KatieKat 2003 Cruise Chapter Fifteen
- New Caledonia to Australia Passage Day One -

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25 October 2003Passage First Day
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This page covers our nice first-day's sail which was rather boring. Bear with me, as I am treating this as a learning exercise and have gone back and retrieved some of the weather information that I had available and then have tried to correlate it to what actually happened. Our actual Passage Report SailMail e-mails during this passage are shown in italics.

25 October, 2003 -- Passage, First Day

NewCal to Australia Passage Report#1
Date: 25 October 2003
Time: 1300hrs
Position: Departed New Caledonia
Course: 236degM
Speed: 8.9kts
Distance to Moreton Bay Entrance: 757
Last 24 Hours: n/a
WindSpeed: 20kts
Wind Direction: 125degPort(boat), 130degT
Waves: starting to get large swells

Hi all,

We've departed New Caledonia, heading for Brisbane, Australia.

Came out through Dumbea Pass at 1215 and are presently zipping along at 9 knots in increasingly-larger swells as we reach open water and are losing the protection of the land to the southeast tradewind.

All's well onboard, and we're in the company of about a half-dozen boats making the passage. Someone report seeing whales, so we're keeping a lookout for them - do NOT want to bump into one!

Just before we left I found the reason for the poor transmission quality of my SSB at lower frequencies: the top half of the antenna had unscrewed and was just about to fall off!

Although the start of the passage is great, the middle part promises to have a lot of motoring, and who knows what it will be like when we reach Queensland...

Hope y'all have a great day!

There's a lot to be said for starting a passage in favorable conditions - primarily, it allows one to settle down and get acclimatized to the rhythm of the boat in the open ocean without any fire drills.

[NewCal behind KatieKat] Last view of New Caledonia, before the swells started.

After we departed the dock and while we were still in the lagoon before we went out through Dumbea Pass we hove-to and stowed the anchor and chain down below. Perhaps we should have done that before leaving the dock, but there's always the possibility that it may be needed when we're leaving the harbor, and so this was a good compromise because, as it turned out, it would have been quite bumpy to heave-to after going through the Pass. We had stowed the anchor belowdecks on our New Zealand to Fiji passage but not during our Fiji to NewCal trip and the difference was noticeable even though we stow our anchor fairly far aft on the foredeck. One of the keys to having a catamaran perform nicely in rough conditions is to have it not only kept light but to keep the weight low and centered amidships. All of our anchor line and chain and Bruce anchor stows quite nicely into one Rubbermaid container (which can be easily repositioned down below).

[Stowed Anchor] This photo is looking forward in the port hull - the red mesh bag contains the 150' of anchor rope, and it sits on top of the Bruce anchor and 100' of chain in that Rubbermaid container. Next to it is an emergency 20-litre water supply (another one is in the starboard hull). To the left is the backup solar panel which we no longer need at this latitude. The other rubbermaid container is our book collection (I subseqently moved that box aft).

Ok, now we're at sea. What about the weather? At sea without a satellite phone system but with a Single Sideband transceiver (SSB) we have Australian HF voice weather broadcasts, Australian and New Zealand weatherfax (I don't use the US Hawaii station), and SailMail GRIB charts.

OK, first of all, what we have is an almost continuous stream of weatherfaxes that we download - even have two receivers and two computers set up to do this. A significant difference exists between the way Australia and New Zealand broadcast their weatherfaxes on SSB. Australia broadcasts a chart simultaneously on a number of frequencies (allowing one to immediately choose the best frequency) whereas New Zealand broadcasts the same chart four times within an hour, using a different frequency every fifteen minutes. I was told this was a money-saving measure by New Zealand, and, unfortunately, it results in a very significant time-wastage (interruption) to our cruising life because we inevitably start off trying to receive the earlier (poorer) transmission for fear of some event preventing us from receiving the next (and perhaps better) picture. Pain in the butt since our reception is not automated.

