Passage to Australia – part 3

By noon Sunday (27 October) we had covered another 125.9 miles towards our destination.   The wind had completely died (less than 2 knots recorded) and we were motoring along on a flat calm sea on a hot and sunny day.   The temperature had definitely increased as we get closer to Australia so we are both happy sailing along in shorts and t-shorts once again.   We had officially crossed into Australian waters during the day but still no other boats around that we can see either by sight or on radar although we know, from the SSB net, there are at least five yachts en route to the same port as us, Bundaberg. Richard fished all day again but nothing came close other than a couple of curious sea birds who hovered over the lures bobbing along the surface behind us.

During the day we continued reading the Rally documents aimed at facilitating our arrival into Australia.   One thing that we hadn’t noticed was the need to clean all shoes to ensure that there was no foreign soil on them.   So I got the shoe box into the cockpit and gave them all a clean and polish….kept me out of trouble for a while.

Later on, after the net, we had dinner and for the first time ever on passage we actually sat at the cockpit table to eat from plates with knives and forks rather than from a bowl in the lap.   Was very nice….

During another dark starry night the wind picked up a little so we pulled out the genoa again to try to increase our speed as we were now experiencing adverse currents.   By 6am on Monday (28 October) the wind has gone forward of the beam so we got all three sails out to try to maintain our speed.   We continued motor sailing though as the airs remained light at only 7 knots.    That worked for a short period but then the wind switched to the west and died again.

By 10 am we were motoring with just the main up and the fishing rod was deployed.  By noon we had picked up a positive current and were speeding along at 6.5 knots with very low RPMs.   Our next 24 hour period saw us covering 133.8 miles.   The main eventually started flapping in the light airs so that came down again.

By the time the sun was going down we were officially in Australian waters, approaching the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Reserve.   So no fishing from here….so sadly Richard had to retire his fishing lures for this trip.   No fish landed just one little fishy nibble and that was it.    We were now in a shipping lane and saw three large ships going north all in very close proximity.   MV Romi crossed our bows around three miles ahead whilst the other two went behind our stern.

At 9pm we were motor sailing with the genoa up in very light airs.   All SSB net boats reported the same conditions, including those on their way to New Zealand, so there doesn’t look like there will be much wind any time soon.  Despite the 10 knot forecast…..   

We motored all night across a glassy sea and it felt more like being on a lake than being in the ocean out of sight of land!   All very strange.   By 6am on Tuesday (29 October) we were approaching Fraser Island (not that we could see anything) and the wind finally picked up.   By 9 am the engine was off – having been on for 48 hours – and we were sailing again.   Woo hoo!   The seas were lumpy and we were bouncing around but we didn’t care.

By 10am we were sailing towards the port of Bundaberg, our destination.   We hope to arrive there later this afternoon so this will be the last passage blog.   We are excited to be arriving into Australia and look forward to getting cleared and being made legal.   We are ready for the officials to come onboard and do their thing and we have certainly prepared like we have never prepared before.   So fingers crossed it will all go smoothly.   Will be in touch when we get back on line.

Bye for now

Passage to Australia – part 2

By noon on Friday (25 October) it was a beautiful bright and sunny day.   The seas had settled down to a gentle 1.5m swell and the wind had eased to between 10-14 knots.   It was just a stunning (albeit chilly) day in the most perfect conditions with blue skies and deep navy blue seas.  In the second 24 hour period of this passage we had covered another 129.4 miles.   

At 6pm the sun went down and the conditions remained the same.   It was another black night with no moon but, instead, we were mesmerised by the fantastic show that are the planets and the stars.   The Milky Way was very apparent and we are always in awe of the beauty of nature on a night like this.  It is interesting to the constellations as they are different to what we can see at home in the Northern Hemisphere.

During the night the conditions were fickle with higher gusts again and strong currents requiring us to change course to stay moving in a straight line.   By 3am on Saturday (26 October) the wind had swung north easterly, so we gybed.   Then within an hour it had gone south easterly again so we gybed back.   That will teach me to say earlier that we wouldn’t  have to do much to the sails once set LOL.

