Sunday, July 31, 2011

Eat Your Tinsel, Miss Fish

Stephen, my hair-dresser, gave me a few lures. One, a cute little red thing caught some fine fish before it was lost in the bad patch of big yellow-fin tuna that claimed so many hooks and some lures before we reached Australian shores. Another of his lures is a shocking tousle of tinsel looking for it's Christmas Tree. It is not a thing of beauty, but the gut feeling is that something so attention seeking must surely find a fish. Stephen, however said he had towed it half way across the Pacific and never a bite, so there was a challenge. I dragged it from Fiji and it was ignored by one and all. We hooked a Tip-Top 12 grain bag off NSW, quite a fighter when full of water, and showed great colours as it was played in. An albatross made a similar error of judgement and was released unharmed, but neither of them went for the tinsel. This morning, however, just off Eden, I found the fish that would. Both crash lines went out, Steve Scott's light purple squid, the lure that broke the drought and just keeps catching, and finally, The Tinsel! Two nice fat albacore.
We're having a very easy run down the coast. Light winds so a lot of motoring, but calm seas and a few fast sails as well.
Here's a pic of our last view of the mainland before crossing the treacherous Tasman Sea.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hey, Sydney, look me!

We got away from Tuncurry/Forster at first light. It's been a slow day, light variable winds, mostly on the nose, so either motoring at 2.5kn, or motor-sailing in the wrong direction at 4. We did some of both, but now doing a respectable 4.5kn towards home. It was a lovely day on the water anyhow, sunny and calm, nice coastline, Seal Rocks, Broughton Islands. We had some close up whale time, one went vertical and poked his head up to watch us for a while. Another popped up in our wake, a bit of a surprise. We should pass Newcastle tonight, and Sydney around lunchtime.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Thar she, Thar she, Thar she…

Finally escaped from Coff's Harbour and had a glorious 24 hours. We always seem to have a dolphin escort before big adventures, and a pair visited us in the marina, popping up between boats, and said goodbye to us at the harbour entrance. Still a reasonable swell from the big winds, but a smooth sea and heaps of whales. So many we stopped counting! They are all heading north, we are heading south. The East Australian Current helped us along, just like in Finding Nemo, we were up to 7kn in the night, with just one sail and not much wind. A night of lights. Lights of towns, a bit different from the empty oceans. Lights of ships, there are many many ships, one even radioed us to see if we were planning to stay in front of him. Great shooting stars, great stars actually. Very bright lightening on the horizon. Dolphins running alongside, lighting up with phosphorescence.
Morning brought a nice little tuna, first Australian fish, but also a forecast of more southerly wind. The wind has already started to turn and stopped our move south, so we're motoring into Forster/Tuncurry to anchor for a night or two. Forecast is good once this SW bit is over.
Sam did some great work on the wind vane steering and it's even better than before. He also scaled the mast repeatedly till we finally got the wind speed/direction instrument working. On the down side, the little tiller pilot, known in the family as 'Nav-boy' has died, too much water in his motor. He steered the boat for months and months, we'll miss him.

Here is Sam posing before the waves that kept us in Coff's Harbour, then Ellida, illegally parked in Tuncurry, followed by some close up whale time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

New Caledonia pics

So here we were. Mare, Loyalty Group, then passing Grand Terre, New Caledonia. The Araucaria pines were the highlight for Matt, although you can see he was pretty excited with his mahi-mahi, and we were all very pleased when the repaired wind vane steering was re-commissioned! And before you complain about too many fish photos.... there were many fish that missed their photo shoot, it could be worse. Very fishy waters, or maybe it was the change to Steve's little mauve squid lure.. We did lose a few more lures and a lot of broken hooks on the way to Australia, big yellowfin I think.
Ellida is now parked at Coffs Harbour waiting for some nasty southerly weather to pass. Malindi and Bilge came down from Brisbane, spent a night on the boat and have gone home taking Matt with them. We miss him, he was a wonderful shipmate.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How Cold My Nose..

