Nice Sail to New Caledonia

View Sailing from Port Vila to Noumea in a larger mapOur sail from Vanuatu to New Caledonia was pretty pleasant. There was only one equipment issue that marred an otherwise ideal sail. As we were leaving Vanuatu in the morning, we picked up speed to about 9-10 knots. Because of the issue with our batteries discharging rapidly, I decided to start the day off by charging them up and running the watermaker. So, we fired up the generator.

Unfortunately, Tahina has a badly placed water-intake port for the generator. It is near the aft, only about 1 foot below normal water levels. When we are going fast, and especially with a swell on the port beam like we were experiencing, the aft hull is exposed to the air. This means the generator water pump ends up sucking air instead of water. Not a good thing for the cooling system. Normally our Onan generator has good monitoring and it shuts itself down automatically. Which it did.

We continued sailing the rest of the sunny day, with the solar panels easily keeping up with the power demands (the watermaker had to be turned off though – it takes a lot of power). The same sea conditions persisted most of the way, so in the evening we had to run an engine at low RPMs 3-4 hours at a time to keep the batteries charged up.

Later I determined that the impeller for the generator had actually given out, so that will have to be replaced. Just another little task for the boat projects in New Caledonia.

The winds very slowly dropped the entire way to New Caledonia. But, we managed to sail all the way down until the last 15 miles. We arrived near the east end of the main island around mid-night. Fortunately, there is a very clearly marked 45 mile channel on the charts around to Noumea. It is used by the many cargo ships and cruise ships 24 hours a day. Plus, I was able to use Google Earth as a guide as well. The only tricky part was the main entrance to what is called Havannah Pass. I’m glad we didn’t have to worry about the sails at that point.

There is a narrow gap in the pass(about half a kilometer), between reefs, and it is shallower (although deep enough for cruise ships). This gap is where the tide comes in and out of a large inner body of water. When we went through the current was over 4 knots. The wind was in the other directions, so there was considerable chop.

The channel has a series of navigation lights on an island ahead that help you know you are centered in the channel. So, I knew we were where we needed to be (as a physical confirmation to our GPS and charts). BUT, to make it more interesting, a 500 foot cargo ship happened to be coming out the channel at the same time we were going in! I had to move closer to the reefs so he could pass. I hailed the pilot of the ship on the radio and made sure he knew I was there, and coming through. He confirmed he had me in sight, so it all went pretty smooth. But, it was interesting!

Although there was no moon, the very starry night, combined with the lights from a petroleum processing plant on the eastern end of the island, gave us enough light to see the silhouettes of the land masses we had to move around or through. We kept our speed down to 5 knots so we could time our arrival into Noumea around 7 AM. We wanted it to be clear when it came time to enter the busy port.

Later in the morning, we were asked to move to the visitor wharf at Port Moselle to make arrangements to enter the country. There we were visited by immigration, quarantine, and customs to fill out the paperwork and complete the formalities for entering the country. After that, I spent much of the afternoon investigating options and getting connected to the Internet. But, that’s another story in itself.

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