The sun came up in an amazing colour show and the day was another beautiful sunny one.   Richard threw out the lures and was hopeful for a fish.  By noon we had covered another 129.5 miles so, again, making steady progress.   At this point the wind dropped back to around 6 knots which is really light for us as we are such a heavy boat.   So we poled out the Genoa and then the main and were sailing along slowly wing-on-wing.   We kept our speed up around the 4.5 knots region so actually pretty happy.   By 5pm, however, the wind eased even more and we struggled to keep both sails full.   So we left the poled-out Genoa but put the mainsail away.   At 5pm we motor sailed to top up our batteries for a couple of hours then turned the engine off at 7pm.   We continued to slowly sail towards our destination.   As we went into our night shifts, having eaten dinner and witnessed another lovely sunset, we were maintaining speed despite the light airs.   We also pulled our lure back onboard – no fish again today. 

Each afternoon Richard is participating in the SSB Offshore Pacific Cruisers net to find out how other yachts are faring.    There is currently an exodus from the Pacific Islands heading to both Australia and New Zealand to seek shelter before the cyclone season starts officially on 1 November (although many stay much later as there is little danger very early in the season).   Most of us, however, are driven by the restrictions in our respective insurance policies.  Those behind us are experiencing strong winds and those ahead of us are motoring with no wind at all.    The forecast, again, is pretty accurate.

During the evening we continued sailing in light airs.   At 11.30 pm we motor sailed for an hour to top up our batteries again and were also assisted by a positive current.   At 12.30 am, when it was time to switch off the engine the wind had died back to 4 knots so we admitted defeat and continued motor sailing with the poled-out Genoa.  Again another dark night as Mr Moon is not putting in an appearance until around 3am.    There was some cloud cover so not such a great starry night but I was kept entranced by the glittering show of the phosphorescence in the water behind our stern.

This morning, Sunday (27 October) and the wind has died completely so we are now motoring  under bare poles.   Looks like that will be it for the day.   So far no large sea creatures have been spotted but, now that we are within Australian waters (with just over 300 miles to go) we are ever hopeful of seeing dolphins or even whales (although a big late in the season for them).   So far all we have seen are flying fish who skim across the top of the water trying to escape from us as we plow on through.

Bye for now

Passage to Australia – part 1

At 10am on Wednesday 23 October we left our slip in Port Moselle marina, Noumea, New Caledonia, and headed to the fuel dock.  There was already a yacht on it so we went around in circles for a while but the remaining gap was constantly being filled by speedy motor boats sneaking in.   Eventually we made our move to get in behind SV Blithe Spirit.   When we got closer we were pushed on by the increasing wind and became pinned.    And, of course, that end of the dock only had petrol.   So we waited for SV Blithe Spirit to depart and then ‘walked’ Morphie along to the diesel station from above.   And I mean from above as we had to climb a ladder in the dock’s wall to get up there LOL

Finally we were tied in the right place and quickly filled up our diesel tank and a few spare jugs with 170L of duty-free fuel.  Then it was our turn to get off the dock.   Thankfully, unlike the yacht before who had smacked their transom in the manoeuvre, we successfully pivoted off the dock using our bow thrusters and were free (unharmed) and on our way to Australia.

By noon we were heading towards the Passe de Dumbae, the main shipping channel.   We were overtaken by a pilot boat who met a bulk carrier who had already crossed our bow.   We weren’t quite sure what was going on and assumed the ship would turn towards us to enter the port so we stayed close to the edge of the channel to pass port to port.   But he kept on going out to sea so clearly the pilot was being picked up rather being dropped off.   Was all a bit confusing for a while…..

The seas were quite large even inside the lagoon’s fringing reef so we knew we were in for a bumpy ride.    As we came through the reef, we left the channel behind and turned towards our next waypoint (over 700 miles away), the seas were boisterous at 2.5m and the wind was between 18-25 knots with higher gusts.   It was cloudy and grey and we settled into our passage routines.    It was pretty sporty to say the least LOL as we sailed along downwind under the Genoa alone.   It was definitely like being in a washing machine down below!

