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Lord Howe to Noumea
The Coral Sea had been in an angry mood for the past week as we set off from Lord Howe on the back of a small passing low pressure system. The sea state reflected this as we had messy swells and waves, including a nasty cross-wave which every now and then slapped JoliFou hard on her topsides, splashing water into the cockpit. The wind was however a perfect southerly direction at 25 knots and we made good progress despite contrary current and a very conservative sail plan of 2 reefs and a half-furled headsail.
Our stay at Lord Howe was much longer than anticipated as we watched a number of frontal lows come through, with the wind reverting to the north-east soon after. Finally it looked good to leave on Sunday the 28th of August on a southerly flow after a small low had passed to the north of us, so Saturday was to be our last full day at the island. There was a bit of rain around but we wanted to visit Ned’s beach and feed the fish, which we had not yet done. The honesty system down at the hut at Ned’s is really charming, help yourself to a wetsuit, face mask, snorkel and fins and leave the money in the honesty box.
We put a dollar in the vending machine to get a cup of fish food and fed the fish down at the water’s edge. They obviously have been trained to expect this as there seems to be a crowd waiting on the next meal from a generous tourist. It had started raining and a very nice man gave us a lift back to the anchorage café.
Farewell Lord Howe
Next morning it was final preparations before our planned late morning departure. It was a stressful time as the wind was strong from the South and the mooring really boisterous as we struggled with removing the dinghy motor and hoisting the dinghy onto the foredeck. I had a very cold swim, unshackling our anchor chain from the mooring. Finally it was time, we hoisted a 3 reef mainsail on the mooring for stability and motor sailed out of the North passage under Christo’s guidance.
We unfurled the jib and started off towards New Cal, with beautiful views of Lord Howe and Balls Pyramid receding behind us.
The direct course from Lord Howe to Noumea is north-east and the weather routing had indicated that the wind direction would start south and back progressively further around to the east. In order to avoid a bad wind angle too much on the nose later we made easting whenever we could, particularly in the beginning and as the wind lightened off a bit over the next couple of days.
The sea state improved after the second day and we had a range of beam to just forward of the beam reaching, adjusting the main reefs and jib furling according to the wind direction and strength. For the last couple of days the wind increased to about 20 knots and was around 80 degrees true wind angle, so the staysail went up and did its job well. In stronger wind forward of the beam we find that the boat dances over the waves much better under staysail, the headsail tending to drive the bow down more. The spinnaker pole remained stowed on the mast, and the starboard runner remained tight as we kept on starboard tack for the entire trip. Not one tack or gybe the whole way.
We saw dolphins on one occasion briefly and whales twice, but quite far away. This was much better than last year on this route where we saw nothing at all. Watches were a mellow affair as we never saw another vessel the whole way. With the protection of the AIS alarm and the auto-pilot steering, most of the watch was spent relaxing on one’s back on the cockpit cushions.
New Caledonia land ahoy
At one stage we were concerned that we might not be able to arrive before closing of the immigration office at 11:30AM on Friday, hence possibly being confined to the boat for the weekend.
We need not have worried as our final half day and approach to Boulari pass at first light on Friday the 2nd of September was absolutely perfect sailing. Flat sea, the wind had freed a bit and blowing about 20 knots. We had to slow down just a little so as to arrive on sunrise and we continued sailing all the way through the pass and all the way to Noumea harbour before dropping the sails and motoring into Port Mosselle marina just after the office opened, prefect timing! The trip had taken about 4 and a half days.
What a welcoming sight, seeing Pete’s grinning face as we approached the marina. Akimbo had arrived 3 days ahead of us, having spent a long time waiting for the weather window to allow passage from the Gold Coast. From last year, we knew the formalities well and I walked over to the immigration office with the passports whilst Lyn waited on the customs officials at the boat. All done quite quickly and zero charges, Australia should learn a thing or two.
We spent the rest of the day washing down the boat, inside and out and putting mattresses and bedding out to dry as we had taken a little water through an annoying deck-coachroof seal leak. After a much-needed refreshing shower and a couple of beers it was time for an early night and a good sleep.
We stayed in the marina another two nights, leaving on Monday the 5th September. The time was mostly spent on boat tasks. I emptied, cleaned and dried the front sail locker, repairing some badly rusted hose clamps on the bilge pump. Lyn did a few loads of washing, washed the boat inside and also did some remote work for her LCD lighting company. The leak was found and fixed by cleaning out and filling with Sika 291, the outboard was serviced with new plugs. I decided we had way too many old ropes in the sail locker and hung them at the end of the dock with a “free rope” sign, soon snapped up, ironically mostly by our Kiwi neighbor on the dock.
Between boat tasks there was the obligatory sundowner drinks with Pete and Ness from “Akimbo”, Dave and Roz from “Barefoot” and meeting new friends Bob and Lucinda from “Chance”. Such is the cruising way.
As I sit here at anchor off Morning Bay wharf, back home in the Pittwater, the weather has turned and grey rainy clouds further dampen my Monday mood as I search online for Job opportunities. Lyn has just returned from an interview, successful we hope. We’ve been back for less than two weeks and yet the care free tropical bliss of New Caledonia seems like a distant dream now. Those days where all that mattered was whether a new swell was coming, which way the wind would blow, and who’s turn it was to host sundowners. Reality has set in and I don’t like it, but there are debts to pay, the piper is here and it’s time to put in to save up for our next adventures.
Late on Wednesday afternoon (18th November) after a rough and wet trip we arrived in the mellow and peaceful shelter of Magic bay inside the eastern branch of Prony bay. We gratefully picked up a mooring and enjoyed a restful drink and a quiet night.
Next morning it was still raining a bit with a strong south easterly, but forecast to brighten up later. Our main plan was to end up at the waterfall near Carenage bay that we had so enjoyed on our previous visit. On the way we decided to stop in at Casy island for lunch, picking up a mooring just off the wharf on the western side. Our old canine mate Moose, the only resident, was lying curled up at the end of the wharf, oblivious to the rain. After lunch we took the dinghy across and gave him a good feast of tinned tuna and cous cous.
The poor old boy is starting to suffer with age, a bit stiff in the back legs and his sight seems to be suffering as we observed him diving into the water a couple of times targeting a stick that vaguely resembled a fish shape. Much as he is a local legend and may enjoy his island freedom, he definitely craves human company as is evidenced by his tour-guiding of every visitor, showing off and wanting to play. It is probably getting close to time that someone adopted him and took him home with them, if we lived in New Cal we would be sorely tempted.
We elected to remain at Casy for the night, giving Moose some breakfast in the morning before hopping down to Carenage bay, where we anchored really close in to the rocks and trees nearby another aluminium boat that looked a bit familiar. Only on our return later did we realise it was David Plumley’s “Pied de Lune”. We launched the paddleboards and paddled up the very pretty Carenage river until a small weir where we knew from the previous time we could pick up the track to the waterfall. The waterfall was just as special a spot as we remembered and we had a lovely swim there, basking on the warm rocks after.
Paddling back to JoliFou later, we saw the name of the other boat and realized it was David and his partner Marilise (whom we had not yet met). It was wonderful to meet Marilise and have a chat with her and David, which unfortunately had to be cut short due to us wanting to start sailing towards Noumea and catch the favourable tide in Woodin channel. It was an excellent downwind sail with poled out jib and 2 reefs, Lyn enjoying hand steering for most of the way.
We decided to overnight at Maitre Island, arriving just before sunset and picking up a mooring with some difficulty in the strong wind. Our jib had furled badly as the wind was strong and we had done it with pole out, so we had to re-furl it on the mooring which was a bit hectic. Not quite as traumatic as a small local boat that arrived after us and struggled for ages with a flogging half-furled jib. Bruce was about to launch the dinghy to go and help when the German boat next door did the good deed.
