Monday, August 15, 2016

Noumea to Lifou (Loyalty Islands)

2/8/2016 – 9/8/2016

(Blog readers please note - by left clicking on  photos you will see them full size and a photo gallery below. The same applies for previous blog posts..see blog archives below.)

What did Lennon have to say about life being what happens to you whilst you make plans for other things? Was it not the original doyen of travellers, Marco Polo who in the 1200’s, before Lonely Planet, went with his uncle Matteo to Constantinople, to satisfy a curiosity about where spices and silk came from and ended up in the court of the Great Khan in China, long before the great celestial kingdom appeared on the first maps? Back in Port Moselle, as we made plans to make for a side excursion to the Bay of Pines, our program was due to be adjusted, as much as anything by the controller of all sea voyaging, the weather.

Chinatown area of Noumea

We have grown very fond of our Port Moselle life, apart from the ongoing flimsiness of our AUD, the Pacific Peso. For all of our supposed wealth and modernity, our dollar would not light a cigar, and the New Zealanders here – there can’t be too many back in the land of that long white cloud – are chuffed that with three mountains, a flock of sheep and a herd of cows, the $NZD is real money that you can exchange for real things, like provisions and French wine, here in the market and in retail Noumea, not that the New Zealanders take any delight in outscoring us Aussies!

Marcel's Yacht Diddy's

At times our world is the size of an acorn, as we found when we spotted Marcel off Diddys, back in Scarborough, which in reality was only a month, but seems an eternity away. We were delighted to meet Maggie, a long- time friend of Marcel’s, who took the opportunity to come over for a visit; and her arrival coincided with yet another fine night of local music, just a stroll away in the marina bistro. There were mundane things to do in port such as converting our antipodean ship into a Chinese laundry, seeking sundry items to re-stock our lockers, sourcing comestibles, condiments and local delights at the marina-side markets, meeting and re meeting fellow cruisers, and keeping an eye out for anything of interest going on in town.

Plenty of fresh fruit, vegies & pickles
Noumea Laundry Service

Our only real frustration, one that irked Cookie to an understandable degree was the production and despatch of our last blog. Behind the scenes, with Cookie’s extraordinary diary at my sleeve, I amuse myself with nouns and adjectives, and when “the writing” is complete Cookie takes over, marrying her compendium of photos to the text, selecting pictures, “downsizing” them with commendable skill and inserting them in the finished product.  The worm in this apple is that this editing and publishing process must be done on line and whereas in Australia, with internet at hand this is a fine and creative activity that often takes place on a ship-board evening, here wi-fi is the access to the web and it is notoriously fractious. Wracked by frustration at a flickering technology, Cookie ultimately gave up trying to achieve an end product, either on board or in the marina lounge and resorted to getting the job done, perched on the ship’s folding stool directly under the wi-fi node at the end of our arm.  

The Blog office!

 Jerry, and his cruising “backpacker” companion Christina, on his delightful wooden 28 footer drew our particular interest. Jerry is an ex US Navy guy who has been seeking sunsets in tropical places for the last eighteen years.  No problems there, we would have to say, but the fact that he voyages without a fridge, and does all his primary navigation by sextant and chart – yes he does occasionally GPS check his calculations – flying in the face of the gadgetry of today’s cruising life at sea. Christina, of a Vietnamese / US background, is a new type of backpacker, a competent sailor who voyages around the world with good people looking for good crew. We don’t often meet interesting and engaging people like these at Wirrina. We do here and we have found, this to be an unplanned and ongoing bonus of our life in the “visitors” section at Port Moselle. The people who you meet are the” cherry on top” of the places that you see.
Port Sud shortage of boats!

Besides people, at Port Moselle, there are the boats. This is an enclave for world cruisers and the “boat candy” here on display is an ever-changing delight. Take the just –arrived youngish couple from New York on the extraordinarily beautiful Cabo Rico 38, who tell us, in the midst of a sentence, that they have been cruising for nine years !.. As one does! Then, the throaty and mournful note of a ship’s horn heralds the arrival of P&O behemoth, Pacific Dawn, again tying up to tower over the city, with its elegant lines and its off-pouring inhabitants. For us the 10 minute stroll to the wharves at 9pm provided a must-do opportunity, to be dockside to see the great ship depart, lit up like the Royal Show, but afloat. Again we marvelled at being able to be right there, amongst the hawsers and mooring lines, and not being kept a suburb away as would be the case back home. So many of these things were invaluable add-ons to our life in Noumea, but we were mindful that they were not the main event.