By 6pm we had eaten and it was time for my first solo watch so I watched the sun go down.   It was a very dark, chilly, cloudy, bumpy night with few stars peeking through and the moon only made an appearance briefly in Richard’s early morning shift.    For a few hours during the night we got some respite when the winds moderated and the seas smoothed but it all picked up again as the sun rose and we were back bouncing around being picked up and surfing down waves or being slammed on our port quarter.   But, despite the conditions, we were enjoying ourselves although sleep was a little elusive.

Thursday 24 October the conditions remained the same for most of the day with brief periods of lighter winds.   By noon we had completed our first 24 hours at sea and had covered 133 miles.   By 4pm the winds had settled back into the 15 knot region and the seas were at 1.5m and less confused so conditions were much more comfortable.   The sun went down with a beautiful display of colours and then, again, it turned into a pitch black night.  By midnight some stars were trying to show themselves through as the cloud cover started to lessen.  We had light airs for a while during the night so we both slept well between shifts and, at this early stage of the passage, we were not concerned by our hull speed.

By 6am on Friday 25 October the winds had picked up, they had switched to ESE (which was a better angle for our course) and we flew along at 7 knots for a while.   But, of course, this was short lived and, come 7am, the winds had settled back to the 15-18 range so our boat speed fell back again.

Normally, on passage, we focus on speed and this one is no different.   However, there is so far to go at this stage we will just sail the best course until we get closer when we can recalculate our required speed to facilitate a daylight arrival.  It does feel strange though that, apart from reefing if the weather deteriorates and easing/hardening according to the wind direction, we will probably not touch the sails for hundreds of miles…..    Now I’ve said that, of course, it will probably blow from a different direction and cause us to gybe.   But, right now, surprise, surprise, the conditions actually match the forecast!!!   

Bye for now

Passage to Vanuatu – part 2

Sunday (11 August) continued to be benign with very light wind conditions so we motor sailed all day.  The sea continued to flatten and we made the most of the near-perfect conditions so had lovely hot showers and well as making water.   We were ever hopeful that the wind would pick up but, by 5.30 pm, it had disappeared altogether.   Sails were flapping so we went into our night shifts motoring under bare poles.   Calm and steady conditions meant for a good night especially with a huge moon although cloud cover kept the stars hidden from sight.   No ships were sighted at all.

Monday (12 August) was another beautiful day.   At 6am the wind changed direction and started filling in.   By 8 am the engine was off and we were sailing on a beam reach at 4.5 knots in 9 knots of breeze.   The swell was less than 1m and the seas were pretty flat.   This is about as good as it gets!   Blue skies on a sunny day with the deep blue ocean sparkling all around us.  Fantastic.

In these conditions we were on schedule for a Wednesday arrival as we had planned.  Two other boats, who left Fiji a couple of hours ahead of us, are pushing harder so will arrive on Tuesday.   They also had the advantage of motor sailing on Saturday night when we had to rely on sail power alone, so they pulled away from us as we were going so slowly.   We are, for the first time, participating in a SSB Pacific cruisers net each day at 8.00 and 17.30 reporting our position so we are aware of those around us.   We are happy to just plod along with the wind so long as we are making way in the right direction.

By lunchtime the wind had picked up to 13 knots and we had the most perfect sail doing 6 knots on a beam reach.  Thoroughly enjoyed it.   As had happened the day before, around 5.30 pm, the wind died completely.   So it was back to motor sailing throughout the night – good job we got diesel in Fiji!   The seas picked up a bit too for some reason so it did get a bit rolly again for a while.

Overnight we had a close encounter with a large motor vessel who was not a pleasure boat or a cargo ship.   He did not have AIS but we picked him up on radar and eyeballed his progress as he slowly passed behind our stern.   As we are nearing the islands of Vanuatu and its territorial waters we wondered whether he might have been a coastguard cutter as we know they are actively watching boat traffic to ensure that people abide by the regulations – boats that stop in non-designated ports of entry before checking in are treating as potential drug or people traffickers with heavy penalties for non-compliance.

