Port Bourail – July 2019
17 July 2019 | New Caledonia
Our next anchorage was in Port Bourail. This was some 30 nm up the coast. As the lagoon between the coast and the reef ceased being navigable to yachts just north of Ouano we would have to pass through the reef and sail in the open ocean. We would then pass through the reef again at Port Bourail. We wanted to arrive in Port Bourail with plenty of sunlight. However, given the narrow entrance to Ouano lagoon, and the need to pass through the reef was also wanted to leave in good sunlight. Our compromise was to weigh anchor at 0900 on Friday 12th July.
Unfortunately at 0900 the sun is not high enough to give a clear view into the water. We therefore navigated using the beacons, our past track and the depth sounder. And we proceeded out of Ouano lagoon slowly! All went well although at one point approaching the last green beacon the depth started to decrease rapidly as we approached the edge of the channel. We swiftly engaged reverse to slow down and steered back to the channel; the depth returned. With some relief we cleared the Ouano lagoon and headed to the reef entrance, the Passe d’Ouari, some 3 miles away. On the way out we could see the wild life; Helen counted half a dozen turtles and two sea snakes in the water.
The passe is not marked with beacons and is about 1 ¼ nm long. However, it is about half a mile wide, straight and we had good waypoints. The ocean breakers were also clearly visible on the seaward edge, providing a good visual reference. We therefore lined up and headed through. As usual we were looking ahead and particularly at the water. As we approached the passe we spotted white water near the middle. We are very sensitive to white water near reefs as it often indicates the presence of shallow water causing the swell or waves to break. Of course it can also just be wind-blown waves breaking. However, the wind was very light and, worse, this white water was occasional but in about the same place. The reef edges with their near constantly breaking waves were clearly visible. This was different. We drew closer; fortunately the white water was ahead but about 100m or so to our port side; sowe would miss it by a safe distance. As we approached we could see the white water was not a breaking wave, it was a plume of spray. Closer and there it was, a large head, followed by a plume, followed by a dark body, then a fin, then more dark body. The whole sequence took some 5 to 6 seconds. This was a large whale, probably a Humpback by the shape of the head. And it looked like it was just lying on or near the surface. Then next to it, another plume, body, fin, body. Smaller this time – probably only just bigger than Tai Mo Shan (!). A mother and baby whale lying asleep in the passe! We passed them some 100m or so away, they were not bothered.
As with the previous passage, the day started with light wind which then built steadily. We therefore started motor sailing and ended up sailing downwind, no motor. The coast seemed largely deserted. Indeed, there was only one break in the reef charted and this led, well to an extremely shallow deserted bay. Otherwise the reef simply extended 2 to 4 nm from the coast limiting our view of the land. Holding about one nm off the reef we could only really clearly see the constantly breaking waves.
The gap in the reef leading to Port Bourail is not marked, but is some 1.6nm wide and flanked by noticeable surf. This entrance was therefore no problem. Of course, it was not as easy as that as the wide entrance allows the ocean swell to roll right into Bourail Bay making it an unsuitable anchorage. Instead we diverted off to the estuary of the River Nessadiou. Here the river had cut a channel into a muddy bay, past a headland, and through the inner reef to join the outer pass. This provided much more shelter. Of course, it also meant, in effect two more reef entrances. The first was between the coastal inner reef to the south and a triangular shaped reef extending out from the point separating Bourail Bay and the bay formed by the River Nessadiou. This gap was maybe 1/3 nm (approximately 600 metres) wide and not marked; it was a case of using the waypoints from our cruising guide, the chart and our eyes. Just as well we had arrived at about 3pm with good sunlight! We motored steadily through the second entrance. Then the third. This was between the headland/ triangular reef and a headland to the south of the anchorage. The guide warned of a shallow shelf extending off this headland which was so steep to that our depth sounder would not give any warning. The gap was about 150m wide with no marks. The chart also seemed a little inaccurate as it did not exactly match our Google Earth view. We proceeded very cautiously, safely made the (small) anchorage and anchored. The anchorage was indeed sheltered from the wind and wave, but what an entrance! We deserved a wine that night.
