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It’s fantastic discovering new beautiful things when on a cruising adventure and it’s also wonderful meeting new like-minded friends. Showing these friends the places you have discovered and enjoying them all over again through their eyes is one of the nicest things you can do, so when our friends Lanie and Warwick from the beautiful Elliot 46 “Fusio” decided to join us on a final adventure trip before their departure home we knew it would be a lot of fun.
Where are you mantas?
By Wednesday the 2nd November the trade winds had died, predicted to be light wind for some time, so we headed out to the Amedee Island pass area for another manta ray search. We anchored at a lovely sandy spot inside the reef and went for a paddle over the reef on the SUPs.
“Fusio” joined us with their new crew member Grant Hugget (Hug) and we all set off for a snorkel to see if we could find Manta Rays. No such luck, but we did see a few sharks, turtles and some beautiful eagle rays.
Hug was stoked as it was his first time snorkelling off a boat in such a remote location: “how lucky you are to be able to do this kind of thing!” With a forecast of light winds, after a typically fun sun-downer drinks session on Fusio, we decided to remain anchored there for the night, rather than going to the better shelter of the Amedee moorings.
It was beautiful to wake up in the morning at this stunning place out at the reef. I noticed a couple of little boats across the pass at a right-hander called “Corvettes” and we took the dinghy across to check it out. I went for a surf whilst Lyn took photos from the dinghy. It was beautiful conditions with a 3 to 4 foot wave size. The break has a pitchy hollow take-off and my little 5’4” “baked potato” board was not appropriate, so I entertained Lyn and the Fusio crew with plenty of spectacular nose-dives and wipe-outs.
With the wind building from the West, we sailed to Ua Island along the inside of the outer reef, checking surf spots on the way. With “Fusio” in close company it soon became a race. In the light downwind conditions Jolifou had a slight speed advantage with board up, bigger mainsail and long spinnaker pole. Fusio took advantage of JoliFou being distracted by a surf break to take the lead, and it was a very close decision at the finish.
As we arrived the wind switched to the South East as forecast, which was great timing as the anchorage is well protected from this direction. We all enjoyed watching the flocking sea birds whilst drinking sundowners on JoliFou.
Next day Fusio was clearly the faster at the tight angles of the 15 Knots East/South East wind as we sailed towards Gadji on the Isle of Pines. Being unfamiliar with this route through the Southern lagoon reefs, Fusio was forced to throttle back the sail plan in order to stay behind the relatively pedestrian JoliFou.
On arrival we lead Fusio in through the tricky shallow reef entry to Gadji outer anchorage, and both anchored there. On snorkelling to check anchor it was holding on firmly but only by the tip in a tiny hole in the coral slate (we would move to the secure inner anchorage the next day). Drinks and cards on Fusio was a hilarious affair as usual.
Garden of Eden
We were stoked to have scuba diving friends with us in this place with some amazing dive spots, so next day the JoliFou dive tour began. We set off in both dinghies for a site called the “Garden of Eden” which we have dived many times before. Huggie was our willing and most able support boat boy, a pleasure having the security of this when diving a current affected reef pass. We saw quite a few reef sharks including a group of 5 grey reef sharks, a big moray eel, and stunning schools of fish in a very pretty shallower end section that we had missed on previous dives.
Caves of Gadji?
Ever since our trip here last year, we have wanted to check out a dive site called the “Caves of Gadji”. This year we were determined to find it, but our information on the location basically consisted of a dot on a rough mud-map of the area, a confusing old French dive guide description, and a conflicting more recent report from a cruising friend of ours. On Sunday morning after filling the tanks we started a dive near the dive guide location and looked for the caves entrance. It was nowhere to be found and it didn’t appear to be cave-like terrain, not very interesting except for seeing a couple of beautiful eagle rays. It got much prettier and more cave-like further along as we swam northward. We found and explored some cool tunnels but they didn’t open up to caves.
After re-filling the tanks during lunch back at the anchorage we set off again in the early afternoon to try further north at the location our friend had told us of. Huggie had to placate an angry local fisherman on a speedboat, buzzing around above us and yelling: “no fish no touch”! We moved southward along the dropoff and discovered awesome swim-throughs and caves. We are still not sure it’s the official “Caves” dive but it is one of the best dive sites we have discovered to date.
Cool Runnings reunion
On the way back to the boat in the dinghy we saw our friends Dave and Gudrun Hibberd (and Ben and Gabby) arriving on their Lagoon 400 catamaran “Cool Runnings”. Dave and I were fierce competitors in the Laser dinghy in South Africa over 20 years ago, and we later became good friends and were teammates in the South African Olympic Sailing Team at the ’96 Olympics (Dave in Laser, me in the Soling class). We all emigrated over the next few years, Dave and Gudrun to the US and us to Aus. We got in touch recently when we heard they were planning on doing a circumnavigation and as fate would have it they arrived in New Caledonia whilst we were there. We shot out to meet them on the dinghy and I got aboard and piloted them our preferred way into the inner anchorage. After filling tanks and sorting out dive gear we headed over for drinks, along with the Fusio crew.
