Perfectly Preened Gold Coast

Thursday 16th November 2017

View from the cockpit

The mornings start crisp and early here with a 4.45am sunrise. However by six the warmth of the sun is coming through and feels good on my back, the traffic is just beginning to pick up as the first commuters make their way to work. For company I have a striated heron, he is using next doors lines as a convenient perch to fish from. He is a regular on the pontoon and has been nicknamed ‘grumpy’, with his stern expression, hunched shoulders and beady eyes, he appears to be permanently cross.

Tight rope walking

In fact there are lots of birds around and they are all very different than any we have seen before. It’s not just short legged herons, there are the Australian pelicans which are white with a pink beak instead of the dark feathers and dark beak we are use to, the pigeons have prominent crests on their heads and huge ibis wander through the parks and preen themselves in the shopping centre.

Ibis in the park

There is plenty of greenery to encourage them, narrow strips of park run between the inner Broadwater and the road and fill the area running north behind the Beach and ocean. Everywhere is just so, walkways for pedestrians and cyclists wind through the neatly cropped grass, water fountains are perfectly placed to fill bottles and wash sandy feet, the town planners appear to have considered every direction to enhance the views. Manicured gardens fill the grounds of the huge apartment blocks and public spaces, perfectly pruned flowering shrubs line the roads and tall structural pines soften the harsh edges of the towering buildings. A little too perfect? Maybe, but we have to admit to enjoying it all so far.

A neat and tidy five minute walk from the marina is Main Beach and the open ocean. A continuous stretch of sand runs for ten miles from the Southport Seaway, through Surfers Paradise all the way to Burliegh Head. As we stood staring out to sea, it felt very familiar, all our lives we have enjoyed watching the surf come in, the wind in our hair, but peculiarly, from the beach, this water feels like it has nothing to do with the ocean we sail in.

Back in the marina the locals are making us feel at home, the boat a couple of berths up invited us to join them for pizza, bizarrely we have hooked up with a friend we haven’t seen for 26 years who now lives on the Gold Coast and a lone yachtsman we first met in Grenada has just sailed in and is joining us for a G&T tonight.

In between walking, shopping and eating we have been working very hard, the front cabin is now clean and dry. Rick has taken advantage of our berth having a pontoon both sides to clean out and reseal between the capping rail and the hull, he has reseated the forward fairleads, rewired the reading lights and resealed all the screw holes and anything else that looked like it might let water in.

Only the test of a big sea will tell us if we have succeeded and hopefully we won’t be in one of those again for a few weeks.

Windy Welcome to Oz

Thursday 9th November 2017

A family, on an early morning walk, have just passed by on the opposite bank from our berth in the Southport Yacht Club Marina. It was a bit of a shock to hear them speak English, I haven’t quite got my head around the fact that we have actually arrived in Australia. In the marina it’s life as usual but when we leave through the gate we are back in the real world and it’s a bit disorientating. There are proper shops, good pavements and decent comms!

Tied up at the custom dock

The passage from New Caledonia continued to be smooth and fast, a Tuesday evening arrival was on the cards. We read that to cross an unknown bar was safest four hours after low tide, to ensure that all outgoing flow from the inland water and rivers was complete, we set a target for between 8-10pm. Early Monday morning the log clicked onto 20,000nm, we congratulated each other but in reality we were more concerned with the dwindling wind, by daylight we were motor sailing to keep a Tuesday arrival in our sights.

Early Monday morning the log registered 20,000nm sailed

We had been sailing parallel to another yacht since Saturday, a lone sailor in a small but fast catamaran, he turned south intent on reaching Coffs Harbour, via VHF we wished each other well and soon the AIS screen was empty again. Early on in the trip we had seen a hundred strong pod of dolphins but now there wasn’t even a bird to watch. We read, snoozed and looked out into the vast expanses of sea, however things were about to get lively.

