Ocean High

Monday 10th June 2019

We have finally arrived in Horta in the Azores, after a couple of weeks of very little wind, it has been a slow but comfortable crossing. I, particularly, get range anxiety when we have to do such a lot of motoring but this time even Rick, not confident of the fuel gauge, was measuring the inexorable draining of the fuel tank with the dip stick on a very regular basis. In the end about 50nm out from the marina we picked up some wind and sailed the whole of the last day, approaching the island reefed and doing 8kts, with at least 150 litres of fuel left in the tank.

‘Got here beer’ in Horta

Our crossing from the Caribbean might have been the slowest of our ocean passages but stuck in the middle of the Azores high pressure system, it also became the calmest. And calm seas don’t just mean more sleep and a much more comfortable life onboard, it also means our fellow ocean goers are easier to see.

On Wednesday I spotted what I first thought was rubbish, it looked a bit like the end of a child’s clear pencil case decorated with a pink rim. Then I saw another and another. We looked more closely and realised they were a type of jelly fish, a jelly fish with what appeared to be a three dimensional semi circular sail. Enquiries back home to those who have access to Google revealed them to be in the Portuguese Man-o-War family. We learnt that each creature was in fact not a single organism but a colony of much smaller ones, all working together to create a viable unit. And what was also incredible, was that five days and nearly a thousand miles on, they were still passing us by in a steady stream. The whole ocean is full of them.

A clump of a dozen sailing jelly fish

A rarer sight was a pod of whales. In a rougher sea we probably wouldn’t have spotted the telltale blow in the distance, but any thing that breaks the surface in these calm conditions is obvious. Too far away to identify conclusively, their small size suggests they were probably pilot whales. And just when we were beginning to give up on dolphins over the last few days of the passage we saw three or four large pods, They were Atlantic spotted dolphins and they gave us a spectacular show leaping from the water and dancing in our bow waves.

A pod of dolphins charging in to swim at our bows

The journey has also been big on the pure grandure of the open ocean, the only ripple to be seen was our wake as we motored over a glassy, inky blue, undulating sea, that stretched out to a huge horizon. We have been treated to dramatic dark orange sunrises and sunsets and one night the ocean was so smooth, I sat mesmerised by a whole sky full of stars reflected in its surface. As always we gaze in wonder and reflect on how honoured we are to witness such things.

Sun rising over a silky sea

While we enjoyed all this we were slowly travelling northward and we were noticing many changes. The temperatures of the sea and the air dropped daily forcing us into more and thicker clothing. The Southern cross that has for so long been our focus in the night sky, a few days ago disappeared below the horizon and after years of pretty much 12 hours of darkness each night, the shorter nights are taking a bit of getting use to. With the sun setting later and later each day, despite our routine changing of the clocks as we travelled through different time zones, we had eventually to push our night watch system back an hour because we were struggling to get to sleep. Even the duration of dawn and dusk is changing, the sudden onset and disappearance of darkness of the tropics is being replaced with the hour long fading and brightening of light of higher latitudes.

We hope to have about a week to enjoy the Azores, we suspect the passage back to the UK may not be so tranquil, so we must be patient and wait for a good weather window.

Goodbye to the Tropics đŸ˜¢

Sunday 26th May 2019

Preparations in full swing, Rick scrubbing a very furry prop

As we lifted the anchor today and headed towards the marina to prepare to leave tomorrow it occurred to me that, rather sadly, this may be the last time we ever anchor Raya. Our next destinations, Horta in the Azores and then the South Coast of England will most likely have us tied up in marinas for the rest of the trip, our trusty anchor unneeded. By strange coincidence, while I play about with the possibility of writing a book of our adventures, I was just yesterday writing down my thoughts about our very first night at anchor, off the coast of Portugal as we sailed towards the Mediterranean.

Where on earth have the last four years gone?

Since our arrival in the Caribbean we have found ourselves trying to absorb the details of everything we love about our tropical watery life, fixing them into our memories to be conjured, at will, to brighten dreary November days.