On Saturday the 21st it was very windy. We remained at Maitre and had a mellow restful day, watching the hordes of local kite surfers. Having a drink on the beach later we met an interesting American family from a gorgeous old wooden boat called “Nirvanah”. Rod had Bruce enraptured with tales of surfing the Tuamotus and Society islands – a must-do for a future trip.
On the Sunday morning we went for a snorkel off the boat. Surprisingly pretty coral and little fish and very tame turtles.
Bruce went for a kite for a while before it became too windy for his 10.5 m kite. This didn’t seem to perturb two middle-aged beginners who asked him for assistance in how to connect the strings to their 10 m kite. Eventually Bruce and another local kiter were able to convince them that it was a really bad idea! On the other end of the scale we were entertained by a muscular guy who is an excellent kiter doing huge jumps in the flat water behind the island, then kiting with a girl on his back and even doing jumps with her attached. Very impressive.
Next morning Bruce donned the scuba gear and cleaned the bottom in preparedness for the passage. Then we sailed over to Noumea and checked in at Port Mosselle to get ready for departure. Bruce did an oil service on the engine whilst Lyn stocked up on food. On Tuesday morning Bruce did the walk to the various officials to complete clearing out for departure the next morning, a fairly painless exercise. On picking up the filled gas tank from Herve and offloading our two old European scuba tanks on him at Noumea Yacht Services we had an interesting chat about shark attacks in New Caledonia. Herve is an ex scuba diver and prolific spear fisherman. On being told about our reservations about swimming at Kouare island (scene of a bull shark attack near the boat in May this year) he explained that this was during a time when there were many sharks around that area because of a dead whale in the Kouare pass area. Also apparently the shark had been chasing a ray and the unfortunate snorkeler had been between them. Herve also recounted that most of the shark attacks had happened due to inadvisable actions by the victims, for example surfing in the river mouth at Bourail in dirty flooding river water with dead cows around. Bruce is now much happier about the shark situation here. In the afternoon we went across to the fuel dock and topped up the diesel and dinghy fuel using the duty free voucher.
On Wednesday the 25th at 9 AM we finally bid au revoir to New Cal. The forecast south easterly had filled in early and we were able to put the mainsail up, unfurl the headsail and switch the motor off whilst still inside the harbour. With 2 reefs in the main and full jib we made excellent progress reaching out to Dumbea pass. There was quite a big swell and Bruce endured a longing to be out there with the kite on the Dumbea lefts surf break – oh well, next time.
The first two days of the trip were excellent sailing with strong east/south-east winds and favourable tide, we quickly passed the 5000 mile landmark (seamark?) on our Navionics plotter but as predicted we then entered a transition zone with light winds and motoring for 2 days before the wind filled in again.
We had quite a severe thunderstorm with heavy rain squall from the wrong direction and some quite rough weather from the North with big waves in the last 2 days, the seas were big and confused enough that we took the occasional wave into the cockpit, an unusual occurrence as JoliFou has quite high freeboard. It was interesting though very annoying that we had a lot of unfavourable current in the middle of the trip, probably from the Lord Howe eddy of the Australian East Coast current. This was surprising as we had thought that the trip would have mostly favourable current, but it was only after we crossed the sea mounds closest to the coast that we enjoyed any benefit from the East Coast Current.
Just like the trip to New Cal, it was remarkable how little life and ships we saw out there. No sea life except for flying fish and birds until we were greeted by dolphins when close to the Australian coast. Again apart from at the coast we only had 2 ships on AIS and both were so far away we couldn’t see them with the naked eye. We slowed up during the last night to ensure a morning arrival at Coffs, getting there shortly after dawn on Tuesday the 1st of December and anchoring between the old wharf and the beach until the marina office opened. This actually saved us a fair bit of money as the friendly border control guys later informed us that the rates had been reduced from this day.
We were very happy to see that Pete and Ness of Akimbo were still at Coffs, being in the midst of some boat maintenance and improvement tasks, so it was great to catch up with them while we were there. On first walking into the Coffs Marina shopping area I was really struck by how rich Australia is as a country. New Caledonia is pretty advanced and you can certainly get everything you need there, but walking into this area near a small town somewhere on the Australian coast, seeing the numerous brand new cars, multiple restaurants and shops, the contrast was stark.
An unseasonably long period of Southerly breezes kept us in Coffs longer than planned. It is a great place to be stuck tho, and we enjoyed our 6 days there, filling our days with surfing (Lyn is really getting this), some kiting (a frustrating under-powered session) and exploring Coffs. Lyn delighted in finding pretty little perfect stones on the beach which sparked a new passion for creating stone necklaces, so it was off to the hardware stores in search of a diamond tip drill bit. Of course there was the social side, a lot of good times with Akimbo and some new cruising friends including Pete winning the yacht club meat raffle which resulted in a lovely barbecue in the park.
From Monday the 7th December there would be 3 days of good North Easterlies. Much as we wanted to swing by Newcastle on the way, the time of day arrival was too awkward. We also really wanted to arrive home in the Pittwater early in the day, so we decided to do a day trip to Laurieton (Campden Haven) and overnight there. It was a very quick trip with favourable current and a building North Easterly and we arrived at this lovely place in the late afternoon. After the bar entrance which was nice and tame in the small swell we motored up the very pretty river/waterway and tied up to the public jetty outside the welcoming United Servicemen’s Club. What a great place, free docking and amenities at the club. I have never seen so many pelicans as here, there are pelicans everywhere along the river banks and about ten on the small dock.
Next morning we left fairly early and headed out into a strong and building North easterly with associated rising seas.
We progressively reefed throughout the day as the wind and waves increased and by night-time we were surfing at over 11 knots under 3 reefs and a half-furled poled out headsail. Fortunately the auto pilot was handling well so we didn’t need to hand steer, but it was a pretty rough night. The wind faded in the early hours of the morning and we eventually had to resort to the motor for the last couple of hours, which was actually quite nice and relaxing.
We snuck around the inside of Barrenjoey headland, grabbed a mooring and both fell fast asleep, getting some rest before our parental welcoming committee with Prince Silus arrived.
There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
Isle of Pines and Southern Lagoon
In the prevailing South Easterly trade winds it is not often that one gets a chance to easily get out to the Isle of Pines. We had left there prematurely on receiving the tragic news about Bruce’s brother Tim, and we wanted to return. So on Thursday morning with light westerly winds forecast we took the opportunity to head South East. We decided to take a route through the middle of the Southern lagoon motor-sailing in beautiful perfect weather on a smooth sea. There are some stunningly beautiful islands and reefs with deep drop-offs into clear blue ocean in this lesser frequented area of the lagoon and we vowed to return and spend time here in the future. Arriving at the familiar beauty of Kuto in the late afternoon, we were pleasantly surprised to see “Bob the Cat” whom we had met briefly at Nge island. Dave and Malene are kite-surfers and Dave shares Bruce’s passion for kiting in the surf, always good to find someone to do these things with to increase the enjoyment and safety factor.
In the morning we went ashore and walked down the beautiful beach at Kanumera bay and had a look at the resort on the Eastern side. A very pretty resort which we would recommend although not really our thing. In the afternoon the wind was up a bit and Lyn dropped Dave and Bruce off at “Gaby’s” beach for a kite surf. The kite launching was hectic with many failed attempts, but eventually we had success by moving further down the beach. We kited out to the reef breaks towards Moro Island and had a lot of fun in the waves there before a long beat back into the wind.
