Monday, 8 February 2016

Cruising routes

Routes from Queensland

A tropical climate, the Great Barrier Reef, and almost unlimited cruising opportunities have turned Queensland into a favourite destination not only among foreign sailors but also Australian ones, The one major disadvantage are the tropical cyclones which affect both Queensland and the surrounding region, with the exception of Papua New Guinea north of approximately latitude 10’s. The critical period is December to the end of March when cruising should be kept to a minimum and one should always be within easy reach of a safe harbour. From April onwards the weather is good, with strong and steady SE trade winds. In July and August particularly, the winds can be quite strong and so it is recommended that, especially in Winter, the Queensland coast should be cruised from south to north.

Although the main routes are northbound and thus benefit from the prevailing winds, those who intend to sail east across the Coral Sea should plan to do so either before or after the onset of the SE trade winds which blow most consistently between May and September. Usually in early April the trade winds are not yet fully established and eastbound passages are easier to accomplish. Passages after the end of October should be avoided because of the danger of early cyclones. The period when these tropical storms occur in the Coral Sea should be treated with great suspicion as very few months are known to be entirely free and cyclones have been recorded in both the transitional months of June and November.

Queensland to New Caledonia

This can be a difficult passage at all times because of the certainty of encountering contrary winds for at least part of the voyage, if not the whole of it. It is therefore important to wait for a forecast for westerly winds, which at least will ensure a speedy start. Such winds are normally generated by fronts moving up from the south and the weather associated with them is rarely pleasant. Because of the high proportion of easterly winds in winter it is better to plan this passage for the intermediate season. Similarly, because of the risk of cyclones in the Coral Sea, this passage should not be undertaken after the middle of November or before the end of March.

A direct offshore route can be sailed from ports in South Queensland, but from ports north of Sandy Cape, either Capricorn or Curtis Channels should be used to reach the open sea before laying a course for Dumbea Pass, at the SW extremity of New Caledonia. The route for boats leaving through Capricorn Channel goes to WP PS1022 halfway between Wreck and Cato Reefs. Boats leaving through Curtis Channel should stay south of Cato Reef by setting course for WP PS1024. The routes converge at WP PS1025 outside Dumbea Pass. This leads into Noumea, New Caledonia’s capital and only port of entry. Approaches into Noumea are difficult at night and should not be attempted. Arriving boats should contact Port Moselle on channel 67 to arrange a berth at the visitor’s dock. The marina will contact customs and immigration for clearance.

Queensland to Vanuatu

Prevailing easterly winds, contrary currents, and the many dangers dotted about the-southern part of the Coral Sea make this one of the most difficult routes in the South Pacific. Direct passages from ports in Northern Queensland should not even be considered and an alternative route chosen to reach the islands of Vanuatu without having to fight the elements all the way. The best tactic is to make a detour to the south, inside the Great Barrier Reef. Having reached the open sea via the Capricorn Channel, the route joins route PS94, if a nonstop passage to Vanuatu is intended.

An easier alternative is to join route PS102 and follow directions as far as Noumea from where Vanuatu can be reached via the islands spread out among the two groups. Such an approach has certain attractions as it avoids the dangerous reefs to the west of New Caledonia and offers the possi-bility of breaking up the voyage in some of the islands of New Caledonia or Southern Vanuatu, if the winds prove too much to cope with.

The suggested direct route takes its leave from Australia through the Capricorn Channel, from where a course is set to pass south of the various reefs and round the island of New Caledonia from the south. From a point SE of Kune Island (WPPS1034), the course is altered to pass to Windward of die Loyalty Islands to WP PS1035, SE of Mare Island. From that point, the course can be altered for WP PS10136, SW of Efate, in the approaches to Port Vila. The route then enters Mele Bay to reach Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu. On arrival in Port Vila, boats should tie up to the quarantine buoy and wait to be inspected by a health officer. Port Vila Radio should be contacted on VHF channel 16 to request that the relevant officials are informed.

Another alternative is to take a route which goes through Grand Passage, north of New Caledonia, as described in route P894. On that route, a better wind angle may make it possible to stay on the starboard tack NE of Grand Passage and sail to Espiritu Santo Island, where it is possible to clear into Vanuatu at Luganville (15“31‘8, 167°10‘E).

