Passage from Noumea to Coff's Harbour, Australia
Nov 21 -27, 2006
For the most part, our passage was pretty good up until the last 6 hours or so. A number of boats set out together on what appeared to be the best weather window after several weeks of waiting and watching. We were cautiously watching a low pressure zone forming in southern Australian and moving our way. By all accounts it looked like we would be safely in port by the time it materialized.
All the boats kept in communication through SSB radio via our scheduled “Nemo Net” and we took turns at net control.
Light and Variable
The first few days out, we had a light wind spinnaker run. Then the winds disappeared and it was a motor boat ride. But as we encountered the strong Tasman/ Coral Sea current against us, we were having trouble maintaining 3 knots of boat speed, full throttle. It was a frustrating 2 days, with the current and then clocking winds gradually building and making it hard to maintain our course.
By the fifth day we finally punched through and we found the Eastern Australia Current (EAC). By this time the winds had picked up and we had anywhere from 15 to 25 knots aft of the beam. With the boost from the EAC, we were maintaining between 10-12 knots of speed, often reaching 13 knots while surfing down the waves in our little 38 foot boat!!!! That's a record for us. Best of all it was very comfortable and the boat was stable. This continued for most of the day. The sky was blue and the sun was hot and we were entertained by a visiting Albatross. The forecast confirmed that we would likely miss the offensive weather system if we arrived by Sunday afternoon.
The winds had really picked up and the squash zone was moving faster than anticipated. Within hours we had 30 knots of wind and the seas were building fast. We were still maintaining good boat speed under a double reefed main, a storm size stay sail and a partial Genoa. We still had about 80 miles to go.
I was able to pick up an Australian radio station and heard that the storm was already in full force on the coast with an overload of emergency calls responding to damage caused by the flash flooding and lightning.
As the morning progressed so did the accumulation of huge ugly threatening black clouds, charged with intense lightning and bursting with heavy with rain. We were able to detour around one of the systems which took us 6 miles off course. But soon the entire sky was dark and ominous, rumbling and cracking its intent to engulf us in a torrential downpour. We could not even see the mast as the rain pelted against the boat like it was being shot from a firehose. The self steering was still doing its job so we were trying to stay dry under the dodger. Lightning was striking all around us, hissing and landing with explosive force on the water. There was lightning in every direction and you could smell the ozone...we were positive we would be hit! We later learned that a herd of 75 cows huddled under a tree were killed by a lightning strike on shore. Also a boat near us was struck and lost virtually all of its electronics...the engine would not run and even the skipper's wristwatch stopped!
Threatening black skies charged with intense lightning striking meters from the boat, and blinding torrential downpours forewarned us that the convergence zone had traveled faster than anticipated and we were in the middle of it! Winds gusted to 45 knots and the seas were building fast.
Gord decided to hand steer as the boat was twisting off the top of the waves. Just as he had taken the helm, a huge gust of wind packing 48 knots walloped us from the beam. At the same moment a massive rogue wave came from nowhere hitting us broadside. Ascension was knocked flat, the mast in the water, the cockpit full. Gord somehow held on to the wheel. Meanwhile I was sent careening across the cabin below, hitting my head hard on the locker door. When the boat finally righted, we were thankful that we were both okay and the only damage was a ripped lee cloth and bent stanchion, although everything below was in shambles.
But we realized Gord would have to go forward and take down the mainsail, which we had previously triple reefed. I was very apprehensive until a group of good luck dolphins appeared by the boat as if to say "Everything will be fine!" and I knew it would be.
We contacted the Coff's Harbour Coastal Patrol, now only 18 miles away, who gave us a weather forecast and conditions at the harbour. Although a volunteer organization the Australian Coastal Patrol does an excellent job of assisting and tracking vessels all along the Coast.
Reaching the Harbour
By the time we reached the entrance to the anchorage (about 4 pm), the visibility had improved and we dropped our anchor outside the marina in preparation for customs. Because there was no room in the marina, customs & quarantine agreed to proceed with check-in the following morning, saving us a considerable overtime fee. We were the only boat in the anchorage and it wasn't the most protected spot to sit out a storm, but we were happy to be there.
Endless was hours behind us, still battling with the weather and we tried to keep radio contact with them to make sure they were okay. They eventually joined us around midnight, bedraggled, wet, tired and ready for a very BIGGG sleep. Aliesha was a full day behind, having had a much slower passage.