KatieKat New Caledonia - Australia Passage

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January 2001GoTo KatieKat 2001 Cruise Chapter One
20 Nov., 2000Going Home for ThanksgivingFamily
16 Nov., 2000Successful Passage to AustraliaMixed
15 Nov., 2000Autohelm UpdateSeawind Owners
10 Nov., 2000More Noumea ScenesFamily
4 Nov., 2000Noumea Arrival FiascoMixed
4 Nov., 2000Passage Attempt - READ THIS FIRSTMixed
2 Nov., 2000Para-Anchoring and Other Events
Multihull Yachties
Sept-Oct 2000GoTo New Caledonia Cruise Webpage

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This webpage discusses the two passages from New Caledonia back to Australia in November 2000, the first one being unsuccessul. This is one long continuous page (with the exception of the para-anchoring report), and clicking on any of the underlined dates above should jump your screen to the appropriate section on this page (or you can use the scrollbar on the right to navigate up and down this page). The para-anchoring report is on a separate web page linked to this one, and is a MUST-READ if you are considering cruising on a multihull (but start with the 4 November writeup FIRST).Joe Siudzinski

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20 November, 2000 - Going Home for Thanksgiving

The boat is nicely put to bed and we're heading home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and to celebrate son's 21st birthday (on Thanksgiving Day). Flew home via Japan and spent a wonderful day being tourists in Narita.

[Clean Boat]Oops, forgot the blue bucket.

[Narita]Narita Tourist.

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16 November, 2000 - Successful Passage from New Caledonia to Australia

We had a great downhill boisterous tradewinds sail from Noumea, New Caledonia, to Scarborough, Queensland, Australia. Although bumpy at times, the six-day sail was uneventful and we purposely slowed down (reefed down heavily and actually sailed most of the trip under jib alone) and took our time in order to stay within VHF range of some other boats making this passage. The nights were gorgeous, as we had a beautiful full moon (in-between the clouds). The winds were a steady 20 knots, peaking to maybe 25 in the squalls, but the seas were often quite large and confused and we only had one day during which we would describe the open-ocean sailing as being comfortable. After three boisterous passages (admitted-to by long-term cruisers as significantly sub-normal in terms of passage comfort), we are realizing that the open ocean can indeed be a very interesting and hostile environment.

The boat behaved wonderfully. Right after exiting the reef outside New Caledonia, we stopped and stowed all the anchors and chain amidships down below to join all the books, tools, canned goods, etc. in the lowest and most-centered part of the boat. We didn't realize how significantly this improved the boat's behavior in pitch until we made the short hop from Scarborough to Manly inside Moreton Bay with the large Bruce and its chain up on the foredeck in their normal stowed positions - the boat's behavior in pitch (still very well damped) was markedly different. The Seawind's pitching is normally neglible, anyway - sailing next to some of these cruising monohulls in ocean waves so vividly demonstrates the difference: they heavily crash into and THROUGH the waves while we happily dance lightly ON TOP of the water.

Aside from the tiny nagging thought about a possible rogue wave emanating from the convergence of all the heavy cross-swells we were encountering, the only concern we had during the passage was electrical power drain - after three heavily-overcast days and continuous use of the autopilot, the running lights at night, and zero motoring, the two main batteries were beginning to run down a little (the third backup battery stayed fully charged, and I only used it to ensure full-power VHF transmissions with other boats in mid-ocean). This wasn't a significant problem as the voltage was still plenty high to run all the instruments and autopilot and fridge and, if really needed, I could turn on the motors at any time to recharge the batteries. Normally, the solar panels are more than adequate to keep everything fully charged. Perhaps I might add a wind-generator to my Christmas list, which already contains a radar unit, a marine/ham SSB, and a real liferaft :-)

We are presently putting the boat to bed for a couple of months, as we are returning home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and intend to resume our Australian coastal cruising at the end of January. In the meantime, I hope to do some more updates to this website and address questions we've been receiving regarding the boat.

[Noumea Squall]We had cleared out through customs intending to depart on Thursday, November 9; however, a front moved in and we anchored in Noumea harbor for a day. This is one of the squalls which moved through the anchorage. The Manta 40 L'Oasis which left that morning was dismasted just after traversing Dumbea Pass through the reef. They are ok and made it back under their own power together with the mast (a shroud t-fitting had separated).

