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Leg 6, 2013 Port Vila, Vanuatu to Noumea, New Caledonia

Sept 20, 2013, 0500 hrs, 18.37 S, 169,02 E, Log: 168,149 miles
Baro: 1016.5, Cabin Temp: 74.1F, cockpit: 73F, seawater: 78F
At anchor, Ponamlas Bay, Erromango Island

Our time between Legs 5 & 6 was excellent. We experienced amazing fine and settled weather and enjoyed a couple days in Port Villa on a Yachting World mooring located off the white sand beach of Iririki Island Resort We even got to watch the kiwi couple on Distracted, the boat moored next to us, get married by a Ni-Vanuatu minister on the beach with family and friends from other yachts.

We spent our mornings running around town which generally culminated in a shopping excursion to the central market or Nambatu (number two in Bislamba) supermarket at the top of town, before stopping by the Waterfront bar to watch the America’s Cup racing.

Upon completing our town errands we headed to the peaceful of Mele Bay anchorage, 12 miles away. This year there was minimum swell and the ICA Rally yachts were not yet in town so we only shared the anchorage with 7 other yachts.

One late morning we made a long (hot) run to The Summit (www.thesummitvanuatu.com), a tropical gardens and café that we had visited last year with Amanda’s parents for tea and cakes. We enjoyed our first visit so much that Amanda did a Galley Essentials feature (posted in July) and I said, “Next year let’s run up here (instead of taking a taxi) and have a relaxing lunch”. We did exactly that and I couldn’t believe that Patricia, the young French woman who owns the restaurant, had laplap, cooked on a wood fire on the menu. Laplap, the traditional national dish of Vanuatu, consists in various root crops (cassava, taro, etc) with chicken or pork and coconut milk on top, which The Summit Café cooked in their wood-fired pizza oven. The result was an incredible fusion of flavors. We wimpted out on the long run back to Mele Bay and accepted an offered ride, but I was still pretty wiped out for the rest of the day.

That evening Wan Smal Bag, a local ni-Van theatre company, was putting on a fire dance at the very cool Mele Bay Beach Bar and Restaurant. We expected 10-15 minutes of Samoan-style twirling fire batons but were astounded by an hour of theatre, fireworks, high wire acts and very creative fire dancing. The theatre group was founded by an English couple who arrived in Vanuatu 20 years ago with nothing but one small bag of costumes to start the first-ever theatre company. The 15 young ni-Van actors invited everyone back several nights later for “a circus” on the same beach. For two hours the audience of locals with their kids, ex-pats and tourists along with their kids and yachties were astounded by dancing, clowns, skits and trapeze work. It was free - they just passed the hat at the end.

All of this was happening during the America’s Cup. With ten NZ yachts anchored in Mele Bay, it didn’t take long before one of them coerced the restaurant/bar owner to open at 7am so we could all watch the Kiwis vs. Oracle on the bar’s wide screen satellite television. You should have heard the collective gasp when Team NZ’s cat came inches from flipping over on the fifth race!

Vanuatu is one of our favorite countries and cruising destinations in the world. An independent nation only for 30 years, it has come a long way from very recent days of cannibalism and basically the Stone Age. Most unforgettable are the ni-Van people; kind, funny, inquisitive, sincere and very honest they are a delight to be around. With the addition of 88 islands, spectacular snorkeling and diving, many active volcanos and great hiking you can see why we like the place so much. Oh, I forgot to mention the inexpensive amazing 3G broadband service throughout much of the country, even in very primitive villages, thanks to Digicell.

We returned to Port Vila a couple days before the start of Leg 6 to complete our provisioning and preparation. Wednesday noon our crew joined us and late that afternoon we set sail for New Caledonia. Well, we looked at the very favorable and slightly unusual weather pattern which was providing moderate E winds instead of the normal fresh SE or SSE gusty trades and decided to see if we could make it back to Potomlas Bay our last anchorage on Erromango, and we did!


As part of deck safety checkout Amanda demonstrates our man overboard Lifesling device to crew
Winds ranged from 17-22 kts and we were able to sail fairly comfortably nearly all the way until running into the wind shadow of Erromango and we dropped anchor just after sunrise yesterday. After Amanda taught rig check and spares, our adventurous crew spent considerable time snorkeling, several saying they’d never seen healthier, more vibrant coral reefs anywhere before.

