the building swell. Again I was very pleasantly surprised to find a sheltered anchorage, pretty much out of the swell. We went ashore to meet the Customs and Immigration Officer who checked us in and out at the same time so we would not have to come ashore the next day to check out.

View from the highest point
The Customs Officer gave us a lift into the main town on the island and took us up to the highest  peak on route so we could get a good view of the whole island. She then dropped us into the town which was very small but with a surprisingly good array of shops and restaurants for 1500 inhabitants on the island. The island is only 5 miles wide by 6 miles long.

We wanted to go and see the Norfol Island museum and we hitched a ride to the south and spent a couple of hours in the museum which was very good. It told the story of Norfolk Island which had been used as a penal colony until 1860 when the islanders of Pitcairn were re-settled there and the penal colony closed down.

By 1860 there were 150 people living on Pitcairn, an island one square mile in the middle of the South Pacific, miles from anywhere. The original inhabitants were 12 of the crew from the Bounty who sailed to the island with their Tahitian wives and a group of other Tahitian men and women. The 12 crew chose Pitcairn because it was remote and were therefore unlikely to be caught after the mutiny on the Bounty – the other 12 stayed in Tahiti and were tracked down by the Navy and most were hanged – 3 were pardoned as they did not take part in the mutiny but could not joined Captain Bligh in his small craft set adrift by the mutineers as it was too small.

The old Penal Colony
Fletcher Christian (the first mate on the Bounty and leader of the mutiny) was among the crew who sailed to Pitcairn. The mutineers burnt the Bounty to ensure they would not be spotted by a passing ship and lived on the island. Fights started to break out over the women and within a decade only one of the mutineers survived, John Adams – all the rest were murdered in fights and squabbles. By 1860, the number of descendants had reached 150 on an impossibly small island and Queen Victoria agreed to let them live on Norfolk Island after the closure of the penal colony. This kept the island populated and hence under British rule.

The main harbour - pretty rough out there
One of many picturesque bays
The island turned to tourism as their main source of income after
many failed attempts at other industries, including whaling which survived a long time but died out as other sources of oil were discovered elsewhere. For the last 50 years, Norfolk Island has been a tourist destination for people from New Zealand and Australia. Many of the people living there are descendants of the original mutineers and very proud of it. It is a very beautiful island with stunning scenery and is very well kept.

Original 1860 house
Original 1860 house
On the way back we hitched a lift and were picked up by a lady whose husband had been one of the direct descendants from Pitcairn and she still lived in one of the original houses. As we had only one day on the island, she took us on a tour of the bays and tourist sights before taking us back to her house for tea. It was a very enjoyable afternoon and we learnt a lot about life and the people.

She dropped us back at the dinghy dock at 7pm and we took our dinghy back to the boat. By this time the swell had come into the bay and the boat rocked violently making it very difficult to get back on the boat. The swell was forecast to increase making anchoring anywhere in Norfolk Island dangerous so we would have to leave the next day (which we had planned to do anyway). A quick engine check revealed that we had taken on a small amount of water into the engine compartment but nothing serious.

The Final Leg Monday 26 October – Thursday 29 October

The next weather front was due across the top of New Zealand at 8am in three days’ time and we had to cover the 410 miles to the North Cape before that time. The forecast was for 35-40 knot winds with 4.5 metre seas north of the cape by 8am on Thursday. Once inside the cape, we could cover the remaining 80 miles to Opua (our point of entry into New Zealand) in the shelter of the island with much lower wind speeds and wave heights. Not getting there by 8am to the North Cape was not an option we wanted to contemplate.

The forecast winds on the Monday morning of 10-12 knots from the south turned out to be 25 knots from the SE with steep waves. Another 24 hours of crashing into waves and sailing well off our course to New Zealand. It was slow going into the wind and we were not even going in right direction! After the first day I checked the bilges and found significant amount of water in the engine compartment. We bailed out 6 gallons of water! We were also making very slow progress towards New Zealand and would have to cover 150 miles for the remaining two days – something we could not do unless the wind changed.

The second day (Tuesday) was light southerly winds which allowed us to head directly for New Zealand and we continued to motor sail. By 2am, the water in the engine compartment was again getting serious and I rigged up an electric bilge pump which would enable us to keep the engine compartment clear of any water. I already had the fittings in place and it was just a matter of installing all the components. Thirty minutes later we had the bilge pump in and working – just shows what you can do when you need to even at 2am in the morning.

