19Aug2012, Port Moselle
Right on schedule the shuttle bus dropped Tom and Amanda at the Capitainerie at the head of the Visitors' Dock in Port Moselle. They had come on a three hour flight from Sydney and the "Arc en Ciel" people-mover met them at the airport and got them the 50km from Tontouta to Noumea in about 40 minutes. The kids were feeling pretty energetic so we took them for a couple of hours walking around Centre Ville and the surrounds, then came back "Au Bout du Monde" for a welcome beer then down the dock to "Destiny" where we had sundowners with venison sausage and St Marcellin cheese. Tough life.
The guys will be with us until Sunday next so we'll be tourists for the week. We'll put up some more pictures as we go along.
Cheers from us
17Aug2012, West Coast, New Caledonia
Well it's a nice change (and it feels like a well-deserved change) to have consistently and reliably good weather - although the temperature in New Caledonia is noticeably cooler than up north in Vanuatu, especially at night. But the days are beautiful and at night a light blanket on the bed does the trick. With the exception of one day (Monday this week) we have had days of severe clear with full sun and just a few innocent fluffy trade-wind cumulus rolling quietly past, not molesting the innocent navigator below with showers or high winds.
We filled the fridge with lots of smelly French cheeses and stocked up on AOC wines, all at fantastic prices, and spent last week up in Baie de Saint Vincent, a vast complex of bays, inlets and islands up the west coast of Grande Terre. It's like a huge version of Broken Bay-Pittwater-Hawkesbury, or a smaller form of the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. Dozens of islands, small and large, are dotted around a virtual inland sea twenty miles from one extreme to the other. There are sheltered anchorages that provide calm shelter in flat water of moderate to shallow depth; some are good for SE trade winds, some for westerlies, and a few are good for almost any wind that might crop up from any direction.
There is an unnamed anchorage on the West side of Presqu'ile d'Uitoe where one snugs up in the lee of the peninsula away from the prevailing SE winds, and where one is also protected from most other winds by Ile Mathieu a half mile to the West, and by various reefs which guard the entrances. It is so quiet there that it is almost like being parked in a garage with the door closed. This is especially so at night, when the trade winds close to land always die off to a light breeze, or are even replaced by a gentle puff of land breeze falling off the cooling mountains inland. Here we anchored in 4 metres, great holding over sandy mud and broken shells, and went ashore to explore. A steep grade led up to a peak which gave spectacular vistas over the anchorage and as far as the fringing reef miles out on the horizon (Le Grand Recif Exterieur - the second biggest barrier reef in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef), and back inland to the central spine of huge, rugged volcanic mountains that run the length of Grande Terre. The mountains are so sheer and rugged that you can really understand why, with Scotland in mind, Captain Cook named the land "New Caledonia". Nestled in a quite extensive smooth small plain at the foot of the mountains is Tontouta airport. This is protected all around by the mountain chain and long-defunct coastal volcanic peaks and ridges; Tontouta was developed by the US during World War 2 as a base for bomber missions and also for fighter sorties and forward supply during the Battle of the Coral Sea and afterwards.
Above the anchorage, some way up the rise at the head of the bay, is an interesting isolated home with a couple of small associated huts and storage buildings. It has a pretty garden with Scarlet O'Hara bougainvilleas and brilliant hibiscuses. An old Australian-born woman lives there. She came to New Caledonia during the war, where she met and married a Caledoche - a French New Caledonian. They lived in Noumea and built this remote country home on land in the bay, and later on they bought most of the remaining land on the bay. He is now dead but she has stayed on living there. Maybe homesick, she has planted hundreds of Australian eucalypts on the hill around the house. They are beautiful, but strangely out of place in their environment here.
The sunsets out over the lagoon here are breathtaking and we have put a photo of a particularly impressive one from this week in the photo gallery.
Coming down the coast towards Noumea we spent the last night in Baie Maa - described in the cruising guide as one of the best trade wind anchorages in New Caledonia. This is quite shoal throughout, with nothing more than 8 metres depth from a half mile out right in to within a hundred metres of the shoreline. Ashore there we climbed to the top of Pointe Campenon (the headland which protects the anchorage to the SE) and took some lovely photos of the coastline looking down SE towards Noumea. The long, sneakily extending reefs snaking out, just below the waterline, from all the headlands and islets down the coastline were very impressive - they provide good respite from trade wind swells, protecting the anchorages: but they are also a trap for the unwary navigator and there are wrecks at several such locations up and down the coast.
