S&M on GHOST
06 November 2010 | Vanuatu & New Caledonia
Mike & Sammy
As we picked our way through the reef and channel, we were surprised to see GHOST anchored at Oyster Island, Santo, Vanuatu. We had first really spent time with Brad and Kat in Tahiti on 4th July (and every other night) celebrations so it was great to run into them again (almost literally) in Santo. We were kayaking up to the Blue Hole and they were returning by dinghy with the '3 loaders' that Ghost picked up on their travels (Brian, Rachelle & Cathy). Slight confusion ensued as we didn't recognoise Brad with his new hairpiece but that soon gave way to an invite over for beers and dinner that evening, the first night of many as it turned out....
We spent a few great days at Oyster island doing what sailors do best: swimming, diving, snorkeling, wake-boarding and having the occasional beer and game of cards. It was very relaxing and like a much needed holiday. However we all felt the pull of what Santo is famous for: diving the wreck of the SS President Coolidge, so we set sail in convoy for Aore island resort about 4 hours south. It was a relaxing motorsail in the sunshine on calm water surrounded by beautiful coastline and islands. Well at first it was, until Ghost pulled into the lead (maybe the additional 3 crew members?!) and the heat was on. Brad assured us their intentions were purely honourable and he didn't want to take the only mooring buoy!
Anchored off Aore island we arranged to dive the Coolidge with Aquamarine dive shop run by the charismatic Rehan who had a penchant for rallying the shop minibus whilst smoking and enjoying a cold beer in the cup holder. He was incredibly hospitable and allowed us to fairly well use the dive shop as party HQ, several evening drinks and BBQ ensued. The only hazard was how much kava was drunk beforehand and avoiding the decrepit dogs and their mess...!
We dived daily and all had the pleasure of hitting somewhere around 69 metres (Brad dug a little deeper at high tide and managed a bit more!) and the wreck is sensational, 100 dives and you would start to scratch the surface.
We were really pleased when B&K changed their plans and decided to skip heading south to Tanna and head straight for New Caledonia. I think I (Sammy) took every opportunity to persuade them that they could catch a flight from Oz any day to visit the volcano and that they should leave with us for New Cal! After spending their left over cash on breakfast for us all at the resort, we set sail for New Cal. We had a great initial sail leaving Vanuatu and an even better sunset. 'Ghost' looking very sexy with full main and headsail cruising off into the distance (just 2 crew this time) and Quartermoon trying her best to keep up.
Our New Caledonia reunion was not quite as expected. Unfortunately 50nm from the Havannah pass into New Caledonia, we lost our rig (see: blog.mailasail/quartermoon). Brad and Kat couldn't have been more helpful calling us via sat phone, arranging a berth at the already full marina, co-coordinating our welcome and dis-masting party! On arrival at Port Moselle we had an emotional yet wonderful welcoming party of friends that made arrival about as good as it could have been in our situation. Brad and Kat were absolute stars and insisted that we move onboard 'Ghost' whilst we dried out QM and sorted ourselves out. So many dinners, lunches, beers, G&T's and DVD nights followed. We are truly indebted to them both for helping us through a harrowing experience.
Not only did they look after us chez Ghost, we also had some friends visiting from Australia. They were meeting us here to come sailing on QM to the Isle Pines for 4 days. Again Brad and Kat pulled out all the stops and organised dive trips and took 'Ghost' out to Isle de Maitre for a Sunday arvo of champagne and smoked salmon and then a late afternoon BBQ & beers. It is testament to their easy going characters that they put up with us and our friends who apart from liking a drink or 5, also nearly caught a huge fish (unknowingly) in a marine sanctuary!
After saying Farewell to Gav and Akio, it was time for us to let Brad and Kat have Ghost back to themselves so we moved out. Apparently it was like kids leaving home but we were only 5 seconds down the dock! We all decided you couldn't have too much of a good thing and with a long holiday weekend coming up, we decided to have a road trip adventure and discover some of New Cal overland for a change of scene.
We hired a Suzuki Jimmy, the world's smallest 4WD and the fun started. Packing the boot was a skilled affair so that we could squeeze all the bags, a keg of beer, food and the essential snorkeling kit in, we finally hit the road for a 1200km+ adventure. Of course the chicks got the back seats so Sammy and Kat spent 3 days squeezed into the back between bags, snorkel gear and seemed to be constantly attacked from behind by smelly neoprene wetsuit boots, fins and bog roll.