With Calista brimming with victuals, fuel and water, we put to sea, with a plan to make the use of some softer and then non-SE weather to make a push for the Isle of Pines. A NZ couple and their young family had just returned from Ile des Pins, to report an extraordinary event on their way back to Noumea, alongside the annoyance of some nagging engine problems. Their boat became “adopted” by a pair of enormous Humpback whales who ignored all the protocols of separation in the “rules about approaching whales” in the great lagoon and NC waters. They refused to keep 100m away and insisted on swimming right alongside the family on their yacht, who kept a steady course and were thrilled beyond description once they realised that these great creatures, who occasionally came up for a good look at the awe-struck humans, presented no harm either intended or otherwise and “held station” right alongside the yacht for more than an hour. Jodie, the mum on board, still struggled to find the words to describe this Attenborough-like encounter! She did add that her kids were allowed up on deck away from a daily regime of studies recommended by their NZ school to take in this experience of a hundred lifetimes!! Maybe they could share this with their Maths teacher when they get home.

Making our way south from Noumea we had hoped to make as far south as we could before the afternoon trades kicked in but we were too late to avoid them and we quickly resolved to seek easy shelter in a familiar spot, Ile Uere, just out of town. Cookie rarely errs, but this time, looking at the saline spattered decks and coach house, courtesy of the stiff sou-easter we had recently endured, and comparing this with our pristine appearance as we left Port Moselle, she offered a brief quip that “we need a shower of rain to wash our ship!” I would remind her of this request in the days that followed.

With us settled in at Ile Uere a little earlier than planned, the admiralty announced, to rapturous acclaim, that Cookie’s Patisserie was about to re-open for business, this time with the constructed objective being a batch of Blueberry Muffins. An excruciating interregnum ensured in the confines below, with the wafting aromas of these baked delights seeing herself finally issuing a clipped edict that I was to remove myself from the galley!!. I go on the public record in saying this cruel period of delayed gratification was finally worth it, for it was followed by a sumptuous sampling of the finished product. 10 out of 10, was my score.

The break of day saw us hoisting anchor, and as Noumea fell astern, we made our way, under leaden skies for Canal Woodin, the deep and fjord-like pass that provides a passage for ships both big and small in the far south of Grand Terre, New Caledonia’s “big island”. The south of Grand Terre is a lusher and better watered area than further north and tangles of vegetation rise to the lofty summits of commanding uplands. Canal Woodin, lying between Ile Ouen and the “mainland” is well marked, but for “first – timers” like us it requires attention to waypoints, although we found our way through it easily with the assistance of a tide that was now on the ebb. Beyond the Canal the broad entrance to the popular Baie de Prony opens up to port whilst those making for Ile des Pins bear away to starboard, and those continuing on meet the challenging Havanah Passage, which sees vessels exit the great lagoon, and either head for New Caledonia’s East coast, for the Loyalty Islands about a day’s sail away to the North, or to Vanuatu’s string of islands, a day or two beyond.

Approaching Canal Woodin and the rain!

Baie du Prony is far more extensive than we ever thought it would be, with a number of wooded fingers leading to a raft of potential anchorages, linking with walking trails, waterfalls, hot springs, whale watching vantage points and even a spa for visitors. A popular anchorage is found off the Baie’s Bonnie Anse, where in the bay named Anse Majic, the popularity of the walk from here up to the Cape N’doua Lighthouse has led to parks authorities putting in five courtesy moorings, to make berthing easier and to protect the fragile corals that line the bay. Not far at the town of Prony itself a five day walking trail in the great south caters for footed adventurers, and in the middle of it all big ships can be seen making for a nickel ore loading facility which commands a commercial presence in the next arm of the Baie du Prony, north from Bonnie Anse. All about the scars of either erosion, or more likely mineral exploration, besmirch the forest and the hillsides, leaving the appearance a compromised one, like a pretty girl whose face has suffered the ravages of smallpox.

