6 Nov 2008

25 26S 152 55E Gt Sandy Strait

Dear friends,

We have been in Australia for 9 days and sailed off down the Gt. Sandy Strait (inside Fraser Island, which is called "The Biggest Sandy Island in the World" and is a World Heritage Site) to explore a little of the coast before laying up and flying back to Canada for Christmas. Yesterday, our GPS log rolled over 40,000 miles which is not too much less than 2 laps of the world and seemed a good time to catch up on news. We stopped for a walk and had our best ever sighting of a dugong as we rode back in the dinghy.

It has been a story of magnificent entertainment since our last letter.

We did not hurry round the north end of New Caledonia since we felt no urge to join the huddle of other cruising boats in Koumac ready to leave for Australia with the Port-2-Port Rally. It is remote and beautiful up there. One resort and a very few Kanak settlements. 30 miles further North is the island group of Belep, and then another 100 miles of reefs. We have just heard by e-mail that our French friends Sophie & Benjamin with their baby daughter lost their mast up there and had to motor back to Koumac to repair their boat.

A small international gathering of 8 other boats was waiting when we arrived in Koumac. A terrific programme of tours and feasts had been arranged for us. We were welcomed in a ceremony by the mayor and local dignitaries. Were taken to an old mining village up in the hills and then shown round the modern nickel mine where our hosts Nicolas & Sandra have a company that drills the core samples for exploration. We watched the cattle being gelded & dipped in the ranch. We toured the wine cellar where we ate pate and foie gras as well as sampling more than tastes of the wines. On the last evening they set out a BBQ dinner for which they roasted 2 pigs, shot and cooked 2 deer, and served fresh fish too. The only appropriate name for Sandra was "Maman" after she had spent 4 days at our beck-and-call driving us everywhere. Overwhelmingly generous and a lovely fairwell to New Caledonia.

We bounced into Chesterfield Reef 3 days later, which was almost a regrouping of the same fleet of sailing boats. Jean-Paul & Etienette, at the Koumac Marina, had arranged for permission for us all to stop there, but nobody told the French Navy which happened to be around on patrol, so we were buzzed and photographed by a jet, and then a frigate sailed in and 2 very polite officers came aboard from their Zodiac to check our papers. There had been nervous chatter between us on the VHF radio as they approached, but after other boats had been checked and approved, Janet started to worry that she was not going to meet the handsome French sailors as they left our boat until last! Even more turtle tracks than last year where they climbed out to lay eggs each night, and a few mating turtle couples in the water too. So many young petrels in the bird nursery on the beach that Dave had to watch his step not to tread on them during his morning run.

Then it was off again for the 4 day sail to Bundaberg. We checked in by radio twice each day and the second morning schedule was interrupted to say that an American Rally boat from Vanuatu had hit a reef. We were observing tidal currents exceeding 2 knots and a heading 3 degrees different from our course made good, which might have explained some difficulty. It was fifty miles in front of us, so it was late afternoon before we arrived, but Chris & Nancy (from our Koumac sub-fleet) were 10 miles south and diverted to take the crew off as an Australian plane circled overhead. The boat was left abandoned on the reef. That was closer to us than we like. When the shipwrecked couple arrived in Australia 3 days later they were found a room and interviewed by the press, but we were frankly amazed to hear them already talking about the type of boat they would buy next!

Customs checkin at Bundaberg included a sniff around from a dog that was dressed in little rubber booties imported from Canada as Mucklucks. This was thoughtful of the officials, but we didn't really think its paws would have damaged our decks.

Then Lesley, Fred and all the Bundaberg volunteers got together and provided food, tours and entertainment for the next 4 days. Nic & Sandra flew in from New Caledonia to join the fun, and plan what they will arrange for the fleet next year in Koumac. It is the first time we have entered Harmonica in a rally, and we feel royally entertained & there may not be many events to compare to it. We don't know whether we shall do it again.

3 keys have died on this computer keyboard, which must indicate it is the end of the season. There is the usual list of boat things to fix. Jan flies to Canada in 2 weeks, and Dave will pack then follow a little later.

Best wishes to you all

Jan, Dave & Harmonica


web page (including position reports) www.techco.ab.ca/harmonica