New Caledonia to Australia

Category: Ships Log
  NewCal2Aus00 sunset 150x  

November 6th - November 16th

Great snorkel, sea turtles, good sail, no wind, no engine, tacking in narrow channel, Bundaberg, imprisioned on our boat

We approached the mooring ball behind the island Ilot Maitre very slowly and carefully. The water was shallow 12ft (4m) and a few coral heads were scattered in between. However, the main reason for our careful approach was the mooring ball was being guarded by two adult sea turtles. Eventually they decided to notice us and dove away, letting us have the mooring. Now we were tucked away behind Ilot Maitre, had a reef nearby to snorkel, and could relax while the afternoon wind built up. New Caledonia is a strange place. Most days during our time here, the wind picks up in the morning and blows with gusts over 25kts for the entire day until evening, when it dies down a few hours after sunset. The question the locals seem to ask here when they wake up in the morning is not, will it be windy, but rather from which direction will the wind blow today? The windmills on the surrounding hillsides and the gazillions of kiteboarders and windsurfers help confirm this idea. On the plus side Grand Terre, the main island of New Caledonia, is surrounded by the largest lagoon in the world which means all the large ocean swells are kept out. This makes for a smoother ride, well except for the wind and the resulting wind waves.


NewCal2Aus01 Ilot Maitre bungalowsBEST 750x
Ilot Maitre with it's over water bungalows and pristine protected reef


Shortly after arriving, we slipped into our shorty wetsuits and jumped into the water for a snorkel. Well, Alena jumped in first and screamed "Brrr, this is like ice water!" I had pretty much the same sensation when I followed her lead. It made sense, we were used to warm tropical water close to 80F (27C) and our water temperature gage read only 72F (22C) today. Seems we will have a hard time adjusting our spoiled bodies to lower water temperatures again. But then this is maybe the last snorkel for a while since, according to some people, the waters in Australia are stuffed with highly toxic animals such as box jellyfish and snakes. And if you are lucky and escape those you will get munched up by a saltwater crocodile or shark. So we decided to enjoy our snorkel here. The first thing we noticed was that the fish were much larger compared to those we had seen in other reefs in the South Pacific most likely because the island is a marine protected area. Gigantic batfish, huge groupers and large triggerfish were swimming between the coral heads. The highlight, however, were the sea turtles. Alena and I both had a close encounter with different turtles and got some good photos since they didn't seem too concerned by the presence of humans.


NewCal2Aus03 Snapper
A large snapper knows he is protected.


NewCal2Aus02 Ilot Maitre seasnake
A seasnake doesn't care if she is protected, being poisonouss makes life so much easier.

NewCal2Aus04 Ilot Maitre GreenTurtle
A Green sea turtle, relaxing in the marine protected area.


Although the snorkeling was great, we didn't last too long in the water before we were both pretty chilled. Alena prepared a good cruisers dinner of chicken sausages, mashed potatoes and green beans to warm us up and soon after we went to bed to get an early morning start for our passage to Australia the next day. Well, we left at 8:15am (which is pretty early for us) and motor sailed through the huge lagoon towards Dumbea pass. Although there was an outgoing tide going against 15-20 kts of SE wind there were no standing waves and just a little bit of choppy sea when we exited through the pass. In the afternoon the wind increased to over 20kt and then the clouds came. First some gray rain clouds appeared and later at night black scary ones which brought thunder and lightning. We changed course to sail a little bit further north since all the nasty stuff seemed to come from the south, and luckily no lightning hit Green Panther. The following days were sunny with almost no wind in the morning and then 15-20 kts in the afternoon and evening, not too bad. However, on day 5 the wind decided to go on holiday and we were bobbing around in the swell. We started our diesel engine and happily continued on our way, motoring towards Australia. The swell was 2 meters and below, so we could use our wheel pilot. I replaced the worn out drive belt in Noumea and it works so much better now, keeping us on course while we read, listen to music and audio books, or watch movies.

NewCal2Aus06 Bunda 03 moon
Life is good on board. There is even a full moon to light up the dark nights.


