A Travellerspoint blog

A Pleasant Passage


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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

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Comments

The night time dolphin experience must have been stunning in real life! Looking at the satellite map and seeing the visual of how far you sailed across the Pacific, what an amazing accomplishment! And now a new continent to explore.

by Lisa Straw

As usual Love your adventures glad your living out your dreams. Happy Holidays!!!!

by Kathy Endries

Cheers Mates! So glad the passage was especially nice! Educated guess that it was David drawing the scientific parallels between fluid dynamics and the dolphin's movements;).

Hope you both have a wonderful Christmas holiday during Summer in Australia!

by Kelley

There are few places where a person can really get away from it all like in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! It sounds like heaven where you have no choice but to live in the present moments. Although I think I’d get a little tired of seeing only blue for so long. So excited to hear about your new Aussie adventures. I’m waiting to hear about diving on the GBR!

by Ron and Pam

Been following the blog for a while now, damn this entry is stunningly beautiful. Poetic. Thank you for sharing your adventures with the world.

by Ian Wetzel

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