We re-joined Rireana in early March 2014 in Port Vila where she had spent the previous 3 months on a cyclone mooring. After working in Port Vila we set sail for Noumea, New Caledonia, in early May. Our purpose in going to Noumea was to haul the boat out of the water for maintenance.
We had one of our best ocean voyages, travelling south with a 12 knot easterly on the first day, sunny skies and a slight swell. We took advantage of the conditions to make as much easting as possible and managed to make a landfall at Williams Bay (previously Dillon Bay) on Erromango just after sunset. This was a bonus – another gentle night at anchor. The next day the sea was beautifully calm with a gentle breeze from the ESE and we sailed serenely off towards Havannah Passage at the southern end of New Caledonia. We sat on the foredeck eating lunch and enjoying the smooth waters, something we had very rarely experienced in the open ocean. Another balmy night and day followed and while progress was not scintillating, the peacefulness more than made up for our reduced speed.
We approached the island of Tiga as sunset fell and the breeze dropped, so for the last night it was on with the engine and we reached Havannah Passage as the sun rose, with a couple of light showers thrown in for good measure. The entrance through the passage was uneventful and we anchored in Port Boise for a sleep before heading around to Noumea the next day.
In Noumea we hauled the boat out at Nouville Plaisance. This was akin to boating heaven after spending the last two seasons in Vanuatu. We were spoilt for chandlery and all things necessary to keep a yacht sailing. Our good friend Ian Hyde-Hills (the builder of Rireana) came up to join us and helped with the work on the boat. His expertise is second-to-none and it meant we could do things, such as replacing through-hull valves and the depth sounder transducer, with full confidence in the integrity of the work. We also replaced our anchor winch with a new Maxwell RC10 and have not regretted it. After doing the routine work such as anti-fouling, we launched and spent a few days in the marina at Port Moselle waiting for a suitable weather window to return to Vanuatu.
While in Noumea, as well are being helped by Ian, we received much assistance from our New Caledonian friends, without whom our visit would not have been as enjoyable or successful. Merci beaucoup to Raymonde, Jose and Jacqueline, Remy and Claudine, Eric and Anne-Marie, Christian and Elizabeth and Alex, Stefan and Caroline and Nemo.
We left Noumea with a spring in our mast-step and departed the Havannah Passage in a light to moderate south-easterly breeze. This continued for the first two days but on the third became more easterly and strengthened to 20 to 25 knots. We put two reefs in the main, furled most of the genoa and bounced all the way to Port Vila with large swells breaking on the beam.
The rest of the season was spent sailing around Vanuatu. Our work took us to southeast Malekula, up the west coast of Malekula to Santo, from Santo to Ambae, and from Ambae to Tongoa (sailing down the east coast of Ambrym) and back to Port Vila. A second trip took us back to southeast Malekula and then back to Vila. We experienced a surprising number of north-easterly winds, especially when we were sailing north, and so the season was characterised by reefed sails and water over the decks as we sailed to windward most of the time. In fact, we kept two reefs in the main for about 6 months, not even bothering to shake them out when we anchored. The head winds plus the triangulated seas around the islands of Vanuatu made the sailing challenging, especially around the passages between Maewo and Pentecost, and Pentecost and Ambrym, where the tide and wind produced large seas.
After our last return voyage to Port Vila in early November, we again put Rireana on a cyclone mooring and are now keeping a weather eye on the forecasts.