Australian Arrival!

All’s well that ends well. An easy an uneventful trip to Brisbane, and we’re cleared into the country without a hitch. We arrived at the Customs dock at 0830 this morning, local time, with the trip lasting about 4 and three quarter days. Though we did slow down last night to time our customs arrival so perfectly.

Everyone here is delightful and helpful, and they say “G’day” over the VHF radio when they help you. We’ve yet to clear into a country that was more organized or streamlined. They were literally waiting for us at the customs dock (or the “Q” dock as it is often called, since arriving yachts fly a plain yellow flag – the letter “Q” – for “Quarantine”). Five minutes after Border Patrol left, Biosecurity showed up. They were all helpful, friendly, and gave us tips on places to stay and things to do in Brisbane.

No regular internet yet, so no posts or pictures. We’re moored at the “Botanical Gardens” in downtown Brisbane. We’ve gone from mountains from the cockpit to skyscrapers.

We’re off to go explore and find out what’s nearby.

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To Australia, the Second to Last Day

The weather model has been pretty close. Except for a dozen hours or so of wind we got last night which ended in a rainstorm, it’s been spot on. Which means we’re making good time, thanks to that breeze last night, and we’re motoring.

It’s not flat, calm, glassy yet. The sea is still too riled up from a few days of wind for that to just happen right away. But with a massive four knots of wind, it will be with a day or to of this. That’s not supposed to hold too long, but long enough to matter. We’re burning dinosaurs now.

And we’re not fishing any more. With an arrival time looking more like tomorrow morning, we don’t want any more food on the boat than we have. And we have a pretty clear idea how many meals we have to get rid of it. In fact, much of today will be spent trying to eat as much of the frozen stuff we have that we’re pretty certain that Australian Biosecurity will take.

They have a reputation for being very aggressive about the what they let you bring into the country. Going beyond meats and fresh fruit and vegetables, they may also dispose of frozen vegetables. Most countries make it impossible to tell what they will or won’t take, and put a broad array of foods on a list that must be “declared” so they can “inspect” them. In our history with some countries, “inspect” usually means “frown at before tossing into a trash bag.” But New Zealand didn’t take our French cheeses when we arrived there, so there’s hope for some things.

I’m not taking a chance on the frozen escargot, however. We forgot about them before we left New Caledonia or we would have had them then!

P.S. Do you remember that huge fish from yesterday? It wasn’t the only one. When I pulled in the hand line last night something had actually hit it hard enough to bend the hook! Yikes. Thar be monsters, indeed!

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The One That Got Away (Thank Goodness!)

We’ve been towing fishing lines behind us for thousands of miles since we took off cruising. We’ve hauled in some nice Mahi Mahi, Spanish Mackerel, and a few other things we weren’t as sure about. With the exception of one little tunny we tried, it’s worked out well. Enthusiasm on board for Mahi Mahi is now very high, and efforts to fish meet less resistance. But no one wanted a tuna.

Recently in Noumea I finally got everyone on the boat with the fresh tuna program. We were buying it at the fish market, fresh and locally caught, and it was to die for. The kids even ordered it in restaurants and asked for it for dinner.

So finally, with a receptive and excited audience I’ve upped my fishing efforts. Prior to this we used a stand up rig; a stout boat rod with a big Penn reel on it. The reel is a pretty high end ocean fishing reel, suitable for taking big game. I loaded it with several hundred yards of Spectra line, then a couple of hundred more of 80# test mono filament on top of that. The reason for this is the Spectra braid line, while expensive, also is much more compact than the mono filament, and stronger. So you can pack a lot more line on the reel with the braid, but it is very visible. So you fish with the clear mono end of the line.

I grew up in the midwest, fishing in lakes farm ponds for bass and sunfish, or streams and rivers. In fresh water, you get pretty excited for a five pound fish. From there, I moved to the East Coast and did a lot more surf casting for Bluefish and Striped Bass. Much bigger than the freshwater fish, to be sure. Five pounds is a small fish, not a keeper. Much larger fish are the norm.

What I am not used to is the freaking monstrous fish that you can run into off shore. A medium size yellowfin tuna, if we could get it in the boat, would provide more tuna than we could eat in a month. That also means I’ve got very little experience “playing” a really large fish. Except for a couple of charter fishing expeditions I have every little experience hauling in fish that weigh in excess of twenty pounds. A big yellowfin can weigh up to a couple of hundred pounds.

