Featured in Afloat Magazine
Sailing halfway around the world after picking up our new boat in France turned into quite an adventure, writes Gordon Coates.
Leaving the coast of France behind in autumn 2019, my wife Louise and I set sail for Australia aboard our newly bought Fountaine Pajot Elba 45 Larrikin, completing the journey in just 90 days of sailing. We had dreamed of this trip and we did it, despite the long passages, dodging a cyclone and being turned away from some ports as Covid hit. Here’s our logbook.
To Lanzarote Before The Big Jump
After the hand-over from our Australian agents, Multihull Solutions, and having stocked up on supplies in Saint Tropez on France’s Mediterranean coast, we set sail for Gibraltar on a chilly November morning. Whilst crossing the infamous Bay of Lyon we had two reefs in the main and the Elba 45 coped beautifully with the 40 knot winds we encountered. However, as we approached the Balearic Islands we received a weather warning of a 50knot gale and it was going to be directly on the nose. So we made the decision to divert to the port of San Antonio on the west coast of Ibiza, allowing us to rest and stretch our legs in the strangely empty streets out-of-season.
Seven days after our departure from France and having passed most of the Spanish coast, we were within sight of the famous Rock of Gibraltar, marking the real beginning of our adventure. It was there that our good friend Steve joined us to share the upcoming Transatlantic passage.
We sailed through the busy Straits of Gibraltar, entered the Atlantic and south along the north African coast towards the Canary Islands. On November 28th, we stopped there for just two days, in Lanzarote, to fuel up and collect last-minute supplies.
Having had the experience of purchasing two previous Fountaine Pajot 44-foot catamarans through Multihull Solutions (Orana and Helia models), cruising extensively in the Mediterranean and a previous Atlantic crossing in 2014, we felt confident in knowing what equipment was needed. This included a water maker, washing machine and radar. For communication, we installed the IridiumGo with a marine antenna. We made sure we had all the usual offshore safety equipment including Crewsaver Ergofit 190N life jackets and safety harness with personal EPIRBS and AIS. On deck we had a ten-man long-stay life raft and a rail mounted Plastimo IOR Dan Buoy. Our sail wardrobe consisted of the main and genoa (Hydranet), a furling gennaker and a ParaSailor spinnaker for downwind. This was hull number one, specially built by Fountaine Pajot as a display boat, shown at the Cannes, Genoa and Barcelona boat shows. So it was well equipped, including a generator to power the air conditioning units, microwave oven and our washing machine. A very comfortable cruising setup indeed.
Not So Tranquil Transatlantic
The crossing to Martinique, mid-way along the Caribbean chain of islands, was to be the best test of reliability for the boat and her crew. During the voyage, we fell into a rhythm of three-hour night watches followed by Atlantic sunrises and then sunsets. At times the consistent trade wind was rather heavy. Leaving Lanzarote the wind direction and strength was ideal for us to deploy the ParaSailor spinnaker which we used without any other sails. The winds remained favourable, allowing us to maintain this configuration day and night for the entire 16 days of our crossing to Le Marin in Martinique. The Garmin autopilot kept us on track without fault and was the most important ‘crew’ member on board. Our satellite communications via the IridiumGo system was used to download PredictWind weather forecasts and to send and receive emails and messages from family and friends. Via a tracking link in the PredictWind App those at home could follow our progress in real time as our system relayed our GPS position regularly. We were making good time and our beautiful floating home remained comfortable and clearly proved to have excellent sea-keeping qualities. Crossing ‘in season’ is so important for planning any long ocean crossing and for this Atlantic voyage we were blessed with ideal weather, enabling a downwind passage for all of the 16 days and 3,000 nm. Crew member Steve was a calm shipmate who brought a good balance to our team of three. Meal times were shared with lots of conversation and laughter. Afterwards we played cards, read books, listened to music and podcasts; as we enjoyed the experience of crossing the open ocean together. We did meet other yachts, which is fairly rare in the middle of the ocean, and managed to chat over the radio (if language permitted) to learn their stories and share our own.
We returned to Australia for Christmas with our family and after six weeks went back to the French island of Martinique at the beginning of February 2020. A diver cleaned the hull and both sail drives before two American friends and an Australian friend came aboard for a few weeks to help us sail across the Caribbean Sea and then transit the famous Panama Canal. The Canal was a big event for all of us.
We were in awe of this narrow passage that thousands of cargo ships use every year. After just two nights in Shelter Bay Marina, Colon we were ready to enter the canal zone. Using an agent expedited the process as he made all the arrangements and supplied fenders to protect the hulls.
The passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean was completed in just one day: magical! Once through to the other side, our couple of crewmates left for America and we set sail for Tahiti with our compatriot Phil, so there was three of us for the Pacific crossing.
Banned From Tahiti
Beautiful sunshine and light winds pushed us west across the Pacific. This gave us time to enjoy the benefits of our boat, its clever layout, its fully fitted galley, the freshwater from our watermaker, the seven kilogram-capacity washing machine and more besides. Our fishing skills proved mostly unsuccessful but we did enjoy some fresh fish. Our refrigerator and freezer had enough capacity for us to be able to enjoy some lovely meals with fresh vegetables and fresh salmon, even after a month at sea.
Our IridiumGo communications system kept us connected to the outside world and delivered the unbelievable news of Covid19. We were instructed by our Multihull Solutions support team that we had to proceed directly to Papeete in French Polynesia, as stopping at atolls or islands was forbidden. Due to the Covid virus, we were informed that it was not possible to set foot ashore in Tahiti’s capital Papeete after our 35 days at sea. We could only refuel, restock and head directly to our dear homeland.
After leaving Tahiti, concern was growing as the weather forecast predicted a cyclone in our path; Cyclone Harold. To avoid it we re-routed north. We missed the full force but did experience very strong winds, stormy skies and heavy rain for four days. The route took us via the Cook Islands, south of Niue, Tonga, Fiji and New Caledonia then onto Southport, Queensland.
It was most disappointing that we couldn’t stop to enjoy any of those beautiful Pacific islands. It took us 27 days from Tahiti to Southport. We took care to reduce our food stocks to avoid quarantine problems. You can imagine how excited and relieved we were to reach our destination and be with loved ones and the reunion was of course a warm one.
Our daughters were astonished to discover the comfort we enjoyed aboard our new boat Larrikin, our Elba 45. After a first stop in Southport, we left Queensland and headed down to Sydney six months since taking delivery in France, marking the end of our adventure. We were home!
Reflecting on our trip, there were many highlights. Among them, transiting the Panama Canal will remain in our memories. Also, all those days of sailing to avoid encountering the cyclone in the Pacific are part of the great memories of our adventure. The passages we shared and the relationships with those who followed our adventure were also important for the success of our story. In fact, it was only after we reviewed the video footage we shot (which you can see on Fountaine Pajot’s YouTube channel, MyBoatAndI as well as Multihull Solutions’ YouTube Series, Gordon & Louise’s Big Adventure) that we really took stock of what we’d accomplished.
We are ever so grateful for the support from people at home and overseas who kept us updated with weather (especially Cyclone Harold) and the unfolding Covid19 news.
The lowlights of the trip were mainly not having been able to spend more time in the Pacific and unable to visit islands like the Marquesas. Finally, it was strange for the three of us – myself, Louise and Phil, to arrive with all the constraints related to Covid, after experiencing our own lock-down in the middle of the Pacific.