Blog, New Caledonia, Ocean Passage, Vanuatu

Sailing Vanuatu to New Caledonia

A sudden jerk on the lines, caused Florence to heel over as rain hammered into her side. Peering out from the companion way hatch, we were able to see that it was just another rain squall blotting out our view of Port Villa from where we were moored in the harbour. Shutting out the howling wind and rain, and pouring another cup of tea, we were thankful to have the luxury of time and no pressing need to put to sea. An out of season tropical storm had formed to the North of us and was pushing torrential rain and strong winds our way. Waiting to leave on the back of that weather system would mean a slow, light wind 300nm passage to New Caledonia, but also we hoped, a safe, comfortable one too.

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The sight of Port Villa, Vanuatu’s capital, dipping below the horizon bought an intense mix of emotions. Excitement, freedom and a great sadness hung in the air as we tried to settle into our offshore routines. Our time in Vanuatu’s more remote islands had been like travelling back in time, fulfilling our romantic notions of the south pacific. It was very hard to say goodbye to it’s friendly, smiling people who seem content to live off the land and maintain their traditional ways.

It is however hard to feel sad for very long when you are doing the thing that you love with the person you love. Setting off into the open ocean, destined for a new country, fully stocked with everything needed to keep our little world moving and independent of the surrounding world is the biggest sense of freedom we have ever experienced. One that still brings tingles to our spines, every time.

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Having accepted that we were in for a light wind passage prior to setting off, we were able to resign ourselves to the fact that we were going nowhere fast for the next few days. It is when we slow down that we find we are really able to appreciate our surroundings and easily fall into the rhythm of offshore sailing. Cooking, sleeping and general living is all easier in the flatter seas that normally accompany light winds. Instead of counting down the miles, we found we were happy to drift along, content, aboard our own little floating world.

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Without the usual cooling trade winds, the heat of the day was stifling. The indigo depths below us were beginning to look very inviting. Just as we were about to throw a line over the side and take turns for a cooling dip, a loud “whoosh” stopped us in our tracks. A huge male Orca surfaced alongside Florence, blowing air as he made his presence known. Slamming his tail on the water, as an assumed warning, he swam away before we were able to react or get a decent photo of him. Even as we watched him disappear into the distance, it was impossible to regain our appetite for a mid ocean swim.

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The Orca’s tall fin disappearing into the distance. The tall dorsal fin indicates it was a male.

The light breeze was threatening to die on us completely as we were approaching an uninhabited section of the Ouvea atoll of New Caledonia. Hoping for a swim and a full nights sleep, we dropped anchor in the stunningly turquoise channel between two islets.

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Three healthy looking reef sharks took a keen interest in us as we slipped into the water beside Florence. Although we new they were only curious, it’s still a challenge to slow our heart rate and allow them to loose interest. A longer swim revealed our first leopard shark, a giant clam plus lots of healthy coral and fish. It unfortunately also revealed that the light patch we had dropped the anchor, was not the sand it appeared to be from the surface but hard bedrock, impossible for the anchor to penetrate. Although we had satisfied our need for a swim, we would need to move again before we got that full nights sleep.

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It was a long drift across the atoll under spinnaker. Amy entertained herself as we crossed the sheltered lagoon by paddling alongside Florence in the kayak and heading up the mast to take some photos.

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A brief stop at Ouvea’s beautiful 25km long beach gave us the sleep we were craving and allowed the wind to return.

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It was another overnight sail for us to complete the passage to the main island of New Caledonia to check in at the capital of Noumea.

This relatively short passage, reinvigorated our love of ocean sailing. Yes, it took us 2 days to travel this distance that we would previously travelled in 2 hours by car. But the extra time at sea, just allowed us to fully appreciate the beauty of where we were, who we were with and what we were doing. This sail broke what had started to become a habit of counting down the miles and focusing on our arrival. More than anything we have ever done before, this adventure is all about the journey. The journey is the joy.

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1 thought on “Sailing Vanuatu to New Caledonia”

  1. It sounds to have been a great journey and a time of reflection. Remember what John Lennon said ‘ life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.’ Best wishes

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