[Second Antenna]I added another klugy antenna, this one athwartships, in order to improve the weatherfax reception as we aimed for Australia. It sure did the trick, creating a crude dipole balancing out the fore-aft antenna. It worked beautifully during the passage.

[Shroud Tensioner]Despite having slightly tightened the rigging in Noumea, I found the boat's normal bendiness was putting slack into the leeward shroud again, so I rigged up this pre-tensioner which seems to do the trick quite nicely.

[Moon]Gee, the moon sure looks tiny in this photo. It was wonderful to have it light up our nighttime passage.

[Nil Warnings]This is the kind of weather warnings summary one likes to see on the weatherfax when passagemaking.

[Dead fish]You should have seen the look on Kathy's face when I asked her if she'd like to prepare this guy for dinner.

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15 November, 2000 - Autohelm Autopilot Update

I'm writing this at sea on the morning of November 15 - presumably the remainder of this passage won't invalidate what I've just written about the Autohelm :-)

The Autohelm performed marvelously during our passage from Noumea to Australia. As you've read previously, I was having trouble programming the Raytheon Autohelm 4000+ autopilot to keep a steady course. After much experimentation, I finally arrived at settings which worked extremely well for me during both the unsussessful and the successful passages from New Caledonia to Australia. Also, I had received an e-mail from Seawind with their recommended settings, and so I am including all this information below, which is primarily of interest to other Seawind 1000 owners. The one test I haven't had an opportunity to perform is to see if these settings also work when motoring in a dead calm :-)

Update, 3 June 2003. The settings have served very well on all points of sail and motoring with the autopilot under compass control; however, while beating to windward under windvane control, an increase in rudder gain settings improves the boat's response to windshifts. The table below is updated to reflect this.

Rudder Gain44For autopilot under compass control. We agree
Rudder Gain6-74For autopilot under windvane control, the higher number for rougher seas.
Response12This is really a seastate or deadband setting. I only use setting "2" in very rough conditions, as I feel that the "2" works the autopilot too hard and that "1" (wider deadband) is adequate for most conditions.
Turn Rate Limit2030I believe the units for this are degrees/second, and I did not detect any difference in response between the 20 or 30 settings.
Align Rudder00Inapplicable to the Seawind as there is no rudder reference transducer.
Rudder Limit1530Inapplicable to the Seawind as there is no rudder reference transducer.
Off Course Alarm2015I give the autopilot a little more leeway before having it sound off
AutoTack Angle100100We agree. I let the autopilot overstand a little, then bring it back up to the typically 90-degree tacking angle
AutoTrim33Inapplicable to the Seawind as there is no rudder reference transducer
Drive Type22I found this to be the most significant parameter of all. Autohelm manual says to use the "1" setting for mechanically driven vessels (which the Seawind is), and yet going to "2" made all the difference!
Variation00Only significant if using other instruments needing this local information
AutoAdaptSthOFFUsed by the autopilot to compensate for heading errors at higher latitudes. I programmed mine just in case it made a difference.
Latitude26-Used with the above AutoAdapt. I programmed mine just in case it made a difference.
Rudder Dampening1?Inapplicable to the Seawind as there is no rudder reference transducer
Cruise Speed58Only applicable if in Track Mode.

As I said, the Autohelm did a wonderful job on the crossing from Noumea to Brisbane; however, and just in case (based upon my previous crossing experience), I had bought yet another drive belt kit (it also includes a tool and some lubricant) as a backup, but did not need it.

Maintenance - The instructions that came with the drive belt kit specify to lubricate the drive rollers after 300 hours of operation - this was not mentioned in the Owner's Handbook, and I wonder how many of us really do this? (I will, now that I know, even though it's a pain). The only other 'maintenance' item I do is not to let the autopilot drive for many hours without repositioning its drive belt assembly - do this when underway by simply putting the unit into STANDBY, releasing the wheel locking lever, and then pushing one of the +- buttons to allow the drive motor to rotate the belt for a second or two (this is normally done automatically by the unit when it is first turned on and is sufficient when daysailing).

Update October 2003. In Noumea again, with the belt needing replacement. See the discussion of autopilot usage.

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10 November, 2000 - More Noumea Scenes

[KTKat and Big Cat]Compared to other cruising boats, the Seawind 1000 is not a large boat - but we think it's a great size for the two of us.

[CookIs. Cat]Another photo of the cat from the Cook Islands that came over to Noumea from New Zealand for the Festival.