Scarred hillsides in Bonnie Anse

View across Bonnie Anse from Anse Majic anchorage
With a mind to stop over in Baie du Prony before heading for the Isle of Pines, we made for Bonnie Anse, intending to fit in a forest walk to the lighthouse, to see how some potentially changeable weather developed and to set our compass for the Isle of Pines. Normally we are cruising souls who prefer anchoring – “real cruising” – to moorings, but the anchorages in the Baie du Prony have come with a reputation of ochre-like red muds that when hauled on board via an anchor chain can be stubbornly difficult to remove. Our soft solution to this was to pick up a mooring, given the brief nature of our stay, and to plan things from there. Having developed a raft of questions about the waters leading to the Bay of Pines, and the passages leading from it, we called Richard, the author of Noumea’s Cruising Guide, who was more than happy to assist. We had some misgivings about heading to the Isle of Pines on the changeable weather on the way and Richard confirmed our inklings. Heading for the Isle of Pines, some 35 miles away was not recommended for the next couple of days, so we settled on going ashore, walking to the lighthouse and taking things from there. The Ile des Pins was now looking far more than 30 odd miles away, just as Cookie’s request for some rain to launder our decks was delivered; in spades. For the better part of a full day it pattered down and all shore-related activities were suspended as we put down the “clears” in our cockpit shelter and peered out from below.

Sunset colours

In spite of a forest still dripping, next day we took advantage of clearer skies and went ashore. The track up to the lighthouse was slippery under foot and we made our way up the clay-brick roadway with commensurate caution. Atop the hill and next to the light, we met two enthusiastic young ladies, complete with clipboards, mobile phones and walkie-talkies; keeping station as volunteer whale watchers. Sadly, they were scanning the waters out to Havannah Passage, for cetaceans that were refusing to appear. For us though the view from the top was 360 degrees and spectacular, although a misty air to the south-east kept Ile des Pines just beyond our gaze. Just down from the summit a young guy, a colleague of the girls up by the light, had set up his observation post in a facility that provided two sets of fine telescope-binoculars, and lots of information about migrating Humpbacks, all in French. The young man’s English was good and we fell into a conversation about the area, the Isle of Pines and the feted Loyalty Islands, over the horizon beyond Havannah Pass. We talked about the wonders of the Loyalties, which he underlined, and the difficulties faced by cruising yacht folk such as ourselves who, if we intended to ultimately make for Vanuatu, and to see the Loyalties as well, we needed to undertake a difficult return from the Loyalties, all the way back to Noumea, just to “clear customs”, only to repeat the journey back to and past the Loyalties all over again bound for Vanuatu. Doing this was already looming as a logistical and passage making nightmare and the young man suggested that we consider either flying or ferrying one of us back from the Loyalties to Noumea to complete these formalities. In this way a seed was sewn that led to adjusting our existing target of the Isle of Pines for a richer destination, the island of Lifou in the Loyalty Islands; if only we could solve the problem of the “clearance”, back in Noumea. We had an idea about who could help, but needed to make a phone call to clarify our options and to do this we needed to complete out lighthouse walk and get back to Calista.

The muddy shoreline made landing interesting!
A very eroded approach to the lighthouse
Misty vista of Baie de Prony & beyond
Havannah Pass

Sometimes events conspire against good intentions and we were about to experience some challenges that we did not foresee. Half way down the forest trail on a steep and gravelley pinch my right leg shot from under me and in the sudden wrench, my back was suddenly and significantly hurt and I doubled up in agony. I had been nursing my lumbar region ever since some over-extension back on that horror night in Coffs Harbor, and in Noumea with a couple of long swims under my belt in Baie de Citron I thought my recovery was nigh on complete. Now, ginger and hobbled I had to get back to the boat, get on board and do whatever I could to regain some functionality. We decided that medication, massage and some time in Calista’s rest bay would be the way to go.

