Wednesday, November 30, 2016

 Noumea to Brisbane
10/11/16 – 18/11/16

Frustrations! Whilst life in Port Moselle Marina was delightful, as days slid by and the vagaries of the weather of the weather systems out in the Coral Sea continued we became ever aware that we really did need to be on our way, especially as November ticked on and the “Cyclone Season” approached. At least we were in good company. It became routine to see experienced boat skippers with furrowed brows accessing met details on laptops and iPads via Wi-Fi up in the marina lounge, and for them to voice a common concern that weather models that showed promise one day changed markedly the next and that even the models themselves seemed to agree to disagree. The Gulf Harbor Radio service operating out of New Zealand is highly regarded for its professional weather advice for waters extending up into the Coral Sea and stretching to Tonga and Fiji, and even David their consulting meteorologist was bemoaning the erratic nature of the weather systems currently being experienced in the South West Pacific. At least mortals like us were not alone.

In the meantime, with more than an eye on the weather, we continued with boat works and preparations, escaping as often as possible on Bus 11 to Baie de Citron for some recreation and a swim, and delighting in sharing time with fellow cruisers. Simon, Jodi and their son Joey on Manaroa 3, for example, returned from Vanuatu cock-a-hoop with evidence of the 150 odd cm Wahoo that they had captured en-route, and we were delighted to join them on board Manaroa for a fish curry that was as aromatically enticing as it was tasty. Then, with Justin and his mate “Kingy” – we never discovered Kingy’s real moniker – arriving to help Marcel take Diddys back to Australia, a weather pattern with more promise than others seen in recent days began to form.

A pre swim icecream !

Dining out at Anse Vata

We had given up on finding a “perfect” weather window for our return to Australia and had come to realise that we might have to ultimately settle for something that was “doable”, or better than other options; with portions that were not entirely to our liking. For days the weather off Noumea had been fine, but out in the Coral Sea and close to the Australian coast there were features that caused us concern. A “trough” of weather extending to the north, all the way from New Zealand to a line between Noumea and Brisbane had persisted for days but now showed signs of at last drifting to the SE, and strong winds off the Australian coast looked like relenting for long enough to let us through to Brisbane. We might have to “slalom” our way around these hurdles, because either side of them there were variable winds, with the promise of good sailing and patches of calms. This potential passage was a complex one that would keep us working to adjust to the prevailing conditions and having to be ready to respond to daily weather updates that we gleaned via our satellite driven Predict Wind system, although, once you are “out there” and far from land, we would committed and would have to cope with the weather hand that we were dealt.

We finally settled on Saturday 12th of November as the day to leave, and headed into Noumea and its port precinct to complete the “formalities” involved in “clearing out of” New Caledonia. Once “cleared” and with our papers in order, we technically had 72 hours to leave the country, enough time to attend to last minute provisioning and, with our departure documentation, head to the Duty Free shops for some crucial re-stocking of the ship’s cellar. In both New Caledonia and Vanuatu the physical process of “clearing out” is a convoluted one, with offices of Immigration, Customs and Port authorities scattered hither and yon and no attempt whatever to undertake the seemingly obvious undertaking of locating them under one roof.  Curiously though, whereas in Vanuatu the process also involves the payment of a raft of duties, charges taxes and levies – which we did not mind as long as the monies collected went to the betterment of the country – in Noumea both clearing in and clearing out is…free! Given that New Caledonia is significantly more expensive to visit than Vanuatu, we found this both puzzling and welcome, Maybe the French felt sorry for seafarers like ourselves who  headed off traipsing forms and paperwork from Immigration, Customs and then to the far reaches of the Port to the office of the Port Captain, to get the clinching bit of paper, the Official Port Clearance – which we would retain as a curiosity – so that SV Calista, Australian Registered Ship 856287 with two Australian Citizens aboard, could depart the Port of Noumea bound for the Port of Brisbane.