[Woman Wanted]A handsome nice guy and a well-equipped boat - what are you girls waiting for? Uh, the passage to New Zealand from New Caledonia is notably rough.

[Rusty Bus]Hey, the public transport bus runs, so why let a little rust worry you?

Sidewalk Barrier]Never could figure out what these barriers were for - imagine the field day lawyers would have with this in California.

[Chez McDonald's]Chez McDonald's?

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4 November - Noumea Arrival Fiasco

OK, so what happened when we arrived at Noumea after our para-anchoring experiences and unsuccessful passage to Australia? Here's the story....

We arrived back at Dumbea Pass (one of the passes through the reef into New Caledonia) perfectly timed at daybreak and were motorsailing along when just at the entrance to Noumea Harbor the low pressure system which had been racing straight across from Australia caught up to us. The winds jumped from 7 knots to 35 knots instantaneously, and there we were going into the harbor with the intention of pulling up alongside the international visitors' dock at Port Moselle. Remember, all my anchors are stowed down below - an error of judgement on my part, as I should have already had one pulled out and ready to deploy. Anyway, I called up Port Moselle and they allowed as they had space for me, so with the wind howling I arrived at the dock only to have them gesturing to a downwind slot between a finger pier and another boat. I refused and started motoring away, but they kept hollering and so I thought, "why not back into the darn slot?" - another error of judgement in those conditions - I had been up since midnight, and wasn't too swift at that point.

We positioned all our big fenders off the port railings and prepared docklines everywhere. Things were actually doing quite well - I positioned the boat upwind and slowly started easing her back down to the slip, having reasonably good control with the two motors. Just then, a super-powerful extended gust hit about 30-degrees off the starboard bow, pushing it off - no amount of full forward port and full reverse starboard would bring it around and so we just kinda went sideways down to some end-tied boats. I just managed to straighten the boat out before we hit, and it was the smoothest side-tie you ever did see, perfectly cushioning us with all our fenders! I just didn't understand why they were hollering at me. Unfortunately, I hadn't seen the dinghy which had been tied up alongside, and this explains why they were screaming bloody murder at me on the boat I pulled up next to. With the gust now gone away, I was able to turn the Seawind and pull away from them, still not realizing what had happened...

Well, I'd had enough of this - the winds were shrieking again so I figured I'd better go up-harbor and anchor and then come back later and check in after everything settled down. The easiest anchor to reach was the Fortress - so I pulled it out and then started dragging out the line with it. After pulling most of it out, I realized that the other end was attached to the chain which was attached to the plow - so, what the heck, I dragged the plow up onto the forward deck and had it ready to deploy. The big Bruce was down below with its chain - an awfully heavy package I didn't want to wrestle with.

It's howling. I find a clear spot, drop the plow, and pay out all the chain and most of the rode and snub the rode and... the damn thing drags! By now, the boat had slewed off and Kathy was unable to hold it into the wind with the engines so we kinda mated with this anchored French monohull - the owner was very gracious and fended us off. We motored clear.

It's still howling, so I figure I'd better get the Fortress down - another error of judgement, as I should have simply raised the plow and tried it again; however, at this point I didn't trust that plow for nothin'! I rushed back to the cockpit, grabbed the Fortress, and ran forward to hook it up to some long docklines - as I stepped onto the trampoline I also stepped onto some of that poly dockline, and the zero friction between the two sent me flying, with the Fortress neatly doing an 'ole overboard! Uh, I hadn't yet attached it to any line...

Back I came, and with the adrenaline pumping I brought first the Bruce and then the 200# bag with the chain and dragged them each to the foredeck and attached them. The monohull owner had a beat-up aluminum skiff and he and his son obligingly brought it up alongside - they took the Bruce and chain upwind and set the anchor and I was finally able to secure the boat. They were also kind enough to retrieve my plow (which, incidentally is now up for sale).

Unfortunately, where we were now anchored was very congested, and so, when a lull came in the wind, I upped anchor and went over close to some headlands, protected from the wind, and re-anchored. What I had failed to realize was that a nearby trimaran must have had 300' of anchor line out and, as the wind gusted over the headland, here came the tri heading straight for us ... to make a long story short, we were able to not entangle our respective anchor rodes and as soon as they drifted away we upped anchor again and went out to an exposed, but DESERTED, part of the anchorage, and dropped the Bruce again and sat out the remainder of that windy day happily secure, with plenty of searoom and no boats behind us.