Stunning tropical colours in the BVI

Not just the incredible events we have been honoured to experience but also the small every day things, like the feeling you get when, sweaty and hot, you jump over the side into the water, it’s delicious silky coolness enveloping you. The anticipation of what might be revealed today as you dip your head into the magical underwater world whose sights rarely let you down. Or the spectacular shows of the seabirds as they swoop and dive or dance above your heads. And the kaleidoscope of colours of the fish and the coral, the burnt oranges and baby pinks of the sunsets and the turquoise of shallow seas.

How can I live without that turquoise.

Not sure who this chap is but his home is a colourful mini reef

It’s difficult to imagine living without these things, however, I have recently caught myself contemplating other aspects of our life and thinking how nice it would be to wear perfume rather than insect repellent out to dinner, how great it would be to have a fridge full of green vegetables and what a luxury it would be to be able to flush the toilet paper.

So perhaps this is a good time to be leaving this life while our tolerance of the inconveniences, the price we pay to enjoy these things, is still high.

Thursdays sunset

You can track our homebound route through our Yellow Brick tracker, found at http://my.yb.tl/sailrayatracking/

All the Way Round

Thursday 7th March 2019

We are circumnavigators, on Tuesday morning we sailed into Port Louis Marina on the Caribbean Island of Grenada, where 3 years and 45days ago we had set sail for the Panama Canal and the Pacific. We have been swamped by messages of congratulations and have been toasted with champagne but I’m not sure our achievement has really sunk in.

We are being very kindly treated to a week in a luxurious villa, with Jonathan our sail mate, his wife and my sister and husband. Slowly we are unwinding but the last few months of continuous sailing have taken its toll and we feel pretty tired.

The pool at our lovely villa in Grenada

The second half of the passage from Ascension was much windier than the first half. Having cleared the squalls the sea calmed down and for a day or two we enjoyed perfect trade wind sailing. With the sea flatter Jonathan put the rods out and we finally had some fishing success catching a small tuna and a few days later a Mahi Mahi.

Successful fishing day

The days rolled by, sleep, watch, eat, read, eat, sleep, crossword, eat sleep, watch……. We sailed on in our ever changing disc of blue, some days calm others a mess of conflicting waves, the oceans colour varying with the sky from deep ink blue to somber grey. The moon gradually reduced to a slither that rose later and later each night and as the nights grew darker we were treated to skies of a trillion stars.

We were mostly completely alone, the occasional brown booby flew close catching the flying fish we disturbed with our wake and a few AIS targets passed by on the chart plotter but too distant to appear on our horizon. So it was rather a shock when, with our waining vigilance, we spotted a fishing boat less than half a mile away. It had no AIS, in fact, covered in rust, it’s waterline thick with algae, for a moment we thought it may be abandoned but no, tossing wildly in the waves it’s crew valiantly fished on.

Ever since the equator we had been sailing through increasingly large patches of free floating, bright orange Sargassum seaweed. With no engine running it wasn’t a problem for the propellor, but we sat aghast trying to imagine how many acres of ocean it must cover, hoping that it was at least using up lots of carbon dioxide to help the atmosphere.

Masses of Sargassum seaweed covered the ocean

We were sailing fast which meant our eta had us arriving the morning before the arrival of our welcoming committee, who were flying in from the UK Tuesday afternoon. But after 15 days the thought of slowing up and spending an extra night at sea didn’t appeal to us, we pushed on. Until suddenly, and against every chart and source of information we had for this area of water, we encountered a negative current and for 36hrs we stared depressingly as our speed over the ground struggling to reach 7kts. Thankfully about 200nm from Grenada the current firstly went neutral and then positive, at times we screamed along at 10 knots towards the finish line.

The traffic had increased also, not only more fishing boats, with and without AIS but tankers and cargo boats, plying their way between the Americas and Africa or the Far East. The radio sparked into life with a large drilling platform calling up to ask us to leave them a minimum perimeter of two miles as we passed. On our final night we had to call up two cargo boats to ensure they were aware of our presence and as always they were happy to change course to give us plenty of space.

Tuesday morning we arrived off the SE corner of Grenada, land ahoy was excitedly written into the log. But we weren’t quite there yet, blackening skies and high winds built as we approached the island, overfalls tossed us about and we had to slow to let the rain pass so we could prepare the boat for docking. Then we faced the challenge of the complicated mooring system at Port Louis Marina, it was with a sigh of relief we secured the final line.

