Santo, Vanuatu - Bundaberg, Oz
with a stop at
November 20, 2012
Aore Resort: 15 32'.29S 167 10'.71E
Chesterfield Reefs: 19 53'.42S 158 27'.95E
Bundaberg Marina: 24 45'.56S 152 23'.27E
The passage from Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu to Bundaberg, Australia is an easy one. The route is nearly due west and remains in the tropics with prevailing SE winds, following seas and warm temperatures. Time it right and you have a marvelous passage provided you keep a vigilant look-out. Reefs, small islands and shipwrecks are strewn liberally about the Coral Sea.
Timing is the hardest thing about sailing to Bundaberg. Most yachties do not want to arrive on a weekend because overtime charges double the already hefty $330 quarantine fee to enter the country.
The route passes through Chesterfield Reefs. Part of New Caledonia, this large area is a wonderful place to stop for a few days in settled weather. It breaks an already manageable passage (8 days) in two. It would be a wonderful stop but we wanted to get to Australia quickly so our plan was to head straight to Bundy.
We dropped the mooring ball in front of the Aore Resort at 1715 on Friday, October 26 and motor-sailed west through the Segond Channel in light southerly winds. Six hours later the wind increased to 10 knots from the SE and we were sailing nicely on a slight sea.
The next day when the wind dropped to 6 knots Jim and Steve rigged the asymmetrical genaker How exciting to actually use this sail! It's more work than Jim and I care to do so it usually remains stowed under the forward bunks. Ah, the benefits of a third person!
Soon after the sock had closed down around the wildly flapping sail and the bag stored down below, the fishing line jumped. We'd caught a fish! Jim pulled the tubby little tuna in while Steve salivated, dreaming of sashimi. But the poor little guy gave his life for a filleting lesson. The guys each took one bite and over the side it went. Most tuna is delicious but one type certainly is not. In fact, it tastes positively awful. Skipjack. Maybe as a consolation prize, that night the setting sun blinked a green flash before disappearing below the horizon.
Perhaps birds like the strong, foul taste of skipjack as several noddies and red-footed boobies landed or attempted to land on the stern during our passage. One night, as I stood in the space behind the dodger and in front of the binnacle, a noddy flew right at my head several times. I wasn't sure if he wanted to land on the dodger or was attracted by a light reflecting in my glasses, but waving and flailing my arms finally convinced it to go away.
We had hoped to reach Bundaberg before a front arrived bringing nasty weather, but at 0600 on October 30 it was obvious we wouldn't make it. Move to Plan B: Chesterfield Reefs. Yippee!
By now the seas were moderate with ESE winds 18-25 knots. Tenaya was bouncing around more like a normal ocean passage. Steve gave up trying to make instant coffee before his watch while Jim and I slipped into our 'at sea' movements inside the boat. When I went to wake him for his 0200-0600 watch, Steve was rolling back and forth, sound asleep. I slid out his camera and snapped a shot before disturbing his slumber.
Not wanting to get too close to the reefs until daylight, we slowed Tenaya down which caused her to roll through the night. We hadn't seen or heard any other boats since leaving Santo, but now that we were approaching Chesterfield Reefs the radio was alive with chatter. There was a pack of three yachts traveling together. I'm pretty sure people like sailing 'in company' so they can talk to each other on the radio. All the time.
We converged on Les Trois Ilots Du Mouillage in a line, everyone keeping a careful watch for the gigantic bommies. The pack anchored near the lone boat already there and we headed a little further west and anchored in 9 meters in sand. Before we had the dinghy down, the other boat had hauled up their anchor and was sailing away.
Entry waypoint: 19 47' .33S 158 25' .78E
Exit waypoint: 19 50'.69S 158 17'.00E
Friends kindly gave us waypoint in and out of Chesterfield Reefs, along with their favorite anchoring spot. These were marked on our chartplotter which uses Navionics Gold, and our iPad which we were running C-Maps. Navionics charts are a little off here as they have us anchored on the reef. C-Maps were spot on.
The low, narrow sandy strip of land is home to millions of birds. Noddies and terns flock together on the beach where, here and there, a masked booby stands with her huge, fluffy chick.
Plastic flotsam and jetsam litter the seaward side of the island. This masked booby sat on a piece of plastic like others sat on their small chicks. Wonder what that was about.
