21 Aug 2012

Nivani-Cairns (Take 2)

Buoyweather forecast
Flying from Cairns to Madang a week earlier, the Coral Sea had seemed pretty meek & mild - not a whitecap in sight, not visible from 30,000 ft anyway. Now the forecast for the crossing back from PNG to Oz was a bit more 'brisk' shall we say.

Passage Weather & Buoyweather both agreed:  up to 30 kts from the SSE, with some 2-3m seas to match. Oooo-Kay. Not really a problem for our course of about 230 degs, but maybe a good idea to dig the storm sails out, just in case. With three of our crew relatively new to Harlequin, best to practise whilst sheltered rather than being forced into it offshore, in the dark, rain, etc, etc. You get the picture...

Coral Sea Dorado
A quick set & drop of both sails (with Trysail remaining strapped to the boom) and we were done. And it worked! Neither sail was needed, although we ended up with at least 2 reefs in the main & Genoa for the entire crossing.

Clearing the Jomard Entrance at dusk (ducking several ships in the process, courtesy of AIS. Gotta love AIS...) we took up a course about 10 degs south of the rhumb line, to allow a bit of flex to bear away from the bigger seas expected later. Then it was just a case of getting comfortable with the watch system (3 on & 3 off at night, and 4&4 during the day) and the heel & pitching across the 2-3m seas. The speed of 7-8 kts was mostly comfortable, but didn't leave much enthusiasm for anything else, such as cooking, eating, or even fishing.
Fresh meat!
In fact, it was 2 days before the lures were trailed at dawn, initially using a large double-hooked squid lure. Not an hour later, "Fish on!" - and it was a big one. David grabbed the rod and we heaved to, but the monster was too much for us and the lure was retreived with one of the hooks bitten off at the wire trace.

OK, lets revert to our traditional pink squid, and a small yellow squid, just as a trial.  "Fish on!" First on one line (Dorado), then the other (Spanish Mackerel). Too easy.

Prep'ing flags for Oz
David claimed both, but Max helped land and despatch, and we couldn't resist an immediate sashimi. Yum.

Not long after, we received a fly-by from the Aussie Border Protection aircraft - anticipated as we had given a fairly accurate updated ETA and position report by Satphone email the day before.

Border Protection fly-by
Then followed a spell of R/T chatter to confirm all the info they already had, followed by a warning concerning our rights & responsibilities and a (presumably taped) acknowledgement from us that we had "no vegetables or animals on board". There then followed a frenzied double-check that all such items had either gone or were about to go overboard.

Vegies that is, not animals...

Dawn, off Cairns. We did it!
Rich & Max delivered up a storming pasta & fried tuna dinner, and we settled down for the last night, a slow beat through the Grafton Passage, timed to have us off Cairns at dawn. Ducking quite a few large ships using the same passage to exit Queensland waters, we arrived off the Cairns approach channel in time to shake out the mainsail reefs, stow the Trysail and prep for arrival.

At 0730 we were in the channel, and on the radio & phone to Marlin Marina, Customs and Quarantine to schedule berthing and arrival inspections various. At 0800 we were alongside, by 0930 we had dropped the 'Q', and by 1030 we had been Customs cleared. We had officially arrived!

Skipper after a long night
After all the hype, we found all the Aussie CIQ personnel extremely friendly, civil (downright welcoming in fact) and helpful. The paperwork & procedures were not unreasonable or terribly onerous, and cost only $330 for the quarantine inspection (OK, that was a bit steep) before we were officially cleared and issued with a year's Cruising Permit for Australian waters.

It was obvious that everything was taken very seriously (with a very deep quarantine inspection, and sniffer dogs for both drugs & explosives), but so had we, making sure we had complied with all procedures as advised on the Customs & DAFF websites.

A quick reverse around the corner from the Customs berth to our own temporary marina berth and talk turned to a run ashore for a very large breakfast.

But first, of course, out came the rum to celebrate!

Bosun's brekkie
Arrival celebrations...

And ree-lax...

16 Aug 2012

Alotau - Louisiades (Take 2)

Farewell to Alotau!
The plan for the final leg from Alotau - Cairns (also known as 'Leg 6B') was to follow Steve & Pat's route East to Nivani & Panasia Islands for a bit of a Louisiades cruise, then jump off from there into the Coral Sea for Cairns.

Timing, however, was dictated by our need to arrive in Cairns on Fri, 3 Aug for the dreaded Aussie CIQ during office hours. We had been warned that overtime charges if late would stretch into hundreds of $$$, so we didn't want that!

The pleasant, encouraging breeze that welcomed our departure from Alotau quickly hardened into a stiff and surprisingly cool S'ly as we left Milne Bay, with a short chop in the face for good measure.