This morning, Tuesday (13 August) and we still have no wind but the sea state is increasing with a short interval between waves making it pretty rolly.   At 10.15 we still have no wind – although boats ahead of us are reporting 18 knots (which is actually forecast).   We have just recalculated the remainder of our passage so have slowed back down to 4.5 knots as that is the maximum speed we need to arrive into Port Vila by 9am local time (which is one hour behind Fiji).   We are expecting feisty conditions later today so anticipate sailing slowly and steadily through it – we just hope we can keep our speed down LOL.

Bye for now


Passage to Vanuatu – part 1

We finally slipped away from Vuda Marina, Fiji, at around 14.15 on Friday 10 August bound for Vanuatu. We wouldn’t usually leave on a Friday (superstition and all that) but this is a tricky distance. It is 545 miles to Port Vila on the island of Efate, assuming you could sail directly in the direction you want to go. That equates to four and a half days at our usual cruising speed of 5 knots. We want to avoid arriving at night (so we may need to slow down as we get closer); we do not want to check in at a weekend (lots of customs overtime fees); we need to get there before Thursday which is a public holiday (more fees); and we want to make the most of this benign weather window. So practicalities won over superstition in the decision-making process.

The sea was flat and the sky was blue but the minimal forecast wind was on our nose as expected. We motored down the coast towards the main shipping channel – the Navula passage – hoping to get through before dusk. We arrived into the cut as the sun was going down and we watched a spectacular sunset along with a green flash. Woo hoo.

As we moved away from Fiji, Richard retired and I did the first watch. The (almost full) moon showed me the way and the conditions were great with moderate airs and flat seas and we were sailing nicely along on a reach at five+ knots. Richard stood the next watch and came across two large fishing boats. Then I took the midnight to 3am shift and spotted lights to port. There was no AIS signal so I checked the radar and acquired the target. As I closed in on the vessel the AIS signal finally appeared and the large Chinese ship travelling at 5 knots was on a collision course with us. I left it a while to see if he would change course but nothing apparent so I radioed Yuan Wang 5. Main questions: are you a fishing vessel? Do you have lines or nets? No reply. Eventually they responded and it turns out he was a 722 foot cargo ship and wants to know my intention. So I told him I would pass behind his stern and turned 20 degrees to port. He replied that he was going to hold his position and speed so all was well. Once he was comfortable with our courses and relative positions he decided to have a chat – amazed we were sailing – apparently we are so very brave LOL. As I passed his stern he turned and ran parallel for a while then crossed a couple of miles behind my stern, so it would appear he was going around in circles for some reason.

By the time we had swapped shifts again we were sailing along in about 14 knots of breeze running downwind. The sea state, however, had deteriorated as the wind swung behind us and it was very rocky and rolly. Richard had a large gin palace come close by on his shift and by the time we saw the sun come up there has been another couple of tankers. Wasn’t really expecting quite so much traffic on this route.

Saturday 11 August the sun came up and it was turning into another lovely day.

There were lots of birds of paradise flying around us and we enjoyed being at sea again – just wish it would stop rolling! During the day the wind decreased and Richard decided to start fishing…..and, within half an hour, he had caught a lovely little tuna which he promptly gutted and filleted with the fillets going into the freezer. Lots of clearing up to do so he decided one fish a day was enough LOL.

Later on, just after we had eaten dinner, we decided to run our engine to charge the batteries. Almost immediately water stopped coming out the stern. Bloody hell – not again! We have spent two months in Fiji without any problems since the engine was serviced and the system was thoroughly checked out on our arrival. But nothing we can do in the hours of darkness when the engine is too hot to work on. So we went into our normal shift patterns overnight and used the portable generator to top up the batteries.

This morning, Sunday, 12 August and we were sailing slowly downwind only managing 3.5 knots speed over ground in 8 knots of breeze. Richard had his head down the hole taking the engine apart while I stayed in the cockpit keeping the boat moving forward. Thankfully the sea state had reduced with only about a 1.5m swell right now.

Within half an hour Richard had identified and fixed a water leak as it came into the system; had removed and reinstalled the impeller (just in case) and topped up the oil and tightened the fan belt (while he was there). We cautiously started the engine and voila she started first time, good water flow out the back, and we are back in business. Phew!

The wind reduced to 6 knots so we are now gently motor sailing towards our destination (only 339 miles to go). All is well on the good ship Morpheus.

Bye for now