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Passage to New Caledonia

Suddenly it is almost spring in the Pacific and everyone is migrating north or south to escape the coming hurricane season.

This is a particularly active transit season because the New Zealand Met office is currently predicting a nasty, El Nino year for the sou’west Pacific. This means earlier storms, bigger storms and storms that wander further afield than normal. (It also means good news for the Caribbean… you can relax for awhile, guys!)

Anyway, we were in Port Villa, Vanuatu, when we decided we should start to think about heading back to New Zealand via New Caledonia.

Why back to New Zealand? Well, we have to stash the boat for a couple of months while we visit the States/VI, and Whangarei is the best, safest, cheapest, funniest, most convenient place to do so.

Plus, we love New Zealand. The people are great. (“Just promise me, Fatty,” Carolyn sobbed when I told her, “no more… romantic entanglements… with… the sheep, okay?”)

Yes, New Zealand isn’t like most English-speaking places. The Kiwis are tough, rough, rugged folks who ask for no quarter nor offer any. Picture America brimming with confidence in the 1950s just after WWII, and you’ve got a fairly good snapshot of self-assured, let-me-at-it quality of New Zealand society.

Anyway, Vanuatu is a pretty primitive place and I happened to be at the yachtie cybercafe (such terms are not mutually exclusive) and mentioned the fact that I was thinking of heading out. About fifty heads swiveled up from their weather-map-blinking computer screens.

“What about the stationary high off Norfolk island,” asked one.

“Or the fast moving low in the Tasi,” queried another.

“…you’ll be in a series of gales if the trough zigs or a large area of doldrums if the ridge zags…” mused a third, paused, then added, “It’s either brilliant or suicide!”

Me, I think of weather forecasting as horoscope-with-numbers. I mean, it probably doesn’t do anyone any harm to read them… but, hey, I would not put stock in it.

…weather forecasts are more entertainment than reality.

Here is how I do it: I get my boat all set to go. I then check to see if something REALLY BAD is coming. If it is, I don’t go. If it ain’t, I do.

It is that simple.

Once offshore, I pay little attention to the weather. I think a lot of this ‘weather forecast mania’ is just anxiety. I take what I get. I deal with what arrives and don’t worry about it beforehand… and I certainly don’t worry about what ‘might’ hurt me.

Show me a sailor looking a six different weather maps and four different internet weather products——and I will show you a worried man.

Not me.

And I avoid group decisions like the plague. In a group, there are always a few timid, highly risk-adverse members. This means consensus often arrives late. Thus, such groups usually head out to sea just as the prefect conditions start to be less so.

One of the professed reasons people want to make group ‘go or don’t go’ decisions is because, well, ‘two heads are better than one.’ But often they aren’t. What the ‘group-think’ really offers is sort-of ‘reputation insurance’ that you aren’t making a bad or foolish move… or that, even if you are, well, a lot of other idiots did too!

I make mistakes all the time. I’m imperfect. Big deal. I’ve learned to deal with it.

In any event, I readied my vessel, checked the weather to see if anything horrible was coming (it wasn’t) and left.

While sailing out of the harbor I heard the most astounding chatter on the VHF. “Fatty says it is an excellent window,” said one, with another adding, “…he’s says don’t miss it.”

I never said anything to anyone about anything… other than ‘good-bye, good luck, can I borrow ten bucks?’

But a fair number of boats suddenly left the same day as Wild Card.

We were hard on the wind and could barely lay the rhumbline to New Cal, which lay 400 miles ahead. The wind was a steady 26 to 28, with occasional gusts to 33 knots.
         
The wind had been up for awhile and the seas, as they hit the local currents ricocheting off Vanuatu, were impressive.

But, hey, it was a thrilling, rail-down, storm-canvas sail. Wild Card was built for this… actually, that’s not true… Wild Card was REBUILT for this. She reveled in the conditions: airborne one minute, submarine the next.

I flew a storm staysail and double reefed main.  We occasionally hit seven knots.

I carefully monitored the stress on the entire structure, not just the rig. (There comes a time when the boat is just HITTING THE WAVES too hard——but we never reached that point, thankfully).

Behind me were some VERY unhappy folks… wallowing in their Winnebagos (cruising vessels so overloaded with junk they sail with all the grace of a boxy motorhome)… attempting to drag their lofty ‘tower of power’ aft structures to windward.          

…sure, they had all the electro toys.

Toys are heavy.

Wild Card flew.

There is a group of islands called the Loyalities which are between Vanuatu and New Cal. We arrived just at dusk. Instead of threading our way through their reefs, we hove-to… and were within three miles of where we started at dawn. (Very nice, restful night).

I can heave Wild Card to in about three minutes——and she is good from ten to forty-five knots without going back on deck.

At dawn we rove our merry way through the coral heads of the Loyalties and romped on to sunny New Caledonia——where we again arrived just at dusk. Thus we spent another comfortable night snug-as-bugs-in-a-rug bobbing stationary off the inlet.

All in all, it was VERY nice passage. We enjoyed watching Wild Card perform at her peak and yet we never felt the least bit worried that she was being pressed too hard or that the seas were too high.

We avoid all dangers-in-the-dark by simply not being around them in the dark.

During the next week, the boats that left with us straggled in, muttering, “Boy, you called that one wrong, Fatty!”

Of course, I hadn’t called anything right-or-wrong——but was nice enough to say, “…sorry!” and not, “…maybe for your vessel but not for mine!”

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