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new caledonia

September 27 - 1929 S - 16716 E - Halfway

We visited Au Bon Marche to spend our last vatu on Magnum ice cream bars, then dropped our boarding plank and untied from the quay. We motored out of Port Vila, then raised sail and shut down the motor. Soon Vanuatu faded from view. Overnight the seas were rowdy, but have now laid down. We have had nice beam winds, and are making good time, the boat quietly hobby-horsing over the low beam seas.

September 28 - Mouli, Ouvea, New Caledonia

Morning light illuminated the low island shape of Ouvea, in the Loyalties of New Caledonia. We entered the south pass with a handful of the ICA rally boats, and motored into the anchorage here at Mouli. Immigation and Health inspections are slated for tomorrow morning. Until then we fly our yellow quarantine flag and stay aboard. This is not a normal port of entry, and due to swine flu concerns, John Martin had to jump through a lot of hoops to get permission for the rally to enter here. We will pay a share to fly the officials out.

In front of our bow is a classic white sand beach that stretches for miles. The anchorage, over more of the white sand, is a gorgeous turquoise.

September 29 - New Caledonia Clearance

This morning the quarantine and immigration officials flew in from Lifou. Dave dinghied ashore to fill out the usual stack of paperwork. The quarantine visited the boats to collect fresh fruits and vegetables. Having heard about the high costs in New Cal, most of us had loaded the boat down with produce. I had to say goodbye to a big stalk of green finger bananas, pamplemousse (sob), lettuce and tomatoes. But the entry was straightforward and the officials pleasant. Q flag is down, we can head ashore to explore.

September 30 - Tsunami Alert!

This morning we were jarred awake by airhorns from other yachts. An earthquake in Samoa sent a shockwave out. Noumea radio said a one meter tsunami would hit the Loyalties where we are at 9:16 am local time. One meter doesn't sound like much, though in a shallow lagoon like this, one meter can turn into much more.

30 boats immediately raised anchor and headed out the pass to deep ocean waters. We hovered around outside until well past the danger hour, then returned and re-anchored. It was a non-event here, and we are anxious to hear news, hoping the same across the Pacific. A boat we know well headed home to the states is currently in Samoa.

After we re-anchored, Dave and I joined Jamie and Christine of Morning Light to dinghy to Lekine lagoon. The lagoon is sacred to the local Kanak people, so we could not take the dinghies in. We hauled them up on the beach outside, and tied them to trees. No snorkeling or fishing is allowed within the beautiful lagoon, though we did walk the beach along the north side. A bridge crosses the lagoon entrance, where we could see turtles and a dugong. We finished our hike with a little beachcombing and a refreshing dip in the water where we'd beached the dinghies.

Dinghies beached at Mouli, Ouvea in the Loyalties.

The lagoon at Ouvea.

October 1 - Ouvea Tour

John conducted a chart mark-up today, advising strategies for getting from the Loyalties to Noumea via pretty Ile de Pins. There's a favorable weather window this weekend, and we may start down Saturday.

Afterward, 22 of us loaded into 3 mini-vans for a tour of Ouvea. We made stops at all of the tourist highlights, a blue hole, church with "gob-smacking" stained glass, small store (fresh baguette!), scenic viewpoints, a coconut oil soap factory and a vanilla plantation. Fun day, and we got a chance to see a lot of Ouvea.

Traditional Kanak round cases.

The gorgeous anchorage at Ouvea.

The cathedral at St Joseph...

had beautiful stained glass windows.

October 2 - On the move again

Weather is looking favorable for the overnight dash to Ile de Pins, so we will leave tomorrow morning. This is the diaspora of the Island Cruising fleet, some heading north, others to Noumea. We will be saying goodbye to a lot of fun people. Many of us are re-anchoring down the bay to attend happy hour at Hotel de Paradis, a swank resort. The happy hour price of a beer is $7, and you are only allowed one at that price. Then the cost doubles!

We got an email from friends Sally and Glen of The Dorothy Marie, who were in Samoa when the earthquake/tsumani hit. Their scary tale is on their blog, http://www.sailblogs.com/member/thedorothymarie/. Another cruising boat from the states was less fortunate, the man was washed overboard and lost. We did not know him, but others cruising with us did.

