Monday, February 29, 2016 go or not to go.... that is the question!'

“Final checks….everything stowed……Instruments on… on….engine on….spring lines released…stern line free to run…bow line free…all clear astern… reverse out of the berth…..forward…..fenders aboard….secure safety lines…OK to go!”
At 0745 hours on Tuesday 1st March there was no one there to see the sloop Calista set free from her lines, make for the entrance of Marina St Vincent in South Australia, and head for the open sea. A Voyage to Vanuatu would start in familiar waters, but over the horizon lay the unknown, the enticing, the distant shores of….New Caledonia, Vanuatu……the South Pacific.

The South Pacific.  Adventures in Paradise; James A Michener, swaying palms and sun drenched lagoons…the evocative South Pacific. In the great days of sail master mariners like James Cook sailed half way around the world, and in places like Tahiti found paradise. Today you can fly there in a handful of hours and be on a lounge on a beach for a Pina Colada on sunset. The South Pacific still grips the imagination of sailors in little boats like ours, and it is common for cruising sailors from around the world to depart the west coast of the USA, or from the Caribbean to pass through the Panama Canal and catch the trade winds on the long haul to the Marquesas, Tuamotu, and on to Tahiti and beyond. Other sailors adopt the languid lifestyle of the migrating seabirds, to make, annually, for the islands of Fiji and Tonga in the southern winter and retreat to New Zealand with the onset of the cyclone season. For years they ply these routes. For others, like us, the fabled isles can be reached by making for Australia’s East Coast, and in mid-year to pick up the South Easterly trades, bound for New Caledonia, and Vanuatu to the north, before the threat of cyclones prompts a return to Terra Australis Incognita.

Could that be us anchored here ?
Could we, would we, should we set our sights on the South Pacific? Should we embark on a Voyage to Vanuatu? In our little ship we have travelled over 18,000 nautical miles, and in 2010/11 we reached Wari Island in the Louisiade Archipelago, further north than Cape York and within sight of Papua New Guinea (see Blog In 2015 with the world of work astern of us, we crewed on the 45’ Yacht Exotic Escort, in the Fremantle to Bali Rally, then on through the Flores, Banda, Timor and Arafura seas to Darwin. We are familiar with the expanses of the open sea and have learned much about sailing upon it. Above all though, we respect the ocean and the forces of nature that control it. No voyage to a blue horizon can be taken lightly.

On a dreary August Monday in 2015, in nearby Victor Harbor, we sauntered into a travel agency with an enquiry and left an hour later having booked on the P&O Pacific Pearl, departing Sydney the following weekend for Noumea, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. In our minds was the invaluable experience prior to our voyage to PNG, of being on board MV Andante a luxury 55’ Fleming motor cruiser with owners Tess McGrath and Geoff Gowing, in 2008, to visit many of the isles of the Louisiades, and, closer to home, heading by car to the anchorages and bays of the far West Coast of SA, prior to our sail to Ceduna (see blog from Port Lincoln. 

Passage making on a big ship

Checking out the local markets
Visiting our potential destination on a 66,000 tonne ship, would help us decide whether we should take our 8-tonne ship to the same waters. We reasoned that whilst our fellow passengers bought cheap t-shirts and gathered garlands of flowers we would take note of harbour approaches, and ashore check out moorings, service facilities and the range of supplies available at food stores and markets. What we found was that in New Caledonia and Vanuatu, everything that we would potentially need was there to be had, and that the people were a delight. We returned home, committed to preparing both our boat and our house for our absence and for months in distant places. There was so much to do!

Calista on the slip at Marina Adelaide

Although some cruising yachties travel overseas uninsured, we would not contemplate this and to be covered beyond 200 nautical miles off the Australian Coast, there are extensive criteria to be met including the obligation that the vessel must pass a below and above waterline inspection by a qualified Marine Surveyor. This process, and the need to re anti-foul our hull (antifoul is a foul paint that when applied helps prevent marine organisms from growing on the hull) saw us on the slip at the Adelaide Marina in November, scraping, sanding, painting Calista’s bottom and undertaking a host of tasks best done within easy reach of marine chandleries and expertise. A cruising yacht has many mechanical and electrical systems that need to work in concert, quite apart from the things that make it sail well, provide comforts, and keep the crew safe at sea. Having all these things ship-shape is a formidable task in itself.

Back at Wirrina, with lots more to do, we were bedevilled by the tyranny of distance and ready access to most that we would need. Tasks that we felt would take an hour or two often took a day or more, and when we needed anything of a marine nature the nearest chandleries were back in Adelaide or over the range in Goolwa – literally hours away. On our annual sail to Port Lincoln we leant on the marine skills of good friend Graham Daniels, who with son Tom originally delivered Calista from her home port of Mooloolaba, to Marina St Vincent for the formal or Wirrina for locals. Graham’s crafting of an exquisite “hungry board” at the stern of Calista was an ample illustration of his remarkable and wide ranging abilities.

Our new teak "Hungry Board"
In the midst of these activities, Cookie’s knee called out for repairs too, and an arthroscopy meant that her normal mode of scampering around on deck was a painful pipe dream. In recovery at home, she surrounded herself with porthole frames that needed sanding and back on board she crawled where formerly she flitted like a gad-fly. Driving our endeavours to a potential end of February departure were her endless lists of things to do, lists that were without end, lists that never seemed to shorten.
The frenetic nature of our preparations probably meant that we had less time to stop and double think what we were about to do. Sailing away from home, from all that is safe and familiar, and sailing over the horizon to the unknown is a contemplation that could convince many a soul with good marine skills and a sound vessel to stay tied up safely in the marina. Calista, however was not built for the marina life of canapés and champagne….she is a classic cruising yacht, built with oceans in mind. She is at her best at sea.
Good friend Adam Foot, inspirer of young people in the surf, at the Surf Club and at school, calls the South Easterly winds that grip our southern coastline in summer “the devil wind”. They blow without end it seems. Then, at the end of February, a respite in the devil wind, appeared at hand, giving us a chance to get overnight to the southern outport of Robe. Not all of our list items had been deleted and some would have to await a safe harbour over the horizon. A weak trough between two high pressure systems offered a period of calm before the devil wind found its feet again.

It was time for us to go. 


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  2. Enjoying the read guys, and looking forward to following your latest adventure.
    I'm currently using your Calista15 BlogSpot as a major reference source in compiling Cruising Notes for SA's West Coast. The Blog is truly an invaluable reference source for those planning to follow in your 'wake', as is the case for Geronimo's planned cruise with 'Miss V' in Mar/Apr 2017.
    All the best of everything to all 3 of you.

  3. Hi Sibo and Cookie. finally took me a while to work out how to comment, glad you finally left, looks like perfect weather. Thanks Cookie for allowing Sibo to compete at Normanville, I am sure he brought you flowers. Sonia and I will follow your progress with interest, wondering where you are after 24 or so days, all the best, Jamesy

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