Day 174, Year 2: City Lights

Day 174, Year 2: City Lights
Date: Monday, October 15, 2007
Weather: Overcast Early, Turning into a Sunny Day; Winds ESE 15
Latitude: S 22 degrees 18.844 minutes
Longitude: E 166 degrees 28.595 minutes
Location: Uere Island, New Caledonia

Just after sending the log last night, I went up into the cockpit and was surprised by all the city lights I could see. We were probably 12 miles from Noumea, but Noumea is a big city and her lights were shining brightly. I found that depressing, but by this morning, I had recovered from the setback of not being able to stay out in the islands. I was looking forward to coming to Uere Island and enjoying the last couple of days out here. Then Marie got on the radio and asked if anyone had looked
into going to Maitre Island. I had not, but once I did, I became excited again. This island is right across from the entrance to the Noumea harbor, but it has what is rated as excellent snorkeling in crystal clear water. So now we had two opportunities for snorkeling before heading into Noumea. That made me happy.

We took our dinghy to shore on Bailly Island this morning and walked and climbed around the island. There was a bit of a high spot with great views and we just enjoyed our morning walk with Ranger and Scot Free. As I was getting into the dinghy to go ashore, I took my glasses off and started to put them in my pocket to keep the salt spray off them. As I did that, I remembered a dream I had last night about putting my glasses in my pocket and getting a huge scratch across the lens. I shared the
dream with Mark, but went ahead an put the glasses in my pocket. When we got to shore, I pulled them out and found that the piece that attaches to the glasses on the left side had broken off. I couldn’t believe this really happened after the strange premonition. That along with my wishing for wind and getting it when there should have been none, and then Gerry asking me to wish for sun today and getting it is making me feel just a little strange. No more wishing and dreaming for me for now!

Around 10:30, we left Bailly and headed to Uere Island, still closer to Noumea. We had a short but great sail and anchored in full view of the back side of Noumea. We were the last to arrive and we just followed the pack and anchored, but I was so surprised that the anchorage looked nothing like the photograph on the New Caledonia CD we have. When I looked at our position on the computer screen, we were anchored way outside the designated anchorage, but then I thought the charts must be off.
Then Mark came back from dealing with the anchor and he said we were absolutely in the wrong place. We got in the dinghy to explore around the corner, and sure enough, there was the Uere anchorage as pictured on the CD. Paul had followed a German boat in, Scot Free had followed Paul, and we followed Scot Free. And all of us were wrong. So we pulled up anchor and moved around to the “real” Uere Island. We were settled in by 1:30, and then it was time to get to work cleaning the bottom. Mark did
this while I baked a key lime pie for dinner aboard Ranger. I have no limes, but I used bottled lime juice. Not as good as the real thing, but it worked.

Mark got most of the bottom cleaned today, but he will have to finish up tomorrow. We have decided to stay here tomorrow and explore snorkeling in the area. We were greeted by a poisonous water snake as soon as we got here, but I’m hoping that’s the last one I see. We will then move on to Maitre Island on Wednesday, and to Noumea on Thursday. We will be leaving Noumea with the Port to Port Rally headed to Bundaberg, Australia as soon as he weather permits. There are all sorts of festivities
in Bundaberg starting on November 1, so we hope to be there by then. We got a bit of a weather “zinger” last night when we received our weekly Weathergram from weather guru Bob McDavitt out of New Zealand. He is predicting a squash zone for October 20 to October 24 for those people leaving New Caledonia and Vanuatu for Australia. A squash zone means high seas, and McDavitt says it will be a “rodeo show.” Since we are not interested in riding any more bucking broncos, we might stay put in Noumea
area until the squash zone passes. That will give us a week to explore Noumea, a city where the new meets the old. According to the Lonely Planet, we will see “carefully groomed ladies in high heels trip smartly past gently strolling women in traditional brightly colored dresses.” I can see already from the profusion of city lights that we have reentered society as we know it. Are we ready for this?

