Written by Mitch Pachoud
Photography by Paris Halstead
27 July 2023
Our good luck charm – a hula doll named Leilani – sure seemed to enjoy dancing with the wave action as we headed north from New Zealand toward Nouméa, capital of New Caledonia. It was our first day out on the open ocean and conditions were poor with a steep, close swell of around 2 metres, wind and rain squalls up to 30 knots with gusts on top, and the seaway even more confused where the Tasman meets the Pacific off New Zealand’s northern tip.
If you think this is going to be a traditional tale of tortured passage-making, you’re wrong – it’s the story of an intrepid delivery at speed on the Voodoo XF60 Phoebe from Auckland to her new home in Sydney via New Caledonia, Wreck Reefs, Bundaberg and Brisbane. On board with me was my Voodoo Yachts co-founder Dave (the skipper for the delivery), as well as experienced Voodoo voyager Daz, new owner Mal and two crew, Ben and Paris.
It wasn’t Mal’s first time offshore, but it was certainly his first time offshore on a boat like this. “I have a lot of experience doing ocean passages up and down the east coast of Australia, and used to do a lot of ocean racing, including numerous Sydney to Hobarts, plus cruising in powerboats at around 10 knots,” he beams.
“I had never done any offshore passage-making from one country to another, though, let alone at average speeds of over 28 knots!”
Our starting point was Auckland’s Viaduct Basin. En route north, we’d stopped at the dramatic Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve, where we found dolphins and sneaked the boat into one of the world’s largest sea caves. Our first night had been calm, surrounded by soaring rocky outcrops and dense forest, and we’d awoken fresh and ready for the leg to New Caledonia.
Our rough introduction to the Pacific proper was thanks to the tail end of a storm system. Despite the conditions, Phoebe’s lowest cruise speed for the day was 20 knots. Conditions improved as we passed Norfolk Island, and the last of the lingering chop had dissipated by 0600 the following morning. That meant we could ease Phoebe up to her natural cruise speed of around 35 knots – as well as crank up the music and open the windows for the first touch of tropical breeze.
The glassy sea took on the appearance of undulating blue fields, and Phoebe must have made an impressive sight powering across the open ocean.
With the increase in ground coverage as she stretched her legs, our ETA dropped and, sure enough, we spotted land at 1400 after a 920-nautical-mile first leg.
It had taken us 32.5 hours at an average speed of 27.3 knots – fast adventure cruising at its best! It was also a great introduction to the boat’s capabilities for Mal. “I knew my New Zealand crew had done a lot of cruising in this type of boat, so I was quite relaxed,” he says.
“I was extremely lucky to be making the trip with Dave and Mitch. We discussed what I wanted to get out of the trip, they suggested different routes, timelines and itinerary options, and we settled on the one that went via New Caledonia, exploring the west coast and northern isles as well as some remote reefs along the way.”
Nouméa welcomed us with a breaching manta ray soaring high out of the water, and Hervé and Audrey of Nouméa Yacht Services welcomed us in Port Moselle.
By the time we’d cleared in and cleaned up, it was time for a well-earned beer. A relaxed dinner at the bar followed by seeing how many distinguished gentlemen could fit in the bar’s static display of a massive megalodon’s mouth brought the third day to an end.
Day four was an opportunity to explore the local market and reprovision Phoebe for her next legs. The local seafood and produce market is right next to the marina, and we filled our baskets with mouth-watering tropical fruits, veggies, herbs and spices.
There were coral trout with other small fish half consumed in their mouths, large pineapples with tiny heads and small pineapples with huge heads, plus mangoes, papayas, tomatoes, courgettes, oranges and passionfruit that were all not only vibrant in colour but had a sweeter, more intense flavour than anything back home.
A tropical twist on a French lunch and a trip to a water sports store and supermarket later, we headed back to the boat, stopping to clear a street of a heap of soft plastic rubbish blowing in the breeze – swift work for six hands to collect and dispose of properly. (In general, Nouméa underwent improvements to the township and the cleanliness of the harbour and marina before COVID restrictions.) We finished the day with Dave’s delicious barbecued lamb rack with fresh salad and salsa, beers and banter.
Unfavourable weather conditions for the crossing to Australia demanded a pause in proceedings, so we each headed home until the following Thursday when we reconvened in New Caledonia. Freshly stocked with bakery goodness from a superb upmarket supermarket, we departed Nouméa for an evening passage toward Koumac, with stops at an islet beach for a swim and an equally idyllic cove for the night.