Farewell Noumea

Then, back in Port Moselle, yet another weather check showed that there was little to gain by waiting for Saturday, and like Diddys a Friday departure, apart from attracting the superstitions associated with leaving port on a long voyage on a Friday, faced weather issues out in the Coral Sea that were very much the same. After completing a raft of last minute tasks, Paul, off Bumpy Dog was there as our farewell entourage to wish us well, to free our lines, and to kindly suggest that once we were on our way we were not to come back. It was nudging one pm on 12/11/16 after 128 extraordinary days in these unforgettable isles, that we once again nosed Calista out of Port Moselle and hoisted sail for Noumea’s Petite Passe, the harbour exit, and made for Dunbea Pass, the ship channel that marked the gateway through the fringing reef to the open sea. Diddys had left some hours before us and we knew that with their advantage in speed, they were likely to be next spotted in faraway Brisbane, if at all, about a week away.

We might have been excused for casting a nostalgic eye astern as we rounded the Port mark in Petite Passe, and set a course to the west, but there was a far more practical issue to deal with. After days of friendly sou-easters in the Noumean afternoons, the breeze on this afternoon had swung to the west, and bang on our nose. Maybe it was unwise to leave on a Friday after all!  Clearly we had two realistic choices, one, to bash our way out to Passe Dunbier into the wind, or to bear away to Passe du Nord abeam of Amedee Island on a sailable angle, whilst conceding some ground to the south in the process. In no time, the grand white pencil of the Amedee Lighthouse was rising off our port bow as we romped toward the outer reef. By late afternoon we had negotiated the pass in the Grand Recife, and the rise and fall of the swell under our keel marked our arrival upon the open sea ahead. By nightfall the last outline of Grand Terre, had disappeared into the sea mist and only the flash of the Amedee Light remained astern. As we settled into our night routines and supped on portions of Cookie’s pre-made vegie pasta, Amedee slipped under the horizon astern and we were again alone and at sea.

Amedee Lighthouse & New Caledonia disappearing!

We had hoped for a kindly breeze and sailing angle for our first night out at sea but the wind stayed naggingly on our bow and we motor-sailed through the night on our preferred pattern of watches – 7pm to 10pm, 10pm to 1am, 1am to 3am, 3am to 5am - with a fulsome moon shining its reassuring beam over an ocean that steadily rose and fell as a result of the great forces at work far away to the south. Before nightfall we had placed a HF Radio call to Australia’s Charleville Radio, and set up a daily “sked”, a “reporting in” process whereby we would advise AMSA, the Australian Marine Safety Authority of our location, course and speed, so that someone had an inkling of where we were and how we were coping out in the vastness of the Coral Sea. To us this seems a crucial aspect of maintaining our safety whilst far out at sea. If we struck real trouble, connecting with AMSA was only a radio click away, and key details of our voyage were well known to them. This was an outstanding service that we hoped we would never need.

Reporting our position via HF radio

On our way from Australia to Noumea in July, our boat speed on approach to Noumea was slowed by a contrary ocean current and we reasoned that heading now in the reverse direction we should find the currents in our favour, but this simple logic proved to be disappointingly wrong and as we plugged on through our first night at sea motoring under mainsail our speed fell to a disappointing 4 – 4.5knots. At first light we set up “Kev” our Fleming Wind Vane, hoisted all sails, and for a while we were buoyed by fair winds and good boat speeds before the breeze faltered, the contrary currents returned and we were left with a day of frustrations as we worked our sails all we could to keep Calista moving westwards.

Sunset Day one
Relaxing below off watch

The patchy airs that we had experienced thus far continued into the next day, Sunday the 13th, although we were well aware that there were far greater challenges that lay ahead, that would be heralded by a gathering northerly with a change of unknown quantity to follow, Our examination of the Predict Wind information via our Iridium Go satellite system suggested that maybe the currents that we had bemoaned could have actually worked in our favour and that by slowing us down we might not only escape the worst of the change, but could experience the strongest portion of it in the much preferred daylight hours. All this was due to occur, though on Monday 14th at about the mid-point of our passage with us close to 400nm from Noumea, a similar distance from Brisbane, and very much reliant on our own resources and the sea-going qualities of our little ship, that felt all the smaller as the wind began to build from the North.

