Le dernier voyage avec Antares en Nouvelle-Calédonie
Lately, emotions have been running full force, all kinds in fact. I have been through a lot of ups and downs over the past few years while traveling, which is to be expected when someone, such as myself, never settles down anywhere for more then a couple weeks. I found myself most recently being drawn to having some more stability and setting up a base, at least for a while which is why I made the choice to put Antares up for sale.
I flew to Australia in early June to sort things out with the boat and look at selling her there, but came to the quick realization after talking to the yacht agents and everyone else there that the boat would cost upwards of $3500 to import (15% Import / GST) and then would lose another 10% to a broker if I couldn’t sell the boat within my first few months of a visa. With this in mind I spoke to the guys up in New Caldonia and found out that I could sell the boat there free of charge, so the plan was set, I was sailing to New Cal!
Antares had been idle for almost 4 months in a very wet, dirty marina called Newport Marina, just outside Brisbane proper by about 20 miles so I had quite a bit to get ready over the next few days of my decision such as provisioning, setting sails and lines, getting engine back to speed, and the worst part…cleaning the hull. I just hauled in January to replace two thru-hulls, and while I was at it, put two more counts of anti-foul on, bringing her anti foul layer to about 7 coats deep.
Unfortunately this would not be good enough to fend against the sub-tropical waters and the barnacles, very prevalent in this marina I would late come to find out. Everything was in order to leave on Friday, June 16th but with things closing in quick, weather looking not so good, and really wanting a crewmember I decided to cancel the departure until the next weather window. This was a good call I came to find out, my passage would have entailed a very wet, fast, and heavy swell ride. Waves got upwards of 5 meters for the few days I would have been the farthest from land and would have made any rest near impossible alone.
After being back one week and having made the decision to leave Australia to sell Antares in New Cal, I was lucky enough to have a friend close by who let me store all my belongings in his garage, while I only took the bare minimum with me to New Caledonia. After getting the engine purring again, thanks to a guy named Gordon who helped me reseal the water pump on the fly, I kicked off the lines Saturday June 17th and headed out for a little test run up the Brisbane River. It was a really pleasant sail up the river tacking about 100 times because I missed the tide change by about 2 hours and also my engine was losing complete power, which I later came to find out was covered in about 3 inches thick of barnacles.
Antares seemed ready to go otherwise, so was confident in my ability to sail her to New Cal, even if it meant going solo one last time. Something changed last year when I arrived to Fiji. I think I had such a rough time at sea and left behind some friends in Tahiti, so was anxious to start sailing with someone, but pushed on into Australia solo anyway, just to complete my solo Pacific voyage.
After dropping the hook just under the Brisbane skyscrapers just near the botanic gardens in the City Center, I caught up with a couple friends I met while sailing and walked around the city for a few days. Brisbane kind of grew on me this time around, but will still not put it on the top of my list if I’m being honest.
I spoke to my weather router Bob and had been watching closely as well, and we decided that a June 25th departure looked promising so I made my way down the river and made a stop over in Manly Harbor to surprise a couple I met a few months back. We talked a lot of boat stuff, how terrible the system is at the moment and even found my next boat I think! I never knew what the boats were in Moorea last year that would sneak around the 2 foot shallow section, but now I know. It was an Ovni and I’m totally hooked to try and find one up in Europe and make a pass through the Northwest Passage and into Alaska from Europe. I can’t say when this will be but it definitely strikes my fancy!
As I made my way down the narrow, shallow and winding straights to the Gold Coast, I realized I time the tides completely wrong by oversleeping! I ended up catching the wrong tide, which lasted 12 hours, which was supposed to be 7. With Antares’ prop fouled in barnacles I was only motoring at 3 knots so this was a long day, but finally made it on Thursday evening, giving me a day to prep myself and the boat for the 800 mile passage to Noumea.
After getting some much needed sleep and catching up with my friend Kat in the Bum’s Bay anchorage in the G.C. I borrowed her scuba setup to see how bad the growth was. The only problem with this was my fear of sharks in this area was quite high. I had numerous first hand stories from people being attacked by bull sharks in the area and the visibility is about 2 feet which makes it very eerie you can imagine going underwater and making a bunch of noises. I imagine it’s a bit like teasing a cat with a shaking ball over and over, until it just eventually just pounces on your hand or at you…anyways I had to do it. I was a bit bummed out Bum’s Bay when I dove down to see the barnacle growth was like a parasitic infection on my prop and various parts of the bottom. I ended up having to use a stainless steel putty knife and worked as fast as I could to scrape and chip at the relentless growth. Not to mention that my heart was pounding because I couldn’t look around (not that it would of helped) but I also was banging at the prop for a good twenty minutes until finally it was over and I jumped back on board as quick as I could. Phew…never let your bottom get dirty in Australia!