Pulled away from our books, we found ourselves scouring the sea for bubbles, a fishing boat had come on the radio to inform us that they had been laying long lines in our path and to watch out for bubbles. Bubbles? We thought it unlikely that, with a choppy sea and the setting sun in our eyes, we would see bubbles but we searched anyway. Then just off our port side we saw a buoy, then another and another, some just metres away, bubbles we realised translated from Australian to English as buoys. The buoys were marking the hooks and lines that they had set across miles of ocean. The ‘line caught’ label on cans of tuna conjures a vision of a lone fisherman battling the elements with a rod, this experience made the cheapness of these cans make much more sense.

Then a few hours later, on my watch, which ran from 11pm until 2am, the full moon that had been lighting our way each night disappeared behind a bank of cloud, in the distance sheet lightening lit up the horizon. The barometer started to drop, the low pressure trough was arriving a day early. The winds were still light and we had a knot or two of current against us, back on came the engine.

As Tuesday dawned the barometer slowly started to rise again bringing with it increased winds, much increased winds and the sea began to build. The comment in the log for midday Tuesday, about 60nm out from Southport, reads : Bloody horrible. At 1pm : Still bloody horrible. By 3pm we were in full wet weather gear and we were sailing through 50kt gusts and 4m waves. The local marine forecast came on the VHF informing us that the current weather was wind SE15-20kts, swell 11/2-2m, we wondered which bit of ocean they were looking at, certainly not our bit.

Finally an hour later as we approached land things did begin to improve and we radioed Seaway Tower who monitor the bar and entrance to Broadwater the inner seaway that leads down to Southport. It was with some relief that he reported the entrance calm and it was safe to proceed.

Now all we had to do in our rather soggy and tired state was to navigate in the dark through a narrow channel, find the marina and berth the boat in a 2kt current. A slightly tense half hour but by 9.30pm, we were tucked up in bed. Phew!

We have now checked in with customs, had the boat pulled apart by quarantine officers in search of mini beasts and had great fun at the supermarket stocking back up with food. Most of the boat is beginning to look clean and tidy again, except unfortunately for the front cabin. All the water that came over the bows at the end to our passage has proved the small leak we thought we may have solved is still there. The cleaning, drying and fixing of that will have to wait until another day.

Whoops, I may have been a little over enthusiastic as I wiped down one of the water triggered life jackets.

Go, Stay, Gone

.

Saturday 4th November 2017

Friday morning we left New Caledonia in a bit of a rush having just the day before decided that we would have to postpone our passage for another week – the weather forecasts have been tricky.

So far so good, we have calmish seas and a SE wind blowing us along at between 7 and 8kts. The passage plan has us arriving early Wednesday morning for the incoming tide across the bar. Bars are new to us and like passes have fearsome reputations and many of the harbours on the East coast of Australia have them. An area of shallow water lays across the entrance and when combined with the almost permanent large swell that arrives on the shore, can, on an ebbing tide, cause large breaking waves, not something you want to encounter on a sailing yacht.

We had been expecting the light winds we have at present but they are in a perfect direction and with the just a 1m swell we are storming along and can possibly make the earlier tide and possibly give ourselves a better land fall weatherwise if we can keep it up. Time will tell.

Full moon rise 250 miles out at sea

Our last day, ever, anchored in a pretty bay in the Pacific Islands turned out appropriately enough to be Ricks birthday. It was a lovely day, we swam and read, dugongs and turtles joined us and the winds were gentle. Since being on the boat we have pretty much given up on presents, so with our one precious pack of bacon I cooked him a fry up for breakfast and we BBQ lamb chops for supper with a beautiful sunset as a back drop.

Sunset in Baie Papaye

Then it was back to reality. A one hour motor and Sunday found us anchored again in Port Moselle. The day promised to be sunny and calm and the locals were taking advantage of the conditions, it was like being at sea. The whole fleet of motor boats from Noumea was going out to enjoy a day off in the islands leaving rocky water in their wake. We went ashore and did a bit of  essential shopping and had lunch, returning just in time to take another battering from the boats as they all returned to their marina berths.

That evening while enjoying the company of our friends from Atla we noticed the racing catamaran anchored in front of us was getting gradually closer, her anchor must have been dislodged by the turbulent waters, with no one onboard there was little we could do but put out some fenders and hope the anchor would re catch. After a rather sleepless night of continuous checking she luckily kept her distance but we were glad to move and get tied up in the marina to start our preparations to leave.