The next day, Saturday, we decided to head to Port Bourail. The river there looked navigable so we planned to head up it, perhaps even to the town of Bourail, some 6km upriver. The guide noted a Dive Centre at the river entrance, so it would be good to call in there to chat and seek local knowledge. We therefore readied the dinghy with extra fuel, radio and water. Mid-morning and off we went. Initially we intended to cross the triangular reef off the northern headland. However as we left Tai Mo Shan we realised that the reef rapidly got shallow and indeed dried very extensively; we would have to go around. This reef extended out nearly a mile from the headland, so it was quite a detour. Off we went trying to stay close to the fringe of the reef. The water was very clear with visibility down to say 10m. The sea bed was covered in several different types of living, vibrant coloured coral. This was very pretty, indeed awesome to look at. However, it also meant the sea bed was not flat with significant depth changes close to the reef edge. We saw several columns of coral that rose well over 5m near vertically to nearly broach the surface as well a more normal depth changes that would bring the sea bed from out of sight to perhaps 2 or 3 metres below the dinghy. As a precaution we pushed further out away from the reef. Fortunately the day was calm. It was still slightly strange holding some 200 metres off where the small waves were breaking on the reef edge. We rounded the seaward end of the reef and headed into Bourail Bay. Here the chart indicated that sand/mud stopped the coral growth leading to a more normal steep drop at the edge of the reef. We could stay closer to the reef edge, and then the headland.
Bourail Bay is fringed by a large beach with the River Nera entering the sea at the south eastern corner. The river had a small bar, where the sea becomes shallow due to the sediment from the river building up as it reaches the sea. Normally river bars are approached with caution as the shallow water causes waves to rise up and break. In addition, the sand/mud often shifts so navigation is difficult, and the currents can be fearsome. Bars such as the Manukau and Kaipara bars in New Zealand have claimed many ships over the years. Of course this was only a small bar caused by a minor river entering a bay. There was no real hazard to us, but it was interesting to see the change in depth and resultant build up of (small) waves breaking on the bar edges. The bar was shallow but we could easily cross in the dinghy with the motor raised slightly. And once in the river the depth resumed (our guide said a metre of so).
Having crossed the bar we entered the river and headed to a clutch of buildings and a small slipway ashore. We landed and walked the small beach to the buildings. They did contain both the Dive Centre and a Surf Club. Unfortunately both were securely closed, locked and shuttered! We walked a little way; the place appeared deserted. Ah well, back to the dinghy and upriver we went. Initially there was good depth and we passed a few areas used for launching boats; the slip in to the water and adjacent parked cars and trailers were readily apparent. After perhaps a km the river split. We took what appeared to be the major channel, which passed a boat launching area and then ended in mangroves. Back to the minor channel which consisted of many shoals barely deep enough for us to cross. Given the extensive dinghy trip, the deserted nature of the place and our broken rowlock we decided not to risk damage to the engine and headed back to the Dive Centre buildings. Ashore again we wandered more extensively.
We soon saw another surf club, securely locked. Further in there were several houses, most quite large with extensive gardens/land and all in good condition. In fact the whole place was very tidy, just eerily quiet. We might have seen 4 cars in the hour or so we wandered around. We concluded that this was a village of holiday homes and, seeing as it was winter, few were occupied despite the weather being pleasant.
Once back at Tai Mo Shan we explored the bay caused by the River Nessadiou. It was shallow mud and largely mangrove lined but had a launch point in the distance on the north side of the river that was used by several small motor boats (runabouts) that passed us. There was also a launch point closer by on the south side. We landed there and talked to a couple of people who had just put their tinny boat on it trailer and were now cleaning fish. The usual limited French/English and extensive arm waving applied. We learned that the couple had only caught 2 reasonable sized fish (we did not recognise the type), on line with squid cut bait. Usually they caught more (!) sitting just off the reef. They lived about 6 km away (not in Bourail) and it was convenient to launch here. They liked fishing, especially when the weather was good as it was that day! As we talked another boat pulled up with 4 young men in it. The skipper was the cousin of the couple!
That night we were strangely grateful for the lights from the two houses on the bluff above the anchorage and a couple more houses in the distance on the coast.
The next day we would head off for the 40 nm trip to Moue and the adjacent village of Neopolini. We had an interesting decision to make on when to leave …
Picture: Port Bourail nice, quiet.
Ouano– July 2019
13 July 2019
Wednesday 10th July saw another beautiful morning with light winds and sunny weather. We were up fairly early as whilst the passage to Ouano was only about 30nm, the entrance was narrow and basically a slalom course between sand bars and coral outcrops. The entrance was well marked and our friends had regularly traversed it in their 80 foot boat, so it should not be a problem. However, we still wanted to arrive with lots of daylight left. We therefore had the anchor up and stowed by 0830.