Queensland to Fiji

Because of both contrary winds and current sailing a direct route from Queensland to Fiji would be a very difficult undertaking. The most feasible way to reach Fiji is by a detour to the south Where better winds might be found to make the required easting (route PS104A). Although the recommended tactic is to sail south of latitude 32“S, where the chances of finding favourable winds are higher, a slightly more northerly route can be taken should the winds permit this. Ideally one should wait for a forecast of westerly winds before leaving. Even with favourable winds, the route should remain south of the latitude of Norfolk Island until past that island. It consistent headwinds are met while in the vicinity of Norfolk, a stop can be made there. The anchorage at Kingston (29"01'8, 167 “59‘E) is not considered safe and should be left if the weather threatens to deteriorate.

Preferably one of the ports in South Queensland should be taken as a departure port. From WP PS1041, off Stradbroke Island, the initial course goes to WP PS1042, south of Norfolk Island. From there, the course should start curving NE. If a direct course can be sailed from WP PS1042 to Fiji, attention must be paid to Theva-i-ra Reef, also known as Conway Reef (21°44'S, 174°38'E), which will be passed closely. Having made landfall off Navula Passage, at WP PS1045, that pass will be taken through the reef into Nadi Waters and on to Lautoka to complete entry formalities into Fiji.

Depending on weather conditions and the windward performance of the boat in question, a more direct route (PS1041B) passing close to New Caledonia may be sailed. Although shorter, such a route may not be necessarily easier as there is a higher chance of encountering contrary winds on the subsequent leg between New Caledonia and Fiji. From WP PS104l, an initial course will be sailed to WPs PS1043 and PS1044, SE of the main island of New Caledonia. From there, the route passes close to a number of dangers south of Durand Reef, before a course can be set for WP PS1045, if the intention is to make for Lautoka. The alternative, if the necessary easting can be made, is to head for Suva, in which case landfall should be made at WP PS1046, north of Vatulele Island.

From that point, the Fijian capital will be reached through Beqa Channel, separating the island of that
name from Viti Levu. Daveta Passage leads into Suva Harbour where arriving boats should go to the quarantine anchorage and wait to be cleared.

Routes from Tonga

Tonga to Fiji

This passage between the two neighbouring island groups can be made at any time of the year, although the cyclone season should be avoided, especially the period January to March when both the islands and the waters between them are crossed by cyclones. During July and August, when the SE Trade Winds are at their strongest, the passage can be rough. At the beginning and end of the winter season the winds are lighter, but the sky is often overcast which can make navigation through these dangerous waters quite difficult.

Because of the risks involved in passing through Fiji’s Lau Group, boats leaving from Vava’u should avoid the more direct Oneata Passage and sail instead through the wider passage between Ongea Levu and Vatua islands (route PS47C). The latter passage is also used by boats leaving from Tongatapu. If using Oneata Passage, one should be aware of the dangers of sailing at night through the area west of Oneata, where none of the islands have lights. For similar reasons, Lakemba Passage should also be used with great caution.

The southern passage, between Vatua and Ongea Levu, is marked by lights both on Vatua Island and the southern extremity of Totoya  Island and is therefore the easiest to use. Having left Tongatapu through Egeria Channel (route PS47A), from WP PS471 a course is set for WP PS472, 10 miles due north of the light on Vatua. From there the course is altered for WP PS473, approximately 5 miles south of Totoya. From that point a direct course can be set for WP PS474, one mile east of Balavu Reef, at the southern entrance into Levuka, on the island of Ovalau, an official port of entry into Fiji.

Boats bound for Suva direct (route PS47B), from WP P8473, south of Totoya Island, should set a course for WP PS475, in the approaches to Suva. For the last few miles, the course runs parallel to the reef as far as WP P8476, at the entrance into Daveta Levu Passage, which leads into Suva Harbour. The approaches are well buoyed and lit and there are clear range markers making it easy to enter this harbour even at night if necessary. Arriving boats should go straight to the quarantine anchorage and wait to be cleared by a health officer. After that they can proceed to King’s Wharf to complete the rest of the entry formalities.