The ‘got here beer’ tasted good but not as good as the Champagne we shared with our friends that evening. We’d made it, we’d sailed all the way round.

Got here beer Grenada

Back in the Northern Hemisphere

Sunday 24th February 2019

Latitude : 02 12(N). Longitude : 034 54(W)

South Atlantic sunrise

Raya is back in the Northern Hemisphere. We crossed the equator about 400nm off the Brazilian East Coast heading for the Caribbean and celebrated the event with four glasses of bubbly, one each for the three of us and, as tradition dictates, one over the side for Neptune. Strangely it is almost to the day exactly three years since we crossed the equator going southwards in the Pacific.

Capturing the moment

We left Ascension Island under blue skies, with light winds and calm seas. A nice easy start while we settled into the pattern of eating, sleeping and night watches that would be the rhythm of our lives for the next 18 days or so. The going was a bit slow but we were saving our fuel to help us through the Doldrums.

Either side of the equator in the tropics run the trade winds, winds generated by the rotation of the earth that blow from the NE in the northern Hemisphere and SE in the Southern Hemisphere, we have been enjoying their consistency for most of our trip and they are the reason for our westerly circumnavigation. Running around the equator however is the intertropical convergence zone, the ITCZ. Here the winds drop dramatically, historically the doldrums were dreaded by mariners as they could become becalmed for days on end. These days with most yachts equipped with an engine it is more a matter of motoring through them as fast as you can to pick up the winds on the other side.

We motor sailed for a couple of days before the wind picked up a little and we managed to sail for a while. Friday evening however the wind dropped again, but when we turned on our engine, we were assaulted by a loud and worrying banging from the prop. As we crossed the equator we had thought of taking a mid ocean dip but decided there was a bit too much swell, now it looked like Rick would be getting wet after all. We sailed slowly through the night until at first light, equipped with his mask and a knife he went to investigate. For the past few days we had been passing through dense patches of weed, and to our relief it was this that was entangled around our prop and the simple act of stopping the boat freed it up. Rick stayed down to check things were ok before we continued on our way.

Where the trades meet the ITCZ there is often an area of unsettled weather and unfortunately as we sailed through the northern boundary we had 36hrs of squally conditions. Ominous dark clouds would continually build on the horizon and we’d watch as they either scooted past, missing us or relentlessly approached. Each squall brought high winds that backed northwards and torrential rain that fell for about half an hour. With light winds between them the trick to not getting continually soaked was to reef the sails with the wind increasing just before the rain arrived, this was not always that easy. On the upside our decks that were still covered in dirty South African dust have been cleaned beautifully.

Another squall comes through

Thankfully we are now through the squalls and are picking up the northeasterly trades which, with an accompanying current, are whisking us quickly towards Grenada. Just over three years ago we took off form Grenada for the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean, as we arrive back we will cross our outward track and unbelievably our circumnavigation will be complete.

For now however we have another week or so of sailing to do. We are pretty low on fresh fruit and veg but have plenty of frozen meals, we are all swapping Kindles to ensure everyone has plenty to read and we are becoming better and better at the four o’clock crossword. Raya as always is preforming well and our spirits are buoyed by a continuous stream of entertaining emails from home. The sight of land however will be very, very welcome.

Passage to St Helena

Wednesday 30th January 2019

As the sun rose my spirits rose with it. Our first three nights out of Cape Town were chilly and the sea rough, the wind making our night watches cool and the rolly seas making sleeping difficult. It’s hard to explain just how nice, when you are cold and tired the coming of daylight is. The skies were full of cloud and glimpses of sunlight rare but still being able to see the waves as well as hear them and feel the small amount of warmth from the hazy sunshine came as a relief from the hours of darkness.

