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 September 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.