My level of weather analysis is still simplistic - for example, although I understand the need to refer to the 500HPa level weather charts because upper-level disturbances can be precursors of what happens at sea-level, I usually stick with the MSL (Mean Sea Level) analyses and prognoses, figuring the meteorologists are taking all those variables into account in their prognoses. An analysis is of the PRESENT situation whereas a prognosis is a distillation of various weather models and attempts to predict the FUTURE.

We download many weatherfaxes. Their quality ranges from wonderfully crisp to unusable - we have to remember to set our alarm clocks (I have as many as five timers going at any one time) and when the time comes we run around the boat and turn off all the inverters, the computer power supplies, and the refrigerator to eliminate most of the boat's noise sources (and then have to remember to turn everything back on again). Often there's a conflict amongst broadcasts or radio nets, so we use the downstairs receiver (poorer quality image which has inexplicably degraded over the last few months), while we're jabbering on the upstairs transceiver. Keeps the one person on watch quite busy.

OK, back to the events of the day - around 1245 I downloaded the New Zealand 48 hour prognosis:

[NZ 48hr Prog] Looks fine, as that trough associated with the low west of New Zealand (the outward bulges in the isobars) doesn't appear to extend up to our latitude.

That evening's download of both the New Zealand and Australian MSL Analyses was pacifying:

[NZ MSL Analysis] [Aus MSL Analysis]

These MSL analyses show nothing unusual at our latitude, only some activity off the southeast coast of Australia - the NZ WxFax shows what looks like a warm front moving SSE whereas the Australian one shows a cold front south of Tasmania moving east.

That night Kathy very conscientiously downloaded the following 30-hour, 48-hour, and 72-hour New Zealand prognoses:

[NZ 30 Hour Prog] [NZ 48 Hour Prog] [NZ 72 Hour Prog]

In the first WxFax you can see the trough line emanating from the low west of New Zealand. Although not shown on the two subsequent weatherfaxes, the trough bulge in the isobars persists, but does not appear to penetrate up to our latitude. Would you be worried?

One of the wonderful adjuncts with SailMail is the ability to receive GRIB charts which provide windspeed, wind direction, and barometric pressure at any selected point or area. The way it works is that one requests this information by specifying an area of the earth and the number of intervals for a certain time period, and every day the files are received (believe me, we really look forward to this every day!). In order to keep the file size down, I only specified a limited area between New Caledonia and Queensland, and only requested 24-hour intervals looking three days forward. I've seen other cruisers increase the area and reduce the time intervals and view the results as virtual movies - nice but consumes valuable airtime. In retrospect, I perhaps should have requested 12-hour intervals.


These are the GRIB charts I didn't receive until the following morning. In this series, the cursor roughly identifies our location late on 25 October. The "valid" date and time is UTC, which means that "Valid 10/26/03 00:00" translates to somewhere around noon on 26 October local. The brown solid lines represent portions of isobars.

The first GRIB chart tells us that the wind will be dropping and that tomorrow (26th) midday we should have 10 knot winds roughly from the east.

The second chart tells us that the next day (Monday) we should be expecting 15-knot northerlies (unusual), but what I completely failed to notice is the sharp jog in the isobar (HINT, HINT). Finally, the third chart tells us we would have ten-knot westerlies on the 28th. The second hint that I missed here is that westerlies or southwesterlies are what usually results when a low pressure system passes below us, which meant that the low off New Zealand was indeed going to be affecting us and the trough could have a front associated with it and passing through us. (Sigh).

The next day's e-mail Passage Report closes out the day:

Right after sending out yesterday's passage report we reefed down to our second reef as we were in danger of setting some sort of a new KatieKat speed record (besides, for a while it was getting uncomfortable). As the evening came the winds diminished but we simply left in the second reef for the night and by late evening the winds had dropped and shifted to dead astern so we wung out the jib.

We spent a peaceful but slow first night at sea, totally oblivious to the coming events. :-)

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