On the ocean side of the island is a sheltered area which make a perfect nursery for black-tipped reef sharks. Each time we visited there were several small ones swimming about. Sometimes adults were present, other times not.
Masked Booby and chick. These are the largest and heaviest booby.
Red-footed Booby. The only booby that can wrap its webbed feet around branches and boat railings to hold on tightly. They nest in trees.
Brown Booby. May perch in trees but nests only on the ground.
White-capped Noddy and chick
Nesting red-footed boobies and white-capped terns.
Juvenile Sooty Tern
While I was up the mast I heard a loud TWANG. I called down to Jim curious if I'd be crashing to the coachroof soon. Was it the halyard holding me aloft? "No problem" was all he answered. Back on deck I saw this little guy standing stunned. He'd flown into the backstay. After a little while he hopped to the deck, then to the cap rail, then off over the edge before gaining altitude and heading towards land. He made it. Whew.
The weather was perfect and the sea as flat as could be. Each of us went up the mast for a look around. We could not get over the fact that we were in this beautiful spot - an anchorage in the middle of the Coral Sea! It was awesome!
Steve gets the prize for the best photo taken from the mast!
After four days of swimming, snorkeling and birdwatching, and Jim taking more than 2,000 photos, Steve and I scrubbed the bottom so Tenaya would be nice and clean when she entered Australian waters while Jim ran through his pre-passage check-list. The weather was clearing in Bundy and we could be on our way.
The anchor was up at 1530 on November 3. Motor-sailing out of the pass, Jim was nervous as the water shallowed to 15 meters over the reef. Plenty, actually, but unsettling when it goes from 50 really fast. Steve was at the bow and I was standing on the dinghy at the mast looking at the reef. The sun was ahead of us so not the best time of day for this. Outside the sea was slight, the wind was from the SE at 11-16 knots and the sky was completely clear.
Before the moon rose, stars shone all around and down to the horizon like a billion twinkling lights against a warm, black night. Huge galaxies that resemble clouds, called the Magellenic Clouds, floated above us. What a beautiful, magical night! There was no place else on earth we would have rather been.
At 0300 the seas kicked up to moderate and, aside from short squalls to 20 knots, the winds remained SE at 13-17 knots. Two days later, when we were crossing the shipping lane off the coast of Australia, the wind picked up to ESE 18-24 knots with gusts to 27. Jim noted in the log that there were a total of seven ships around us. Later, inside Hervey Bay, fishing boats began to appear so Steve had his first encounter with those unpredictable things.
Again, we slowed the boat down to arrive after dawn. At 0600 I called VMR Hervey Bay to notify them of our arrival. We motored up the river a short distance and dropped anchor at the yellow Q buoy at 0810. Less than an hour later Dan from the marina called and told us to tie to the Q dock.
Customs and Immigration officials came at once. Boy were they thorough! They stayed almost two hours and opened every storage area asking if we had all kinds of things. "No, no weapons unless you count a wooden bow and arrow or pig-killing club." Those were fine, we we assured. We did have bear spray though. They took it along with some necklaces that had seeds and the wrong kinds of shells, and of course, the normal food things. But, they let us keep all our baskets, mats and wood carvings because they had been sealed in plastic bags and sprayed with insecticide. They were all very professional, friendly and pretty darn funny.
We didn't realize how shallow parts of this marina were, but once we were tied into our berth, we saw how low the water gets. Tenaya draws 2 meters. Good thing the bottom is mud!
The marina is located in a rural area about 20 minutes by car from the town of Bundaberg. Across the street is a large field where a family of kangaroos live. Yep, we're in Australia now!
Although remote, the marina has a nice restaurant, fish and chips shop and a good fish market. They provide van service to town each morning and it's easy enough to catch the city bus back. Rental cars are available too.
Because we were part of the Port-2-Port Rally, we received a refund of the $330 customs fee. We also enjoyed the get-togethers the organizers put on. We appreciate their hard work and efforts to help make checking into Australia a bit less painful.
Steve is a natural at this yachtie stuff, both technically and socially. It was sad when the time came for him to leave. We hope that he'll join us again, perhaps for a longer, tougher passage.
After stops at Kingfisher Resort on Fraser Island and Mooloolaba Marina, Tenaya is berthed at Scarborough Marina just north of Brisbane. She'll stay here while we fly back to California to see family for Christmas. When the watermaker is fixed in January (with parts we're bringing back) we'll continue sailing south.