As with the previous day, the first part of the passage was primarily under motor with the main as a steadying sail. The passage was still within the lagoon, so flat calm water. If anything the islands on the landward side were even less inhabited than heading to Ile Mattheu. The lagoon gets gradually narrower as it goes north and, indeed, Ouano is about as far north as the lagoon is navigable. As it got narrower, it also got shallower. The lagoon was still easily navigable by us in Tai Mo Shan. However, the outer reef and coasts of the islands were getting closer. As the day developed so did the wind and we were able to unfurl the foresail and progressively reduce motor revs as the power in the sails increased. By lunchtime we were purely sailing. It was lovely watching the beautiful scenery slip by with only the low booming of the surf and quiet hiss of moving water to accompany it. We only saw one other boat, a yacht tacking into wind (i.e. doing it the hard way zigzagging up the channel turning just before the edging reefs). We had the wind behind us, so we able to hold a course on a run with the sails ‘poled and prevented’.
The highlight was when one of our trolling lines went tight. We could clearly hear the click as the line pulled through the pegs we use as bite indicators. We slowly hauled in the hand line. There was obviously something on it, and it was swimming, but the camouflage in the fish skin was so good we could not see it until it was almost at the boat. And there it was, a nice Spanish Mackerel weighing about 5 kg. It was soon aboard, despatched and filleted; 3 nice meals in the freezer bags (literally!).
We arrived at the entrance to Ouano lagoon early afternoon, about 1400 or so. With the bright sun we could easily see into the water and so this was an ideal time to enter. As we turned the corner transitioned from a run to a broad reach to reach and then into wind, progressively dropping sails as we went. So, motor on we headed in.
The channel to Ouano starts a few hundred metres wide with beacons marking the port and starboard ends. It then funnels down to a passage no more than 80m wide. This is marked by alternating green (starboard) and red (port) posts. These show the extent of the sand shoals or coral banks. And of course, the path in is not straight with slight but significant turns required at each mark. In we went. Fortunately we could see into the water, and so see where the sand or coral extended beyond the posts, in at least one case by a good 15m. So carefully and steadily we made the 200m or so into the Ouano lagoon. We also missed the unmarked (but to be fair, charted) coral patch just inside the lagoon.
Once in the lagoon we headed past the 80 foot ‘Bunty’; still moored in the lagoon despite having been sold by our friends a couple of years ago. We also passed a couple of small yachts at moorings and then anchored in some 4m of water. The wind was blowing quite forcefully and the big lagoon did not offer much to reduce the wind. However the lagoon was shallow and edged by mangroves so there was little movement in the water. Dinner that night was, of course, fish and chips!
We headed ashore the next morning. Ouano, or more correctly Ouano Beach, boasts a small slipway and wharf, parking area, deserted yacht club hangar, and perhaps half a dozen fisherman’s huts. Still, the parking area had several vehicles and trailers. We stopped and talked to a couple of young men. They were waiting for their friend and his boat, and were then going to go surfing. We said that the only surf was on the outer reef, and that it was big, bold and unforgiving. Oh yes, was there smiling replies!
Our friends had mentioned a Japanese restaurant ashore, somewhere nearby. The exact location was lost in translation. So we wandered along the only road heading away from the wharf. This followed the lagoon edge, past the fisherman’s huts. These were surprisingly presentable with vehicles and boats outside. We commented that the fishing seemed to provide a reasonable income. A few hundred metres further on and we passed a boat yard. Well, a fenced yard with a dozen assorted boats on trailers, guarded by a (friendly!) barking dog. A little further was a fenced campsite/surf camp/collection of chalets. The gate had a shiny padlock and stainless steel chain, and sign saying private, but also was open and had a blank coca-cola blackboard. The sign by the side of the gate labelled the site the Surf Camp, had website addresses and ‘Japanese cuisine’ at the bottom. Naturally we wandered along the entrance track through into the well-kept garden area past the chalets. All was quiet; indeed locked up. We then came to a single storey wooden and thatched structure with a mountain bike outside. There were two people in there, Patrick and Kona. We asked about food, and yes they were open! It was still only late morning, about 1100, so we talked a while (in broken French/English although to be fair Patrick and Kona’s English was pretty good – unlike Paul’s French!). We said we wanted to continue walking and exploring but would be back for lunch.
We walked on along the road until a noticeboard advertised a side road to a car park and observation post. Of more interest to Paul, it also showed a path up the nearby hill that, although only 100m or so high, dominated the skyline and promised some nice views. So observation post first. This was a wooden platform on the coast, perhaps some 10m above sea level. Standing on it offered a great view of the shallow water that formed the coastal fringe. This water, probably less than one metre deep was, of course, over a coral bed and we could clearly see the coral patches amongst the sand as the shallow water extended out nearly one mile to a narrow deeper channel, and then another reef with a tiny islet on it. The channel we came down was on the other side of the islet, some 2 nm away. Well, this is a coral lagoon!