Setting off north the following morning, we came across an old, large shipwreck on the outside of the lagoon barrier reef and sent the drone up for a look. We passed Koumac in the afternoon and, by evening, had anchored in a sheltered bay with beautiful 26-degree water inviting us for a swim, followed by another culinary masterclass by Dave.
The next morning, we followed the outside of the reef and trolled various lures, eventually picking up a school of wahoo. We had big strikes and lost lures until we decided to change tactics, using the boat’s remote to drive up to the reef edge from the bow. Still no luck, so off to Île Yandé and another pass in the barrier reef.
Suddenly, the fish were on – we landed heavy wahoo, perfect-eating-size coral trout and green jobfish, with Mal landing a giant grouper and us catching and releasing a red-lipped emperor. Daz fought – and lost – a succession of dogtooth tuna, one of the most aggressive and powerful fighting fish.
That night, tucked into another bay in New Cal’s isolated northern isles, we feasted on wahoo sashimi, followed by coral trout and jobfish shallow-fried in a beer batter. Evening turned into night, with only the rolling laughter from the saloon joining the sound of wavelets lapping on the island’s shore.
Another day, another chance for some divine exploration – this time, we motored back to the inside edge of the barrier reef and wound our way through a rich maze of coral bommies and, while driving by remote control from up on the bow, Dave found the perfect anchorage for a snorkel.
The abundance of life within the sanctuary of otherworldly corals was stunning. Tropical fish and whitetip reef sharks populated the oceanic jungle, and some crew were in the water for a good couple of hours enjoying the reef’s beauty. Pan-fried fish and fresh salsa – and a fiery side of diced New Caledonian chillies – served as lunch and prepared us to say au revoir to New Cal as we embarked on our first west leg toward Australia.
The first part of the crossing to lower Lansdowne Bank gave us the best, glassy ocean conditions we’d had so far, allowing Phoebe to open up and once again display her ocean-crossing prowess. Averaging over 30 knots we got to Fairway Reef in the pastel pink and blue of early evening, and more fishing success increased our haul. We pushed into the night at 8 knots and prepared dinner, then readied the boat for a couple of hundred miles of open ocean, powering up again to 30 knots to get to Wreck Reefs by morning.
The experience of being on watch during the night was surreal – the ocean, softly lit in greyscale by the bright moon amidst a carpet of stars, enhanced the spirit of adventure. In these moments, we found a tangible sense of peace.
We arrived at Bird Islet in the early morning, nosing up to the shore and anchoring in white sand among the bommies, and then stepping ashore for a circumnavigation of the island. We took in the sights, befriended birds and surf-cast stick baits into the shallows off the beach. It was incredible standing on the beach surrounded by chattering birds in every direction, with the bright blue sky and the warm sun blazing above, nothing but ocean in every direction and fish and turtles visible at our feet in the pristine tropical waters.
Snorkelling such a remote, untouched reef seemed unreal, with Mitch and Paris interacting with one of the largest female turtles we’ve ever seen, and Ben had a magical interaction with a large green turtle.
We explored and fished some more, then nestled in a sandy patch outside the reef for another delicious lamb dinner before weighing anchor and pushing on at high speed into the clear night bound for Bundaberg, which we reached at 0300.
The following morning, cleared in, it was off to Brisbane and our last leg. By 0100 the following morning, berthed at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron Marina, it was all over. We’d had a trip of a lifetime, with Phoebe proving herself the very capable, high-speed ocean-crossing adventure-cruiser she is.
For Mal, delivery was a breeze. “Everything was organised – I just turned up on the day,” he beams. “It took a bit of getting used to cruising offshore at 30-plus knots day and night, but it was a tremendous confidence boost making the trip with Dave and Mitch and the crew, who all knew the boat so well – in fact, it was probably the best way to learn about the boat.
“The XF60 definitely met my expectations,” he continues. “It really does perform as they say with speed, comfort and fuel economy.
“And, realising the boat’s ability after reading and talking about it for a few years, was a real highlight. As was visiting New Caledonia. We all enjoyed the trip and each other’s company, especially visiting Wreck Reefs on the crossing to Bundaberg – it was such a special place in the middle of nowhere!”
So, would Mal would recommend the experience to others? “I had a great time and couldn’t have had a better bunch of people to travel with,” he enthuses. “To travel in a new boat like this offshore with the crew that designed and built her was a no-brainer – I’d highly recommend it to anyone!”