Saturday, January 7, 2017

Exploring the West Coast of New Caledonia

On a windy New Caledonia day we left Baie de Prony and headed up the Wooden Channel back towards Noumea to prepare for our final journey up the west coast of New Caledonia.  We met up with Lyn and Bruce on "JoliFou" in the marina, and we all began final preparations for our journey up the coast, and ultimately to Australia.  It was pouring with rain when Lyn and I walked to the nearest supermarket (the "Casino"), to do some final provisioning.  The one thing we have come to love about the cruising life is that we learn to make do with what we this case...our feet! We have to walk everywhere;  it is a great way to stay fit, and we enjoy it, because there are also lots of stretches when we are confined to the boat, so getting out and moving our legs always feels great.

It was still rainy and windy when we left and headed towards Isle Puen.  We had strong winds, up to 30 knots, but all from behind, making the sail fast and relatively comfortable.  I mention the sail was fast....this was important...why?  Well, what happens when you have 2 Olympic sailors at the helm of each vessel?  EVERY sail is a race!!  I will refrain from keeping score, but I believe that JoliFou won the first race.  Just for the record though, and in our defense, JoliFou is a beautiful, 44ft aluminium monohull with a carbon fiber mast, and Cool Runnings, in comparison, is a tank....just sayin'!


vs.  Cool Runnings...
who would be the ultimate winner of the Japie Olympian Cruising Rally?!

We left Puen early the next morning, still in overcast, rainy weather and made our first stop at Ouana.  We anchored off the reef so that Bruce and Dave could have a surf!  Dave had not surfed for many, many years, and this surf break is a left break, which Bruce prefers, being a "goofy foot" and Dave preferring a right break, being a "natural foot".  But it was a surf break, none-the-less, and Dave was dying to get on his board again!  Lyn took the boys out in the dinghy and dropped them at the break, and then came and joined the kids and I on Cool Runnings while we watched Bruce catch wave after wave, and Dave catch just a few!  But hey...he was surfing in New Caledonia!  Nothing to complain about!  

Lyn takes Bruce and Dave out to the break

Beautiful waves to surf

Bruce catches a beauty

Dave is up and surfing!

A look back at New Cal from where we were anchored at the surf break

After a couple of hours, we upped anchor again, and continued racing towards our anchorage for the night, a place called Bourail.  We anchored in a river mouth, in very brown water.  We had had a lot of rain in New Caledonia over the last week or so, and the rivers were spilling lots of brown water into their river mouths.  We highly believe that Bruce and Lyn were nudged by a shark when they left Cool Runnings that evening to go back to JoliFou.  It was funny at the time to hear Lyn shriek "Did you feel that?!"  but would not have been so funny if the shark had taken a bite instead of just a nudge!!

Entering the anchorage at appears that Cool Runnings is AHEAD of JoliFou! ;-)

The weather may have been miserable, but the sunset was still spectacular
The next morning, knowing we had a long sail ahead of us, we upped anchor at about 5:30am.  This was also partly due to wanting to beat JoliFou!!  Bruce was desperate to surf the excellent break at Bourail, and even stopped to check it out, but thankfully, he decided not to risk playing with the sharks for the sake of a good surf, and soon we were racing again up the west coast of New Caledonia.  While we had had 20+ knots the day before, this day the wind was up and down, so it was a day of sailing and then motoring, and sailing and motoring.  We had to exit the reef at Bourail, and we sailed on the "outside" until we were able to enter the reef again at Baie Chasseloup, which is the start of the northern lagoon.  We found a lovely anchorage next to a beach and park with picnic tables.

Our thanks to JoliFou for the pics of Cool Runnings under sail

And one more...

Dave checking the sails so that we could win the race!

The anchorage at Baie Chasseloup - at last we see start seeing blue skies again!
Sunrise for a change
Having left at 7:30am the following morning, and after a beautiful sail in the flat water of the northern lagoon, we decided to stop at Koumac, probably the biggest town in the northern part of New Caledonia.  We arrived around 3pm, so this still gave us some time to explore.  There is a small marina here, but the town was a fair distance away.  Dave went off in search of some diesel, as we had motored a bit the day before, and we wanted to be sure that we had enough for the crossing to Australia.  The fuel dock in the marina was closed, and while Dave was looking around, looking helpless I suppose, a local offered to drive him to town to the gas station there!  So friendly were the people here.  He drove Dave to fill up our jerry cans, waited for him to finish and then took him back to the marina.  The crews of JoliFou and Cool Runnings decided to stretch their legs and did a bit of exploring.  

