Cruising Kitty sails to the South Pacific

So last year Toni reads about and meets the guy who runs the Down Under Rally Go West – ie organising boats in New Caledonia to sail to Australia. Apparently Aus border force has a fearsome reputation and not too many boats come on to Aus from the Sth Pacific. John had run this rally for a couple of years and I asked him if he’d ever thought of running it from  Aus to New Cal. He had had that thought and in that year ran the first Go East rally with 6 boats. I thought what a great idea to join it and do it in 2017. So we started preparing CK for our first bluewater crossing. As the time drew nearer I started having daymares – Ron falling off the boat; Ron breaking a limb; me breaking a limb, etc. etc. We bought new nav equipment, new sat comms, new radar, had the engines serviced, bought a watermaker, new wind generator, new dinghy after months of patching up the old one, and a myriad of other bits and pieces. Soon the time started drawing near. So we asked two mates well into their 60s one with limited sailing experience, the other none, to join us as crew. They both jumped at the chance. We had meetings and info sessions with the rally group, all about what to expect, how to use the sat comms to get weather info, we had parties and dinners. The rally departure date was delayed by 12 days which was too long for one of our crew who had an overseas trip booked. A great disappointment for him and us. So then we had to scramble for a new crew member. We spoke to a guy who lobbed up on a boat next door to us. We kind of thought he’d be ok but we both had a sleepless night and realised that no, he was not going to suit us. Told him so and then rang another guy who was on Rally website. Just speaking to Ben on the phone told us that he was the one. So now we had Greg and Ben. Greg had arrived on the 6th May and Ben arrived on the 21st. We left on the 23rd. On the afternoon of the 22nd we motored down the Coomera River and into the Broadwater where we anchored (not without minor incident) not too far from the seaway. Up early next morning. The rally boats, all 20 of them, sauntered out a very bumpy seaway and off into the wild blue yonder. Within half a day we were on our own! They seemed to head more north than us.

I’m sitting in Port Moselle Marina typing this, to the chorus of what sounds like the parrot family familiar to Black Rockians where the lorikeets abound.

The first 24 hours were pretty rough, a big sea and winds forward of the beam. Skipper came down with seasickness and first mate felt a bit queasy, thank goodness she took the pill the night before so not too bad. Toni thought ‘wtf have I got myself into!’. Greg was loving it (ignorance is bliss?)! That first night was a bit of a shambles. Everyone was up most of the night. We were to go thru the Seamounts and R was expecting rough conditions. It was already rough, but it did get rougher. Around midnight of course. So the next day we all just took turns at the helm as we felt able. That night we organised duty watches in 3 hour shifts between the 3 crew, so 3 on, 6 off, and skipper was just on call – ie up all night! Even tho he felt crook he managed to deal with issues as they arose. This worked much better for the crew but poor R didn’t get much sleep. By the 3rd day he was feeling much better but had to go to bed for a few hours. He managed to get a bit of sleep. The crew morale was high. At the half way mark, we had a tot of rum to celebrate (a bit like crossing the equator)! Day 2 was a good day, smoother seas, fair winds, sun shining, really enjoyable. Day 3 again was rough and had us reeling. Day 4 was another great sailing day which boosted morale. That’s when we had the tot of rum.

I thought I would freak out at night watches. The first time Ron asked me to I refused. But after half an hour I thought that’s pretty stupid, I have 5 nights of this, so I better pull my weight. It’s actually not too difficult. Check – engine temp gauges, check auto track is on, check radar for new blips, check outside for lights that suddenly light up (eg for a fishing boat that has all his id off but can see you coming, so puts all his lights on to warn you, thanks very much); check the wind angle and wind strength. No going asleep at the helm. However there is time to write. In my off hours I’ve been reading Tim Winton, not a novel but a collection of short stories – not fiction. Got my writerly juices stirred. And here’s some of what I wrote:

‘Lulled to sleep eventually, after my watch, by the drone of the engine not a metre behind my head, thinking I hadn’t even been asleep; the shrill noise of my phone’s alarm must have been sounding for some time. I was brought back to consciousness. Leaving the warmth of my bed, still clothed, even with my lifejacket on, it had been a warm night, just a cotton blanket for cover, I pull on long pants and socks, and a warm fleecy. Feeling too hot in the cabin but out in the cockpit I will appreciate it. Make a cup of tea for the skipper and crew while chatting with crew I’m replacing about what’s what. Delighted to see the steaming light of ‘Frozzie’, fellow rally boat, off our port bow maybe 3 miles away. A young couple, two up, intrepid seafarers. (A quick hello on the vhf radio, we get 6 hours break between each shift, them 3, I guess they get in a rhythm). So lovely to travel in company, not so alone on this vast expanse of water. A cliché but oh so true. The skipper’s awake so lets me sit and write while he watches – for illegal fishing boats at our territorial waters border. They often have no radar reflector so other fishers and border control can’t see them. I daren’t entertain the thought that they’re not keeping an eye out for us.

Sitting in our large cockpit area, listening to our stern transom awash with splashes from waves, and then if I could see past the dinghy hanging from the davits, the palette of stars. I do make the effort occasionally to duck and look. The Milky Way is majestic. The first night out a friend texts and says, can you see the Aurora? Really? Those flashes of light are the Aurora? I thought it was an electrical storm. I thought I’d be too far north?? How awesome. But no green, more yellow. Wonder if really she’s right. Looked possibly like what a war zone looks like from a distance. Not a pleasant thought but we’ve had no news for a while so anything could be happening eh?

The stars are amazing. One in particular catches our attention every night. It’s a rising planet and at each change of shift around midnight the crew coming on will say ‘so what’s that ship on the starboard bow?’ After the first evening the relieving crew has a good laugh – ‘haha caught out, that’s the rising planet’!! Even radioed Frozzie one night about it. Via our satellite comms we get our weather routing, suggesting what heading to follow and we text our families and friends and other boats. Encourage each other.

The first night out for the inexperienced knowledgeable sailors was tough. The sea was rough, a huge swell mixed with disturbed water made for a very rough ride. That sickening feeling of being at the top of a wave and leaving your stomach behind as the boat drops off, often with an extra shove up the back so the forepeaks slam into the water. I’ve been in rougher but never so far from the coast. Awake to a lovely blue sky, blue sea with fluffy white clouds on the horizon. Gently rolling sea. Not enough wind to quiet those iron spinnakers (aka the engines) comforting noise they make, thrusting us forward.

Our route takes us, overnight, thru two underwater mountains; it proved its reputation for disturbing the sea. A couple of hours of extra rough waters even though the top of them is 1000m deep; go figure. Too far around to go north or south of them, we go thru the middle of the two. Once thru, the original discomfort doesn’t seem quite so bad. By first light the sea has calmed. Still a big ocean swell but spaced far enough apart our little cork of a boat just glides over, down, up and over in an ever-repeating dance.

It’ll be 48 hours gone in the morning. Two more lots of 48 hours and we should arrive in Noumea (I need to mark something off). After 24 hours I was questioning my sanity, it was really my idea to do this trip, I’m a sucker for a gorgeous photo (Tahiti looks nice). I’d joined a women’s sailing group on FB and had been inspired by the women who solo sail or partner their husbands on circumnavigations in what seem like tiny boats (no I’m not doing that). Tempered by all the (very few) disaster stories of course. Thinking of Jessica Watson and Lisa Blair (google Lisa, such an amazing tale).

The bell ringer:

So we left on a Tuesday; Wednesday and Friday were lovely; Saturday dawned with me on watch, it’s fantastic to see the sun rise. I hang out for the coming of the light. It was a starry night so not pitch black but can’t see anything in front except for the occasional white froth on top of the swell. It’s a very surreal feeling plowing thru the seas not seeing in front of you, relying on instruments. It’s a very physical motion and if the sea is kind, lulling.