Day 173, Year 2: The Unexpected

Day 173, Year 2: The Unexpected
Date: Sunday, October 14, 2007
Weather: From No Wind to SE 25 Knots, Gusts to 35 Knots
Latitude: S 22 degrees 17.887 minutes
Longitude: E 166 degrees 34.733 minutes
Location: Bailly Island, New Caledonia

We awoke suddenly around 6:30 AM this morning as rain was coming in the hatch over my head. We had left all the hatches open last night since there was absolutely no wind and no hint of rainy weather, but rain there was. We ran in different directions to close hatches and get towels that had been hung on the life lines to dry. It was a rude awakening and not expected. The rain subsided, but the clouds did not. Mark thought it would clear. I was not certain of that, but we decided to pull up
anchor and leave for our next destination. When we pulled out of the anchorage we had about eight knots of wind, but very quickly the skies got grayer and the winds increased dramatically. The GRIB files had predicted today as another low wind day, but before long, we were sailing along with winds ranging from twelve to thirty-five knots. It was crazy. There is a New Caledonia weather service available both by email and on VHF radio, but since we don’t read or speak French they do us no good.
The GRIBs are our only source of weather information in this area. Obviously they were not even close today

When we reached Grande Mata Island we were hesitant to enter without the proper light to see the reefs. It was at this point that Paul got out his binoculars and reported that there were already five boats in the tiny anchorage, so now we had an additional problem. At this point we were wishing we had not left Kouare, but we had and now we had to find a place to put down the hook. Ranger and Scot Free were with us and we all scrambled to find the best alternative. Unfortunately, there was no
place to go except the islands just off the main island of Grande Terre. We had been hoping for a couple of more days of white sand beaches and pristine snorkeling (without sharks), but the closer we got to the main island, those visions began to fade. We made it to Bailly Island safely, but there are no white sand beaches or azure water. The wind is still blowing and shows no evidence of letting up, but maybe this bad weather will go away as quickly as it came. Yesterday afternoon I was talking
with Gerry and Donna on Scot Free II and said that it would be nice if we could have some wind today. The minute I said that, I clasped my hands over my mouth as I know that you might just get what you wish for. Well, we did get wind, and we are not where we expected. It makes me sad to think that yesterday’s snorkel might be our last for this cruising season. I was not quite ready to give that up. So I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what the anchorages near the main island have to offer.
Possibly it will be better than I expect.

Day 172, Year 2: Of Reefs and Sharks

Day 172, Year 2: Of Reefs and Sharks
Date: Saturday, October 13, 2007
Weather: Picture Perfect Day; Winds N 8-10 Early and Then No Wind
Latitude: S 22 degrees 46.340 minutes
Longitude: E 166 degrees 48.099 minutes
Location: Kouare Island, New Caledonia

We sailed out of Kuto Bay early this morning. We were on a perfect beam reach with eight to ten knots of wind which moved us along at four to five knots. It was too perfect to be true, and soon the winds did go below eight knots and we had to give the sails a motor-assist. We glided across the water in company with Scot Free II and Ranger. It was just a delightful passage, but then it was time to go through a pass in the reef and senses heightened. It was a narrow pass, but we went through with
the sun overhead which allowed us to see the shallow areas clearly. Narrow passes through reefs are a fact of life out here, but you never get used to it. You have to be on watch constantly. But once through the pass, we could again relax. We started seeing very small islets with beautiful white beaches. We could only hope our chosen destination would be as beautiful. And in the early afternoon, our hopes were granted. Kouare is a small uninhabited island surrounded by by a reef and a white
sand beach. By the time we arrived, there was virtually no wind, so the anchorage was totally calm. We put down the anchor and before we were done with the process, I spotted a large gray fish, probably six feet or longer with a huge rounded head, cruising by Windbird. I saw no fins, so ruled out the “shark” possibility. I was looking forward to getting into the water and coming face to face with such a large fish.

