A Travellerspoint blog

Kilometers of Fun on the Left Side


View Australia on BlueMoonSailing's travel map.

As January came to a close, we excitedly made preparations for our two week trip to New Zealand. This involved finding a suitable place to leave Blue Moon, and finding a way ashore then to the airport. We had spent some time anchored in Rose Bay, and felt confident in the holding for our anchor and the neighborhood. With nowhere on shore to leave our dinghy long term, we devised a different solution. The day before our flight, we took all our luggage and Kendra ashore in the dinghy, then David rowed the dinghy back to the boat, hoisted it on deck, and paddled back to shore on an inflatable watermelon tube which we then deflated and put in our bag. From there we caught a ferry downtown, which connected us to the train station to reach the airport. We spent the night in a hotel before our early flight, knowing we couldn't have accomplished all the logistics the same morning of departure. Three hours after takeoff we were on the ground in Aotearoa - the native Maori name for New Zealand. Cousin Brian and his partner Cassie were already waiting at the terminal, after a much longer journey from the US.

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We set off in our rental car to explore what we could of the beautiful subtropical North Island in a week’s time. Our BNB bach pad was four hours north from Auckland in the town of Mangonui, but the drive went fast despite the anxiety of keeping in the left lane on narrow, winding roads. After a good night's sleep, we set out exploring the next day, soaking in the rolling paddocks framed by wooded hills, epic vistas over the many bays, and in small towns as old as European history on the island. In Kerikeri, we found a wonderful family run winery, exquisite woodfired pizza, and a stone store so ancient that the floor was worn into a curve at the entrance. The next day we hiked a long forest trail to the “Duke’s Nose”, with no shortage of exertion, silver ferns, and amazing views.

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The multiple permutations of the Northland landscape provided endless sightseeing, the only catch was a lot of time spent in the car to travel this sparsely populated region. A beautiful beach day led us to a couple more wineries, before heading home to grill a big dinner at the bach. Our last day in the far north, we took the long drive to the Cape Reinga peninsula for more stunning views, and the highlight of our day, sand boarding. The dunes on this coast are so large, it feels otherworldly walking upon them, but the best part is riding a boogie board down at warp speed after reaching the summit!

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With much more to see, we struck out the next morning back towards Auckland, but we didn't plan to stay in town long - we had a booking on the ferry to Waiheke Island. The wind was blowing a steady 25kts, and despite all of the beautiful anchorages we had seen along the coast, this pattern of regular gales was part of the reason we chose not to sail Blue Moon to this country. Onboard the car ferry, the wind was no threat but the waves did cause a motion somewhat disagreeable with the stomach; nothing like the smooth side to side roll of our little monohull. We enjoyed two beautiful days on this special island haven, enjoying wine and the simple joys of life. When we drove onto the ferry again, only one week of our time in New Zealand remained. For this, we headed back to the airport to catch a hopper flight down to Queenstown in the south island.

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Disembarking the plane onto the tarmac, we were stunned by the majesty of the mountains surrounding us. We felt suddenly smaller than we had in the north, and a new sense of adventure gripped us. Again we rented a car, and drove north up the winding pass, beyond the old gold mining towns, on to the little village of Wanaka, a place of local mountain culture and rad stoke beneath the veneer of the tourist shops. Besides stunning views over the lake, we also found more hikes, breweries, and wineries than we could shake a stick at. We immersed ourselves in all of it, and even took a swim in the glacial river behind the BNB. Local high school kids had an epic rope swing set up (which we couldn't resist trying), and they gathered en masse to do flips off the bridge. When we drove back towards Queenstown two days later, we made a stop along the way to the Kawarau Bridge - the original home of commercial Bungy Jumping. We threw caution to the wind, and then threw ourselves off the 140 foot high bridge. Epic.

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South of Queenstown we followed the only roadway along an endless lake wedged between two mountains. Hours later we arrived in Te Anau, our gateway to the Southern Alps and Milford Sound. Here we enjoyed another quaint accommodation, grilling up a king's feast and playing yard games in the summer sun. Waking to crisp autumn temperatures, we began the two hour drive through the mountains to reach the ocean via Milford Sound. There we took a boat tour around the sound, bundled against the chill of the Tasman Sea winds. It was a stark reminder of why we have no desire to be sailing ourselves at 45 degrees latitude (they don't call them the ‘roaring forties’ for nothing!).

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When we headed back to Queenstown the next morning, we had just one more day to experience New Zealand. The gondola took us to the heights overlooking town, but the real fun was in riding the luge track down. Each of the three runs was more exhilarating as we drove the carts faster and faster, propelled by gravity and the thrill of competition. On our final day we started with a hike that ended in rain (which produced beautiful snow on the mountain peaks) followed by a few wonderful breweries to ward off the weather. As the next morning dawned and we made our way to the airport, we felt beyond satisfied with all we had seen, hungry for more of what the Land Way Down Under holds. Gaining altitude and climbing out of the valley then eclipsing the mountain peaks, it wasn't long before the Pacific Ocean met the land and we knew just a short hop across the ditch separated us from Blue Moon.

