24 Oct The beautiful Isles of New Caledonia
We had a spirited 37 hours in the Coral sea, sailing from Port Vila, Vanuatu to Drueulu, Lifou, New Caledonia. We departed at 0430 on Saturday, September 28 and once there was no longer protection from land the wind picked up to 19 knots and we came upon boisterous 2-3 meter (6-9 foot) seas with occasional deep rolls (Ugg, not fun). The sea state created additional havoc on Maia and by 0730 we had slowed twice by heaving to. The first time Dick re-capped one of the diesel jugs, the second time we rescued the kayak, that had slipped or had been pulled out of the kayak rack (bars holding it to the rail) by the annoying swell. We also raised the staysail, which was a good move and allowed us to sail more comfortably with the dynamic sea.
The wind and sea quieted themselves along our passage, by Sunday morning it was beautiful sailing weather and we had unfurled the genoa and were sailing at a respectable 5-7 knots. At 1230 we were sailing along the island of Lifou, and excited to get to the anchorage. It seemed we just had a little further to go… we thought just a bit east and then a quick sail across Santal Bay. Finally, at 1720 anchor was down and we were thrilled. We joined the 20 some boats that were anchored with the Loyalty Islands Rally. We realized we were the second to last boat to arrive as there was talk on the radio that Crazy Love with Connor aboard was due to be arriving the next morning, hopefully in time for check-in to New Caledonia!
We had a sizeable dinner trying to consume our fresh food that we expected Biosecurity to remove when they arrived in the morning. (They confiscated our lettuce, bananas, and cabbage.) Down Under Rally director, John, dropped off our New Caledonia entrance paperwork first thing on Monday. By 0915 Dick was picked up and taken to “Songlines” (the catamaran that housed Rally headquarters) where Customs and Immigration were professional, quick and efficient in processing Maia along with the 20 other boats. At 0945 Conner arrived, just in time for the check-in. We set up the dingy and by noon putted over to visit Crazy Love and pick up our stash of chips he brought us from Fiji. (Corn chips were pretty much non-existent in Vanuatu, Laura’s comfort food of choice.)
We enjoyed our 3 plus weeks exploring New Caledonia. The highlight was Ile de Pins! We anchored in Baie de Kuto, for 4 nights. It was a beautiful large tropical bay with a large crescent sandy beach, rocky shoreline with large trees overlooking the shore. From our October 18 logbook entry, “Loving it here in New Cal! Have been finding the locals (Kanaks) to be welcoming.”
French is the main language spoken, with little to no French in our vocabulary, we found conversing with the locals difficult. However, our first day at the local market, Max came to talk to us (after he had taken his two large bags of rice to his vehicle). He was very friendly and spoke great English and explained that he had spent time in Oz (Australia) along with other English-speaking countries. He also told us that the big bags of rice were for a “camp” they were holding while the children were out of school. They taught lessons in the morning and then went out in the afternoon to experience those lessons. He also recommended that we only anchor at night in Baie de Kuto, but it was ok to day anchor at other locations. We had been told that there had been some trouble between the locals and tourists in this area.
While in Ile de Pins we decided to rent a vehicle. Connor joined us for a wonderful day tour around the Island of Pines. We picked up our car at 0800 from Nataiwatch and sped off to the Wednesday local market and scored fresh fruit and vegetables. We’d heard not so good things about the market, but it was perfect for us. We got bananas, papaya, lettuce, baby tomatoes and a large bunch of spinach. Dick and Connor also picked up a fresh sweet bakery treat. Next a quick stop at the ATM located just across from the market. Then we were off to explore. A quick stop at the statue of St. Maurice which was surrounded by some lovely pole carvings. We toured past a couple of beaches and then made our way to the highlight of the day, the Natural Pools. After parking the car, we meandered through shallow streams and towering pines, which open into a beautiful turquoise lagoon. We were pleasantly surprised with snorkeling as we found an amazing array of fishes, beautiful clams, colorful coral, and we even saw a sea snake hiding in the crevasse of a rock! Connor tempted us to swim on the outside, so we jumped into the pulsing ocean and enjoyed a quick swim exploring the deep waters with large craters below.
By Saturday, October 19 we were attached to the dock at Nomea Marina in Port Moselle Harbor. This was where we would spend our final five days in New Caledonia. As always when we reach a new city, we enjoyed exploring the area. Wandering around we found a lovely monument “to Honor the US Forces who by their presence from March 1942 to February 1946 during the Pacific War, insured the freedom of New Caledonia”. It has been interesting for me to begin to understand the power of the United States through the history we have seen, which has played a part of keeping the countries of the Pacific free. We took the local bus and enjoyed a visit to the Aquarium del Lagons Nouvelle Caledonie. It was a fun learning experience as they had pictures of the fishes we had seen while snorkeling throughout the islands. It was serene seeing closeup the large exquisite turtles swimming in the outdoor pond, but there was also a woeful feeling.
We decided to use Noumea Yacht Services to check out of New Caledonia. The office is on the Quay near the marina. The agent, Audrey, drove us to customs. We walked into a non-descript building, up the stairs and the women behind the counter looked at our passports, then at us (making sure we were who we claimed to be 🙂 then stamped the passports. Our agent took the rest of the paperwork and we arranged a 1400 meeting at her office. We enjoyed a nice cuppa nearby, completed our provisioning and made our way back to Maia. The next day, Thursday, October 24 at 1125 we were leaving the fuel dock and motoring out of Port Moselle Harbour. We were on our way to Australia!!!!