Next stop - Australia!

Rumpelteazer Pacific Crossing
Robert Holbrook
Fri 23 May 2008 02:00




Noumea was lovely – although we only stayed there for 24 hours.  The marina was friendly and efficient, and had a convenient bar on the quay. The town has lots of Parisian character with very French shops and delicatessans, but we were surprised to find that cars stopped for people on zebra crossings.


Robert spent two hours or so ‘checking in’ with the Port Captain, Customs and Immigration, and then later in the day, spent another two hours ‘checking out’ with the same people - lots of paperwork and official stamping of documents and passports. The department of Agriculture sent us an official who looked more kindly on our stock of fresh vegetables and fruit than we expected.  She knew we were leaving within 20 hours and confiscated this and that, and asked us to boil our remaining eggs in her presence.


We replenished our fruit and vegetables in the excellent market on the quay, avoiding the attractions of the fantastic displays of fish in the hope of eventually landing our own.


Before arriving in Noumea we had discovered that we had no paper charts for our approach through the Barrier Reef to Queensland, and with the wrong Garmin card being sent from the US we clearly had a problem unless we could buy same in Noumea.  Surprisingly the Noumea chandleries couldn’t help.  But fortune smiled on us – we met Helen and David Amy who had sailed from Sydney.  They had no immediate use for their Queensland charts and kindly lent them to us.  Problem solved.


After refuelling in the marina, Rumpelteazer set off from Noumea on Tuesday morning, through the Passe de Dumbea between the reefs on the west of Grande Terre, and out into the Pacific, heading for Australia. 


The weather forecast was correct – we had a strong westerly wind for the first 12 hours and had to motor-sail at 30 degrees to the wind up the west coast of New Caledonia – a wet and bumpy experience.  Gradually the wind became slightly more southerly and we were able to sail, heavily reefed, on a port beat, but heading further north than we might have liked.


At tea time on Tuesday, there was great excitement as an ecstatic Susie landed her first fish!  Robert helped her pull in the large 25lb tuna which Susie then filleted.  There was fresh sushimi at drinks time and seared tuna for supper. 


From Wednesday the winds moved slightly further to the south west and we were able to sail on a close port reach, still in very bumpy seas with lots of spray over the decks, but heading further west.  With winds of between 15 and 25 knots, our average speeds for the three days since leaving Noumea were 5.6, 7.0 and 7.5 knots.  Our 24 hour runs for the three days were 136, 168 and 180 miles, leaving us with 510 miles yet to go before we reach Mackay, not quite half way since we left New Caledonia.


Our weather has been very varied with over 60% cloud cover, cooler winds and occasional rain squalls.  Our once-fantastic suntans have begun to fade over the past two weeks as we have gradually moved south of the tropics towards the more wintery weather of the Coral Sea region.  


Night-time sailing has been wet, bumpy and noisy, enlivened by the arrival of dark clouds carrying rain and squally winds.  As the winds have moved more to the south, allowing us to sail on a beam reach, the motion at night has become a little smoother, interrupted occasionally by a large wave rolling in from the port beam.  More positively, night watches have enjoyed the company of a full moon which has given us wonderful light from evening to shortly before dawn.  We have also had company at night – the occasional fishing boats off the New Caledonia coast and more recently a well-lit cruise liner which circled us slowly while Susie shone a torch at our sail to ensure we had been seen.


Life on board revolves as usual around our watch system – we are now doing two-hour watches during dark hours instead of three – and the usual preparation of food, and the cleaning, servicing and mending of things on board.  Pippa has taken over the job of monitoring fluid levels (oil and coolant) and keeps disappearing into the engine rooms. 


The water-maker, critical to life on board, broke down on Wednesday, due to the pressure guage having cracked.  Robert once again came to the rescue and found a way of isolating the guage, and the water-maker worked again.


Mending the generator is bigger problem – the fan belt had started to slip and to shred.  Replacing it with a spare fan belt is a difficult project – it is situated at the very back of the generator unit and is extremely inaccessible, particularly in our current bumpy seas - perhaps another challenge for Robert when it becomes calmer. However with two additional alternators on the main engines producing electricity, and only a few days ahead of us, we don’t have much of a problem.


We know that once we arrive in Mackay – possibly during Monday 25th May - ALL our fresh food will be taken away from us.  We are in the rather fortunate position therefore of putting all our best goodies on the menu for the remaining three to four days of our voyage.  Today it was bacon butties for breakfast, salad with giant Pacific prawns for lunch, and best NZ steak for supper.  Australia, here we come!