On Saturday we headed the short distance out to Moro Island, anchoring Jolifou in a really pretty little lagoon close to the protected side of the island, the only yacht there. We went ashore and walked right around the island, negotiating the really sharp coral rock and vegetation along the unusual and scenic coast. At three separate places we saw groups of up to 10 small black-tip reef sharks really close to the shore, the most sharks we have seen in one place. We had a nice skinny-dip on the warm protected beach side of the island before returning to Jolifou for lunch. On the way back to Kuto we spotted the Manta ray that we had swum with previously in Kuto bay, in a special and surreal moment it swam right up to the boat and stuck it’s head up towards us, as though saying hello! Lyn was tempted to dive in, but thought better of it in the fading light and cold wind.
Next day Lyn tried in vain to find her manta, paddling around Kuto bay, but alas it was not to be. We sailed up to Gadji around the outside of the western reef, rather than doing the tricky, coral-dodging inner western passage which we had done previously. Arriving at about lunchtime we had a look at the beautiful Ngie island (I know they all sound the same) fringing Bumbu pass before heading toward the inner Gadji anchorage. It was only a couple of hours after low tide so we knew from previous experience it would be tight getting in, even for us, but with Lyn carefully calling the way we managed to squeeze in through the western entrance. All alone in the anchorage, until Bob the Cat arrived in the late afternoon. We invited them to join us for a fire and dinner on the nearby beach, which was a very merry affair as we became better acquainted with our new friends.
For us this trip to Gadji was mostly about scuba diving, we had not dived our previous time here, which was cut short, so there was unfinished business to do. Befriending Malene and Dave and having them here at Gadji was really serendipitous because Dave is a very competent scuba diver and Malene is an ex scuba instructor, who unfortunately can no longer dive due to a lung condition – the perfect support boat! We managed to piece together a third set of scuba gear for Dave using equipment of the previous owner of the boat and we were all set. The new dive compressor really came into its own as we did a dive a day for the next 5 days in really good weather conditions, sunny and light winds.
We dived a site at the drop-off straight out from the anchorage, then the “Valley of Gorgones” and “The Garden of Eden” which are both at the Bumbu reef pass area. “The Garden of Eden” was the favourite, a beautiful deep drop-off and huge expanse of undulating pristine coral reef terrain, arches, mounds, gorges and valleys with prolific fish. The best dive was in the late afternoon on an incoming tide when there were much more fish, including a huge Napoleon wrasse, a large school of barracuda passing by us about a meter away and quite a few large sharks – feeding time I guess. This is a drift dive through the pass and the guide warns to only do with a support boat. We did have support boat on a couple of occasions, but we also perfected diving towing the dinghy on a long rope, which worked really well. With a short length of chain at the end and a rope long enough so the holder could get deep enough, it was really not a big hassle to hold the dinghy and tow it along, swapping the holder every now and again taking turns for swim-through areas. What you lose by having to tow the dinghy you gain by having the freedom to end the dive wherever you choose, and it certainly adds a lot to the safety factor.
Other Gadji highlights were:-
- Exploring Ngie island on the Monday afternoon, mostly the outside by dinghy as the interior is very difficult vegetation, then back to the anchorage by following the outer reef drop-off and by way of the East Gadji bay area.
- Sundowners on Bob the Cat on Tuesday evening and Pizza night on Jolifou on Wednesday. It was great to find out more about Dave and Malene. They are both scientists, Dave an oceanographer and Malene a marine biologist. Dave was born in Canada, grew up mostly in the UK, and in fact it turns out was a member of the youth UK Laser sailing squad at the same time that Bruce was sailing in the UK senior squad. Malene is Danish by birth. They met whilst they were both hitching rides across the ocean on yachts and now hail from Raglan in New Zealand. Their boys Matias and Luca are full of energy and the joys of life and it is a pleasure to see how well they get on, entertaining each other for hours on end with games such as swinging on the jibsheets, using the netting as trampoline and making potions (Harry Potter is big on Bob the Cat). Matias made Lyn some bravery potion which we are keeping in a special bottle for when required.
- On the Wednesday morning it was quite calm out at the dive spot and there were two French catamarans rafted up together and drifting around (not on anchor) as a few of the crew had a dive on “Garden of Eden”. There are many crazy French sailors let me tell you and these were a prime example. Later they tried to get into the inner anchorage through the wrong entrance at low tide, hitting on numerous occasions before finally getting in using the correct way, then proceeded to leave a few minutes later!
On Friday we fare welled Bob the Cat as they set off headed for Ovea in the Loyalty islands. We would love to have joined them but our time in New Cal was coming to an end. After a final dive we used the nice Easterly wind to set sail for Kuto, having a close look at Du-Ami and Du-Ana islands on the way, but neither were suitable for comfortable anchorage in the conditions. A huge cruise ship was anchored in the bay, similar to the one we will be on in April next year for Bruce’s sister Jacqui’s 50th birthday. It will be great to show the family and friends going on this trip some of what we have seen in this beautiful place. We spent a bit of time stalking a dugong mother and calf before anchoring in the familiar beauty of Kuto bay and cracking the drinks out.
On Saturday morning Lyn rode her Brompton along the beautiful coastal road to Vao market for some much needed fresh food stocks. With using the dive compressor and dinghy a lot recently, petrol stocks were also low and Bruce set off walking up the road towards the service station with the empty jerry cans. A delightful local Kanaki couple stopped and gave him a lift to the service station, waited for him to fill the tanks and then took him all the way back to the dinghy. This is an example of how friendly and helpful the locals here are. In the afternoon we used some of that fuel, taking the dinghy on an adventure through the breakers on the reef to explore Ouro bay, which was a bit disappointing. On the way back we stopped at Bayonnaise island which has a beautiful beach with sea snakes, shells and coral fragments of all shapes and sizes.
Dave and Malene had told us how much they had enjoyed the Southern lagoon islands which we had passed by previously, so with the weather forecast looking good we headed off that way on Sunday morning. An absolutely perfect broad reach in the moderate North Easterly had us arriving at Kouare island in the late afternoon. This island has the best anchorages in the southern lagoon, with 3 locations providing good shelter in all wind directions and is one of the prettiest we have come across. Unfortunately tho, there is a dark side to it. A local French sailor was attacked and killed here by a bull shark in just May this year, whilst snorkeling close to the boat. It must have been a horrific scene and is the stuff of nightmares for us cruising sailors who are often in the water and consider close to the boat as the safest place to be. Also we believe that bull sharks are territorial, so the perpetrator could still be in the area, and in fact when “Bob the Cat” was here another boat spotted a large shark in the anchorage. There was not going to be any water time here for us.
On the plus side, whilst keeping dry on the boat and enjoying drinks and a beautiful sunset, we experienced a beautiful phenomenon which we later discovered is a regular event at these outer southern lagoon islands. The brown sea-birds (sorry I don’t know the name of the species) start gathering as the sun sets and concentrating on the island, on which they sleep for the night. For some reason they don’t just fly straight to the island tho, but rather spend a long time flying beautifully back and forth, gliding close over the water before finally settling on the land. It is mesmerizing watching them as first just a few, but later literally hundreds, maybe into the thousands of birds flock across a back-drop of an orange sunset sky.
Next morning we set off for Nda island, which as far as we know has no recorded shark attacks. We were able to anchor in a beautiful spot close to the beach whilst Bruce filled the dive tanks and Lyn did the bedding laundry. In the late afternoon we did a mellow shallow water dive on one of the huge coral bommies near the island, lots of colourful fish and a sea snake that kept coming at us until finally getting a big fright and swimming away. At sunset a few birds appeared and we remarked that this island didn’t seem to have the same bird influx as Kouare. How wrong we were, as later the gathering happened and the sunset sky became filled with their graceful writhing. For a change we decided to enjoy a dinner date under the stars on the foredeck. A delicious meal serenaded by bird song and Abba, beautiful night sky with a setting moon.