Last week Amanda came up with the idea of a beach bonfire/barbecue and bought lamb and chicken snarlers (kiwi for sausages) in preparation. Crew were set ashore for a hiking exploration up the river valley while Amanda prepared tons of garlic French bread in foil, made a tasty eggplant ratatouille and sorted out the bangers (English for sausages). A cooking/camp fire ashore was established by crew and what a superb BBQ was had by all and duly noted there were not wild animals growling which had scared Jason, Tom and the rest of our obviously wimpy Leg 5 crew off the beach ten days earlier.


Custom dancing before the banyan tree

Crew gather around the BBQ fire - David, Lucas, Michele, Rick, Megan, Brenda, Brad and Amanda

Rick with an excellent snarler

As part of his daily duty as dinner story teller Lucas tells a haunting tale at sunset

September 23, 2013, 0600 hrs, 22.26S, 166.48E, Log 168,406 miles
At anchor, Port Koube, Ile Ouen, New Caledonia

The morning after the above entry we did a thorough engine room orientation following a snorkel and breakfast then set sail six miles around the NE corner of Erromango to Elizabeth Bay; the site of an abandoned logging operation we’d visited several years ago. We had a great downwind sail and found a very protected (in the current easterly tradewinds) bay with clear water and good snorkeling.


Scouting a suitable anchoring spot at ElizabethBay

Megan setting the anchor snubber

Before dark we set sail for New Caledonia in perfect broad reaching conditions. Our crew couldn’t believe how much more comfortable broad reaching was vs. sailing close hauled into the tradewinds two nights earlier. No one was seasick this time and the full moon made for an amazing night of sailing.


Michele overseas hoisting the main
Navigation duties are undertaken by a different expedition member each day and this 285 mile passage from Vanuatu to Havannah Passage is complicated by the Loyalty Island group, just past the halfway point. We’ve always wanted to visit the Loyalties, but although they are listed as a port of entry, one must fly out customs, immigration and quarantine officials for clearance, making it prohibitively expensive. So we’ve had to be content with dodging the three main islands and dozens of low, small, unlit islets surrounding the Loyalties. Our navigator chose a course that took us through a six mile passage between a lighthouse at the southern tip of Lifou and a group of unlit low, tiny islets which we found, fortunately, all gave good radar returns.

After passing the Loyalties are trades dropped off, the winds became variable, but we managed to keep sailing smoothly until the last 60 miles when a forecasted approaching front brought occasional light drizzle and even lighter winds.


Making the most of the calm conditions crew practice 3-strand splicing

Havannah Pass lies to the south east of Grande Terre Island and is tricky entrance bracketed by reefs and shipwrecks and with currents to five knots can be a nightmare, even for ships if trying to enter it with strong winds opposing maximum ebb current. The pass then leads into the 50 mile long series of channels that lead across the south of Grande Terre to Noumea; the on port of entry for New Caledonia.

We kept our speed down yesterday to around six knots so that it was well after dawn when we arrived at the pass, and not long after slack water. It was slightly hazy and the rugged coastline was beautiful as we passed the southern headlands. Before long winds picked up to 18-20 knots and we were scooting along straight downwind under full mainsail only.


Brenda trims the main as Brad steers course

Michelle and Lucas prepare to shake a reef

Afternoon weather class

We had learned from a sailing friend in Noumea that we were arriving on the second day of a four day holiday weekend, and wouldn’t be able to clear customs until Wednesday so decided to anchor quietly in the most isolated bay we could find which turned out to be Port Koube on Ile Ouen. We were surprised to see a Swiss cruising ketch and a local sloop also anchored in this uninhabited bay and sheltering from the strong cool winds. Not to be put off by the weather some of us enjoyed a delicious chilly swim before afternoon naps, a great dinner and good conversations.

All night it lightly drizzled and this morning it is really drizzling, so Amanda’s plans of teaching going aloft for rig inspection will be switched for diesel engine and sail design and trim classes today.