Entering Koumac...yes, JoliFou appears to be in front!

I loved the explosion of color of all the bougainvillea!

The competition doesn't end off the water...we found an exercise park in Koumac.
Dave and Bruce attempt to co-ordinate this machine

Bruce and Lyn have a go (and seem to be in sync!)

Ben and Gabs attempt to lift weights!

Calm waters in Koumac

 Sometime during the day we realized it was Thanksgiving, so we invited Bruce and Lyn over to Cool Runnings for their first Thanksgiving dinner!  We had a lovely evening.  It was by no means a traditional Thanksgiving meal, (I had a ham in the freezer that I had defrosted, mashed potatoes and some veggies), but the spirit of Thanksgiving was enjoyed by all, as we spent a lovely evening with good friends and all of us said what we were thankful for!

Getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner

Good Times with Good Friends!  Happy Thanksgiving!
The next day was our final stretch from Koumac to Tanle.  It was another great sail, and we followed JoliFou into a beautiful, secluded anchorage.  That evening, over drinks on JoliFou, we discussed weather.  Our original plan had been to stop at Chesterfield Reef on the way to Australia.  Chesterfield Reef belongs to New Caledonia, and we had secured permission to stop there.  Pictures we had seen of the reef looked gorgeous, and it is also a breeding ground for many sea birds.  But Mother Nature had other plans as a low pressure system was developing off the north of Australia, and two of the five weather models showed it moving right across our path in the Coral Sea, with winds of up to 35-40 knots.  There was no way we wanted to be anywhere near such a system, so we decided to wait another day to see what the models showed the next day.  

The beautiful mountains of New Caledonia.  Waiting at Tanle

More mountains taken from the Tanle anchorage

Our one choice was to  stay in New Caledonia, and wait it out, but we had already checked out of the country, and needed to leave.  Staying in New Cal would also potentially put us into the path of the system, but we would be at anchor.  If we left, we had to time our departure so that we would not cross paths with it at any point...a difficult thing to predict or plan.  We stayed the following day, and it poured with rain.  It was a day of watching the weather, watching movies and just waiting.  The following morning, thinking we were not going anywhere, we heard Bruce calling Dave across the water.  He had just downloaded updated grib files (weather forecast), and it looked like all the models were agreeing more on the path of the system, and if we left that day, didn't stop at Chesterfield, and just headed straight for Australia, we would be OK.

So our final departure from New Caledonia was quite sudden, and in no time we found ourselves on our journey to Australia!  By coming so far north on New Caledonia's coast, our passage to Australia was only about 600 miles (about 4 nights/5 days).  The first 2 days were a bit rough with strong winds and big seas, but by day 3 the winds became lighter and day 4 actually saw us motoring late at night.  It was a pleasure to do the crossing with JoliFou, and we stayed in visual contact almost the entire passage, as well as in radio contact.  We had never done a passage with another boat before, and it was so nice to know that there was someone else out there with you, just a stone's throw away!  (of course we also had to monitor our positions to see who was winning the race!).

Sunset on passage

Passing the time on passage and getting excited about getting to Australia!

Playing "silly buggers"

We crossed Hervey Bay and entered the river at Bunderberg in the afternoon of December 1st, 2016.  We were "leading the race" when Bruce came shooting past us and shouted "Welcome to Australia!"!  It was an awesome welcome, and we couldn't believe we had finally made it! We had crossed the entire Pacific Ocean...some 11,000 miles!  We were ready for our next adventure in the Land Down Under!

Australia, here we come!!

As the sun sets on one adventure, we are ready for the next one!

New Caledonia - Baie de Prony and Moose the Island Dog

One of the things we loved about New Caledonia was the contrast of the red, almost barren looking mountains, to the sparkling blues and greens of the lagoon and its many reefs and islands.  On our way back from Isle of Pines, we made a stop at Baie de Prony, a large, enclosed waterway at the southern end of Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia (or the "Baguette" as the kids called it!).  There are many rivers that flow into this waterway and many secluded, sheltered anchorages.