Reefed down & romping along.......
....with Kev still steering at dawn

As the wind built and clouds gathered in the west, we shortened sail and romped along with “Kev” in fine form and sea miles disappearing under our keel. When the clouds arrived, we were doused by a sprinkle of rain but the wind only rose to 22 knots as the worst of our fears were not realised. Maybe we had experienced a great escape and the “trough” might prove to be a toothless tiger. Soon though our AIS warning system told of a big ship approaching, the enormous Legend of the Sea cruise ship, although peering ahead through the mist and spray, even this 800plus foot monster remained enveloped in cloud, until it emerged out of the gloom and charged silently past us although we were only about two miles away. Being curious about the weather that might lay ahead for us, I called their Radio Officer to enquire about the conditions that they had experienced over the last six hours or so, although their friendly reply gave the understandable impression that when you are the size of the Legend of the Seas, weather troughs are of little concern to the Officers on the bridge! Then, back on Calista, my attempt to photograph the great liner as she steamed away to the east ended badly with my losing my hold as a swell caused us to lurch and I cannoned across the cockpit, crashing into the combing down my left side in the process. Having nursed some back problems over the previous weeks, this was the last thing that I needed to do, and was a tart reminder about how easily it is to injure oneself on a small ship out at sea when the ocean is on the rise.

The real trough hits!

In an hour or two though, the ‘real’ trough arrived with wind, rain and a squall that gusted to 30knots and caught us somewhat off guard. We scurried to gather in our headsail and started our motor to nose our way into the blow until the worst of it passed. Then, with night falling under a leaden sky and a rolly remnant sea, the wind dropped out and we motored on through the moonlit hours, expecting that in the new day a sou-easter would form behind the trough which with a little luck could give us some stability in the weather all the way to Cape Moreton. Into Tuesday, though, the wind remained fluky and we motored on toward Australia accepting that there was little that we could do except convert diesel to distance until the wind finally arrived.

Light airs & comfort in our cockpit .... a chance to catch up on my log

It took until the afternoon of Wednesday 16th for the wind to fill in with any consistency and “Kev” again came to the fore as Cape Moreton inched ever closer. By the morning of the 18th, our last full day at sea the sou-easter was up, and under scudding clouds and showers of rain we were driven onwards on a sea that had rapidly built, making conditions on board Calista very difficult if we went below to make our way from one side of the cabin to the other. One of us stayed on watch whilst the other lay cocooned in the passage berth below, as we entered a zone where ship traffic might be experienced plying their trade off the Australian coastline. We had hoped to reach Cape Moreton and the Moreton Bay approaches to Brisbane in daylight but this was proving to be a fond hope and it was nightfall before the loom of the lights of Brisbane became apparent ahead and the flash of the Cape Moreton light gave us reassurance that, yes we were on course for the entrance to Moreton Bay.   

Night passage to the Port of Brisbane

In fading winds it was 11pm before we drew abeam of Moreton Island and found our way into the main ship channel leading to Brisbane, and the glimmer of the new day was already rising in the east before the weary crew of Calista entered the Brisbane River, and made our way along the industrial waterfront of South Brisbane where the odours emanating from plants that belched steam and smoke assailed our nostrils that had for days enjoyed the purity of the marine airs out in the Coral Sea. We tied up at the Customs and Quarantine wharf outside the Rivergate Marina at 0530, and to our delight, found ourselves immediately astern of Diddys, who had arrived the previous evening.