I got on the radio and immediately contacted the boat I had sidled up to, enquiring about damage - they allowed as there was no harm done - the dinghy had flipped up and actually cushioned our two boats, preventing any damage - I do get lucky sometimes.

Later that day, I redeemed myself by first making a perfect approach and landing at the visitors' dock and then getting a bottle of wine to appease each of the boats I had wronged - unfortunately, the helpful Frenchman with the aluminum skiff was gone the next day when I went out to the anchorage, and I wasn't able to thank him again. Their names were Terry and his son Alexander, and if perchance you are reading this - thank you again very much, and there is a bottle of good California wine waiting for you (we already drank the French wine we had for you).

Well, that little fiasco culminated our unsuccessful passage to Australia - it's so much fun having all these great learning experiences.

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30 October - 4 November
New Caledonia to Australia -- Unsuccessful Passage

Start of the Passage

We left New Caledonia midday on Sunday, October 30, broad-reaching in the continuing steady 20-knot trade winds. The boat was behaving beautifully and I loosened the reins a little so that our boatspeed was in the 7-10 knot range under double-reefed mainsail and full jib. We were having a great sail - mind you, it wasn't smooth, but with the winds on the aft quarter the boat was just whooshing along over the seas with a very comfortable motion. Kathy was really enjoying the experience, and we were speculating that we might actually reach Brisbane by Friday. This was such a pleasant contrast to the bumpy sail we had experienced when going to New Caledonia!

In trying to ensure a smooth ride, I had decided to take a southerly route to Brisbane in the hope of avoiding the ocean seamounts about halfway across. Unbeknownst to me, this turned out to be the wrong way to go at that instant in time.

Weather Reports

On Monday I was unable to receive the 8:00am Kava Net weather report by Dave Seller on Nimbus (a wonderfully concise synopsis of all that's pertinent to cruisers in this area) - I finally figured out why: my fore-aft antenna was pointing directly back to Noumea from whence the broadcast was originating. Anyway, I wasn't too concerned and slept through a few weatherfaxes as well - after all, the tradewinds had been steady for the past month and there was no reason to expect any changes. Serious mistake.

Finally received a blurry weatherfax on Monday evening which unexpectedly showed a low OFF the coast of Australia (it's not uncommon to see lows inland). hmmm... Later that evening, while on watch, I was playing with the radio trying to see if I could receive the Australian voice weather stations, when I happened upon a transmission at the time reserved for storm warnings: it identified the storm center (off the tip of Fraser Island), its direction of travel (southeast), and estimated position a day later, and the gory details to expect in the storm (it was referred to as a severe one). Looking at the chart, we were on an intersecting course! (expletive)

Avoidance Tactics

I grabbed a couple of reference books (notably Dashew's Storm Tactics) and confirmed that what I was about to do was correct: turn North and get the hell out of there!

We did just that and off we went, although I fudged a little and went NNW. Got on the VHF wondering if there was anyone around and made contact with a German sailboat who not only confirmed that what we were both doing was correct but also filled me in on the details from the special reports that Dave from Nimbus had provided twice that Monday about this depression, which was moving in a southeasterly direction.

Just after daybreak we hove-to and I rearranged the boat by taking most of the heavy stuff and centering it down below in each hull - anchors, chain, books, etc. - those big blue boxes keep coming in handy all the time! I pulled out the para-anchor and drogue and made them more accessible, although I kept them down below because of their weight. We generally tidied things up and stowed things away before continuing our trek away from this low.

[Anchor Below]The big Bruce anchor and the bag with 30 metres (100+') of chain and lots of rope (which I could barely lift) stored in Kathy's boudoir. Next to it is the black 20-litre emergency water storage container, and just aft, in the lower compartment under the bunk, are canned goods and books.

Made contact with the Germans once again on Tuesday and after plotting the storm track and our position and wind direction I felt we had made enough distance northward that we could start resuming our westward trek and plotted a course to have us go in-between the higher seamounts which are about halfway between New Caledonia and Australia. Neophyte that I was, I didn't understand why the Germans said they were continuing north. Unfortunately, the barometer started dropping at a rate of one millibar (now called hecto-Pascal) per hour, and continued this for six straight hours - this was not a good sign, and I changed back to the conservative northward direction. Although conditions were still very benign, in the afternoon the wind had swung around to the north, indicating that the front was west of us and causing us to alter our course to the NE. I was concerned that conditions could deteriorate that night but I also felt we were far enough northward to avoid most if not all of the depression's effects, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to try out our sea anchor.