On Tuesday morning we headed north to a dive site called “Ecstasy” at Uatio pass. After scoping out the exact location using the GPS on Jolifou, we anchored inside the reef at quite a boisterous location and headed off to the dive in the dinghy. Lyn was concerned about the safety with the tide starting to get stronger so elected to be support boat captain whilst Bruce did the dive solo. It is a fantastic dive site, befitting the name, with a huge deep drop-off and grand terrain similar to “Garden of Eden” and plenty of fish. Unfortunately tho it is a pretty deep site for recreational diving, even the reef before the drop-off is over 30 meters deep in places, so it is very easy to get very deep without realizing it. Diving solo, Bruce was quite conservative and didn’t go below 30 meters, with a long time at shallower depth later to ensure decompression. Nevertheless a really spectacular dive and Lyn was able too follow the bubbles the whole way for an easy pickup, just as well because the current was sweeping pretty quickly by the end. We didn’t dally at this sketchy anchorage as we set off to Ua island for the night. AFPLI Another F’n Perfect Lagoon Island. Beautiful coral, reef sharks, sea snakes on the beach, flocking bird sunset.
Next morning we sailed further northward to Mato island, which is not AFPLI as it is quite different, a high island with anchorage on the windward side protected by extensive reefs and two little spit beaches at either end. We picked the southern beach and started traversing around the island clock-wise with rock climbing moves just above the water before reaching a beach filled with beautiful stones to Lyn’s delight. From the beach we bush-bashed up to the top of the island where there is majestic aerial views of the reef (spotting groups of reef sharks), anchorage and neighbouring islands. Following the official track down to the northern beach the weather was starting to turn bad. We negotiated the rocky eastern shoreline, dodging many sea snakes and getting soaked by the rain. We would have loved to spend more time at Mato but it was not a great place to be in the building south easterly wind and rain, so we took on a rough and wet trip with the reward being excellent shelter at Magic bay, East Prony.
Something you don’t ever want to hear on a boat is the sat phone ringing in the early hours of the morning. Only our close family have this number and it is likely to be bad news. Our minds were reeling as we missed the call and sent a message to call us on our New Cal mobile number. Our parents are getting old and have had health scares and Bruce’s brother in law Guy is fighting cancer, and this was all going through our heads as we waited. I answered the phone with trepidation and it was my sister Jacqui: “Tim is dead”. No, not Tim! My brother Tim is 55 and was in very good shape health wise, this was a total shock and we were numbed with a mix of denial and grief. Suddenly our beautiful surroundings and adventure meant nothing at all.
On Wednesday the 16th of September the forecast was for a moderate North Easterly wind which we planned on using to sail the 40 miles from Prony Bay to the Isle of Pines. We motored for a short while until the breeze filled in and we started sailing on a pleasant 60 degree wind angle. “Insatiable 2” and a catamaran named “Impi” left shortly after us. I2 was really quick on this wind angle and Jim slowly reeled us in, eventually taking a comfortable win in race 2 of our series as we enjoyed a building breeze but quite nice flat water in the lee of the lagoon reefs and islands on the way. It looked like there were many good surf-able waves breaking on the reefs, but we weren’t close enough to tell for sure. The highlight of the trip was seeing a pod of whales really close to us as we passed Du-Ami isle, which was very exciting as this was the first whales we had seen since leaving Sydney. We arrived in the stunning Kuto bay in the late afternoon and found a spot to anchor amongst about 10 other cruising yachts, the most we have seen in one place so far this trip apart from in Noumea. We took the dinghy ashore for a quick look around and a sundowner on the beach. Kuto has a magnificent white sand beach and is one of the most beautiful bays we have come across, the resort, wharf and other civilization does not detract too much from the natural beauty.
As we were drinking our sundowners on the beach we watched the catamaran “Impi” pull up their anchor and move from their spot close to the beach to far out in the anchorage. It seemed a strange thing to do as they had been securely anchored in a good spot. We later found out that there had been a Tsunami warning on the radio (earthquake in Chili) which our friends on I2 were trying to relay to us. Later that night it was downgraded, but we slept soundly, blissfully unaware of the possible danger. In the morning there was much excitement as we spotted a manta ray in the anchorage. It is Lyn’s dream to swim with a Manta so she jumped in with snorkeling gear but didn’t manage to intercept it. We went ashore for a walk to search for a man named Gaby who runs a camp ground at the adjacent bay and is touted by Lonely Planet as the man to talk to for permission to kite surf here. For some reason the local Kanaks generally don’t allow kite surfing around the Isle of Pines. A sudden downpour had us sheltering in a bus shelter for half an hour. Gaby was away but we did enjoy a walk around his beautiful camping ground and meet a litter of very cute puppies. We then hiked up Nga peak where you have stunning 360 degree views of Kuto and the whole island.
On Friday the 18th we decided to motor Jolifou a short distance around the corner to the town of Vao so that we could visit the market and stock up. It was a somewhat tense passage as we had the sun in our eyes and couldn’t see the shallow reef very well as we followed the waypoints provided in the cruising guide. Our efforts were rewarded by a really scenic large shallow sandy anchorage area, good for our shoal draft, and we were the only boat there. We took the dinghy to the beach at the recommended landing place, admiring the pretty gravesite carvings, and walked up the most charming street with quaint houses, puppies and children playing in the street. Vao has a lovely laid back friendly feel to it. The market was nice and although we got there a bit late and stocks were low we were able to buy some good fresh veggies, and then some baguettes from the general store down the road. On returning to Jolifou there were a couple of the beautiful Pirogue boats arounds which the locals use to take tours through the nearby Upi Bay (locals only in this bay, no yachts or dinghies). We returned to Kuto, where we found the anchorage was filling up with a few more Island Cruising Association (cruising rally) boats arriving. Bruce took the dinghy and his surfboard to see if he could find a wave to surf on the reef out towards Moro Island. There was potential, but in the end he decided not to take the chance on his own and a long way from the anchorage.
We went for a paddle board around Kuto bay and spotted the manta ray again. Bruce stayed with it while Lyn rushed back to the boat to get her face mask. Finally Lyn fulfilled her dream, swimming with this beautiful manta for ages, diving down and touching it, and even “dancing” with it as it rolled onto its back and vertical and waved its wings. A truly memorable experience! Bruce had a go too and also enjoyed its company for a while before we returned to the boat, freezing cold. To cap off a great day, Akimbo arrived as the sun was setting and we celebrated the occasion with drinks on I2.
Next day we decided to paddle the standups over to Gaby’s beach. On the way we stopped by “Impi” and said hello. As expected from the name, there was a South African connection. Brent and Anna are lovely people. Confessing to be out of alcohol (Isle of Pines is a dry island), they asked us around for a cup of coffee at sunset. At Gaby’s campsite we were delighted to meet the man himself as well as a lovely Australian lady named Lisa who entertained us with stories of her passion for the island and her “retirement project” to help with infrastructure and social problems. Gaby was most accommodating with his beach, describing the surf spot when the swell is up and absolutely happy with me kite surfing there. He has built an amazing campsite here and is clearly an energetic and fun character. We highly recommend his campsite (Camping Les Rouleaux) to any traveler to the island.
We are not the “coffee at sunset” types, so arrived at Impi with a bottle of cold bubbles and some beers to share. I think this has bought us friends for life! We had a hilarious evening exchanging life stories and it was great to enjoy the South African sense of humour which Brent abounds in. Anna is actually not South African, but is Flemish Belgian, and speaks fluent French which is a huge advantage in this part of the world. Brent got fed up with the black empowerment policies being imposed on his successful company in Cape Town and wound up the company, bought Impi (a Lagoon 45) and they have been cruising for four years. They are very keen scuba divers and have an excellent blog site and YouTube channel where Brent is constantly putting up interesting and entertaining videos. He is really clued up on the latest navigation software and safety technology and we learned a lot from him in a short space of time.