There is NO WAY I want a fish that big.

To date, the largest fish we’ve brought to the boat was a six foot sailfish that hit on the way from Aruba to Panama. We brought that to the boat after a few spectacular leaps, and worked the hook loose and let it go. They aren’t supposed to be great eating, and that’s a lot of pointy fish parts to wrassle on boat.

But a key point here – that six foot sailfish, which is not a small fish, did not peel enough line off the reel to get to the spectra braid.

In fact, nothing we’ve hooked into has pulled out enough line to reach the braid. They’ve all tired and been brought to the boat before running that far off. I literally have not seen the spectra braid on this reel since I had it loaded on there. Until today.

An hour or so ago, something hit the braid. It hit a red and white cedar plug about 275 miles of the coast of Australia, where the water is a mile or two deep. We were sailing along at a little over seven knots , and it started peeling line of the reel. I increased the drag to slow it. It didn’t slow. We slowed the boat to two knots, and the line kept peeling off. Then the spectra came out. I increased the drag. More line stripped.

At this point I was starting to get a little nervous. This thing had stripped about 75% or more of my line off in minutes; it seemed like seconds. I’d maxed out the drag, and it just kept going like nothing was wrong. Finally, as the core of line on my rod was dwindling to a small and scary amount, it stopped pulling out line.

Then the work began. Prior to that, I hadn’t taken the rod out of the holder, because I was afraid the fish would yank it right out of my hands while I tried to move it to my fighting belt. I have to reach out and around the wind generator to do this, and I don’t have great leverage. When the screaming of the reel stopped, I carefully too the rod out of the holder and placed it in my belt and tried to move the fish.

Nothing.

I pulled up, it pulled back hard. Eventually I was able to start cranking some line in, slowly. Painfully, a couple of feet at a time I started moving this monstrous thing closer to the boat.

We had no idea what it was. A Mahi Mahi would have to be gigantic to pull that much line, and was unlikely. Marlin, Sailfish, and other bill fish tended to jump, and probably would have shown themselves by now. A Wahoo or a shark would have cut right through the nylon leader. So we figure it was a tuna, and a good sized on.

I made made mistake “playing” it. There was no play involved, my arms and back were burning and I was breathing hard, fighting for every inch of line. At this point I knew it was too big to keep, too big for us even to get up in the boat, most likely. But I didn’t want to lose my line or if possible, my favorite cedar plug. And I wanted to see it and get a picture. So I fought it.

I’m not good at handling drag, not with big fish. And I must have left the drag on too hard as the fish slowed down. Because when it rallied and ran, the shock snapped the mono line out near the fish, a few feet above the nylon leader.

Probably for the best. The temptation to boat it would have been huge, and if I was to let it go I didn’t want to hurt it. It cost me a cedar plug lure, a few bits of fishing hardware and some line. And some pretty sore arms.

I wish we’d gotten a look at it, though.

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Day 3 to Australia

Skipped a day. My bad. Or blame the Stugeron; this trip it seemed to affect me like it never had and I spent the bulk of the first two days either sleeping, feeling sleepy, or blinking stupidly.

It’s been a delightfully uneventful trip. We love uneventful. The best passage is a dull passage. Good breeze, mild seas, clear weather. About as exciting to read about as a visit to your dentist for a routine cleaning. We’re good with that.

We’ve been on port tack since leaving and have been sailing the whole way, which is nice. This morning at sunrise we jibed over to starboard. The winds had shifted from Southeasterly at the start of the trip, through East and are now from the Northeast. Our weather model has them continuing to shift to the left (counterclockwise on the compass) until the move North. They they are supposed to fade, which is a bummer.

As of now we expect to arrive during daylight on Tuesday the 13th, after motoring for the last 24 hours or so of the trip. Too bad at the motoring, but it beats getting your butt kicked in big breeze.

So Kathy’s making bread, the sun is up and the handline is set for the day in hopes of some fresh fish. Another day on the water…and I’m back to bed after catching my communications window.

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Day One to Australia

This will be a brief update, as it’s been an uneventful trip, so far. That is always a good thing.