We shopped, cooked, checked the boat over and obsessed over the weather forecasts. On Monday, Friday was looking good for departure to Coffs Harbour on the Australian east coast. By Wednesday however there was the threat of a small but lively low forming in the Tasman sea.

Rick checking the steering quadrant

Thursday what had looked like a perfect passage now looked horrible for our arrival with not only the low hovering but a front forming. Frustrated, we abandoned our morning plans to visit the three offices required to check out of New Caledonia, had a delightful lunch at the Art Cafe and started considering going back out into the islands for a few days.

Then would you believe it, when Friday dawned the forecast low had fizzled and gone south and if we kept a bit north and entered the country at Southport instead of Coffs, we might miss the worst of the front. Our departure was back on and by midday we had cast off.

Fingers crossed we have made the right decision.

Snake Island

Friday 27th October 2017

Brown Noddy’s on Signal Island

A close encounter with an osprey, an island full of snakes, an abundance of birds and calm deserted anchorages have all been on the agenda this week. New Caledonia may be difficult in lots of ways from a yachting point of view but you can’t argue against its beauty or its plethora of wild life.

Monday morning we left Prony Bay and headed back to Noumea. The town anchorage was full to bursting and yachts were spilling out of the allotted anchoring area into the channel. Despite having three marinas Noumea isn’t particularly easy for visiting yachts. Full with local boats, berths, mornings and anchoring space is limited, we slotted in where we could. We needed to restock with food, having missed the morning market we walked the 20 minutes to the supermarket trying to remember we had to walk back and not to overfill the bags.

Back onboard it was busier than ever, dingies whizzed been the yachts and town, small local boats weaved back to the wharf and more and more yachts anchored around us. Three naval launches passed close by, full of young, nervous, wetsuited, recruits off on excercise and ferries sped to and fro setting everyone rocking. Then when it seemed like the harbour could take no more, what should arrive but one of the huge cruise liners that some how squeezed its way in. Just a few hours later it slowly made its way back out, like a small city passing by, it’s lights blazing and the sound track of a movie clearly audible from an open air cinema on the top deck it set off to its next destination..

With the promise of a calm day, Tuesday we headed out into the early morning mist to visit a few of the small islands that are scattered throughout the Lagoon. Ilot Mbe Kouen is just a tiny patch of sand with a bit of struggling undergrowth on top. We thought it would be fun to have an island of our own for a few hours so we dropped the anchor and went ashore.

An island of our own

The island was full of birds, great crested and black naped terns gathered on the beach, a reef heron agitated by our presence flew back and forth from one side of the trees to the other, a pair of sandpipers hid amongst the few bushes of the interior and an osprey perched proudly on top of a small tree. A magnificent beast we slowly approached, Rick snapping pictures, it squawked its displeasure but let us get within twenty feet before he flew off, did a circuit of the island and landed on the one other tree on the island with branches thick enough to bare his weight.

Osprey takes flight

After a few more shots not wanting to disturb their peace, we moved on to Signal island. A slightly larger island this was where we had been expecting to see the ospreys, the interior is a nesting sanctuary. As it turned out we dare not raise our eyes to the trees, it is also a place where venomous sea kraits come ashore. Half land snake and half sea snake they have a paddle shaped tail for swimming but must come ashore to digest their prey and lay their eggs. Like sea snakes they are not aggressive but their venom is highly poisonous and they were every where. As we followed the track around the island half a dozen crossed our path, slithering through the grass.

Snake crossing our path

We had been planning to use the island as a stop to clean the hull, but with the thought of all the snakes potentially coming out for a swim and the rather large shark we spotted as we walked up the pier onto the island we contented ourselves with turtle watching from the deck.

As dusk approached a flock of shearwaters flew past approaching the island, then more and more birds arrived, it was a bit like a scene from the Hitchcock movie The Birds as they surrounded us for at least a half hour. There must have been a thousand birds roosting on the island by night fall.

