We will leave Noumea for Brisbane, Australia in about two hours. There is now fuel at the fuel dock and a bit of a weather window. This window will not last long, so we need to depart today. The passage is about 830 nautical miles (950 miles) and will take about 5 1/2 – 6 days. The winds are forecast to be light/moderate to start, becoming light and variable, then becoming moderate to strong at the end. There will be some wind shifts as we pass through a area of weak low pressure. We will send updates along the way.
We are still berthed at the Port Moselle Marina in Noumea, New Caledonia, waiting on the weather. It appears that we may leave for Brisbane, Australia on Tuesday morning. We have been waiting for a low pressure system to come up the eastern coast of Australia and dissipate, and for another area of low pressure to the west of us to move away. Both events now seem likely.
We were going to do the checkout from New Caledonia on Monday. Fortunately, our friends on Magnum decided to check-out yesterday (Friday) morning and then came back to tell us that they learned that Monday and Tuesday were public holidays and all of the offices would be closed until Wednesday. So, we canceled our lunch date and immediately engaged Rikki of the boat Temerious to drive us in the appropriate order to the three offices (Customs, Immigration, and Port Captain) required for clearing out. She also stopped at the Casino supermarket so we could pick up some heavy items. With the four day holiday, we are clear to leave anytime through Wednesday without having to contact any authorities. I also emailed our details to Australian Customs and Immigration, as required. Our plan is to leave the marina tomorrow morning, purchase duty-free diesel (as a departing foreign vessel), and then sail to one of the small motus near the Passe Dumbea , our planned exit from the reef that surrounds the big island (Grand Terre) of New Caledonia, and anchor out until beginning our passage to Australia Tuesday morning. We walked over to the fuel dock just before it closed this evening to learn the lay of the land and found out that they are out of fuel! Two large motor yachts came through and bought all of their fuel. The woman at the fuel dock said that they ordinarily get a fuel delivery on Monday morning, but this is a long holiday weekend, so that it not certain. Even though it is likely that the fuel onboard Sabbatical III is sufficient for our passage to Australia as the winds are forecast to be good, I hate to leave on a long ocean passage without a full tank. Tomorrow, we will see if the yacht club can sell us duty-free fuel, if not we may have to stay in the marina until the fuel dock gets a delivery. I am hopeful that we will make our Tuesday morning departure schedule since weather windows are scarce around these waters and we have been waiting 2 Â½ weeks for this one.
We remain at the Port Moselle Marina in Noumea, New Caledonia. We have completed almost all of our preparations to go to sea and now just wait for a weather window for the passage to Australia. The earliest we can leave is Thursday morning since we have not yet done the check-out, which involves stops at Immigration, Customs, and then the Port Captain. A wonderful weather window opened on Saturday and resulted in the departure of many boats including most of our friends. There is a big fat area of high pressure in the Tasman Sea and no low pressure for hundreds of mile. It is not clear that this good weather window will last until Thursday, and if not, we will wait patiently in Noumea.
The reason that we could not leave with the others is that we had an important repair to make on Sabbatical III. After we arrived in Iles des Pines, I noticed that oil in the Amel transmission was suddenly mixed with sea water. Amel’s like Sabbatical III are unusual in that they do not have a prop shaft. Instead, power from the engine is transmitted through a set of gears that are contained in a tube located in the keel. This tube is filled with about 2.5 gallons of oil and rises into the engine compartment to a point above the waterline. The prop itself is attached to the keel. This is Amel’s own design and it has various benefits. The drawback of this system is the possibility that seawater may find it’s way into the oil-filled gear tube as the prop turns. To reduce that risk, Amel’s have three redundant seals on the bronze bearing for the prop. These seals and the bronze bearing need to be changed every two years or so as they can wear out. The bearing and seals on Sabbatical III were changed just before we were relaunched in New Zealand in May, and so are quite new. Nonetheless, the presence of water in the oil indicated a leak and the only logical place for the leak is where the prop turns in the bearing at the bottom of the keel.
