Cruising the South Pacific with Tackless II
Tackless II, along with her two captains, Don and Gwen, cruise from Fiji to Australia
Thursday, September 18, 2008
10-14 September 2008 – Taking the Rally to New Cal
This leg of the ICA Rally has exemplified for us the plusses and minuses of traveling with a rally group. Although many of the participating boats have been with the rally on its complete circuit from New Zealand to Tonga to Fiji to Vanuatu, many more signed up for this leg only to take advantage of the special check-in the organizers had arranged to take place in Ouvea, the northernmost of New Caledonia's eastern string of islands known as the Loyalties. . Normally, full check-ins for New Caledonia are available only in Noumea, on the West side of Grand Terre, the main island. Although partial check-in can be done on Lifou Island in the Loyalties, boats then are expected to proceed on to Noumea within one week. This makes spending any time in the Loyalty Islands all but impossible. Because the ICA had arranged to bring the Noumea officials to us, participating boats would be able to take all the time they want to get to Noumea. The result was that the rally group swelled from the twenty coming from Fiji to thirty-five! Thirty five crews make for quite a crowd.

Pre-departure activities in Vanuatu were fairly well organized, particularly the duty-free fueling of so many boats, the customs and immigration formalities, and of course the parties. Right after the first "muster", we had a big group dinner at The Flaming Bull steakhouse. This teetered on the brink of disaster since it took all of three hours for everyone to get served. BUT, the evening was redeemed because every one of the dinners came exactly as ordered and were downright delicious. Two nights later, Tusker Beer, one of the rally's main sponsors, hosted a potluck barbecue at the Vanuatu Yacht Club, providing free beer, which with cruisers always sets the mood. It was a particularly nice evening, because people wore name tags and mingled, so we got to actually meet a lot people who previously had only been names on a list. And then, for the final checkout Friday morning, Tusker also arranged for the best patisserie in Port Vila to cater a variety of fresh French pastries along with divine expresso coffee. Not a bad way of doing things.

All these conveniences of a rally, however, are offset by the fact that a rally must keep a schedule, and THAT violates the cardinal rule of cruising. Our trip from Fiji to Tanna was a happy fluke in that the schedule matched a perfect weather window. The schedule for the short trip from Vila to Ouvea, however, did not.

A Not so Nice Passage

We left at four thirty Friday afternoon, setting sail into light winds and a nice sunset. The first twenty hours were idyllic enough: ten to fourteen knots just forward of the beam, almost no sea, and a moon near full. That's when the word "trough" that I'd heard on the weather report finally penetrated, as a recollection burbled up through my murky mind of a previous lovely full moon night passage in Venezuela that went wrong as a trough rolled over us. Well, sure enough, mid-afternoon on Saturday, things went to hell in a hand basket.

First the wind died away completely. So on comes Perky and we were motoring away in company with another boat in the rally, when -- burp -- the engine died and we were left making no way in no wind while the other boat walked away We were stunned by the engine quitting again, as we were quite sure we had found the root problem when we discovered that the fuel tank vent was blocked. Not only was it clear we hadn't found the whole problem, but it was the first time the engine had quit with any load on! The good news is, Don got it reprimed and restarted in record time, but the suspense of it quitting again weighed heavily on us.

Then, as we passed through the frontal boundary, the wind came in on us in a fury. From zero to 25+ in moments it seemed like, and the seas went from flat to short and steep. Yuck-OH! Fortunately, we'd had a heads-up on the wind, and had put in our second reef early and raised our trusty staysail. We went from a languid six knots boat speed down to barely three, thanks to the wind being hard on the nose and the seas knocking back any momentum The old girl was heeled way over and the seas regularly sluiced the whole boat. Thank goodness for our enclosure. How people in open boats do this is beyond us.

We got a third reef in the main before dark and braced ourselves for a long miserable night. There was a lot of talk -- aboard T2 and on the radio -- of heaving to. Apparently, the anemometers on the Kiwi boats are calibrated differently than ours as there also was a lot of talk about 30, 35, even 40 knot gusts. Ours never claimed more than 25-27, but perhaps it is ours that is out of calibration, because let me say was nasty.

Fortunately a few hours into it things eased just enough that the boat at least started making some way. It was not remotely fun or comfortable, but it was, as we say, doable. For one of the few times ever, my stomach was queasy, probably thanks to the salami sandwiches we'd had for lunch when things were calm. What was I thinking!? There was no interest in dinner, and we took turns sleeping on the leeward side of the cockpit. Along about four am, we sailed out of the rain and cloud into clear skies with stars and a fat old orange moon setting between a lingering cloud strip and the horizon. The wind still was honking a brisk 18-22, but we were between Ouvea and Lifou islands, so the seas were more reasonable and we were moving right a long. At sunrise we set a scrap of headsail and the boat speed jumped from 4.5 to 7+ knots. We turned in through Ouvea's Pass de Coetlogon at about 10am on the 14th , and had the anchor down off the Mouli beach by 10:45. It was time for a hot meal and a long nap.

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