Now we are back in town and our son Tom and his girlfriend Amanda are arriving on Sunday to spend a week with us. We are tidying up the boat and organising a few excursions for them, and no doubt we will be able to fulfil some of Tom's gourmet fantasies while they are here! Tom is also bringing a spare part for us, so we have more than one reason to be glad to see them!
We'll keep up the posts while we are here in town - cheers from us for now.
Don't forget to check the photo gallery - click here.
Downtown Noumea is pretty comprehensively closed on Sunday afternoon. Shops, supermarkets, bottle shops, entertainments, all of them. So we hopped on the folding bikes and cycled down to Anse Vata via Baie des Citrons. These are the hub of tourist activity - here are most of the hotels and holiday apartments. The beaches there are coarse buff to brown-coloured sand, and there is of course no real swell as the fringing reef eliminates that all along the coast. But the sands were crowded with local families and overseas visitors. It seems that all of the locals and many visitors were smoking - it is quite a shock coming here and realising how many French people still smoke, and in public places like restaurants and cafes as well.
Today is Monday, and we are going to fill the water tanks, buy some fresh baguettes and head out of this stinky harbour for the week - Tom and Amanda are flying in next weekend so we are going to move out to cleaner, clearer waters, aiming to make it back up here a day or so before their arrival. We may get down as far as the Isle of Pines, as the winds seem set to make that an easy run - we'll see.
So we'll be back on line at the end of the week, hopefully with tales of landing more Wahoo and Mahi Mahi!
It's a funny thing but a two-and-a-bit day voyage can often be more tiring than a week or ten days at sea - you get keyed up to leave so don't sleep well the night before, and two days isn't enough to get into a real sleep pattern overnight. So you often arrive feeling disproportionately tired - as did we - but the night we spent in Anse du Pilote coming up the lagoon was a real restorer, and we hit the ground running.
Sodemo, who run the marina here, have spent a bit on the infrastructure recently, with the new and very quick internet, and some improvements in the bathing and bathroom facilities. Shauna went to the Municipal Market this morning and picked up some lovely produce, including some nice local avocados and some very fresh herbs. But wow, the prices here are pretty hot - about the only good value in the market would be the tomatoes which are perfect at present.
You may remember we put up a photo of the Polynesian vaka next to us on the seawall in Port Vila. Well, this vessel ("Hine Moana") was the flagship of a fleet of seven identical vakas that are sailing the Pacific as a loose flotilla this year and last. They were commissioned by a wealthy German businessman who spends a lot of time in the Pacific. He had them designed after the style and construction of traditional Polynesian vakas, and selected a Swedish professional skipper to head the fleet as "admiral" and then had the admiral pick crews of young Polynesian and Melanesian youth to sail them around the Pacific. They were constructed in New Zealand and then sailed to San Francisco, from where they slowly toured the various island nations and colonies and dependencies of this part of the world. He wants to do a few things: to perpetuate the traditional Polynesian methods of navigation using stars, weather patterns and swell characteristics in place of modern satellite technology and the like; he wants to educate young Pacific youth in their past and heritage; and he wants to try to promote carbon-neutral voyaging, especially as a method of inter-island transport. The vakas are incredibly strong, very heavily constructed, and are technologically simple and robust.
Each vaka is manned by youth from a particular island or country, such as Cook Islands, except the admiral's vaka which has crew from many nations. Each of the boats has a backup laptop and electronic navigational system, which is prudent (and required by law in New Zealand) and also provides a way of demonstrating the accuracy of the traditional methods. Magnus, the Swedish skipper, tells us that the old hands who are doing the traditional navigating, are what he calls "incredibly accurate" - almost sextant-accurate in most cases!
