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Pent up; latent; smouldering; underlying

by John Curnow, Global Editor, SailWorldCruising.com 24 Nov 22:00 UTC
New Caledonia © Casey

Timing is everything. Whether that's the punch line of a joke, arriving home early, or late, so as to be there or not be there, depending on the mission at hand... Of course another crucial action requiring expertly deft timing, is passage making.

Picking the right time of year, so as to get the best prevailing conditions, and a trek down the rhumb line that won't make you wish you were at the head of the queue for the rum sounds really smart, but often not entirely achievable. Or is it now? You know I pondered this as I reflected on the number of boats that have been sold over the course of the last couple of years, and the lack of destinations for them to head towards.

Now whether you're a painter, romanticist, harden salty, or confirmed rum aficionado, or desperate to do yoga on a magnificent tropical beach, the South Pacific has enough mystic and beauty to capture your soul, and just about everyone else's as well. It is on many a cruiser's bucket list.

Taking in some very low vaccination rates in many a Pacific nation, especially Micronesia, and then thinking some more, I was left with, well where can everyone go ex-Australia? Now that things are opening up, and then in April, when it's prudent and safe at the end of Cyclone Season, your insurer like Pantaenius will cover your trek East, it seemed quite the time to consider all this. I guess it was further heightened when I saw the information regarding the Australia to New Zealand Rally.

One person who knows this sector very well is John Hembrow from Down Under Cruisers Rally. "Many of the Westabout International cruisers all say the best was saved until last in the South West Pacific Island Nations of Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia," said Hembrow.

"However, it is interesting to learn that by comparison, very few Australian-based cruising yachts have ventured East from Australia to the South West Pacific, despite our close proximity to these destinations. Maybe that is due to the fact that Australia is in itself one of the best cruising grounds in the world, but it does now seem that the tide may be turning. So what has changed?"

How did it all come about?

That's actually quite the point, and there is a bit of history to quickly recap, as we close in on the answers. It was 2015 when the first Go East Rally departed Australia for New Caledonia and Vanuatu with just eight vessels. Once the participants shared stories of their adventures and experiences, that number quickly accelerated. John tells me that now over 200 yachts have participated in one or more of Down Under's rallies into the South West Pacific in just six years (and it is more remarkable given the lost time the world has endured).

As it turns out, the Down Under Rally has received more than 200 expressions of interest over the last 12 months from yacht owners who are keen to make the voyage from Australia to the SW Pacific in 2022, so that pretty much sums up everything so far from the headline all the way down to here...

Given that many are new to boats, or long distance sailing, the voyage as part of a rally is appealing. Hembrow adds, "Heading off beyond the horizon is an exciting prospect, but it can also be daunting. There is a lot that can go wrong out there, and most people who embark on such a voyage for the first time don't know what they don't know, and as a result often learn many lessons the hard way, making what are sometimes expensive and even life-threatening mistakes in the process."

Naturally this is where the Down Under Rally comes into its own, for the organisers certainly have the memories of a lot of those mistakes themselves, and subsequently offer guidance in regards to:

  • Preparing your vessel and crew for the voyage,
  • Passage planning advice,
  • Voyage management advice,
  • Support services including professional weather routing, vessel tracking and daily status reporting for all vessels in the fleet.

Another benefit of participating in a yacht rally is the opportunity to make the voyage and cruise the destinations in company, with the added bonus of many new friendships being made as a result of the shared experiences along the way.

In short, if you have not yet made a multi-day/night ocean passage, then making for New Caledonia and then onwards to Vanuatu is the perfect way to gain the necessary blue water experience. Hembrow adds, and taking into account all the trips he has made as a cruiser for over 11 years, "New Caledonia and Vanuatu also offer a mix of everything that is the South West Pacific experience."

What else you got?

For those who have gained the necessary blue water experience, and are keen to venture further into the Pacific from Australia, Fiji remains a very popular destination. It is also very much open and looks like staying that way too.

"However, sailing to Fiji from Australia is not a voyage that would be recommended for the inexperienced, as it is about 1,700nm, should you be able to sail the rhumb line, that is. This is seldom possible, as the predominant winds are from the E/SE, making it a long upwind slog. You might be lucky and get more favourable winds for a portion of the voyage, but it is unlikely that those favourable winds will be with you for the entire passage, given that for most cruising yachts it will take at least 12-15 days to get there," adds in Hembrow very quickly.

"Sailing to New Caledonia, and waiting for a suitable weather window that will allow for the onward voyage to Fiji is possible, but infrequent. It is about 750nm down the rhumb line (not always achievable), or about six days for the average cruising yacht. We've made this voyage several times, and despite having engaged the services of professional weather routers, along with the benefit of our own experience, only once has the majority of the voyage from New Caledonia to Fiji been made in favourable conditions. The other times were uncomfortable to say the least, and hard on both the boat and the crew, especially the last 36 hours as you approach Fiji.

So do you write it off?