On Monday a huge cruise ship arrived, along with all the fake trappings ashore. We feel really blessed to be able to enjoy this place without the crowds that cruise ship passengers are obliged to always take with them to paradise. In the afternoon the wind was up and Lyn dropped Bruce off in the dinghy at Gaby’s beach for a kite surf. It was great fun, an excellent spot for it but the wind started to get a few holes in it so it was a bit of a curtailed session. That night our new friends Brent and Anna from Impi came to Jolifou for dinner. We discussed going diving together at Gadji on the other side of the island, but unfortunately they had to head for Noumea where they were taking delivery of a new sail and need to start looking at a weather window for departure to New Zealand. We have vowed to get together again next season.
Kuto is not a good place to be when the wind is from the South West as the swell and waves come directly into the bay. There are also not many good options for Westerly wind anchorages around the island so with a forecast of South Westerly winds for Thursday our friends on Insatiable 2 and Akimbo elected to return to Prony Bay on the main island. We chose rather to head up to Gadji on the North West tip of the Isle of Pines, where there is a shoal draft anchorage sheltered from all wind directions and some excellent dive sites. We decided to take the inner Western passage to Gadji, which is really shallow and tricky, winding between shallow reef and coral heads. Fortunately we had a detailed waypoint route to follow, but Lyn was on the bow the whole way, calling the shallow spots. We enjoyed a brief lunch anchor and rest at Ouameo Bay before tackling the most hairy section as we entered the anchorage area from the Southern approach. Our efforts were rewarded as we found ourselves alone in an absolutely idyllic setting, a cozy sand bottom anchorage of 1 to 2 meters deep surrounded by beautiful beaches and little mushroom shaped islands. We took the dinghy over to a little beach and enjoyed one of our most beautiful sunsets to date.
On Monday we paddled the standups to explore the outer reef islands north of the anchorage, investigating possible scuba spots. There is very little available in the way of scuba guides for New Cal but Bruce had photographed an old French guide book from the library and we knew the approximate location of a dive called “The Caves of Gadji”. We located what we think is the start point for this dive and then paddled along the drop-off of the reef and then back in through a very shallow reef pass, with Bruce catching a little wave, then falling off and having to dive for his sunnies! In the afternoon the wind had got up and we decided to shelve diving plans for the day.
Next morning was beautiful, sunny and still so we decided to use the opportunity to paddle and explore the little islands to the west of the anchorage. Most of the islands and rocks here are overhanging mushroom-like shapes with interesting secret little beaches, gullies and caves along their low cliff shores. It was a lot of fun paddling close along the edges and peering into the caves. In the afternoon we took our snorkel gear and the paddle boards to the outer reef and had a bit of a snorkel along the drop-off, saw a few sharks and some very pretty fish. We look forward to scuba diving here in the future.
At about 2AM on Wednesday the 23rd of September we got the phone call with the tragic news about Bruce’s brother Tim. He was a very healthy man, just 55, and yet had passed away in his home with a suspected heart attack possibly caused by a nerve disorder. This was such a shock to us all, and his poor wife Pauline was in South Africa at the time visiting her ailing parents. We needed to get back to Noumea and fly to London as soon as possible to support Bruce’s parents and Tim’s family. Unfortunately the wind was blowing quite strongly from the North West, exactly the wrong direction for sailing to Noumea. We decided to wait for better winds rather than risk damaging the boat and spent the rest of that day and the next making arrangements for the boat, flights etc., grieving and coming to terms with the shocking news.
On Friday the wind was a little lighter and had swung to the West more. Still not great conditions, but we decided to head for Noumea anyway. Departing at first light with a falling tide approaching half tide we picked our way through the western entrance to the anchorage with a few very shallow moments. The course to Woodin channel was close-hauled on port tack and we used the staysail and double-reefed mainsail. On the way Lyn was finalizing our arrangements, waiting on confirmation from Port Moselle Marina that we could leave the boat there because our flight bookings depended on this. Eventually they confirmed we could leave the boat there, BUT would need someone to move it to a different berth whilst we were away. Pete and Ness suggested we ask a good friend of theirs, David Plumley, whom we had met briefly. David was our hero, agreeing to move the boat in our absence and also arranging with the Marina, coming down to see how the boat worked etc. We didn’t want David to have to be responsible for the boat whilst we were away, so we also asked Chloe from Noumea Ocean Services who agreed to do this at a really low price. We highly recommend her to any cruisers who might be reading this.
From Woodin channel we motored and motor-sailed. The current was with us and against the wind through the channel and there was really rough waves on the exit of the channel. After a very long day of sailing and stressful organizing we arrived at Noumea just after dark, parked the boat and started the big tidy up. Exhausted but more relaxed now that we were safely docked, we noticed that our friends Brent and Anna from Impi were also on the dock and had a nice drink and catchup with them.
The airport shuttle was picking us up at 9:30 in the morning so it was a quite frenetic morning securing the boat away, meeting up with David and Chloe and packing. Then it was a very long and sad trip to London via Sydney and Dubai. I won’t write much here about our time in London. We were very glad we both went, for ourselves and to support the family. It was so good to re-inforce our bond with Tim’s family who are devastated but drawing strength from their love and closeness with each other. We had not seen them for much too long and it is such a regret that we didn’t do this whilst Tim was there. It was also good to see how loved Tim is, so many friends genuinely grieving at this loss. The memorial and funeral were truly beautiful and fitting for such a great man. I may post my eulogy to Tim on another blog post if I feel I can do him justice.
Destination Lord Howe
We might not have stopped here had the weather gods deemed a direct voyage to New Caledonia more fitting, but sitting here in the lagoon on a perfect winters day we are so happy that we decided to stop at Lord Howe on the way. Words cannot convey the spectacular beauty of this place, the intimidation of the majestic sheer heights of Mount Lidgard and Gower sharply contrasting the welcoming aquamarine lagoon. From early this morning when the moonlit silhouettes of the mountains and Balls Pyramid came into view we have been enchanted. Coming in through North Passage shortly after sunrise, perfect lefts peeling down the reef alongside, we were already totally sold. Ashore there is an immediate captivating charm, a feeling of time slowed down, pretty green vegetation, quaint roads and buildings. Our experiences with the friendly policeman Simon and all other officials and locals we have encountered has further warmed us to the place, where there is an obvious sense of pride and community. Although not much further North than Sydney, the warm eddy of the Australian east coast current makes the weather here much milder than on the Australian mainland, with the water temperature quite friendly for this time of year.
30 July 2015
During the final stages of the boat work in Newcastle we started to look at the weather windows for the trip to New Caledonia using the PredictWind weather routing service we had subscribed to and familiarizing with using the Iridium Go and PredictWind software to download weather GRIB files. Fortunately there was a decent weather window to leave on Monday the 27th July, however the later stages of the trip to New Caledonia could be unpleasant with the possibility of winds turning North East. The South Westerly on the back of a big low pressure would be perfect for getting East to Lord Howe and we could arrive in good weather when the winds had faded and turned Easterly, which would make the lagoon a quiet haven (strong SW winds make for very rolly and rough conditions in the lagoon). After clearing customs we would struggle to make Lord Howe in daylight hours on Wednesday, so we planned to leave in the afternoon, take it easy and plan to arrive early Thursday morning.