October 4 - Kuto, Ile de Pins

A nice overnight sail brought us through the Passe de Sachelle and into Kuto, on the south end of Ile de Pins. Neither Dave or I manage enough rest on these short passages - they aren't long enough to get into our passage rhythms.

Kuto looks beautiful. As we settled the boat, Guy and Isabelle from Pro Per Aim, French friends we last saw 15 months ago in French Polynesia, came by to invite us and Warm Rain over. We had a wonderful reunion evening, hearing their stories of Wallis and Fortuna, where they were given a large pig. They have been here at Ile de Pins 7 weeks, are are telling us what to see and do. This morning they escorted us to the bakery, walking along a scenic road through pine forest. Fresh baguettes! It amazes us to enjoy France in the south pacific!

October 7 - Ile de Pins - Road Trip

Tom and Dawn of Warm Rain rented a car today and invited us to join them for a road tour of Ile de Pins. Cook named this Pine Island after the Norfolk pines here, though he never came ashore. We hit the alimentation for baguettes and Nutella for a late breakfast, then drove to Vao to find the tourism office for maps. The red-steepled church at Vao had an interesting wooden ceiling and beautiful woodcarvings, many traditional Kunie forms rather than familiar Christian ones. Kunie is the name for Ile des Pins according to the local Kanak people.

We visited a beachside memorial with fantastic carved wooden posts, then wound our way to Oro to find the "piscine naturelle" - natural swimming pool. We waded across a small estuary to an island, and hiked a short trail to the beautiful blue pool. After a picnic with ice cream, we continued on, visiting the Grotto of Queen Hortense, the last Kunie royalty (the French would not permit continuation). Queen Hortense hid in the cave for more than a year, sleeping on a natural shelf deep in the back. We also visited the prison, where deportees from the final French revolution in 1871 were imprisoned, and the graveyard where 300 of them are buried. Some 20,000 revolutionaries were sent to New Caledonia, 3000 to Ile des Pins.

It was great to get off the boat and see more of the island than we can by dinghy. Back at the store we ran into Destiny and Morning Light, all of us seeking baguettes, but alors! no more today. We put in an order for tomorrow.

There is a lot of tension in New Caledonia between the Melanesian Kanaks and the French colonists. We just got an email from the Port to Part Rally, leaving Noumea for Australia later this month, advising to allow extra time to clear out, as the Customs office is being picketted. New Caledonias Kanaks are a contrast to the friendliness of the Melanesians in Fiji and Vanuatu. Next year there will be an election to determine whether the territory remains part of France, becomes independent, or becomes a member of the European Community.

Norfolk pines made Captain Cook name New Caledonia (Scotland).

Carved totem gateposts.

This carving in a church has faces with shared noses.

We visit a monument of carved posts,

The carvings are whimsical and intriguing.

The grotto of Queen Hortense.

Prison ruins.

France used New Caledonia as a dumping ground for political prisioners.

October 8 - Second Tsunami Alert

This morning the boats emptied out of Kuto Bay to deep water for another tsunami alert. This time we were told there were 2 quakes in Vanuatu. Fortunately they were deep enough that the alert was canceled with no damage here.

When the alert came, Dave and I were muscling the heavy outboard in the cockpit. He needed to remove the bottom end to replace an impeller. We quickly tipped the outboard on its side, started the engine and pulled anchor in record time. We had 1/2 hour warning before the estimated time of arrival, just enough to reach a 90 foot depth of water. With 20 other boats we steamed full speed out of the bay, heading west, then milled around for an hour until it was declared safe to come back in.

In the last tsunami, a boat we know was carried inland in Pago Pago, dismasted and wrecked beyond repair. So we take these alerts seriously, though they may prove to be false alarms.

Back at anchor we jury-rigged a rack to mount the outboard in the cockpit, and Dave performed surgery, extracting the impeller and replacing it with a spare. If you are not already a skilled mechanic when you set off across the Pacific, you will become one along the way! I'm glad he has the tools and knowledge to fix so many of the boat's systems.

October 10 - Underway toward Noumea

Gusty day, but it is time to head toward Noumea to prepare for the final passage of the season, to Australia. We are slated to leave in about a week, with the Port to Port rally that heads to Bundaberg.