When we arrived in Noumea, I found a marine repair specialist, Monsieur Caubert Gerard, through the Cercle Nautique Caledonien, the yacht club of New Caledonia. Gerard and his associate Patrick met us at the marina on our first day in Noumea. They took us to Nouville Plaisance in their truck, the marine repair facility on the far side of the bay, to book a haul-out, and then we all went out for lunch in the port district. We were hauled yesterday morning and it took about 3 hours to replace the bearing and the seals. Fortunately, I had two spare sets of bearings and seals aboard Sabbatical III or else we would have to have them shipped to us from Amel in France. Gerard speaks only a little English so Laura translated my understanding of how the prop drive system must be disassembled. That understanding came from a detailed English-language document written by an American Amel owner and posted on the Web. In preparation, Laura researched mechanical and marine terms in French in her “French for Cruisers” book. The boat was back in water a bit more than three hours after she was hauled. Things seem fine but we will not really know until she has been running under engine power for some hours. The need to haul the relaunch the boat for this repair made it fairly expensive but we are quite fortunate to be in a place with a yacht haul-out facility (for example, there is none in places like Vanuatu, Tonga, and Samoa), and to have an experienced person like Gerard around for the job.
The hardest part of the day was getting back into our berth in the marina. The wind kicked up while the boat was “on the hard” and was blowing 25-28 knots when we were put back in the water. Typically, it is pretty easy to back Sabbatical III into a slip by using the bowthruster, a small electrical propellor in the bow of the boat that turns the bow to port or starboard.Â To steer in reverse, I can only use the bowthruster as the rudder is pretty useless then. Yesterday the wind was blowing so hard across the bow that the bowthruster was not powerful enough to fully counter the big gusts. I had to abort my first attempt to back into the slip as we were almost blown onto the boat that shares our double-wide berth. I made it on my second try thanks to a team of fellow boaters than ran out to help catch the lines that Laura threw, and then pulled the boat into place as I worked the bowthruster as hard as I could. We were both frazzled by the experience. In hindsight, we should probably not have even tried to come back into the marina under those conditions.
To our delight, Regine and Gerard of the French boat Galdus came into the marina and are berthed just 30 feet away from us. We have not seem them since Tonga last year except for a very distant wave in Lifou a few weeks ago. From that distant wave we knew they were somewhere around New Caledonia. They served us a wonderful lunch on Galdus today and we had time to catch up with each others adventures. They also enquired about Benjamin since they got to spend time with him when Ben visited us in Tonga last year. This is the second circumnavigation for Regine and Gerard, their first was 25 years ago.
When we leave for Australia, own plan is to sail to Brisbane (Queensland) and do our formal check-in at the port-of-entry at Rivergate Marina up the Brisbane River. If the wind does not cooperate, we may instead make landfall at Bundaberg, about 120 miles to the north. This is a passage of about 830 nautical miles and should take us five and one-half to six days. From November until next May, the boat will live at the Scarborough Marina in Moreton Bay, about a two hour sail north of Brisbane. She will be in the water until mid-December and then get hauled for dry storage for about four months.
Itâ€™s Friday, October 24thand we are now in Noumea, the capitol city of New Caledonia.We are on a dock for the first time since we left Opua, New Zealand six months ago.Â We left Ile des Pines a week ago and had a beautiful 45 mile sail to Baie Uiewhere we spent 2 nights.The sail took us past a few reefs and tiny islands (all accurately charted) and through a gorgeous channel (Canal Woden) which flows between the mainland of Grande Terre (the name used to describe the big island of New Caledonia) and the outlying island– Ile Ouen.We had heard that the chop and the currents in the channel could be daunting, but the winds were light and we had the current running with us and it was fantastic.Really a beautiful passage.
The weather turned nasty once we tucked into Baie Uie and wejust stayed on the boat, watching movies for a day, waiting for the weather to clear to finish the sail to Noumea.On Monday we sailed in to Port Moselle in Noumea . A couple of large dolphins swam and dove around the boat for a while as we neared the entrance to the harbor.Noumea is a busy place, with hundreds of sailboats at the docks and out in the anchorages.It is a good sized town â€“ much bigger than any we have been in on this trip. We keep running into other sailers that we know â€“ which is a lot of fun. We have a couple of friends here who we have been trying to catch up to all year, but our paths never crossed until now.
We are really enjoying being on the dock â€“ there is a fantastic fruit and vegetable market right next to us â€“ coffee shops, patisseries, restaurants, stores. It is very much a French island and the food is all wonderful. We could easily eat every meal out if it werenâ€™t so expensive!We have been visiting with friends, doing boat chores, doing a little shopping, and getting ready to have the boat hauled on Monday in order to do a small repair.
We will probably be heading to Australia within 10 days!