Such was the plan and all started quite well. After sad farewells to our friends, parents and beloved Silus (our dog could not come with due to difficulty returning to Oz), we headed out of the breakwater at about 3:30 PM and went straight to 3rd reef and full headsail in a moderate South westerly, which built to the forecast 20 to 25 knots as we cleared the coast. All good so far, but as we got out further into the east coast stream we started to experience the classic rough wind and waves against current conditions. It felt like about 30 knots over the water and we had quite large swells with the occasional breaking crest. Not really serious conditions, but enough to be a bit concerned, especially as we were a bit rusty at this stage having not sailed anywhere for a while. This went on for the whole night with us getting no sleep at all. It was still rough on Tuesday morning and we put up the staysail, furled the jib and dropped the main completely, which made things much more comfortable and the auto-helm more easily able to cope with steering.
By midday Tuesday we had crossed the main east coast stream and in the back eddy towards Lord Howe the current had changed and become favourable with smoothing seas but still a big swell. We hoisted the main again and the boat was going really well with 3rd reef and staysail in a 20 knot Southerly, reeling along averaging about 9 knots over the ground with the odd 12+ surf. We elected to sail through the night with just staysail in order to try to get some sleep and to slow down to avoid arriving at night time. During the night the wind faded and we motor sailed and both got some good sleep. The favourable current continued and we spent Wednesday sailing with full sails in a light South Easterly, very pleasant sunny and the swell had eased considerably.
Around mid-afternoon Wednesday we were just starting to feel really relaxed and happy with things, well rested, all was good. As is wont to happen in boating it is often just at these moments that something goes wrong. We discovered a largish amount of sea water in the bilges, in the front and the back of the boat. Not enough to be totally alarmed, but a concern nonetheless as the boat is usually really dry. This put a damper on things (literally) as we dried out the bilges, only to discover more water later. A potential candidate was the front bilge pump Jabsco one-way valve malfunctioning, so Bruce inspected it and we then plugged the pipe to eliminate that one. There appeared to be more water later, but it may have been lurking alongside the water tanks and worked its way out.
The wind faded and headed on Wednesday night so we resorted to motoring with the mainsail (3rd reef) to stabilize the rolling a bit. At the end of her watch at 2 AM, Lyn spotted the silhouettes of Lord Howe and Balls Pyramid in the moonlight. By 4 AM it was clear we would get there too early, so we hove-to (stopped) with 3rd reef and a tiny bit of headsail backed the wrong way. We both went to sleep for a couple of hours like this before motoring the final few miles to the North Passage entrance. Simon was really helpful and accommodating, talking us in explaining the leading posts and buoys and we were soon safely moored just inside North Passage.
2 August 2015
After arrival on Thursday we did a bit of a tidy up, drying the bilges etc. before heading ashore to meet Simon for the formalities. Very brief and easy and also with all the advice we wanted on facilities etc. We did a brief explore of the foreshore whilst picking up a key to the showers, had lunch at the Anchorage (starving) and a very welcome hot shower. Returning to the JoliFou we were overcome by tiredness and had an afternoon nap, waking for a quick trip over to North Bay at sunset.
By Friday morning the forecast North Westerly had started to build. Bruce awoke his kitesurfing mojo and we headed to the main lagoon beach with kites, boards and Lyn’s Brompton folding bike. Lyn went for a ride around the island, discovering the beautiful beaches on the Western side. She also explored some of the charming shops doing some shopping and found an internet connection at the museum. Bruce had an awesome kite on the lagoon, heading down almost the full length and back upwind. A few sketchy moments with shallow reef as the tide went out, but a great place for it.
Saturday was another day of perfect winter weather, sunny and light wind. We took the opportunity to break out the paddle boards and paddled all the way down to the South end of the lagoon, exploring the reef and Blackburn Island on the way. The water was spectacular and the coral quite beautiful, but we were disappointed by the lack of fish and other marine life. The lagoon is over 4 km long and by the time we had paddled back against a light North Westerly we were both physically buggered, neither of us being at a high level of fitness at the moment.
After lunch and a bit of a lie down we took the dinghy ashore to Old Settlement Beach and climbed the track to Kim’s lookout where we enjoyed sunset beers. The scenery from here is breathtaking as you sit atop the high point of a sharp ridge. To the South you have the whole vista of the island and lagoon, with the imposing mountains as a backdrop, to the North there is a 182 meter sheer drop cliff below you straight into the ocean depths and the endless blue horizon. To the West, the sunset framed by Mount Eliza, to the East the pretty Noddy and Roach islands.
That night we went ashore with food and wine, walked over to Neds beach where we used one of the many public barbecue fires to cook a delicious meal of steak and vegetables. It was a perfect setting with the recently arisen moon illuminating the rocks and beach and the squawking of the sea birds filtering across from the islets.
4 August 2015
On Sunday we hired a bike for Bruce, and Lyn rode the Brompton as we did a bit of shopping chores and explored the island. The dinghy was running a bit low on fuel so this was the number 1 priority (nice planning on a Sunday). The only place to get petrol on the island is at Top Shop, so named (I presume) because it’s at the top of the hill, which didn’t make our mission easy. The whole Yamaha 25 liter fuel tank went on the back of the Brompton rather well and we rode and walked up to the shop. Fuel was pricy at $3 per liter, but that’s to be expected. 2 stroke oil from Thompson’s store completed the task. It’s testament to how organized the island is that we were able to achieve all of this on a Sunday. The shops here are small but oh so well stocked. The isolation and the need to get stock by way of the Island Trader ship has made the shop owners really good at knowing what is required and keeping appropriate supplies. Joy’s Shop in particular is an amazing general store where you can get virtually anything you may need, the variety of items is phenomenal.
We visited the extremely pretty Blinky’s beach near the airport which has an excellent sandy expanse and looks like a good surfing venue in the right swell direction. Later we went for a walk on the South side of the island to Mutton Bird point and back. We had intended going further to Boat Harbour but our unfit legs were not in agreement. This track along the South East side of the island is really scenic (I think they all are) and Mutton Bird is impressive.
Yesterday started badly as Sod’s law kicked in with a vengeance! Bruce was doing his morning check of the weather, downloading weather GRIB files on the PC when he plugged the PC charger into the 12 volt outlet at the chart table. A short time later he noticed smoke pouring out of the chart table console area!! Mad panic ensued, batteries turned off, fire extinguisher at the ready, pulling the console apart to find the source. Eventually the smoke subsided and we put 2 and 2 together and realized that it had to be something to do with the 12 volt plug. The plug and the PC plug were totally burnt and melted, along with some wiring behind the console. After some initial despair we finally figured out that the damage was thankfully confined to the two 12 volt outlets in the chart table region. Lyn went ashore to sort out admin and finances at the internet café (museum) and Bruce spent most of the day removing and replacing burnt wiring and repairing the system, this time with a fuse that will hopefully prevent recurrence of this event. On testing the new system all worked except the TV?? On closer inspection the end of the TV plug was missing and we found it in the molten plug socket, the ultimate cause of the issue was now apparent. When Bruce had removed the TV plug earlier the end of it had remained in the socket and plugging the PC charger in had caused a short circuit in the socket. We were relieved that the cause was explained (rather than just bad wiring) and we even managed to salvage the tip of the TV plug and screw it back into the plug (tightly). All back to normal, one day lost.
We had considered leaving today as the weather is favourable, but we think it will be more settled and even better Tomorrow or Thursday so will keep an eye on it and decide later. Lyn is hopefully going to be able to post this later this morning.
It’s sad to say this will be the final blog post of our Whitsunday adventure. I am writing this a full week and a half after arriving back in the Pittwater and maybe I’ve been dragging the heels a bit because it is like signing off that our first adventure is over. In some ways it all feels like a dream from long ago now, it’s amazing how a change of lifestyle makes time seem to have suddenly passed so quickly by.