Well, no. Jimmy Cornell's Ocean Atlas (pilot charts) and his World Cruising Routes will tell you that another option is to sail from Australia to New Zealand, and thence onto Fiji.

Hembrow details this for us, "The consensus is that departing from the Gold Coast, Queensland, Coffs Harbour or even Sydney when a suitable weather window becomes available at some time from late January through to late February, with Opua New Zealand being your arrival port, will usually provide an opportunity to make the voyage in favourable winds and settled conditions. This is a rhumb line voyage of approx 1200 nm or 8-10 days in the average cruising yacht."

"There is also the possibility of a stopover at Lord Howe Island to break the voyage into two legs (Leg One approx 400 nm, Leg Two approx 800 nm). You will arrive in New Zealand at the very well organised, convenient and cruiser friendly Bay of Islands Marina in Opua.

After a few days to recover from the passage and reprovision, you will then have the magnificent cruising grounds of the Northland and Auckland regions to explore and enjoy, before departing on the next leg of the voyage to Fiji. Should your vessel require any repairs, The Bay of Islands Marina boatyard offers haul-out facilities with a 50-tonne travel lift and a 100-tonne, 9.7m beam slipway for vessels up to 35m LOA. A full range of professional shore side services, including mechanical engineering, sail makers and chandlery are all available on site."

In June every year for many years, Island Cruising New Zealand have been running yacht rallies from New Zealand to Tonga and Fiji, as well as Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Literally hundreds of yachts have participated in these rallies over the years, and for many this was their first ocean voyage.

Piqued the curiosity somewhat?

Expressions of Interest in the OZ to NZ Rally are open only to those who have previously completed a non-stop ocean voyage of 750 nm or more. In addition, the Down Under Rally strongly recommends that vessels and the crew aboard vessels that join the rally must meet New Zealand Category 1 Offshore safety requirements.

Should there be sufficient interest in this event, it is anticipated the rally will depart either the Gold Coast, or Coffs Harbour, on the first suitable weather window between late January and the end of February 2022.

To submit an expression of interest in joining the OZ to NZ Rally and thence make the onward voyage to Fiji with Island Cruising New Zealand please see downunderrally.com/oz-to-nz-rally-about

Should it all come to pass...

ICNZ are holding their Pacific Circuit Rally that departs New Zealand in May. Fiji is open to visiting yachts, and so if New Zealand does the same, then this will be the perfect opportunity to make the voyage in company and with the assistance of the ICNZ rally organisers. The Opua to Fiji passage is approximately 1100nm, or 7-9 days in the average cruising yacht.

If you have previously voyaged from Australia to cruise through New Caledonia and Vanuatu, as we suggest you do for your first voyage, then you will be able to spend a leisurely 4-5 months experiencing all that Fiji has to offer, before then departing on the downwind leg back to Australia with a stopover in New Caledonia just to break up the voyage. If French Polynesia is calling, and New Zealand is open, then ICNZ can provide you with the opportunity to also make this voyage in company.

If not, then what?

"Registrations for the 2022 Go East Rally will open as soon as confirmation has been received that borders in New Caledonia will be open to visiting yachts. Previously we have capped registrations for at 40 vessels. Given the number of expressions of interest that have been received thus far, it is possible that there will be multiple sailing dates for the Go East Rally in 2022," advised Hembrow. These videos will help you find out more about New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

Things you can do, no matter what!

Hembrow advises that even if it is still a few years before you are ready to cast off the lines, then you would be well advised to begin your preparations now. The AUD125 annual membership to The Down Under Rally includes these benefits:

  • Unlimited Access to our Offshore Cruising Preparation Course. Watch the online course content as often as you like for as long as you are a member.
  • Access to our Members Only Portal. This is where we share articles and stories that we believe to be of both interest and of use to anyone that owns a cruising yacht.
  • Down Under Rally Burgee.
  • e-Help. Contact us via email, telephone or even via video conferencing as often as you like for advice on anything related to your vessel, your cruising plans and goals. Plus assistance and support when cruising in the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia.
  • Priority Rally Registrations. Our rallies have a maximum number of participants. DUR Members will get advance notification of rally registration opportunities to help avoid disappointment.
  • Discounts on all Down Under Rally Registration Fees.
  • Access to our Members Only Facebook Group. Being a member of this group will provide you with the opportunity to interact with other Down Under Rally Members, many of whom will have a wealth of knowledge and experiences to share about all things sailing and cruising!
  • Discounts and Special Offers all year round on a wide range of marine related products and services from participating rally partner businesses and sponsors.

So you see, there are stories, lessons, inspirations and history to regale yourself with. Please use the search window at the top of the website if you are after something specific, as only the latest news appears on the site as you scroll down. We enjoy bringing you the best stories from all over the globe.

If you want to see what is happening in the other Hemisphere, go to the top of the Sail-WorldCruising home page and the drag down menu on the right, select the other half of the globe and, voila, it's all there for you.

Finally, stay safe, and ready for all that 2022 will offer,

John Curnow
Global Editor, SailWorldCruising.com

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