A drone picture of the anchorage in Baie de Prony.  Our anchor came up with thick, red mud!

We anchored in Baie du Carenage and explored the area by dinghy.  We had read and heard about a hot spring in one of the rivers, and easily found it.  The French, being very civilized, had provided sturdy stainless steel ladder at the end of a dock, which then led to a little pool into which the hot spring bubbled.  We utilized the picnic tables and enjoyed a lovely stop with a swim and a lunch of cheese and crackers.

Gaby relaxing...very civilized...very French

We also took the dinghy as far as we could up a river and then walked further upstream to a series of small waterfalls.  The kids were fascinated by the different rocks and the whole day was a lesson in geology as well as erosion and deposition!

This is as far as the dinghy would go up the river

There was red mud everywhere!  Faces were painted and war declared!

The rocks and "waterfalls" that captivated the kids attention.  

The highlight of our visit to Baie du Prony was our time with Moose, the abandoned island dog.  There are lots of videos and photos to share with this story, so put aside some time if you'd like to learn about our beloved Moose, the island dog!

Our buddy Moose

We had learned of Moose before we had even left on our trip, through a video posted by fellow cruisers on catamaran "Impi".  Brent and Ana on Impi had posted a lovely video documenting their time with Moose, which can be seen on their You Tube channel (search You Tube: Catamaran Impi, or the link to the video is: Dog Abandoned on Casy Island), and he stole our hearts.  Moose lives alone on a beautiful island called Ile de Casey.  He was apparently left there when the resort on the island closed down.  He hunts and fishes and plays hosts to any cruisers who stop there, and shows them around the island.  Then, when we were already in New Caledonia, we saw an updated video that Brent and Ana had posted, showing Moose a year later, and in poorer health.  This video is also well worth a watch:  Updated Moose video.  You'll see in this video that Brent and Ana decide that Moose needs to be seen by a vet, and the next video documents this entire effort:  Moose is seen by a flying vet.  We were determined to go and check on Moose.

We picked up a mooring in the anchorage at Ile de Casey, and took the dinghy to the dock.  We anxiously scanned the shoreline looking for Moose.  We couldn't see him.  We called out, "Moose!  Moose!" and still nothing.  We were a little disappointed!  We had expected him to come bounding out on the dock, wagging his tail.  Eventually we saw him coming out of the shadows, slowly walking toward us.  He was wagging his tail, but he wasn't bounding towards us.  He gave us a glance, and then went and sat under the dock!  Oh well...I guess we were more excited to see him, than he was to see us!  We brought him some water and some ham.  When we offered him the ham, he sniffed it, but didn't take it.  He started walking away, but would constantly stop to make sure we were following him.  He led us to a palm tree where a stainless steel bowl was situated, and there was a bunch of ham in there...much more than what we were offering him!  Obviously someone had just left him a nice dinner!  He looked at us as if to say, "you can leave your offering here", which we did, and then he ate it!

Gaby introduces herself to Moose as he lies under the dock

We then got to experience the joy of Moose.  He took us on a tour of his island.  Always walking in front, but always looking back to make sure we were following.  He demonstrated how he dives for, and catches sea cucumbers, and every now and then he would run off into the bushes, chasing a bird or some other creature that could be his dinner.  We had a wonderful day with him, and it was sad to take the dinghy back to the boat, and this time, he watched us leave with a sad look in his eyes (at least I thought so!).

Moose takes us on a tour of his island
Moose demonstrating how he catches sea cucumbers.  Ben nicknamed him "The Aquatic Moose"!

The next morning when we came back, we did get the welcome that we had hoped for on our first meeting.  He sat on the dock waiting for us, and when we dinghyed up to him, his tail was wagging, and he came right up to the dinghy as if to help us disembark!  We brought him some tuna that we had caught and had in the freezer.  We cooked it for him and then rationed it, so he wouldn't eat it all at once, but he seemed to be pretty good about being able to ration food that he got all by himself.  We spent some more time with him, and discovered that he loved to play with the palm fronds, so the kids had a great time playing tug of war with him.