We even managed to run our watermaker, which only works if the sea is not too rough because it sucks in air otherwise, and we celebrated this by taking a shower in the cockpit. Life was good. Well at least until a strange noise started coming from the engine room. When we lifted the companionway stairs we saw black smoke rising out of the engine compartment, usually not a good sign, so we shut her off immediately. Upon inspection I found the engine belt had disintegrated. Threads of rubber were all over the place and we could see where the belt had chafed on the engine housing after it got loose, most likely producing the black smoke. Getting a spare engine belt was on our "to do" list in New Caledonia, but we didn't make it that far down the list before we left. Our first idea of using nylons as a temporary belt was quickly abandoned when we realized Alena hadn't brought any along on this trip. We decided to try and make it under sail alone. The problem was the winds were very light, so we deployed the genoa on a pole, eased the main out all the way and sailed wing on wing towards Australia with a whooping speed of 1.5 to 2 kts the first day without a motor.


NewCal2Aus05 Bunda 04 wing on wing sailing 700x
Wing on wing sailing under light winds and 1-2m swell. The sails had a hard time but we kept moving west.

NewCal2Aus07 YellowFinTuna
We were so slow the yellow fin tunas swam circles around us.


We quickly realized we wouldn't make it to Australia before the weekend, which meant an additional 300$ AUS in overtime custom fees. Going even slower to arrive there on Monday was not an option because bad weather was predicted to hit the Australian coast by Saturday afternoon. So we kept going and the wind finally increased to push us into Hervey Bay late Friday night at a smoking 5.0kts. Everything was fine until we reached the long channel marking the entrance to the Burnett River where the Bundaberg Port Marina is located. The wind was blowing from the NW creating about 1m wind waves and we had to go W with a touch of north to maneuver through the 4 mile long channel. The only way we could do this was to tack our way up the channel, which was only about 300ft (100m) wide. We had no idea how deep it was outside the channel markers, plus it was 2am in the morning; not the best combination of facts. We tried it anyway because the weather was predicted to progressively get worse. The tracks on our chart plotter revealed little progress after two hours (we only made about a 500ft gain west after tacking back and forth). The wind waves pushed us SE and the tacks were just too short to really gain some ground.

We became bolder and started tacking outside the channel markers, carefully watching the depth sounder as we left the main channel. As far as a mile out there was still 20-30ft below the boat, so were good. However, our progress towards the river mouth was still painfully slow. As a last resort we set the full 120% genoa (our largest sail) and a reefed main in the 20kt winds with gusts way over 25kts. Green Panther had a lot of weather helm and I needed all my strength to keep her under control while she heeled over and washed her rails in the sea during the gusts. Stuff was flying everywhere in the cabin, but we had more speed now and could make much more progress between tacks. Luckily, we only had one close call where we almost rammed a green marker, a massive steel post. The conversation went like this:
[Chris] "I think we can pass north of this marker."
[Alena] "Really? I think it will be too close, I don't want to hit it."
[Chris] "Seems we still have enough room between us. [A few minutes later] Well, we are getting a bit close now. Do you see the marker? It must be behind the sail. [A few minutes later] Shoot, I don't think we'll make it."
[Alena] "South, south, go south of it!"
[Chris] "Uff that was close."

Anyway we made it into the river mouth and could luckily sail against the weak outgoing current (we missed the high tide by two hours) until we dropped anchor opposite the marina. It was 5am by now and Alena started cleaning up the boat, because we expected customs, immigration, and quarantine to board us later in the morning. We called Marine Rescue Bundaberg on channel 81 as advised and they informed the officials and the marina. In the meantime the wind was picking up with gusts well over 30kts and the original plan to be towed into the marina was dropped due to the high winds. The result was that we were ordered to stay on our boat until Monday when the winds were predicted to calm down enough to get a tow. This was great because we bypassed the additional $300 weekend fee, but also kind of sad because we made it to Australia but were not allowed to step on land. We made the best of it, cleaning the boat a bit more, catching up on sleep, and eating all the remaining fruit, vegetables and meat since quarantine would not allow them into the country. We also managed to access the marina Wifi, so we could catch up on our emails and the news in the world.

NewCal2Aus09 inPrison
If you are imprisioned, your own boat is the best possible place.


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