Anchored off Signal Island

As we slept the wind increased and a swell creepy around the reef, the small island gave us little protection and it became increasingly uncomfortable. At first light we upped anchor and headed back to the mainland where we have stayed for the last few days enjoying the calm of a couple of empty protected bays just up the coast from Noumea. We have remora under the boat, have spotted turtles and a dugong, incongruously a herd of cows graze on the hills and we have put on our wetsuits and cleaned the hull.

Colourful Caledonia

Sunday 22nd October 2017

We are finding the colours here in New Caledonia astonishing. The red soil in the hills, the bright turquoise water and the dark green pines, combine to give startlingly beautiful vistas.

Feeling almost recovered from our colds, Thursday, we walked over to Kanumera Beach and the Gite Oure for lunch. The beach was protected from the easterlies that continued to blow, it felt great to be off the boat for a bit and to be out of the continual bashing of the wind. The sun shone in a cloudless sky, turning the sea a truly amazing colour and providing a sublime back drop to the restaurant on the beach.

No colour editing, it really was that incredible turquoise.

Friday with the winds forecast to ease, we set off early to return to the mainland and the large protected Baie de Prony. We were expecting the sea, after days of blustery weather, to still be rough but not the 3m swell that hit us as soon as we cleared the reef systems around the Ile des Pins. Not only were the waves large but the period between them was very short, luckily after the first hour our route took us NW and put the waves on our stern making life a little more comfortable. However it was with some relief we arrived at our destination, the small island of Casy that sits in the centre of the bay. The whole island and its surrounding waters are a National Park, mooring buoys have been put in to protect the sea grass and coral from anchors. It has been a while since we have picked up a mooring but with calm conditions and despite a bit of a tangle with the lines we completed the procedure without too much embarrassment.

As we relaxed with a well deserved ‘got here beer’ we took in our surroundings. This was yet another picturesque spot, the bay itself is about 4 miles square and surrounded with steep hills, the green of the covering vegetation highlighted by the bright red soil. The island was mostly wooded with the tall dark pines towering above the rest of the trees that line the shore. Rocky outcrops of large boulders tumbled out at intervals onto the pretty beaches but made circumnavigation along the beach impossible.

Beach on Ile de Casy

Helpfully the authorities have laid down trails slightly inland, so Saturday morning we set out to explore. The island being only a kilometre in diameter, with its highest point only 45m above sea level this was our kind of hike and it proved despite its shortness to be varied and interesting. We strolled through a forest of pines with their notched straight trunks, an area of a rare variety of tree fern and scattered between, old gnarly trunks of species unknown.

The path led through a deserted derelict resort, winding around the trees and their large root systems, past a one hundred year old cemetery from the days when the island had been farmed, along a beach and gently towards the summit. Suddenly we came out into the open, the sunlight harsh after the dark of the forest, underfoot the ground became dust and rumble and red, we were in an open cast mine. Not worked for at least half a century the land still lays stark and barren but the views were superb.

View from the top of Ile de Casy

The next morning as the sun rose above the island, surrounded by calm seas and rust coloured hills, everything took on an amazing orange glow. We decided, despite the fridge being almost bare, to stay another day.

Early morning view from the cockpit

Baie de Kuto

Tuesday 17th October 2017

Having spent nearly two years boasting of how healthy our cruising life style is, we have been struck down by a second cold in as many months. Both of us have been completely floored, resembling damp dish rags we have spent the week, flopping about the boat, groaning, sneezing and coughing. And yesterday the weather joined in, the blustery wind blowing in rain clouds which look here to stay for a few days.

I, being incapable of doing nothing, have made pathetic attempts at cleaning, researched and filled forms badly for our arrival in Australia and spent hours trying to coax the sluggish internet service we have here into letting me send emails and check my Facebook page. Rick who can chill much more easily, has watched countless movies and having read almost every bit of literature on the boat, as a last resort, dived into a book on quantum physics. I’m not sure his furrowed brow and puzzled expression will help his lingering headache.

Outside the sick bubble of the boat, when we muster the energy to go ashore or at least look up, there has been quite a lot going on. We are actually in a rather lovely place, anchored in Baie de Kuto on the Ile des Pins which has a km long beach of the softest white sand, backed by a nice mix of trees, including the tall narrow straight pines that give the island its name, the view is lovely.

