Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bonjour from New Caledonia

We departed Port Vila, Vanuatu at first light on Tuesday morning after a hectic Monday. We had to check out of customs, immigration and pay our port fees before leaving. We also got our "duty free" pass from customs so we could purchase some duty free fuel and restock the liquor cabinet! The duty free prices here on liquor were pretty incredible. After picking up a few last fresh breads and paying our marina fee, we loaded the dinghy aboard and prepped the boat for offshore travel. That means tying everything in sight down and securing the bookshelves and cabinets to keep things from falling out.

We left Tuesday at 0530 and hoped for the best. The weather window was short – but so is the trip. It is only 300 miles to New Caledonia and another 60 or so once inside the lagoon to Noumea where we have to clear in. The winds were predicted to be from the east or northeast for the first day – the best direction we could hope for...but the seas were still predicted to be 2 meters after days and days of bad weather passing through the area. Wednesday was predicted to be lighter winds and more from the south and even some westerly components – but light. By Friday there was bad weather building in the New Caledonia area and so we wanted to be sure to be safely in the lagoon by then.

Tuesday turned out to be one of our best sails we've had. We covered 142 miles in 24 hours! That was good and it was relatively comfortable. The seas were big and there was a constant roll – but overall the sail was fast and good and we almost made it halfway in the first 24 hours. Then about 0300 on Wednesday morning we sailed right into some rain followed by a "no wind" zone. The wind just died and the seas were still steep enough that sails would constantly collapse every time the boat rolled. 142 miles behind us and now no wind. We decided at 0700 to turn on the motor and motorsail until the wind hopefully picked up again. That didn't happen. We motorsailed the remainder of the trip into the Havanah Passage which can be tricky. There is a strong tidal current that runs through this relatively narrow passage. Timing is critical. You don't want wind against tides and incoming seas. We negotiated that and went about 15 miles up the passage and found a nice little bay to anchor for the night. We are flying our yellow Q flag and will continue the trip through the lagoon in daylight tomorrow.

We did see two sets of whales on this trip. The first was a large pod of pilot whales (we think). Relatively small whales with very rounded, large heads and dolphin like fins. The next group were actually in the lagoon right after we entered and they were quite large with the squared off heads like sperm whales. They were tail flapping, spouting and Michael thinks he even spotted one doing the "spy hop." Great welcomes to New Caledonia.

This is a very French island and we'll have to forget our newly learned Bislama "tok tok" and parle francaise.
More on the New Cal arrival when we get into the town and clear in. But its nice to be in a new country after a good and safe passage.

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