Approaching Rivergate Marina

Soon Justin strolled over to enquire how our passage had been, and we were a little shocked to find just how close we had come to experiencing conditions out in the Coral Sea that could have become a nightmare. Although only a dozen or so hours in front of us the trough for Diddys was announced by a northerly that shrieked in to above 50 knots, and then when it swung to the west and eventually the south, belted them for hours in a gale of 35 knots of wind. Only Justin’s and Kingy’s considerable experience in yacht deliveries saved them from emerging with only superficial damage to their headsail. Then, on approach to Moreton Island the sou-easter howled in again to above 30 knots and in the end they were all very relieved to reach Brisbane. We listened to Justin, horrified at what he was relating, and realised just how close we had come to experiencing conditions that might easily have overwhelmed a smaller yacht like Calista! Little wonder that when Marcel made his way along the pontoon to greet us, he bore all the hallmarks of one who had emerged from a war zone. We felt really sorry for Marcel, who in turn must have felt really grateful in having mariners of the ilk of Justin and Kingy on board to bring them all safely home.

Quarantine dock at Rivergate

Soon the Customs and Quarantine Officers arrived and we found them obliging and friendly in going about their duties, in total contrast to the “horror stories” that we had heard from other cruisers in the islands about the supposed officiousness of Australian entry authorities. With us now “free to go”, one glance around the industrial landscape of the south Brisbane River told us that in spite of our heavy weariness, we should escape from the Brisbane River and head for the familiar and comforting surrounds of the Scarborough Marina, just three hours away across Moreton Bay in the direction of Redcliffe. Besides, this is where we had departed for Noumea, and in returning to Scarborough, our journey would be, in a way, complete.

We did it !! Well done Calista & crew!

When we tied up at Scarborough under the brightest of azure skies and no breeze to speak of we were understandably elated and relieved to have achieved what we had originally set out to do, to sail from Australia, to New Caledonia and Vanuatu, and most importantly of all to return safely back to Australia. We had travelled 1521nm in New Caledonia and Vanuatu waters, and since leaving South Australia’s Marina St Vincent on the first of March, 2016, 4991nm had passed under our keel. On our passage back across the Coral Sea we had achieved daily logs of 113, 116, 123, 118, 124 and 135 nautical miles, covering 859nm over 6days 16 ½ hours at an average boat speed of 5.3knots. There were a host of things that we now needed to do to ready Calista for long voyage back to South Australia, but for now we had quarantined a bottle of most excellent Distant Shores Coonawarra Shiraz to assist us in the process of “raising a glass” to our safe return to Australia. That, and an early night in a stable bed were two things that we were very much looking forward to! 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

16/10/16 – 10/11/16
(Blog readers please note - by left clicking on  photos you will see them full size and a photo gallery below. The same applies for previous blog posts..see blog archives below.)7/10/16 – 14/10/16

Between New Caledonia and the Queensland coast lays a vast 800 nautical mile expanse of ocean, called the Coral Sea. As spring retreats and the southern summer beckons, the systems of weather across this blue wilderness are formed, pushed and pulled by many things: frontal systems from the south, troughs of low pressure that bubble and trouble their way in from the north and the west, the location of the inter-tropical convergence zone, the seedbed of storms, and high pressure systems that bulge up from the Tasman, producing “ridging” of isobars up the Queensland coast, and trade winds that can howl in for days. Sitting on our 36’ yacht in Noumea, seeking a safe weather “window” to head out into the Coral Sea and back to Australia, we peer at weather models, consider predictions and wonder at the fluidity and unpredictability of it all. Just when it appears that a window is emerging, conditions change and what seemed likely to be fine one day becomes horrid the next. It would be folly to leave Noumea when it is fine and run into awful weather out in the Coral Sea or off the Australian coast. We need about a week of stable, predictable weather to embark on our voyage back to Brisbane, and for now we are likely to be as the hapless Mr Micawber in Dickens’ Great Expectations just “waiting for something to turn up”. We might have returned to Noumea and walked directly into a fine pattern of weather, but that is not the case: not yet.