Soon after we posted our last blog, we left Baie de Ouameo for Baie de Gadji in the northwest corner of Ile des Pines. Baie de Gadji is strewn with small islands and reefs that form a protected basin, almost like a lagoon, in a beautiful setting. The only problem is that Sabbatical III draws too much water to enter the basin. Instead, we inched our way along the southeast cost of Ile Moenoro until we had less than a meter of water under the keel, and dropped our anchor in a spot less than 500 meters from the basin. The spot we anchored in is not well protected from strong tradewinds, but is perfect for light winds, or winds from the north or west. The forecast called for winds clocking around to the north and then west, which they did, so it was a perfect place to spend four days.
The snorkeling was among the best of the season. As the winds fell to less than 5 knots and clocked around from the north, we were able to snorkel on the fringing reef where ordinarily large swells would break. We snorkeled over 100 meters of shallow coral alive with small fish to reach a drop-off with a wall of coral descending at least 30 meters into the sea. Along the drop-off we saw lots of larger fish including a blacktipped shark, sting ray, eagle ray, and big groupers and trevally, as well as a sea turtle.
In the shallow protected basin, we found only one vessel, Cool Change, one of the boats that was with us in the Port Vila to Ouvea rally. As a catamaran with retractable dagger boards, Cool Change needs only a meter of water depth. They reported that catching trevally (fish) was easy from the dinghy, and showed us one they had just caught, so Laura and I gave it a try. We had no success, although it was fun to try. I think my lures are all too large — they target large pelagic fish like tuna rather than the smaller species that live in lagoons. (Ciguatera is not a problem in this lagoon.)
After four days in Baie de Gadji the tradewinds came back in force, and our location became less advantageous. Moreover, the chop and swell made snorkeling difficult. So we headed back to Baie de Ouameo (5 miles away) in order to arrange a car rental (our first of the year) from the Hotel Kedjoe. Our first priority was to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the market in Vao, which is held only on Wednesday and Saturday. We got our car at 8 am Saturday, the earliest time that it was available, and drove along the coastal road to Vao where we ran into our friends from the Dutch boat Joanne whom we had not seen since Samoa. We got to the market at 9 am at which time the fruit left for sale consisted of a single pamplemousse. The pamplemousse was still available because of the small worm hole on one side. We were desperate so we bought the pamplemousse (no discount for worms). The only veggies left in the market were unappetizing green tomatoes, not counting yams and sweet potatoes. We had brought a big backpack and some cloth bags that we intended to fill with fresh fruit and vegetables from the market, and all we got was a single wormy pamplemousse. At the grocery store in Kuto we found some New Zealand apples, and in the boulangerie we found some oranges from Mare. But local produce was not to be found.
After a coffee on the beach at Kuto, we drove to Baie dâ€™Oro on the northeast coast. Our friend Sebastien from the boat “Rayam”, who shared the anchorage with us in Mare, told us about this fabulous restaurant on the beach — Restaurant Le Kougny. To get there, you park in the lot of the Hotel Medien, the only 5-star hotel on Ile des Pines, cross a tidal river to an island, and follow a footpath through the woods to the other side of the island. There, on the beach, is a small campground with some rough hewn tables set under the palms with a beautiful view towards a lagoon and reef. That is the Campground/ Restaurant Le Kougny. We had called the day before to order our meal, which is required. The choices are langouste (lobster), escargot (an Ile des Pines specialty), and fish. We had ordered the lobster, as did almost all the other dozen or so guests. It was an unforgettable meal. The lobster was large and sweet and we spent an hour finding meat in various lobster appendages. A full bottle of chilled white wine encouraged patience. The meal came with a small salad, rice, fruit salad (mostly canned!), and of course, lots of French bread.
After lunch, we strolled through the grounds of the Hotel Meridien and ran into Randy and Sherry of Procyon, whom we had not seen since Ambrym Island (Vanuatu). Randy had been hospitalized in Noumea after stepping on coral and getting a very bad infection. He seems to have made a complete recovery. We then drove to the Grotte de La Reine Hortense, a famous cave in the interior of the island. I guess we are not much enamored by caves even though this one is impressive. We also visited the grounds of the prison colony that took up nearly one-half of the island. After the uprising in Paris in 1870/71 (Commune de Paris), those involved were either executed or deported to a new prison colony at Ile des Pines. The French also sent rebellious Algerians and Kanaks from Grand Terre to the Ile des Pines prison colony. The prison finally closed in 1911 and the land returned to the local people. We visited the striking cemetery where the Paris Communards were buried in unmarked graves.