With the full sails up and the engine on we were making 7 knots which gave us some confidence that we had a chance to get into the shelter of the cape before 8am on Thursday.  On the Wednesday the wind started going round to the NW ahead of the coming front (as expected) and with full sails and the motor on we were doing 8.5 knots. Burning diesel was a better option than being caught out in the weather front so we kept motoring until 2am when we were doing over 10 knots with a 30 knots wind. At this time I was comfortable that we could make the cape well before 8am and we switched off the engine and sailed the rest of the way, reaching the cape at 3am – just 5 hours ahead of the weather front.

For the first time in three days we could relax and even the rain associated with the front and the expected thunderstorms were not a worry for the last leg of the journey. In the event, the predicted thunderstorms did not arrive until after we had tied up at the Q dock (quarantine dock where boats stay until they have cleared customs, immigration and quarantine checks). What a relief to be secure on a berth – the weather could do what it liked then.

Before we could open our first beer, customs and immigration boarded us and cleared us within 15 minutes. Twenty minutes later quarantine came aboard and went through the whole boat, including the fridge, freezer, lockers and bilges to check everything – NZ are very hot on this. Within an hour of arriving we were cleared and had a berth allocated in the marina and were free to go ashore.

We celebrated our arrival with a bottle of champagne after a nail biting few days and pleased to have got through the sail to New Zealand relatively unscathed. We headed to the yacht club to meet up with our friends from other boats for more drinks and fish and chips for dinner.  Slept well that night!
Opua is the centre of sailing in this part of New Zealand with hundreds of boats here. It is very picturesque reminding us of maybe Cornwall but with very few houses, cars and people here. The weather is cold at night (we are back to wearing jeans and fleeces at night) and warm in the sunshine during the day. It can also be cold during the day when a weather front comes through and you get a cold wind straight from the Antarctic.  

There is not much in Opua apart from marine service companies and chandlers but you can buy anything here and get any type of work done. We have spent the first five days here sorting out the boat, fixing things, replacing the VHF and arranging for work to be done – mainly the rigging ( I found a broken strand on the rigging just before we left Noumea) and the water leak into the aft heads and the engine compartment. It will mean lifting out the boat but it will be a relief to get all this fixed. 

And then we can start enjoying New Zealand for the next 6 months!

New Caledonia - Grand Terre

Grand Terre: 9 October – 21 October 2015

We left Ile Des Pins for Bay de Prony on Grand Terre after two weeks of effectively a holiday – two weeks of reading, walking and eating and drinking.  After all the Ile Des Pins is the holiday island!

Bay de Prony: Thursday 9 – Monday 12 October

The 40 mile trip north to Grand Terre was fast in 25 knots winds and I had decided that we would go to Ile Casy (a small island in Bay de Prony), mainly because it had mooring buoys on the deserted island which was an easier option than anchoring – a good a reason as any.

One of the legends of the island is the dog that lives there. When the owners of the resort (now in ruins) finally left, they had a puppy which they took with them.  The puppy kept jumping off the boat to go back to the island and so they left it there.  It now takes people on a tour of the island and in return, you provide him with some water and food.

Taking us along the beach
Walking through the forest
When we took our dinghy to the dock, the dog was duly waiting for us with its tail wagging. He walked in front of us, taking us for an hour and half walk around the island, stopping and waiting to ensure we were following. He took us around the island and then over the top. A lot of money had been spent making the walks good footpaths, fences in places and
sign posts at strategic points. As we came back towards the dinghy dock, the dog heard another dinghy engine and went bounding off to wait for the next group of sailors.

Showing us the view
The view the dog wanted us to see
The resort itself is still intact but is looking rather sorry for itself – boarded up and overgrown. This is a real shame because the island is very attractive. The soil is a deep red colour due to the high mineral content in the area and indeed on the mainland there is extensive nickel mining – one of the highest concentrates of nickel anywhere on the planet.