Kat warmed me up with an amazing Turmeric latte and said what we thought was goodbye as I motored over to the fuel dock and at Southport Yacht Club and then made my way to the public jetty at the grand hotel on the opposite side of the Broadwater area. As I made my way over there the tide still had about one hour of dropping but it didn’t look so bad on the chart so made a go at it. I cleared it with about 0 feet under the keel, which meant getting out could be tricky. After my clearance guys came on board with there burly Australian boots and handlebar mustaches, stepping right on my cutting board, they had a good laugh with me (or at me) about my upcoming trip alone. I shrugged it off of course because I’m used to it, but deep down I really did want someone to come, but also did not someone to come with me that had never been offshore, yet alone sailing before. Still in good spirits though I wandered up for a serving of fish and chips and decided to leave the following morning because once again was feeling rushed. While making my way through the channel I just came through and not really thinking about the tide dropping, I manage to find the bottom (sand) for the first time in all my sailing. Luckily it only lasted a few seconds and gave a nice jolt but a quick rev of the motor had us out of there.
I needed to grab some last minute veggies for the trip anyway so headed over to the 24 hour anchorage near Australia Fair. It’s your typical Aussie 3 level mall that charges out the wazoo for nearly everything. I learned last time I was in Bundarberg where I checked in that all of there farms ship items down to Brisbane for tax purposes and then repackage their fruits and vegetables in plastic, only to be shipped back North into the local IGA where they are actually grown. very economical if you ask me, but c’est la vie. I was also able to sneak in a very relaxing steam room session at the local gym just off the beach for $5 with my buddy Diogo and his French crew Alex.
I also wanted to get a chance to catch up with my friends Siorse and Kat one last time since I hadn’t seen him so we made our way to a local vegatarian restaurant. Its always nice meeting people where ever you go but I really connected with these guys and its always a bit sad to meet people you really want to hang with, but this is the life of traveling and sailing I suppose.
With time in Australia coming to a close I made my last preparations when I got back to the boat and went down for a good rest before taking off. With little wind forecasted I was a bit uncomfortable leaving without a nice push off the coast because I no longer had a tiller pilot. I meant to buy one before returning to the boat, but I completely forgot and was leaving with such short notice there really was no time to try and seek out a used one.
As I sailed out in light winds over the Southport Seaway Bar I was reminded that there are not many people out here doing this and was prepared to be alone again for another ungodly amount of time at sea. Out to the right of me as I went through the channel was a line of 30 or more surfers on a platform, jumping one by one out off a platform to cross the seaway to one of Queensland most renown beach breaks at South Stradbrooke. I surfed there a few times when I was back there in January and was exactly what you don’t want when surfing, which is an overcrowded break with a bunch of hotheads just waiting to drop in on you. When I say overcrowded I mean an uncomfortable amount of people, My first day surfing there was with my friend from Fiji. We took his jet ski out to the break and anchored out in a school of enormous looking jellyfish along with the occasional bluebottle that would wrap up in your arm airs making sure to make the most of the sting (in Australia everything wants to kill you). After arriving the break shortly after first light there were already about 50 surfers in the water trying to surf one true take off point and within 1 hour there were 50 more, so we bagged it. With that said it’s a phenomenal beach break that produces some epic 3 second overhanging barrels, but I would rather surf alone off the Oregon coast if you ask me then be surrounded by the factory of surfers out there…enough of that though.
As I waved goodbye out to my friends Sasha and Kat snapping some pics for me at the Jetty, I turned SE and made my way into deep water. There were a plethora of charter fishing boats to navigate, fishing the banks and was reminded quickly why my fear of the Australia waters live. I was only about an hour out and had already seen a handful of whales breach right in front of me and as I glanced behind me a few hundred feet I noticed a large thrashing in the water, followed by a complete breach of a large shark jumping out of the water making the most of its prey as it dragged into the deep. Part of me was scared to fall in the water for the first time and was wishing I could of seen it closer. It was a real send off it was mother natures reminder that this ocean is no joke.