We are now back in Baie de Gadji. It is a day of squalls and rain so we are staying on the boat. We are hoping that it may clear up but a new weather forecast suggests we may have squalls for a few days. Well at least we have a bit of fruit to ward off scurvy.
On our last day in Mare – Friday the 3rd of October – we decided to hitchhike back to town one more time. We had one important mission to accomplish and that was to dispose of the garbage that has been accumulating on board since we left Port Villa, Vanuatu – 3.5 weeks ago. When you are at sea you can dispose of all food and paper, plus glass bottles and tin cans. You are never supposed to throw any plastics at sea, and it is amazing how much of that stuff starts to accumulate on the boat – plastic food wrapping (stinky from fish or meat), plastic bottles, milk and juice containers, Styrofoam egg cartons, etc. In the other Loyalty Islands (Lifou and Ouvea) – the towns would not accept any garbage from sailors. It is just too expensive for them to dispose of it. In Mare, however, the tiny little town was just filled with large garbage dumpsters and there was no problem with us dropping it off there.
It says a lot about life on a boat when you can get a great deal of pleasure from simply throwing away some old stinky garbage bags – but itâ€™s true. We felt great about it. The only problem was trying to mask the embarrassing smell from leaking out of the bag, stuffed in a large backpack, as Mark held it on his lap during our brief car ride to town. The local who picked us up probably just assumed that we smelled like all other sailors he had met.
After disposing of the garbage, we walked over to the marketplace and found that there was a great deal of activity there. Lots of people, a live band, and a huge barbeque grill set up. It was a real party. It turns out that there is a local high school and on Fridays (or at least this Friday) they had come to town to make and sell food to one and all. Some of the teachers had formed a band and they were singing a variety of French and English songs. They were excellent. Besides grilling fish and chicken, the kids and their profs were making French fries and selling pastries. We tasted a little of everything and then loaded ourselves down with fresh tomatoes and went back to the boat to prepare for the next dayâ€™s passage.
We left Mare on Saturday morning at 5:45 a.m. It is a 70 mile passage from Mare to the Passe de Bumbu at Ile des Pines and we wanted to time the trip so that we would arrive at the pass right at low tide which was going to be at 4:20 p.m. The currents going through the passes here are very strong and it is best to time your entrances for the slack water that occurs at either high or low tide. It turned out to be a terrifically fast and easy passage – the wind was 20 knots right on the beam and we were flying along at 8 to 9 knots. We were going so fast, in fact, that we had to reduce sail drastically to slow down – otherwise we would have arrived at the pass way too early. As it turned out we reached the pass at 2:30, almost two hours before low, but it was clear that we could enter without any problem.
So here we sit in Baie de Ouameo in the famous Ile des Pines of New Caledonia. We are the only boat in this anchorage and we have not left the boat all day. As a matter of fact, it ended up being another “Mark fixes another critical system” day, as the first thing we noticed when we arrived was that the toilet in the aft head was not working. The seawater flush pump failed so the head could not be flushed. Fortunately, we had a replacement pump on board. The replacement pump would not fit without some alteration to both the electrical and plumbing connections, so it took longer than it might have, but now the head works as good ever. Life is good.
We are still enjoying the island of Mare . The anchorage is beautiful with big pine trees on a high plateau all around, and caves in the coral wall by the sea. There only other boats here are two small French boats out of Noumea with young people on them. One boat has Sebastien and Elsa, both nurses at a Noumea hospital, and the other has Stefan, an urban cartographer and friend of Sebastien and Elsa. We had the three of them over to Sabbatical III yesterday evening for wine, baguette, brie, and other goodies that we bought earlier in the day.
Our anchorage in the Baie de Pede is very pretty. The water is crystal clear but there is coral everywhere, which makes it a challenging place to anchor. Two days ago we hiked on a beautiful path that starts at the white sand beach and goes for about 3 km through the pine woods and then through a coconut plantation, and then finally through a mixture of pines and palms on a path beside the south-facing beach. Off the beach, breakers were crashing onto a fringing reef. Inside the reef the water was a diverse palette of blue. It was cool and breezy on the walk – not like the hot humid walks we usually have in the topics. The pine trees smelled delicious and the walk was great. The best part was finding that the walk ends at a very beautiful and fancy French resort – really the only really fancy place we have seen on this whole trip and we were just in time for their beautiful Sunday buffet brunch! We didn’t even ask the price. (Turned out to be very reasonable). They set up a table for us on the veranda by the swimming pool and we helped ourselves to plates of delicious Indian food, salads and several kinds of deserts. We decided to hitchhike back to the boat and it only took a minute for someone (from the hotel) to pick us up. Back on the boat, we watched a beautiful sunset while watching the silhouettes of the pine trees on the hills in the distance.