Lovely to catch up with good friends after such a long absence, it always amazes me how quickly one re-acquaints, and it feels like you were never apart.
Next morning, Monday 7th November we left Gadji for Oro, leading Fusio through the reef passes. Cool Runnings decided to remain at Gadji for a while and we would catch up again down the line. It was an interesting sail with the Westerly wind changing to a moderate Easterly half way. Our main goal was to show Warwick and Lanie the beautiful dive site we had discovered here previously, so we headed out on the two dinghies, surviving a bit of an iffy moment getting through the breaking waves on the barrier reef. It was an excellent dive with two fantastic swim throughs, a few good sized sharks, turtles and large fish including a Maori Wrasse. The highlight was a nose to nose encounter with a biggish shark as we exited one of the swim-throughs. The bar opened early on the aft deck of Fusio and the shark’s size grew proportionally to the number of beers as we relived this great dive.
Fusio had already cleared out of the country a few days previously in Noumea and it was time for them to leave for NZ. On Tuesday morning we joined them for coffee and a sad farewell. Our adventures in New Caledonia had been so much the sweeter this year with such great friends as Warwick and Lanie. Sharing our passion for kiting, surfing and scuba diving, positive, funny and easy-going we can’t imagine a nicer crew to share the cruising lifestyle with. The only thing we don’t like about them is that their boat seems to have the legs on us in most wind conditions. We already have plans to meet up again next season with them in Fiji, along with our other Kiwi friends Rob and Carolyn (Shenanigans) and John and Pip (Sharpe Focus).
“Manta Rays!!” shouted Lyn, “manta rays, manta rays, manta rays!” Those who know her well will probably know that Lyn is obsessed with these beautiful creatures and that swimming with them has always been her dream. Our lucky charm, my mom Joliette was with us and it was fitting that we have this rare and amazing encounter with her aboard. Grabbing her snorkelling gear, Lyn dived straight off the boat and when she came across these 6 mantas, lazily milling about her in circles, we could hear the squeals of excitement all the way through her snorkel. I hurriedly explained to my mom how to put the boat into gear and steer towards us if JoliFou drifted too far away (the wind was very light) before abandoning her alone and adrift on the boat and also diving in.
On Wednesday the 5th of October we motored from Isle of Pines to the Noumea area in flat calm and very light wind.
Kiwi kiters and drinkers
After stocking up in Noumea and seeing another Allures 44 (“Finistere”) we arrived at Maitre, hooked up with our Kiwi kiting friends and began a prolonged period of over 3 weeks of repetitive fun behaviour.
Most days went something like this: Lazy morning waiting for the wind to increase, over to the island with kiting gear and kite for most of the day (with the odd rest break of course),
sundowners on one of the boats usually carried on way past dinner time.
A particularly tough routine, hard on the body and hard on the liver too (these Kiwis can drink)! The main culprits operating under the black flag were: “Fusio” (Warwick and Lanie), “Shenanigans” (Rob and Carolyn), “Moonfish” (Mike and Sasha), “Sharpe Focus” (John and Pip) and “Bravado” (Al and Shirl). Representing the UK were “the kids”, Charlie and Zoe from “Velindra”.
A new kiter is born
The repeated days of good kiting conditions and an abundance of advice and coaching saw Lyn make huge jumps up the learning curve.
She progressed to being totally confident with the kite, getting up and going on the board and staying upwind. Each day was a massive improvement matching the huge grin on her face as she gained confidence in her new favourite sport. I crashed and burned many times before finally managing to pull off the elusive “back roll”, a trick where you jump and rotate backward through upside-down before landing and continuing on.
It feels wonderful when you get it right, and painful when you don’t!
Our friends James and Flo Godfrey (and Alex and Eva) were in Noumea for a week and came out to join us on JoliFou for the weekend of the 8th and 9th of October. James is a super-keen scuba diver and we wanted to take him for a dive, so with calm conditions on Sunday morning we decided to check out a dive spot called Tepava on the outside of the Maitre island reef. Our friends from Shenanigans and Fusio joined us and we took the three dinghies out around the reef in search of the spot. As it turns out it was easy to find as there were a couple of moorings there. To be honest we had low expectations of a dive so close to Noumea in a relatively tame spot, but it was actually quite spectacular in terms of fish as we swam among huge schools of barracuda and Giant Trevally.
Later Lyn and Flo had an excellent snorkel with the tame turtles close to the beach at the kiting spot.
One morning Lyn spotted a large fish swimming close to the boat. She jumped in to have a look and it turned out to be the huge resident barracuda. He was really tame as we followed him around for ages, joined by Zane from “Libertalia” and James and Rebecca from “Quick Star”.
On Friday the 14th there was a surfing swell and we headed out to Dumbea pass where we anchored off the reef and I had an excellent surf at the 3 to 4 foot left hander.
A familiar yellow sea plane came flying over with Guy waving from the cockpit, and landed to say hi to Lyn before continuing his flight.