Boats leaving from Vava’u and using the same southern passage (PS47C), from WP P5477, outside Faihava Passage, should set an initial course for WP PS478, to pass north of Late Island. From there the course should be altered for WP PS472, north of Vatua Island, and subsequently the same direction can be followed to pass through the recommended waypoints and clear in at either Levuka or Suva. The route from Ha’apai to Fiji passes very close to Metis Shoal (19°11 .4‘S, 174°51'W), where an active volcano is erupting and has created a cone standing at least 50 m (150 ft) above sea level. Although spectacular, the area should be approached with caution.

Route PS47D offers the option of approaching the Fijian islands from the NE by using the Nanuku
Passage. WP PS479 is about 5 miles east of Welangilala light, which marks the eastern side of the pass. This side of the wide pass should be favoured because the southern extremity of the extensive Nanuku Reef, which lies on the NW side of the passage, is not marked by a light. Great care should be exercised when approaching Nanuku Passage because of the strong currents and the reports that Welangilala light is occasionally not operational. The nearest port of entry is at Savusavu, on the south coast of Vanua Levu. Contact Copra Shed Marina on channel 16.

Stopping and going ashore anywhere in Fiji before clearing in first at one of the ports of entry is strictly prohibited. Special permission is necessary to cruise in the Lau Group and must be obtained in Suva.

Warning: Although the dateline will be crossed on this passage, the official date in Tonga is the same as in Fiji.

Routes from Fiji

Fiji to New Cal

During the SE trade wind season, winds along this route are mostly fair and there is also a favourable
current. Boats leaving from Suva should keep close to the south coast of Viti Levu and go through the
Mbengga Channel to avoid the reefs surrounding the island of that name (Beqa or Mbengga). Having passed Vatulele Island, from WP PS541 a course can be set for the NE extremity of New Caledonia Island if the intention is to sail direct to Noumea. If leaving from Lautoka it is best to reach the open sea through Malolo Passage before setting a course for New Caledonia from WP PS542. A direct course leads to WP PS543, in the approaches to Havannah Pass. This pass should be negotiated on a flood tide. Due to the prevailing SE winds the tide sets very strongly through the pass creating large waves when the ebb tide runs against a strong wind. Because of the large landmass, the SE winds become southerly as they are deflected around the main island of New Caledonia.

Noumea is New Caledonia’s only port of entry and all boats must clear in there. Approaches into Noumea are difficult at night and should not be attempted. If coming from either Boulari or Havannah Pass, and Noumea cannot be reached in daylight it is recommended to anchor for the night
and enter the port the following morning. Noumea Harbour is entered through Petite Passe. Arriving
boats should contact Port Moselle on channel 67 to arrange a berth at the visitor’s dock. The marina
Will contact customs and immigration for clearance. Although New Caledonia is a French overseas territory, a bond is not required from cruising boats as in the case of French Polynesia.

Fiji to Vanuatu

The route leaving from Suva follows the south coast of Viti Levu closely to avoid the reefs surrounding Mbengga (Beqa) Island. North of Vatulele Island, at WP PS551 a course can be set for the southern extremity of Efate Island. Boats leaving from Lautoka will find it easier to reach the open sea through the Malolo Pass and set course for Vanuatu from WP PS552. Alternatively, one can sail due west from Lautoka and thread one’s way through the islands and reefs of the Mamanuca Islands. The open sea is then reached through one of the many passes in the Mamanuca Reefs.

A direct course can be set for WP PS553, SE of Efate. From there the route stays parallel to the south coast of Efate to Pango Point before turning into Mele Bay and finally into Port Vila Bay.

Favourable winds can be expected on this route during the SE trade Wind season. The currents in this area set to the SW and this should be allowed for. The visibility in the Vicinity of Efate is sometimes very poor and, although a high island, it can remain obscured until close to land. A regular feature of this route is the annual Musket Cove to Vila Race, a fun event joined by most cruising boats planning to sail west during that period (September). The race leaves from Musket Cove on Malololailai Island.

Port Vila is one of two official ports of entry into Vanuatu. The other one is Luganville, on Espiritu Santo Island (15°31'S, 167“10'E). On arrival at Port Vila, boats should tie up to the quarantine buoy and wait to be cleared. Port Vila Radio should be contacted on VHF channel 16 to request that the relevant officials are informed. Those who intend to spend the cyclone season in Port Vila must make
arrangements to have their boats hauled out as the authorities do not allow cruising boats to stay in the water from December until March.