by David McKay
Andrea and I sailed our 48 foot steel Van de Stadt yacht “Diomedea” amongst the islands of the South Pacific during the winter of 2008. After leaving Sydney to cross the Tasman Sea in April, Diomedea arrived in Opua, Bay of Islands where we met John and Lyn Martin, directors of the Island Cruising Association. We had joined the ICA so that we could participate in a rally from New Zealand to Tonga in May.
We were provided with a wealth of information and support prior to departure from Opua, including seminars on weather, safety, passage making, boat preparation and so forth. Membership of ICA also provided significant discounts on chandlery and other purchases. Our clearance out of NZ was made very easy and quick. Duty free food, alcohol and fuel purchases were facilitated.
We arrived in Tonga some 6 days later and anchored at the beautiful Pangaimotu island near the capital of Tonga. All clearing in procedures were done very speedily on the island as opposed to having to tie up to the filthy, rough and rat infested docks of the harbour. The ICA had organised for the officials to come to us. A series of social events allowed us to begin establishing friendships that would last for the next six months and some of them for much longer. We also soon learned of the skill base available in the fleet of 20 yachts, giving us a sense of security should things go pear shaped. Cruising through the archipelago of Tonga was done independently for all participants but the option of meeting up at various anchorages was always available if desired. There was no fixed agenda when “in country”. Real insider advice pertaining to the islands was given during chart marking sessions
As we had to meet friends in Fiji, we left Tonga independently and what had now become the Pacific Circuit Rally followed us about a week later. In Savusavu, the rally organisers gave us a one hour practical on how to do “sevusevu” with local chiefs in the villages we were to visit. Highly entertaining and useful. We eventually regrouped with the rally at Musket Cove in western Fiji in July, in preparation for the passage to Vanuatu. Our week at Musket Cove was marvellous with organised and impromptu social events. Group activities such as scuba diving became easily achievable. Customs clearance was again smoothed with the ICA bringing out the relevant officials to the island, sparing us the considerable bother of having to sail back to the mainland. Diomedea sailed to the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. Here, entry was streamlined by officials coming to Port Resolution rather than us spending a ghastly day bouncing in the tray of a 4WD across the island. We then had a marvellous cruise the length of Vanuatu, sporadically meeting rally boats at delightful tradewind anchorages.
The jewel in the crown of ICA organisation was yet to reveal itself however. With the rally increased to 39 boats, we departed Port Vila for the island of Ouvea 180nm away in the French Loyalty group of New Caledonia. Ouvea is not a clearance port but for us it all happened and we could stay at this, the most beautiful of all South Pacific destinations. Normally cruisers have to go to the capital Noumea, 2-3 days away. Those wishing to cruise Ouvea and nearby islands then have to make the return trip. Alas, our stay in French waters was limited and time came for Diomedea to return to Australia. We said our farewells to our friends and had an easy five day passage from Noumea to Coffs Harbour, arriving in early October. Those that remained in New Caledonia cruised around the Grand Terre and then down to Ile de Pins before heading for either New Zealand or Australia. The leg to New Zealand was an “All Points” rally with cash/goods prizes at the end.
The mix of yachts in the rally was interesting. About half were NZ registered. Of these, most were just having six months off but some were using the rally as a springboard into their world circumnavigation. Of the other half, a few were from Australia. The rest were from all over the world, having arrived in NZ as part of their ongoing circumnavigation. Boats from the UK, Europe, US were well represented.
Whilst one could do this entire cruise independently, Andrea and I felt that the “cruise in company” method worked particularly well. At an organisational level, a great deal of time and angst was saved. Costs were reduced in many areas. Advice and support was readily available and made many things achievable for us, being relative novices to cruising in these waters. Personally I learned a great deal from John and Lyn as well as from other rally participants. The camaraderie was fantastic. One night, Diomedea came into Havannah harbour after a 75nm leg to windward in 25 knot winds. Rather to our surprise, a dinghy from one of the rally boats quickly appeared at our stern and we were whisked over for a BBQ that was already in progress. The perfect coda for a hard day’s sailing. We partied until late before a good sleep.
Would I go with Island Cruising Association again in the future? Absolutely. Was it cost effective? Beyond doubt. Was it fun? You bet.
Details about ICA can be found at: http://www.islandcruising.co.nz
Their rally program is available for 2009.
See our blog for more pictures from our trip: http://www.sailblogs.com/member/diomedea/
David and Andrea McKay are medical practitioners based in Sydney. Diomedea is their second yacht and has previously done trips to Lord Howe island, Flinders island in Bass Strait, along the coast as far as the Whitsundays, as well as competing in the 2005 Sydney to Hobart race.