We had timed our departure from Cape Town, last Tuesday, not on the tide but on the earliest opening time of the fuel dock. Designed for much larger vessels we hadn’t quite realised just how high the sides of the dock would be and at low tide this was exaggerated further. The only protection from the barnacle encrusted wall were three huge tyres and the only cleats languished about 10ft above our heads. The surge from the ocean swell entering the outer harbour, pushed us on, off, up and down against the all. All my strength was not enough to throw our heavy warps up to the fuel manager, luckily Rick managed to get one up and I then tied us off on a couple of rusty brackets. Once full of desiel there was then the problem of transferring R8000 (£450) across the watery gap and into the air. We placed the bundle of notes into a zip lock bag and Rick threw as hard as he could, for a moment as Raya lurched it looked like it would go into the ocean but with relief it landed safely on the dock. We didn’t bother with the receipt!

Dodgy fuel dock, Cape Town

We headed out of the harbour into crowded waters, small, local motor boats fishing, huge cargo boats queueing to come into Port, pilot boats ready to guide them, a large fast ferry, flocks of cormorants and dozens of sun bathing seals. The seals lounging on their backs with their flippers in the air seemed uncaring of the passing traffic, quite a few times we came to within a few metres of them they didn’t bat an eyelid.

Unlike the huge male that had lorded it over our marina pontoon, one day aggressively barring Ricks access to the boat. Rick had popped out for a selection of nibbles for our lunch, unfortunately seals don’t seem to be keen on vegetable samosas and resisted the temptation to be lured after one into the water. After a 15min stand off, Rick clambered on to a wall at the back of the pontoon and sneaked around the seals back before making a leap for the boat. The seal now very cross stationed itself right next to our step off the boat. A good day for jobs onboard we decided.Pontoon wars

There traffic quickly thinned out once we left the coast of Africa, there have been a few AIS targets on the chart plotter, mostly cargo boats heading to the Far East, but none that actually were close enough to see by eye. There have been no dolphins or whales and few birds, just us, the sea and the sky.

It was a chilly first few days

When not catching up with sleep we have been reading, doing crosswords and fishing, two bites, two got away. A slight leak around a through hull fitting kept Rick busy for a day, but luckily he managed to stem the egress to a slow drip that can wait for our arrival in Grenada. We’ve enjoyed a couple of nice sunsets, well stocked from Cape Town the food has been fresh and we have even toasted the halfway point with a sneaky beer.

And as we have sailed north gradually the temperatures have increased and with clearing of the clouds, by day 5 we were back in shorts and T shirts, unfortunately the fine weather came with light winds and eventually we had to give up sailing and put on the engine. Thankfully the winds have picked up and we are sailing again today and winds are forecast to stay with us all the way into St Helena tomorrow afternoon.

Very much looking forward to getting there.

Finally Durban

Reunion to Durban – part 3

Whales everywhere between Madagascar and Durban

Thursday 15th November 2018

At 3am last Friday, near the top of the tide, we left the dock in Richards Bay and with a good forecast we headed finally for Durban. The multitude of lights within the busy harbour, an incoming cruise liner and 50 or so anchored tankers that were overloading our AIS system, made for a stressful exit. But by first light we had turned south and were being whisked along with help of the Agulhas current, the light winds were directly behind us as we motor sailed, in sunshine and calm seas.

Ever since we arrived off the coast of Madagascar we have seen numerous pods of whales and this trip proved to be no exception. However many times you encounter them, when they are up close to you, it is still shocking how huge they actually are. One surprised us, surfacing just a few hundred meters off our beam, another pod entertained us, breaching and fin slapping as we sailed by.

Whale watching off Madagascar

By 4pm we were tied up on the International dock in Durban Marina. We are a bit close to the noise of the city, with its continuous traffic, a rail track and crowds of people. And the water in this corner of the marina is depressingly strewn with rubbish. We are however more than ready to enjoy having no anchor alarms to worry about, no walls to contend with as the tide rises and falls and an endless supply of power and water.

Durban ‘got here’ beers

Just across from us is the Royal Natal Yacht Club, the oldest yacht club in Africa. It’s a well frequented venue and everyone has given generously of their time and local knowledge. Sunday’s they served a carvery so we enjoyed our first roast lunch in 18 months, we have sampled the fine South African wine and been entertained by live music on their lawn. A few hundred meters in the other direction is the Point Yacht Club, who serve a knock out breakfast and have a Thursday night B B Q. Termed Braai here, as well as delicious chicken kebabs, we tried spicy boerewors, a tasty beef sausage and rather tough biltong, a thick cut beef jerky. There are a couple of Oyster rally boats still in the marina, as well as a few other boats we know, so we have plenty of company and as for once Sterling is strong here, to make things even better, everything is extremely cheap.