Beach at Kuto Bay

Just a hundred metres across an isthmus is another beautiful bay, here the sea having undermined the old concrete wharf is now encroaching on the beautiful trees that fill the area. Whole trees lay uprooted on the sand.

Kanumera Bay

Unfortunately this normally quiet area is invaded every couple of days by hoards of visitors. The island is a cruise ship stop, we are not talking the small ships that we bumped into in Fiji, these are huge 1000ft liners that can hold over 3000 people. The liners anchor out in the bay and disgorge their passengers using their orange lifeboats as ferries, these run to and fro from the dock all day. Handicraft stalls spring up, tour buses arrive, boat trips leave, the small hotel bar fills up and the empty beach is transformed. Promptly at four o’clock the last ferry leaves, the stalls are packed away, rubbish is cleared up, its as if they’ve never been.

Giant cruise ship dwarfs the yachts in the anchorage

The water is shallow and turquoise, frequently a turtle pops up to say hello. We think they are green sea turtles eating off the sea grass that grows in the bay. One of them is huge, it’s shell must be nearly 5ft long and his head the size of a small football. Also visiting us are mermaids, out of the corner of our eye we saw a whale shaped tail disappear into the water. We are far too shallow and the fluke far too small for a whale, we racked our brains for what it might be, the only answer – a mermaid.

Mermaid obviously

Finally we got a closer look and having search our sea mammals guide we identified it as a Dugong. Dugongs are a member of the Serenian family, as are Manatees, they are the only herbivorous sea mammals and apparently are distant relatives of elephants and aardvarks!

Dugong, not quite as pretty as a mermaid.

We might not welcome the rain but I’m sure the islanders do. As we walked the kilometre to the nearest small village to find some bread, we are in France now even the smallest corner store has fresh crusty bread, we spotted signs warning people about the fire risk. That afternoon I noticed black smoke building on the other side of the hill, soon a helicopter arrived, precariously amongst the trees it collected a large canvas bucket from the Gendarmerie and proceeded to dump water into the distant forest. It took well into the next day before the smoke disappeared hopefully the fire was in an unpopulated part of the island.

Forest fire

Colds and winds willing we aim to leave Kuto Bay on Friday and visit some of the small islands scattered throughout the lagoon.

Escaping Noumea

Sunday 8th October 2017

We have to admit to finding the city centre of Noumea rather uninspiring and slightly shabby. We found the shops uninviting and the famed French restaurants below par. On top of that it is just too windy, each morning we would wake to light winds, giving hope that today might see calmer conditions. However by ten a lively breeze was building and by midday it was often too windy to eat lunch in the cockpit. All afternoon we would be battered relentlessly onto the pontoon, living life at a slight tilt, until if we were lucky, by bedtime things calmed down a bit. The weather looked good to escape out to the Islands on Sunday so we put our heads down and worked towards that.

Kite surfers enjoying the high winds, off the beaches to the South of Noumea

Along with the normal cleaning and bits of boat maintenance, we needed to stock up the fridge and freezer, buy a few basics and having run our stocks low in Fiji to pass customs for our arrival in New Caledonia, top up stocks of wine and beer. There are great fruit, veg and fish markets on the quayside close by the marina but the supermarkets are quite a walk away. We decided to hire a car for the day escaping the windy marina for a few hours exploring and using it for a big shop at Carrfour.

So Friday found us heading off into the interior to visit the Parc Provincial de la Rivière Bleue. Once out of Noumea any signs of habitation quickly disappeared, the road climbing steeply into the hills. Unlike the other Pacific islands we have visited, New Caledonia, was not formed by volcanic action but was part of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, this ancient bedrock has produced a land which is rich in minerals. The soil is an intense rust colour and the extensive mining activities and land slips have left the green hills scarred with slashes of red.

Looking out Westward from the hills above Noumea

The Blue river area became a park in 1980 when the river valley was dammed and flooded to create a water supply for the growing coastal towns. The combination of the red soil and the seasonally low water levels has produced an almost alien looking landscape of stark beauty.

La Rivière Bleue

Thousands of trees that grew in the valley were drowned as the area filled with water and now stand ghost like high and dry on the banks.