We will wait to avoid the lows off the Brisbane coast!

We were not tied up for long in Noumea when Fred, the single-hander off Serafin strolled by to get an update on our travels and our plans. We had not seen Fred since Banam Bay off Malekula Island in Vanuatu and it was pleasing to see him in good fettle. He was ready to depart for Australia, and agreed that departing in a couple of days was not advisable as the weather off the New South Wales and southern Queensland coast was shortly to turn sour, and with us needing some time to reprovision and attend to a raft of things Fred would have to head off alone. Given that Fred is deep into his third world circumnavigation, it was reassuring to hear him say that he always feels on edge on the eve of a long ocean passage, so for novices like ourselves to feel the same, we were in very good company.

In reality though, we were really looking forward to spending a little time with Cran and Ann off Lettin’ Go who had arrived in Noumea from Brisbane, set to spend a couple of years on the “South Pacific Circuit”, where cruising yachts embark on an annual loop; from summer in New Zealand to avoid the Pacific cyclone season, then up to Tonga and Fiji about April / May, before tracking to New Caledonia / Vanuatu sometime in winter, before returning to New Zealand, late October and into November. A number of world cruisers get captured by this alluring vortex, and find themselves wedded to the delights of the South Pacific, unable to break free to face the rigours of the Indian Ocean, the challenges of the southern tip of Africa, and the very long haul across the Atlantic, back to Europe or across to the Caribbean. Piracy off the horn of Africa has brought considerable change to what was once the “traditional” route of world cruisers, from SE Asia, up the Red Sea into the Mediterranean. Given a choice between storm-tossed oceans and nid-nodding in sun drenched atolls, it is easy to see why many cruisers delay or abandon their original plan to circumnavigate the world. All this means that in “A” row in Port Moselle, the row for visiting yachts, is gathered an array of pedigreed cruising vessels and their well-travelled crews, the likes of which we never see at home. To have our modest 36 footer tethered alongside these steeds of the seas is still something we are getting used to.

Bristol 44

Cookie's favourite...Cabo Rico 38

Getting to meet some of the fine folk off these noble cruisers has added to the pleasure of being here, and their willingness to have us come on board to see how the other half sail has been a feature. Here size does not appear to matter, and we are all equals under the sun, having reached here by a universal charter; under a common sky, across fickle oceans, responding to winds of a fractious nature and covering hundreds of lonely miles under canvas. Putting these egalitarian notions aside though, it needs to be said that Cookie’s adeptness in “wheedling her way” onto these grand cruising vessels, has soared to new heights here in Noumea!

Cran and Ann suggested to us that given that we were at least several days away from departing for Australia, we should join them, plus their long-time friends from home, Neale and Robyn, who had just arrived, for a few days out in the great lagoon. This sounded like a fine idea to us, especially as their first destination out from Noumea was one of our favourites, Amedee Island with its magnificent lighthouse. It is some 13 miles out to Amedee and we timed our departure from Noumea to beat the afternoon sea breeze, that routinely fills in from the SE from late morning, converting what should be a pleasant trundle, to a troublesome bash. Amedee’s facilities, including its tourist shop and the lighthouse are only open when the Mary D tourist boat heads out from Noumea, and on our arrival there to pick up one of the required moorings, it was clear that the Mary D was not coming that day and we’d have the island largely to ourselves. This allowed us to join Cran, Ann, Neale and Robyn for a late afternoon stroll around Amadee, where our recommendation to keep an eye out for banded sea snakes slithering across the paths proved to be well founded. I think we counted a half-dozen of these intriguing reptiles – my descriptor, not Cookie’s – without really looking.