Yesterday was market day in Tadine, the town 5 kilometers to the north. We hitchhiked to town – it only took one minute to get a ride. There was plenty of fresh veggies in the market but almost no fruit, and once again, no bananas. There is not much in Tadine except a post office, gendarmie, bank, and a small grocery store, the Magasin Trop Tard. We took a look around the grocery store and found that they had none of the delicious French soft cheeses that we like. Indeed, the refrigerator case was almost empty. We walked down to the pier and noticed the ferry “Havannah” from Noumea was being unloaded, including palettes of grocery items. We hung around town for an hour and then returned to the store just as workers were stocking the refrigerator cases with the newly delivered goods. We hitchhiked back to Baie de Pede with bagging bulging with fresh foods.
We have snorkeled every day that we have been here. The best place seems to be to the south where the peninsula capped with the tall pine-covered headland meets the reef. There is a maze of deep underwater canyons with interesting fish and coral, plus an abundance of white-tipped sharks. The sharks and us have an unspoken understanding that we stay away from each other. We also saw a beautiful spotted eagle ray, a banded sea snake, and a moray eel swimming on the bottom rather than holed up in a coral crevasse as they usually are. Sebastien and Elsa have seen a number of turtles in the bay, but we have not as yet.
Today we will once again hike the path through the forest that ends at the hotel. There is something appealing about ending a hike at a restaurant.
We are anchored in Baie de Pade on the island of Mare (Loyalty Islands). We arrived yesterday (Saturday) afternoon at 3:15 pm local time after a 14 hour passage from Lifou Island. Thursday evening, a swell from the north rolled into Baie de Doking in Lifou and worsened on Friday. The wind was still ESE in Lifou so we took the swell on the beam which makes the boat roll uncomfortably. The forecast called for wind shifting to northerly, but it was slow in coming. We planned to leave Lifou for Mare on Friday but the wind stayed ESE and it rained. Since Mare lies to the ESE of Lifou, that would make for an unpleasant day of motoring. So we took the kayak out to explore the cliffs and caves, and then went to bed early hoping to leave very early Saturday morning. Just before 1:00 am the anchor alarm went off. I rushed outside to find that the wind had shifted from the north and the boat had merely turned on the anchor, and that the rain had ended. I downloaded new weather info and then woke Laura. By 2:00 am we started to raise our anchor. The anchor chain was caught on coral, and because of the dark so we could not see enough to figure out which way to turn to free our chain. After 20 minutes of maneuvering, the chain and anchor were retrieved and we were off. It was an easy passage with a mix of sailing and motoring. We were constantly looking out for whales, which are said to spend September in these waters, but were disappointed to not see any. Baie de Pade looks very pretty and is much more protected from swell than Baie de Doking. One great advantage of stopping in Mare is that it will make it much easier to get to Ile de Pines which lies pretty much due south of here.
We remained anchored at Baie de Doking on Lifou Island (Loyalty Islands). It is very comfortable here and we are in no rush to begin a difficult upwind passage to Ile de Pines. The wind is forecast to back around to the northeast on Sunday and Monday. That makes our current location less comfortable and safe but also makes a move to the east-southeast much easier. So we will head for Ile de Pines or perhaps Mare, the easternmost Loyalty Island, when that wind shift occurs.
All the other ICA boats are now gone, including our friends on Tackless II. However, Dandelion and Exocet are here. Dandelion is a South African-built Leopard catamaran with a South African family who we first met in Fiji. Their youngest daughter Fern, who is 7, took very ill the morning after they arrived here (Monday) and was sent to Noumea in an air ambulance with her father, Roger. Her mother Sharon and older sister Storm (11 years old) remain on the boat. Fern had emergency surgery to remove an intestinal obstruction. She is doing well and she and her father may return tomorrow or Saturday. Exocet is a beautiful and very fast French-built Outremer catamaran built as a racer/cruiser and sailed by Luis and Natalya, a young couple from Colombia. We made friends with them in Ambrym (Vanuatu) and saw them in a few other places in Vanuatu. We went snorkeling with them yesterday but could hardly keep up. They dive 25 feet under the surface and just hang out there for a few minutes before they need to come up for air. We saw a huge squid and two sharks, among other things. Luis spears fresh fish or octopus for dinner every day. We ate on Exocet last night, and had fresh poisson cru and ceviche, along with Lauraâ€™s famous meatballs from Shirleyâ€™s recipe. At the end of the evening, they begged for the recipe.