Details about Sea Anchoring and Unpleasant Sailing Conditions

Click here for a separate KatieKat Sea Anchoring report. I try to describe the details of using the parachute sea anchor (which we deployed twice) and the chain of events over the next couple of days culminating in the decision to return to New Caledonia. This writeup is intended primarily for yachties (it's a MUST READ if you are considering ocean passagemaking in a multihull), and may provide everyone with a few insights into the mid-ocean environment (some interesting photos as well). Note to Kathy's parents: you might not want to read this.

Return to Noumea, New Caledonia

After the above experience, we had turned and were surfing gloriously down the waves we had just been pounding into. The boat was super-stable under triple-reefed main and wung-out jib, and we were mostly relaxing although I did grab the wheel a few times as we really started surfing excessively (well over 15 knots). When evening came, we simply dropped the mainsail and the jib alone continued pulling us along at 7-9 knots. We were being chased by a low the entire run back to Noumea and would you believe the darn thing hit us just as we were approaching the harbor entrance (luckily not while we were crossing the reef entrance). The windspeed (which had dropped to 7 knots) jumped to 35 knots instantaneously - and there we were with our anchors and chain all stored way down below. I'll describe the subsequent events and comedy of errors that took place in a separate writeup (if I dare) - suffice it to say that we have a few more scratches on our boat and that we are lucky to have escaped with virtually no damage to ourselves or other boats.

[Bird on Boom]This poor ruffled tweetie hitched a ride with us all night long during the first part of our return. The sail now has permanent proof of his presence. Note the lashed down sailcover, allowing quick unlashing and hoisting of the triple-reefed main if required.

Personal Reflections

On a personal note, it is interesting to contrast the difference between Kathy's reactions and mine. Whereas I found this all to be a great learning experience in getting ourselves and all the boat systems to work together, Kathy was somewhat stressed out by the mid-ocean events. She had performed wonderfully in the most trying of circumstances, ably maneuvering the boat while I deployed or retrieved the sea anchor or hoisted sails, and has been learning to handle the various boat systems very nicely. On the other hand, I'm the one who became quite distressed and upset with myself for our in-harbor antics at the end of this aborted voyage. Right now, as I write this on November 6, the stressful parts are fading away quickly, and we're reflecting on what an interesting experience this had been for us.

The Seawind 1000

Our confidence in the boat is continuing to increase, and this experience further reinforced this belief. Not only did the boat continue to prove its seaworthiness, but it is absolutely uncanny how sheltered and stable it was in the yukky conditions we experienced. By the way, the fully assembled SeaCycle pedal-powered catamaran which was strapped to the targa bar came through all this unscathed.

Current Activities

After arriving in Noumea it had been our intention to make the minor repairs, reprovision, and turn right around and head out to Australia; however, two different long-range weather forecasts didn't sound too promising for coming weekend off the coast of Brisbane, and we have decided to sit back and wait for the weather to stabilize and re-establish the normal tradewind pattern. With this present nice weather we also hope to go for some daysails and visit some neighboring islands and I'd like to practice heaving-to some more and experiment further with sail combinations and sail-angle positions. In the meantime, I intend to try to rig the small forestay with an attached halyard and see if I can set it up with a hanked-on stowed heavy-weather jib for passagemaking. The other thing I hope to work on is to perhaps set up a riding sail on the topping lift in an attempt to move the center of effort further aft to improve the boat's angle to the wind/waves when heaving-to in winds above 35 knots. Also, I need to improve the jackline system to which I attach my safety harness tether - the present one, off my trimaran, wraps around and snags the attaching clip too easily.

Attaboy for Autohelm

One final note: a caveat for Autohelm. I think I've finally found the right programming combination because the Autohelm did most of the steering during this passage, and did it beautifully. I will devote a separate discussion of what finally worked in the near future, and I've just received an e-mail which further details programming settings appropriate to the Seawind.

[14.7 knots]This shows how confident I have become in the Autohelm's performance. We're running under triple-reefed main and full jib (wung out opposite the main), and I'm just sitting there with the camera trying to capture our surfing speeds (check out that averaged GPS reading) while the autopilot is doing all the work. Kathy just pointed out that you can see the SeaCycle in the reflection off the face of the GPS.

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