“See you in Aus” we called to our many neighbours anchored off New Caledonia’s busy capital of Noumea. The safe sailing season was drawing to a close and the fleet of international cruising yachts were gathering to check out of the country and make their way to the safer (cyclone free) waters of New Zealand and Australia.
The weather looked promising for a down wind sail all the way to Australia, just the way we like it. A big swell might make the first few days uncomfortable but that should ease as the 800nm miles tick by.
Florence had been a rush of activity ever since this weather window appeared on the forecast. As well as all the usual things we do before a big passage (go up the mast to check the rig, clean the hull, stock up with water, food and propane, cook passage meals etc.) we needed to give Florence a deep clean ready for our arrival in Australia. We were keen to escape the wrath of ‘Border Force’ and Bio-security. Australia has a reputation for a thorough and difficult check in process, often searching every corner of a boat. As they charge in 15min increments for the time it takes them to check your entire boat it can also be costly. Keeping the boat this clean whilst on passage would be another challenge but at least we would have a better base.
Finally making our way through New Caledonia’s surrounding reef and into the open ocean, the emotions we hadn’t had time to acknowledge in the rush of preparing hit us hard. It’s always exciting to be leaving for a new country, setting out to sea, never really knowing what the next few days will bring. New Caledonia was however the last of the South Pacific Islands on our route. It’s hard to summarise in words our experiences over the two seasons in these islands but Amy was unable to watch New Caledonia dip below the horizon without a few tears for the friends and places we were leaving behind.
Having left in the late afternoon, we were soon thrown into our night watches; the first for a couple of weeks. It was not an easy reintroduction with 70 degree wind shifts and waves on the beam coupled with big changes in wind speed. It wasn’t wild sailing, just the kind that requires lots of concentration, sail changes and occasional hand steering. Recovering during our off watches down below was also a challenge due to the waves hitting Florence’s side and constant changes in speed/noise. Eat, sleep, sail, repeat, isn’t always that easy.
Finally relieved from our watch, we would lay in our bunk as waves pound Florence from the side, causing her to jolt sideways. Not the ‘rock you gently to sleep’ rocking of a cradle but a harsh unpredictable jolt. Much like people holding each corner of your bed, waiting for the moment when your eyelids droop and your body relaxes into the bed. Then BAM, working together, they try to tip you out of bed, simultaneously stomping their feet to create a loud “THUD”. Despite the lee cloth acting like the sides of a cot, stopping you hitting the ground, your body is completely tense and contorted into a position that although not comfortable, maximises surface contact and moderates movement. Add to this the pressure that you only have the next 3 hours in this comparatively comfortable state before it’s your turn again on deck and you can see how you can soon become exhausted. The first few days on route to Australia were spent in a zombiefied stupor. Conversations limited to “it’s your watch”, “urgh, really, already?!”
The reality of double handed sailing is that you spend much of your time alone. They sleep, you sail, you sleep, they sail and so on. We always try to eat our meals together and have some time to sit on deck and chat, but some days even that is a struggle. You are working together towards a common goal, but that often just means working alone to let the other person recover, sleep and take time out of the wind and sun.
A couple of days into the passage, the sea state eased and our bodies fell into the routine. We woke up and smelt the the coffee. Okay, not the coffee, we had been out of that for weeks, but its a much nicer thought than the stench that had developed in the hot, airless cabin below. Thankfully the improved weather allowed us to open some hatches and throw some buckets of water at each other, from a safe distance.
For us, there is always that sweet spot in a passage when you feel human again, your energy levels rise and you are able to appreciate your surroundings, company and life aboard. If the conditions are right at this moment, we feel like we could just keep on sailing forever.
In the solitude that comes with double handed ocean sailing, the company of another living thing, be that a dolphin, bird or fish, brings much joy and excitement. Entertainment comes in the form of sea birds swooping and playing in the draft from the sails, attempting to select a perch on Florence. We feel their frustration as the boat lurches through the waves, making for an increasingly difficult moving target. We celebrate with them as they finally succeed, then laugh along with them as they struggle to maintain their balance on-board. Welcome to our world mate, you will need to hold on tight! We are yet to forgive them for projectile pooping on our sails, but all friends have their quirks.
The lighter winds made for much more pleasant conditions on-board. Unfortunately when reefing during a squall at night we had put a small tear in our mainsail. Although we could have repaired it at sea, we felt we would be able to do a better job on arrival, so made do with a small reefed mainsail, not using the section that was torn. Light winds and limited sail area caused us to get creative with our sail plan. Flying the cruising chute on one side, polling the genoa out on the other, whilst sheeting the mainsail on the centre line to help reduce rolling made for some very enjoyable sailing.
Time passed quickly and we were soon closing in on the coast of Australia. We were welcomed by 30 knots and a screaming reach, who needs a full mainsail anyway?! Dodging fishing boats and crab pots, we dropped the anchor in the quarantine area of the Bunderburg river just as the sun was setting over the great brown land.
We had arrived in Australia with no major breakages, no threats of giving up sailing forever AND we still like each other; a successful trip! Despite having already reached half way around the world when we arrived in New Zealand, Australia somehow feels even more of an achievement. We have finally reached that far away land ‘down under’. The place mentioned when English people talk about somewhere a very long way away.