Having taken in the view, we headed back down the steps. We had noticed the land crab holes along the way (indeed, they are prevalent through the pacific islands and New Caledonia is no exception). However, one was different. A brown banded sea snake had come ashore and was sliding into the hole in search of lunch. We watched for a while, staying a good distance away. Unfortunately we could not tell if the hole was occupied, or the outcome of the meeting between snake and occupant (presumably a crab) if it was.
At the base of the hill Helen decided it was too hot to ascend, she therefore headed back to the Japanese camp site/chalet/surf camp. Paul headed up the hill. The noticeboard stated an ascent of 100m over about 500m length, with the round trip taking about 45 minutes. 15 minutes saw Paul at the top (OK, a he was little bit hot!). The views were indeed magnificent and well worth the climb. 20 odd minutes later Paul joined Helen at the camp site/chalet/surf camp. Cold drinks followed (Fanta for Helen local beer for Paul). Patrick and Kona had taken over the camp some 3 years ago, having moved from France. They had 3 boys at the local school in La Foa, some 20km away. That meant two return trips there each day, a hassle but worth it for the lifestyle. Patrick offered us a lift in to do some shopping; however, the car would already have been full with Patrick driving and 3 boys as passengers. We declined. La Foa itself was pretty small but had the essentials of school, medical clinic, fuel and shops. When we asked about the surf Patrick laughed, he did not really surf, they just had not changed the name yet. His plan was to install an overhead pull water ski system on the adjacent saline pond. In the meanwhile the camp was mostly used at the weekends. Of course, it was winter now, so a little quiet. However, summer was also not a busy as we thought. Apparently the area is plagued by mosquitoes and other biting insects; an almost theatrical curse on a beautiful location.
Kona, who was Japanese, cooked the food. Pork and shrimp filled dumplings with ginger and soy sauces for Helen, and pork schnitzel with a teriyaki type sauce for Paul, both accompanied by chips and a salad. The portions were large for lunch and the food was delicious. Like all things New Caledonian it was a little pricey, but well worth it. So we recommend it for those passing by Ouano Beach.
A stroll back to the wharf and then back to Tai Mo Shan. And as the light faded out came the mosquitoes. We set up out net curtains and burned coils but still suffered a few bites. And that was winter. Our thoughts returned back to horror stories of isolated places overrun by night-time horrors, such as mosquitoes!
That was Ouano Beach. The next day we had another 30nm passage to another interesting entrance at Port Bourail.
Picture: Ouano Beach from the hill. The camp, huts and wharf are centre left. The lagoon with anchored/moored boats is in the middle, with the entrance from the left. It was high tide, so lots of water, not much of it deep enough for a yacht.
Heading North – Ile Mattheu– July 2019
12 July 2019 | New Caledonia
Tuesday 9th July saw light winds and sunny weather. A beautiful day, if not really idea for sailing. Still, we had a lazy breakfast and raised anchor at 0950 for the relatively short passage of 25 nm to Ile Mattheu.
The light winds meant we raised the Main, primarily as a steadying sail, and motor sailed along the coast. It was a shame to motor. Well, it is noisy and uses fuel; albeit at a reasonable 3 to 4 litres an hour. Still, at least we charged our batteries and made some water. And, to be honest it was very pleasant just motoring along watching the coast slide by.
It was interesting to see how quickly the urban Noumea became rural with a few houses and then, well, no houses. The geography of New Caledonia is such that pretty soon the coast is only reached by a range of peninsula. And then as we continue along the lagoon, the coast consists of islands separated from the main land. Many of these islands are nature reserves, the rest are barely inhabited.
And so after an uneventful passage we rounded to the lee of Ile Mattheu and were securely anchored at just before 3pm. This allowed plenty of time to get the dinghy in the water and beach comb.
Ile Mattheu is about 1.5nm long and 0.5nm wide. It is separated from the mainland (a peninsula) by shallow passage some 1/3 nm wide. The island is hilly with steep sides, and completely uninhabited. Indeed, it is barely touched by man. The anchorage is a large bay that runs the length of the island and is well sheltered from the trade winds. Most of the island is fronted by a narrow beach of sand/mud with occasional rocks. The beach is backed by steep slopes covered in scrub. On the beach we saw many tracks from a cloven hoof animal, presumably deer. We could hear the animals going through bush, but never saw one. What Helen did find was several beautiful sea shells in great condition, including nautilus and spider type shells; her best beachcombing ever! However, as we anchored we saw what looked like a stick in the water. Oh no, it was Helen’s nightmare, a brown striped sea snake. As a result she carried a stick ashore, just in case!
The hour or so ashore was enough of Ile Mattheu for us, so after a quiet night we weighed anchor and headed to our next northern destination, Ouano.
Picture – Helen beachcombing on Ile Mattheu; complete with stick!
