Given a fairly decent weather window, we decided to leave Port Vila for the three and one/half day, 327-mile voyage to New Caledonia. On Oct 21st, we departed Port Vila in a nice southwesterly and quickly fell back into our offshore mode of three hours on watch and three hours off watch. Since your circadian clock gets completely out of whack on passages, we mainly just sleep at every opportunity we have. We sailed through the Loyality Islands along a rhumb line for Havannah Channel on the southeast side of New Caledonia. The channel is rather notorious for strong currents so we planned our passage to ride the flood tide in through the pass early in the morning. We were accompanied by Pandora and our old friends from the Galapagos, Geoff and Allison on Saroni. Allison has a very distinctive radio voice and it's always great when she is a net controller on the MagNet as everyone can hear her.
|The hills along Havannah Pass are covered in Pine trees, a very unusual sight in the South Pacific. New Caledonia is also very rich in minerals and has over 25% of the world's nickel deposits.|
We spotted the rust-colored cliffs along Havannah Channel and marveled at the size of New Caledonia. It is famous for very rich mineral deposits, including over 25% of the world’s nickel deposits, and the income from the mining provides for a very nice lifestyle for the French inhabitants.
Eventually we wound our way through various passes and channels and finally approached Noumea around noon. We talked with the marina but there was no space available so we eked out a very questionable spot just outside the legal anchoring zone. Once again our friend Neil on Pandora offered to give me a ride down to Immigration, where his fluency in French made the process go much smoother. As a former super yacht captain he knows all the ins and outs of the customs/immigration process.
|The Port Captain hailed us from his launch asking us to move so this cruise ship could enter the harbor.|
|It is hard to describe your emotions after several months of cruising in Third World countries and to come upon a French patisserie.|
Our friends Kathi and Wolfgang had been in Noumea for several weeks already and gave us some tips on where to buy food and some good restaurants. Our first stop was an offical little French patisserie (just like in Paris) where we got fresh baguettes and some other French pastries. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven.
It is very easy to fall in love with the city of Noumea. As we said, the standard of living is very high here (the mining companies pay very good salaries to the French employees) so there is a plethora of good grocery stores, patisseries, and wonderful little French restaurants (albeit very expensive compared to Vanuatu).
My first task was to try and get my broken MacBook computer fixed (I had gotten the broken hard drive fixed in Fiji but now the video card died), but the Mac store said it would take three weeks just to order the part. Dejected, we walked around the corner and found a wonderful lunch place where they made fresh salads (you walk down a counter and point to what you want). The best part was they gave you a small cup for frozen yogurt and goodies from their self serve machines. I learned you could get the yogurt (I have no pride when I’m hungry) to stand about six inches tall in the cup if you were very careful when you served it. It was some of the best frozen yogurt I've ever had.
|The indigenous Kanak people are descendants from the Melanesian people from Asia.|
|The Kanaks were divided into clans and lived a simple life based on subsistence fishing and hunting. Like the Vanuatuans, the men customarily wore a penis sheath, and not much else.|
One interesting aspect of New Caledonia is the indigenous natives, the Kanaks, were still very disenfranchised. Today they represent about 39% of the population. You'd see them walking around in groups with their hoodies over their heads with seemingly nothing to do. If you are in New Cal and are French, life is very good. If you are a Kanak, it's a different story.
|Meryl was in seventh heaven shopping for fresh vegetables at the various stalls at the City Market.|
|The sheer quantity and quality of the food in the City Market was overwhelming.|
|There was a large variety of art from the indigenous Kanak people at the Market.|
|A live band played an eclectic set of tunes during the Saturday morning market.|
There was a wonderful City Market near Port Moselle Marina that had some of the best fruits and veggies we'd seen in a long time. There were also stalls selling French dresses and all sorts of other items, along with a live band playing. The big thing to do is go down early in the morning and get a croissant and a hot coco and just sit and enjoy the ambiance. After the dearth of good food since Fiji, we thought we were in a culinary wonderland.
|These are the local sailing craft used in the early days in New Caledonia.|
We went to the National Museum the next day which had a surprising good collection of Kanak artifacts and other historic items from New Caledonia's early days. It was interested to learn of their culture (they come from Melanesian stock, different from most other South Pacific island).
|A cruiser friend of our who is a "foodie" recommended this restaurant for Meryl's birthday. It was an excellent choice.|
|Meryl's fillet of sole was excellent.|
|A terrible selfie but a reminder of one of the best meals of the last six years of cruising.|
On Oct. 28th, for Meryl's 69th birthday, we decided to splurge and went to La Table des Gourmets, which was recommended by a fellow cruiser. I have to say the French are among the best cooks anywhere, and our meal was outstanding. I had a pork roast that literally fell apart when touched by a fork, and Meryl's fillet of sole was one of the best she'd ever had. For dessert we tried a mullineaux chocolate which was a small chocolate cupcake filled with delicious hot chocolate. It was so rich you had to eat it very slowly and between the two of us we couldn't finish the whole thing.
|The World War II museum was small but did an excellent job of depicting life in New Caledonia during the war|
We spent most our days just exploring the small city, and one of our super finds was a patisserie called Le Petit Choux. It was outstanding. That day we also visited the World War II Museum near the north end of town. It was housed in an original Quonset Hut and had excellent displays of life in Noumea during the war. New Cal was just south of the islands where the major fighting took place and served as a resupply station for the ships/airplanes and an R&R station for the American troops. They had some great videos of the soldiers going water skiing, hanging out at the beach, and socializing with the the young French women, who apparently liked Americans a lot. I wish my Dad were alive so I could hear the stories of when his submarine stopped there.
|Students from the Conservatory of Music in Noumea put on an excellent show at the marina bar. The French certainly know how to have a good time.|
|Daren was kind enough to share his table with Meryl and I. Little did we know he was a Methodist minister from Australia.|
The next day we debated when to leave New Caledonia for Australia. It’s a major passage and we wanted to get the weather window right. Neil mentioned they were clearing out that day and asked if I wanted a ride down to Customs. Seemed like it had become a tradition after our last three countries, so I said sure. As usual, checking out was fairly easy but we did have to walk about two miles from Immigration, to Customs, and finally to the Port Captain at the far end of the Port. Nice to have someone to talk to during all the trekking.
We left later that day and sailed a short distance out to Isle Nge, where we saw Pandora for the last time as they were sailing for Australia that afternoon. We had been working with a weather router to get the weather figured out and it looked like the first two days would be very light if we left then, so we decided to wait for one more night before departing. Pandora was taking a shorter route to Southport (just south of Brisbane), whereas we wanted to head further south to Coff’s Harbor where we were told Customs was a little more lenient.
We envisioned a quiet, idyllic few days anchored in the lee of this beautiful white sand beach island, but a strong 22-knot wind kept us pinned on the boat for most of the time. I did get a chance to dive on the bottom to make sure it was squeaky clean for Australian BioSecurity, who have a reputation for being very tough about food, bottom paint, and anything else that pops into their minds. More about this later.
Since you have to plan the weather for at least seven days out, we were flummoxed when the three computer models used for weather prediction could not agree on when a nasty storm would make it’s way north from Sydney to Coff’s Harbor and possibly further north. We made the decision to leave earlier, rather than later as planned and to shorten our trip by sailing just south of Brisbane to Southport.
We bemoaned having to leave New Cal so early, as we wanted to visit the outer islands and just hang out for awhile, but the storm concerned us and we needed to get going. We prepared the boat and got an early start in the morning of Nov. 2nd for our last ocean passage in our lives. We had hoped it would be an easy one, but it turned out to be one of the more difficult passages.