Coffs Harbour was again a very enjoyable place. This time it was a lot friendlier than the huge swells we encountered there on our trip up. We realized that yes, you could actually anchor here in comfort in the right weather conditions, ‘tho we were safely in the marina enjoying the TMM status once again (Tallest Mast in Marina). We spent 2 enjoyable days there waiting for the southerly wind to change to northerly. On the first night we caught up with an old skiff sailing compatriot Evan Beeby and his friend Kirsty, burgers at Attitude burgers which were delicious, finally satisfying a seed that had been planted a few weeks back by young Drew Randall: “I feel like a nice hamburger for dinner!” The girl serving us looked exactly like an older version of Sarah Rodgers, daughter of our good friends Brian and Julie – it was uncanny. The burgers were so good we went back for lunch the next day. On the second night we went over to the yacht club for drinks and happened upon the meat tray draws which Lyn managed to win twice. This continues a long history of Lyn’s luck with meat tray draws and I’m waiting for it to translate to a big Lotto win soon (our retirement plan). Silus loves Coffs, especially the awesome main beach, which is a dog leash free area. If only other councils would follow this lead!
We had a lovely trip from Coffs to Newcastle, partly motor-sailing and part downwind with poled out jib. We had a magical encounter with a huge pod of dolphins off Port Stephens before the southerly came through and we motored into it for the last couple of hours to Newcastle. Newcastle is like our second home and so close to Sydney that it really felt like this was our arrival home. Joey had arranged a berth for us right out the front of the boatyard and the club, what a pleasure, especially when Anthem arrived the next day and was berthed right alongside us. We had a re-union with Chris and Katrina at Joe and Belinda’s place and a good time and drink was had by all! Chris and Katrina caught a cab home and decided they may as well leave the car for us to use whilst we were up there – fantastic!
Keith and Merle caught the train down to Sydney to continue their search for a home for when they finally come to Oz permanently early next year. With my work and I deciding that I may as well only start work again Monday week, we were able to enjoy a really cruisy few days in Newcastle, a great way to relax before getting back to the true reality of work and Sydney. Thanks to having the car to use I was able to have a fun kite at Nobby’s beach. The wind was marginal but good enough for the 17 meter kite and I had a few moments skimming over the reef as it sucked dry in the waves but all in all a really fun place for kiting (not for beginners).
Adrian (of Anthem) invited us (and Joe and Belinda) to join him, Claire and Laura at their beautiful house in the Maitland (Woodville) countryside for dinner. Mike who has come out from Colorado to sail with Adrian for a while was also there. He’s an interesting man who has lead an extremely adventurous life including a long stint in the Antarctic, rock-climbing all around the world and kiting with skis through the snow. Needless to say, the fine wine flowed freely as we devoured Claire’s delicious curries.
By Thursday it was time to leave. The forecast was really good for the trip to Sydney and I was fearful if we stayed for the weekend I would have to once again risk my Laser sailing reputation in the NCYC fleet which is growing ever stronger. We had a wonderful sail down to the Pittwater. No need for the motor and most of the way we had the Gennaker and single reefed main up in about 12 to 18 knots of north-easterly. Nice as it was to have Keith and Merle join us for a while, it was fitting that the final leg be just the two of us. The leg was punctuated by a bit of action as the gennaker furled poorly outside broken bay and we had to take it down in the increasing wind. This was soon sorted and we had the gennaker stashed in the sail locker and headed towards Lyn’s (previously) favourite island Lion Island, sailing beautifully downwind under main and poled out jib.
It was very special to be welcomed into the Pittwater by the full complement of parents (Keith, Merle, David and Joliette) at the West Head lookout (Lyn is Vice Commmodore of West Head – Shag Island Cruising Yacht Club). To add to the occasion, we had frisky whales breaching just off Barrenjoey and the kite surfers were out in force at my local spot Palm Beach. We cracked open some cold beers as we sailed gently down the Pittwater, all the way to Longnose point, before picking up our favourite mooring in Morning Bay and enjoying the sunset and champagne with our friend Kelly Ambrose (and Kango) who had been looking after our commuter boat for us. Then it was over to Church Point Café for a lovely welcome home dinner with the parents. Home is not so bad a place after all 🙂
28 October 2014
(To the tune of Woo Hoo by Blur)
Lyn finally caught a fish, it tasted just delish
It wasn’t easy, but nothing is no
Total chaos ensued
If it bites you you’re screwed
But Lyn gave it whisky and we soon had delicious sashimi
Pleased to eat you!
The wind had started building gradually from the East, replacing the glassy calm with small spreading patches of ripples as we motor-sailed across the calm ocean. Bruce: “It looks like something is dragging on the fishing line, must have snagged some weed or something”. Lyn: “Maybe it’s a fish!” Bruce: “Maybe, doesn’t look like it though.” The fish was dragging fast behind, mouth wide open, not skipping along the water like I’ve seen before.We excitedly pulled it in on the hand-line, no fight, it must be dead already. As it gets close to the boat it starts to fight with what it has left, my hands are getting cut by the tracer wire. “Get a towel or something!” We manage to get it onto the sugar scoop – it’s big! Lyn jumps down with a knife and cuts it’s throat, it’s still struggling a bit, pours whisky in the gills, still struggling. Eventually with the head almost cut off it hangs still from the pushpit by its tail. It’s a huge wahoo, our first fish!
Last Tuesday at Abel Marina, Airlie Beach Cattsy (Paul Catts) arranged to meet us at Sorrentos bar for drinks after work. As chance would have it I bumped into Craig Parsons (Ocean Star) on the way to the showers. He had just arrived back after flying down to the Central Coast for his daughter’s engagement party. We ended up having almost a re-union of the drinks and pizza of a few weeks earlier with Cattsy, Emma and Craig, except this time at Sorrentos and with the delightful addition of my Mom Joliette.
On Wednesday we headed out in the direction of Happy Bay. With the wind still blowing strong from the South East we kept the sails down and motored with Lyn driving and me working down below, a truly mobile office! We stopped at Bauer Bay on South Molle Island for lunch on the boat, picking up one of the resort moorings. The resort is closed and Lyn and Joliette took Silus ashore to have a look, but were chased off by one of the staff. We continued on to Happy Bay, where the Long Island Resort has a much more welcoming policy. After work it was to the shore for some very expensive but delicious cocktails. Mom and I had the Toblerone, which is a bit like an alcoholic chocolate milkshake – delicious, whilst Lyn went for her own customized version of the Capriosca.
The next day was largely uneventful, with me doing my software work and the girls and Silus relaxing on the boat. Late in the day Anthem arrived, just in time for sun-downers at the beach bar. We had a hilarious evening of cocktails and dinner at the beach bar. Farm boy Adrian couldn’t resist catching one of the scavenging Curlew birds, with Lyn to the rescue releasing it. There was a brief moment of concern as one of the resort staff had some stern words for the cowboy, but all was soon forgotten and more cocktails consumed.
Friday was the last day of my two week remote work stint. No more need to stay in internet zones – yay! We arranged to meet Anthem out at Chalkies Beach as we wanted to show Joliette this lovey place before she had to fly out on the Saturday. We motored against the South-Easterly in the afternoon, with me completing my work with the last of the internet before we turned into Solway Passage. Anthem were invited to dinner, delicious chicken on the barbie washed down with Adrian’s fine wine. As chance would have it Joliette, Julie and Phil were all on the same flight out of Hammo so the two boats headed off for Hammo in the morning. We moored the boats on the Hamilton Island moorings in Dent passage and took the travelers across to the marina in the dinghies. It was sad saying goodbye to my Mom, we always so enjoy her company but we will see her again soon back in Sydney.
