Vanuatu to Australia
Written by Cathy Siegismund
We had Felicity fueled and were ready to go. Ken thought the weather window
looked ideal and we also got a green light from the New Zealand weather guru,
Bob McDavitt. Monday, October 13, we checked out of the country, bought some last
minute fresh food and cast off our Aore Resort mooring at about 1500. We said
goodbye to GB and Sarah on Djarrka, and motored westward through the Segond
Channel. The passage from Luganville, Vanuatu to Bundaberg, Australia is 1050 miles.
We were taking what is known as the "over the top" route. This route would
take us north of New Caledonia and Chesterfield Reefs before we would turn more
southwest and head for Bundaberg. This passage would complete our sail across
the Pacific and would take us through the Coral Sea to Australia.
Route from Luganville, Vanuatu to Bundaberg, Australia
For a 1050 mile trip, our estimated passage time would be 8-12 days, barring
any unforeseen circumstances. We cleared the Segond Channel in the early
evening, and as we cleared the islands the breeze started to freshen up and a
lumpy south-southeast swell started rolling us around. We were soon averaging 6
knots, which is quite fast for us, but I was feeling pretty green around the
gills. There was no easing into the passage routine on this trip. The first
night, I was quite miserable feeling very seasick so Ken let me sleep a few
extra hours. By the next morning, I was feeling a little better and Felicity was
still rolling along. We didn't beat our 24-hour run record, but we had four days
in a row where we covered over 140 miles. This may not sound like much to many
of you, but it was very fast for our fat little 31 foot boat.
There was a huge high pressure system stalled right in our area. Our plan was
to ride the SE trade winds as far as possible, and then as we went further south
and approached Australia we would ride the northerly winds from the back side of
the high or the front side of the low pressure system that was moving in behind
the high. The only thing we had to worry about was not going fast enough and
reaching the Australian coast as the backside of the low was moving arriving. This would
provide southerly winds, which oppose the a southerly current running along
the east coast of Australia. This has been known to catch sailors off guard, not only
having to beat into the southerly winds but having the southerly winds blowing
agaist the south-moving current creating steep short waves. With this in the
back of our minds, we were delighted to be making such a fast passage.
Most of the boats in Luganville when we left were waiting for the
Port-to-Port Rally from Vanuatu to Bundaberg, which was not leaving for another
week. We therefore, were only doing the passage with a handful of other boats.
There were some other boats we heard on the daily net heading for Bundy from Port Vila
and New Caledonia.
As we were nearing the top of Chesterfield Reef, we did see a large freighter
closing in on us very quickly. We contacted them and they said they saw us and
would pass to our stern. Looking at the chart, we guessed it was a ship on its
way from Auckland or New Caledonia to Asia.
One night on watch while I was checking for ships, I saw that we had picked
up a hitchhiker. A large booby was trying to balance very precariously on our
stern rail by our solar panel. It is not uncommon for boobies at sea to land on
a boat. Sailors historically, often ended up having booby for supper when this
happened. We weren't interested in eating this tired sea-bird but didn't want
him pooping all over our cockpit -- these are big birds. We had one hitch a ride
with us one night on our Marquesas passage and he left quite a mess on our
bowsprit. To shoo away our current castaway, we tried all sorts of "scary
noises", flapping arms and stomping feet. The most we got were a couple of tail
wiggles and wing flutters.
Booby hitching a ride one night north of Chesterfield Reef
Finally, when Ken reached out and touched our guest's tail feathers he let out
an indignant squawk and flew away. Not ten minutes later, on my next 360 degree
look for ships I saw a booby-shaped shadow balancing on our jerry jugs on the
side deck. We decided to let our guest stay this time. We figured he must be
tired to manage landing on our bouncing rails twice and neither of us wanted to
spend our night watches chasing a booby off various parts of the boat. In
the middle of the night, he took off, fortunately only leaving us a small mess
to clean up.
As usual we spent our days watching weather, reading, and counting down the
miles to our destination. Our monitor windvane continued to steer us flawlessly
as it has for the last 12,000 miles.
Monitor windvane in action, steering us to Australia
We had mostly fine weather, but did pass through a few squalls as we usually do
One rainy gray sunrise at sea
We had mixed luck with currents. For over a day, we flew along often
averaging 7+ knots over ground with a current we were riding. We however, paid
for this when we neared Kenn Reef and starting bucking a current of .5 -
1.5 knots. The winds and seas evened out and, except for one night when we had
winds from 17-35 knots making sail changes a pain in the rear, the passage
was turning into one of our best. I finally settled into the passage routine and was
feeling better, we had no wind in front of the beam and we were making very good
It was looking like Ken picked a perfect weather window for us. We were going
to arrive on the morning of Tuesday, October 21 for a 7 3/4 day passage!