Ghost Trees

Further into the park is a rare piece of native rain forest, a pathway has been created to enable visitors to walk inside without damaging this fragile environment. Amongst the native trees we found a huge 1000yr old Kauri and tall tree ferns. We had been told to look out for endangered and emblem of New Caledonia, the Cagou. A grey flightless bird about 18nches high, they are reputably shy so it was with surprise we twice almost stumbled over one strolling up the path towards us.

Cagou

Having enjoyed our morning we drove back to town and the supermarket only to discover that in New Caledonia no alcohol is sold after noon on Fridays or the weekend. We couldn’t possibly set off into the islands for a few weeks with a dry boat, Saturday morning saw us lugging boxes of beer and bottles of wine on foot.

This morning we left at the crack of dawn to avoid the afternoon sea breezes that would make sailing southeast difficult and by midday we were tucked in a deserted bay on the south coast of Ile Ouen, Port Koutoure. Replacing the sound of cars and crowds is bird song, the reef protects us from the swell and the hills from the wind, a relaxing staging post, halfway to tomorrow’s destination the Ile de Pins.

Contrasts

Thursday 5th October 2017

Mirror flat seas followed by 30kt winds, open ocean one day, modern city the next and an introduction to a culture that’s part chic France part Pacific Island charm, the last few days has been full of contrast.

Saturday morning nearly half way between Fiji and New Caledonia the wind began to die and soon the sails were flogging and despite being happy to travel slowly the engine eventually had to come on. Although motoring in calm seas is very easy, we can sleep, cook, shower as if at anchor, it is also noisy and with the wind behind us rather smelly from the exhaust wafting into the cockpit. In addition, after our engine problems on the trip down to New Zealand, we both, apprehensively have ears half cocked for any slight change in engine pitch.

I guess light winds must be a problem for the sea birds also, without the air currents to help them soar and rest, flying must become tiring. That night while on watch I peered forward to check for lights on the horizon and spotted a dark blob on the rail, worried something must had fallen from somewhere I shone a torch forward and revealed a Red Footed Booby, head tucked under his wing, perched on the pulpit. Obviously fast asleep, he was unbothered by the torch light and stayed unmoving until day break, as the sun climbed into the sky he flew off, back the way we had come, hopefully we hadn’t taken him too far in the wrong direction.

Red Footed Booby hitches a ride

Throughout Sunday the wind hardly registered on the gauge, the surface of the sea became like a mirror, the only movement through its silky expanse was the slight undulation of a small ocean swell and the ripples created by our wake. We put out the fishing line and kept a look out for dolphins and whales but for twelve hours there was nothing anywhere but us. The grandeur of this emptiness is difficult to get across, we sat in wonder at our isolation.

Mirror like silky seas

Gradually the winds picked back up and by midnight we were sailing once again. Next morning we have New Caledonia in our sights and we’re glad we had kept our speed low and delayed our arrival, the Canal de la Havannah turned out to be as treacherous as described in the guides. We arrived perfectly timed at supposedly low water but still had to contend with two knots of tide against us and swirling currents that did their best to drag us off the line through the pass. Add into the mix patches of rough overfalls created from the wind blowing against the outgoing water and we were well and truly pleased to enter the lagoon.

The lagoon however was not quite what we imagined, it’s the largest lagoon in the world and with its outer reef nearly twenty miles off the coast this is basically open water. As the afternoon sea breeze added to the already high winds the sea became extremely choppy. Fortunately we had the wind and waves behind us and we made good progress towards the marina. As we rounded the headland south of Noumea we were greeted by the sight of a hundred or so kite surfers, they looked from a distance like flocks of huge colourful birds, at least someone was enjoying the conditions.

To our dismay as we approached Port Moselle the high winds continued, putting out the fenders and lines in preparation for the approach to the marina was hazardous. We took the decision to collect ourselves, we motored to the anchorage outside the marina wall dropped the anchor and sorted everything out at a slower pace. Then with our hearts in our mouths, as gust of over 30kts toyed with us, we entered the marina and only with the help of neighbouring crews made it without incidence into our berth.

