Downwind sailing at its best

Rumpelteazer Pacific Crossing
Robert Holbrook
Sun 18 May 2008 08:48




Having decided, sadly, to forgo a visit to the volcano on Tanna in the Vanuatu islands, we made good speed in the direction of New Caledonia, 320 miles further south west.  The weather forecast which had caused us to change our plan – strong winds on Monday, from the west – still seems correct, but we have now used the south easterly winds to make maximum westing before the weather changes. 


We have had great downwind sailing conditions with winds of 20 to 30 knots on the port beam and from further astern.  Large rolling seas gave us a bumpy ride through the day and night, as well as a lot of unwelcome sea-water showers, but we were travelling fast, at an average over 24 hours of 8.6 knots, covering 205 miles.


On Saturday, Susie landed her first fish - well actually it was half an inch of suicidal flying fish, and it self-landed.  Neptune was obviously feeling sorry for her.

We had decided to have a rest, and made for the Loyalty islands in New Caledonia.  We wanted to arrive at the Havana Pass, the entrance into the lagoon of Grand Terre, the main island of New Caledonia, in daylight on Sunday. Around tea-time we anchored in a small bay on the leeward side of Mare, an uplifted coral island.  The shore was covered in dense green foliage including a few tall coconut trees and lots of tall thin pine-type trees.  We saw a red-topped church and a few small houses but no one to wave to.

We were up at 4am today, Sunday, and set sail for Noumea, 120 miles west.  Again we had glorious downwind sailing weather, hand-steering, wing on wing, surfing down big rolling waves, and recording speeds of up to 15 knots. Sadly the sunny weather continues to let us down, and rain is never far away, the oilie tops at the ready.

Rain!  We seem to have been plagued with it at each of our landfalls since Susie and Charles joined us!  As we approached Grand Terre this afternoon from the east, the rain began again, and by the time we had anchored for the evening in Ire Bay, a small bay on the north of Ile Ouen off the Canal Woodin, it was pouring.  Robert’s water collection pipes were fair gurgling as the water tanks rapidly filled. 

Tomorrow, Monday, we sail the final 25 miles to Noumea where we will enjoy the delights of ‘South Pacific Paris’, including croissants and good coffee.  We will also check out the weather patterns before setting off on our final leg to Mackay.  As forecast, the wind clocked round from the south east to the north east today, Sunday, and is likely to continue moving around to the west as a depression comes across.  We are hopeful that we can set sail for Mackay, now less than 1,000 miles away, by Tuesday.