2014 Across the Pacific - Last Leg Home

I am sitting in Noumea New Caledonia waiting for a good weather window to leave on the last leg of the cruise from the Mediterranean. It seems a long time ago, in fact ten years since I sailed the Pacific and decided to sail to the Med.  As most of you know I did not actually meet the time constraints and took the easy way round but now I am on the last leg towards Australia.
It will be a six to seven day passage with the worst weather along the coast of Australia.  The seven day forecast gives me strong winds from the north on the last two day as I get close to Coffs harbour.  If it get too uncomfortable I may just divert to Sydney but that will be a last resort.
Malua left Noumea along with a number of other vessels all bound south either for New Zealand or Australia. It was a parade of Masters as we moved from Immigration, to Customs and then to the Harbour Masters office to get the required stamp or form. We all had the same objective clear our, fill up with duty free fuel and get going on our respective journeys.
I filled Malua's tanks with diesel which will give me a range of about 1,000 nm because the weather forecast indicates that I may have three or four days of light wind then go into some fairly strong wind along the Australian coast. I cant go too fast or else I will arrive during the weekend and have to fork out large sums of money for the authorities to clear me in on a Sunday.

Day 1 850 nm to go

The trip to the outer reef of New Caledonia was across the wind with just a sea chop to contend with but like all these short initial journeys a large P&O cruise liner appeared such that we could meet at the critical turning point in the channel. I had to stay way on the right to give him room to take the the corner and head for the port.
Once I had cleared the reef I set Malua's bow for Coffs Harbour and settled down for a six day passage. I had prepared a number of stews and curries with the Fiji meat I had in the freezer. This is to be supplemented with French bread and duck pate I had purchased at the local market. If nothing I am going to eat well.
The sun set on a relatively smooth quarter sea. I had a single reef in the main and the full genoa flying with and apparent wind angle of 120 a great sailing situation and Malua was going along at just over 7 knots. I had dinner of a curry and boiled potatoes and settled down for the night with my new LED flood light illuminating the main sail. At about ten of clock the wind had increased to 18 so I furled the genoa a few turns and returned to my quarter berth. An hour later the AIS alarm went off with a vessel - Gas Shuriken on the screen at 10 miles only doing a speed of 1 knots and showing Not Under Command. A different situation: It may be broken down. I called them on the radio and indicated I would pass astern of them having just altered course 20 degrees to starboard. The Master told me they were awaiting instructions as to which port they should head to and would I please stand off 2 miles. An inconvenience but under the current sea and wind an easy task. I then sat and watched both on radar and AIS as I passed round the stern of the vessel and along their starboard side as they sat in the water going nowhere. It was well after 1:00 am before I felt it was safe to return to my bunk. Another experience and interesting situation.

Day 2 600 nm to go

The morning found the wind had dropped off and I started the engine for what I think will be a long days slog over gentle seas. I am not alone, all the yachts on passage south where motor sailing, some slower than other. There appears to be a major weather event passing over Tasmania and hitting North Island on Thursday so people are hoping that that passes before they arrive. The weather report I heard for the west coat of Tasmania forecast 5 to 7 meter high seas. Not the place to be in a sailing vessel.
As predicted the wind did drop off and I have had the motor on for what seems like three days but in fact not quite that long. It may however continue for the next two days as the centre of the high passes over me. The 1.4 knot current that was helping me along has now disappeared so my speed over the ground is the boat speed which is just about five knots. At these engine revs I only use about 1.7 l of diesel an hour so that is not so bad.
The severe low/depression which passed over southern Tasmania yesterday has reached North Island of New Zealand. Gulf Harbour Radio who I listen too each morning at six am where having difficulty hearing people check-in over the thunder and lightening. The vessels on passage to Opua NZ where either holding back to let that clear or positioning themselves to make landfall before Sunday because there is going to be another storm hitting north island. There are a number of yachts in Minerva reef waiting for the right conditions to leave. During the net you could hear the anchor chains being pulled up as they all left on mass to reach land before the bad weather.
I checked in on Tony's Marine Maritime net on 14315 at 8:00 am EST. There were not very many boats but it is fun to be involved in a professional net with the correct procedures. Patricia from Gulf Harbour ZL2RK came up looking for a vessel that had not checked in to their net. They provide a great service.
On Malua things just plod along. With no wind and no sea the vessel is quite steady. The sun is out and it is a beautiful day. I have finished reading my first book and am on to the second. They are American thrillers. I find the plots OK but the events and situations quite unbelievable. They are so far from reality I just shake my head. That is the reason I don't read science fiction. I should loose myself in the book. I prefer real life survival stories. Those I can believe but I have read all the Outside books and accounts so I am now down to fiction.
I will have to get out the fishing gear and make myself another lure after the last one was taken by some large sea monster. If I get a fish I wont know what to do with it as I have a full menu in the freezer. I am sure I can make room for some freshly caught Mai Mai.
Back to sitting in the sun on my granny chair on the stern.