The coral in this bay is very nice and the water is especially clear. We are less than 200 miles south of Port Vila but the climate is very different. The temperature falls into the mid-60s at night, so we sleep with two blankets and wear sweaters and long pants in the evening, and it only gets into the mid-70s during the day. The water is quite cool – if you jump in wearing just a bathing suit you need to get out after 15 minutes. We wear full body wetsuits of 3 mm neoprene to snorkel, as do the others. The added buoyancy makes it difficult to dive under the surface without wearing dive weights.
Lifou is a raised coral island about the same size as Tahiti, but with only 10,000 inhabitants. The shore is a very steep cliff of ancient coral. There is no beach and no good place to tie a dinghy. Getting ashore involves using both a dinghy anchor and a line tied to a rock ashore. Then one has to ascend about 200 steps to the plateau on which the small village sits. The cliffs have been eroded into a pattern of deep caves with stalagmites and stalactites visible from the water. It is a beautiful setting.
Repair issues continue to be a bother. On Sunday evening, our watermaker started spraying salt water all over the engine room and I had to shut it down. I hoped that it might just be a loose connection but soon found out that it was more serious. In order to diagnose the problem and affect a repair, I had to unbolt the whole apparatus containing the pressure tubes from the engine room bulkhead and ceiling and bring it on deck. To do that, I had to remove duct work and piping in order to get access to the bolts. With Lauraâ€™s help, I took it apart and found that the high-pressure fittings at one end had corroded. Fortunately, I had a set of new fittings that I had ordered from France 3 years ago and kept as spares. It took all day to remove the old fittings, re-assemble the pressure apparatus, and then put everything back together in a very difficult to access corner of the engine room. If I was 5 feet 2 inches tall, 100 pounds, quite strong, and had nimble fingers, the re-installation would have been a lot easier. But I am none of those, and am still sore and bruised from my efforts. The watermaker now works perfectly, and without leaking a drop.
The village here has only the tiniest store. Yvette, a friendly older Kanak woman, runs the store and lives next door with her husband Pierre. If she is not in the store, which is much of the time, you just ring the cow bell in front and she soon appears from the house. The only fresh food in the store are onions and garlic, plus delicious bread. One afternoon after the bread truck delivered, people from the village waited impatiently for Yvette to open the store but she did not appear even after many rings of the cow bell. So someone took a screwdriver, removed the lock hasp, and opened the door. Everyone took bread and left their 200 francs on the counter, then screwed the hasp back in place and returned the lock.
We needed more food than this little store could provide plus we desperately needed to get more French Polynesian francs. The only francs we had were the small starter amount we bought in Vanuatu. There is no foreign exchange service in Ouvea, our first stop in the Loyalty Islands. So on Tuesday, we arranged for Pierre to take us and Don from Tackless II to the capitol city of We on the other side of the island in his cute little Renault truck. He took us to the bank, a Thai restaurant for lunch, the combination fruit/vegetable market and bingo parlor, and the small supermarket. There was not much local produce as it was not a regular market day – we could not even get bananas – but were able to load up on tomatoes, lettuce, bok choy, papaya, and imported apples. Pierre has arranged for some bananas to be available for us at the local store today.
We are anchored in the Baie de Doking on Lifou Island, about 40 miles east-southeast of Ouvea. We left Ouvea a bit earlier than we had planned to take advantage of a brief weather window to make a passage to the east. Otherwise we may have had to remain in Ouvea for another week. That would not be a hardship, but time is getting short.
On Tuesday, September 16 the village at Ile Mouli, the island off which we were anchored in Ouvea, hosted a big feast for the Island Cruising Association (ICA) fleet as well as the fleet of the Cercle Nautique Caledonien (CNC). The Cercle Nautique Caledonien is the yacht club of New Caledonia which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this month. Fourteen CNC sailboats came out to celebrate their anniversary and made the ICA boats honorary members of the CNC for the year. We all got CNC shirts and an invitation to their grand fete in Noumea at the end of the month. The food was good and plentiful. After lunch, the CNC members led us all in singing “Alouette” and then the ICA sang some Kiwi (New Zealand) songs in Maori since the ICA is based in NZ and most of the membership are Kiwis.
