2019 Passage: New Caledonia to New Zealand

Oct 22, 2019| 2 Comments

Wednesday, October 16th – Upon returning to Nouméa in the early afternoon, we anchor in the bay, for there is no room in the marina with over 25 boats getting ready to leave for either New Zealand or Australia. While The First Mate sets about passage meal preparation, The Captain sets off on a 3-mile hike to try to purchase a refrigerator water pump. He returns empty handed. The good news, however, is that, throughout the last day, the old pump appears to have decided to work on its own. No hammer tap has been needed. We continue to monitor the system listening for water gurgling forth whenever the system operates, but so far, it is working as it should. We keep our fingers crossed, but just in case, the freezer is filled with ice.

Thursday, October 17th – We have been hoping to be able to leave on passage tomorrow, but the forecast, sent in this morning by Commander’s Weather, is not looking good. Though the first several days of passage would be fine, it forecasts deteriorating weather conditions as we approach New Zealand with winds from 20 to 30 knots and seas of 7 to 10 feet.  The Captain emails back that if we depart with a forecast like that, it would probably be The First Mate’s last passage.  She agrees. We need to delay to give those heavy winds time to move on before we near New Zealand. We have learned from past experience, that the tricky part about this passage is timing of our arrival into New Zealand waters. We will always leave in good weather conditions, but arriving in New Zealand in between the fronts that come and go across the region requires some foresight, understanding of weather patterns and a good bid of luck that they will do what they usually do, which isn’t always the case. As it takes a week to sail to New Zealand, a lot can change in a forecast during that period, especially when it comes to New Zealand weather. Since we cannot check out of New Caledonia on the weekend and we must depart within 24 hours after checking out, The Captain decides to check out on Friday and delay departure until Saturday. He tells Commander’s Weather that he is planning a possible stop at Norfolk Island if more delay turns out to be needed. Norfolk Island lies slightly less than halfway between New Caledonia and New Zealand and is about 90nm west of the direct route.  Stopping there would not add all that much distance to the passage, and it would allow is to wait at anchor rather than sailing around in circles killing time like we did last year when coming in from Fiji.

Friday, October 18th – We are up early checking the weather forecasts.  Commander’s Weather agrees with The Captain’s suggestions regarding a Saturday departure and a stop at Norfolk Island if advisable. Predict Wind shows a maximum wind speed of only 17 knots for the passage. Though The First Mate maintains that such predictions are usually under estimated, she does like what she hears. We are leaving. The Captain begins completing all paperwork necessary for clearance out of New Caledonia. Since we may need that stop at Norfolk Island, which is part of Australia, The First Mate is set to work obtaining online Visas for Australia and to email the Australian Immigration authorities the required Advance Notice of Arrival. Both are done, and both are confirmed by email that afternoon. Impressed she is at an efficient bureaucracy!

The Captain sets off early to be one of the first in line to clear out. He has 3 different offices to visit, all widely spaced apart. Expecting long lines of other captains also planning to be processed out this morning, he is delighted to be back on the boat in less than 2 hours. Not bad! We quickly raise the dinghy and motor over to the fuel dock to fill our tanks with duty-free fuel. We are only allowed the duty-free price once we have cleared out of the country. Here, too, we expected a line of like-intentioned boats and are pleasantly surprised to find no queue. A catamaran is on the dock that can only accommodate one large boat, and we are next. The cat makes quick work of fueling, and we are soon tied up and filling our tanks. 

Saturday, October 18th – Day 1 of passage – Fueled and stocked with 10 days worth of meals, we are ready for departure.  To our relief, the refrigerator pump has continued to do its job. Apparently, it finds chugging along by itself preferable to being whacked by a hammer. The Captain has no idea why it suddenly woke up to start pumping on its own, but other than a puzzled shake of the head, he’s pleased. “Gremlins,” thinks The First Mate. They hide in nooks and crannies on the boat and, every so often, sneak out to do unspeakable mischief.

A final check on the weather shows that nothing has changed. We should have enough wind to sail for the first 24 hours and then it will be calm enough to require us to motor-sail for several days. The only concern is the winds and seas moving into the New Zealand area. Will they be gone by the time we get there? Well, even if not, we have a good alternative to sit and wait them out. Though The Captain disagrees with his First Mate, she has discovered that she is not the only blue water cruiser who sees nothing wrong with motoring across the great expanse of ocean. Give her a calm ocean and mild wind any day, all day, out there. Bashing into waves, crashing from side to side for days on end, is not her ideal. Worst of all is having to live at an angle. It is beyond uncomfortable in her opinion. 

0630 – We’re off! With little wind, we motor toward Ilot Amedee with its pretty lighthouse. The small marker off the right side of the island serves as one of the leads for the reef passage. The lighthouse itself is the other. Line up on both for a midline course through Passe de Boulari. 


We remember our nighttime arrival at this pass last May. We lined up on the lead lights to enter this passage. Suddenly, a passing storm seemingly swirled in out of the dark just as we got on centerline. In high winds and turbulent seas, we motored ahead and were thankful when conditions improved before we reached the narrow part of the passage through the reef.


This time, we line up on the leads in daylight and in calm conditions that stay calm. Almost in line, we are ready to turn into the pass.


We take a last look back at Nouméa and the mountains of Grand Terre before making that turn. Both of us are sad to be leaving New Caledonia. This is one of our favorite island nations in the South Pacific. Who can complain about wonderful French food and wines? The lagoon of Nouméa is a cruiser’s delight with many anchorages, beautiful bays, pristine white sand beaches, unbelievably blue water and some great hikes for body and soul. We have loved our time here. One last look back, The First Mate bids a silent “Adieu”, turns around and sets her sights on the ocean ahead.


