After doing another six weeks work in New Zealand from November to the middle of December it was time to get back to Spirit. I had left her on a mooring at Port Denarau where I had a local Fijian guy looking after her and cleaning her bottom every week. There’s nothing worse than trying to get 6 weeks of growth off the bottom!
Even though we were leaving our sail to Australia late from Fiji, we had a good plan of attack and a lot of places where we could pop into should the weather decide we needed to do that. We planned to sail to the South of New Caledonia and from there to Brisbane direct. If we had a good forecast from New Caledonia to Australia we would continue on, not stopping at New Caledonia. And again if the winds were strong from the SE we would head to a more northern port of Australia running deeper and decreasing our apparent wind and if they were light or from the SE we would head to a port further south sailing higher on the wind and increasing our apparent wind . We tried to be as flexible as possible as this was cyclone season, this way we could work to the weather we were given and hopefully have a more pleasant passage.
After clearing with Customs and Immigration in Lutoka we sailed off through the passage bound for Australia. I had onboard two very good friends Murray Kelman and Robert Luxford. Both very experience sailors with heaps of ocean miles. I thought if there was one journey where things could go wrong it would be this one so it felt good having the extra help with us.
As it was so late in the season a cyclone had started to develop to the northeast of us over the Solomon Islands called Evan. It was due to arrive on the Saturday and I had Murray flying in on the Tuesday before. That left us Wednesday to clear out and get going giving us three days advance, which is around 800nm if we had to push things. The only worry is that it left us very little room for anything to go wrong. If we hit a submerged object or broke something we could be sitting there with nowhere to hide while the cyclone was boring down on us.
It played on my mind, as I know this is when things do go wrong. But what do you do? Do you wait it out in Fiji? Do you go for it and hope things will be ok? After weighing up all our options I felt it safer to get out of there. The forecast was for it to track well south after Fiji and to head to New Zealand. I had watched the forecast and it didn’t change much for the week prior and the track was similar each day giving me confidence in the accuracy of the forecast. We had to cover just over 600nm to New Caledonia and I know Spirit can do this distance easily getting us there before the cyclone had even hit Fiji. Should the Cyclone change track and head west we decided we would put into New Caledonia, wait it out and then head onto Australia. If it hadn't changed it’s track when we got to the bottom of New Caledonia we would go on.
Our forecast for the first day was a fresh southeast breeze about 20-25kts that was going to swing further to the north over the following days as we got closer to New Caledonia and as the cyclone approached Fiji. From New Caledonia it was going to go light and to swing back to the southeast where it would remain for the trip across the Coral Sea to Brisbane. This suited us fine as long as it stayed like this. We blasted out of Fiji with the wind staying strong until we were about 120nm to the East of New Caledonia. It took us two days to cover the first 510nm. From here we had to pass through a trough that was stationary before we’d find light airs from the southeast. The forecast ended up being incredibly correct with us passing through the expected trough during the early evening with lightening all around like I have never seen before. It was incredible to see the sea and sky light up like fireworks all around us for hours! It cleared early the following morning where we found a full day of no wind while we motored past the southern end of New Caledonia. We passed so close we could see Ils de Pins and the southerly swell breaking on the reefs edge.
Just before sunset the wind increased from the south to about 8-10kts. With the flat calm sea and light airs Spirit sprinted off doing wind speed. It’s a surreal feeling when the sea is flat calm and there is just a breath of wind on your cheek and the boats doing 8-12kts! I liken it to being on a magic carpet as when you go and sit out on the windward float it’s really like your floating above the ocean gliding above the sea at such speed with very little wind and effort…………. It’s pure bliss and these are the moments I truly savor and love.
We carried on like this for the next two days. With dead flat seas a little ground swell of a meter or so with a very long period that we just slowly rose up and over and a sea void of any wind waves. The skies were totally clear each night with not a cloud to be seen and the stars were so bright you felt as though you could touch them. We made good time for the first two days doing over 200nm a day in the light airs. About halfway across the Coral Sea we found a very light patch of air and the direction changed to east giving us a deeper and slower angle. So for two more days we pushed on with the light airs and made only 140-160nm a day not bad really but slow going for us compared to our normal progress.
It was blissful sailing so the slower pace didn’t both us and we enjoyed the fact we didn’t have waves coming over the bow and we were dry and able to enjoy our night watches with stars abound and the glistening sea gliding beneath us.
On the 7th day out of Fiji we spotted the northern tip of Moreton Island. It was about midday when we first saw land and the closer we got to it the more the wind swung north and increased. It was the perfect end to an amazing crossing from Fiji. The wind steadied to about 15kts from the north and we took off into the east channel into Brisbane. We had a beautiful clear day and the boat sat on 12-16kts as we entered Moreton Bay.
We rounded east knoll and the wind died right out. Up ahead we could see the wind on the water and a large storm cloud approaching. There was talk of reefing but we couldn’t help but feel excited to be sailing into our own waters so Spirit was left with a full rig up. The wind then slowly increased but had swung to the southeast and off took Spirit up the Brisbane river channel and into Brisbane doing constant 15-17kts all the way up the channel. We sailed right up to the River Gate Marina where we had organized to meet Customs and Immigration at 1700hrs.
Once along side we were met at the dock by the relevant authorities and cleared in quickly. They allowed us to stay at the dock overnight and were all very welcoming. I have had many reports during the trip about entering in Brisbane and Bundaberg and which is best. I have to say that our experience in Brisbane was really wonderful. The guys were all incredibly helpful and it was all done with great efficiency. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending Brisbane as a port of entry.
Spirit was promptly cleaned out and put onto a mooring on the Brisbane River where she now sits patiently waiting my return. I flew to Airlie Beach to have Christmas with my parents before flying back to New Zealand for another two-month contract on MY Aquarius with whom I’d worked for in Fiji. So far Spirit has had to weather the floods on her own in the river, and she’s been doing fine.
I’d really like to say a big thank you to everyone that has made my dream of sailing Spirit halfway around the world a reality. It has been an incredible two and a half year journey. We have met some beautiful people and had some amazing experiences. Thanks to you all! I’ll be sure to write more about our travels up the east coast of Australia and beyond into Asia where we plan to race and cruise during 2014.
If you have a dream of living on the sea and sailing all I can say is what are you waiting for?