Noumea – July 2019
11 July 2019 | New Caledonia
The start of July saw us not feeling 100%; we suspected we had picked up a virus. The weather had also turned grey, wet and windy and so we remained aboard securely anchored in Baie de L’Orphelinat.
On the first nice day, Thursday 4th July, we decided to seal turning blocks. These blocks hold substantial pulleys which direct the foresail sheets from the edge of the hull back to the winches. The blocks therefore take significant loads. The blocks are made of solid teak and are bolted through the decks. To seal the holes the blocks sit on a bed of sealant. Teak is a really strong solid wood with natural oils that help prevent rotting. However, these oils also mean that over time the sealant peels away from the teak. In addition, the forces on the blocks tend to lift them slightly, which could cause leaks through the deck. We decided to modify the sealing by mounting the blocks on neoprene sealing strips (used for hatches and our lazarette). The neoprene should have more compressibility than the sealant and so provide a more robust seal.
The first problem was that the deck under the blocks was not flat. A bit of sanding followed by a generous application of an epoxy filler and yet more sanding soon cured this problem. Next, we needed to get more neoprene sealing strip from the chandlery. So Paul hopped into the dinghy and headed across the bay to the boatyard. The neoprene was soon acquired; of course, the chat with the store keeper took much longer! Then, just as the dinghy passed the boatyard seawall, the motor stopped. Out of fuel! Ah well, it was a nice day and the dinghy has oars which provide an efficient means of propulsion; time to row. No problem. In fact it was really quite pleasant making good progress with a nice steady stroke across a calm blue bay, bright sun showing Noumea in the best light. And then some 400 m shy of Tai Mo Shan, the plastic rowlock sheared off. Now oars are very efficient when rowed. Sitting in the dinghy trying to use one oar as a paddle is an entirely different kettle of fish. Paul made progress but it was slow and took a lot of effort. Fortunately a fellow sailor, Paul, on an Australian catamaran, Escape, saw Paul paddling, hopped into his dinghy and gave him a tow to Tai Mo Shan. Paul’s shoulders were grateful!
Once aboard the turning blocks were soon refitted, still using plenty of sealant (!).
And then Karma struck. A couple of locals in a small aluminium fishing ‘tinny’ boat had engine trouble. As they struggled to start the motor, they waved to several boats passing them. Not one stopped to help. Eventually the tinny drifted past us on Tai Mo Shan at the edge of the mooring area. They waved to us. Helen passed Paul a length of line and Paul jumped into our dinghy. Of course, we had refueled the motor, but all the water and debris in the bottom of the fuel tank had gone through the fuel system. The motor took a few turns to start. Even then it coughed and spluttered and was not happy. A few anxious minutes passed until the fuel cleared and the motor ran sweetly. Paul then met up with the tinny, and handed the line to the occupants. The line was soon tied off and Paul towed them back to the boat ramp. There the very relieved crew of the tinny were met by their friends. Fast conversations in French seemed to focus on the motor stopping. Sincere thanks were given, and Paul returned to Tai Mo Shan. What goes around comes around!
Almost ready to go; again. Friday we went to the Port Pleasance shopping centre to drop off our laundry and do some grocery shopping. In Fiji they say that a high pressure of 1030 Mbar over New Zealand leads to trouble, that is strong winds, over Fiji. Here we had a high pressure system over Tasmania that showed on the isobaric chart as 1040 Mbar; a really unusually strong system. We noticed the effect as the forecast for Friday afternoon and the weekend stated strong South Easterly winds. And the forecast was right. The wind was strong over the whole of the weekend, with gusts easily exceeding 30 knots. Given this we stayed aboard and did not venture out in the dinghy, not even to pick up our laundry that was ready the Saturday morning.
Fortunately the wind moderated Sunday night, and come Monday we were ready to go ashore and pick up the laundry. However, then another problem struck. Paul had a bloodshot eye. It looked like a burst blood vessel. It did not hurt and he could see well. This was normally not a problem and it soon cleared up on its own. However, this was about the 4th time this had occurred in the same number of weeks. We decided it was worth checking out. So Monday 8th July we called our friend Mireille to find a local doctor. Fortunately there was a surgery close by in the Port Pleasance shopping centre. We therefore went ashore and found the doctors’ surgery (it was actually a collection of several specialists and the general practitioner). We saw the receptionist first. She spoke no English (!) but a helpful elderly gentleman in the surgery agreed to translate. The receptionist said it would be better to see an Optometrist. There was one nearby, across the road. Off we went. The optometrist was very busy. The receptionist there spoke English well and said there were no appointments for a month! However, she would see if there was one that afternoon, and would call us if there was. She also looked at the eye and said it was most likely due to hypertension (high blood pressure). We left it at that, picked up our laundry and returned to Tai Mo Shan.