The marina office were friendly and efficient and initiated the check in formalities for us. It was all very low key, customs didn’t even bother to visit the boat but the biosecurity lady did come onboard and take away all our fresh produce and meats. The immigration office only opens in the morning and must be visited in town the next day. Quite quickly we were able to settle down with a ‘got here beer’ and then enjoy a good nights sleep.

Got here beer in blowy New Caledonia

It’s a bit of a shock to the system to have a road running past the boat with proper traffic and it feels very odd to be in what on the surface seems like an European town. New Caledonia like French Polynesia is an overseas territory of France, however unlike French Polynesia the population, in Noumea at least, appears to be dominantly European. Gone are the ubiquitous smiles and greetings as you pass smiling strangers who stroll through the streets, “bonjour”, “bula bula”, this is city life, everyone is busy, eyes ahead, intent on reaching their destination.

First impressions are that there are only a few signs around that we are still in the Pacific islands, muddy taro still looms large next the contrasting colourful produce in the excellent fruit and veg market, traditional Melanesian crafts fill the stalls next to the tourist boats and car hire companies and there are plenty of pot holes and uneven pavements to remind you that you are not back in the world of personal injury claims. On the other hand the supermarkets are packed with fantastic French cheeses, cold meats, bread and wine, the dress code is mostly fashionable French and high rise buildings line the shore.

Our first foray into town was a little frustrating but in the end 90% successful. Immigration, once we found the office hidden away unlabelled in a scruffy block, in a side street, was easy, we are still European and can stay here for 3 months without a visa. It took three different ATMs but we finally persuaded one to give us some cash and after taking directions to half a dozen places we eventually found a mobile shop and bought a sim for Ricks phone.

At lunch time back onboard Raya we sat down to tasty salami, proper ham, smelly soft cheese and crunchy French bread, delicious. European towns do have a few upsides.

Farewell Fiji

Crystal clear waters at beautiful Navandra

Saturday 30th September 2017

19 52′ 722 (S) 172 56′ 036 (E)

We sit encircled by the royal blue of deep water, under a cloudless sky, we are caressed by a gentle breeze, the sea is calm, its rippled surface overlaying a lazy ocean swell. There are no other signs of life, no boats or aeroplane tracks, no birds, not even flying fish on the decks. We sail steadily towards our destination, Noumea the capital of New Caledonia, which lies 350nm away. After a quiet night we feel rested and relaxed.

Our last few days in Fiji were spent in Vuda Marina preparing for this passage. At some points they were also relaxed – best day to go is Friday. And at other times a big rush – actually the weather has changed, a Tuesday departure looks perfect, can we be ready in two days?

For this passage not only were we looking at the weather forecast but also the tide times. In Vuda we needed to depart 3hrs either side of high tide to ensure enough water under us at the fuel dock and the sand bar at the exit. Luckily this weeks high tide was in the morning and coincided with the customs people who each morning conveniently come to the marina to check yachts out of the country. Fast forward 3-4 days and we will arrive at Canal de la Havannah the pass through the reef encircling the large South Lagoon at the bottom of New Caledonia. This channel can have currents of up to 4kts, so you are advised to enter on a rising tide, not to mention that the 20kt winds forecast for our arrival are perfect for a wind against tide chop on an outgoing tide. It is then over 40nm inside the lagoon winding around headlands, islands and reefs before you reach Noumea all best done in good light. Timing of our arrival is therefore critical.

So in between, laundry, provisioning, cooking passage meals, standard engine and generator checks, sorting out rigging and clearing the decks there has been much calculating and copious amounts of rubbing out.

In the end we left Thursday, this gave us plenty of time for all our jobs and gave us the opportunity for a bit of an Oyster Owners get together. With five Rally boats in the marina there has been plenty of friendly introductions, a visit from the Rally coordinator and a night at the bar filling a couple of crews in on our favourite spots in the Yasawas.

Abdul the taxi driver (Abdul blue car, he tells us we should call him, to distinguish him from all the other Abdul’s who are also taxi drivers but, presumably, without blue cars) was as helpful as ever, running last minute errands and even appeared at the dock to wave us off. We also had a final fairwell from Clare and Darren from Knockando, our last night dinner together was scuppered by a sudden squall but we did manage a cup of coffee in the morning. Even the restaurant staff waved us off emotionally. Vuda will remain one of our favourite places.