Day 3 474 nm to go

Same old, same old thing. Nothing has changed in the last 24 hours. The wind has still not come up from the north but I expect that tonight but the sea has become less smooth. This is caused by the storm south of Tasmania and currently hitting North Island New Zealand. Gulf Harbour Radio was hit with 40 knots of wind last night after the previous day being inundated with rain, thunder and lightening.
The boats that left Minerva Reef yesterday are all trying to get in before the next weather front hits the Opua area. It looks as if I will encounter a southerly front moving north up the NSW coast on Sunday. I expect to reach Coffs Harbour about that time so I have turned up the revs on the engine and am now doing almost six knots. When the northerly winds arrive I will increase the sail area and see if I can reach the NSW coast by noon Sunday. If however the wind arrives before I make it to the safe harbour I may stay out that night and enter the following day. No point on rushing in just to have to confront the harbour entrance and find a place to dock. The last time I arrived at Coffs Harbour it was the start of a storm and I surfed through the breakwater entrance hoping I would loose the wave before I had to turn to starboard into the real harbour. Fortunately the swell died and I entered with easy. I did have to stay almost a week, along with a number of other boats waiting for the storm to pass and letting us sail south again. I don't want to repeat that.
No fish on the line for the past day so I might change the lure this afternoon to a more red colour. It is unfortunate that my source of material is getting low so the selection is not as wide as I would have hoped. But as my good friend Richard always said.. You only catch a fish if your hook is in the water.

Day 4 326 nm to go

The AIS alarm went off as I was reading my book at about noon yesterday. I looked up and saw a type B vessel, ie a small craft at about 4.8nm off my starboard beam. I looked from the cockpit and just saw a vessel as it rose and fell in the slight sea. I called it by position because the AIS did not give its name. No response. I returned to my book. After about half an hour I got a call on the VHF 16 from a fishing vessel which was just a mile off my port bow. He had heard my call to the other and informed me that they were long line fishing boats working together out of Northern NSW laying their lines. He did not have AIS while his mate did but his mate only listened to channel 10 their fishing frequency. He had just arrived after travelling 450nm and was laying his line in a parallel line to my course and if I continued I would be OK.
I asked if he would swap a bottle of whiskey for a good size fish? He laughed and then said they as fishermen and where a zero alcohol vessel so no booze on board. Pity I said I had last swapped rum with the Cuban fishermen for 12 very large lobsters. "sorry mate non of those on these long lines" "Hows the weather?" I asked.
"No wind for tomorrow Friday but will come up from the north for two days then turn south and settle down" "Not good for you but the calm sea is just great for me I hope to get a great Christmas bonus from this trip" "Have a good one but listen out on channel 10 and keep a look out for our line buoys"
I continued on trying to go north of the Gilford Tablemount because the bottom comes up to 350 m and the sea is always confused but if you get to the west I expected the current to flow south and take we to Coffs. I was cruising along in the very flat sea and I saw one of their line markers floating in the sea. I immediately disconnected the autopilot and turned hard to port to cross their line at right angles hoping that the line was more than two meters below the surface. I went over it with no problems and continued for about a mile or so before I resumed my course. I then started to pick up the up-welling current and I was off at about 7 knots but not for long. Back to the slow five knots that the Yanmar is pushing me along at.
I looked at my fuel situation. I left New Caledonia with 425 l in the fuel tanks and a further 100 l in reserve jerry cans. At 2.1 l/h (well over my normal usage of 1.8l/h) that would give me 250 hours of motoring or a range of 1250 nm. OK sufficient fuel for the trip of 850 nm. As at noon today I have motored since filling the tanks 58 hours all from the front tank so I transferred the 60 l from the three jugs on the deck to the front tank. Now I am back to almost full tank and a range of almost 500 nm from the front tank alone - I only have 400 to go so that looks good. The aft tank is still full at 242 l.
I wont talk about fish but I did have a salmon paster last night for dinner, a change from the meat I have been trying to eat my way through in anticipation of arriving in Oz with an empty fridge and freezer.
Further than that I have stopped reading the improbable thrillers and am re-reading Jean-Michel Barrault's biography of Bernard Moitessier - my sailing hero. I think one of the greatest sailor of the early years. He had such a feel for the ocean and changed our approach to sailing downwind in a storm. His strategy I adopted when I was in the storm in the Mid Pacific on my way to Tonga.

