The Last Pacific Leg: Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia & Australia.

Thursday 12th July, we flew back to the UK for our Son, Matthew and Fiancée, Alice’s wedding and first trip to UK in eight and a half months. With the knowledge that KS was safe and secure we made our way home 13 months to get to Fiji and only 28hrs to complete a round the world trip. Our time in the UK was lovely and so very busy with not only Matt and Alices Wedding but stag party’s, baby showers, family reunions, dentist, opticians, hair, dress maker and of course catching up good friends. Matt and Alice’s wedding was amazing and the setting of New college and Baliol college was wonderful.1027 - 43312[9785]
The time came to leave the UK again and this was difficult as we know the next time we came back Jo and Andy will have had (hopefully!) their first baby and our first grandchild. After another flight via Sydney we arrived back at Denarau marina Fiji on 3rd August, without one of our bags. Fiji airlines where brilliant they identified that the bag was still in Sydney and they would take it to the marina at 8pm same day and they did just that. KS was absolutely fine but we did have a small message from a couple Matt and Amy, on yacht Florence.

img_5853.jpg
Matt & Amy

They were a couple that  I attended night school with for yacht master theory a year before we left. They left the UK 10 months before ourselves and are not so time limited and they are much more adventurous than us so we use their blog as a learning curve for our next destinations.
Over the next few days we fitted and fixed some of the equipment that we had bought back from UK. A new bolt for the steering quadrant, 12v socket and a new alternator were the first and unfortunately the alternator did not solve the problem.
IMG_5734Sunday the 5th August we had decided to be tourists for the day and took the Bula (hello) bus around the Denarau island. It was a short journey but we did find a nice beach where we could swim. We picked up our bathers and jumped back on the bus and went to a beautiful sandy beach and noticed the jet skis! We have never been attracted to Jet skis but we thought we should at least give it a go. So, Action Gramps and Nanna jumped on the jetski for and hour.DRYD3897 It was fun and at first a bit wobbly but after a few minutes on the helm we both got the hang and will probably not need to try it again. But we did come back to the beautiful beach again for a swim.
Monday we were back doing boat work, we decided it was time to arrange for a professional to check out the alternator. We also found a local slightly bigger supermarket that was only a short taxi away.
Sofi and Yachthelp were an agent service that we used to clear in and out of Fiji but they also had Yachthelp technical service who came to check our alternator on the following morning. The engineer discovered it was the ‘diode splitter’ not the 5kg alternator we had carried back from UK.

On Wednesday 8th we joined 50 other tourists, caught a fast cat and spent the day on a small South Pacific Island. We swam, snorkeled, stand up paddle boarded (not so simple as it looks) canoeing and just watching the world go by it was a truly relaxing day. We also ate out quite a lot in Denarau, there was lots of choice and there was nearly always a live band or singer outside the major restaurants. One of our favourites and most friendly was Denarau yacht club, not a club but a bar with lovely food and drink and a beautiful view of the sunset.

IMG_5726
Sunset from Denarau YC

Sunset from
We had checked the weather window for moving to Vanuatu and decided Monday 13th better than Friday 10th but Denarau could not offer us a berth so we move to Vuda marina about 5 mile across the bay. We provisioned from Denarau and made KS ready for the next journey to Vanuatu.
Friday 10th Yachthelp fitted a new splitter and sure enough the alternator now sprung into action. Soon after we motored to Vuda marina. IMG_5809It is an unusual round marina and the method of getting on and off of your boat is precarious at the either ends of the tide.

img_5822.jpg
Leap of Faith!

But is was quite and tranquil and our friends from Orion were there so great to catch up. They were being delayed leaving Fiji due to an engine problem that had now been discovered as a blown head gasket. The parts were being shipped from Australia but not in time for them to sail with us to Vanuatu. We had a look around and discovered hurricane pits, these are quite literally pits were they lower boats into to avoid the extra windage during hurricane season.