As we neared the Australian coast we entered shipping lanes, the likes of
which we hadn't seen since the west coast of the US. These shipping lanes were
designated on our charts and as we entered them we started dodging ships.
Passing ships in the day or night is always something that requires vigilance,
but it no longer instills the fear I felt on our first few nights out of Neah
Bay. We watched many of them fly past us just big solid returns on radar at
night, sometimes a glow on the horizon at most. Others cruised past us coming within a
couple of miles. This is plenty close to a freighter at sea and until you see
these behemoths underway on the open ocean, you really can't imagine how big
they look and how fast they move. After a night of about 12 ships spotted, I
awoke for by 0600-0900 watch to a clear morning with just over 100 miles to go to Bundy. The wind
had died and we were motoring under sunny skies and flat seas. We had hoped for
our last day at sea to be flat and calm so we could clean up the boat
prior to arrival. Ken, as the person coming off watch, told me what sail
was up, and that we were motoring, and if there were any ships around.
He said "oh, there's a ship coming up from behind us", then he
dived for the sea berth and shut his eyes. I spotted the ship on radar
and went out and got a visual of him on our stern quarter just on the horizon.
Speck on the horizon is a freighter heading along the
I have learned that once you can see these big guys visually, they will be
right next to you pretty quickly. They often go horizon to horizon in less than
20 minutes. I watched him for a little while and he seemed to be heading right for
us. I then put a bearing line on him on the radar to verify if he was on a
collision course with us. He seemed to be marching right down the bearing line to
us. I hate to wake Ken up, as he often thinks I'm paranoid about big ships. I
finally tell him that this guy is on a collision course with us and we need to
call him or change course. Ken is playing opossum in bed and snickers, saying he
thought this might be the case when he went to bed. I was only mildly amused at
this "passage humor", but wasn't as ticked off as I would have been a few years
ago. We called the ship, who answered immediately, and was very polite. He even
offered to change his course to accommodate us. We were pleasantly surprised and
thanked him. He turned a bit to starboard and crossed behind us -- but not by
The large freighter with his bow wake visible as he turns
slightly to starboard to avoid us
The freighter passing us on the starboard side only about
1/4 mile away.
The day ended up being a glorious one. We got through the shipping lanes by
mid-morning; the sun was shining and we had flat millpond seas of the
crystal clear water of the Coral Sea. After our morning off-watch naps, we
started cleaning up the boat. We cleaned the galley, wiped down the wood and
hosed off the cockpit. Felicity would receive a proper bath once we got in the
marina, but we did an initial clean up as we expected to have Australian
quarantine and customs officers aboard as soon as we arrived.
While we were cleaning we were greeted by a pod of huge bottlenose dolphins.
This is a site that we always find exciting. We were soon on the bow with
cameras in hand as the dolphin played under the bow and did aerial acrobatics
around the boat.
Cath, on the bow, watching the dolphin
A large pod of Bottlenose dolphin playing in Felicity's bow
wake in the Coral Sea, 100 miles from Australia
We motored the last 100 or so miles in flat seas and light winds. On our last
night, we had a few
rain squalls and some thunder and lightening we could see toward the coast.. By dawn the next morning, we
were within 30 miles of the coast
and surprisingly still couldn't find Australia on radar! It is a flat country.
After a few more hours, we spotted the coast on radar and then visually. We had
contacted Australian Customs via email about halfway through our trip with an
approximate arrival time, and called them again once we were within VHF range the
morning we arrived. We motored into the well marked channel of the Burnett River
heading for the Bundaberg Port Marina. As we approached the marina, we were
first told to anchor in the river to wait for a customs slip to open up as there
were several boats checking-in. A few minutes later, we were called again and
directed to a regular marina slip where customs and quarantine would meet us.
The quarantine officer was the first aboard. As in New Zealand, she was very
polite and friendly. However, both New Zealand and Australia take their
quarantine issues very seriously and we lost a number of food items as well as
had to have some of our woodcarvings sprayed with insecticide. Next the
customs/immigration officer came aboard. You are required to have an Australian
Visa, before you enter the country. When you fly into Australia, this is usually
done electronically by your travel agent. We had applied for and received our
visas at the Australian Consulate in Port Vila, Vanuatu. However, as we were
bringing a boat into the country there was quite a bit of additional paperwork
we needed to complete. The Customs official asked the usual firearm, tobacco,
and liquor questions. He was quite reasonable about our wine collection, which
exceeded the 2 bottle limit, letting us keep everything duty free. He also asked
to see the list of drugs in our ships medical kit, and though we had a couple of
items that were on their restricted list we were allowed to keep these too.
After a about an hour, we were checked into Australia! We had made it across
the Pacific having traveled over 12,000 miles in our little 31 foot boat.