Max trading
We quickly rolled away much of our cruising Genoa and shortened to 1st then 2nd reef in the main. And that deep 2nd reef remained in, all the way to Cairns! [I have to say here that our new heavy cruising main from Lee Sails (9.3 oz Challenge HM HA) has been a godsend, and money well spent...]

We made the shallows of the Grant Island gap in daylight, then rounded the Engineer group of islands under a waning gibbous moon (no, really). M. Mal de Mer stepped aboard quite soon after that, and outstayed his welcome. Or perhaps it was the pot noodles, rustled up at midnight to keep out the cold?!

Chef John
Passing the Conflict Group, then N of the Toilesse Islands for shelter, we entered the West Passage of the Deboyne Lagoon just after dawn, and anchored NW of Nivani Island to dry out (yes, more leaks in the forepeak) and enjoy the Bosun's famous bacon & eggy-bakes.

We were just dozing off when Toby arrived by canoe and offered to guide us closer in through the reef to more sheltered water. This we did, ending up in 25' due N of the island, and conveniently closer to the Japanese Zero we planned on exploring next day. We thanked Toby with the usual trading goods (pens, fishing hooks, T-shirts) and he departed happy, promising to spread the word that we were keen to trade for crayfish.

Local pearls
John then dived into the galley and turned out a massive chicken stew, involving the contents of every can of vegetables he could find, which fed us all hugely for supper, and every meal the next day too!

Another chap stopped by with his young son later, hoping to sell some local pearls, but at 70 Kina each he didn't have any takers. Thinking about it now, ropey as they were, we (I) should have grabbed one as a memento.

Nivani beach
Dawn the next day (Mon, 30 Jul) saw us straight into departure prep. Having slept on it, and given the unsettled weather, we had decided to press on for Cairns. Heading straight for the Jomard Entrance would allow an easy sheltered sail initially, without the need for more coral navigation. The Coral Sea awaited!

Still time to explore Nivani, though, so a shore party of John, Richard & Max were despatched to dive the Zero, while the Skipper & Bosun got ready for departure, digging out Trysail & storm jib, just in case.

By 1400 we were off, full Genoa and 2 reefs in the main. Wind 160/15-20. Perfect.

Alotau rudder fix

Our berth at Alotau
Finding a replacement rudder, completeing the ordering process, and having it built and delivered to Alotau was no quick or easy process.

Finally, our new Jefa rudder arrived from Denmark via Port Moresby on 24 July (the last couple of hundred miles taking much of the time), into the hands of Frank & Leslie Lewis - our neighbours in Alotau, without whom we would have been totally lost. Leaving Harlequin unattended in PNG would normally have been a real worry. We were so very lucky to have found them - well, actually, they found us!

Anti-foul going on...
They had spotted our arrival (Steve & Pat's) off Nawae, heard about our dilemma and decided to offer their assistance with a secure berth alongside their pier, a few miles to the west of Alotau. They then arranged a tow, berthing, guarding, rudder delivery, manpower for boat repair & rudder replacement, even a bit (OK, a lot) of mothering by e-mail, to reassure the owners that our baby was still OK.

Ready to fit..
They met our advance party of Dave Wilson & John Cooper (all the way from Sydney & Auckland, respectively) at the airport, and the work began immediately to repair the transom gate, damaged during abortive attempts at using a jury-rigged spinnaker-pole rudder during The Event. A spot of welding, and the shattered transom hinge was fixed!

It floats!
Meanwhile, Frank's man, Ben was repairing (leading edge gouged in delivery), prep'ing and painting the new rudder. All was completed quickly, and the rudder went on relatively easily - despite floating. Yes, with the new 6082 Aluminium alloy (AlMgSi1) stock, it floated!

Replacing the rudder with Harlequin still in the water suddenly required a little more thought...

Ready for the off!
Having been delayed 5 hours at Port Moresby airport (typical PNG), Jim and Richard & Max Carrey arrived on Fri, 27 Jul just in time to take a bow and admire the work everyone else had done! Everyone then proceeded out for a last civilised (but sloooooow) steak & chips at the nearby Driftwood Resort.

Saturday saw the last bits of provisioning and admin (checking all available wx forecasts), and we were off by midday, into a very pleasant SW'ly 15 kts. After a 10 week delay, Harlequin was finally back on track for her last leg to Cairns.

Our thanks to Frank & Leslie

Again, our heartfelt thanks go to Frank & Leslie for their warm friendship, valuable assistance, and freely-offered support during Harlequin's enforced layover in Alotau. It was really appreciated, and we look forward to meeting Tamilaini again during our respective cruises along the Queensland coast!