Once aboard we used our automatic blood pressure monitor to check Paul’s blood pressure. It seemed a little high (in the high 130s). After lunch we had not heard from the optometrist, so we checked Paul’s blood pressure again; about the same. Time for the general practitioner. We arrived and explained what had happened to the receptionist in broken French. She nodded and indicated us to take a seat. Luckily Monday was a walk-in surgery with no need for appointments. There were only 3 people in front of us, so after about an hour we entered the office of Dr Delphine Danner. She listened to us (using Google translate on the computer liberally), and then gave Paul a good check-up. This included a resting blood pressure check. And by resting she meant resting! 2 minutes lying down with no talking. This showed Paul’s blood pressure at 125/80, a little high but not too bad. She checked his eye sight, and confirmed all was OK. So, the outcome. Well the eye was probably due to slightly elevated blood pressure. It was not an emergency, and would resolve in a few days. If Paul experienced any vision difficulties (black spots, tunnel vision, blurred or waving vision) then he was to return to her and she would refer him to an optometrist friend of hers. All good. Then the kicker; reduce salt in the diet (salt raises blood pressure)! Ugh chips with no salt, a disaster. Still, it would be done.
So, Tuesday 9 July we could (finally) escape Noumea and head north!
Photo: Grey, wet and windy in Noumea.
South and Back in the Wet – June 2019
05 July 2019 | New Caledonia
We left Noumea on Tuesday 25 June for Baie Ouie on a grey day. After weighing anchor we motored the short trip to the fuel dock at Port Moselle Marina. With no other boats around, coming alongside was easy, and we had soon topped up with both diesel for the main engine and petrol for the outboard. This useful facility also provides LPG bottle refills and a small laundry service. Come 0930 we had headed out between the headlands and navigation posts and turned south.
There was only a light wind from the East, but we could just about sail. However as we turned the corner around the reef and headed East the wind became too fine on the bow and we are forced to motor sail with our Main up. Coming around we reef at Ile aux Canards we noticed the water became unsettled with a nasty short sharp chop. Whilst this was only perhaps 0.5m high it did cause some motion in the boat and noticeably slow progress. The sea here is constrained by Ilot Maitre and the Ile aux Canards, forcing any tidal flow from Noumea to go through a gap about ½ nm wide. However, the tide was slight and so unlikely to cause this chop. We remembered that we had encountered similar rougher seas around the ends of other reefs in Fiji.
The passage to Baie Ouie was otherwise uneventful. Motor-sailing we are able to maintain steady progress and were anchored in the sheltered end of the bay at 1320. We had lunch and went ashore.
We had hoped to be able to meet our friend Claude. However, as we approached his gardens and houses all was quiet. There was a white Land Rover Defender parked near the house so we called Claude’s name repeatedly as we wandered around the garden. With no reply we explored along the beach to the stream to the south. It was about mid tide and the stream was shallow but certainly not dry, and the extensive mud banks did not look inviting so we did not cross. Returning to Claude’s house we sat and waited. It was very peaceful with several birds slowly advancing to peck cautiously at the bread Claude had put on his front garden. After a while we thought we could hear snoring and concluded that Claude was having a siesta. We decided to leave him in peace and returned to Tai Mo Shan.
The next day, Wednesday, was also grey with low clouds and the real threat of rain. We went ashore again, but the vehicle had gone. We telephoned Claude and he explained that the wet weather had meant he could not work on the house or garden, and so he had returned to Noumea. It was a shame he had missed us. However, he would return after the rain, probably the next week and would call us. We returned to Tai Mo Shan as the threat of rain turned into a light shower, and then a more steady drizzle.
The weather broke that afternoon with a steady rain from a grey sky of low clouds that lasted almost continuously until Friday afternoon. The good news was that this was ‘useful rain’. It washed our decks and then allowed us to fill our water tanks. The forecast mentioned strong winds but, sheltered at the end of the bay by the high hills, we only experienced light breezes. We had noticed one small stream to the north of us. Normally it was a trickle of water from the nearby hills running down the natural bowl in a steep cascade. However, with the volume of rain it was now a raging torrent, and we could clearly hear standing on deck a few hundred metres away. It was no wonder the thin soil was washed away leaving the bare rocks of the cascade.