Exploring Amadee again with Ann, Cran, Robyn & Neale

There is something about sheltering in the lee of Amedee at night, watching the probing beam from the lighthouse, as it carves out its golden rotation; giving solace to those out at sea, for those seeking safe passage through Passe du Nord and into the great lagoon. Next morning, on cue, the Mary D arrived and whilst the passengers were involved with cultural and marine activities we took the opportunity to scale the lighthouse, where, from the parapet, the view out across the barrier reef, along the lagoon, and back to Grand Terre was breathtaking. With the sea breeze not yet established, Cran suggested an immediate departure for one of the atolls to the north-west of Noumea, and as we got under way and hoisted sail, it was clear that the sou-easter was about to pipe in and give us a sleigh ride to the north. When it rose to beyond 25 knots, and gusting to over 30, Cran radioed us to say that instead of taking up the flimsy protection afforded by one of the islets, we might be advised to head for the more protected and commodious anchorage in Baie Maa, on the coast of Grand Terre, just to the north of Noumea. Coincidentally, just as Cran called, a cockpit discussion on Calista had reached precisely the same conclusion. For the following three days the heaviness of the afternoon sou-easter saw many boats abandon their hopes of anchoring out in the islands, and eventually 24 yachts were snug in Baie Maa, with room aplenty for a hundred more. We used the mornings to make it ashore to walk and to swim whilst the evenings were given to conviviality and fine living as we re-connected with Ann and Cran and enjoyed the chance to get to know their fine friends, Robyn and Neale.

A brisk sail to Baie Maa
Sheltered anchorage .. Baie Maa

Although we had access to general forecasts, we really needed access to the internet to explore the potential emergence of weather opportunities to depart for Australia, so with the sou-easter a little softer, we headed in the direction of Noumea, whilst Lettin’ Go eventually headed for the islands. We had hoped to return to Port Moselle, but were not surprised to find the “House Full” there, causing us to divert to Baie de Citron where to our great delight we found Patrick and Murielle anchored on Heiracon and Marcel still waiting on Diddys, for his crew to arrive for the return leg to Australia. In Baie de Citron our social whirl continued, with Patrick and Murielle inviting us on board the 52 footer, for “sundowner” drinks that finished at 9.30pm; the time having scooted by like the recent sou-easter. We knew a little of their plans to take an early retirement and head for New Zealand, but were astonished to find that, included in their other plans, was to head to Bolivia, to see their house, designed and built by Murielle’s brother: the house that they had never seen! Bolivia! Indeed. Patrick and Murielle are marine people, by nature and we asked how they were going to cope, so far from the sea, but they had factored this in too and included an indoor pool in the design. The photos of the Bolivian “getaway” had us enthralled. “Why don’t you come and visit us in Bolivia?” Patrick asked us. Bolivia! Indeed. Just sail to Santiago and trek across the Andes. Excuse me signor….which way is Bolivia?

Great night with Murielle, Patrick & Marcel

We returned to Port Moselle Marina, the hub for yachts arriving at and departing from New Caledonia, and we were tied up but a day when Lettin’ Go returned to Port Moselle, to allow Neale and Robyn to catch a flight home and just a few hours later for them to welcome John from Yeppoon, who they had met on an earlier sailing rally to the Louisiade Archipelago, SE of PNG. John is an experienced sailor who when we met, we easily warmed to, who was going to crew with Cran and Ann, on the long haul to New Zealand. As it turned out the briar thicket of nasty weather out in the Tasman Sea and up off the QLD coast to our west, created a corridor south of New Caledonia, which was free of nasties and if Cran and Ann were nimble, they could slide into this zone of acceptability and head without delay for the land of the long white cloud. As Lettin Go eased out of port the next morning, with us there to bid them farewell, we will admit to feeling sorry for Ann, who had precious little time to manage reprovisioning and preparation in her substantial galley, for the days now ahead of them out at sea. The weather window that now presented for them, though, was one that needed to be grasped, and was too good to miss.

