The Rose--A Bit of Solitude
17 September 2013 | Ilot Gi, New Caledonia
Dear Family and Friends, This morning we left the Isle of Pines early-- simply seeking a bit of solitude. I felt a little sad leaving my seven remoras on their own since I had acquired the habit of tossing them a handful of dry dog kibble morning and night of which they were delightfully appreciative making big slurpy gulping sounds and splashing about. I knew they would do fine by just moving over to another boat. They are survivors and interesting fish with their flattened sucker top heads made for attaching to sharks, mantas, dolphins and the like and catching a free ride mouth open ready to scoop up stray crumbs. I don't know what the host gets from the relationship other than company. I wonder if they enjoy these little companions. Manta Rays almost always seem to have two Remoras in tow. I like them hanging around under the boat because they eat any kitchen scraps I toss out and I love the sense of nothing going to waste. I don't enjoy them however if I'm diving without a wetsuit and they crowd round me trying to latch on. That can be creepy and more than slightly annoying. But I notice when they swim with the Mantas often they are not actually attached but they swim easily along under the Manta's belly swishing their long soft tails back and forth and it looks like it might be a pleasant little tummy rub. I also don't really know how Remora benefit from hanging around the Mantas since the Mantas are filter feeders so they aren't really producing any big juicy "crumbs" for the Remoras to enjoy like there might be with a shark or dolphin host. Anyway, the remoras all had to wake up early today and find a new site of attachment because The Rose was on her way to parts unknown.
We headed west into an area boldly marked "Inadequately Surveyed" on the chart and well protected by coral reefs and foul ground hoping nobody else would be there. Before we were half an hour out of the anchorage we saw our first whales. An enormous mother and her calf surfaced a couple hundred yards from us. The mother was waving her huge pectoral fin and slapping the water. The fin looked as long as our boat but standing straight up on end like a sky scraper. Next she made several leaps all the way out of the water creating a splash which would empty a swimming pool. We had been under power gliding over a mirror like glassy sea so we came to a halt and just hovered watching them. What a show they treated us to. Finally we had to tear ourselves away in order to be sure of our arrival in the reef region during good light. Within an hour another more distant whale repeated the behavior, slapping the water loudly with a huge pectoral fin and throughout the rest of the morning the horizon was dotted intermittently with fountain like gushes of spray as whales performed aerial acrobatics. Finally we had found the whales. They seem to like this corridor which is west of most of the traffic inside the southern lagoon. The sound of their hollow breaths was like music to me and their antics made me smile and laugh out loud. What glorious creatures they are.
We approached the Ilot of N'Do with its long hook of coral reef which produces an atoll like lagoon of lovely placid pastel turquoise water surrounded by gently lapping waves and bordered on one side by the tiny low flat topped island and white sand beaches. We anchored in the center of the mini lagoon and lowered the dinghy for a bit of exploring. That's when we noticed two massive, heavy bodied fish lazily investigating our boat. They were at least three feet long and very stout. They might have been Napolean Wrasse which are often described as being "as big as a small car door" but from above I couldn't make out the classic bulge on the forehead for a positive I.D.
As we were staring down at our huge visitors, we suddenly became aware of a rapidly increasing lub-lub-lub sound and on searching the sky noticed a tiny but rapidly growing black speck making a bee line for us. Within minutes from out of the clear blue an unmarked jet black helicopter buzzed right over the tip of our mast making a banking turn to circle the island and land on the pristine white sand beach. Our bit of paradise suddenly felt like downtown central and concerned that more tourists from Noumea might be zipping out for a walk on the uninhabited beach which apparently was actually a heliport, we packed back up, lifted the anchor and sailed away again in search of our bit of solitude.
We picked our way through the reefs and pinnacles with waves breaking dramatically to all sides on reef exposed by the low tide. As we turned on the final leg of our approach to Ilot Kouare I noticed in my binoculars two masts anchored at our intended destination. In dismay we opted for an immediate right turn to a tiny islet named Ilot Gi. Its white sand beaches were surrounded by turquoise water suggesting a white sand bottom suitable for anchoring. Slowly we approached scanning the water from the bow and watching the depth sounder closely. The tiny bay formed by the coral shoreline was deep but the weather was very calm with only light variable winds in the forecast and we carry enough chain for average wind in sixty foot depths. I dropped the anchor in a large white patch and watched it all the way to the bottom in 50 feet of clear water. Slowly I fed out chain as the boat moved downwind with the gentle breeze. We let out plenty of scope all of it on sand, avoiding coral patches and backing gently against the chain to be sure she was securely set. After a bit of lunch, again we lowered the dinghy ready for a bit of exploring and I took my snorkeling gear to have a look at the anchor. Much to my surprise the anchor was lying on its side on the bottom. I didn't see any furrowed drag mark and the realization set in that the bottom which I had thought to be soft white sand might very well be hard smooth coral with just a sprinkling of white sand in a thin layer over the top. The picture didn't quite make sense though since we had backed on the anchor and it had felt solid and it wasn't wrapped around anything else en route. Luckily the weather was very mild so we decided to set our anchor alarms and let the weight of the chain and whatever else was holding us previously continue to hold us especially since there is only deeper water where we would blow.
Keeping the boat within sight and within reach of a quick return, we dinghied ashore to explore. To our surprise, the white sand beach was piled with pumice and twisting from sea to pumice and pumice over sand to brush were the serpentine tracks of many sea snakes. Now watching and walking more carefully, we noticed two of the bronze and white banded snakes under the brush along the sand's edge. I wondered if there is a regular schedule for the departure and return of Sea Snakes from sand to sea and back again. If at a certain hour, say sunrise, millions of snakes stretch, rub their sleepy beady lidless eyes on their armless shoulders or perhaps their flattened tail, yawn and head from their musty grassy nests in the brush across the beach sand and out to sea. The island would come alive with the wriggling mass! Strolling over to the far corner of the island we reached the end of the sand and moved onto a ragged flow of lava resembling the surface of an alligator's back. A few steps into this rocky point I froze mid hop at the sight of a sleeping sea snake curled up in one of the many nooks in the lava rock. They are good natured generally but they are also very poisonous and I certainly didn't want to surprise a sleeping sea snake from its late afternoon nap. I also thought it would be odd if only one sea snake were nestled into a nest in the rocks so betting that where there is one sea snake there are others, we turned back and continued our exploration by dinghy. Within two hours we had completed a circumferential tour of the island. Her reefs are beautiful with healthy corals in shades of pink and purple interspersed with mustard yellow and including a variety of forms from brain coral to antler and the curious "cabbage-form" we first met in Fiji. A nice diversity of depths was created by deep fissures and caverns interspersed with shallow broad sunlit prairies. Indeed altogether the island is a snorkeler's heaven.
The sun set over a clear horizon flashing gently green before leaving a lingering rainbow sky punctuated by the bright glow of an evening planet. Tonight we are sleeping in our own private paradise-solitude found. All is well. Pat and John S/V The Rose at Ilot Gi, New Caledonia 22 deg 43.555 S, 166 deg 50.914 E