Cruise: Nouméa to Sydney


Our last day in New Caledonia had arrived, which meant one last chance for breakfast at our favorite boulangerie. After that, Merri and I went to Johnston’s Supermarket for essentials, such as wine, cheese and souvenirs, while the rest of our party went food shopping at the Port Moselle market. By 11:33, we were refueled and on our way. The excitement of our bluewater passage was tempered by sadness at leaving New Caledonia.

Departing Nouméa.

To take advantage of the 15-knot south-southwest wind, we decided to exit via th
e Passe de Dumbéa. We were under sail as soon as we cleared the marina, assisted by motor only briefly – as a precaution – when we passed through the narrow passage. As forecast, over the next few hours the wind swung through the south to the south-southeast.

One month earlier, for our outbound voyage, we had sailed to Nouméa from Southport. For our return we would sail directly to Sydney, which would shorten our voyage by at least a hundred nautical miles. By 18:00, we were able to sail on a course of 225°T for Sydney. We covered 102 nautical miles in 12 hours, averaging 8.3 knots.

The next day, we continued on our Sydney course until 16:00, when we adjusted our course slightly to 214°T. This would take us to Middleton Reef, a UNESCO-listed coral atoll that is part of the Lord Howe Ridge (585 nautical miles from Nouméa and 480 nautical miles from Sydney). The reef, which is among the southernmost and most pristine reefs in the world, is home to a wide variety of marine wildlife. If the winds and seas obliged, we would stop at the anchorage on the northern side of the atoll. 

We were treated to another beautiful sunset at sea (top photo). During the night, the wind shifted from south-southeast to east-southeast. The seas were now following us, and sailing through the night was more relaxing than the previous night. With steady 15~18 knot winds on our beam, we covered 202 nautical miles in 24 hours. 

Day Three and the latest PredictWind forecast indicated that stopping at Middleton Reef was no longer viable. The first problem was that a large area of calm was developing in front of us to our west. If we got stuck in that calm patch, it would require more motoring than I was prepared for. The second potential problem was that strong northerlies were developing to the east, making Middleton Reef’s north-facing anchorage untenable. Reluctantly, at 12:10, we again turned for Sydney. After two days of sailing on autopilot, with the fridge and innumerable gadgets running overtime, Arriba’s batteries were half depleted. Light northerly winds during the afternoon necessitated that we motor sail. By 17:00, the winds were 15 knots from the northeast and we were again sailing with mainsail, almost directly downwind.

I ushered in Day Four when my watch ended at midnight and I rolled into bed. My sleep was disturbed by a shout, “the preventer has broken!” I rolled out of bed and joined Liam and Lindsay on deck. Arriba had jibed accidentally when hit from behind by a big set of waves. Liam was struggling to undo an override on the mainsheet while Lindsay was motoring upwind in an attempt to relieve pressure on the line. To make matters worse, our wind sensor had stopped reporting. I pitched in and together we freed the mainsheet. As the wind was forecast to swing to the north, we stayed on the new tack and set a course of 230°T. This time we kept the wind more on our beam to maintain a greater margin of error.

When I relieved Liam at 06:00, the wind had shifted further to the west, so I reset our course for Sydney. Daylight brought beautiful sailing conditions and sunny weather – the perfect setting for another boat picnic of French cheeses complemented by a Greek salad.

Boat picnic.

Our fifth day at sea was uneventful. Most of the crew spent their copious free time reading, a favorite pastime at sea, second only to sleeping and eating (not necessarily in that order). Every four hours, Liam continued to plot our position meticulously on the giant paper chart of the Coral Sea.

Day Six and my morning slumber came to an abrupt end (again) when our cabin window cracked into a thousand pieces. One of the ropes that lashed the kayak to the stanchions had frayed and the kayak had evidently bashed the window once too often. The culprit was a small plastic saddle on the deck of the kayak that created an extreme pressure point. Fortunately, the tempered glass didn't shatter, but we covered the window on the outside with a boogie board to protect it from further abuse and covered the inside with duct tape.

Shattered window.

Day Seven brought us to within “cooee” of the Australian mainland. After a day of slogging into headwinds and 2 m (6 ft) seas, we finally got a break shortly before midnight when the winds swung to the northwest.

Approaching Sydney.

On Day Eight, as we approached Sydney, I exchanged emails with ABF’s Sydney Boarding Officers ( We were instructed to proceed to the Customs Dock at Neutral Bay (33°50.5’S 151°13.067’E) not before 15:30. We sailed through Sydney Heads at 13:50, which gave us a couple of hours to cruise around what is surely one of the most beautiful harbors in the world.

At the Customs Dock we were met by six customs officers (ABF), two biosecurity officers (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) and a canine. We were cleared within an hour and the officers sent us on our way.
Customs canine.

Our voyage ended when we dropped anchor in the Lane Cove River at Greenwich. We enjoyed a final Happy Hour on board washed down by the, now customary, Tasmanian Brut Rose. Liam, a Sydney-sider, returned to Terra firma that evening, while Lindsay and Pandie chose to spend another night on board.

Sydney sunset.

Apart from a broken window, we’d been blessed with a beautiful passage of the Coral Sea, covering eleven hundred nautical miles in just over seven days.

Here are my top ten tips for a New Caledonia sailing trip:

  • Have experienced crew for the bluewater passages.
  • Learn some French. Buy French for Cruisers.
  • Install the Cruising New Caledonia Rocket Cruising Guide on your PC.
  • Install the Zulu Waterways app on your mobile phone.
  • Ensure your propane tanks are full, as propane gas is not available in New Caledonia (only butane).
  • Use a 12V electric kettle to boil water, to conserve gas.
  • Take as many non-perishable food items and beverages as possible, as prices are quite high in New Caledonia.
  • Take some souvenirs, such a fabrics, as gifts for coutume (customary tribute).
  • Take ample fishing lures for trolling around Grand Terre, but check with locals about which are safe to eat. Some species are considered unsafe at certain times of the year.
  • In the Loyalty Islands, always greet the chief, provide coutume, and refrain from fishing in tribal waters (especially while at anchor).


PS The story continues here.


  1. Your blog is fantastic! It's so informative and well-written. I've learned a lot from reading your posts. By the way, have you ever considered covering yacht weddings? It's a unique idea that would definitely add excitement to your content!


Post a Comment