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All was as we had left it when we stepped back onboard. The next days were spent resting, which was interrupted abruptly when the head (toilet) mechanism seized. Boat maintenance waits for no one, but this urgent issue involved a sailor's least favorite job onboard, disassembly of the plumbing. With that job tackled, we then began packing once again for our next adventure. Australia as a continent evolved rather separately from the rest of the Earth, producing many endemic species of reptile, bird, and marsupial. What it did not originally have were large quadruped mammals, until Europeans introduced them. Deer, goats, water buffalo, and even camels now roam wild, introduced hundreds of years ago either intentionally as a food source, or accidentally as escaped livestock. Our goal was to hunt two of these unique game species while also seeing a bit more of inland Australia. We signed up months ago with one of the few outfitters in the country, then went through the arduous process of obtaining a temporary firearms permit. With all of our planning in place, we picked up a rental car in Sydney, repeated the process of closing up the boat and paddling the watermelon, and began our 6 day vacation inland. On our way to the ranch where we would be hunting, we spent two nights at a BNB in the Blue Mountains, exploring this beautiful region just west of Sydney. We learned that there is a “Great Dividing Range” of mountains and plateaus that runs parallel to the entire length of the east coast. In this region, the elevation reached up to 1000m, but further south, the range becomes the Australian Alps, where 2,000m is reached and snow is common from June to August. Appropriately called the Snowy Mountains, it is here that a breed of escaped sheep evolved into the hardy Snowy Mountain Ram which David would be hunting. Kendra had chosen to pursue the magnificent Red Stag, which grow appreciably larger in these temperature ranges than their European ancestors.

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When we arrived to the family-run ranch a few hours west of Sydney, we were greeted by our hosts and shown to the lodge by their house. We spent the remainder of the afternoon with our guide, first testing the rifle he lent us, then scouting for game. The ranch cultivates good grasses in the valleys of their 8,000 acres, divided by steep eucalyptus-forested ridges. We positioned on the slope of a ridge and watched the valley ahead where a couple of nice stag bucks lay, and soon spotted a larger one further off. As an added bonus, we were treated to a kangaroo boxing match, watching two powerful bucks spar and kick. The peaceful quiet as we sat immersed in nature while the sun set reminded us of just why we enjoy being out in the woods, regardless of the outcome of the hunt. The next morning, we were up before dawn and worked into a position we thought the deer might be. We found them feeding and the large stag was with them, at a range that Kendra was able to make a perfect shot. The stag weighed twice as much as any whitetail buck we've seen, and sported a stunning 14 point rack!

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After congratulations, photos, and taking the stag back to the processing shed, we enjoyed lunch before heading back out into the bush in the afternoon. Though the sun warmed the air above 70F, it was cool on the ridge as strong wind whipped over the open country below us. We located a group of Rams, but played a long waiting game as they moved away from us, unable to sneak closer undetected. As the afternoon waned, we made a last effort to reposition on an opposite slope, arriving just as the ram we wanted came into range. It was a long shot and he began working away from us, but with a good prone rest, David steadied and hit the mark.

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We spent our remaining time at the ranch the next morning packaging the meat from both animals to take back to Blue Moon. Loaded down with coolers, we left the beautiful tableland region of Australia and headed back towards the coast. We made a stop to drop off our mounts at the taxidermist along the way, who would see to it that they get processed and shipped back to Wisconsin. With many trips in the dinghy, we got all of our gear and the meat onboard, which filled every inch of our fridge and freezer space. Our mission now complete, and the boat fully loaded, it was time for us to do what sailors do, and move on from Sydney. We spent one last weekend in the iconic harbor, watching the Sail Grand Prix races right off our stern. With fine weather ahead, we hauled anchor and sailed out through the rocky heads, then pointed north with the first light of Monday morning.

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Posted by BlueMoonSailing 09:44 Archived in New Zealand Comments (6)

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!


View Australia & Western Pacific on BlueMoonSailing's travel map.

