New Caledonia at last. 22:16.6s, 166:26.4e
It was a long wait in New Zealand for the right weather for this passage and we decided that this was the best opportunity we would get. We arrived in Opua 12th May and finally left 22nd June, we had been dogged by low after low coming down from the tropics or up through the Tasman. Other people had left, mainly for Fiji which is further east and sailing away from the weather systems and one or two boats had made it up to New Caledonia.
Our route to New Caledonia
We cleared customs on Wednesday morning, paid our bill in the marina and emailed our pre-arrival information to New Caledonia. We were ready to go. There was still a bit of swell leftover from the last depression which had just passed and little wind so the for the first few hours we were motoring to get us on our way.
We had a mainly ESE airstream and light as our weather was dominated by High pressure systems. We wanted to get as far north as we could, as quickly as possible, to pass around the north of a front which we knew was going to develop. We made good progress for two days motoring when the wind was light and sailing when that was favourable. We actually had three reefs in the main by midnight Friday with well over 20 knots apparent wind. As the front went over our instruments showed gusts up to 30knots and the rain was torrential (we don’t believe our wind instrument as it never shows above 30 knots) but this soon died away and we had to motor for 48 hours.
During this time we were in contact with Bernd on Rebell who was close by and visible at times and also for a time with Simon on Senora. Simon called on the radio to ask for assistance, could we stand by him as his instruments had packed up and he could not use his autohelm. The auto helm steers the boat electronically and as he was sailing single handed the only way he could sleep was to use this or to just drift, not a happy situation. When there was wind he could use his windvane steering a non-electronic system. Bernd tried to suggest possible checks to make on the instruments but as these systems are all interdependent and rely on data transfer it really needed an expert. After a time we decided that as Simon could steer for a couple of hours at a time then rest he would be able to make progress and when the wind picked up again he could get a decent rest, we needed to move on. We had seen on the forecast charts that another depression with associated fronts was developing further north.
By Sunday we were sailing again with increasing winds as the next frontal system developed, still with winds from the SE. We set up our smaller headsail in preparation and had three reefs in the main again. At 06.30 on Tuesday we had sudden torrential rain and gale force winds in no time we were soaking wet, even inside waterproofs, but at least it was warm. We decided to heave to (this involves having the headsail pulled back against the wind, the main pulled in tight and the wheel fixed steering the boat into the wind) this stops the boat sailing and allows it to drift downwind at slow speed, effectively you are stopped and comfortable. We also put our fourth reef in the main making it as small as we can. At this time Rebell recorded 40 knots of wind and we heard later that the same weather system had given 50 knots in Sydney. Bernd emailed us, as he was too far away for radio contact, to say that one of his shrouds had broken (wires that hold the mast up) and he was making slow progress with much reduced sail. We told him we were hove to and he decided that this was a good thing to try.
The situation on Tuesday 28th, another depression with fronts developed on our path
It was obvious that we were only going to make slow progress toward Noumea so neither a Tuesday or Wednesday arrival in daylight would be possible. When the wind settled down again, now in the SW, we continued hove to allowing Serenity to drift toward Noumea at six knots then as the wind died more started sailing again.
The route across the Lagoon
New Caledonia is surrounded by a reef and requires entry through a pass into a large lagoon, it is then another 15 miles or so to the city of Noumea. Although, in typical French fashion there are excellent navigation marks and lights we wanted to enter the pass at dawn. We would then be at the marina as the staff started work and more importantly we had time to clear through the formalities. The immigration office about 15 minutes walk from the marina is only open until 11.30, if you don’t make it by then you have to stay on board until the next day!
Sunrise over New Caledonia, Thursday 30th.
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