They say that cruising is merely a matter of fixing your boat in exotic locations. If this is true, we think we deserve a prize for dedication to the cause… This week we had a rather unexpected stopover at Huon Island, in the Entrecasteaux Reefs at the tippy tippy top of New Caledonia.
As you might know, the most valued (non-human) member of our crew is “Ray”- our autopilot. Ray allows us to do these crossings with a semblance of normalcy. We can go on watch for 3-6 hours knowing that all that is required of us is to watch for traffic, adjust the sails as the wind changes etc. The arduous task of helming is left to Ray. So when Ray goes on the blink, we care. A lot.
Two days out of Vanuatu, as we were steaming full speed ahead to Chesterfield Reef,* Ray went on the blink. Stof had disengaged Ray
late in the afternoon (the sea had been quite rough he thought it appropriate to give Ray a little break). Problem was that Ray never switched on again. Bummer.
We all took turns hour by hour hand-steering through the night. By this morning it appeared that we were not going to fix Ray while under way, we were still 270 miles from Chesterfield Reef (and 720 miles from Bundaberg) and that we were all exhausted from the unplanned arrangement of night #2 of passage. Luckily we were skirting the northern reefs of New Caledonia which have been declared World Heritage sites by UNESCO. We adjusted course a little, did some beating into 30 knots of wind (nasty) and found a long low sandy bluff behind which we could drop our anchor and have a look at our ailing crew member.
Our Dr Dave passed the diagnostic reigns to Skippy Stof. Dr Mechanic Stof’s first prognosis was that Ray’s electro-magnetic clutch was broken. Which left us with two options: jamming Ray and heading straight for Aus in one shot with a hopefully functional autohelm; or taking the trip slowly with less sail and self-steering in jumps (from Huon to Chesterfield, Chesterfield to Bundy). There was no point in making a rushed decision so we made a feast of Vanuatu beef, mushroom sauce, fresh salad and a Bordeaux red and discussed the options. Nobody was that keen for the exhausting task of helming in short shifts for the next week (effectively), so we decided to ram Ray the next day and head for Oz. Then we collapsed into bed and sleeeeeeeeeeept for a very long time.
On awaking we took a bit of a closer look at our surroundings. The low island we found ourselves anchored behind is spectacular: in a wild and untamed small island reef in the middle of nowhere kind of way. There are thousands and thousands of birds – and it felt like very one of them did a fly by to check us out. The water is clear, the holding was good, and, while we were still getting some of those powerful trade winds we were hoping would shunt us to Chesterfield blowing through, we were protected from the swell. No sign of any humans. As the birds had already acquainted themselves with our home, we decided to leave Ray for a little later and take an explore of the island.
We set off equipped with cameras, water and a little geo-cache box.**
I paddled in the kayak and the boys swam. (We didn’t want to go through the mission of unpacking and inflating the dingy only to repack and deflate it a couple of hours later.) When we set foot on the island we realised just how magical a place we had found ourselves. The shore was lined with downy baby sea birds being guarded by their mothers. Although they were not small, these birds clearly had not yet gained the use of their enormous wingspan and they sat forlornly on the beach, braying if we came too close. It reminded us of a nature programme we had watched where sharks lined the shore of a particular island at a particular time of the year in order to gobble up the hapless birds who landed in the water on their first forays into flight. Was this that island?
The second thing we noticed about the beach was the thousands and
thousands of “ditches”in the sand. Combined with tracks that looked not unlike those of quad bikes rising from the sea, we concluded that this must be a seriously prolific turtle hatchery. As we walked along the sandy spit we came across a couple of giant basking mama turtles. The boys thought they were dying, but I (hopeless optimist) hoped they were merely sunning themselves. Based on the number of nests on the beach, there was no need to fear that the turtle population of Huon Island was in danger of depletion.
The island had two “terrains”. To the south it was raised to about 5m
above sea level covered in wild grass, while the northern end extended
in a long sandy spit. At no point is the island more than 60m in width
although its entire length is probably over two kilometres. We landed
at the point where the spit and the “hill” met and decided to stroll along the beachy bit before mounting the grassy knoll in search of an
appropriate spot to leave our cache.
We probably spent about two hours beach-combing the spit. We found all manner of treasures: exquisite shells, bleached coral and a variety of man-made flotsam and jetsam. The most exciting find of the day was Stof’s: an actual real message in a bottle! When we later returned to Takalani to open the bottle it transpired that it had been dropped by a young girl from a cruising yacht who had set sail for Bundaberg from Vanuatu a month prior to us. We can’t wait to be near good internet again and send her all our photographs of the find.
Lunch-time hunger pangs finally brought us out of our deserted-island
reverie and we found the perfect spot to leave our geo-cache box. We
bade our farewell to the birds – who had ceaselessly swooped and
circled as we wandered their island – and paddled/swam back to Takalani.
There is nothing like a delicious dinner, good sleep and a stroll on land to give one perspective and the post-lunch team who looked at Ray had an epiphany! We checked the fuses and one had blown. The fuse was replaced, Ray was given a general service and we set sail again that night (retracing our tracks to avoid any nasty reefs that lay in the dark).
We are now nearing Bundaberg. For various reasons (stop at Huon Island, dropping winds), we had to forgo stopping at Chesterfield and
we are headed straight for the Queensland coast. Those Aussie – as
well as having the most bureaucratic check-in procedures in the world
of yachting – sting boats that arrive over the weekend with a rather hefty over-time fee. We’re trying to travel at the optimal speed in lightening winds to arrive late Sunday afternoon for a Monday check-in… then spend our saved over-time cash on a big dinner on the town on Monday night! After an eventful start to the passage, this is turning out to be a rather relaxing last leg of our voyage across the
* Chesterfield is on the way to Australia and is reported to be a rather lovely deserted island in the middle of nowhere. We cannot confirm these reports as we had to forgo the visit to Chesterfield in order to
** None of us are avid geo-cachers, but leaving a little treasure on an island in the middle of nowhere seemed too good to resist.