So to get to the title of this part of the post, the wind is up, so we need to put the mainsail up – it’s been reefed for the night. But first someone spills their tea down the helm area. Clean that up, emergency, don’t want it to damage the instruments. Then we furl the jib which is rather large and gets in the way when reefing – ie Ron has nearly been garrotted! So far so good. So Ben is at the helm trying to keep the boat in the wind (whoever invented sailing should do something about this). There’s something wrong. Ron has to go up on to the top deck right to the rear end of the boom to check it out. As the main is luffing in the no wind area the boom is gybing back and forth. I’m watching from the sidelines – “do something about that boom” I yell “before you get swept off”. ‘Ok’ he says. ‘Untie that rope’ he calls to me. I manage. Then he ties that to the boom – ok ‘pull on it’. I do so, and am hoisted up in the air – not once, but twice, by the third time I’ve worked out I need to get it on a cleat and manage that. We are there for half an hour while Ron tried to clear the rope – it’s got caught between the two pulleys – I hear the galley cupboard fly open and fling all the contents onto the floor – no problems it’s all melamine. But we have a 4th crew member asleep. Can he not hear the mayhem? – we’ve used the noisy cranker to furl the jib, I’ve squealed as I’ve been hoisted aloft, Ron and Ben yelling to each other over the wind; the engines have been powered up, then powered down to control the boat – where is he? Ron finally unjambs it (Mr Fixit) and returns to hoist the main. He comes back to the cockpit exhausted. Is he getting too old for this? He and Ben trim the sails and Ron collapses exhausted on the settee.  The crewmember who’s been asleep – well he did have the awful watch of 11.30-2.30 – comes up and says ‘what the bloody hell has all the noise been about, I was struggling to sleep’. There was stunned silence for a second, then we all launched into him. We ended up laughing hysterically. ‘Don’t get into the charter cruising business he says’. ‘Don’t give up your day job’ we say, and ‘by the way you’ve got double shift today’. Which he meekly abided by. Ben related what the bell ringer looked like from his vantage point and while it wasn’t funny at the time, it was very funny in the retelling. Ron finally collapses into bed and somehow we keep on going.

Day 5 and we catch up to Zofia, crewed by Eva and Brian (the funniest man on the planet), but they are doing 180s in front of us. WTF? Finally hear from them, they are being hijacked by the NW current and their auto pilot can’t handle it below speeds of 4 knots. They finally put on their motor and get out of our bloody way! We are also caught up by Kiti Kana, a Cat from Westernport, Brad and Natalie whom we met at Yaringa, along with Cheryl and Bruce who are also coming. Kiti Kana very quickly leaves us in her wake, they have a Privilege 42, very speedy. We follow Zofia into Noumea. Day 6 dawns and we can see land!!! Such an exciting feeling. I yell to Ben who has been asleep in the cockpit as that last night we were pitching terribly and he couldn’t sleep in the forward cabin. ‘Land ho Ben’! He sits up and jokingly says ‘I can’t see land’. Sense of humour to the last, he’s looking out the back! Such a wonderful sight seeing land,. We actually headed in the right direction! A straight line trip is 895 nm, we did 1025 nm, to get a better wind angle, courtesy MetBob. We are not convinced he’s the way to go – he made two very bad mistakes, gave us two co-ordinates which were so obviously wrong…..

That last night was horrible. It would have been better to change the angle of direction but we were on a mission, we could see we were on course for land and we just wanted to get there quick as. So head the boat into the awful seas, put the power on and just get there. No patience to tack.