Afterwards we motored across to the right-hander on the other side of the pass where Lyn took some great photos of Mike and Sasha (“Moonfish”) having an epic SUP surfing session.
On a quick stock-up trip into Noumea on Tuesday the 18th we were amazed to see yet another Allures 44 “Pegasse 3” as we had now seen two in short succession after only seeing one other in the past 3 years. We met the owners, a charmingly eccentric older French couple (Dominique and Mariel) and we had a good look around each other’s boats.
On Thursday there was a good wind blowing when we had a very frightening experience. Lanie was kiting far out towards the light-house as she often did. Warwick and I were sitting on the beach having a break when Warwick said: “that doesn’t look good!” At first I didn’t know what he was talking about as I just saw Lanie standing with her kite in normal crash position in the water, but then the kite started looping in what kiters call the “death loop”. This can happen when a line gets hooked around the bar, causing the kite to continually spin in one direction, generating power as it spins in the power zone and dragging the kiter at rapid speed across the water. This was what was happening to Lanie as she was rag-dolled at incredible speed towards a sand spit and sharp dead tree at the end of the beach!
Warwick and I began sprinting down the beach, but it looked like she would beat us there. Fortunately when the kite hit the sand it paused it’s looping for a few seconds and I was able to grab it. I was hugely relieved to see Lanie moving and shakily standing up as Warwick assisted her. She is such a brave woman, not even a tear as she recounted that she had thought her time was up.
On Friday the 21st October we anchored at Citroen bay to pick up a hire car and excitedly drove to the airport to pick up my mom. So lovely to see her again and be able to show her some of the beauty of this place. We had hoped that Lyn’s parents Keith and Merle would also be joining us but in the end it proved too difficult to get them visas on their SA passports.
On Saturday after a great kiting session the black flaggers (and JoliFou) anchored over in Citroen Bay in order to watch the All Blacks take on the Wallabies at La Fieste restaurant. The south easterly wind was blowing 35 knots but it was very good shelter at the eastern side of the bay. In order to try to balance the overwhelming blackness of the audience, Lyn pulled out some large bright gold “Savage Bee” skiff shirts for the three of us, but besides the Wallabies playing really well the All Blacks prevailed (again). Was great to also see Pete and Ness (“Akimbo”) there as well as Santiago (“Narida”) from the Pittwater.
Manta Ray Monday
Monday the 24th October heralded a pause to the perfect kiting trade winds, so on a flat calm glassy sea we motored out to the Amedee Island area. We motored around on JoliFou exploring the Boulari pass, checking out dive and surf spots. We were motoring down the Western side of the pass when Lyn spotted the Manta rays. We swam with them for ages, as they circled lazily around, moving quite slowly so we were able to stay with them easily. They were completely unperturbed by our presence, allowing us to get really close and even touch them. Lyn swam back to the boat to fetch the camera whilst I tracked the rays and we got some excellent photos of them.
We were so engrossed in the experience with these beautiful creatures that we didn’t notice that JoliFou had drifted quite a long way away into the deep water of the pass, with only my mom on board. I started swimming toward the boat and, not fancying a swim across the deep water with possible shark attention, beckoned to my mom to come closer. Soon enough JoliFou was headed at me, weaving a drunken path as my mom, totally unfamiliar with steering a boat was trying to get to grips with it and I grew increasingly worried about my irresponsibility in putting her in this situation. As she got closer I had visions of being run over and yelled for her to put it into neutral, which she duly did, and I managed to intercept the still-moving boat and scramble onto the sugar scoop with much relief! Well done mom!
We spent the night on a mooring at Amedee Island, watching huge turtles, feeding the remora fish meatballs and being entertained by a persistent seagull whom we dubbed Jonathan Livingstone as he was happy to boldly sit on the boat when others were too scared.
Next morning we tried in vain to find the Mantas again before motoring along the inside of the reef towards Dumbea pass to check out the surf. The unusual westerly wind had made the surf messy, but I jumped off for a quick surf at the left whilst Lyn and my mom motored around on JoliFou. It was a bit scary and sharky feeling surfing on my own in those conditions, but always good to get wet and a bit of exercise. We spent the night at Legionnaire island, hooking up for drinks on Fusio who now had Rob and Carolyn aboard for a few days as their boat had left for NZ with a delivery crew.
On the morning of Wednesday 26th October the trade winds had returned, messing up the surf, so it was back to Maitre for kiting for a few days with a depleted group now, just Fusio and us. A fun farewell dinner was had at a restaurant at Citroen Bay, sadly farewelling Rob and Carolyn with the “Fusio” and “Sharpe Focus” crews.
Au revoir Mom
On Sunday we hired a car to drop Mom off at the airport. On the way we drove up the lookout hill over Anse Vata beach and enjoyed the stunning 360 degree views.
Then it was with much regret and a tear in the eye that we said goodbye to Mom at the airport, consoling ourselves with a lovely romantic dinner at La Fieste in Citroen Bay.
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.
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.