While she gave me a nice glimpse of what’s alive out there in the blue abyss, It was pretty benign after that first day. The winds stayed light and the seas stayed flat for almost 6 days, never reaching above 12 knots of wind. I ended up drifting more on this trip then I normally do, partially because I didn’t want to run the motor the whole time, but also without the autopilot the wind vane would just not steer the desired course. With sails flapping and rolling its almost better to just take them down and drift then trying to make 3 knots, so I did just that. The second night the wind died completely for 12 hours and I made the most of it, sleeping almost 8 hours. I awoke feeling refreshed and ready to sail, except I still wish I had someone with me for these moments, which was the reason I was sailing to New Caledonia to sell the boat.
This life at sea the past three years taught me a lot about myself and who I am, along with who I want to be. And of the things I learned is that I don’t want to be alone in this life. It was a great adventure to try and complete this solo mission but realized sometime after leaving Fiji that sailing solo was just not making me happy anymore. It is still very exhilarating and a wonderful way to travel. It gives you time to think, read a book or two in one day, and really explores your character strength. It tests you emotionally and physically, intellectually and morally, to dive deep into your soul, seeing what kind of person you really are. But at the end of the day out there you are only judging yourself against the whims of Mother Nature and its not something I want to do any longer. With that said I was content on this trip and happy to be moving towards something new and exciting. I am not sure what the future holds past this moment and I am perfectly fine with that. People that are close to me and other friends keep asking me what you will do now, and if I had the answer I don’t think I would have ever left on a trip like this in the first place. I am constantly trying to discover myself and knew things, but after this I will try to find a place to feel grounded. Perhaps this will come to me in a foreign country or back in the United States, but for now I am going to be taking on a new path.
I have been doing yoga a long time now and have always found it interesting the way it makes you really strive to be present and filter out the thoughts that cause us things like anxiety and stress. Part of me thinks I may head to India or Nepal for a month or so to visit one of the mountain villages, but I also may go to work for a while on the boats in the US. Whatever the future holds I am sure it will be great and bring on a whole new aspect to life for me.
You see…the ocean really does provide more than an aquarium of fish and lopping waves. It’s a special place with a lot to offer for anyone that is willing to make the most of it, which is why I hope to keep connected to the ocean in form or another.
On day 6 I was feeling rested again after a lull in the wind and so I decided I would motor for the morning. Feeling hopefully hopeless that the wind would never come back again I was not in that great of mood, especially when the motor began to die and eventually would just not start. I was aware at the time that the fuel was not being fed to the engine somewhere but finding out where this problem was happening took a bit of sorting. I changed both filters, disconnected all the hoses, blowing through them all to make sure nothing was clogged, but after a few hours of tinkering I realized that the uptake was probably blocked so I blew directly into the tank and VOILA! I was on my way again puttering along at 4.5 knots with only 400 miles to go.
I knew wind was forecasted to be strong the following day so I took in the calmness of the day and settled into a book Mountain Shadow that is the second half of the story of the book Shantaram. It was a great read and a fantastic story, which had me excited to be reading again. I finished it just as I came into Noumea on the final hours of daylight on day 9.
As I awoke on day 7 groggy and un-rested from a night of squalls and shifty winds, I looked behind me to see an approaching front of black skies, streaked as far North and South as the eye could see. There was no escaping this one but it was my wind and it was telling me to get ready. I quickly furled the Genoa and reefed down to my third reef point and still that proved to be too much sail for the first half of the day.
With heavy wind and gusts up to 35kn for almost the first 12 hours I was finally sailing again and it felt great to feel Antares bellowing through the waves as her hull surfed the waves, roaring at speeds of up to 9 knots at times. This wind would push me on a direct line into New Caledonia and proved to be the perfect conditions on the last day. I happily drank my cups of ginger/mint tea with coconut milk and honey, all day and could not wait to get to Port. With the Genoa polled out and the triple reefed main I sailed in between the reef pass just before dark finally registering my depth sounder at around 350 feet. The ground swell that day was amazing and scary at the same time. You could look out of the sides of the reef and see 20 foot faces of curling waves wrapping there delicate swell into a horrifying smash against the steep battered coral. I was finally safe from the sea and was happy to be coasting along into Port in what turned out to be a very calm evening. I ended up dropping the hook around 10 PM that evening just outside the entrance to Port Moselle and took a much-needed warm sponge bath (being that I hadn’t had a shower in 9 days and was feeling quite ripe). Feeling settled and happy about being here I dozed off into the sleep and began dreaming of my next adventure.
I’m currently preparing Antares for the sale here and redoing all her varnish and acid washing the decks to remove the stains for her sitting for months in Australia. I will have her looking as good as new soon, and hope she finds a good owner that can treat her just as well.
Until next time...when I may be speaking a bit of French.
(Insert Good Quote Here)