Next stop Opua, New Zealand

With no real idea of our time-frame in finding a weather window for Calista, we fell into a routine of morning and evening checks of weather updates, as the metrological gods dithered, time and time again; just as a promising pattern emerged, the next forecast saw our hopes dashed and we were forced to search for something more encouraging, that continued to lay, elusively, just over the horizon. Weather in the Coral Sea has, it seems, more moods than a gaggle of year 9 girls. As days passed we strolled into town, just five minutes away, where the patisserie Le Petite Choux, was a favourite or gathered a grab bag for the beach and caught a 10 0r 11 local bus for the short ride to Baie des Citron where the beautiful, the very beautiful, and the not so beautiful came to soak up the sun. On the lawns abeam of the beach, in mottled shade under the spreading trees, we found the regime of relaxation, slumber, a hearty swim and a mid-afternoon ice cream to be acceptable from every viewpoint. As the afternoon sea breezes gathered pace – and gather pace it does! – we could stroll across the isthmus to the bay called Anse Vata where on the windward shore sailboarders with muscled torsos and dripping with spray performed heroic antics and out to sea their sails gathered aplenty, in every hue, like butterflies in a Venezuelan rainforest.

Anse Vata, the windsurfing & Kiteboarding mecca

Off the short road from Baie des Citron to Anse Vata is found the Aquarium des Lagons, the renowned Noumea Aquarium where the visitor can view, up close and personal the kaleidoscope of living things to be found in the great New Caledonia lagoon, and its nearby rivers and waterways. The exhibits are superb and for both the swimmer and non-swimmer alike, to see the array of fish, corals and other marine notabilia plus the quality identification and information boards that are there in support made the Aquarium a place where an afternoon passed in a trice, equally for us souls who are so often over the side exploring the underwater world, as for those who keep getting wet for the bath. Cookie’s Aquarium favourite was probably the excellent nautilus display, part of the “Reef by Night” section where real, live Nautili squirted their way around, whilst for me the immense Maori Wrasse with its fathomless emerald eyes, and its domed forehead, was impossible to ignore. Going back and forth on the No. 10 or 11 gave us a chance to get out amongst the local folk, with matronly Kanak ladies in their voluminous dresses, teens, plugged in and wired, and lads hiding deep and obscure in hoodies mixed with visiting curiosities like ourselves. Our preferred driver played an upbeat selection of island music over the omnibus sound system, with some of the numbers being so catchy that we were reluctant to alight back at Port Moselle.

Wonderful marine life at the Aquarium

As days passed, and we entered November, we were itchy to get going, despite our determination to go when the timing was right, and not simply because we wanted to go. In the marina “community”, it was common to see couples huddled over ipads and laptops, trying to make sense out of the vagaries of the weather, and in the Port Moselle Office, the ladies on the staff were heard to comment that normally more yachts had “found weather” by this time and the marina pens were starting to empty. We met world circumnavigators Caroline and Paddy from their 46’ Oceanic Kristiane, who, over “sundowners”, their reflections on thirteen years of world cruising had us enraptured; particularly their voyage up the notorious Red Seal where they had been one of the last cruising yachts to be game enough to “dodge the pirates”. They described sailing up the Red Sea at night with no navigation lights to draw attention, in the middle of the shipping channel, with big ships passing to port and starboard; tippy-toeing their way north to Suez. They let us know that they had been in regular touch with Roger “Clouds” Badham, the doyen of ocean passage advisors, who told them to give up on their plans to head to Newcastle, direct, and head for Brisbane instead, but certainly not yet. In deciding to wait a while longer, it seems that our call was in good company.