Early this morning we weighed anchor at pretty Ile de Pins and beat westward against lumpy seas for a few miles until we could turn NW to head to Ouen, an island just off the south end of Grand Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. We made great time in 20 knots of wind, clocking 7+ knots, arriving mid-afternoon. The southern lagoon of New Cal is littered with reefs and we are happy the charts are accurate here. We had to thread through several sets of reefs in a whitecapped sea. The telltale green and brown shoal colors did not appear until we were very close to them.

Hilly Ouen, like much of New Caledonia, is scarred with gashes of quarrying. The winds howls outside, but we are anchored securely in a sheltered bay. Tomorrow we will explore a little, then head for Baie de Prony, out last stop before Noumea.

October 11 - Baie de Prony

This morning we hit 4 beaches in search of chambered nautilus shells. Our guide book claimed they were to be found here. We found many broken ones, but none intact. We did come across 3 sea snakes.

We sailed on into the huge Baie de Prony, where we picked up a free park buoy off Ilot Casy. It is a marine reserve, and covered with great hiking trails, which wind up to the top for good views of the Baie. Back aboard the winds continued gusting, enough to make us concerned about the condition of the mooring. So we untied and sailed across the bay to a more protected anchorage. Morning Light is anchored here, and spent the day climbing to the lighthouse. They are still cleaning the red clay from their shoes.

Tomorrow we sail to Noumea, our final New Caledonia stop, where we will play as tourists and prepare for the Oz passage.

October 12 - Noumea!

Up at daybreak, we weighed anchor and set off through Canal Woodin for Noumea. Beautiful day. We motored in flat calm seas, and soon turned in to this protected harbor. Port Moselle Marina found a slip for us, so we are at a real dock, with water and electricity! We checked in with the marina, picked up a city map, and quickly found La Vielle France, a boulongerie/patisserie. We might have been in France! After deliberation we settled for 2 baguettes (blanc et noire), 2 croissants, 2 pain au chocolats, and a couple sweet pastries to tide us over to dinner. The choices were tres difficile.

We also visited the Musee de Nouvelle Caledonie where Dave and I, as 60 year-olds, got in for a mere 50 centimes. The excellent museum celebrates the local kanaks, and other indigenous south pacific cultures with carvings, weavings, outrigger canoes and the curious round thatch huts of New Caledonia. We walked along the waterfront to the huge grocery to buy brie and fresh salad makings, then back to the visitors dock where we boarded Morning Light for a glass of wine.

It is a great pleasure to be here, with all the amenities of civilization. We are only a few hundred miles, but as many years, from primitive Vanuatu. The contrast is stunning.

October 14 - Tooth Day

Dave lost a crown from a molar, so we found a dentist and had it repaired for 4000 cfp. We then walked around the bay to the nautical Museum where we enjoyed a display about the recovery of 2 ships, the Astrolobe and the Broussard, wrecked 220 years ago in the Solomons. The display included a lot of recovered artifacts and interesting film footage of the salvage work. We visited the artisans market across the street, where Dave bought a 20 thousand-year-old megalodon (prehistoric gigantic shark) tooth for about the same price as his morning dental repair.

Morning Light was advised to leave Friday for Australia to dodge a low pressure coming. We are now thinking we may leave Monday, or possibly Tuesday. Each day we do a few of the passage preparation chores. When we sent in the required customs advance notice for Oz, they came back and said they couldn't locate our visas. I emailed details about how it was granted in Port Vila, and the next reply confirmed that they had located it.

October 17 - More Noumea

Fun days, with a little work and a lot of play. We visited the excellent Aquarium with Lizzie (Rod and Betty) to see sea snakes, sharks, turtles, chambered nautilus and corals in beautiful glass-fronted aquariums. It was fun to see so many tropical fishes we had seen snorkeling, up close without holding our breaths!

Boats are arriving and leaving daily, heading to Australia or New Zealand. Last night we attended a dinner at a local yacht club for the Port-to-Port rally, 20 boats headed to Australia. The weather window is looking favorable. We are thinking about a Tuesday departure, after clearing our Monday and getting duty free fuel. We are also considering a halfway stop at Bellona Reef, south end of the Chesterfield reef complex. Charts are lousy, not enough detail, but we have a good google-earth picture. Navigation by google!

October 20 - Away to the Land of Oz

The boat is stowed, and we are ready to cast off from Noumea, headed for Australia. We expect a 6 day passage, some rowdy seas and good following winds.

For our journal entries of Australia,  click here.

For earlier journal entries of Vanuatu,  click here.

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