Fiji to New Caledonia
21 November 2010
Log reading 21,078 nautical miles
Just another bit of Paradise in the Yasawas, Fiji
It was time to leave for New Caledonia but not without a last attempt to tap into the nightlife that we had been assured was waiting for us just outside Nadi at the Ice Bar and Ed's, on the road to Lautoka. We tried the bars, chatted to the locals but Las Vegas it wasn't. A bit disappointed we returned in the wee hours to Fandango, anchored patiently off the beach near the Travellers Beach Resort. After only a few hours of shuteye, we farewelled Di for her flight back to Mackay.
Problem. Our clearance was held up because a new Aussie crew member could not get clearance from another boat he was minding. One or more of their crew were being sought by Customs and Immigration for breaches of protocol and we had come under suspicion by wanting to accept him. I had waited for some time in the immigration office in Lautoka the previous day, using my well practised virtual-meditational mode to keep me floating above the procedural quagmire. Judging by her expression, the Queen must have been good at it too for the taking of her framed photograph that hung above me. We shared a moment in another dimension.
Ear splitting reggae music in the bus on the way back to the beach reminded me of the Caribbean. Here and there a mongoose could be seen popping between the stands of sugar cane. Unsightly rubbish dropped or dumped by people who don't care. Old men and dogs waiting for something. Chickens and children scratching in the dirt near houses that look as if they would fall over in the first puff of wind. Locals walking slowly on the footpath, abandoned in time.
The next day we waited for hours on the beach near Fandango, along with no less than eight officials who just sat around doing absolutely nothing. No work ethic and poor organisation is why Fiji will remain a basket case. Although out of the Commonwealth, they still have the Union Jack as part of their flag and their currency and government offices adorned with HM's visage.
Our patience was eventually rewarded and Fandango was cleared to sail the seas once more but our prospective new crew member was not. Bernard, Joy and I left with the iron sail propelling us through a grey listless, late afternoon. We made the outer reef at dusk but the passage was wide and posed no threat.
I had wanted to visit Vanuatu or at least stop for a day at Tanna but it was not to be. Various factors, including weather and Bernard's deadline, kept Fandango motor sailing on to New Caledonia.
After a few days, we saw a whale in the distance. Despite their brief appearance, they bring so much excitement to everyone on board and we wanted to communicate like two passing boats waving to each other. Excitement of a different kind was caused by slicks of brown water peppered with particles of pumice. We were travelling over underwater volcanoes that were obviously doing their thing down there.
Light winds kept us motor-sailing most of the way until we entered New Caledonia's outer reef just before light faded. A suitable anchorage and a can of Atlas (see earlier blog) soon had us in high spirits, despite the rain.
Casualties for this leg included the tacho and hour meter again, a Lewmar hatch seal, the anchor light, the engine compartment blower, a very small leak where the deck joins the hull along with the usual wear and tear of lines. Oh, and another can opener and gas lighter for the cooker.
The next day Fandango passed and radio checked a dismasted boat, which reminded us never to be complacent. Arriving at Noumea's Port Moselle marina, we were greeted by our mates from SY Ghost and lively Linda, the marina's line handler. When I think of the many appalling marinas that treat you like garbage, welcoming ones stick out like the proverbials. Linda, a lovely brown skinned lass with a mile wide smile, bubbled over with a welcome that made you feel you had just circumnavigated the universe and returned to a utopian world. Song birds and bright flowers seemed to hover around her shining golden aura and the clouds parted above her, wherever she went. OK, OK but during our stay she always grinned and gave me and others a warm follow up greeting as she hurried about the pontoons. The world desperately needs more Lindas and later that day I told the marina office they should make her President.
Linda's glow moved to another pontoon and we were required to wait until the usual circus had checked our papers. The quarantine lass relieved us of some items but we had been forewarned and had feasted earlier on the offending items of fresh produce, cheeses and smoked meats etc.
Wifi was a problem here, as it usually is, and was down for days. There's not a lot to Noumea. As expected, the French live like Europeans and the Kanaks creep around like the underdogs. At night guards check them but not us. They often wear hooded track suits, suggesting that they sleep where we see them in the small parks during the day.
In an effort to reach the cultural centre, I noted that there were very few taxis on the main road. There were more busses than I could count but not the one I wanted. Admittedly, counting was a bit harder for me than usual because of a pontoon party next to our boat that was hosted by Ghost the previous night and which lasted until 4.30 am. Joy came through in reasonable shape and had earned a big grin from his evening with a Swiss lass but Bernard had another near death experience and opted out of bus watching after sun up.
Lydie and Veronique who christened Fandango with champagne in Les Sables d'Olonne early 2008, came over from Oz to sail with us for a few days. Being French they had a good nose for cheese and fine food and wine.
We decided to check out of New Caledonia before leaving Noumea. They allow a few days before you have to actually leave NC's waters. It saves us going back to Noumea and we also get a piece of paper that allows us to buy duty free fuel. We also had to go to two government buildings to get pieces of paper that we took to the harbour master, who simply took two of them and gave us one of his. You have to do this in the right order or go back and start again. Sacre blue!
We had a roughish trip to an anchorage on our way to the Ile des Pins. Unfortunately the weather was not that kind and we lost the appetite for swimming off the back of the boat but not for the food.
We anchored as close as we could to the smaller jetty in Kuto Bay on the Ile des Pins. It's a lovely island and hasn't been spoilt with billboards and inappropriate development. The five of us dined well and tried the local escargot that have huge shells for their small-sized but tasty gastronomic contribution.
A car was hired and Veronique drove us along almost every road during a single day. As you would expect, there are pine trees everywhere and they look a little odd in the tropics, almost prehistoric. The grottoes were fascinating, especially the one used a long time ago by La Reine Hortense for her meetings with local chiefs. The old prison was in neglected ruins and thick vegetation made it hard to walk around. Life here seemed enjoyably slow. However, I was disappointed to see that in putting up ugly new concrete power lines along the sides of roads, they had cleared a large swathe of old growth trees and natural vegetation along these roads in the process. Power lines in a 50 metre clearing are ugly enough but in a cyclone area they are absurd. Tight budgets and minds always seem to outweigh common sense for the future and I would doubt if they saved much money over a trench that could carry other services.
This place is on the cruise ship route. They seem to follow us to many popular spots on our journey. The routine is usually the same if the ship can't tie up to a dock. The punters, carrying their backpacks of photo and survival gear, are bundled into enclosed lifeboats and unloaded ashore to be greeted by a grass skirted, drum pounding, trinket selling group of indigenous people hired for the occasion. "Honey, did you pack my water bottle and spare batteries?" "Oh my god, will you look at that!" They get an hour or two to see what needs at least two full days and then they are herded back into the next ferry lifeboat.
Not long now until we ferry ourselves back to Oz.