We finally got clear of Noumea and on our way at 1:40pm on Thursday. Our first 24-hour distance check came in at 197.4 miles. Will was right, we should have put the stay sail up earlier.

Conditions have been good. Breezy, with 20-25 knots from the Southeast. But that was anticipated. Sailing to Australia that puts us on a beam to broad reach, which is right in Evenstar’s sweet spot. So we’ve been pretty fast.

Back at Isle des Pins we too a morning to tune the rig, and a day or so to clean the bottom. It has paid off.

There’s not much more to add. Ou estimated arrival in Brisbane is later Monday or early Tuesday. Again the “no strange harbors at night” rule applies, so if we get in too late Monday we’ll stand off shore and come in when it’s light.

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St. Vincent’s Bay – New Caledonia

North of Nouméa lies Baie St. Vincent, a collection of islands and coves within a day’s sail. As we were to find out, most of the islands inside the bay are rocky and rough – more reminiscent of Maine than the South Pacific. But one of the islands outside the bay is one of the nicest places we’ve visited, here or anywhere else. Of course, we took two days to get there anyway, since we started late.

Baie Maa

Our first stop was a one night only layover. A pretty place, like everywhere here seems to be, just out of sight of Noumea. The glow from the small city was still slightly visible in the sky.

There was little there but a few boats, like us on a one night stop on the way to someplace else. It’s still a beautiful spot, and Kathy and the kids decided to take a quick trip ashore before sunset while I waited out the anchor watch on board (it is our standard practice to wait at least one hour after anchoring before leaving the boat completely, to ensure all is well and set properly).

Baie de Moustiques

If you speak French, you know what is coming. A ‘moustique’ is a mosquito. Our first stop in St. Vincent’s Bay. The cruising guide we have says it’s a misnomer, but Danielle did complain of seeing one. “Baie de Moustiques” does sound much more romantic and pleasant than “Mosquito Bay”.

It’s another place which is very quiet with little human presence. On shore there were dozens of horses and goat, but no sign of people moving around in spite of two visible encampments/housing sites. We didn’t go ashore since we weren’t sure of the property situation and didn’t want to trespass or alarm the horses.

Kathy and Will took a sail in the Pudgy to visit a nearby island, but had a disappointing visit. The beach, which looked sandy from a distance, was rocky and the approach was tough and they made a rough landing on the beach. The grasses and vines on the island were so high and thick they could not climb to the summit of the small hill for pictures. It was a short, wet trip, and we decided to move on from Mosquito Bay the next day.

Baie de Pritzbuer

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Balbuzard.

Don’t ask me where they get the names. Our next destination was only about two miles from Baie de Moustiques as the Balbuzard flies (a New Caledonian subspecies of what we call an Osprey) it was a longer trip for us as we had to sail around several islands and avoid a narrow pass. The pass would have been shorter, and we could do it in the dinghy. But with a ten foot charted depth we tend to avoid places like that if we can. The trip around was about eight miles, and took us past the tantalizing Il Ténia (literally “Tapeworm Island”) on the way.

Pritzbuer Bay lies between the main island of New Caledonia, and two smaller islands – Ile Puen and Ile Leprédour. Ile Puen is privately owned and you must seek permission to land. It looks like a lovely spot, but we didn’t approach. Ile Leprédour is a nature preserve, and landing is strictly prohibited.

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The approach behind Ile Puen

It’s a gorgeous spot, but left us puzzled about how to get off the boat and explore. A boat ramp on the mainland looked promising, and there was a dock further off but it appeared private. But all there appeared to be on the mainland side was a road, with a rumor of a village nearby. A village…may or may not be useful. But we found other diversions anyway.

One of our first excursions on arriving was to head to the ramp to beach the dinghy, flip it over, and clean the bottom.  We’d accumulated way too much marine growth, and the dinghy had become slow and unwieldy, while consuming much more fuel. Cleaning it was a must if we wanted to do any exploring.

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Apply at least three times a day as needed for stress relief.

Several times per day while anchored here we were visited by small pods of dolphins. They’d cruise by the boat, sometimes close enough so the first thing you’d know of them was the sound of their breathing. They were a constant delight to watch, as always.

