The criteria for this adventure were always stay safe, test run a lifestyle change (cruising in warm climates while continuing to earn income) and stay safe. Our intended destination has always been Noumea; partly because it’s a beautiful spot and partly to visit friends. Perhaps mainly because it gave us a concrete destination to aim for, with a (huge) stretch challenge of a 6-day ocean crossing each way.
Now that we’re in Coffs, our departure point, it’s crunch time. Are we up for this? Is the boat up for this? Do we want to do it? There are a few more things to consider now; do we have time to do this? Does Richard’s passport have enough validity that he wouldn’t be turned back when we arrive? If we get there, how would we get back (at this stage we would still need a 4th crew member for the return trip). The original plan had us spending a month to get to Noumea, a month cruising around the lagoon, and allowing a month to get home. With the extra few days in NZ and in particular the time spent in Eden and doing short day hops up the coast, we’ve lost 2 weeks. That would mean a 6-day crossing for 2 weeks in Noumea, then turn around and have just under 4 weeks to cross back to Australia and all the way down the coast. There’d be no guarantees we would be able to get back in 4 weeks – weather windows this time of year for heading south comfortably would be few and far between. We need to allow more time to get home than it has taken us to get here. A search of forecasts shows if we were to go, it would need to be tomorrow morning or not for at least 4 days after that, which would leave us about a week in Noumea before turning around to come home again. I honestly don’t feel prepared enough for a departure tomorrow; I haven’t studied weather patterns enough, I’m not sure enough of the HF radio, I haven’t had time to play with downloading grib files from the sat phone.
I explore options; trying to give us choices that mean we could still reach New Caledonia. Weather patterns suggest the safest, most comfortable return crossing would be to arrive in Bundaberg (which happens to be where Richard’s brother lives). A short, comfortable crossing but then another 300 nautical miles further to come south on the way to Melbourne. We talk about the potential to leave the boat somewhere in Bundaberg and fly home, giving us a month to stay in Noumea. That would mean spending summer flying up the coast and back for weekends, doing short day hops to gradually bring her home. It’s decision time and as skipper, although I will listen to the crew, the ultimate call lies with me. It’s a decision that has been on my mind since we left Melbourne; every day over our schedule has made it less and less likely. For others on board, the reality is only just dawning. It’s comforting for me to know that there’s a consensus that if we don’t make it to New Caledonia no-one is going to mutiny.
My way of approaching this is the way I approach all decisions; figure out what really matters. In this case, it’s stay safe, cruise somewhere warm and stay safe. Safe has many meanings; physical safety is just one of them. I’ve never attempted an ocean crossing, although I’ve done Bass Strait a few times and circumnavigating New Caledonia 4 years ago saw us at sea sailing for 5 days non-stop. Those experiences are enough to make me aware that an ocean crossing is an exhausting experience; one which I imagine is similar in many ways to a marathon (although I’ve never done one of those either). You are pushed to your limit with 3-hour shifts, you face into weather that you know will be challenging at best, dangerous and life-threatening at worst. You rely on others aboard to be able to do their bit; without them you won’t make it. The mental and emotional challenge is just as great as the physical aspect. Like a marathon, an ocean crossing requires a recovery period. In this instance, I just don’t think 1 or 2 weeks is enough of a recovery in between 5 weeks each way of coastal hopping and ocean crossing.While it would be disappointing to miss out on seeing our French friends, part of this adventure has been learning to make the right choices… this needs to be one of those times. Reluctantly, the decision is made; we’ll head north and cruise the coastal waters of Queensland. New Caledonia will have to wait until we’re not as time-driven; for when it’s a true lifestyle change instead of a test run. So the next challenge is how quickly can I make that happen? I’ve got another 7 weeks to contemplate that before returning to the suburban corporate routine; lots to think about!