Port Vila to Noumea

It was quite a slow sail to Port Vila and we ended up motor sailing for a good portion of the way. When we arrived we radioed the Yachting World Marina but after several times with no reply another yachtsmen told us that they were out to lunch and wouldn’t be back for a couple of hours… Island time…. So we picked up a mooring and awaited their return. Once they got back we were shown to a birth and back in med style.

Nancy was keen to finish off her holiday with a bang! So we set off to explore the city of Port Vila to find out the best things to do. We arranged to go Para-sailing which was high on Nancy’s list, time for the obligatory souvenir shopping, decided to hire a car and drive around the Island of Efata to check out the sites and I talked everyone into trying SCUBA diving. We got a false start on the Para-sailing as we booked to go at 15:00 and when we got there I believe they had gotten a better offer in taking a bunch of people out in the glass bottom boat and told us that they didn’t have enough staff to take us out. We booked to go again the next day. We set off the next morning to drive around the island in a rental car and saw the sights. One impression that I got of the island of Efata is that there are a lot of things that are simply tourist traps. We went to Blue Lagoon and paid 500 Vatu ($7.50 AUD) each to go swimming in a lagoon that had some rope swings over it. Then we set off to go snorkelling on some WWII airplanes that had crashed nearby but found that a guy needed to take us there in a boat but he wasn’t there that day. Then we went to walk to some cascades but turned around at the start of the trail when they wanted to charge us 2000 Vatu ($28 AUD) each for the pleasure!

We did stop about half way around the island at a small café for a nice lunch and made it back to Port Vila in time for Nancy and I to go Para-sailing. The following day Greg, Jordan, Nancy and I went to the dive shop and arranged for us all to do an introductory SCUBA dive. This went quite well and everyone greatly enjoyed this new experience. Since I had lost my PADI card and they couldn’t find any record of me doing this as it was about 1982 when I had completed my training, I had to do the introductory to diving instructions as well. They did allow me to take my GoPro along so I did manage to get some great video of everyone.

The next day is when the disaster appeared! I had noticed that a wire on the baby stay had separated, so I got a rigger in to replace it. On further inspection we found that most of the rigging was corroded and actually four wires on the baby stay had broken as well as one wire on two of the side stays. This meant that the rigging that was only six months old!! Was not safe to sail any further on. So our plans for the leg 7 crew to sail to the northern islands of Vanuatu were cancelled as we waited for negotiations with the rigging company in Brisbane as to who was going to pay for the new rigging. While the rigging company claim that there have been no other boats with this issue so therefor they believe it couldn’t be anything to do with the wire or the manufacture process and claim the cause to be an electrolysis issue on the boat. I see no signs of an electrolysis issue and if there was believe the mast should corrode before the stays as it is the lesser metal. So to get moving in order to make it back to Australia before the cyclone season starts, we agreed to both pay 50% of replacement costs until the boat returns to Brisbane where the exact cause of the issue can be determined.

This was a great setback of which all the crew of leg 7 (Greg, Julie, Stewart, Warwick and Susanne) showed great understanding of which I am greatly appreciative. Greg, Julie and Stewart decided to use the waiting time to fly to the northern Islands and have a look around whilst Warwick and myself decided to use the time to get recertified in SCUBA. Warwick had also been certified many years ago so because both of us were experienced this went very smoothly. It was also great being in just a class of two! After we spent a couple of days doing the Open Water SCUBA certificate, Warwick and Suzie flew to Tana Island for a few days to see the volcano and other sights of that island. While I went on to complete the Advanced SCUBA certificate.

Before Warwick left for Tana Island he helped hoist me up the mast to measure all sections of the rigging so that it could be ordered. This was no easy feat as I was the only person up the mast attempting to hold both ends of the tape measure! It was vital that the measurements were accurate as there is no facilities to manufacturing the sections in Vanuatu so they needed to be made in Brisbane and then shipped via air transport to Port Vila.

While waiting and monitoring the progress of the rigging I decided to use the time to do the advanced certificate in SCUBA. This consisted of five dives with learning additional skills in Deep Diving up to 30 meters, Underwater Navigation, Wreck Diving, Search and Recovery and Underwater Photography. Each of the five dives were in a different location and practised each of these skills. So we went to a spot where the reef wall went down to 30 meters on one dive. Dived on a wreck in another and practiced the three other skills at other locations. Each affording some fantastic tropical reef diving! What a great spot to get certified again!!

Finally the day arrived when the rigging showed up and with the help Geoff, a local rigger and Warwick we replaced the corroded rigging with the new. It all fit perfectly!! Our attitudes were buoyed as each of the eleven sections was replaced successfully.

Another big downside of this was that by the time we replaced the rigging and could once again sail, we had missed the Go West rally which would have allowed us to clear into New Caledonia in the Loyalty Islands, these lie east of the main island. This means that we now had to proceed all the way to Noumea to clear in and would not be able to see these wonderful Islands or Isle de Pins on this leg. Leg 8 would return to see Isle de Pins.

It is hard to get a good weather window to Noumea from Port Vila as you are travelling in a largely southerly direction and so need an easterly wind for the most comfort. As the trade winds flow in a predominantly SE direction you are often going to windward but at least on one tack. Looking at the weather the flows over the next week were from the south… exactly where we wanted to go! And so we made a quick decision to leave first thing in the morning to take advantage of the current SE winds and hope for the best as if we didn’t the weather wouldn’t turn good again for another week. It ended up sitting about 45 to 50 degrees off the bow and blew between 20-25knts. Not the best for Suzie’s and Julie’s first ocean voyage…. I think everyone except myself was seasick for at least a portion of the trip and I give great credit to everyone for keeping up their spirits.

We got hit by a wicked squall the night before making landfall and for a short time experienced 40 knots of wind with torrential rain fall. We needed to slow down to make the reef entrance after sunrise so just downed sails and slowly motored into position. Once the sun rose we raised sails and proceeded on through the entrance and after several tacks headed up the coast of the main island of New Caledonia to Noumea.

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