Since arriving to Australia three months ago, we've had an incredible introduction to this wonderful country and her people, and find ourselves looking forward to more. Our initial landfall in Newcastle proved a perfect welcome location, as we found great culinary and sightseeing opportunities in this historic coal shipping town. The Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club was a perfectly located marina to allow us to relax, clean up, and see it all. It's also where we met Tony a few slips down, who showed great Aussie hospitality and gave us plenty of insight into the cultural nuances that had us scratching our heads (translation of innumerable slang terms, for example). After a week at the dock, we set out north to Port Stephens at the recommendation of more than a few locals. We quickly relearned the golden rule of “never go sailing on a schedule” when our 20 mile easy day-sail turned into beating against 25kts and choppy seas. What really killed morale was when we lost an unsecured bottle of rum to the boat’s excessive healing. Dejectedly, we doused the sails and ran the engine hard to make headway against the conditions. Making Port Stephens before dark, we then spent three lovely days exploring town, walking beaches and watching the local dolphins play. With no wind to carry us, we motored back down to Newcastle and anchored right behind Knobby Head at the port entrance, for a front row seat to an incredible airshow. While thousands packed the beach and knolls to see the spectacle, we lounged in a hammock and drank beer on our yacht as Spitfires and F-15s screamed just above our mast. We dinghied over to Tony's boat at the intermission to thank him for the tip about this vantage and were yet again treated to great food and hospitality.

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Photo Credit: Tony Moore
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Endless dunes and choppy seas
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"Dumpster Chickens"
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Kookaburra sits in the ole gum tree
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Catch of the day was a couple of odd shark
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With calm weather and favorable tides two days later, we continued south 17nm to the formidable entrance into Lake Macquarie. We timed the river bar well on an ingoing tide and had no trouble with the sometimes treacherous conditions that develop over the shallow water where a river meets the unyielding mass of the sea. Then transiting under a lift bridge, we were escorted by the Volunteer Marine Rescue tow boat through the shallow channel that leads to the lake. It was the shallowest water we had ever attempted to traverse, but unlike the Bahama bank, we couldn't see the depth through the dark water. Despite our local pilot, we succeeded in temporarily parking Blue Moon upon the continent of Australia, drawn in as if she simply had to say hello to this new land mass. The VMR fellas quickly tossed us a line as though they had expected as much, and with a little horsepower, had us floating once again and into the sprawling 12nm long body of the lake. In the murky waters of the lake, we looked down to find we were motoring through fields of jellyfish thick enough to walk on! With countless bays indenting the perimeter of this relatively shallow lake, we could find a suitable anchorage in any conditions. Devoid of ocean swell, we often woke to find the water still as a mill pond, which was oddly disconcerting to us after being in constant motion for so many months. We toured many of the parks and small towns over the next few weeks, enjoyed beautiful “champagne sailing”, watched wallabys hop along shore, and tried to catch fish bigger than minnows, happy to stay as long as we felt intrigued. While tied to one of the numerous free public moorings, we experienced the highest wind speed we ever had or wish to see again. As a thunderstorm rolled in off the warm land, it converged with the cool sea air and produced 64kt (73mph) sheer winds that wracked us for what felt like hours, but was only a handful or agonizing minutes. As the boat bucked and heeled over 30 degrees, our dinghy, tied alongside, was lifted to almost vertical and by the narrowest margin avoided capsizing. It was impossible to do anything but watch; even exiting the cockpit when the wind was building at 40kts was difficult, and the driving rain too painful to look at. Fortune favored us yet again and the mooring held us firmly until the tempest subsided.

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Upon leaving the lake, we timed the tide a bit better and kept water beneath the keel the entire time. Heading south, we made 30 miles, half of which were glorious downwind sailing once the breeze filled in. Just outside of Broken Bay we were escorted by dolphins and even hooked up with our first fish while trolling since Fiji! Two Tailor made a delicious grilled meal that night as we sat comfortably in well-protected Hardy’s Bay. While there, we were able to get in touch with another young sailing couple we had met long ago in the Caribbean. Renee and Travis, now land based, happened to live near enough to make a rendezvous for drinks possible. Little did we know that this casual meeting to talk about mutual friends and sea stories would lead to us attending their Christmas pig roast, and them joining us onboard for NYE in Sydney! But before all that, we spent two weeks exploring the endless natural waterways in Cowan creek, Hawkesbury river, and Pittwater, all connected to the ocean at Broken Bay. Between hikes along the bluffs, beach days, seeing our first kangaroos, and meeting more great people (one an ex-Wisconsinite who brought us beers!), we enjoyed our time to the fullest while also planning our next moves. On Dec 23rd, we traveled up the Brisbane Waters channel, then along a tiny creek to reach Davistown and moor the boat steps away from our new friends. Travis and Renee picked us up the next day and took us on a full tour of the beaches and bluffs in the nearby area where they live. Come late afternoon, we found ourselves enjoying great company with their friends and extended family at the Christmas eve party. What we thought would be a casual barbeque soon turned into us representing the USA in beer pong (admirably, it should be noted). Somehow, we found ourselves with five new friends and a dog watching the Christmas Day sunrise from the decks of Blue Moon. Instead of waking up to find coal in our stockings, we knew we'd made the naughty list by the weight of our hangovers when we rolled out of bed late in the morning. Undaunted, we stuck to the plan and used the calm weather that day to motor the long 20nm down to Port Jackson - better known as Sydney harbor.