Moose greets us on the dock as we tie up the dinghy


Moose waits for his tuna to be served!
He loved playing tug of war with palm fronds
Moose shows us another part of the island.  Here you can see the red soil of the mountains of New Caledonia, the stark contrast to the blues of the lagoon
More geology lessons
Ben inspects the crystal insides of a rock

During our stay in Baie de Prony, we left and came back to Moose a couple of times, and when we did, he was always on the dock, waiting for us with a wagging tail.  He is such a lovely dog, and leaving him the final time nearly broke my heart.  But I know that other cruisers will come and go and give him love and food, and Brent and Ana on Impi have arranged for him to be seen to by a local vet once a month (details of that are in the "Updated Moose video", provided above).

Waiting patiently on the dock for us to come and visit
Did we mention we love this dog?

What a beautiful boy

And what a beautiful anchorage...Moose's island...Ile de Casey

We had taken lots of photos and videos so that we could report Moose's condition to Brent and Ana (whom we had not yet met!), but knew would could get in touch with them through social media.  Then, when we arrived in the Gold Coast in Australia in mid-December, who did we see anchored...?  Impi!  We took the dinghy over to introduce ourselves and provide the update on Moose.  Brent and Ana, being the gracious people they are, invited us on board, and, as cruisers often do, we clicked immediately!  After chatting a while, Ana told us that lots of people had been asking for an update on Moose, and they asked if they could use some of our photos and videos of Moose and have Ben and Gaby provide some of the narration, giving an update on our experience with Moose.  Brent and Ana make the most amazing videos, and definitely put us to shame, but what an honor to be featured in an Impi video!  They posted the video that features Cool Runnings on Christmas Day, and you can watch it here:  Cool Runnings updates IMPI on Moose video

Our time in New Caledonia was coming to an end, but we had one more adventure before leaving for good.  We planned to meet up with Bruce and Lyn again (they had been to Baie du Prony many times, and did not join us), and sail up the west coast of New Caledonia with them before making the crossing to Australia together.  And that, my friends will be another story, for another day!

Cool Runnings crew explores amazing Gaji Bay Nov 2016

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Caledonia Reflections - Southern Lagoon

We arrived in New Caledonia on November 1st, 2016 after the 1,100 mile passage from Tonga, which took us 8 days, the longest (in miles) since our 3,000 mile Pacific crossing. After a day or two, our little unit of 4 got into a good rhythm of passing the time on passage…eating, sleeping, sailing and navigating. On the whole, we had good winds and the seas were not too rough.

When the mountains of New Caledonia appeared on the horizon early on the morning of the 1st, we were excited to firstly, be able to drop anchor again, and secondly, explore another beautiful destination. But it would take us almost the whole day to get to the city of Noumea, from when we entered the pass through the reef that surrounds this island.  New Caledonia, with this surrounding protective reef, plays host to the world’s largest lagoon, and Noumea is the only place you can clear into this beautiful and diverse land.

One of our first views of New Caledonia

Unbeknownst to us, we arrived on the last day of a 5-day long weekend, and when we radioed the marina to get a berth for customs and immigration clearance, we were told that there was "no room at the inn" and we had to anchor outside until customs opened again the following day.  Dave took care of formalities the next day and we were checked in and ready to explore New Caledonia.  In the course of doing this, a spot opened up at the Marina, so we decided to take it and soon we were snug in a berth.  We don't often stay in marinas, but it is nice, especially after a longer passage, to be able to have ready access to land.  

We knew that Dave's old sailing friend, Bruce Savage, and his wife Lyn were cruising in New Caledonia and we were looking forward to meeting up with them.  Dave and Bruce were on the 1996 South African Olympic Sailing team together, but had not seen each other for about 20 years!  We got in touch on the VHF and it was great to chat, but it would be at least 5 days before we were finally able to meet up.  We stayed in the marina for a few days, and Bruce and Lyn took advantage of a wind switch and headed out to Ile de Pins (Isle of Pines), a beautiful island about 25 miles from Noumea and New Caledonia's southern Lagoon.  

New Caledonia showing our track.  Isle of Pines is the island at the bottom right.  The kids liked to call New Caledonia "The Baguette" because of it's shape, and because it is a French island!

