Across the Coral Sea
Finally the weather cleared in Vanuatu just as the Meteorologist from
New Zealand promised, and we were off across the Coral sea towards
Australia. In Port Vila there where about 25 boats waiting for
winds, all participating in the Port2Port Rally for cruisers.
Port2Port is organized every year at the end of October, and the boats
can choose to start from New Caledonia or Vanuatu. What they can not
choose is where to arrive and when, as there is a week of festivities
awaiting the cruisers upon arrival in Bundaberg. Port2Port is an informal rally organized by the
small, but active, Bundaberg Cruising Club. The rally is not a
commercial venue like the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) and there is
no entry fee, and no charter boats and no paying passengers. Bundaberg Cruising Club does it all for fun and to bring boats to their marina. The participants are also more seasoned
cruisers than in the ARC. Among the 50 boats
participating where several about to complete their circumnavigations.
Chatty and Fantasy 1 both closed the circle in Bundaberg after 9 years
out on the seven seas. They started at the same time in this marina and arrived
together. Blackwattle "sprinted" around in only 5 years. The earth
is large and there is much to see.
The 1000 nautical miles stretch of water between Port Vila and Bundaberg in Australia is called the Coral Sea because it is littered with coral reefs. Unusually the reefs are there all by themselves in the middle of the ocean without any islands close by. There are two main routes across. The main route goes over the top of the reefs north of New Caledonia and north of Chesterfield reef, and is generally regarded as the safest option. It is easier navigation and room to maneuver in case the weather should deteriorate. The drawback is that this route is 60 -70 miles longer than the one straight through the reefs that we choose. Generally regarded as a less safe, but quicker option, it paid up big time for us when we enjoyed 2 knots of current through the passes and no ocean swells as the reefs protected us. We trusted our GPS and our electronic charts for the passage, but where reminded about the risks when one of the participants hit the reef at night and lost his boat. He was sailing alone, was tired and didn't check his navigation. A helicopter from New Caledonia airlifted him out and into safety. His rescue was organised in a very short time because he was a rally participant. All rally boats are tied together by a radio network reporting their positions and weather conditions twice a day. Behind the call sign VMR 488 in Bundaberg is the local Volunteer Marine Rescue that kept a watchful eye on all of us. VMR488 responded quickly and professionally when the report came in that a boat was on the reef.
It took us 6 days to reach Bundaberg but it did require some motoring as the winds turned very light and we where looking forward to get to Australia. We where all very aware of this being our last ocean crossing for a while and quite enjoyed that it was a good one. We had a full moon and beautiful starry nights all the way across. We got into our routine of reading aloud together and finished a book on the way. Every afternoon we had movies at 2 o'clock, and drinks and snacks at sunset. We did fish once and got a very big Dorado. It took 30 minutes to bring in and was far to large for us to eat. It could have provided meat for a small village!
Much is written about Customs and Quarantine in Australia and how difficult it all is. We found it very easy and the officials very friendly. Quarantine, Customs and Immigration where all onboard within an hour of arrival and their job was done in a professional but friendly manner. Quarantine took all our fresh produce off the boat as expected (we didn't have much left). They are careful of yachts bringing in unwanted bugs, plants and deceases to this fragile continents ecosystems. A wooden statue that we brought in from Vanuatu had to be taken off the boat to be fumigated as there was a small chance it had woodworms. We had to pay a small amount for the job and have to pick it up in Brisbane in three weeks time, but we got to keep the statue.
It was great being in a marina berth again. All the water we could possibly need and power from the dock makes life much easier. Having neighbours and to be able to walk ashore without having to use the dinghy provides entertainment and convenience for all. While at the dock Coconut was cleaned up and her topsides polished. A couple of days after arrival she was looking very shiny.
But before all this upon arrival in Bundaberg we brought out the good bottle of champagne. A bottle we had kept safe for this occasion. We had arrived in Australia! We had reached our goal!
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