Passage to New Caledonia

September 12, 2009

 We arrived safely in New Caledonia yesterday, September 11th, after a 40 hour sail from Vanuatu. As with practically all of our long distance sailing, we paid careful attention to weather forecasts in advance, in order to have as easy a trip as possible… and as often occurs, the weather forecasts just were not right. It is very difficult to forecast weather around here , and all of the islands seem to have their own little weather systems that just can’t be predicted. Our sail from Vanuatu to New Caledonia was approximately 300 miles and pretty much in a direction due south. The weather forecast was for two full days of strong, but steady winds from the east and swells of 2 meters, diminishing as we went. A little swing of wind direction from the northeast was even predicted for the second day. This is about the best weather forecast you could ask for to sail south.

 We left Vanuatu at 4:00 p.m on Friday, heading out of Port Vila harbor with our friends Intiaq just behind us. It was absolutely gorgeous out and our first night was moon-lit with moderate seas and good winds from the east. By Saturday morning the skies had completely clouded up and the seas got rougher. By noon the winds started coming more out of the south than the east, which made our progress south more difficult. A large squall blew up and for a couple of hours we had torrential rain and rough seas and winds blowing at more than 30 knots. Not a pretty picture at all. Our friends on Intiaq were about 8 miles ahead of us by this time.

 The winds and swells continued to be much higher than predicted for the rest of the day. By about 9:00 p.m. we sailed past Lifou , one of the Loyalty Islands (part of New Caledonia). We would have liked to stop at Lifou, but since it was already dark, and all of the anchorages were on the opposite side of the island from where we were, we continued on through the 2nd night. Fortunately the seas calmed down a lot from then on, and it became more pleasant. The moon came out of the clouds and lit up the ocean like a spotlight. We had to motorsail most of the night in order to make headway, but it was not choppy or too difficult. By early morning the wind had come up from the north and we had an easy sail the rest of the way,

 By 9 am we were at Passe de Havannah, the channel that leads into the large lagoon of Grand Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. (The lagoon is enormous, with numerous large and small islands scattered throughout it. It is 350 miles at its longest and 35 miles across!) At Passe de Havannah you can have current,wind and waves going against you if you time it wrong- and it can be almost unpassable, with a huge steep chop. We had worked hard, however, to keep up our speed on the passage in order to time our arrival so that we would have the current flowing with us – and with the wind now at our back, our pass through the canal could not have been smoother. We arrived at the same time as Intiaq, who with their 47 foot catamaran, sail faster than us, but who had slowed down to time their arrival for maximum ease of entry. Together we headed to Baie du Prony to drop anchor and rest up for a few days before proceeding to Noumea to check in.

 There are several different spots in Baie du Prony where you can anchor, and it turns out that none of them were suitable for us. The first one we stopped at had good protection from the wind, but the bottom was so full of broken coral that you could not dig your anchor in. When we first tried anchoring there we found that we were not holding well – the anchor just slipping along the bottom of the bay rather than digging in firmly. When we pulled up the anchor we found a HUGE piece of coral just stuck into the anchor and we could not get it off. It had gotten impaled by the anchor. Our friends helped us by hopping into their dinghy and then coming over to us with a rope and some strong hands to help pry the thing off. We retried anchoring twice more – but it was futile. We attempted another anchorage spot in the bay and found that it had good holding (sand, not coral), but it put us too close to shore to be safe.

 We all decided to move a few miles away to another anchorage where there was supposed to be lots of space, no coral, and nice, thick, clay-like bottom to dig your anchor into. Thank goodness we moved, for the anchorage we are currently in is very good. We are at Baie Ire, on the northwest corner of Ile Ouen, just off of Canal (channel) Wooden. The wind picked up and switched around to the south-southwest, and it is blowing like the dickens out there. If we had stayed in the other anchorages, with poor holding, we would most likely have dragged to shore during the night.

 We went to bed very early last night and woke up with the wind howling and the boat bouncing around a lot. One more anchorage change to the other side of the bay at 6:30 a.m., and we are finally feeling comfortable. It is nice to be here – the wind is blowing hard, but the sun is shining, and we are looking forward to eating lunch onboard Intiaq in a few hours. Phew!


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