After we took care of restocking, a sail repair (don't ask), and some other necessities, we headed out to Ile de Pins, stopping the first night at a beautiful little island called Amedee.  Amedee has a beautiful old metal lighthouse   The metal components were made in Paris in 1862 and the lighthouse was opened on Amedee in 1865.  A walk around Amedee introduced us to the many sea snakes common to New Caledonia; we counted at least 20 on our short walk around the island!

Sea Snake - they go in and out of the water.  These snakes are extremely venomous, but their fangs are so far back in their mouths, that they can't bite humans (or so we were told!)

Amedee Lighthouse
A closer look at the Lighthouse

The island had lots of these beautiful Banyan trees...
...that the kids really enjoyed climbing!
The shores of Amedee 

The island at sunrise as we left to head to Isle of Pines

A beautiful sail in New Caledonia's southern lagoon led us to the north of Ile de Pins for our long-awaited reunion with Bruce and Lyn on "JoliFou".  They led us to a spot that ranks as probably one of our favourite of the trip so far:  Gadji Bay.  Bruce and Lyn came out in their dinghy and Bruce came on board as our pilot! :-)  We edged our way through a shallow gap into one of the most beautiful anchorages we'd ever seen!

Here it is:  Gadji Bay!

Cool Runnings crazy crew anchored in Gadji

"JoliFou", Bruce and Lyn's Allures 44 anchored in Gadji Bay.  

Reunion in New Cal!  Dave and I finally meet up with Lyn and Bruce!
We snorkeled on some of the most pristine coral we'd ever seen, and enjoyed playing on our private beach.  It was very difficult to tear ourselves away from this little piece of paradise!

Cruising Kids

Mushroom Rocks - Gadji Bay

Our own little beach in Gadji Bay

Crystal clear water - dinghying over the coral reef

It's hard to capture the beauty of the coral in a photograph, but this gives some idea of what we saw

Snorkeling over one of the coral heads

Our next stop was Kuto on the south end of Ile de Pins.  Kuto has a beautiful bay and beach, but every other day, cruise ships anchor here and disgorge hundreds of passengers.  They only tend to stay the day, and then the cruising boats have the bay back to themselves.  We definitely have become spoiled!  The one advantage was that we were able to score an island tour:  A local chap called Max had set up his stand, taking bookings for an island tour for the cruise ship passengers, and as we walked past, he was busy packing up.  We asked if he would do a tour the next day for us, a family of four, and he readily agreed!  We didn't have to share the tour with anyone else!  We were able to see the highlights of the island, which was great since we couldn't get a rental car.

On our way to Kuto...the shades of blue in New Caledonia still captivate me
Our captain in his element!

Sunset in Kuto Bay
Ile de Pins, as many of these islands, was originally used as a penal colony.  French convicts were shipped all the way here from France to serve their sentences.  One of our stops was the old prison with it's thick stone walls, and remnants of the tiny cells.

We also saw beautiful caves that were used by the local Kanak people, beautiful St. Joseph's bay where they still build and sail the local outriggers, and drove through Vao, the only little town (more of a village) on the island.  All in all, a great day's outing.

A beautiful tree lined street near Kuto Bay at sunset with the sun's rays peeking through

Traditional outrigger in St. Joseph Bay 

The Notre-Dame de l'Assomption.  The church was built in 1860 and is the only convict-built Catholic church on Isle of Pines.  It is located in the center of Vao.  The inside is more beautiful than the outside

The statue of St. Maurice - this statue commemorates the arrival of the first missionaries on the island and is also a war memorial. The statue is surrounded by a circle of wooden totem poles.

After some time on Isle of Pines, we headed back toward the mainland, with a stop at Mato and Maitre islands, beautiful stops surrounded by reef.  Maitre island is a favourite spot for locals and visitors to kite surf.

Cool Runnings anchored off Mato island

Kite surfers at Maitre Island

More kite surfers

Our exploration of the southern lagoon included a stop in Baie de Prony, offering up landscape so different to the blues of the lagoon, that it deserves a whole post of its own, which I'll work on next, and hope to have up very soon!

We hope you enjoyed the first part of our exploration of the beautiful islands of New Caledonia!