The forecast was for the wind to swing around to the South West, and perhaps even the West, over Saturday and the weekend. It would strengthen and then drop to a gentle breeze late Sunday. Baie Ouie offers excellent shelter for most directions, apart from the West. We therefore decided to leave on Saturday and head to Ile Uere. The morning was again grey with low clouds skimming around the tops of the hills. We weighed anchor at 0900 and were soon heading out of the bay. At the entrance we found out just how much effect the hills had on the wind. The sheltered waters of the bay gave way to a very confused sea surface as the wind swirled and dipped around the end of the hills. We noted wind shifts of 180 degrees and wind speeds of 5 to 20 knots. This did not make for easy sailing (!), but only lasted about ½ nm. In clear water we had the wind on a nice broad reach. This normally made for easy fast sailing. However, the weather consisted of a constant series of small showers from low clouds. As the cloud approached we often had sunny spells, but also light winds of say 10 knots. These winds increased until the cloud passed overhead, often with light rain and winds of 20 knots plus with even higher gusts. Our boat speed reflected the wind, ranging from a sedate 4.5 knots to over 8 knots. Still it made for good progress overall.
Approaching Ile Uere we had to turn north and then north west to go around an area of reef and the island itself. This allowed us to easily reef the foresail by allowing the Main sail to cover it as we turned down wind. We then gybde the Main (turned the boat so the stern pointed into wind). This is usually a simple manoeuvre involving hauling in the Main sheet to avoid the Main sail snapping around with force and so doing damage. This time we were a little slow and so the boom swung through a total of about 20 degrees and we gybed with some force. A quick glance at the boom showed no damage there (in all honestly none was expected). However, when we looked at the sail it had ripped at the foot! We were now heading downwind and close to the anchorage, so we started the motor to relieve the pressure on the sail and, soon after, at the entrance to the anchorage turned into wind to furl the damaged sail. Fortunately the sail furled with no problems.
The anchorage already had half a dozen boats in it. However, it is big enough to accommodate many more boats. Even better, the boats there were clustered at the Southern end of the horseshoe-shaped bay. The wind was due to swing to the West so we were able to easily anchor on the more sheltered Western side of the bay. We were anchored by midday, having averaged well over 6 knots on the way down.
As the day progressed more boats came into the anchorage. We counted 5 catamarans from the same boat hire company; clearly they had been told where the best anchorage was!
The anchorage proved very sheltered with the strong westerly wind passing straight over us. Indeed, come the Sunday morning we were sheltered enough to be able to pull the Main sail out on the deck. The rip was about 1.5m long, starting at the (reinforced) leech and clearly beyond out capacity to repair. We therefore removed the battens and bagged the sail. We went on line and found the telephone number of a sail maker in Noumea. We called, mainly to leave a message to give advance notice. As it was the sailmaker answered! He could not speak English, and our French is, well limited, and the phone does not allow for the usual arm waving. Nevertheless, we explained our situation, found out where the sail loft was, when it opened, and agreed to bring in the sail when the loft opened at 0900 on Monday. With this in mind that afternoon we made the short hop from Ile Uere to Baie De L’Orphelinat under motor with some assistance from the Yankee sail.
Monday morning saw us in the dinghy with the sail heading to the boat yard in Noumea. As we approached we are advised to slow down by a man in a dinghy; a yacht on the water was having its mast restepped and they were keen to avoid wake. Fair enough, and so we slowly made out way to the dinghy dock. We saw a wheelbarrow in the boatyard and by broken French and signs got approval from the travel lift operator to borrow it. This made moving the sail much easier. The sail loft, Rod Sails, was towards the south end of industrial buildings fronting the yard. We soon arrived outside and headed in. Rod, the sail maker was not in, but we explained that we had called the day before and left our details. Rod would look at the sail and call us with an estimate.
The day ended with a visit to our friend Mireille for a chat over a bottle of wine.
Early on Tuesday we called Rod the sailmaker. He had emailed us a quote – 35,000 pacific francs (about 500 NZ Dollars) for the repair. This was a reasonable price and so we sail go ahead. Rod said he would get onto it immediately, and that we could pick the sail up tomorrow.
That afternoon the weather was still with a mostly sunny sky. Paul decided to have an extended explore of Noumea. Knowing that Paul would walk for literally miles Helen passed on the opportunity and remained on board. Pauls tour took him from Baie de L’Orphelinat through the Latin Quarter, the old town, past the church and up to the old cinema perched on a hilltop which offered some nice views. This cinema has been derelict for some time. It was derelict on our visit last year, the only change being a partial fence and sign preventing access for ‘your own safety’. The effect was somewhat spoiled by a group of youths playing football in the empty car park on the other side of the fence! From the cinema it was clear that some radio aerials were on top of a higher hill nearby would offer even better views, so Paul walked there. And then around to another hill. Along the way was the church of Notre Dame Du Pacifique complete with large statue of Santa Maria on the roof looking down on all of Noumea. Back down and through town and Paul’s walk of some 12 km was complete. Helen was quite satisfied she had remained on board.