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The following morning, feeling better, we found ourselves in a great location to witness the Boxing Day tradition of the Sydney-Hobart yacht race start. The harbor was alive with racers and spectators covering every inch of water. From small cruiser sailboats like ours to 100ft Maxis, all 100+ boats would set out on the 630nm race through some of the world's toughest waters. Australia boasts a strong sailing culture, with every bay packed full of moorings, frequent club races, and kids camps everywhere. In fact, with so many local sailors, we barely ran into any other international cruisers. When the hubbub in the harbor subsided in the following days, we set out exploring, transiting beneath the harbor bridge, past the towering skyscrapers that make up downtown. Two days before New Year's Eve, we anchored in the bay beside the iconic Opera House to stake out a front row seat for the world class New Year's fireworks show. It wasn't long before the shorelines and bay around us were jam packed with people and boats, and we had our hands full to make sure careless captains didn't drift into us. The 9pm and midnight fireworks and lighted boat parade were nothing short of spectacular, seeming to surround us on every side. The best part, however, was that four of our new Aussie friends came down to join us for an incredible party on board that lasted until the sun rose on 2024.

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Watching the ambitious faction of the population jogging along shore the next morning, we weren't sure whether to pity them and their resolutions, or our own selves for the hangovers that hadn't yet fully taken hold. A quick dive off the boat to start the day gave us just enough focus to get our guests to shore and move Blue Moon away from downtown to a quiet recovery place. We spent the following weeks exploring the many coves and rivers connected to Sydney harbor, visiting endless ocean beaches, and generally relaxing in the comfortable summer climate. Time had seemingly melted away since arriving in the Land Down Under, and we were suddenly nearing the end of our three month visas. With so much more to see, we elected for the easy exit strategy and booked a two week flight to New Zealand, which would reset our three month clock upon return. The morning after watching the harbor come alive again in celebration of Australia Day, we put our bags in the dinghy and bid farewell to Blue Moon until our second Aussie chapter begins.

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"Australian Possum" hold the "O"
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Posted by BlueMoonSailing 23:21 Archived in Australia Comments (5)

A Pleasant Passage


View Western Pacific on BlueMoonSailing's travel map.

We left Noumea harbor just after noon on October 30th, hoisting full sails to the smooth 15kt breeze that greeted us. The complete opposite to the conditions encountered as we entered New Cal, our departure was as wonderful of sailing as we had ever had. The warm sun beamed down as we glided across the flat lagoon at a swift 6kts. Unhurried, we once again rediscovered the joy of sailing for the sake of sailing, rather than as a means of transportation. Even beating to windward and having to throw in a couple tacks to make it through the reef pass was a challenging part of the fun. The 10 foot ocean swell crashed magnificently onto the reef in bright blue crests against the dark of the depths. Watching the raw power of the sea unleash itself inspired awe and respect as we held hard on the wind to keep from being driven any closer to the shipwrecking surf.

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As expected, conditions were a bit uncomfortable for the first night, as our reefed sails drove us over the swell that remained from a wicked storm which had passed some 800nm to the south. The first few days progressed with us finding our sea legs as conditions improved with the swell subsiding. A full orange moon rose on Halloween night, looking every bit like a glowing jack-o'-lantern as it cast an eerie but welcome glow on the black ocean. The now omnipresent chill of the southeast wind had us reminiscing of nights spent in the same light clothes that had kept the sun from burning us by day, relishing the coolness that came after sunset. The cold gave the breeze a gravity that enveloped one in the cockpit on night watch; with 3 or more layers on top and bottom, it felt like we must have been transported back to Lake Michigan for an early springtime jaunt. Since leaving the cold US coast for the Bahamas, we had not once worn shoes while sailing, in fact, we didn't even own waterproof deck boots. During this (thankfully) dry passage, we even wore socks every night and some days to keep our toes warm. Although the air felt very much like autumn, we were pleased to know that it was springtime in this hemisphere, and though we left the equator astern, warmer weather was on its way.

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Smoothly, we coasted along in light winds over almost imperceptible wide rollers, their undulations the only reminder that this was the high seas, not some placid inland lake. The rudder gurgled as water wrapped around it astern; the hull itself not moving fast enough to create the noise of a wake, rather, just parting the smooth surface as gingerly as a deer would glide through prairie grass. We carried full sails day and night for the first time in a very long while. In the light reaching conditions, we were grateful to have the large, tattered genoa still pulling us along, as our new working jib just wouldn't quite have the horsepower for the conditions. We'd already learned better than to fly the spinnaker with wind too far in front of the beam, as doing so caused it to blowout early in our first Pacific crossing leg. This passage indeed conjured many Pacific crossing vibes, perhaps because it was the only sustained period of pleasant sailing since that time. It's hard to believe our Pacific chapter began 9 months and 10,000 miles behind us. As the seagull flies, our initial landfall in the Marquesas was about halfway across the expanse of the Earth's largest ocean, but since then we had logged twice as many miles with all of the twists and turns to reach the myriad islands in between. Now at the halfway point on our second longest continuous passage, we made the decision to alter our destination based on a favorable forecast. Some of the old timers called it the weather window of the decade, and we didn't complain a bit about adding another day onto the trip to point 150nm further south to Newcastle instead of our intended Coff's Harbor landfall.