Day 5 220 nm to go

The wind finally came at midnight Friday. A bit after the forecast but I must be off their forecast area. I soon had the main up with one reef and the staysail flying. With glee I turned the key on the engine and the noise stopped. It was an strange feeling to glide through the water with only the sound of Malua and the waves outside. The sea was not the best as it was from the north on Malua's beam so we bounced around quite a lot. No waves over the side but I had to move far down into the trotter locker of my quarter berth to find a snug position that I was not rolling from side to side but that was why I made the berth almost 8 feet long. I was soon relaxed and watching the miles fade away.

I have a decision to make: follow the direct line to Coffs Harbour or go for a position 20 nm off the coast so when the southerly comes through I can tack towards the land and make the harbour entrance. At the moment (Saturday morning) I am heading for the waypoint off the coast but I will listen to the NSW weather forecast at 10:30 am today from BOM to establish their forecast for the Southerly change, its wind strength and direction. The next decision will be if I can make it into the harbour before dark. The quarter moon is up until almost 2:00 am so I will have the light of the moon and I do know that the loom from the town lights will help me see the breakwater and Mutton Bird Island. I wonder if Coffs Harbour Marine Rescue actually listen to the HF radio. If they are anything like the crew at Batemans Bay that technology is well beyond their competence so you have to use the VHF.
Not much happened yesterday on Malua. Almost finished the biography of Moitessier. I had forgotten that he sailed a number of times to Suvorov from Papeete to spend time with John Neal (an Island to Oneself) and that he tried to start a garden on the Tuamotu atoll of Ate. He left Polynesia disillusioned by the lack of drive of the locals to improve their conditions.

Day 6 62 nm to go

From three days of no wind the wind increased quickly to 25 knots all from behind then at sunset it was blowing 30 to 40 knots from the NW. The seas came up so I had to run before the wind with two reefs in the main and the small staysail. This course was well off my rhum line but it did take me off the coast and out of the way of any shipping. I was happy to just settle down for the night. Malua was handling the conditions well although we would get a wave or two over the deck or along the side deck. The course would also put be in a good position when the southerly change came through in that I would be able to tack and then either reach in to Coffs Harbour if I was that far south or beat into the harbour.
The wind continued most of the night at about 25 knots then at 3:00 am it dropped. I started the engine and turned Malua's bow towards Coffs Harbour only 75 nm away. I expected the southerly front to arrive within an hour. I was not disappointed. It came upon me with steadily increasing wind from the SW at only 25 knots. I had an apparent wind angle of 120 an easy reach. At first light I had 62 nm to go and racing along on quite a flat sea at about 6 knots. Great I would reach Coffs before sunset.
The trip in was easy with a dropping wind and slight sea. I the went through the freezer. I had to through a lot a frozen meat away plus the onions and the last of the vegetables. I called Marine Rescue. Did a turn of the outer harbour and dropped the anchor just outside the inner harbour entrance. The boat was covered in salt spray but I was able to pack the sails and lines away and wait the night out. I had kept three pieces of beautiful French steak (New Zealand) and a large potato. I made French fries, onions and steak with a wine, mustard and mushroom sauce plus a great bottle of French wine. A great welcoming meal then went to bed in the main cabin to sleep till dawn.

Arrival Back in Australia

The passage from Noumea New Caledonia to Coffs Harbour Australia was 868 nm and took six day six hours about 150 hours or about 5.8 knots average speed. I motored for 100 hours or 66 % of the time. Not a great passage but I arrived on schedule with slightly less and rather more wind that was forecast.
I was called into the inner harbour at 8:30 and two Customs and Border Protection officers came aboard. One sat at the table and completed all the forms while the other asked the usual question regarding where I had been and what food I had on board. He snooped around the cupboards the opened the fridge with his bright yellow plastic bag at the ready. He took all my cheese three blocks of American vacuum sealed cheese, plus butter, milk and mayonnaise. The he started to look for meat and veg but found nothing. Again looking for honey, and any form of seeds. He had to ask advice from his senior regarding the nuts in my breakfast mix; that was Ok.
Have I any wood product. Nothing of interest except the model outrigger canoe that had been given to me by the school at Malua Bay Vanuatu. I did not give it a thought but he felt that there where some bora beetle holes and I would either have to give it up to be destroyed or have it irradiated. I took some pictures and reluctantly gave it up to be destroyed.
After a quick zap of my credit card for $380 they gave me the completed paperwork and welcomed me home to Australia. Easy, pleasant and as always in Australia expensive. When the Departments moved to a cost recovery model I argued against it as an Australian Tax payer. I said limiting the Department budget via Government allocations in the budget would force them to become more efficient and not have the fall back of just raising their fees for service every year unilaterally with out a debate in the Parliament. For foreigners I don't mind but for taxpayers it is just not on. I am pleased to see that the public servants next pay rise will below the cost of living increases.

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