IMG_5805
Hurricane Pits

We spent the following days fueling and securing KS for the next leg. KS had gathered quite a skirt of weed so I discreetly lowered myself into the water and just removed the excess weed and small barnacles. On Sunday they had a live band so we arranged dinner and drinks with Greg and Jane then back to KS to wish Joanna a happy 27th birthday.IMG_5829
On Monday 13th August we cleared customs at 09:30 and finally set sail at 11, it took 5 hours to motor away from the reef through the Navula Passage, when we eventually got our sails up and set on our way to Vanuatu, 550nm journey. The wind was ahead of the beam so a little uncomfortable. The wind did not stay and by 0200 the following day we were motoring. When the wind finally set in it was again ahead of us meaning we could make headway with only 7kts of breeze all be it slow progress.
We sailed all night and the wind came up with gusts up to 20kts. We were overtaken by a cargo ship Moana in the early hours of Wednesday morning which  came with in a mile to KS. We showered on Wednesday as strong winds were forecast and as a precaution that evening we had 2 reefs in main and 2 in the genoa. Overnight the wind increased to 20-27kts and on the beam, Vera was brilliant keeping a steady course. It was a dark moonless night and we did see 2 fishing vessels but kept well clear. Thursday was a good sailing day and once again a very dark night. Friday we decided to slow KS down as were not going to make Vanuatu before midnight.
Saturday 18th August, we dropped anchor at the quarantine area just outside Port Vila Efata Vanuatu at 07:15 and started our malaria tablets, the only time so far they have been recommended. IMG_5843After calling the Yachting World marina and explaining we are part of Down Under Rally they allowed us to tied up stern to the dock and await customs. Customs eventually come over about 3pm but immigration had to wait until Monday, but we were still able to wander around the town on the Sunday. We also managed dinner at the waterfront café during happy hour. Matt and Amy stopped and chatted as they were anchored in the Bay.
After a well-deserved lie in we walked into town/ a long street. As we knew we had a limited time in Vanuatu we were keen to book a couple of trips one snorkeling and the other to see the volcano on the island of Tanna. We managed to book an afternoon tour with Stuart and driver James. They took us in a van to Havana Bay but on the way, we picked up Stewart’s 2 little daughters, Regina & Sabrina as their mum had to go to work. IMG_5857The scenery and beach was lovely and the water had amazing multitude of different fish but we forgot the go pro, so no photos. James and Stuart were very knowledgeable about the island and the Vanuatu way of life. It was a lovely way to see Havana Bay but also get an insight into Vanuatu culture. Port Vila and other Vanuatu Islands were devastated by cyclone Pam in 2015 but the people are rebuilding their life’s and homes. Many Vanuatu residents from outer island live entirely off the land.
Monday, we cleared customs and did the obligatory tourist shopping but had a major disappointment in that we could not visit the volcano until Friday all flights were booked. This meant delaying leaving here and possibility of running into bad weather a risk we did not want to take.

IMG_5864
Handmade Vanuatu

Consequently we decided to leave Vanuatu on Wednesday. We did laundry and went for a cooling swim near the fuel berth. Matt and Amy from Florence popped over for drinks and we had our last meal at the Boathouse restaurant, where Stuart, our tour guide also works as a waiter.

IMG_5860
Vanuatu Market

After clearing customs and immigration on Tuesday morning we decided to just get going for our next destination New Caledonia leaving Vanuatu at 14:45. Motor sailed overnight with wind on the nose, initially saw another yacht called Island girl but she soon disappeared. By the next morning we managed to switch the engine off but were sailing upwind, this was not as forecasted and advertised in the crossing the Pacific guides! Once again Vera coped will with the wind and the waves, but we had to tack a few times over the next few days. We also used the engine when passing between out islands, just for a little safety. On Friday 24th August we passed the outer reef and motor sailed all day along the coast of New Caledonia. We could understand the name as we passed the lush green coast reminded us of Scotland. We navigated through the Canal Woodin (feature photo) to reach Moselle Marina before dark eventually tying up at 17:30. As part of the Down Under Rally we had the help of an agent

IMG_5957
Audrey NYS

Audrey from Noumea Yacht Services, NYS. We had to stay on board as we had not cleared customs but we were happy to eat pasta and sleep.
Saturday morning Geoff went to the marina office where they completed all custom paperwork and arranged for the biosecurity to attend KS. By the time Geoff had completed his on line form the lady from biosecurity arrive and came to inspect KS. Once legal we walked through the local market, that sold fresh fish, veg, meat, flowers in fact most stuff and onto Casino a French brand of supermarket, we were very excited.
IMG_5953New Caledonia had quite a few single-handed sailors from all countries, we were berthed next to a lovely gent who went by the name of ‘Ding’. He had been sailing his 50ft Sweden yacht, Chiquita, around the Pacific circuit (New Zealand, Australia New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji) for 15 years, avoiding tropical storms mostly in New Zealand. Unfortunately, he was stuck in New Caledonia Noumea due to a recent detected retina, that the French doctors fixed. We ate out at the popular marina bar and as usual ordered too much. The following day we washed KS off in clear fresh water, then walked to market as it was shutting and reached Casino Supermarket at 12:30 as it was also shutting! Bad planning by KS crew. So back to KS and we felt it was time to do a rig check. IMG_E0052Geoff got me connected to the halyard and another single handed Australian sailor Harry offered his assistance to tail the lazy halyard. Harry was keen for us to sail the coast of Australia and as far south as Tasmania. After the rig check he dropped a couple of guides for us to look at. They were comprehensive guides that described the many harbours and marinas along the New South wales and Queensland coasts. Ding came over for drinks, chat and Tapas, it then started to rain.
It was still raining on Monday 27th August morning when we walked to immigration to complete our arrival documentation. It rained continuously for the next 3 days, we managed to refuel, complete the laundry, publish the blog and stock up ready for our departure.img_5920.jpg Audrey from NYS arranged for a diver to clean the bottom of KS ready for the strict entry requirements of Australia. We did visit the New Caledonia museum and did a guided walk through the town during the stay but we did feel due to the rain we missed trips to other towns and Pacific island of New Caledonia. We reviewed the weather and found a reasonable weather window for the next 800nm trip.