Our Belgian friends Roger and Lucy on Catamini corrected Laura’s French pronounciation of Ile de Pines prior to her conversing with the French-speaking CNC members. Laura’s pronounciation was “Ile de Peen” which means “island of ‘coarse word for penis'”. The correct pronounciation is “Ile de Pahn” as in the French word “pain” for bread. Roger took delight in constantly reminding Laura of her earlier mispronounciation.
Wednesday we did a tour. utilizing every van and mini-bus on Ouvea. There is not much to see on Ouvea. One of the highlights was to be the coconut oil distillery, but it was closed. As in many places we visit, the best views are from our own boat, in this case, we had a view of 20 miles of white sand beach and azure water. The CNC boats left Wednesday morning, and the ICA boats, now no longer a fleet, all dispersed by yesterday. However, five ICA boats are will us in Dokin, including our American friends on Tackless II.
The yellowfin tuna I caught coming into the pass at Ouvea turns out to be one of the best tasting fish we have ever caught. We gave some to our English friends Jackie and Brian on Songster, as well as to Gwen and Don on Tackless II, and they loved it.
We will hang out in Lifou for a few days before making the passage to Ile de Pines, to the east of Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia.
We are anchored in the southeast corner of the azure colored lagoon of the Ouvea atoll (Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia). The lagoon is huge, more than 20 miles across. We came through the Passe du Coetlogon yesterday about 8:30 in the morning. We cannot leave the boat until checked in by customs and immigration. That should have happened already except that the customs and immigration officers missed the flight this morning from Noumea. So all the boats in the ICA rally are waiting for them to arrive.
Preparation for Departure
We left Port Vila on Friday evening around 5:30 pm, which is about as late as we could leave and still have enough light to get through the narrow exit of our bay and pick our way through the anchored boats on the other side. We were not going to leave until Saturday morning but the weather forecast suggested that we might have a greater chance of making most of the passage under sail, rather than power, if we left Friday evening. Even an hour before we left, we were not sure that we were leaving that evening since we still had not completed all preparations to go to sea. All of our time was spent preparing the boat (and ourselves) for the trip since we returned to Port Vila five days previously. Armed with long lists of things to do, we spent the week trying to get at least 80 percent of the things on the list done. Among other things, we had the carberator of our outboard cleaned (it had been the victim of bad fuel, as were the outboards of other cruisers), filled up Sabbatical III with 415 liters of duty-free diesel, bought new gasoline for the outboard, refilled our big propane bottle, changed oil and filters on engines, reprovisioned, bought duty-free wine and beer, had laundry done, uploaded photos and video to our web site, and even got haircuts (at Headhunter salon, an interesting name for a hair salon in a recently cannibal society).
Reprovisioning is a complicated process. It involved numerous trips to the supermarket, Au Bon Marche Nambatu. We go there on the mini-buses that ply the main road along the waterfront. You just wave them down and hop in and they drop you were you want for 100 vatu a person (about $1). We ordered steak, veal, and mince (hamburger) to be vacuum-bagged and frozen plus an export certificate that should permit the meat to enter New Caledonia. We also shopped at the open air fruit and vegetable market that is open 24 hours a day except Sunday. There is not all that much for us to buy in that market unless you like to stock up on taro, yams, and sweet potatoes. There are bananas and occasionally pamplemousse — no pineapple, mangoes, or other tropical fruits — plus plenty of bok choy and lettuce which are very good but do not stay well on a boat. Tomatoes came into season just before we left. In any case, one cannot legally bring fresh fruit and vegetables into New Caledonia.
Passage to Ouvea
The forecast called for winds from the east at about 10 knots on Friday night, becoming light and variable Saturday, and then 15 knots from the SSE Saturday night and Sunday. South-South-East (SSE) is right on the nose for this passage so the plan was to sail to the east of the rhumb line(the rhumb line is the most direct route) Friday night and Saturday morning so that we would have an angle to sail when the wind came up from the SSE. We took it as a good omen that the sunset was so beautiful as we headed out of Port Vila and were pleasantly surprised that the wind was 12 knots out of the ENE once we left the wind shadow of Efate Island. That allowed as to sail well east of the rhumb line and probably more east than any other boat in the ICA fleet. It was a beautiful night — with flat seas, a full moon in a clear sky,and steady wind from a good direction, so we were under sail all night. By 9 am Saturday the wind died as forecast, and we turned on the engine and I put out a couple of fishing lines. At 2 pm, as we sailed under clouds that stretched out to the southern horizon, the wind came up from the SSE at 20 knots very suddenly. By 3 pm the wind increased to 25 knots and by 4 pm it was blowing 30 knots, still from the SEE. The seas, which had been very flat, got ugly as quickly as the wind rose. This was not forecast and I hoped that it was just the passage of a small front and would quickly be gone. That hope was not realized. We had sailed so far east in the previous day that we could sail in this wind because our course was now further to the west, but just barely. It would be impossible to make progress under engine alone in these seas and wind. We had up just small handkerchief size sails as the boat pounded badly in confused seas — waves coming from different directions.