Our plan was to head up north to a place called Hienghene and stay in a traditional 'Gite' in a tribal village (ie: a palm frond hut - the chick's idea naturally) but by 5 pm we still had another 100km of mostly offroad 4WD-ing to go. This was mostly due to the backseat navigators who took us seemingly 100's of km over the twistiest of mountain roads through nickel mine territory with huge potholes and landscape like the moon! The thought of heading up into the mountains in the fast approaching dark to try to find some tribal village didn't really appeal, especially to the boys who were driving and keenly looking for a 4 Seasons to spend the night. Luckily we drove past a 'Gite' on the side of the road and French Mike (Mike's alter-ego usually only appears after a few beers but has been seen more and more frequently here due to necessity. And his French seems to be improving....) went in to see if they had any rooms available. Luckily or unluckily for Brad and Kat there was only 1 room left but it could sleep 4 of us (3 in beds, 1 on a mattress on the floor... a card game of shit-head was the decider on that one - Cheers Brad!). The prospect of drinking the last Heineken keg by the sea was far more appealing than more driving and hoping for another accommodation option.
Next day just up the road we discovered Hienghene; a very cool place, with stunning surrounding cliffs and well worth the drive. It is famous for the 'Poule Couveuse' (Brooding Hen), a rock formation that kind of looks like one... Just to be sure we had a leisurely lunch of what else? Baguettes, cheese, duck "pate", ham and other good stuff, all washed down with a few beers.
We found a great little campsite by the sea where we could hire 2 man tents so again French Mike was called upon to make another excuse to our would be savage hosts somewhere high above us in the mountains. It was a really friendly campsite and they went out of their way to may us welcome. They also run a dive shop from here but unfortunately we didn't have the time to explore the dive sites (probably a good thing as B&K had their eyes on the new tank compressors!).
We hired some Kayaks, headed along the beach and down a river inlet from where we explored the base around the Linderalique rocks. They are spectacular towering black limestone rocks with very jagged edges and needle points. After a nice little workout kayaking we returned to the campsite (via a beached Portaloo!) for our last real campfire cooking before Oz.
Having run out of red wine, we persuaded Sammy to start harassing all the other campers in her best French ;-) if she could buy a bottle of red from them... mission failed!!!
An early start and we continued north to follow the top road around the island and head back down the West side. A stunning drive along the pretty wild coast, lots of waterfalls and tropical vegetation with great viewpoints to the outer reef. Being high up in the mountains gives an amazing vantage point where you can see just how far the reef stretches, it's the second largest reef area in the world after the GBR. What with "Rally Mike" behind the wheel and singing along to 'Kevin Bloody Wilson' the journey didn't seem to take that long despite being in the Jimmy from 8am to 7pm.
Our final stop before Noumea was at 'La Coeur de Voh'. If any of you have the coffee table book 'Earth from Above' this is the image on the front cover. It is a natural perfect heart shape amongst the mangrove swamp. Of course, like in Tahiti there were absolutely no direction signs to one of their most famous tourist attractions. After stopping a number of times to get directions we took Jimmy on another adventure up a mountain side. This was proper 4WD-ing and probably not the place for a tiny hire car full of adults! The drops were quite precipitous and the little Suzuki performed perfectly, not even grounding out once on the jagged rocks we were driving across. It took us ages to see it and Kat was keen to keep climbing higher in Jimmy. We had to open a gate revealing even worse trail conditions (a few hikers gave us very strange looks!) then finally we made it to the official viewpoint... well done Jimmy!!
We were all quite sad that the weekend was over after many laughs, beers and adventure it felt like a Sunday night heading back to the big smoke after a great weekend away.
As much as we would have loved to have taken Brad and Kat up on their offer to sail with them on 'Ghost' for their final leg to Australia, we have to stay here in New Caledonia. It was so sad seeing them leave the dock but hopefully they will live in Sydney on their return so we can continue our nights of cards, G&T's' and finally get back on our mountain bikes and show them some cracking trails.
Thanks Brad and Kat for your kindness and hospitality, it's been great fun and we can't wait to catch you in Sydney!