Paddy & Carolyn's Oceanic 42

We reached the inescapable conclusion that apart from attending to a few things on board – Cookie took to an above-water Calista makeover, including seeing our stainless fittings and stanchions returning to their gleaming best – we concluded that we should simply enjoy our marina and Noumea life, and allow better weather take shape. Then, late one afternoon a tap on our hull confirmed that maybe here, in the scheme of things, was a very good place to be. Peter and Wendy, owners of the South Australian based yacht Pineapple Poll had recently returned from Europe to their home in the Adelaide Hills, and being appalled by the dreadful weather that had sullied winter and continued on into spring, they, on Wendy’s insistence, had sought a week’s respite, somewhere in the sun. By chance they were returning from one of the lagoon islands on their package to Noumea and to Peter’s astonishment, there in the marina, in Noumea (!) was Calista, and doubtless with Cookie and Colin on board. We had last seen Peter and Wendy on far-off Kangaroo Island, and now here was Peter at our side saying…”hey you two, we are just getting back from the islands, and we are going to grab a drink at the bar…would you like to join us?!” We were just as surprised to see them, and keen to discover that they were moving Pineapple Poll from the Cruising Yacht Club of South Australia to our marina, Wirrina, or Marina St Vincent. Noumea was a great place to be was the assessment of our two SA friends. We were looking forward to seeing more of them back in SA, but not for a while yet.

Many bus rides to Baie des Citrons for a swim

News that Lettin Go had made it safely to New Zealand was greeted with acclaim by us here in Noumea, although it had the understandable effect of keening our exploration of the weather models and “waiting for something to turn up”. Some boats gave up in frustration and departed but they are bigger than us by far, have stronger auto-helm capacity, and probably less regard for the weather. One vessel to visit Noumea and then leave again regardless of isobars was the immense Explorer of the Seas, carrying a suburb full of souls - 3,500 to be precise – from Seattle to Sydney for the Australian cruising season. When Explorer disgorged its cruising compliment in Noumea, Grand Terre tilted visibly to port. A couple from Newcastle, off Explorer, strolled past and asked to take a look on board. Dave’s comment to his wife Margie down “below” that “we could get one of these dear” was met with a dead bat and eyes that reflected the merit of 80,000 tons over 8.  

Another to arrive was Bumpy Dog with our perennial sailing companions Paul and Juan on board prior to their flying home to New Zealand, and Paul flying back with a friend to take Bumpy Dog home. We had first met Paul and Juan by chance as we were tied up in approximation here in Port Moselle. We had by pure chance shared many sea miles and many anchorages, both in New Caledonia and in Vanuatu and it was sad to finally bid them farewell. On the upside though, Marcel on Diddys had also returned to Port Moselle; like ourselves and three or four similarly sized yachts with like-minded crews, seeking fair winds between Noumea and Brisbane. A lurking nuisance was a deep low down in the Tasman, a “weather octopus” according to Cookie stretching its evil tentacles far to the north. “We are not going until it goes” was our thinking on Calista. Cookie has her own terminology for meteorological features, referring for example to cold fronts on Australian weather charts as “marching centipedes”, and yes, if you are not careful they can deliver a nasty nip. In the meantime we had Marcel on board for a “curry night” taking advantage of the fresh fromages (vegetables) and boeuf (beef) to be had from the Noumea Market, just a 7-iron away across the marina. Marcel, who admits to being a far better builder than a cook, wanted to be there to take notes on the entire process. This may have placed us under culinary pressure, but in the end, supported by a couple of fine French vintages, we think the evening was a gastronomic success.

Café Calista cooking class

Then, with the full moon approaching, it would appear that the nasties on our passage to Brisbane were finally evaporating, and joined by a couple of other yachts we might be able to depart from Noumea. Maybe our reticence was right, because as we write, the potential for foul weather off of Brisbane that kept us from departing earlier this week has been translated into winds potentially rising to 40 knots over Brisbane and Moreton Bay on the coming weekend. If we had gone we would not have beaten this weather into port. We have everything crossed, because the long passage to Brisbane is equal in length to the passage to New Zealand, and, as ever we will be but a small ship on an immense sea. We have been ever mindful that whilst we have dubbed this amazing adventure “A Voyage to Vanuatu”, it is one thing to get here, but yet another to get all the way home, and safely. There are many sea-miles that lie ahead, starting with over 800 across the Coral Sea to Brisbane.