On Thursday 30th August we left Noumea, New Caledonia for our final leg of this stage to Bundaberg Australia. Audrey from NYS facilitated our departure and we finally motored away from New Caledonia at 11:00. We motored for 3 hours and eventually put the sails up and began another upwind sail, tacking 4 times before the wind finally settled 8-10kts from the SW. Overnight we had a good sail in variable winds but managed to make good ground in light winds. During the morning of the 31st August we noticed the log was not working including sea temperature and this also meant our true wind indicator was working either. Researching the connectors, we identified that the transducer had failed. We switched on a manual Navionics trip to give us an over the ground distance travelled and used the apparent wind speed as an indicator of wind angle both these measures use satellites to measure speed over the ground (SOG).

radar
Radar, purple is rain!

The wind eventually dropped and by 11am we switched the engine on and motor sail on the lay line until 0500 on. Saturday was a steady breeze and we sailed all day with no encounters of animals, birds or ships. We send an email to the family every day and this day we emailed Bundaberg marina, Raymarine and most importantly Australian custom, informing them of our estimated date of arrival. On Sunday 2nd we had slowed down and unfortunately not sailing towards Bundaberg due to beating. With the wind dropping so we decided increased the sail area, realising we had become complacent with reefing. And typically the wind then increased to 15kts on the beam, making KS OK to handle fully sailed. But come 17:30 we once again put in a reef for the overnight sail. But by 17:45 the wind dropped and once again we motor sailed in dead calm conditions overnight. The forecast was for strong winds from 4th-6th so we ensured KS was prepared. Half way through the day a large black cloud was spotted and radar identified a horse shoe shaped dense raincloud. Geoff was on watch, the wind died completely but due to passing between the chesterfield reefs we were unable to change direction and the skies opened. IMG_5960We managed to sail again over night with the rain only occurring on Geoff’s watch! In early morning we added a 2nd reef but the wind unexpectedly dropped and rained again. By 11:30 we had the predicted strong winds with a max of 27kts apparent wind with was probably more like 30-35kts. We sailed overnight in strong wind with main only but Vera and KS coped brilliantly. The strong winds forced a skua to take refuge on KS’s solar panel overnight.
On the morning of 5th September, we woke to cloudy sky and the size of the waves were enormous 3-4 meters, it was probably best we couldn’t see the waves overnight!

As we approach Australia we were joined in the shipping lanes by 3 large container ships. The waves were still large 2-3m, but the wind had decreased making sailing a more relaxed affair and even small dolphins came out to play. We eventually approached the channel to Bundaberg marina at 17:30. We dropped the sails and switched on the engine, when Geoff noticed white smoke coming from  the exhaust. I opened the engine room door to allow more cooling. We continued motoring up the channel but just as we approached the marina the engine alarms sounded. Geoff immediately switched off the engine and I suddenly noticed the bilge pump running, after checking the main bilge found water. Geoff went to the engine room and discovered the raw water intake hose has come off the U bend that goes into the heat exchanger. Meaning sea water was being pumped into the bilge. It was easy to replace the hose but took a while to empty the bilges. We think the Surclip holding the hose in place had moved during the recent big seas and heavy pounding. We eventually positioned ourselves  and anchored just near the marina. We were not allowed to go into the marina outside of office hours, we relaxed and used up some of fresh food that would be confiscated in the morning anyway.
australian-quarintine.jpgOn Friday 7th September we were called to enter the marina at 08:15. Australia is very strict about fresh and dried food being brought in so we were restricted to the arrivals berth behind a locked cage. The biosecurity lady, Amy, came down at 09:30, she inspected all our wood for termites and confiscated eggs, fruit and vegetables. Customs called to say they were unable come until 14:00 so we just waited on the secure berth and as promised they arrived armed with guns and on time. After 30 minutes we were finally legally in Australia.
DCIM108GOPROGOPR9701.JPGWe were feeling very smug we had just crossed the world’s largest ocean and were now legally in Australia.