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We reached that weirdly comfortable state, of time melting into irrelevance, unsure of whether we had been at sea 4,5, or 6 days without consulting the logbook. Truth was it just didn't matter, we were content in our floating home on this vast aquatic domain. We had water, food, and each other. Day and night traded places beautifully, the pink-orange globe melting into the water like a scoop of sherbet on hot pavement. It proved to be a truly serene stretch of sea, without a single other vessel sighted until we reached the coast of Australia. Had it not been for a few flying fish and some curious birds, we might have concluded that life on Earth ceased to exist in our absence. Bioluminescence glittered in the waves as Blue Moon pushed the water aside. Large particles shown so distinctly as to perfectly mirror the stars on the black canvas overhead. Even the spray thrown up over the bow contained a few glowing blue sparks that decorated the air like fireworks. The passage had been as glorious as any we've undertaken, with friendly seas and light but serviceable wind for the majority.

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The final 24 hours at sea included a handful of novelties which added to an already uplifted mood, our landfall being so near. First, a pod of pilot whales intersected our course, coming very near the side of Blue Moon before passing astern. Their blunt heads and sythe-like dorsal fins charged through the water purposefully. Minutes later, a large flock of boobies rested on the surface and milled about in the air, though one bird was different. As it flew close, then banked away, we saw the incredible breadth of its wingspan, well over 6 feet and stark white on the underside. It was our first sighting of an albatross! Still aglow with this ancient sailors' sign of good fortune, we then spotted what looked to be more whales, but were in fact, the largest dolphins we had ever seen! Their movements more swift and graceful than the whales, a few took the time to play in our bow wake for a minute, showing off their 8 foot length and girth exceeding what one could wrap arms around. An hour later, each the whales, dolphins, and albatross would return for a repeat performance, though they likely were entirely different groups in this seemingly abundant area.

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As evening approached, we arrived to the edge of a veritable river within the sea. Much like the Gulfstream of America, this East Australian Current parallels the continent's eastern coast, sometimes reaching up to 4kts in speed! Most fortunately, it runs from north to south, giving us a couple knot boost for the next 12 hours. With great sailing wind on the beam, we achieved a personal best average speed of 8kts over ground during the next 6 hours. Around 2:00am we came to the shoreward side of the current stream, as evidenced by our return to a normal 6kt speed. Now motoring in the whisper of a following breeze, the bioluminescence was as strong as ever, our propwash leaving a swirling tail a full boat length behind us. Gazing over the side into the sparkling black waves, an apparition suddenly appeared off the bow. It was gone so quickly that it must have been an odd wave enhanced by strained eyes. Then it appeared again, this time close enough to trace a vague shape before it disappeared below the bow. When it reappeared and made for the surface, there could be no doubt that it was real, and in fact a glowing dolphin! The excited bioluminescence outlined its shape, but only that space immediately surrounding the body, the smooth skin barely disturbing the organisms. The faint light extinguished immediately when untouched, causing no distortion in the water except where agitated by the tail, which left a glowing swath like a jet trail behind. What made the phenomenon most incredible was that it illustrated hydrodynamics at work. The snout and leading and trailing edges of the fins glowed brightest, accentuated by the greater pressure on the water about those points. As the fins were moved to change direction, the glow would highlight the foiling of the fins due to the Venturi effect. This was most fascinating, as it is the same principle that allows our sails to draw us upwind, and the albatross to soar the skies. This mammal, not as large as the earlier observed species, glided outwards and back, smoothly pumping its tail to gain the desired position in the bow wave, essentially surfing underwater. On the next pass there were streamers aglow from two tails, as a second dolphin appeared and intertwined with the first, leaving a spiral of luminous water behind. Out and back they went in parallel, leaving two streaks in their wake, then merging into one glow as they played behind each other. When they rose to break the surface for air, the glow disappeared for an instant as their back was out of the water and they were at once too dark to make out against the sea. The paradox, that they could only be viewed underwater, was stunning, while earlier in the daylight we had been longing for them to breach beside us. As if coordinated, four appeared the next time, then finally, six glowing dolphins all in a perfect line to form the grand finale! If there was a way to capture such an experience on film, it might be the most Oscar-deserving performance ever witnessed. But intuitively, one knows that even if the ultra low-light film equipment were at hand, this was something special meant to be fully experienced, not merely seen. At the last, it was again only one dolphin, remaining as if to take a bow and bid farewell. Though we shared company for less than fifteen minutes, the graceful beauty, mesmerizing appearance, and sense of timeless calm manifest by these creatures left an impression unequaled by anything we've yet observed in the natural world.