Ile Leprédour is home to a population of deer and a small flock of Peacocks, of all things. As dusk the deer come out, and watching for them provided lots of amusement and frustration. The deer are tough to spot, but beautiful if you can catch them.

DSCF6965This was a calm, protected and beautiful spot, which made an excellent base of operations for visiting nearby Ile Tenia.

Ile Tenia…is so special it gets it’s own post. So all I can do here is post a teaser or two.

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Ile Ténia from a distance as we sail by the first time. Pictures don’t do the color of the water and sand justice.

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New Caledonia – the Overview

I’ve got a fair amount to say about New Caledonia, but its only weakness is dodgy internet! So I haven’t really been able to make updates easily. And pictures may be light. But for now, we’re in one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever visited and the internet is better in the anchorage than it is in the capital. So here are some updates…

We’ve been in New Caledonia a almost two months now, and my strongest reaction is “Why aren’t there more cruisers here?”

So far, to say we love it would be in understatement. Without waxing too effusive, we’re enchanted by the combination of natural beauty and local culture.

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Sunset in Nouméa

New Caledonia is surrounded by one of the world’s largest barrier reefs and is completely enclosed by a coral lagoon. The lagoon itself is protected with many nature preserves, and is uncrowded and clean. The island’s terrain is rugged, like many volcanic islands in the Ring of Fire, but is also lush and rife with birds, flowers, and life. Outside the city of Nouméa, surrounding the city and even visible from within it, are gorgeous green mountains, beautiful landscapes, and sparkling waters. Every night’s sunset is a beauty contest with the last, and the light pollution is so low outside of town that every starry night’s display is breathtaking. In the lagoon we’ve seen whales, dolphins, fish, birds, and dugongs. The snorkeling is fantastic and the beaches are gorgeous soft white sand.

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Culturally, the island is French, with a mix of Melansian and Kanak culture. French culture dominates the food and language. At least three Boulangeries/Patisseries are within easy walk of the dinghy dock; there are several others in town. A fourth rumored to be a longer walk, but there’s a hill in the way and the first three are so good, we’ve got a dominant sense of “why bother” since we’ve scientifically tested the three that our easiest to reach and found our favorites. The predominant language is French, and more so than any French territory that we’ve visited, people prefer it, and fewer people seem comfortable with using English.

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We let this guy go since we already had some tuna in the fridge for dinner.

There’s a market right at the town dock that’s open every morning but Monday, with fresh fruit, vegetables, and other delights, and a fish market that provides a wide array of local catches. We’ve become partial to the Thon Blanc there (white tuna, what we’d call Albacore) which is half the cost of the yellowfin at about 1300cpf (currently the US D dollar is strong at about 105cpf or “Pacific Francs” to the dollar, so that’s about $5.00/pound for fresh caught Albacore).  Though the Thon Jaune isn’t a bad deal either, at a little over $10.00/pound. Interestingly, pelagic open ocean fish like Tuna, Mahi Mahi and Wahoo come into the lagoon as if it were open ocean, and can be caught very close to Nouméa. We hooked a Wahoo within view of the city, so the fish is coming pretty fresh. We’ve become much more aggressive and hopeful for a tuna while fishing, and now generally have a line in the water as soon as we’re clear of boat traffic.

The city has several supermarkets, with a full range of French cheeses, and many things are inexpensive (relative to New Zealand, especially) and good wines, various French products we’ve come to like, and a decent selection of meats and frozen foods. The fresh vegetables in the grocery stores are the only real weak point – both expensive and generally poor quality, but we have to walk through the local market to get to the grocery stores, so that’s not generally a problem.

To the detriment of our waistlines we’ve resumed our addiction to the Boulangeries and Patisseries that so delighted us in other French countries.

These are clearly the low calorie version of the Aux Delices de Noumea desserts.

These are clearly the low calorie versions of the Aux Delices de Noumea desserts.

