The SE/ESE breeze we were hoping for to get us to Port Vila didn’t come in until about midday so we motored until then. By early afternoon the breeze became a 10kt headwind so once again we turned on the engine and then motorsailed through the night to ensure an early arrival into Port Vila. We needed to use every minute of our Friday in Port Vila to make sure we could complete our check out, re-fuel and provision and do any other important business things before the weekend. All went according to plan including getting some laundry done, having a couple of decent meals at a ‘sports bar’ and stocking up from the local market.
We left our Port Vila mooring at 2pm on Sunday bound for Bundaberg, Australia, some 1100nm away. The passage took us 8 days and as usual we had a bit of everything. It did seem with this passage though that perhaps Hughie had saved his ‘best’ ‘til last. For the first day and a half we had around 10kts from the SSE or ESE so we needed to run the engine for at least a couple of hours each day to ensure we had enough battery power to run our chartplotter and nav lights. Ivan was into the groove with his various radio schedules: we were still checking in twice a day to the Pacific Drifters net that had been going since the Panama Canal, there was the Rag of the Air at 6am for check in and a basic weather report, there was the ‘David and Patricia’ show on Gulf Harbour Radio at 6.30am that provided us with exceptional and invaluable weather reports and then, later in the passage, Ivan was also checking in to a midday net that some people had set up for the crossing between New Caledonia and Australia.
By the early hours of Tuesday the wind had increased to 20kts coming from the south and we had changed down from the reacher to a reefed genoa. On checking in with the Drifters net we heard Windwalker reporting sustained 40kt winds where he was further south off New Caledonia. The wind continued to be a strong 20-25kt SE, not easing until Thursday morning. While it was uncomfortable sailing, it also meant we were counting down the miles nicely as we averaged 5 ½ kt speeds. By this time David had started to warn of an impending front that would be hitting Bundaberg at about the same time as our scheduled arrival. With estimations of 30+ kt winds and big seas we were obviously keen to arrive before the front if we could. So it was ‘pedal to the metal’ to use Patricia’s words from then on. On Friday at 1.30pm we reached our waypoint where we turned to 235 degrees magnetic and made our home run for Bundaberg, 420nm to go. Our morale and nerves went up and down with the wind. If it started to die out and our speed started to drop we would get anxious about our arrival time. We knew the change was due to come through late Monday/early Tuesday and while we knew Brio could handle it, the question was, could we?! We also had to contend with quite a bit of current against us we had not expected. We either motored or motorsailed continuously for our last 3 days of the passage just to try to get to Bundaberg as soon as possible. We were burning fossil fuel like it was going out of fashion (oh yeah, it is going out of fashion). On Monday the wind was light again so we took down the reacher and decanted some more fuel into the tank from our jerry cans to make sure we wouldn’t run out of fuel at a critical time. It was a sunny day although there was obviously a thin, high layer of cloud as the sun was weak and the light was somewhat yellow, a little like when there is a bushfire far away. By the afternoon, the NW wind had picked up again, our ETA for Bundaberg was for 8 or 9 pm Monday evening which we knew would get us in before the predicted 2am south east change. The wind was reasonably steady for most of the afternoon at 15-20kts and towards evening it increased to around 25kts. The seas changed from a 2m swell to a more boisterous chop as we entered the shallower waters of Hervey Bay. We had been using the tiller pilot to keep us on course, but chose to change to the wind monitor for a smoother ride as its faster response time meant Brio wouldn’t skew as much when buffeted by the seas. The sun set, a red ball behind a haze of cloud, and the lights of Bundaberg started to appear. We easily spotted the channel markers and motor sailed up it into the strong north westerly, until we arrived at the quarantine anchorage (or so we thought) and dropped anchor at 9.15pm by us or 8.15pm Queensland time. We chugged down a couple of well earned beers, had some dinner and without too much sentimentality said both hello and goodnight to Australia. We were very glad to be home and very glad to be safely in port.
Exactly as forecast, at 2am the strong north westerly turned to an even stronger south easterly, waking us enough to rattle the rigging and getting us to check our anchor was holding before going back to sleep.
Two days later as I sit here and type, the south easterly is still howling, there are stories of 2 multihulls breaking up in the horrendous conditions and our biggest concern now is how to clear customs and quarantine as cheaply and quickly as we can.
It’s been an adventure, Ivan has ticked an item off his bucket list and I think we are both glad we have ‘brought Brio home’ (not quite to Nungurner yet) although we each have different reasons. Ivan will now bring Brio down the east coast to Nungurner and Louise will go for a little jaunt to Borneo. We hope you have enjoyed sharing our adventure through our blog. This is the end.