Closing the coast with a faint moonglow astern and the rhythmic flash of a lighthouse to starboard, the first waft of land scent came out to greet us. A deeper, richer, fragrance than that of the islands, this smell, heightened by our week away from land, told the story of an entirely new continent and all its adventures that lay before us. Eight days and 1,100nm completed our final step across an entire ocean, bringing us to the largest island of all - Australia.

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Posted by BlueMoonSailing 23:42 Archived in Australia Comments (5)

Good Old Days in New Calendonia


View Western Pacific on BlueMoonSailing's travel map.

The passage from Vanuatu to New Calendonia was anticipated to be a short two day hop, but it certainly felt much longer at times. For the first few hours we beat into steep swells that stacked up along the coast of Tanna Island. We had waited as long as we could for the seas to subside after the last strong wind pattern, but could not delay any longer at the risk of facing stiff headwinds as we neared southeastern New Cal. Our stomachs gradually became used to the violent motion, though we find most passages begin with a 3-6 hour period of feeling "squishy" as our bodies remember how to cope. Thankfully we are not easily afflicted with the unthinkable misery that true seasickness brings, debilitating to even the most stalwart crew for days on end. The southeast wind carried a chill from its Southern Ocean origins that cut through our layers and had us fully bundled up. A couple of waves which sent a shower into the cockpit further enhanced the displeasure by adding wet to the cold.

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By morning the seas had subsided and we were sailing nicely along with a following breeze. The breeze began to falter in the afternoon so we hoisted the spinnaker for a short lived but beautiful jaunt. As night fell, we motorsailed through the outer islands owned by New Caledonia, which in turn is a French territory. By sunrise we were right where we wanted to be, at the entrance to a pass in the barrier reef that surrounds the entire 150 mile long island. After motoring through the 2 knot contrary current, we were able to set sails as the wind freshened to 20kts just off the port bow. We sailed quickly, even double reefed for the rest of the morning, passing along scenic shoreline and between islands all in the protected, flat water that makes sailing a joy. The final stretch along the southwest coast has considerable fetch for chop to build, and we found ourselves broad reaching at hull speed in boisterous, but enjoyable conditions, racing five other boats. Upon reaching the capital city of Noumea, we were able to make contact with the marina and secure a slip for the next couple nights. Being motionless on a dock for the first time since June in Tahiti felt a bit strange, but the endless hot showers were incredibly soothing after a cold and salty sojourn. The marina greatly facilitated the clearance formalities, which we were able to complete before 10am the next day, to a total sum of $0 - the first in any location besides the US territories. Within walking distance in the city of Noumea were grocery stores, restaurants, a maritime museum, an exquisite bakery, and a fresh food market. By all of this, we were immediately reminded of Papeete in Tahiti, and it was great to have fresh baguettes and confectionary once again.

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We did not stay long in town, and took the first break in the weather to head out to one of the many small islets within the reef bordered lagoon. First was Ilot Amadee, with its incredible 1865 vintage lighthouse, of which we climbed all 226 stairs to reach the towering 120ft height. We also spotted our first sea snakes on the island, having missed them everywhere else in the Pacific. The banded reptiles moved gracefully through the water, using their flattened tail to propel them along. On shore they were slow in moving across the soft sand to reach their hiding places in the rocks. Though their venom is highly toxic, they are of little danger to humans because they lack sufficient fangs to deliver a bite anywhere except on the smallest of fingertips. Sea turtles were also a popular sight, diving for the abundant sea grasses below our boat. After a few frigid days of wind and rain, we sailed to Ile Maitre. Each of these flat, sandy islets can be hiked around in under an hour, and all are surrounded to some extent by its own very shallow lagoon. With a Hilton resort being the main interest on the island, we sailed again on the first beautiful day in a week. The temperature was finally warm and sunny, so we resolved to brave the chilly waters at the next island and give the hull a light scrub. The bottom paint was still functioning admirably, and the work wasn't too difficult. We took a moment to explore the nearby rocks in this marine reserve and found a plethora of large fish everywhere we looked! Still, we could not abide the chilly 70F water, being used to nothing below 80F for the past year.