Motoring out of Vuda Marina

Having assured customs we would be leaving immediately, we let go the lines around noon and motored for a couple of hours before slipping, hopefully unnoticed, into Momi Bay on the far southwestern corner of Vitu Levu. Our best time to arrive at the Canal de la Havannah is mid morning on Monday, when the tide turns but giving ourselves plenty of daylight to reach Noumea. This unfortunately means that we need to take our time and have a slow passage. Anchoring meant we left Fiji a few hours later, and meant we could eat lunch, shower and get an afternoon snooze, before setting off at 5pm out of Navula Passage and into open water.

We were expecting that evening to pass through a rain band but the accompanying high winds whipped up the waves creating a very messy sea and turned our first night into an uncomfortable start. Thankfully by sunrise everything had calmed down and we, despite the grogginess bought on by the seasickness pills and lack of sleep, started to get into the rhythm of things. We have now had 24hrs of great sailing, only problem is that despite a number of reefs in the sails, Raya is in her stride and is going too fast. The winds are expected to gradually die so the plan is to adjust our timings during the expected day of motoring we will have to do on Saturday/Sunday. For now we are just enjoying the calm and the blue nothingness all around us.

Sailing into the sunset

Census in Sawa I Lau

Sunday 24th Sept 2017

Our presence in a remote bay in the Yasawas has been recorded officially and for eternity. Last Sunday morning as we sat anchored off the Island of Sawa I Lau, with just one other yacht, a mile or so from any other signs of life we were visited by a local boat. It’s occupant greeted us with the normal wide smile and enthusiastic greeting “Bula Bula” but unusually, for the Islanders, spoke with perfect English. He asked not for the anticipated bunch of cava but if he could take down some information about everybody onboard. It turns out that it was census day in Fiji and our presence remote or not needed to be recorded.

Raya anchored off Sawa I Lau

Our final set of guest has left us, it has been a busy summer and nice as it’s been to have everyone onboard it felt good to have Raya back to ourselves. Sasha and Julia’s visit will be remembered for the fantastic snorkelling we have done, this week we finally got to see the magnificent mantas again, we were also treated to sharks, sea snakes, and a huge titan trigger fish. The last couple of swims were done without Rick who had a bit of an earache and the sight of the three of us after a long tiring snorkel, struggling, ungainly and giggling trying to lift ourselves into the dingy, whilst gradually being swept out to sea, went thankfully, unrecorded but will stick in our minds for quite a while.

Excellent snorkelling off Manta Ray Island Resort

We have played Rummy cube, attempted a game of bridge, drank far too much wine and beer, eaten far too much food and talked and talked. We were actually treated with enough wind during their stay for a couple of sails but for our stay in Fiji we have basically been a motor boat. In fact we have motored so far that on our return to Musket Cove we actually ran out of fuel in the main tank and in, luckily, calm open seas we had to top up from our reserve tank.

Team Raya on the sand bank at Musket Cove

Yesterday we came back into Vuda, ready for the girls early flight this morning. We are getting use to the tight squeeze of yachts here but the space we were presented with this time was the tightest of all. In fact after two tries it was fairly obvious we weren’t going to fit in going stern to, so Rick turned us around and managed to wedge us in with bows to the wall. The normal skilled marina boat boy wasn’t around and his replacement had no understanding of what was going on. Without the efforts of Sasha one side and Julia the other, both armed with large blow up fenders we would never have berthed unscathed.

And we are not the only Oyster squeezed in here, after bumping into only a handful of other Oysters throughout the whole Pacific crossing, suddenly we are inundated with Raya look a likes. In Manta Bay another Oyster 56 had anchored right next to us and at Musket Cove there were three other Oysters including Oyster Blew 56/23 the boat built right after Raya who is 56/22 and here in Vuda there are five other yachts, the Oyster World Rally has arrived in Fiji.

We however are on our way out of Fiji, we have a few days to clear up and prepare then weather permitting it’s on to New Caledonia at the end of the week.