Tonight I put on socks for the first time in a year, last night I enjoyed warming chilled knees and nose under the blankets. The year of boat is coming to an end. 322 miles, three days to Coff's Harbour now.
This passage from New Caledonia to Australia has been a little frustrating, half the time we have been motoring, had two days into headwinds and just two days of good sailing so far, but there have been rewards. The sea has been very calm, even some glassy times. The other night we crossed the Capel Bank. Most exciting to be over just 60m of water instead of the usual kilometres. There was even a 10m patch further south. At sunrise the Wind dropped right away so I downed sail and put a line in... then wind came back. So put sails up again. The wind died. Dropped sails put line down, had bites! Lost bait, changed hooks and dropped line again, then wind really came back and I could barely get to the bottom, so back to sailing and no fish. Something big took the skirt and half the hook of the lure on the crash line, so I nearly caught fish twice that day.
Ellida came with a broken wind vane steering system, but Paul had said he could never get it working properly, so I hadn't worried too much about it. Nausica said I should fix it, Marcel nagged about it and found some bits of metal to repair it with and in Curacao we finished the repairs. Now, finally, Matt put the last bit's back on, attached the vane and tried it out. WOW!! it is a fantastic thing, they were all right! It works beautifully keeping Ellida sailing nicely as the wind moves around. Finally after crossing half the world.
I should mention here, how wonderful it is to have Matt and Sam on the boat. Three competent sailors. I have relaxed, perhaps too much, but they are both able to take on all the tasks and responsibilities of the boat. I'm extremely lucky to have them!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Escape from New Caledonia!

The journey from Fiji took a turn for the worse as the wind on our nose ignored the forecast of a gradual increase to 17 kn and went straight to 25. Horrid conditions and even the captain had to have a sleep before he could eat his dinner! Faced with another few days of tacking into it to make Noumea, we decided to sail across to the island of Mare in the Loyalty Group and anchored in Baie du Nord. This is completely forbidden as Noumea is the only port of entry and you must clear into the country before anchoring anywhere, so I was very much hoping not to meet any French authorities. We spent a few glorious days in this wonderful bay. Crystal clear water, turtles, mantas, wonderful coral right on the shoreline. Matt was excited to see the Araucarias. These are southern hemisphere pines found only in a few countries and New Caledonia has thirteen! species. Going ashore didn't really fit with our true story of sheltering from adverse winds, but eventually we went and actually touched the Araucarias. Fished from the boat and caught a big trigger fish, which the locals assured us was a very good one to eat.
One evening we were all looking in the general direction of the set sun when a huge humpback broached and crashed back into the sea, then spent some time lolling on it's side waving it's flukes in the air. It was nice to hear the villagers up the bay yahooing and cheering as well! Just to top the evening off a large manta ray swam up to the side of the boat, turned and swam directly under us, and in so doing, snagged both our fishing lines, breaking them off! We were sad to leave, but when the wind allowed we set off on an overnight crossing to the Grand Terre of New Caledonia.
Entered the pass at a good tide, caught a couple of skipjack tuna and put one into salt and lime cure, then spent a nice day sailing through the channels past reef and islands towards the west. Forecast said wait 12 hours, so we dropped anchor illegally yet again, in Baie Ire on Ile Ouen. I'm so glad we did, another gorgeous anchorage with totally different vegetation and soil from Mare. Turtles and an Osprey diving on a fish. As we looked for a good spot to drop anchor I chose a striking Araucaria Columnaris and headed for it. Next time I glanced up there was our Osprey, perched on the highest tip.
Matt is taking over as the most enthusiastic fisher, and soon had a line on the bottom. In just a few minutes we had three lovely little snapper ready for dinner.
First light, anchor was up and we made our way across the remaining 22 miles to Amedee Island with it's famous lighthouse, and out the pass into the Pacific, without meeting any gendarmes. Now there's just eight or nine hundred miles of water and Ellida will be back in Australia, having completed her circumnavigation. Wind is a bit light tonight so motor is on, but we caught a nice fat yellow-fin tuna and all stomachs are well.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Towards New Caledonia

We are 2/3 of the way to New Caledonia now. The first day and a half were really unpleasant with 25 kn and a messy 3 m sea. This was a tough start for Sam and Matt and they were thoroughly sea-sick. Captains have no such luxury so I just had to pretend all was well, but I certainly felt better back inside the reef in Fiji. On the bright side, we made excellent progress, doing 6-7 kn most of the time. Conditions gradually improved and stomachs came to some arrangement with inner ears. Morale took a huge boost as we started to catch some fish. We've landed three little tuna so far, and ate a whole one last night for the first decent meal of this leg. We've had 24 hours of rain and the wind has dropped and turned on our nose. Motor sailing now at just 4 kn and about 200 miles to go. The sea in front of us has some interesting features on the chart. Volcanic activity 1996, reefs with wrecks, discoloured water reported, shoals and isolated islands, so tomorrow we'll be navigating with caution!