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Inspired by the abundance of fish, when we went forth to another small island a day later, we donned our wetsuits and with the spear gun went out in the dinghy to search for dinner. Naturally, there were very few fish to be found where they are allowed to be hunted, but we found beautiful blue corals and plenty of small fish to watch and make the dive worthwhile. We did find one unicorn fish (yes, it's real!) in the end, which was satisfying after not having eaten reef fish in many months. Following a few more rainy days and the exploration of a couple more tiny islands, we did succeed in finding a honey hole of shallow reef that produced an assortment of snapper and grouper that brought sublime culinary enjoyment. It was such a good feeling to be back in the water and diving carefree again - we saw only one small shark the entire time, unlike the constant competition they provided in the Tuamotus. A highlight was sharing the company of a small sea snake underwater, watching him move and explore tiny holes in the coral for food, just as we too were doing. We also found numerous Crown-of-thorns starfish, which are detrimental to the reef and covered in venomous spines. Our last hurrah of tropic cruising for the season was a satisfying collage of many of the familiar joys the Pacific had given us. Sun, sand, sealife, even a beach bonfire - just the bare essentials with a relaxed pace and space to enjoy them in remote and exotic places.

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The boating community was very active here, for good reason, and we watched many groups in small powerboats set up to camp on the islands for a weekend away from the mainland. Sailors were in no short supply either, and there was a mass exodus from the main harbor each Saturday and Sunday around 10:30, then the reverse in the evening. When we returned to Noumea harbor, we were also able to watch the conclusion of a few club races, the sleek boats heeling sharply as they rounded the windy harbor mouth. After two weeks in the outer islands, we spent another week near town, waiting for the right weather window to sail to Australia. Not even the threat of an early season cyclone passing over Vanuatu dampened the carefree mood in this popular sailor's port, though it did provide a stark reminder as to why we still needed to head 1,000nm southwest. The sun set brilliantly in the cyclone aftermath and the full moon rose right on cue to illuminate the many masts in the harbor. Finally our opportunity came, and on Monday morning we, along with over a dozen other crews, crowed into the small offices of first Immigration, then Customs, then the Harbor Master, to get out clearance out of the country. A final convergence at the fuel dock (light winds were forecast for much of the passage), and everyone went their separate ways. For us, that meant setting out just after noon on October 30th, bound for Coff's Harbor on the southeast coast of Australia.

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Posted by BlueMoonSailing 09:43 Archived in New Caledonia Comments (2)

Vanuatu Ventures


View Western Pacific on BlueMoonSailing's travel map.

A day of gray sky and drizzle signaled the arrival of the weather "squash zone" between the SE tradewinds and a SW system pushed up from the Tasman sea. This is a near-weekly occurrence in this area during the late part of the season, with variation in how much those pesky southern ocean systems would disrupt our otherwise fine weather. This one was stiff enough to bring three days of rain and shift the prevailing winds 30 degrees further south for the whole next week. That happened to coincide with the only halfway decent forecast of wind, and more importantly reduced swell in the near future, and after already sitting in Musket Cove for a week, we were ready to take it. We made the 3 hour trip to the main island of Vanua Levu to clear out of Fiji. The process went smooth, except for one forgotten passport at the currency exchange office, which required a return trip in the morning after an anxious night. Passports in hand and major problems avoided, we returned to Musket Cove for one final night to wait out the dreary wind and rain that persisted. With marginally better conditions in the morning, we headed out early on our 3 day sail to Vanuatu. We set our mainsail triple reefed and with an equally miniature headsail, proceeded SW with 20-25kts on the beam, making a healthy 6kts of boatspeed. As the craggy peaks of Castaway Island faded into the gray cresting waves, we were thankful to have our stout vessel beneath us, instead of a driftwood raft.

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The wind and swell partially subsided on the third day, only to return on the fourth morning as we approached Tanna Island and the snug harbor of Port Resolution. Despite the tiring conditions, the passage wasn't terrible, especially compared to how we later learned others fared. Twelve boats filled the harbor by nightfall, most having also just arrived in this fair weather window. One that had been near us on AIS the last couple days later told us how their dinghy was swamped off the davits that suspends it over the stern. Although a convenient way to store the dinghy in most situations, few veterans would advise such an arrangement for serious offshore weather, but on a catamaran there are not many good alternatives. Luckily this couple was able to recover the dinghy with the outboard still attached, but lost the oars, seats, etc in the process. We soon became acquainted with the crew of Infinity after offering to help with the waterlogged outboard and later gave them a ride to shore and our spare set of dinghy oars.