The vakas have no fossil fuels and just two small electric engines for manoeuvring in close quarters (charged by four solar panels mounted on the stern of the boat). But they don't really even need those as the crew are very adept at using the steering oar (the Oe) as a sculling oar in harbour. We got to know the kids on "Hine Moana" well while we were in Port Vila, as we had internet and they all wanted to catch up on their Facebook and emails. They were incredibly courteous and respectful, and very thankful for our allowing them to use the laptop freely. We shared a few beers with them at the Waterfront and they joined the select group of people we meet who Shauna asks to put an entry in our Guest Book. We will remember our time with them very fondly for a long time to come.
Two of the other vakas were here in Noumea when we arrived and we got to know them a little, but they were off the day after we came in, to rendevous in New Zealand with the others for haulout and maintenance.
It's great to be back in the land of cheap-as-chips, top quality French wine and hundreds of varieties of lait cru and pasteurised European cheeses, with local specialities such as Cerf (local venison) sausages and cheap duck and other French delights. But it is again sad to see the contrast between the cheerful, uncomplicated optimism, sobriety, and contentment of the Ni Van people in Vanuatu on one hand, and the edgy, resentful, barely-civil attitude of a lot of the urban youth here in Noumea on the other hand. There is obviously not a lot of work for them and it is discouraging to see them sucking on Jack Daniels and cheap vodka straight from the bottle at 10 in the morning. Whatever happens with the referendum on independence in 2014, whoever runs the place after that is going to have their hands full with some very deeply-ingrained problems.
10Aug2012, Port Moselle
Last Monday a goodish weather window opened up and we checked out from Port Vila. We expected and got light ESE breezes - and a blessedly low swell! We were able to keep sailing most of the way at an average of 5.5 - 6 knots, with the breeze at about 60 degrees to the bow. As we moved south, the ambient temperature dropped noticeably, but as well the cloud which has plagued Vanuatu this year thinned and disappeared, and we entered Havannah Canal just at slack high tide - perfect as the outgoing tide there can reach 4 knots and can be very rough with overfalls and eddies. As we crossed the 100 metre line we had a strike from a big wahoo, which took about a quarter hour to land. We cleaned and filleted him, and had him chilled by the time we were within the lagoon itself. It was after lunch by then and we decided to overnight at Anse du Pilote, then headed up to Port Moselle after a deep sleep. Anse du Pilote is a perfectly calm but very easy-to-enter anchorage - open water entry and no dangers, good holding in sand and mud, safe in just about any wind direction.
We have been catching up with friends - some whom we have met and others like "Norsa" whom we know from radio skeds and mutual friends. It's fine and warm here, with only a light cloud cover from time to time. Port Moselle have installed a fast new internet WiFi network and it is so good to be able to upload stuff, get weather quickly and Skype friends.
Check the gallery for pics, and we'll write again tomorrow.
Cheers from us.
We have just about done what we are going to do outside the metropolis, and we are enjoying ourselves here on the seawall and around Vila. Last weekend we had an invitation to lunch with Aloi Pilioko at his home, and we had a lovely afternoon. Shane Freeman, just retired as head of ANZ Bank for Vanuatu and South Pacific, loaned us his 4WD and we drove out to Pango to Aloi's place. We found we were also to meet Georges Liotard and Marie. Georges was a resident of New Hebrides, as it was called then, when as a young French photographer he recorded Kastom rituals and daily life in Malekula, Santo, Tanna and Pentecost. He also set up the first tourist agency here in Port Vila. Georges' work has been collected and formed into a display at the Museum and Cultural Centre. One of his friends from that time, now an old man also, Chief Delkon, was also at lunch and it was nice to see them reliving older and simpler times. Georges is not going to go to the islands as, he says, he doesn't want to sadden himself by seeing the social and cultural changes that have occurred since that more naive and sunnier time. Aloi put on a great meal, and despite the halting knowledge we had of each others' languages, we got on really well with Georges and Marie. We had brought along a bottle of French wine and they came with a bottle of South Australian Shiraz!
Yesterday was Independence Day (30 July). The principal celebrations were at Independence Park above the town, and there we set up on a pandanus mat with Ed and Ellen from "Entr'Acte" and saw military parades, band music, trooping the colour, flag raising and a long but interesting speech from the President. He spoke of the past 32 years and his vision for the future. Prominent on the dais were the diplomatic personnel from mainland China, and French troops took part in the parade. Absent were Australian troops, the Australian Federal Police (recently expelled on 12 hours' notice from Vanuatu following a diplomatic snafu at Brisbane Airport which our people could have done differently) and also absent was any significant mention of Australia in the speech. As mentioned previously, the Chinese are making great political and economic inroads here and we need to restore ourselves to the position of first friends of the Vanuatu Government. After the speech the President was driven back to his Residence in a government car - Chinese-made.