To tackle the Loyalty Islands issue Cookie resolved to ring Chloe Morin, of Noumea Yacht Services, a young lady well known for her assisting of yachties, who we had been in e-contact with from back in Australia, who had arranged for us to get the Cruising Guides and who had helped us get some Vanuatu currency via her bank in Noumea after they informed us that confirmed that converting $AUD to Vanuatu Vatu could only be done via someone with a local account. Chloe is great and it was her who observed that “gee you don’t get much for your Aussie Dollars!” Indeed. Picture Cookie in our cockpit, about to call Chloe, only to be informed, in French, that “you are out of credit, and you will need to recharge your account” - or words to that effect. If at home getting help from Telstra will deliver an afternoon of frustration, then trying to get help here in Anse Majic was likely to be impossible, unless you are as flinty and as determined as she is. Finally we remembered a 14 figure code printed on a small wallet-tab that had our original sim card attached, that had been put away in a very safe place and once unearthed, we were again connected to the world.

Again Chloe was a saviour, and suggested that for a set fee we could send our passports to her on a designated flight from the Loyalties, she would process our departure documents, return-send our passports and when we had supped to our measure on the Loyalties, and a “weather window” was in the offing, maybe for Port Vila in Vanuatu, following a call to her, she would lodge our papers and we were on our way. Again Chloe sized up our communications restrictions and said “if you need some help, call me, anytime, hang up and I’ll call you straight back to preserve your credit [and sanity]”. Her final piece of advice was spot on, “just get on with enjoying the Loyalties and your holiday”. Indeed, again, and with this plan in place we figured that we had saved a goodly chunk of time and sea miles, and for the cost, it was likely to be really worth it. Viva la Chloe!

Back in Anse Majic with strong winds now having set in we decided to declare some recovery time for me, for a day or two before taking a look at some better weather that was forming in a couple of days. Now, on the mooring next to us, a NZ based couple, Paul and Juane, on Bumpy Dog, who had been alongside us back in Port Moselle, arrived with similar Loyalty Isle intentions to our own. It was nice to see them again and whilst we might not share the same patch of sea to Lifou, we planned to connect in a SE – friendly anchorage when we got there and raise a joint glass to a remote tropical place. After two days of triple intervention my skeletal graph was climbing, and with another night of rest I envisaged a return to normal nimblicity (verb – status of being nimble).

A not so secure mooring!

It was about 0530 in the early shades of dawn and in deep slumber when...BANG, BANG!!! Cookie, in two cat-like leaps was in the cockpit yelling, “(GOSH!!) we’re AGROUND!...(GOSH!!) we’ve broken our mooring!!!” it took no time to confirm all of the above, and we rushed to see what we needed to do to re-float our ship. The cruising information for Anse Majic pointed to coral formations along the shore – hence the moorings to protect them – and the bumps heard and felt below were clearly boat on coral, just the thing we wanted to avoid. Luckily, although the wind was supposed to be blowing with strength, it was lighter in the heavy hours of dawn, but still we were stranded, on a lee-shore, with a tide about to fall. We just HAD to get off to deeper water, NOW! A check over our stern showed some hope of clear water, so we put the wheel in starboard lock, started the motor, slid off the bottom and eased our way off the headland and out into the bay, discarding the mooring buoy and its fractured ground tackle as we went. WHEW! Anything could have happened as a result of grounding like that! So much for picking up a “Parks Mooring”, for safety in a blow!

Could it be a good luck omen!?

With us safely afloat we scurried for the Cruising Guide, to see where we would be best placed to re-anchor to inspect our “bottom”. The options were not obvious, so we puttered over to Bumpy Dog, to let them know what had happened, so that they would not be puzzled by our sudden disappearance. Paul’s sensible suggestion was that we raft up alongside them, come on board for a stabilising coffee, and assess things from there. None of us could fathom how we missed Bumpy Dog, and a blue local cruiser on our pilotless drift across Anse Majic to the eastern headland. Strong coffee is a commendable cure-all, as is the support given by fellow cruisers, but better still was the sound of a motor nearby indicating a mooring that was now becoming “free”, allowing us the chance to reposition and assess, not to re-locate as we thought would be required. Then, re-tethered nearby, a French local with dive gear on an adjoining yacht came over, offered to dive on our hull, check our ‘new’ mooring, and retrieve the broken mooring gear from across the bay. He was at a loss to know why the mooring failed, and he often used the moorings in Anse Majic. In the interim, I donned my snorkelling gear to make a preliminary check of our undersides, which showed that, apart from some superficial scratches on the port-side of our keel, we had suffered no mortal or debilitating wounds. We had been lucky!!