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Port Resolution on the east side of Tanna Island is not an official port of entry, but is the only sheltered harbor on the island. So, the Customs and Immigration officers are sometimes willing to make the rough 2 hour drive from the main town on the other side of the island, for a fee of course. Alternatively, sailors could go to them by way of the "Tanna Taxi", a pickup truck that leaves every couple of days with the bed packed full of locals needing to go to town for shopping. We elected to wait for the officials to come to us, which worked out well in the end, with them even providing us our outward clearance papers post-dated a week later during the same visit. Practical diplomacy always sets a favorable foundation for our enjoyment of a new country. The local village overflowed with smiling faces, including a gaggle of unsupervised children perpetually running around or spalshing naked in the shallow water by the small beach. On the hill above the anchorage was the "yacht club", curated by Stanley and Waery, who acted as welcoming committee, tour organizers, and liaison to the government officials. We felt welcome from the moment we arrived, and were able to communicate adequately, with most folks speaking passable English, alongside their native Bislama. It was refreshing to be in a place where no one owned a car, and the local boats were hand carved dugout canoes with outriggers ingeniously fastened the side. In speaking with a local fisherman, we learned that they typically net small fish, but they have a large harpoon with three barbed pieces of rebar on the end for large fish and (gasp) turtles! Along the edge of the bay were hot springs that belched steam and boiling water, some of which were even used by the locals for cooking.

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The remoteness of the port and lack of water based activities created a cohesive group amongst the sailors at anchor. We met more cruisers in this stationary week than the whole month we spent bouncing around Fiji. Though we normally leave our VHF radio off at anchor, here we turned it on every morning to listen for any updates from Stanley. So, when a late arriving boat hailed the vessels at anchor at 0700 one morning, we happened to be up early and listening. What we didn't hear was a response from anyone else in the anchorage, so, grudgingly we answered their call. They had sailed into the harbor at first light without an engine and were seeking assistance in diagnosing their issue. With nothing else on the morning schedule, David dinghied over to lend a hand. The vessel, a brand new Hanse 43 had no obvious faults, but the noise of a clicking starter solenoid and no engine cranking made the problem simple enough to find; a dead battery. Once the owner swapped in their fully charged bow thruster battery, they were back in business. For this simple effort, we were later rewarded with a goodie bag containing chocolate, nuts, jam, and honey - yum!

The highlight of our stay, and primary reason for calling at this island, was a visit to the active Yasur volcano. Well, semi-active that is. It turns out that a landslide plugged the main caldera a few days before we arrived, and for the first time in local memory, there was no bubbling lava visible from the vista on the rim. Arriving just before dusk, it was as though we had stepped onto the surface of Mars, both impressive and inhospitable. Wind gusts near 40kts pelted us with sand and rain as we waited for darkness and a sighting of lava. We did finally see one tiny splash of red liquid amongst the smoke, and felt deep grumbles of the Earth beneath us. Equally as entertaining were the truck ride to the volcano, and the stop along the way at a customary village demonstration. Entering through the roots of a huge banyan tree, once on the other side we were accosted by a throng of grass-wearing natives waving clubs and spears! It was, of course, part of the reenactment, but very effective at conveying what shock the first missionaries encountered upon arriving here centuries ago. There are communities throughout Vanuatu who still practice the customary lifestyle, self-sufficient without the burden of modern food, materials, or clothing. Understandably, most of those villages do not wish to be tainted with unnecessary contact from outsiders, and we were not fortunate to be near proximity of one that does.

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Bouncing along the deeply rutted roads in the caged bed of a Land Cruiser, we held on as we were tossed side to side while the driver imagines himself making a qualifying run for the off-road Baja 1000. Massive banyan trees and dense jungle lined the road, often requring a quick duck to avoid branches to the face. We were fortunate to share this experience with only Daniel and Ellen from Infinity, rather than the full complement of 12+ people that usually cram along the wooden seats. We did pick up a few footsore locals as we made our way back to Port Resolution in the dark. One fellow was carrying a burning stick about two feet long and an inch in diameter, occasionally shedding sparks onto the (thankfully) wet ground as we careened along. A special wood, he explained, that glows red as it smolders slowly, serving as a Vanuatu Zippo in case he should need to light a cigarette along his walk. The drawback of course being that it is rather difficult to store in one's pocket. We were greeted by a large crowd of cheering children and adults as we entered the village after dark. We were told their local men's soccer team had just won the semi-finals and they were awaiting the players to return home in another truck just like ours.

On the last day of our week in Vanuatu, Stanley organized a fundraising feast with the local women of the village, who put together a massive spread of local food at the yacht club. Every dish was delicious, much of the fruits and vegetables fresh picked, served on woven palm plates lined with smooth leaves. There was great camaraderie among the two dozen sailors gathered for the event, and the local Tusker beers flowed easily. We gathered all the spare clothes, stationary, and food that had been unused thus far onboard Blue Moon, and brought it to the local schoolhouse where the principal gratefully assured it would all be put to good use. We also found a spare American flag to adorn the yacht club beside the many other represented nations. Then, as sailors do, we took advantage of the approaching weather window and one by one filtered out of the bay over the next couple of days, children cheering farewells from the rocks on shore as we did. Only a few boats remained behind, though more were certainly on their way from Fiji while we headed southwest to New Caledonia, with the plume of smoke from Mt Yasur billowing out behind us.

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Posted by BlueMoonSailing 01:07 Archived in Vanuatu Comments (3)

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