It is getting late in the season and the chance of a Cyclone (hurricane) crossing our path is increasing. So, once we repaired the rig, we checked out of the marina, dealt with a few more pressing emails, and bought fresh produce and various dry goods for our passage back to Opua, New Zealand. We checked out of Noumea, visiting Immigration, Customs (where we obtained a duty free fuel paper), and the Port Captain who granted our exit papers.
We sailed early yesterday, filling Ladybug's diesel tank and spare jerry cans completely, in case we have further issues with our rig or learn of bad weather that we could avoid by motoring. The forecasts are for the current SW winds to veer into the SE and become light for a few days as a low passes us to the south, so we decided to sail for the Isle of Pines and wait for a weather window there.
On the 14 hour passage to the Isle of Pines, the winds varied from SW to S and from 6 to 20 knots (in gusts). Most of the day we sailed in the protection of Grand Terre's lagoon, enjoying smooth seas. It was peaceful enough for Rani to make a batch of chick pea humus and to enjoy a picnic lunch in the cockpit. The sun was shining and the repaired furler and rig were working well. We had an opportunity to test the rig in everything from a dead downwind run, 'wing and wing', to a beat to windward in 15+ knots. I was a little nervous about the new forestay because this is my first repair of this kind, using Norseman fittings. Every time I heard a noise, I would come up on deck and sight up the mast and check the tension of the stays, but there were no problems.
We broad reached down to the Canal Woodin where we calculated there would be a tidal current against us. Sure enough, as we approached we could see standing waves in the passage indicating wind against tide. I steered close in to the port shore, hoping to stay out of the worst or even catch a counter current. The worst current we saw was about 2 or 2.5 knots, and with a fair following wind, funneling through the channel, we ran through to the entrance to Baie de Prony.
We had heard on Tony's Net (a morning HAM radio net) that there were a group of highly experienced New Zealand bound boats heading for Isle of Pines, so Rani suggested that rather than stop at Prony, we press on. It was another 35+ miles to Baie de Kuto on the Isle of Pines, so there was no way we would make it in before sunset. In addition, the waters between us and the island are strewn with reefs. However the charts are very good here and there is a marked passage used by ferries between Noumea and the Isle of Pines, so we decided to risk the passage and entering the harbour in the dark. We would never have tries this in Fiji where reefs are often uncharted, charts are off by many hundreds of meters, and marked channels few.
The rest of the afternoon we close reached into 10-15 knots of southerly wind passing dozens of reefs on either side. We used the tiller pilot for the whole passage, because the wind vane requires more attention in the event of wind shifts. This makes it more tiring to use when working close to shore because the helmsman must always be watching for wind shifts and adjusting the steering vane. However when using the little tiller pilot, designed to work for boats half our weight, we have to be careful to trim the sails so that it will not be overloaded by too much helm force. We kept at least one reef in the main and at times tucked in a second and furled part of the jib to do this. We also made much use of the main traveller to de-power the main and reduce the tendency of the boat to round up into the wind.
The entry into Kuto was straightforward. There are flashing lights marking a safe approach transit line and the bay shoals up gradually. Using a bright headlamp, I guided Rani to a safe spot to anchor just outside a row of anchored yachts. We will stay here until we have good weather for the passage. Last night's GRIB weather forecast shows that Sunday (three days from now) may be a good departure day.