Passage Logs: Noumea to Brisbane

June 30

My sailing mates Ellen McArthur and Neil Spencer flew up from Auckland to Noumea Sunday to join me on the 800-mile trip across the Coral Sea to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

A nasty tropical disturbance delayed the start of our passage by a day. The low that passed over Noumea Sunday night brought gale force winds and lots of rain throughout the day yesterday. We were happy to wait it out in the comfort and safety of the marina at the CNC Yacht Club.

With much nicer weather, we sailed out of Noumea this morning at 0830. The winds still have quite a bit of south in them, but are slowly backing around to typical southeast trades. We’ve been beam reaching all day in 10 to 20 knots of breeze, tracking a bit north of the rhumb line at 7-10 knots.

I had just gone down for a short nap this afternoon when I heard the others yelling. I popped up on deck to the sound of the fishing reel unwinding at a fast pace. We furled the headsail and staysail to slow the boat down and began to haul in what seemed like a fairly large fish. It took us awhile to get her on board, but we had landed a 4.5 foot (1.3m) mahi-mahi which weighed in at about 50 pounds. We’re having fish for dinner, and with the freezer chock-full of fish and other goodies, won’t be setting the line again on this passage.

A nice mahi mahi!

As of 1700 hours this evening, we had put about 70 miles under the keel since departing Noumea. Conditions are beautiful out here and getting better, and the sailing is excellent!

June 31

Conditions out here continue to be very good, although the breeze has eased a bit from yesterday. Even though we are heading slightly south of New Caledonia, and are now within a few miles of the Tropic of Capricorn, the weather is getting warmer! No complaints from the crew, as we were able to stand watch all night in T-shirts and shorts, with 3/4 of the moon poking through the clouds and lighting up the night sea.

In the first 24 hours since departing Noumea, we covered 190 miles towards Brisbane, mostly on a nice easy three-sail reach. As of this writing on Wednesday afternoon, we had 545 miles to go to the entrance of Moreton Bay, off Brisbane.

After one sashimi appetizer and two fish meals, we have only managed to consume less than a quarter of the huge mahi we caught yesterday. The rest is awaiting future meals in the freezer.

So far, the sailing has been easy and uneventful, just the way we like it. Speeds last night were in the high eights to low 10’s in 15 to 22 knots of breeze. We’re now doing from 5-8 knots in 10-13 knots of wind and slightly rolly seas.

July 1

The wind gods started to play a game of hide and seek with us yesterday afternoon and then finally went into hiding at 0200 hours this morning. Starting around midday yesterday, the winds would drop to 7 or 8 knots for 15 minutes to a half hour and then roar back in at 20+ knots for an hour or so, then back off again.

We all got a bit of a workout furling headsail and staysail, starting the engine, tidying up sheets and lines, and then reversing the process an hour or so later. Finally, early this morning the wind dropped below 7 knots and has pretty much stayed light and variable since. The barometer is climbing, the seas are flattening to a gentle roll, and we are steaming right into the middle of a BFH (big fat high). Fortunately, we have a good D-sail (engine) and plenty of dinosaur juice to keep us moving along at the rate of 200 miles per day. Other than the noise of the engine, it’s flat and calm and very easy going.

Our 24-hour run from yesterday, hampered by the fluky breeze, was 187 miles towards our waypoint off Moreton Island. At the rate we are steaming, we should arrive there late morning Saturday if all goes well.

We crossed the halfway mark right at noon today, and promptly celebrated with a round of nice cold beers.

Other than a few wandering gannets and a mostly overcast sky, there’s not much else to report.

July 2

We arrived safely in Scarborough, Brisbane today at 2 pm local time. We just got checked in and are enjoying a bottle of bubbles. Will fill in tomorrow.


July 3

One of the many unique pleasures of ocean passaging is the ever changing and often stunning skies that can only be seen offshore. On watch yesterday (Saturday) morning, at about 0600 hours, I had the pleasure of watching both a full moon set and gorgeous sunrise at the same time.

Ahead of me on the western horizon with a glassy calm sea, a full moon slowly eased below the clouds and into the sea, lighting up a brilliant shimmering path before Moonshadow’s bow. At the same time, behind us, the sun was beginning its day by lighting up the eastern horizon with a bright orange-red glow like the embers of a fire. The morning star rose above the sun as the stars faded with the new day.

A couple of hours later, a bit of landform from Moreton Island rose up out of the sea ahead. Australia! Neil was very excited to once again see his homeland. I was happy to know that, after motorsailing nearly half the distance from New Caledonia, in a few hours we could silence the engine.

We passed the first channel marker and made our way into the North East Channel between Moreton Island and mainland Queensland. It was a beautiful Saturday in mid winter, with temps in the high 70’s, clear skies and flat seas. Lots of local Aussies were out enjoying the day by sailing, fishing, boating and playing on the huge expanse of Moreton Island’s white sand beach.

We zigged and zagged our way through the shallow sandy stretches of Moreton Bay, making our way 25 miles to Scarborough, our port of entry. With the tide nearly at full ebb, the last stretch into the marina had a pretty high “pucker factor” as we had just inches of water under the keel. Moving the last few miles at a very slow and safe pace, we managed to make it to the quarantine dock without touching the bottom, but kicking up a lot of silt as I reversed the prop to halt our forward motion next to the marina.

Engine off-YESSS! Within a few minutes, two polite and efficient Australian Customs and Immigration officials were on board. We filled out a myriad of paperwork and answered a plethora of questions about where we had been, what we had seen along the way and our tracks from the last two passages. Quarantine showed up two hours later, giving us a chance to tidy up the ‘Shadow and have a post-passage bevvie. We were able to keep most of our food except fresh veggies, eggs and seeds, were granted pratique and moved to a berth just after sunset.

The crew toasted to a safe and pleasant passage and enjoyed a well-deserved meal out.

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