The time had come to leave happy Vanuatu and its islands and return the boat to Australia. The journey from Vanuatu to Australia would take us about 8-9 days and over 1100 miles. We completed all the formalities, went to Immigration, told to go to Customs, then told to go to the Harbour Master, then told to go back to Customs, and finally back to Immigration to officially get stamps in our passports to leave the next day.
We left Luganville early the next morning in drizzle and windy weather, unfortunately the wind had changed direction and was blowing from the south west – exactly where we wanted to go !! We were about to head out to sea but it would have been an uncomfortable sail and who knows for how long. The weather forecast had got it wrong again so we turned back and waited for a couple of days for a more reliable weather window.
There were 3 low depression areas starting from New Zealand going up to the Solomon Islands with a high pressure area over Australia, all fighting for dominance and causing weird weather patterns it confused all the weather prediction experts.
We finally left Luganville but there was still a south west wind blowing but it soon petered out, the wind quietened and changed direction so we were sailing the next day with the parasailor up, only 7-8 knots of wind but still jogging along at 3 knots. We did this for a few hours but couldn’t keep it up so the engine came on and we motored for a day or so.
We had a bit more wind and started sailing again, the main sail was up – well for a while anyway !! Suddenly there was a bang and the main sail dropped down, the snap shackle holding it to the main halyard had broke or come undone, whatever it was it was at the top of the mast and the sail was at the bottom. Nothing more could be done other than continue on without it.
We carried on before we came to our half way stop at Chesterfield reef. Conveniently there was a reef with some islands 550 miles west of Vanuatu and 550 miles east of Australia. We had always planned to stop there and when we arrived the weather was fair but still a little breezy. The recommended anchorage near the main island looked suspect and there looked like lots of coral heads in amongst the sandy patches. Not wanting to get snagged on rocks we went further down into the reef which was a ‘V’ shape as it also gave us more protection from any swell. We found a large sandy patch and dropped anchor, the water was so clear and blue the chain could be seen meters down.
Chesterfield reef, 500 miles from anywhere –
Me at Chesterfield reef –
The blue, blue water at the reef –
We had dinner that night over 500 miles out to sea watching the sun go down, a strange experience.
We stopped there for the night and had a lazy start to the day, Noel cooked bacon and eggs and we relaxed before our intended midday departure. The highlight of the crossing was what happened next. Both Noel and I had seen a water disturbance behind the boat and I had seen two dark patches. As we had seen many dark patches because of the coral heads I didn’t think anymore of it. Next thing there was another disturbance and a spurt of water – whales !! Two whales were about 30 feet from the boat and heading out of the reef. They probably swam in and then found the water too shallow so were heading out again. We watched as they swam away rising to the surface every 50ft or so with a huff and a puff.
We left Chesterfield reef and started the second leg of the journey, still 550 miles to go before seeing Australia. Another mixed leg of sailing/motoring/sunshine/rain. We hit some grotty weather every so often as the squalls came in –
With still 200 miles to go the boat appeared to lose steering and this was about 3 o’clock in the morning, dark as dark could be !! The autopilot had disengaged and the boat was not responding to the helm. We had the engine covers open looking at the steering, all appeared correct but the autopilot refused to work. Noel hand steered but the boat just kept wanting to turn, he struggled to keep it in a straight line and even trying to steer with the engines was problematic. We thought that maybe one of the rudders was jammed or was loose, nothing we could think of made any sense. We turned off the instruments and re-started the autopilot, it came back to life and regained control of the boat. It was a BIG relief to everybody !! We could only think that a big current picked us up and threw us off course.
We had decided not to go into Bunderburg as Mackay was nearer to the Whitsunday Islands where the boat needed to be later on. The only problem with going into Mackay was navigating through the great barrier reef. The journey into Bunderburg was a straight run but this route meant 30 odd miles following a path through the reef. We made it to the entrance to the reef with a couple of hours of daylight left, the wind was blowing 25 knots, yet again not as expected. Unfortunately there was a stretch of over 10 miles which was due south, straight where the wind was coming from. We had no choice but to bash into the waves and wind for 3-4 hours in the dark, most uncomfortable.
We got through the channel but still had 70-80 miles to go in the early morning before arriving into Mackay at 10 o’clock on the 9th day, it was a tiring last day,
Our first sight of Australia –
Over 1100 nautical miles completed in changeable weather it was good to be in the marina.
Now for a bit of boat sitting in Mackay marina…………