Setting off back to the boats Adrian took a sharp left turn out of the Marina and up to the airport runway. When we saw him standing up in his boat waving both arms we thought: what a sweet guy he is, waving goodbye to his friends so enthusiastically! We thought nothing more of it as we let go of the mooring and started motoring off. Then we saw someone in the distance rowing his dinghy furiously across the tide and being swept way down-stream of the moorings. It was Adrian. He had run out of fuel and his waving had been for us to rescue him. We felt terrible that we had not realized as we gave him a tow back to Anthem.
Now the race was on! Anthem versus JoliFou versus time itself. It was 1pm when we left Hammo and the destination was Bait Reef. The wind was a good moderate South Easterly and the tide was ebbing Northwards in our favour, but it was going to be touch and go to do the 35 miles and get to the reef before sunset. We sailed Northwards inside the islands before turning out through Hook Passage for the crossing to the reef. There was some discussion at this point about the advisability of continuing or rather overnighting at Butterfly Bay. The thing is, the wind was really good and was going North East tomorrow so it would mean a long motor against wind and tide in the morning. On the other hand, continuing on would mean arriving at Bait Reef at sunset. Although we are now quite familiar with the place (this would be our 4th time there), we had never before anchored there and we had to be prepared for the likely scenario that all moorings would be occupied. After some thought and discussions with the Cowboy (Adrian, he voted yes of course) we went for the “fortune favours the brave” approach.
We arrived as the sun was setting. Adrian went to investigate Manta Ray mooring as an option but it was way too exposed and bumpy. There was one private mooring available inside the stepping stones, which we knew had no mooring line on it, so would require us to thread our own. We decided to have a go at it, but after a highly stressful time trying to snag it and breaking the boat hook in the process whilst dodging bommies either side in quite fresh wind, we decided that anchoring was the better option. It was now getting quite dark. We followed Adrian to a spot on the chart, north of the stepping stones, where we had seen boats anchored before. The bottom was 15 meters deep with a mix of coral and sand, but the anchor held to our relief and we were settled, albeit ending up much too close to Anthem as we both tried to get set as soon as possible. Oh well, we are all good friends. Adrian was kind enough to pick us up in his dinghy to save us launching ours and we went across for steaks for dinner on Anthem (and fine red wine of course).
It was a restless night with us getting much too close to Anthem in the wind and strong tidal flow. In the middle of the night I let out more chain which improved the situation and we got some sleep. Next morning it was beautiful, with the wind dropping away. A boat left a mooring at the stones and we decided to take Anthem over there with all of us and our dive gear and leave JoliFou by herself on anchor (by now we were very confident of the anchor holding).
We left Silus down below on Anthem and took our dinghy with dive gear up-tide and over to Anaconda III who agreed that we could tie it on their mooring. We had a very pleasant dive on the stepping stones, drifting down-tide and somehow managing to land up exactly under Anthem. To our great surprise a madly barking Silus had managed to find a way out onto deck although we had had him in the pilothouse with closed door.
Time for some different reef exploration, we set off for Fairey Reef 15 miles to the North West, motoring in the light breeze. This time we arrived in good time at about 3PM, which was just as well because we were the only boats there, did not know the place and took a while to figure out that the Navionics chart position of the lagoon entrance was wrong by at least 100 meters. We are starting to realize that although the electronic charts are superbly accurate in the oft frequented areas, in the remote places they definitely cannot be trusted. With Lyn standing on the pulpit at the bow, me steering and Adrian following close in our wake on Anthem, all with hand-held radios we picked our way in through the bommies of the entrance area and anchored in a sandy area. Absolutely gorgeous clear blue water!
After filling the tanks on Anthem Adrian and I set off for a dive whilst Lyn opted to relax with Silus on Anthem. We started at a nearby bommie but the fish life was un-inspiring so we took the dinghy all the way out to the outside of the reef entrance. Here it was much more interesting with many large fishes including a few huge Maori Wrasse. It was approaching dusk, feeding time and the fish were frisky, including three or four reef sharks who were being quite aggressive in their approach to us. Whilst I was occupied with something Adrian disappeared up a gulley and I couldn’t find him. It was starting to get quite dark under water now and I elected to head back to the dinghy. I had a few worried moments sitting in the dinghy and concerned for Adrian as it got progressively darker. Lyn had the same concerns as for the second time recently she saw only one person in the dinghy and didn’t know if it was Adrian or I. She started heading over in the JoliFou dinghy, but Adrian soon popped up and all was good. We stayed on Anthem for barbecue fish that Adrian had caught earlier (some kind of sweetlip). Then it was time for bed, exhausted we slept really well in the quiet anchorage and light winds.
Next morning dawned with perfect still glassy conditions. Two boats alone, seemingly in the middle of the ocean in perfect clear sparkling water. Lyn and I took turns going to the top of the mast to take photos and enjoy the view of the surrounding reef, then a swim and breakfast before our next dive. We took the dinghy out to the same area we had been at the previous afternoon, south side of the entrance. We started in a gorge just inside and worked our way out and around to the outside wall. The visibility was stunning and it was an amazing dive – best ever on the trip with much fish life including a huge Queensland Grouper and a large turtle. At one point we saw a large black tip shark, I followed it and it swam into a cave-like narrowing gully. The others came over and we swam carefully into the cave.
The shark was lying on the ground facing away from us, Lyn snapping photos madly. Then Adrian started further into the cave and the shark swam upwards up the gully with Adrian and I following. It then started to get that trapped feeling and turned around, heading straight back at us! Adrian and I hugged the ceiling, trying to get out of the way as much as possible as the shark swam beneath us. Lyn had not seen it turn and was right in its way, getting a huge fright as the shark suddenly appeared underneath me. The shark was probably the most frightened of us all and turned again up and out the top of the gully/cave into the shallow reef and away. We were all really elated after the dive as we cruised slowly across the clear water back towards the boats. We passed over what must be the Henries Bommie dive site as we saw a huge giant clam in a gully in the middle of it.
Unfortunately the time had come for the JoliFou to start heading south and now was the right time with the wind forecast to blow from the north for the next few days. We bid a fond farewell to Fairey Reef, following our track on the plotter back out of the lagoon with Lyn reef spotting up front. Sadly we were also parting company with Adrian and Anthem for at least a while, as he was staying in the island for a few more days awaiting delivery crew arrival. We hope to catch up with him in Newcastle later if he doesn’t manage to overtake us on the way.
Motoring in glassy flat conditions outside Fairey Reef there were swarms of birds with plenty of fish activity. Anthem and JoliFou were weaving along trying to hook something on our trolling lines, but with no luck. Later we saw a large fin cutting through the water and altered course towards it, with Lyn on the bow identifying it as a huge hammerhead shark, shortly followed by another. The wind filled in gradually and the sails went up and we had lost interest in the fishing line out the back when we hooked the fish. The enormity of this catch must be seen in context of the fact that Lyn has been trying to catch a fish for a very long time. Neither of us have ever done much fishing and the plan was that this would be Lyn’s thing. It started months ago in the Pittwater with Lyn getting much advice, loaned gear etc. from our keen fisherman friends there (thanks Dal, Jonty). Despite many hours with a line over the side the efforts only yielded a couple of tiny snapper which were released. Then on this trip we have been trolling a line for much of the time, heeding valuable advice from James and Leah and Craig Parsons (who seems to catch more than his fair share). But nothing, nada, couple of nibbles, one straightened hook, no fish. We were beginning to lose hope, so this huge wahoo is a significant milestone indeed in our journey towards being proper cruising sailors.