The decks were constantly awash and there was only a tiny place in the cockpit big enough for just one person to be safe from drenching spray. Every so often Sabbatical III would fall off a large, steep wave and come crashing down in the wave trough. The masts and rigging shook violently. I kept telling myself that Sabbatical III was built to take a pounding. There was lots of radio chatter in the fleet about what to do. Boats to the west of us now realized that they could not easily make the preferred southeast pass to Ouvea, there was too much wind and wave on the nose, so they decided to bear off to the west and try for another pass on the northwest side of the 20 mile wide lagoon. That pass has the drawback of being unmarked and strewn with reefs, so one needs good light to do an eyeball entrance. We continued to head for the preferred Passe du Coetlogon, which is buoyed, on the southest side of Ouvea. We could do this because we had headed so far east of the rhumb line before the bad weather came up.
It was a very trying evening and night. It was impossible to sleep as the boat pitched and rolled, and the noise of the wind in the rigging was impressive. The wind did move to SE over the night and gave us a somewhat better sailing angle but the seas stayed large and confused. For the first time in the five years that we have sailed Sabbatical III, she was pooped. In this case, it means that a large wave broke over the side of the boat and completely filled the cockpit with water. The companionway was open, so some seawater poured down below. Now we understand why the boat was designed with an enclosed depression at the bottom of the companionway stairs. It’s job is to contain any seawater that finds its way down. After being pooped,and evacuating the water that found it’s way below, we kept the companionway slider up to keep water from getting below again.
I decided to slow the boat down so that we would approach the Passe du Coetlogon in good light. I was concerned that waves might be crashing into the pass, so I wanted a good look at the sea state to the northeast of the pass before committing to an entrance. As it turned out, the pass was well protected from breaking waves and it was an easy entrance.
The fishing lines had been out all night since I did not want to go the stern of the boat and mess with them after the seas came up, and even as we approached the pass, we were rolling too much for me to leave the safety of the cockpit. About 4 miles from the pass, as we sailed along the east side of Ouvea, a mahi-mahi (dorado) took one of the lures. We saw him jump and thrash trying to get unhooked, but he was on good. I could not pull him aboard in in these conditions, so we decided to just tow him behind us until we entered the lagoon. About one mile before the pass, something hit the other line very hard. So hard that the latex shock absorber was torn from the backstay where the line was attached, and the line dragged low in the water. When we entered the lagoon the wind still blew hard but the water was relatively smooth, so I went to the stern and hauled in a nice green and gold mahi-mahi. It was dead — asphyxiated by our 8+ knot run to the pass. It had managed to get my two fishing lines tangled together. After landing the mahi-mahi, I tried to untangle the mess of lines and retrieve my other fishing line. There was very little pressure on the other line until I had it just behind the boat when suddenly it came to life — there was a very large yellowfin tuna (ahi) on it. This tuna was the fish that broke the shock absorber a mile back but must of stayed on the hook and was starved for oxygen by our fast run to the pass. Once we slowed in the lagoon, it came to life. It was so heavy, I had to strain to lift it on the boat. So there I was, completely exhausted by lack of sleep and a difficult passage, with two large fish on the afterdeck begging to be gutted and cleaned. As Laura motored slowing around in the lagoon, I got to work. The result was a huge amount of the two best-eating species of fish in these waters. So, after a nap, we had fresh yellowtail sushi and broiled mahi-mahi for supper. We were hungry since we had not eaten since lunch on Saturday. We still have enough tuna left for 25 meals and enough mahi-mahi for six meals. We hope to give much of the tuna away.
We have now cleared customs and immigration but are waiting for quarantine to visit the boat. OK, quarantine just left, taking our onions and garlic with them. I took the Q flag down and put up our tattered French tricolor. We are cleared in and ready to enjoy what looks like very beautiful place. The wind is still howling but in the lagoon the boat is comfortable and the lagoon calm. The temperature was a freezing 73 degrees this morning and the humidity was just above 50 percent. We have not seen that for awhile.