Today Shane on "Monja" left for home in Australia via the Banks and Torres Islands in North Vanuatu.
It's been a recurrent theme in our blog this year that the weather has not been as per usual. This continues to be the case, and most cruising yachties echo our feeling on that score. It has made planning difficult, and moving around between the islands less easy and less comfortable.
After Matt and Jane flew home, we set out for Epi Island. Our first stop was an overnight rest in Esema Bay, and then a long daysail to Lamen Bay. We arrived at Lamen Bay about 1900, but it is an easy entrance and we had waypoints from previous years, so encountered no issues. Then followed four really top-class days. The sky was only intermittently clear, but the showers were light and brief. The locals were complaining about the cold. By Sydney winter standards, this was a laugh, but by local standards they had a point - we certainly have been using sheets at night for the first time in a while. The principal of Epi High School, Mackin Valia took us under her wing and took us to the big market down the way from Lamen. She also entertained us at her home, where we met a Scottish PhD student doing an anthropological study on the effect of advances such as mobile phones on social structures here. A really nice girl, who fits in well into the village.
Mackin's daughter, Imelda, is a very intelligent girl who was selected to study Medicine under a sponsored scheme by which 17 top high school students yearly are taken to Cuba to study. They spend a year learning Spanish and being indoctrinated in political economy and socialist history, then study Medicine in Spanish for 5 years. Imelda was home for a visit while we were there and we had a nice long chat with her. Although she is enjoying the Latin life in Havana, she really misses home. Another interesting thing medically was a week-long visit to Port Vila Central Hospital by various specialists from Communist China who performed free clinics all of one week and who were praised effusively by local politicians in the media. The Chinese are making great efforts to ingratiate themselves with the local politicians and head men, and we feel some disquiet when we see this. The government here seems to value its fishing rights and other cultural and traditional common property far too lightly.... Why can't Australia get involved in the sort of ground-up efforts that are benifitting Mackin's daughter and the country of Vanuatu? Sure, aid money is good, and Australia and New Zealand give that in quantity, but a lot of it disappears on its way down the line, and a medical education for a local bright-spark is a gift that will keep on giving to the nation here for decades.
We had some useful things for Mackin, including a laptop for her office and some reference books for the school. As well, we had some clothes and school stuff for the primary school a few miles south at Yevali. We visited there last time and the kids there really are poor and the clothing was so welcome.
A few medical issues arose, mainly manageable, and we were able to help quite a few locals with antibiotics, topicals and some advice. But in one case involving the baker Joseph's grandson we found ourselves wishing we could access pathology, microbiology and imaging. We feel so admiring of Andy the local nurse, who copes with all of this all the time and does a great job.
The last night there was awful. The wind turned west and as the bay opens west, the swells rolled straight in - 1.5 metre swells closely spaced rolling and yawing the boats like little corks. One boat, an Amel, was burying its rail port then starboard all night - they must have been totally miserable. At least "Destiny" is more stable than that! Nonetheless we didn't sleep. All the yachts there left at first light - nobody had a wink of sleep all night.
So we turned South and made for Vila again. We are here now and will rest up again for a few days. We have to meet the Japanese Nurse Educator we mentioned previously and will be running through some ideas John has about Outreach from the Foundation at home in Sydney.
There are several superyachts in Vila Harbour at present - including a 4 master leviathan called "Phocea" - apparently he arrived a week or so ago and didn't clear in. When Quarantine came he told them (according to the local newspaper) that he had done it "in their office" and didn't need them. So they got the immigration, customs and police down and the paper says they found large amounts of cash and lots of firearms. The crew are said to have been on dodgy passports and used fake stamps. This is all according to the newspaper - very interesting! The skipper and crew are said to have been arrested and the owner may have been tipped off as he flew out just before the boarding and arrests......
We have a trough passing over today so it is drizzlng rain and quite cool - hoping for better weather for Independence Day on Monday.
We have put some more photos in the gallery - click here.