View from the yacht club lawn across Durban Harbour at spring low tide

We do however have lots of work to get through during the next few weeks, a long list of jobs sits staring at us from the table. Luckily with labour cheap and plenty of marine trades around, finding help has been relatively easy so far.

Which is a good job because moving about is a bit of a challenge, the crime level in Durban is high and exploring further than the marina precinct by foot, we are told, is ill advised. Our immediate surroundings, in the worst days of apartheid, was a whites only neighbourhood, upmarket new apartment blocks sat between majestic examples of Art Deco architecture. As politics changed, the wealthy residents moved out of the city centre and now many of the buildings stand empty and derelict, the whole area has become dismally run down and petty crime is rife. Consequently taxis are the order of the day and next week, having ticked off some of our tasks, we will hire a car to explore further a field.

Art Deco architecture overlooking the harbour

Turbulent Indian Ocean

Finally Internet, see two blogs below

Friday 5th October 2018

We have just reached the halfway mark of our sail from Cocos Keeling to Mauritius. The Indian Ocean continues to be lumpy and uncomfortable, tossing Raya back and forth as she speeds onward. Bigger waves roll in every ten minutes or so, looming over us then picking us up, when we reach the crest for a moment we sit perched high above the ocean, before with much spray and noise, we surf downwards to await the next ride.

Waves up to five meters high persisted for most of the passage.

Our friend Richard who joined us in Cocos Keeling has fitted in well with our routines and so we are now all getting a bit more sleep, even with the rolly conditions. The half moon however that lit our way for the first few nights, has waned and with quite a bit of cloud obscuring the stars our night watches are very dark. Sunrise is as always welcome.

A pink sunrise

We have seen very few other ships, a few tankers have passed us but most only spotted on the chart plotter as AIS targets, just a couple pass close enough to spot on the horizon. Even the dolphins have been keeping their distance it is unusual to be at sea for this long without spotting at least a few.

In contrast there have been plenty of flying fish, one morning Richard cleared 26 that had accumulated on the deck over night. During the day we watched them skimming the waves all around us. On one wave, right next to us, about 50 small fish all took to the air at once. Catching the sun as they leapt, fins beating rapidly, for one magical moment they looked just like a band of fairies appearing from the deep.

So each day goes on, we eat, catch up on sleep, read and gather for the 4pm crossword. We’ve had good winds and we are sailing fast, there is much debate as to whether we can maintain these high speeds and make it to Port Louis the afternoon before our estimated arrival on Friday 12th. The next few days, with a forecast drop in the wind and possible drop in speed, will be the deciding factor. Unfortunately if we lose pace then we will have to slow up for the rest of the voyage to avoid a night time arrival.

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Thursday 11th October 2018

On day eight calmer weather did arrive, the sea settled, the sun shone and the fishing rod came out. Luckily we still had a reasonable breeze and could keep our speed up. The fish however were disappointedly not biting. A fish supper would not only have been delicious but would have helped our dwindling fresh food supplies. Almost everything I bought in Cocos Keeling has not lasted well, the fridge is looking extremely bare. We have all been fantasising about our first meal ashore, with chips of course and a large glass of wine.

Boys putting out the fishing rod, no bites this trip sadly.

The Indian Ocean hadn’t finished with us yet however, two days out from Mauritius and the winds built again along with the swell. It was back to bracing against the tipping from the waves, each task taking twice as long as it should. We have found this Ocean particularly fickle, winds often gusting from 18 to over 30kts every few minutes and the sea state varying, seemingly randomly, from slight to rough.

For the second half of the passage we saw many more tankers and cargo boats, all thankfully happy, on request on VHF, to let us maintain our course. About 200nm out we began to cross the shipping lane for boats coming up from the Cape of Good Hope heading towards East Asia. A sharp lookout was required.