Seasickness dogged the skipper for 48 hours; me for a little while but not bad cos I took preventatives. Skipper will get some next time. Greg wore a bracelet and suffered nothing (coincidence?); Ben was only bad with the pitching. We were so lucky with our crew. Greg was a brick – did all his duties without question, the toughest one was getting up at 2.30 for the 2.30-5.30 watch. The best was 8.30-11.30 then 5.30-8.30, normal sleeping hours and the dawn watch. Ben was awesome, tweaking the sails, getting us back on course when the auto pilot had us heading too far south cos we didn’t have it on Track to a waypoint. Putting up with all the dad jokes (he’s 38), Ben ran a competition for the earliest bad dad joke. Greg won. Not with this, but a good one was ‘that’s a nagivator’ (sadly I think he was referring to me!). Ron had a shipload of wine, not a shitload. They were pretty happy with the food they were fed. Mostly ate one meal together. Sometimes skipped a meal altogether (except Greg, he only skipped when he decided not to wake skipper reheating his – most sensitive of him).

Would I do it again? Well we have to get this boat home so yes. I would LOVE to come back next year but I’m not sure. I think I’ve done it now, and unless we can leave the boat over here for the summer (doubtful cos of insurance) it may not happen.

The boat performed really well, very happy, only minor issues sorted very quickly. Never felt unsafe.

We met a fellow Aussie today who arrived here but is heading straight to Vanuatu cos the weather is better there he says, then he’ll come back here late August for the better weather here. It sounds very attractive. KitiKana is going to Vanuatu at the end of June so we think we may join them. The temp here is low 20s and it rains quite a bit; I think I need a wetsuit! Can’t wait to get out there to photograph some reef. Most of the rallyers have formed little groups and have headed out. Our crew left Saturday so we’re a little behind. It would be nice to do some touring in company.

After the crew left on Saturday, we got all the washing done (there are no laundromats here in New Cal, you pay someone at a laundry to do it (less than $20 for 10kgs) or do it in your little twin tub that’s buried deep in the boat). Then did a few runs to the market (painfully expensive, $4 a lettuce, $6 a cabbage, poor locals, cost of living here is exorbitant); to the supermarket, fantastic array of cheeses and hams (under the big sign ‘Le Snacking!’), cooked chooks, UHT milk only (ie no fresh cold milk, I asked, obviously no dairy here, but there is local beef) imported from NZ mostly, lots of French imported goods of course; I wish I’d stocked up more on Aus meat, particularly chicken, as what’s on offer here doesn’t look fantastic. Steaks were ok. We were directed to the best Chinese restaurant, where I had ginger, garlic prawns with vegetables, man they were good, gorgeous family run cheap cafe.

Ben found the best coffee in town, Café Barista, unfortunately for Greg on his last day, but we managed a few visits as it was near the supermarket. Everywhere else seems to have powdered milk – this is a French city n’est-ce pas?

So now it’s Thurs 8 June and we left the marina yesterday – it’s very easy to get marina paralysis. Everything is much easier. Yesterday we motored only 8nm to the Baie de Maa. We didn’t leave til noon as Herve (Mr 10%) was getting us a more powerful inverter to charge Mr Cranker (Ron’s version of an electric winch handle). Serendipitously there were 5 other rally boats there so sundowners were had aboard Zofia with Tauranga, Grace 7 and Sans Souci.

Then today we headed up to Baie de St Vincente, Herve recommended it, said there would be no one around. He was wrong but there are only 2 other boats in the Baie de Moustiques (everyone thinks that means mosquitoes but it doesn’t). There is a little ilot near the reef not too far from here that is supposed to be terrific snorkelling, so if the winds would die down and the sun come out for more than 5 minutes it might happen. There are winds of 25 knots coming Sat night into Monday so we may have to move. I may get my snorkel in before than.

Blogging will happen when I get a good signal.

Hopefully pic loaded of team CK at the halfway mark and in Port Moselle.

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One comment

  1. Toni this is a wonderful description of your trip- what an incredible adventure and so vividly told! So glad you arrived safely and came relax and saviour your collective achievement. Never occurred to me that R would get sea sick- must have been very tough. Will look forward to the next exciting instalment – this is really something. Love to you and Capt Salty. J xx

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