New Caledonia, yet another French territory
It took us five and a half days to sail from Malolo island, Fiji to Noumea, New Caledonia. Before every multi day passage I like to pre-cook a few one pot meals and put them in the fridge. During the passage we just need to reheat for dinner and lunch is usually a quick rice, lentil, couscous, or chick pea salad.
During the passage Paul pulled out Jimmy Cornwell’s World Cruising Routes and had a gander at planning our route beyond the South Pacific and into South East Asia. The optimal time to cross from the South Pacific, through the Torres Strait and into Asia is between April until October. Hmmmm that only gives us two months to visit New Cal, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea…hmm and Paul’s brother and his wife would be with us for three weeks from Sept to the end of Sept….hmmm. QUESTION. Do we stay in the South Pacific another season? Where do we go during cyclone season NZ, Australia, Marshall islands, cyclone shelter in New Caledonia?!?!?! Or do we haul ass to Indonesia and fly home for Christmas (France and Canada) where flights are reasonably priced? I WANT TO MEET MY NIECE!!! Let’s do it. Let’s sail to Indonesia. “We can visit all of the places we missed during our second circumnavigation”, Paul says. “What? Sorry? Come again?” replies Sundy.
Our new plan was confirmed when we arrived in Noumea and had internet to do some more research. Paul worked for 10 days for Derceto so he wouldn’t have to work while his brother and brother’s wife were with us and I booked our tickets home. I spent some time looking for the best flight options and deals. Was it cheaper to buy return tickets or one way? What cities to fly into? Could we visit Japan on our way back to Indonesia? I saved heaps of money booking in advance (with option to change the date for a fee) and we would fly in the beginning of December from Bali – Paris – Vancouver – Tokyo – Bali. The total: $2012 NZD or 1200 euros per person!!! Crazy cheap non?
We arrived in crowded Noumea at 5:00 pm local time and squeezed ourselves in amongst the others anchored in Baie de L’Orphelinat. We had a brief catch up with our friends Alison and Geoff on sv/Saraoni when they dinghyed over to welcome us to New Cal. So good to see familiar faces when you just arrive in a new country/anchorage.
The next morning we dinghyed over to the marina office at Port Moselle Marina and the lovely lady at reception gave us a map directing us to all of the official offices. Prior to leaving Auckland Paul downloaded on OFFLINE copy of the entire Noonsite website and loaded it on the raspberry pi. So we knew the immigration office was only open until 11:30 am every weekday so we were on land at 8:00 am when the marina office opened.
We heard from an American couple in Fiji that if we bring all of our forbidden foods ashore in a plastic bag for Biosecurity they won’t bother going on your boat if you are anchored. The biosecurity officer phoned into Port Moselle Marina to see if there was room on their visitor’s dock for our boat so that Biosecurity could do their inspection, and it turns out they did have room for us in the marina. We were disappointed because we had a good spot in the anchorage and well it’s just annoying and time consuming to pick up anchor and move and re-anchor again. Paul even asked if we could bring the Biosecurity officer to our boat with our dinghy. His request was shot down due to safety issues for the officer…So we had no choice but to berth in the marina.
And what a nightmare that was. It wasn’t particularly windy when we arrived but there were some gusts. There was another boat in front of us so we made some circles while they berthed and secured their boat. When we were approaching it was difficult to read the berth number so we weren’t 100% sure which spot was ours and when Paul started to turn into one spot one of the staff started to wave at him and re-directed him to our correct berth. Maybe this contributed to what happened next. As we were entering our berth a gust of wind came through. I already handed over our starboard bow line and normally Paul throws the stern line, but there wasn’t enough time and the gust of wind was pushing us on the boat on our port side. It happened so quickly. When it was obvious we wouldn’t be able to attach the stern line to the dock Paul yelled we’re going to back out and they threw us back our bow line. For a few second…which felt like minutes…we were stuck, literally touching the boat next to us. At one point I was standing under their solar panels touching their dinghy which was hanging from davits.
I don’t remember how but I injured my hand pretty badly. I remember stupidly trying to stop Arbutus from touching the other boat and I used my hand to push the other boat away?!?!? so so so stupid. I think my hand got pinched between our boat and theirs…I remember it was slow and painful though. My brain didn’t communicate to my hand fast enough to tell my hand to MOVE. It was a slow crush of my hand where it didn’t hurt at the beginning and it progressively got more and more painful…until my hand was released or I pulled it away…We were not clear of the other boat yet so I kept my injury from Paul. He was stressing enough.