And then the squalls came. Ominous black clouds would appear on the horizon, the wind would drop and back. The arrival of a downpour would be accompanied by a blast of high winds that only gradually returned to their presquall direction and strength. Each squall required us to reef the sails and frequently change direction, the cockpit and crew were frequently soaked, sleeping off watch almost impossible, if we hadn’t laughed we would have cried.

Squalls rolling in over the Indian Ocean

To add to our woes, a seam on our Genoa started to split, the sails have, like us, done a lot of miles. Luckily they are very strong and held together with a network of spectra, miraculously the sail maintained its integrity and didn’t appear to effect our performance.

A split in the Genoa

But we made it, in more or less one piece and are now tied up to the wall near the customs office in the capital of Mauritius, Port Louis. Although not our favourite crossing it has been our fastest, arriving 12hrs earlier that expected and averaging 7.8kts. The usual ‘ got here beer’ was delayed slightly by the extremely efficient check in procedure. An hour of form filling later, it was three very weary and slightly wobbly sailors that clambered over the railings to the restaurants conveniently located right next to us.

Second ‘got here beer’

Windy Welcome to Oz

Thursday 9th November 2017

A family, on an early morning walk, have just passed by on the opposite bank from our berth in the Southport Yacht Club Marina. It was a bit of a shock to hear them speak English, I haven’t quite got my head around the fact that we have actually arrived in Australia. In the marina it’s life as usual but when we leave through the gate we are back in the real world and it’s a bit disorientating. There are proper shops, good pavements and decent comms!

Tied up at the custom dock

The passage from New Caledonia continued to be smooth and fast, a Tuesday evening arrival was on the cards. We read that to cross an unknown bar was safest four hours after low tide, to ensure that all outgoing flow from the inland water and rivers was complete, we set a target for between 8-10pm. Early Monday morning the log clicked onto 20,000nm, we congratulated each other but in reality we were more concerned with the dwindling wind, by daylight we were motor sailing to keep a Tuesday arrival in our sights.

Early Monday morning the log registered 20,000nm sailed

We had been sailing parallel to another yacht since Saturday, a lone sailor in a small but fast catamaran, he turned south intent on reaching Coffs Harbour, via VHF we wished each other well and soon the AIS screen was empty again. Early on in the trip we had seen a hundred strong pod of dolphins but now there wasn’t even a bird to watch. We read, snoozed and looked out into the vast expanses of sea, however things were about to get lively.

Pulled away from our books, we found ourselves scouring the sea for bubbles, a fishing boat had come on the radio to inform us that they had been laying long lines in our path and to watch out for bubbles. Bubbles? We thought it unlikely that, with a choppy sea and the setting sun in our eyes, we would see bubbles but we searched anyway. Then just off our port side we saw a buoy, then another and another, some just metres away, bubbles we realised translated from Australian to English as buoys. The buoys were marking the hooks and lines that they had set across miles of ocean. The ‘line caught’ label on cans of tuna conjures a vision of a lone fisherman battling the elements with a rod, this experience made the cheapness of these cans make much more sense.

Then a few hours later, on my watch, which ran from 11pm until 2am, the full moon that had been lighting our way each night disappeared behind a bank of cloud, in the distance sheet lightening lit up the horizon. The barometer started to drop, the low pressure trough was arriving a day early. The winds were still light and we had a knot or two of current against us, back on came the engine.

As Tuesday dawned the barometer slowly started to rise again bringing with it increased winds, much increased winds and the sea began to build. The comment in the log for midday Tuesday, about 60nm out from Southport, reads : Bloody horrible. At 1pm : Still bloody horrible. By 3pm we were in full wet weather gear and we were sailing through 50kt gusts and 4m waves. The local marine forecast came on the VHF informing us that the current weather was wind SE15-20kts, swell 11/2-2m, we wondered which bit of ocean they were looking at, certainly not our bit.

Finally an hour later as we approached land things did begin to improve and we radioed Seaway Tower who monitor the bar and entrance to Broadwater the inner seaway that leads down to Southport. It was with some relief that he reported the entrance calm and it was safe to proceed.

Now all we had to do in our rather soggy and tired state was to navigate in the dark through a narrow channel, find the marina and berth the boat in a 2kt current. A slightly tense half hour but by 9.30pm, we were tucked up in bed. Phew!

We have now checked in with customs, had the boat pulled apart by quarantine officers in search of mini beasts and had great fun at the supermarket stocking back up with food. Most of the boat is beginning to look clean and tidy again, except unfortunately for the front cabin. All the water that came over the bows at the end to our passage has proved the small leak we thought we may have solved is still there. The cleaning, drying and fixing of that will have to wait until another day.

Whoops, I may have been a little over enthusiastic as I wiped down one of the water triggered life jackets.

Go, Stay, Gone

.

Saturday 4th November 2017

Friday morning we left New Caledonia in a bit of a rush having just the day before decided that we would have to postpone our passage for another week – the weather forecasts have been tricky.

So far so good, we have calmish seas and a SE wind blowing us along at between 7 and 8kts. The passage plan has us arriving early Wednesday morning for the incoming tide across the bar. Bars are new to us and like passes have fearsome reputations and many of the harbours on the East coast of Australia have them. An area of shallow water lays across the entrance and when combined with the almost permanent large swell that arrives on the shore, can, on an ebbing tide, cause large breaking waves, not something you want to encounter on a sailing yacht.

We had been expecting the light winds we have at present but they are in a perfect direction and with the just a 1m swell we are storming along and can possibly make the earlier tide and possibly give ourselves a better land fall weatherwise if we can keep it up. Time will tell.

Full moon rise 250 miles out at sea

Our last day, ever, anchored in a pretty bay in the Pacific Islands turned out appropriately enough to be Ricks birthday. It was a lovely day, we swam and read, dugongs and turtles joined us and the winds were gentle. Since being on the boat we have pretty much given up on presents, so with our one precious pack of bacon I cooked him a fry up for breakfast and we BBQ lamb chops for supper with a beautiful sunset as a back drop.

Sunset in Baie Papaye

Then it was back to reality. A one hour motor and Sunday found us anchored again in Port Moselle. The day promised to be sunny and calm and the locals were taking advantage of the conditions, it was like being at sea. The whole fleet of motor boats from Noumea was going out to enjoy a day off in the islands leaving rocky water in their wake. We went ashore and did a bit of  essential shopping and had lunch, returning just in time to take another battering from the boats as they all returned to their marina berths.

That evening while enjoying the company of our friends from Atla we noticed the racing catamaran anchored in front of us was getting gradually closer, her anchor must have been dislodged by the turbulent waters, with no one onboard there was little we could do but put out some fenders and hope the anchor would re catch. After a rather sleepless night of continuous checking she luckily kept her distance but we were glad to move and get tied up in the marina to start our preparations to leave.

We shopped, cooked, checked the boat over and obsessed over the weather forecasts. On Monday, Friday was looking good for departure to Coffs Harbour on the Australian east coast. By Wednesday however there was the threat of a small but lively low forming in the Tasman sea.

Rick checking the steering quadrant

Thursday what had looked like a perfect passage now looked horrible for our arrival with not only the low hovering but a front forming. Frustrated, we abandoned our morning plans to visit the three offices required to check out of New Caledonia, had a delightful lunch at the Art Cafe and started considering going back out into the islands for a few days.

Then would you believe it, when Friday dawned the forecast low had fizzled and gone south and if we kept a bit north and entered the country at Southport instead of Coffs, we might miss the worst of the front. Our departure was back on and by midday we had cast off.

Fingers crossed we have made the right decision.

Contrasts

Thursday 5th October 2017

Mirror flat seas followed by 30kt winds, open ocean one day, modern city the next and an introduction to a culture that’s part chic France part Pacific Island charm, the last few days has been full of contrast.

Saturday morning nearly half way between Fiji and New Caledonia the wind began to die and soon the sails were flogging and despite being happy to travel slowly the engine eventually had to come on. Although motoring in calm seas is very easy, we can sleep, cook, shower as if at anchor, it is also noisy and with the wind behind us rather smelly from the exhaust wafting into the cockpit. In addition, after our engine problems on the trip down to New Zealand, we both, apprehensively have ears half cocked for any slight change in engine pitch.