With three in easy walk, when we’re in town it’s easy to get our fix for baguettes, Pain au Chocolat, and other stand-bys. We’ve been meticulous in our studies of these places, and have determined that our favorite is Les Petites Choux (“The Little Cabbages”; Petite Chou is a French pet name for a loved one) for breakfast patisseries (beignets, or French donuts, that are different from the usual Patisserie offering and to die for), though Au Vieux Paris (“In/of/for Old Paris”) edges everyone on éclairs and some desserts to die for, and Aux Delices de Noumea (“The Delicacies/Treats of Nouméa”) reliably has the best baguettes and finishes very strong in the dessert division. But any one of them would suffice if the others didn’t exist, and if one is closed our out of stock the degree of difference between the quality is slight. We all agree that had we found only any ONE of these places in a town we’d have been perfectly content. But then again, we’ve only met one French bakery we didn’t like and have loved most of them.

The saving grace though is that we’re doing a lot more walking.

Did I forget to mention the spectacular sunsets?

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Nous Sommes Arriv!

We’re anchored in Nouméa, though we’ve not cleared in yet.

Making the move to the alternate path in was the right move, and it got us to Nouméa just before sunset so we could anchor safely. The last 60 miles or so was motor sailing inside the reef for maximum speed so we could make the anchorage before dark.

We’ve no regular internet yet. The only service that would let me sign up wants a local Nouméa cell phone number, go figure. So for now, this is the update you get.

It’s lovely here, as expected, and we’re looking forward to clearing in tomorrow and exploring the town.

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Day Five to New Cal

Fortunately, the wind has stayed as predicted. Though a bit stronger than the GRIB model which predicted ESE winds at 16-18 knots. We’ve been seeing more like 22-28 today. The wind has moved more to the East, which works well for us since we are now sailing almost directly at our next waypoint for maybe the first time all trip.

It helps that we moved our waypoint…

Our original plotted course had us entering the Passers De Boulari, which is a series of three breaks in the barrier reefs on the the Southwest side of New Caledonia. It has the advantage of being the closest reef passes to the city of Nouméa, the capital and where all yachts must go to clear into the country.

Looking at our constant inability to go West without also going no North at all, or even slightly South because of the wind, another way occurred to me. On the Southeast corner of New Caledonia is the Ile des Pines, which is on a largish bay surrounded by coral reefs. To the west of the bay is an uncharted area we wouldn’t try to go through, but the bay narrows down to a well charted and marked series of passes that we could follow through to reach Nouméa going inside the barrier reef.

So this is how we’re doing it. It saves us the trouble of sailing another 80 miles or so Westward to get around the uncharted reefs at the Southwest end of the island, and makes the route shorter.

Currently we expect to hit the the opening of the bay near Ile des Pines somewhere around 6:00 to 7:00 in the morning. I’ll slow us down at night if it puts use there before that. I have ZERO interest in being anywhere near any reefs whatsoever before daylight. As of this writing Ile des Pines is 109 miles away, and we’re averaging eight knots, and it’s about 6:00 p.m. So that’s about 13.5 hours to get there. From that point it’s still another fifty-sixty miles of traveling inside the barrier reef to get to Nouméa. We expect that will be in protected flat waters, and barring any bad currents should run another eight hours or so, putting us in Nouméa in the late afternoon. Probably too late to clear in tomorrow, but we’re not unhappy to spend the night sleeping flat, showered, and cleaned up before checking in.

With the increased winds we have been faster today, though the waves have been more confused since the longer swell that was coming in from the West was mixing it up with the wind blow waves from the SE trades. It’s settling down now, and we hope for a quiet evening…if not too fast!

If I put another update out tomorrow it will be brief as we decompress from the trip. It will have taken us a day longer than we hoped, but given the amount of sailing versus motoring we’ve done so far that’s not bad.

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Things Falling off the Boat – Day 4 to New Cal

This seems to be the trip to find things that are vibrating apart or open.

Yesterday we had the tack shackle come off the head sail. Today we discovered that the bolt that holds the Radar mount to the deck had worked loose. Fortunately, it too was found on the deck along with it’s nuts and washers, and we were able to reinstall it. With Loctite, this time, even though it had a Nylock nut on it

And later, the shackle that held the topping lift to the book worked open. For the third time we were also lucky; the shackle loop was still in the topping lift, and we found the pin on the deck.

Still no fish today, though the water and the air are getting water.

The wind conditions are similar, 15-20 SE winds, which leave us zigging and zagging back and forth to sail dead down wind. We have more North to go that West, still. So we’re staying on Starboard tack and hoping for a shift to the East.

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