“When are you leaving?” was the question on everyone’s lips on the visitor’s dock in Port Moselle. It seemed like about half the boats were headed to New Zealand (Opua or Whangerei), and the other half to Australia (Bundaberg or Brisbane). Most of them were under pressure from their insurance carriers to be out of the tropics by December, when cyclones supposedly start rearing their ugly heads. On the flip side, every week of waiting brings us closer to the more clement weather of summer. So there’s a lot of scanning the weather charts for a good window during November. Luckily for us, the trip to Australia is quite a bit easier than to New Zealand.

We’d had enough of waiting and were about to leave when another yachtsman shared his professional routing advice to wait for another three or four days for a hypothetical developing low to pass. We did, and probably avoided some unpleasant seas as a result. We set out on the 13th and got soaked beating out of the lagoon, before we could reach off towards the West. Shirley was hit with seasickness as usual, but this time it seemed like her stomach was in a permanently upset state, so I had her lie down and decided to singlehand the boat, leaving the autopilot on most of the time and taking short catnaps.

We moved fairly quickly for about three days, with winds and seas slowly subsiding, and Shirley started feeling well enough to relieve me of checking on the sails and scanning the horizon periodically. Yesterday, I was sitting in the cockpit reading when I felt the temperature drop a couple degrees, and it got a little dark. I was surprised, because the sky was almost perfectly clear. I looked up and saw a couple little clouds in the vicinity of the sun. I figured one of them must be sitting right in front of the sun, and went back to my reading. The sky kept getting darker, yet the shadows cast by objects in the cockpit were still crisp. Sure enough, there was no cloud in front of the sun. Something felt odd. For a moment I thought I might be sick, or maybe the sun was going out – wait a minute… pull out the nautical almanac… yep, total solar eclipse of November 15th, visible in the South Pacific. I guess the solar goggles for sale in the pharmacies in Noumea should’ve tipped us off! We didn’t think to buy any, but in a pinch the solar filters on the sextant allowed us to see the moon almost completely blotting out the disc of the sun.

This morning, the 16th, as I was rummaging in the lazarette to pick out the bilge pump handle, I put a bit of pressure on the tiller and the autopilot drive immediately shut down. I tried restarting it and troubleshooting, to no avail. Our third and last drive unit has given up the ghost, leaving us to hand-steer the boat to port. I thought I’d managed to fix one of the other drives, but it is only capable of working for a couple seconds before its motor locks up too. Thankfully, conditions are pretty mild and Shirley and I are well rested, so this shouldn’t be too difficult, but it is annoying to have to stay glued to the tiller for hours at a time.

As a result of this, and because weather to the South is a bit unsettled, we are heading for Bundaberg – still 350 miles away – instead of Coffs Harbour, yet another 350 miles down the coast. We should get there sometime Tuesday.