Beating down to New Caledonia

Fri 19 Sep 2008 11:51
Thursday evening, 18th September
Location: Baie de Prony, New Caledonia .
Position:  22:23S 166:53E
Well, I couldn't resist the temptation to sail down here, we may never pass this way again. So last Monday, after the usual hassles of 'clearing out' of Vanuatu had been completed, I set off into the forecast south easterly breeze, hoping that there would be enough east in it to carry me down to New Caledonia. It is only three hundred miles or so, but sailing into the wind ('beating') is slower and in some ways more uncomfortable than downwind sailing: because you are sailing into instead of away from the waves you meet them twice as often, and sometimes with considerable force. On the other hand the boat is heeled well over by the wind, and so doesn't roll. It is awkward however to wedge books, bodies ( well only mine), and food into spaces that they won't fall out of. I have a lee cloth on my bunk: in hospital we would call it a cotside, and I lie wedged between the matress and the leecloth. At least you don't roll about, but I find I get pins and needles in my arms, and cramps in my legs, there are unfortunately no night nurses to rub things better.
It was blowing about 25 kts to start with, but didn't seem too bad, as initially we were sheltered by Efate Island. However as soon as we were in open water waves started to sweep over the decks, and one 'green' one found its way down the companionway onto the chart table: soaking all the charts for the trip, and much else besides. I was very fed up, and by the time I had tidied up a bit I was feeling thoroughly sea sick as well. No supper, and I retired to my wedge with a 'stugeron'! Fleck looked after me as best as she could all night, but I hadn't set up the self steering properly, and we didn't sail very fast. Next morning was bright and sunny, and the wind was down to 20 knots: ideal sailing conditions - enough power from the sails to drive us forwards at maximum hull speed, and the waves smaller and less able to throw us backwards. Unfortunately the mal de mere was not going to let me enjoy things, but at least we got the boat set up properly and we made excellent progress over the next 24 hours. By the following morning we were in sight of the Loyalty Islands, and during the day passed down between Lifou and Maree in a steadily decreasing breeze, and over a lovely calm sea!! I was feeling much better, and even managed a little German lesson, the first for weeks. A couple of near misses with tiny Islands during the night were unsettling, but I don't think that either island was hurt or upset, so we will say no more about that!
This morning New Caledonia was spread out across the horizon, and unfortunately that is where it stayed for most of the day as the wind died away completely. Finally we put the motor on; there is a long shipping lane through the reefs around the Southern tip of the Island, and that would be no place to leave Fleck fending for herself with the skipper half or totally asleep! I needed to be in an anchorage, off the shipping lane, before nightfall. And we made it, with a couple of minutes to spare, about two hours ago. Sadly this may be my last South Pacific anchorage: tomorrow we must report in at the Metropolis of Noumea, and then we really must head off for Australia at the first opportunity. Now that we are in shark infested waters I have given up my ritual night time swim, and besides it is now quite cool: we have dropped steadily down from the equator since leaving the Galapagos, and  as you can see we are now at 22 degrees south. Despite that this is a very beautiful setting, clear water, a white sand beach showing in the moonlight about 50 metres away, and breaking seas over the reef out to seaward, and I have it all to myself! Earlier it became obvious why the French have clung to this place for so long: it is full of copper and seams of the stuff run through the cliffs giving them a quite unearthly glow in the late evening sun.