 

September 27, 2013 1400 hrs, 22.19 S, 166.24 E, Log 168,446 miles
Baro: 1017.2, Cabin Temp: 78F, cockpit: 80F, seawater: 78F
At anchor, Ile Maitre, 4 miles south of Noumea, New Caledonia

Before we could cover diesel engines on Monday morning, September 23, the wind switched, changing our anchorage from a well-sheltered one to a lee shore so we got under way quickly, hoping to find a protected place on near the entrance of Port Koube where we could re-anchor for going aloft as the drizzle disappeared with the wind switch. With winds gusting to 22 kts and a bottom that fell off quickly from the shoreline we gave up and started heading through Canal Woodin toward Noumea, 30 miles west. Before we exited Canal Woodin Amanda noticed a very small indent on the chart situated on the north side of the canal.


Enjoying a quiet moment of headsail sailing with favorable winds in Canal Woodin

Megan navigates our course to Baie Alric

Amanda demonstrates the pitfalls of a loose backup chest harness for rig inspection

Baie Alric proved to be the perfect spot for anchoring; a palm tree lined bay sheltered from the gusty winds. Each of our intrepid crew went aloft to inspect the rig (and more importantly, learn how to go aloft safely with a back-up harness and halyard).

 

The peaceful setting held interesting vistas with a few houses or weekend cabins some of which were occupied and the surreal mix of exotic palm trees and the tall spindly pines from the araucaria family. The scenery came alive when a muster of peacocks came strutting and squawking along the beach followed by raft of white ducks.



Our tranquil beach setting at Baie Alric

One of the many colorful peacocks

 

We decided to have lunch underway and headed out towards Noumea, planning to anchor at Ile Uere for the night. After two hours underway we spotted a black wall of clouds bearing down on us. Our crew dived below for foulie jackets and in minutes visibility dropped to a boat length. Torrential rains pelted us and the wind piped up to 35, maxing out at 42 kts in gusts. As the wind was directly on our bow and the channel narrow in places, we motored directly into it with no sail up, gradually increasing power to 2600 rpms, or 65% and still managing to keep 6 kts of boat speed. This was another time we are thankful that Hallberg-Rassy chooses to put larger diesel engines than most other boatbuilders. Mahina Tiare’s Volvo TMD-31LA engine is 95 hp and can easily push her at 7-8 kts through almost any conditions

Brenda did a brilliant job at the helm and with the help of Coastal Explorer/C-Map and Raymarine running Nobeltec charts we zig-zagged through the narrow channel into what we expected to be a sheltered and empty anchorage. What a surprise to find 20 sail and motor boats packed into the small bay careening back and forth at anchor in the strong winds. Although the anchorage provided relief from the swells, the wind whistled right over the thin strip of sand and soon after we anchored we noticed a large powerboat dragging toward the beach. We let out 150’ of chain in 15’ depth and knew from previously snorkeling expeditions in the bay that where we’d anchored the bottom was all sand and clear of coral heads


Brenda and Michele happy to survive a blustery 42 knots. Note trusty Brad in the background keeping a vigilant anchor watch

Once dried out and satisfied with our anchorage I tried calling Port Moselle, the nearby marina where arriving vessels must tie to clear customs. I was surprised they could pick up my call and even more surprised when they said that although they currently had no space on the visitor’s dock, they might the following day if a boat left. With three days of the four day weekend passed I expected there’d be a raft of boats waiting for berths to clear customs, but evidentially not so!

Anchor watches were drawn up for the evening but by the time we’d finished dinner the winds had dropped and we all enjoyed a great sleep.

Right after an early breakfast Tuesday morning we set sail and everyone practiced Lifesling overboard retrieval in winds gusting to 18 kts before we changed course and sailed nearly to the entrance of Port Moselle in gorgeous, clear weather.

Brad executes the Lifesling

Although the marina staff had said to call back later to see if anyone had left, we decided to do a slow tour of the visitor’s dock and when the skipper of Distracted saw us, he correctly figured what we were doing and shouted out that a Swan 46 had just left. He very kindly walked up the dock and spoke with the marina staff person who they called us on the radio inviting us to moor in slip 28!

Our run of good luck didn’t end there, as although it was a holiday, a young Kanak man from quarantine was just completing inspecting another arriving boat and was down to check our food supplies in minutes. We filled out customs forms which the marina office then faxed to their office and were given immigration forms to fill out so I’d be ready when they opened the following morning.

We gave our crew the option of taking off an exploring or having showers ashore and continuing with our classes and within an hour Amanda was teaching sail design and trim which I followed with diesel engine essentials and electrical power systems. That night we enjoyed a delicious and truly French dinner at La Chaumerie, one of our all-time favorite restaurants found by Kate Fawcett from Leg 7-2010.

