Five days, three hours, and 11 minutes seems like a reasonably short time to spend at sea, although keel issues, broken bunks, sleeping on the floor, and being sopping wet while sailing up wind in 30-40 knots for the final three days made Sail Noumea seem to take forever for everyone on board V5.
Thankfully, as we entered the beautifully flat waters inside the reef which guards Noumea from the open ocean, all the stress and fatigue of the previous week melted away.
Looking back, the start on Saturday June 2 seems like a lifetime ago. We departed Auckland in very light northerly winds which built to around 10 knots for the majority of the trip up the New Zealand coastline, making for beautiful, fast, but blissfully easy sailing.
As we neared the tip of the country, the breeze failed, leaving us becalmed in second position for around six hours and allowing the trailing boats to catch up. Once the wind set in again, we headed off in a northerly direction, towards a strong front, which was projected to bring with it 45 knot winds from the north, barring the way to the trade winds.
In what turned out to be a defining move, we decided that instead of trying to sail into the strong winds, we would use them to get as far west as possible, in search of another wind shift near Norfolk Island, which would then take us north towards our destination of Noumea. So we set off under a big reaching jib and stay-sail, cruising at around 17-18 knots.
The weather forecast did not disappoint, the front bought with it harsh winds, some boats seeing strengths in excess of 50 knots, and big, very confused seas. This trip west certainly rates with some of the most draining sailing I have done, with huge torrents of water cascading through the cockpit (causing issues with our keel electrics) and the strong winds whipping the salt spray into a fine mist, stinging the eyes making it almost impossible to see where you were steering.
As we charged to the west, we received notification that Beau Geste had suffered significant structural damage and would potentially require our assistance. This was very concerning news, not just because we all understood what the potential outcome could be, but because with three of our eight bunks already broken, we had nowhere to put their 18 crew should we be called to pick them up.
Meanwhile, we carried on our way west, before tacking on the shift we had been looking for and headed off on the final 350 nm towards Noumea. Shortly after, we received word that Beau Geste would be receiving an escort from a freighter and we were stood down. Compared with the dramas of the previous two days, the final 30 odd hours towards the finish seemed almost normal, yet the wind never dropped below 28 knots and the seas remained large and confused enough to make both sleeping and cooking arduous tasks.
The twice daily position reports were always looked forward to and over the final 24 hours we made good gains against our nearest rivals, stretching out to a lead of around 100nm. As we rounded the headland and pulled into the harbour at Noumea, 10 tired, wet, but elated sailors smiled, shook hands and congratulated each other on a hard fought win. They looked forward to changes of clothes, dry beds, steaks and maybe a wee celebratory beer.
Grab the July issue of Boating New Zealand for a full analysis and photos of the race.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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