Leads now lined up, we continue on through the reef passage. Once clear and out in the ocean, we turn into the wind to raise the sails. Under a benign 12-knot wind, we sail calmly through the day.


With winds forecast to decrease throughout the night, we decide not to put in a reef as we normally do at night on passage. The First Mate states that not doing so could be the kiss of death, but The Captain ignores her. She takes the first watch after dinner, the 1900 to 2200 watch. The Captain heads off to bed. Sure enough, within an hour, those 12-knot winds begin to creep up, and conditions turn sour. Why can’t this happen during the day when she can see things? Finally, with winds closing in on 18 knots, she goes below to wake The Captain. Though she can see nothing ahead, it feels like we are entering a storm front. If nothing else, the sails need to be adjusted. Alerted by the change in the motion of the boat, The Captain is already awake. With the full main up and not knowing what this unpredicted wind is going to do or what weather lies ahead, The First Mate is uncomfortable. The Captain assumes the watch and tells her to go to bed. He’ll wake her when it’s her watch.

Winds remain high as we surge along through the turbulent seas and dark night. With full sails up, we are doing almost 9 knots. At 2200, The First Mate is up ready to assume the watch, but she is told to go back to bed. Conditions seem to her to have settled out some, but that is because The Captain changed our direction to give us a smoother ride as the waves built up. At 2300, conditions remain the same, and she is told the same. At midnight, she decides that this is ridiculous. The weather has not become any worse, and he needs some sleep, too. She will assume the watch, and The Captain will head to bed.

Sunday, October 20th – Day 2 of Passage – Winds begin dropping right after she assumed the watch at midnight and are down to 9 to 10 knots by sunrise. With conditions much more to her liking, she does not wake The Captain at the end of her 3 hour watch. She wants him to catch up on his sleep. At 0500, she hears him stirring and merrily wishes him a good morning. He’s not happy about being left to sleep longer, but since he did not wake up on his own, she knows he needed that sleep. She intends to do the same as soon as he takes over the watch. It is so calm that The Captain pulls out the cappuccino machine. Wow! It’s not often we are able to indulge our cappuccino cravings on passage. This almost makes the turbulence of last night a distant memory!

We continue on through the day with the winds and our boat speed slowly decreasing. At 1400 we give up, the motor is turned on, and we take down the sails. They are of little help in winds this light, and their flapping and slapping in these light conditions are an annoyance as well as unneeded wear and tear. We motor on through a beautiful blue-sky day sitting comfortably in the cockpit. In the afternoon, under the warmth of the sun, showers on the aft deck refresh us. How nice to get ourselves clean on passage!


Monday, October 21st – Day 3 of Passage – Another calm, warm, sunny day with another round of breakfast cappuccinos. Assuming the watch at 0800, The First Mate is mesmerized by how calm the ocean has become. It is not often that one sees the ocean so stilled. 


The only waves seen are those created by the boat itself. “The ocean appears to be sleeping,” she thinks. “Stay that way!” she commands —- as if it would obey!


And it doesn’t. By early afternoon, heavy clouds can be seen ahead of us. With rain threatening, both sides of our storm cover are zipped into place, but other than higher wind and slightly rougher seas, all we get is a smattering of drops.  We do get to sail a little that afternoon, but most of the day is spent motoring toward Norfolk Island.

Later that evening the wind increases to 15 knots.  Unfortunately, it is coming from the direction that we want to go. We can’t sail into it, and it’s no fun motoring into it either. The current forecast shows that the bad weather between Norfolk Island and New Zealand is moving slower than the models had originally portrayed which means we need to use up some time. We turn off the engine, turn southwest and sail through the night on a long, easy port tack.

Tuesday, October 22nd – Day 4 of Passage – By 0600, we are no closer to Norfolk Island than we were at midnight, but we can now tack and sail directly for it. A review of the latest weather this morning confirms the need for a delaying stop at Norfolk Island. Directly in our path to New Zealand are winds now forecast to be 25 – 35 knots with seas of 12 – 16 feet.  There is no question in our minds. A stop for 2 days at Norfolk Island will give the wind and seas time to subside. The First Mate is not dismayed. Norfolk Island intrigues her. She is eager to see it.

    Comments (2)

  1. Great work, Sue! That picture of a languid sea is, indeed, mesmerizing.

    We are riding out the storm at Desert Mountain pretty well, by all accounts. Some golf, but a surprising and welcome amount of work. Weather here is dead perfect.

    Let us know if we can do anything here for you…

    Best regards,



  2. Georgiann Carroll

    You and Bill are almost better where you are than in Telluride or vicinity. Only homeowners are permitted in Telluride. Gatherings cannot be larger than 10 (including employees). or there is a $5,000 fine and the possibility of 18 months in jail!!! A bit Harsh. Mountain Film was cancelled as was the Chamber Music. I am certain 4th of July and Telluride Film Festival will also not happen. I do plan to drive to Telluride in one day – bringing sandwiches, fruit and drinks for the trip. I’ll also bring a number of items from my deep freezer and some fresh fruit, vegetables and salad makings.
    John, has been there since Christmas and has groceries delivered from Clarks every Wednesday. I’ll be leaving Tucson in mid June. A good time to avoid the Tucson summer.
    I have a grandson who flew to Tucson from Japan. He has been teaching math there for the past four years and has an offer for employment in the Vail School. At the present time; he is in quarantine in my daughter’s home. His bedroom and bath are cordoned off by an enormous piece of plastic with food passed to him on the floor!!!
    My love to you and Bill. Hope to see you someday!!!!


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