Wednesday morning Amanda taught how to strip and clean winches which I followed with communications worldwide and dealing with officials and clearance procedures worldwide.

Here’s our exceptional Leg 6 Crew

Michele, 54
I live near Seattle where I work as a substitute teacher and also manage a walnut orchard in California. After 10+ years of boat partnerships during which I mostly sat back and let my husband and kids do the work, we recently bought the boat that we hope to sail before the horizon. I joined MT to step up my understanding of offshore cruising and boat handling techniques. This expedition has given me the understanding and confidence to become a full partner with my husband in sailing and maintaining our new boat.

Lucas, 22
I’m a recent college graduate from Philadelphia on my way to more adventures. I’d like to do a longer sail, perhaps across the Pacific and that was the primary reason for sailing aboard MT. Through the voyaged I’ve mastered the basics of offshore a bit more and now I’m off to travel for the next few months after hopefully sailing to Australia. (Lucas worked as a deckhand on a salmon seine boat this summer in Alaska’s harsh Aleutian Islands).

Brad, 52
I operate a couple of cafés in Calgary, Alberta and sail my Bavaria 32 out of Sidney, BC, sometimes sailing singlehanded, and other times with my wife and young children. My hopes for this expedition on MT were to increase my levels of knowledge and confidence and these goals were far exceeded.

Brenda, 46
I have been a pharmacist for over 20 years and a few years ago I fell in love with a sailor who was dreaming of sailing around the world. I grew up in the mid-west and have lived the past 20 years in Colorado. I had no sailing experience until I met Rick and have now completed a three day J-World course in San Diego and a charter sailing vacation in the BVI’s. As we approach retirement and ponder sailing around the world, we wanted to learn all we could about open water cruising safety, and boy have I learned a lot!

Rick, 54
I am a retired entrepreneur living in Boulder, Colorado. I started sailing at age 23 on Lake of the Woods in Ontario. I felt that my ability as a sail was lacking in blue water passages, so this expedition seemed to be a great opportunity to start gaining exposure to that.

Megan, 25
I am in the midst of trying something new every couple of months. I’ve been to Rome, Paris, Edinburgh, Kenya, Morocco, Costa Rica, the BVI and have spent a year in Botswana. Learning to sail has been an opportunity to meet new people, see new places and try to take charge of them. It’s proven an excellent way of traveling simply, in harmony with the weather and other creatures on this planet - both human and otherwise. I hope to have many more sailing adventures, to keep developing my skills and knowledge and to get to share the beauty of this varied world while travelling lightly over the earth.

David, 58
I’m a family physician & med school faculty member from Philadelphia. I have been bare boat chartering for ten years in the US & Bahamas and have dreams of taking a year off, buying a boat in California and sailing with friends and family to Australia, sell the boat there. This leg with MT (with my daughter Megan and Lucas, a family friend) was hugely helpful in getting a handle on how this would work. John’s advice about best boats and how to buy and sell is enormously helpful.


Megan, Brenda, Michele with David Rick, Lucas and Brad

Megan, David and Lucas excited to be sharing exotic tagines

Megan had told us numerous encounters of her year spent Morocco, so when she found a Moroccan restaurant with a good write-up in Lonely Planet called Kasbah, we were all for that and Brad and Michele scoped it out that afternoon.

What a treat! Megan explained what tagine, a popular Moroccan dish was and we were hooked. So hooked that the next afternoon Amanda went in search of a Moroccan spice and food store she’d seen in a previous visit.

All too soon Leg 6 was over, and our outgoing crew were making plans to meet for adventures and dinners during the next couple days most of them had in Noumea.

Lucas had earlier mentioned that he would REALLY enjoy finding a boat to join for the passage to either NZ or Australia on the start of his backpacking travel adventures, so we made it a goal to see how many boats we could line up for him.

Before we had even cleared customs, I spotted Mediteraneo, an Island Packet 45 whose Croatian-Australian owner was a previous very satisfied consultation client, and without even meeting Lucas, the owner said he was looking for another hand for their upcoming passage back to Australia once the weather looked good. In the end we lined up a total of four and possibly five boats for Lucas to choose from!


Sailing Itinerary

leg 1 | leg 2 | leg 3 | leg 4 | leg 5 | leg 6 | leg 7


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