The red is the high nickel content
Crossing the waterfalls
The next day we went further up into the Bay de Prony and
anchored in an inlet so we could do some trekking on the mainland. We spent the next couple of days walking up hills and along the coast, some of which were old mining roads, carving huge flat pieces of rock out of the hills to make the roads and other were very attractive walks through the forest. The waterfalls at this time of year are tame since it is the dry season, but from the drainage ditches that were dug when these were heavily mined, they must get a huge rainfall here – the pictures of the waterfalls in the guide book were obviously taken in the wet season!

Noumea: Monday 12 October – Wednesday 21 October

We had allowed ourselves 7 days at Noumea so that we could spend 2 days preparing the boat for the trip to New Zealand and 5 days touring the island by car. Noumea is the port of departure for New Caledonia and so all boats have to leave from there, it is the only place you can clear customs and immigration. The harbour therefore gets very crowded with all the boats waiting for a weather window to depart to New Zealand or Australia ahead of the start of the cyclone season. Typically you get a weather window every two weeks or so.

We arrived at 4pm to a very crowded harbour. The first marina did not even answer our VHF request for a berth and I telephoned the other marina with little hope of finding a berth with so many boats at anchor. The Port Captain only spoke French but I was able to negotiate a berth for two nights, on the jetty assigned to Super Yachts. It was the last berth available and we only secured it because we could speak French which gave us an advantage in securing a berth.

The next morning I set about servicing the engine. After two hours, my foot was really hurting where I had cut it on some coral a couple of weeks earlier – it had become infected and very sore. An hour later I started feeling unwell and had to lie down with the engine still not finished. An afternoon of shivering and sweating alternately convinced me that I needed to see a doctor, not least because it was likely that we would have a weather window to leave in about a week’s time and I needed to be fit. Also, two people on other boats both had infected wounds, one of which became very seriously infected and he was still not well after two months.

The next morning Catherine went to see the Port Captain to arrange a doctor and he phoned around. He organised a taxi to take me to the hospital and could see that I was in a very poor state, as much worried as not well. The doctor checked the coral cut and took an Xray my foot to check there was no coral still inside and gave me a thorough check up. The wound was infected but no coral inside, it just needed careful cleaning twice a day and kept dry. He gave me some antibiotics for the fever and re-assured me that it was not a blood infection that caused the fever. It was a huge relief.

The marina allowed us to stay on the berth for a couple more days, moving off other boats to make way for the super yacht that was arriving. This meant that at least Catherine could get off the boat while I laid and watched DVDs when not sleeping. We then did have to move the boat to another berth that they found for us and with the help of the marina we managed to move the boat to a new berth where we could stay until we left.

On the fifth day (Saturday) we went for a walk in the afternoon and I felt a lot better for the walk. On the Sunday we took a bus to the Cultural Museum which was about 5 miles out of town. When we arrived they had a special children’s event weekend that meant that the tickets were three times the normal price with lots of shows and activities for children. It was also pouring with rain that meant most of them had to be cancelled!

We spent four hours there among an eclectic mix of exhibits and if there was a story behind the random selection and arrangement of the exhibits it was well hidden. For a cultural museum it lacked much to say on culture or history. Nonetheless we did give it our best shot.

Monday and Tuesday we spent preparing for the departure. Final rig checks, provisioning for just the number of days at sea (since we would have to jettison all fruit, vegetables and meat before arriving in New Zealand) and buying some more Jeri cans of fuel just in case we had to motor extensively.
We had a final meal with our friends from Chessie, Serendipity and On The Double in town before we all went our own way. Chessie were berthing their boat in Noumea and heading back to Germany for Christmas, Serendipity were off to Australia and ourselves and On The Double were going to New Zealand.  No doubt we will all meet up again next year on route and it reminded us of what a good time we all had together over the last couple of months.

The weather was keenly watched by everyone and a departure on the Wednesday was looking good. We listened to Gulf Harbour Radio on the SSB each morning at 6:30am which provides weather routing information for yachties travelling to New Zealand, downloaded the weather grib files each day to look at the 10 day weather patterns and joined in the 8am VHF net to share weather information with the other boats. All looked good for the first three days of the passage with a weather front then coming up from Australia. We knew that we would have to take at least one weather front on route but the plan was to anchor at Norfolk Island to let this one go through and then dash to New Zealand before the next one.
On Tuesday night we felt we were ready for an early start on the Wednesday morning with all preparations completed for our most difficult journey to date.