Sea snakes galore!

October 7th

We sailed down to Ile Mata (S 22 33.2, E 166 47.7) yesterday to meet up with our friends on Intiaq. They have guests on board – Karin’s brother Gert and sister-in-law Lulu from France – and they have been sailing around to various anchorages since we last saw them a few weeks ago. At first glance, the tiny little island of Mata, with beautiful turquoise and green water inside a nice protected anchorage surrounded by reefs, seemed absolutely perfect. It turns out to have one very unattractive quality however .. an overabundance of sea snakes both on land and in the water.

After a wonderful lunch onboard Intiaq yesterday afternoon, we dinghied over to shore to check out the little beach when we noticed one big fat snake wriggling its way up from the water across the beach. It was about 6 feet long and a good three inches in circumference Then five minutes later we saw two more snakes sunning themselves in the rocks by the beach, and then another smaller snake joining his big friend on the beach. After seeing yet another in the water, we decided it was time to hop quickly back into the dinghy and get back to the boat where there are, at least to our knowledge, no snakes at all. It would not be too bad if the snakes were not venomous, but they are. At least they are not aggressive. We have seen quite a few snakes here this year, but nothing like on little Ile Mata.

Before coming here we spent a night on Ile Amadee. Amadee is well known here for its magnificent 56 meter high lighthouse built in Paris in 1862, taken apart and shipped here to be reassembled on the island. Amadee is also a huge tourist destination because of the beautiful water and great snorkeling. We normally don’t like to go to places with lots of tourists, but decided to sail over to have a look. We were really lucky to have gone on a Monday, because it turns out that none of the tour boats run on Monday and we had the whole place to ourselves. The only other person there was a young man who acts as a watchman for the place. He opened the door to the magnificent lighthouse and let us climb up to the top. From there we had an incredible view of the island, the surrounding reefs, and the hills and mountains of Grande Terre.

The snorkeling at Ilot Amadee was unlike anything we have seen to date. The whole lagoon is teeming with fish, who are apparently very smart and have learned that this is the place to be if you want to be fed. There is a glass bottom boat that runs several times a day every day of the week (except Mondays luckily) and they feed the fish from it. So when we were snorkeling all the fish came over to see if we had any hand-outs. There was just an amazing number of beautiful fish of all shapes and sizes and fantastic colors. It felt a little artificial, and we don’t really like the idea of fish being trained to receive food from humans, but I have to admit it was a pretty overwhelming visual experience. I couldn’t help but keep humming the tune “Under the Sea” from the Little Mermaid the whole time I was in the water. It looked like a scene that could only be choreographed by Disney.

Last week-end was spent back in the dock at Noumea, cleaning the boat, re-provisioning the boat (yes, more food for us!) and visiting with other cruisers on the dock. We met the most interesting Japanese single-handed sailor. He has a tiny boat that goes very slowly and he is just wandering around the world while his wife and daughter continue living in Japan. His last trip was 50 days at sea! That is 2.5 times longer than our longest sail to date. I really can not imagine it. His English was very minimal, but we managed to have a 2 hour conversation with him over beers on our boat. I am not sure we totally understood each other, but we did enjoy it very much.

Just to fill in the gaps in our blog (for our own record) we also stopped in a few places after leaving Ilot Puen. Puen is the island where we met Donny, the island caretaker who gave us sea-shells and venison. We had stayed in Puen all week-end enjoying the calm anchorage and the beautiful hiking. On Monday, the 28th of September we returned to Tenia for a few nights . Tenia is not a good place to be on a week-end as it draws many power-boats from the nearby mainland. By Monday it is empty again. The weather was fine, but there was a big swell in the anchorage which made it a little rocky on the boat and somewhat difficult to snorkel.

One day we went out but found it was too rough to get in the water near the reef drop-off (where the bigger, more interesting fish hang out) so we swam in the shallower parts of the reef. It was not bad, but there were a few large snakes there so we did not stay long. The next day conditions were better for snorkeling so we returned to the deeper water drop-off and found the same wonderful spot to snorkel that we had been in a few days earlier with huge grouper and other fish all around. We always drop the dinghy anchor in shallow water in a clear, sandy spot and then hop off it to snorkel. I always let Mark get off first to be sure the coast is clear. This time he hopped off and announced that there was a large shark lying on the sand just under the boat. I kind of thought he was kidding but found it was true. It was a large zebra shark (not dangerous) and he seemed to be sleeping as he did not move when we got into the water and he was still there when we returned from our swim 45 minutes later.

On September 20th we left Tenia and sailed to Ile Ronhua, a tiny little uninhabited island on the way back to Noumea. It was on the way to Ronhua that we heard the warning about the tsunami. There was just a single announcement on the VHF radio, and in very poor English. It was enough, however, to get our attention. Fortunately nothing and no one in New Caledonia was affected by the tsunami.

Ile Ronhua is really tiny – it takes about 8 minutes to walk around it, but it has a fairly extensive reef around it which makes it a decent anchorage for prevailing southeast winds. Just across from Ronhua is the western side of the much larger island of Hugon. We dinghied over there (about ½ mile) and right away found a beautiful (although slightly cracked) Nautilus shell. We ended up finding a few more there as well, but somehow managed to totally zone out and leave the best one on the beach. Maybe it will be there next year if we return?

We had just one more stop on the way back to Noumea — the very lovely and protected anchorage of Maa.

Today is the first day in weeks that we have not had sunshine and clear skies. It is grey, cool and stormy, but the anchorage is very comfortable. Intiaq left and once again it is just Sabbatical III alone at anchor. We look forward to catching up with friends next week when boats start congregating in Noumea for their trips to Australia and New Zealand. Over the next few weeks most cruisers will leave New Caledonia for one of those two destinations and we will be among them.


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