Wednesday and we were at Rod’s loft soon after 0900. Sure enough the sail was ready. With some difficulty Rod explained what he had done. He could not say why the sail had failed but, given the overall good condition of the sail, suspected there was a defect, perhaps a small cut, on the leech. This weak spot had then led to the rip due to the forces on the sail during the gybe.
We soon had the sail back on board Tai Mo Shan and taking advantage of the light winds, had it back on the boom, a test raise (all seemed well) and refurl. We then visited the local supermarket to restock before heading north on our next sail. The afternoon ended with Paul practising his guitar and then, to really annoy the neighbours, cooking a good meat fest on the barbeque. (Yes, the smoke drifting downwind smelled delicious!).
Picture – a little streamlet changed into a raging torrent, which we could hear from the boat!
Noumea again – June 2019
26 June 2019 | New Caledonia
We returned back to Noumea on Friday 21 June 2019. With perfect timing, a music festival was being held in Noumea that night. Unfortunately by the time we had arrived and sorted ourselves out it was getting late and the music all appeared to stop at 9pm. Until then we could hear an interesting mix of local beat (Kanak style), rock, and pop. Looking at the programme the various genres (including classical) were performing at about the same time in town centre venues. Away from the town we could hear the resultant mix, which was … interesting!
We anchored in our ‘usual’ spot in Baie de Orphelinat amongst the other half dozen or so anchored yachts, on the edge of the moorings. This is a reasonably sheltered spot with good holding in 8 to 10m of water. Unfortunately there is some roll due to boat wash. Some of this is due to large craft not slowing as they enter the harbour, or more common, smaller craft going too fast too close. This was annoying as the skippers should show more consideration, but we could live with it.
Our time in Noumea was essentially spent restocking the boat. There is easy access to shore in the South East corner of bay where there is a public boat ramp. This makes it easy to pull up dinghy and secure it to nearby trees or railings. As a bonus there is also a large bin for public rubbish disposal.
We used the supermarket at Port Pleasance, which goes under the unlikely brand of ‘Casino’. It is quite close to the dinghy landing, clean, well it, air-conditioned, and amply stocked. The prices are pretty much Noumea standard; in fact they possibly even a little cheaper than the main Noumea market and specialist shops. The prices are, of course, high compared to Australia and NZ as so much has to be imported. We also noticed that food is of high quality, so the old adage of you get what you pay for applies.
We had noticed that alcohol is not sold from Friday lunchtime. OK, that generated a trip on Monday to restock. Of course, the majority of wine on sale is of French origin. This generates a minor problem for us. We are used to the NZ (and Australian) way of describing wines by the grapes used in the wine; hence, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc etc. However, the French describe the wine by region; Bordeaux, Bergerac etc. Oh well, we look at it as a chance to try out new wines, and so bought a selection!
The Port Pleasance collection of shops also had a serviced laundry. This allowed us to off-load our washing and pick it up clean, dry and folded the next day. The prices were not too bad, pretty much equivalent to the NZ cost of a serviced wash. And, as the laundry is right next to the supermarket, it is really convenient.
The weather was generally grey with occasional showers. Fortunately we did have one period of ‘useful’ rain. We say useful as, whilst the showers wet the deck they did not really clean it, by contrast the rain not only cleaned the deck but also allowed us to collect a useful amount of good fresh water. Great!
We did meet a very interesting French lady. Mireille saw us buying an Anglais dictionary at the local book shop. We bought it as it has the English/French translations, but, Mireille thought we needed it for the English. We talked outside the ship for a few minutes, and then Mireille invited us to her apartment for a cup of tea. Of course we accepted the invitation. Mireille’s apartment was very close by. To say the least it was a very nice apartment. 4th floor, 250m2, a large wrap around balcony, and a really impressive view right over the associated (private) marina and the bay. We could clearly see Tai Mo Shan at the end of the bay. Mireille is a retired teacher and she was keen to practice her English on us. As she said, everyone in New Caledonia speaks French. Her husband is a, now retired, pilot who used to fly for Air New Caledonie. They had a house in France, and that was where her husband spent some 6 months of the year. He also flew with a French flying club as an instructor. Indeed, it sounded like he ran the club. Mireille joined him for 3 to 4 months of the year. We had an interesting afternoon talking about life on the yacht, in New Caledonia and such like. As we left we exchanged details and agreed to meet again.
Picture – There are quite a few boats moored in Baie de Orphelinat. The view from the slipway. Tai Mo Shan is somewhere at the seaward end of the forest of masts. There are also sizeable marinas either side of the bay!