Rounding Phare de Bonne Anse
Past  Cape Ndoua  and the lighthouse we'd walked to

Now, afloat, and hopefully secure, we planned our passage to Lifou in les Iles Loyaute, the Loyalty Islands. Heading there from Baie du Prony required close attention to both wind and tide, and in particular the tidal patterns in Canal de la Havannan, the Havannah Pass, which has to be negotiated before reaching clear water on the way to the Loyalties. Opting to leave one more day for the winds to settle, we slipped out of Baie de la Incidente – Anse Majic is correct, but Bay of Incidents would be more correct for us – making for the Phare de Bonne Anse light tower that guards the entrance to Havannah Pass from Baie du Prony and directs vessels away from the fringing reef that lurks below the surface. Passing Cape Ndoua, and following the “leads” through the passage, we hoped that we would reach the eastern end of the pass, abeam of the 85foot tower light of Phare de Goro at full tide and slack water. There is an “overflow” effect of tides here, with tides running in and out for over an hour beyond the technical high and low, as the southern lagoon empties and refills. As we passed the Goro Light tower we were pleased to have gotten our calculations right and to avoid the awful wind against tide conditions that have made life difficult for many mariners over time, and caused others to end up on surrounding reefs. We were pleased to see Havannah Pass astern of us and in making our way across the submerged Banc du Coetogoa, set a course for our overnight passage to Lifou.

Sunset over east coast of New Caledonia

Sou-Easters! The devil wind! After muttering many things about the devil wind over time, we now wanted one to fill our sails at an agreeable angle, but now, clearing Grand Terre, the wind, although fine in strength held stubbornly close to the south. This saw us taking a frustratingly awry course to the north-west, nearly parallel to the big island, before we might alter to starboard and make a direct line for Lifou. The wind astern is a difficult point of sail and the following sea that it creates makes our self-steering mechanisms recoil in horror. We were left hand steering to cover the miles in the knowledge that dawn would see us nearing Lifou the middle of the Loyalty Islands.

With us both bleary-eyed and the light of dawn sketching an outline of Lifou, a ‘target” came up on our AIS, indicating a ship approaching from our stern quarter. We considered ourselves out of the “normal” shipping lanes and thought that the approaching vessel might be a liner, headed, like us for Baie de Santal, the sheltered bay to the west of Lifou, that is accessed by rounding Cap Lefevre, that was now outlined for us off our starboard bow. A check of the AIS target showed the ship to be Pacific Dawn closing on us rapidly, and whose presence was soon obvious due to the blob of light on the horizon. With our little ship and the very big ship both making for Cap Lefevre, our paths were likely to intersect, so, following the size rule – size rules! – we called Pacific Dawn on VHF, to offer to hold a line to port to allow the liner to pass between ourselves and Cap Lefevre on our starboard side. The Officer on Watch on Pacific Dawn appreciated our call, because, whilst we had come up on their AIS as a vessel nearby, and on a common course, they could not be sure that, in spite of their obvious size, we had actually seen them, and getting closer.

"Dawn" on approach to Lifou
Cape Lefevre
In the end both ships cleared Cape Lefevre in style, the big ship heading for the town of Chepenehe in the far north-east of Baie de Santal, whilst we appreciated the calm waters of the bay, where via the ship’s glasses, off the village of Drueulu, white sands and swaying palms called us enticingly, like the scent of sandalwood. With our anchor chain rattling out into water that was blue and impossibly clear, we had arrived at the Loyalties….but yes, there was more. According to the chart we were now geographically, undeniably and officially in THE PACIFIC!!
South Pacific palms!

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed this next chapter, all except the mooring coming adrift, but alls well that ends well. It's been cold & wet in PL. But the big news is cruisers can now access a key to the PLYC showers