I guess light winds must be a problem for the sea birds also, without the air currents to help them soar and rest, flying must become tiring. That night while on watch I peered forward to check for lights on the horizon and spotted a dark blob on the rail, worried something must had fallen from somewhere I shone a torch forward and revealed a Red Footed Booby, head tucked under his wing, perched on the pulpit. Obviously fast asleep, he was unbothered by the torch light and stayed unmoving until day break, as the sun climbed into the sky he flew off, back the way we had come, hopefully we hadn’t taken him too far in the wrong direction.

Red Footed Booby hitches a ride

Throughout Sunday the wind hardly registered on the gauge, the surface of the sea became like a mirror, the only movement through its silky expanse was the slight undulation of a small ocean swell and the ripples created by our wake. We put out the fishing line and kept a look out for dolphins and whales but for twelve hours there was nothing anywhere but us. The grandeur of this emptiness is difficult to get across, we sat in wonder at our isolation.

Mirror like silky seas

Gradually the winds picked back up and by midnight we were sailing once again. Next morning we have New Caledonia in our sights and we’re glad we had kept our speed low and delayed our arrival, the Canal de la Havannah turned out to be as treacherous as described in the guides. We arrived perfectly timed at supposedly low water but still had to contend with two knots of tide against us and swirling currents that did their best to drag us off the line through the pass. Add into the mix patches of rough overfalls created from the wind blowing against the outgoing water and we were well and truly pleased to enter the lagoon.

The lagoon however was not quite what we imagined, it’s the largest lagoon in the world and with its outer reef nearly twenty miles off the coast this is basically open water. As the afternoon sea breeze added to the already high winds the sea became extremely choppy. Fortunately we had the wind and waves behind us and we made good progress towards the marina. As we rounded the headland south of Noumea we were greeted by the sight of a hundred or so kite surfers, they looked from a distance like flocks of huge colourful birds, at least someone was enjoying the conditions.

To our dismay as we approached Port Moselle the high winds continued, putting out the fenders and lines in preparation for the approach to the marina was hazardous. We took the decision to collect ourselves, we motored to the anchorage outside the marina wall dropped the anchor and sorted everything out at a slower pace. Then with our hearts in our mouths, as gust of over 30kts toyed with us, we entered the marina and only with the help of neighbouring crews made it without incidence into our berth.

The marina office were friendly and efficient and initiated the check in formalities for us. It was all very low key, customs didn’t even bother to visit the boat but the biosecurity lady did come onboard and take away all our fresh produce and meats. The immigration office only opens in the morning and must be visited in town the next day. Quite quickly we were able to settle down with a ‘got here beer’ and then enjoy a good nights sleep.

Got here beer in blowy New Caledonia

It’s a bit of a shock to the system to have a road running past the boat with proper traffic and it feels very odd to be in what on the surface seems like an European town. New Caledonia like French Polynesia is an overseas territory of France, however unlike French Polynesia the population, in Noumea at least, appears to be dominantly European. Gone are the ubiquitous smiles and greetings as you pass smiling strangers who stroll through the streets, “bonjour”, “bula bula”, this is city life, everyone is busy, eyes ahead, intent on reaching their destination.

First impressions are that there are only a few signs around that we are still in the Pacific islands, muddy taro still looms large next the contrasting colourful produce in the excellent fruit and veg market, traditional Melanesian crafts fill the stalls next to the tourist boats and car hire companies and there are plenty of pot holes and uneven pavements to remind you that you are not back in the world of personal injury claims. On the other hand the supermarkets are packed with fantastic French cheeses, cold meats, bread and wine, the dress code is mostly fashionable French and high rise buildings line the shore.

Our first foray into town was a little frustrating but in the end 90% successful. Immigration, once we found the office hidden away unlabelled in a scruffy block, in a side street, was easy, we are still European and can stay here for 3 months without a visa. It took three different ATMs but we finally persuaded one to give us some cash and after taking directions to half a dozen places we eventually found a mobile shop and bought a sim for Ricks phone.

At lunch time back onboard Raya we sat down to tasty salami, proper ham, smelly soft cheese and crunchy French bread, delicious. European towns do have a few upsides.