He was trying to get us unstuck from the other boat!! I remember the edge of our solar pannel grazing the other boat’s suspended dinghy. Too close for comfort. We eventually got free and started circling trying to compose ourselves and planning on our second attempt. We made it on the second attempt but again there was some kind of force pushing us towards port. A weird current? Even after we docked and went onshore our lines were stretched and taut, something was still pushing us to the left….it was so weird.
We tired to see if there was any damage to Arbutus or the other boat and we couldn’t see any surface damage. Thank god. The marina asked us for our insurance paper to keep on file until the owner of the boat next to us could come down to the marina and see his boat and talk to us. Holy shit we were worried that me might have to pay for something…While we were waiting for the Biosecurity official to come onboard I finally showed Paul my hand and he gasped. Omg he felt so bad like he was the one who caused my injury. I told him I was fine and it looked worse than it was. My hand was super swollen and I couldn’t make a fist but I didn’t think anything was broken. Paul wanted me to go the the hospital…I didn’t think it was necessary.
The Biosecurity officer was kind and was concerned for my hand as well. He spent less than 10 mins on the boat for his inspection and filling out paperwork and the owner of the boat next to us came and inspected his boat for any damages. Together we didn’t find any. What a relief. We exchanged contact details just in case something came up. So thankful that there were no damages to either boat. After 2 or 3 hours at the marina we were cleared into the country. We didn’t want to stay in the marina so we went right back to our original anchoring spot.
It was already late in the afternoon by that time but we still went back on land to walk around and eat at french restaurant with entree, main dish, and dessert. Before going back to Arbutus for the night we went to the grocery store. My oh my it was like walking into a grocery store in France (except everything was substantially more expensive). We bought the essentials: crusty baguette, cheese, and wine. It seemed like 90% of the products were imported from France!!!
We spent four nights in the big city and were eager to explore the famous world heritage lagoon. The main island “Grande Terre” prides itself on having one of the longest continuous barrier reefs in the world. You can sail much of the main island within the protection of the reef. Sweet! Another positive that cruisers are not used to is free moorings!! They are set-up by the government to protect the sea life…what a concept. Bravo la france!
We picked up a free mooring on a small ilot (sorry I’ve forgotten the name) and spent a few days unwinding from the hustle and bustle of the city. From there we worked our way to Prony Bay, Baie de la Somme where we had a strong-ish internet signal for Paul to work.
Paul’s brother Charles and his wife were flying in on September 10th so we headed back to Noumea to prepare the boat for 2 guests. It was our first time having 4 persons on board for an extended period of time. We did a big shop at the Leader Price supermarket and filled Arbutus to the brim because our plan was to head directly to Indonesia after our company left.
We rented a car for the day so we were able to pick up the newlyweds from the airport. We booked them a hotel room for 2 nights so they could recover and rest from their long ass journey from France. The morning of our departure from Noumea we bought our duty free diesel and gas and went to the market for some fresh fruit and veg. Arbutus and crew were ready for adventure
Charles and Massel are in their mid 20’s and they brought A LOT of energy and good vibes on board. We were laughing all the time. I was practicing my French and they were practicing their English. “It’s ok with you”. Our first anchorage was not ideal as the swell was coming in as rocking the boat for the entire night. However, the next day we were in paradise at a deserted little islet, crystal clear water, and an abundance of marine life for us to snorkel. There was even a family of white tipped sharks who joined the party.
Utopia can only last a day if you’re on a schedule. We headed out the next day for Ile des Pins and it was a rough-is day sail. I was inside when the sea decided to soak the deck, dodger, and crew. The Frenchies were holding their own and Charles didn’t even feel sea sick. Everyone was happy when we arrived at the anchorage just before sunset. We explored the island by foot and by hitch hiking one day and on the second day decided to rent a car.
Overnight sail to Lifou? These two are hardcore. I thought maybe we would spend three weeks in the protected lagoon but no. Charles and Massel were ready for their first night sail and they participated in the night watches. To make the most of our days we sailed during the nights. This allowed us to explore Lifou and Oueva islands, part of the Loyalty islands, and these islands were paradise.
We had one more night sail back to the mainland, direction Tohu. I don’t think we could have asked for more perfect sailing conditions during the three weeks (excluding the sail to Ile de Pins) we had just enough wind to sail at an average of 5 knots and not too much wind to make our passages uncomfortable. Awesome.
Man was I sad to say goodbye to these two. For the first time in my life I felt comfortable with native French speakers. Maybe it was because Charles and Massel are young or maybe it was because we were stoned most of the time but I felt included. Thanks guys. From Tohu Charles and Massel took a bus to Noumea and caught their flight the next day and Arbutus and the permanent crew visited Hienghene for a day. We then sailed to Poum where we waited for a weather window to the Torres Strait and INDONESIA. Wow.
Rare video footage: