So as it turns out, New Caledonia does actually have some crystal clear warm water and good reefs to dive on. We just had to get to the Loyalty Islands to find it! And the sun did finally show itself again so we could stop saying that "we live where the sun doesn't shine". The night before we left to motorsail the 70 or so miles to get to the Loyalties, we moved around to the NW side of Isle de Pin to make the trip shorter. On the way, we came THIS CLOSE to hitting a whale. It was apparently dozing just under the surface as we motored along and at the last second, it startled and dove making a big round depression in the water right in front of the boat. We braced for impact but it cleared the keel and surfaced a few seconds later right behind us. Good grief! How much noisier can we be with the motor running? We checked at the dive shop on shore in the anchorage and the man said that earlier in the day, the introductory scuba dive students got to swim with that whale. Wow.. our introductory dive wasn't that memorable.
It was on the way to Mare (southernmost Loyalty island) that the blue sky appeared and we finally got to feel the warmth of the sun after so many days of socked in clouds & rain. It inspired us to do a huge amount of backlogged laundry since we've had no luck here in getting laundry done. With the watermaker on and plenty of hot water from the engine, we had quite the Chinese laundry going and we joked about how this is just another thing "we don't tell people about back home". But here I am, telling it. It was a relaxing day despite the laundry and it felt so darn good to be underway. It was also nice to see our friends on Blue Rodeo and Fruit de Mer sailing along with us.
From New Caledonia 2014
When we were at Isle of Pines, we'd wanted to dive the NW corner near Gadji where there is reportedly incredible fish & cave formations but we heard through the cruisers grapevine that there was this crazy local there who was most unfriendly to sailors who wanted to dive there. It's hard to accept this second (at best) hand information and we'd decided to go there anyway to see for ourselves. But as it turned out, the wind direction was wrong and we really just wanted to make a getaway while the weather was OK. Oh well, we were really excited to get to Mare. As we entered the anchorage near Tadine, the turquoise water was beautiful & clear and the coral formations looked amazing. The next morning, we got all ready to do a dive with Mark & Anne but then found out from a local boat in the anchorage that the area we wanted to dive on was "tabu". Growing up, I never really knew where the word tabu came from but now I know that it is commonplace in the Pacific when an area is deemed off limits for a variety of reasons. It may be a trail that is tabu for women to walk on as is sometimes the case in Vanuatu, or a reef that the chief has ordered to be tabu so that it can replenish itself, or a sacred place that is made tabu for religious purposes. This reef we were trying to dive on was supposedly, possibly, tabu for scuba diving because we heard "the bubbles may attract sharks" but snorkeling was allowed. And we couldn't check with a chief since the ownership of the harbor was being contested between 3 families. Well, our high spirits plummeted and we could only shake our heads at the non-western ways of thinking that make our heads spin. We joked that we need a rubber stamp with the word TABU on it and the chief can just stamp out all the areas we can't go to for whatever reason and then we'd have this map with TABU all over it. It isn't that bad of course but exaggerating feels good. We ended up having a great snorkel that day and since Gerrit & Anne-Mieke had landed a fish on the way over, they invited us over for a delicious dinner. It was decided that we'd do the dive anyway the following morning and take our chances. Well, the dive was awesome and no one bothered us. The reef had some of the most interesting formations and caves I've ever seen and the coral was perfect. I found a large, vacant nautilus shell in one of the caves too. And most important, the water is once again warm. Phew! What a difference 70 miles makes, must be something with the currents. The lesson learned is that no matter what you hear, you can't make a total judgment until you experience something for yourself.
From New Caledonia 2014
From New Caledonia 2014
As usual, we got rushed out before we were ready due to the weather changing. We needed to move someplace protected for west winds and there was nothing on the island that offered what we needed. So, after a full day of diving and hiking, we upped anchor at 5p with Blue Rodeo & Fruit de Mer and we all set sail for Lifou, the next island to the north. It was a calm sail with a half moon and light winds- no complaints. These are the overnights that make this way of transportation so good for the soul.
We glided in to Bay de Santal on western Lifou the following morning, passing by a very imposing cliff with a chapel perched on top. Cruise ships come here to these "paradise islands" although thankfully its easy to avoid them. In New Cal, the area around the capitol of Noumea has the highest concentration of descendents directly from France while the out islands such as the Loyalties support mostly Melanesian descendents, called Kanaks. They live a much more traditional life than their fellow Noumeans and historically, there's been tension of course over being owned by the French, over land, over culture. More than one New Caledonian has shared their concern that the native people are being faced with tremendous change from western civilization and they can't cope with the speed of this change, especially the youth. While I don't fully understand it, I can see that western visitors, the internet, cell phones etc are affecting the lives of these people. To what extent this is bad or good I don't know but we can sometimes feel the tension.
After getting anchored, the six of us headed ashore to ask permission to scuba dive here, as is the custom. We got this relatively easily and then walked in to town to try and catch the grocery store when it was open- no luck as usual. It seems like everything is closed whenever you get there. It drives us nuts. Anyway, as often happens, a nice island dog joined us for the walk and was so happy to be talked to and patted. Since we found an open bakery, we got some stuff to much on and were standing in the parking lot when another dog joined us too. He was obviously well cared for and was just as friendly. As we talked, the 2 dogs were playing like crazy, bumping into our legs and having a ball together. I noted how much dogs smile. On our way back to the boats, we walked along the side of the road with our 2 dog friends and the oncoming cars would slow down and wave. But then, just like a bad horror movie, a truck came screaming along right beside us and mowed down one of the dogs. Just completely mowed it down without a flinch, without stopping, without conscience. The sound was sickening. We witnessed this dog cry out, take his last breaths and die for no reason at all except aggression. There was absolutely nothing we could do for him. Shaken & disturbed, we all wanted to be anywhere else. Later that afternoon, we all went snorkeling to try and lose ourselves a little. It helped. The reef was full of life & beauty and helped to fill the dark void that was left by the events of the day. The only medicine is good ol' TOT (tincture of time) and we are feeling better but not completely. We've gone back ashore to find everyone very friendly but just like anywhere, there are bad eggs among the good ones. I truly believe that kindness & compassion is learned. That a conscience develops, is cultivated. And some people just don't have one. Dealing with other cultures and thought patterns can be draining. We find ourselves looking for similarities but finding lots of differences. We can't understand how there could be so much cruelty and yet it is everywhere when you think about it. Animals get the brunt of it. After all, we eat them too. Our Dutch friends Gerrit & Anne-Mieke have told us about how their government works in Holland. Unlike the USA, there are several political parties. One party in particular, has charged itself with looking out for animal welfare. They make sure that animals get a voice so to speak and that their well being is protected. It is a different way of thinking, that everything is not here for us for the taking. Unfortunately, this thought pattern is not going to come from the internet, cell phones or cruise ships. Therefore we can't hope for any real change here. The lesson I suppose is to do what you can to spread kindness- and watch out for bad eggs on these island roads.
From New Caledonia 2014