Shortly after anchoring, we put the dinghy in the water just in case we might need it, and then we swam away from Windbird toward the reef surrounding the island. We didn’t need to use the dinghy to get to these close reefs. From Windbird we could see one huge coral head between us and the reef, so we made that our first stop. The coral here is beautiful. The colors range from neon green to goldenrod to lilac to raspberry pink. It was definitely the nicest coral we have seen since Fiji, and
maybe the nicest we have seen anywhere. But like many places we snorkeled in Fiji, there was a great variety of fish life, but not many of any one kind. What there was an abundance of were the very poisonous sea snakes. The consolation is that their mouths are very tiny and they would have a hard time sinking their poisonous fangs into us, but these guys were the biggest that we have seen. They are not aggressive, so we kept our distance and just watched as they wound themselves in and around
the coral formations. We were working our way along the reef when I came up to clear my mask. As I looked toward the beach, I saw something moving through the water. It looked a little like a shark fin, so I watched closely. I thought maybe it was one of our friends snorkeling, but as I focused in, I definitely saw triangular fins. This means sharks, so I tapped Mark and had him come up for a look. He agreed that the moving objects looked like shark fins, so we headed back to Windbird. We
were a good distance away, but we calmly made our way. I stopped every little bit to look back to see if we had followers, but thankfully we didn’t. When we got back we could see that Gerry and Donna were heading back to their boat, but Paul and Marie were heading right toward the area where we had seen the fins. We got in the dinghy and went over to tell them that they might want to curtail their snorkeling journey until we could make a positive identification. None of us had our glasses with
us, but Paul agreed that what we were seeing looked like shark fins. We took Paul and Marie back to Ranger, and then we stopped at Windbird to get our glasses and binoculars. Mark and I went back to make sure what we were seeing were sharks, and sure enough, that’s what they were. They were chumming for fish between the fringing reef and the beach. It was low tide, so they might have had a little difficulty getting across the top of the reef to us on the other side. And that was a good thing.
Mark took me back to Windbird and then went over to Ranger to tell them of our findings. Paul thought it sounded like Black-tipped Reef Sharks. While Mark was sitting there in the dinghy, they spotted two sharks under Ranger. The reef here is so beautiful and we had hoped to continue our snorkeling adventures, but the positive identification led us to a decision to leave here in the morning and travel on to our next island destination. We were planning to get in the water and clean the bottom
of the boat in the morning, but after seeing the sharks under Ranger, that activity was canceled.

After showers, we relaxed into the afternoon. I took our “Sharks of the World” book out on the foredeck and sat and looked at every picture. There was no mistaking what we saw. It was definitely black-tipped reef sharks–black fin tips highlighted by white. In the book it says,” . . . very occasionally bites people that are swimming or wading on reefs, but more circumspect when encountering divers.” They are very active swimmers that keep their dorsal fins above the surface in very shallow water.
Yep, that’s what we saw. But sitting on the deck, I was completely safe from sharks and sea snakes and I just melted into the afternoon. The water was totally placid and the hundreds, probably thousands of “Audi” birds that nest on the island flew back and forth in front of me. As the sun went lower in the sky, the water and the sky all became a shimmering silver. As the sun was going down, it left its reddish-orange reflection bouncing across the still water. It was a very special sunset and
this is a very special place. If it weren’t for the sharks, I would stay here for the next couple of days, but there are sharks, so on we go to Ilot Mato.

Day 171, Year 2: Climb to the Top of Pic N’ga

Day 171, Year 2: Climb to the Top of Pic N’ga
Date: Friday, October 12, 2007
Weather: Sunny Morning with Partly Cloudy Afternoon
Location: Kuto Bay, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

The highest spot on Isle of Pines is Pic N’ga, a mere 262 meters high, but a good climb over a rocky track. Paul and Marie of Ranger went with us. We left our boats at 7:30 AM and returned at 11:30, and this included a side trip to Kuto Bay’s only grocery store and bakery. It is looking like we will be leaving early in the morning to head out to some of the islands near the outer reef, so it was time to stock up on the essentials.

The climb to the top of Pic N’ga is advertised as a 45-minute walk, one way. I guess if you only count the time from the bottom of the mountain to the top, that might be the case. But there is the half-kilometer walk from the the main road to the start of the trail, and the walk through the bush to get to the bottom of the mountain. Considering that, I think we made great time and all of us made it to the top. Walking on rocks is not my favorite activity, but the views made the climb totally
worth it. For us, New Caledonia will always be memories of beautiful weather, azure water, and white sand beaches. From the viewpoints on the way up the mountain, and from the top, you could see Isle of Pines in all of its glory. The shades of blue to green in the water and in the sky, contrasted with the white beaches around the island, made quite the picture. My feet hurt tonight, but I’m glad we made the trek.

Later in the day, we went snorkeling around Le Rocher, the huge rock in Kanumera Bay just across from our anchorage. This was our second snorkel there and it did not disappoint. We saw the strangest silver fish today that swim around with their mouths wide open and their jaws dropped down. They look like they have a thin film connecting their dropped jaw to their head. We’ll have to do some research to figure out this one. We revisited the recess in the rock where Gorgonian fans abound and once
again enjoyed the colors from white to pink and red to orange. Mark tried to get a picture of the purple anemone that we saw on our first snorkel around the rock, and then we just enjoyed the abundance of fish of all varieties.

We ended our day with a planning meeting on Ranger. We compared weather information, possible stops between here and Noumea, and waypoints. If we are going to make the Port to Port Rally gathering in Noumea next Friday, we have to get moving. Tomorrow north winds or winds just west of north are predicted, so we have planned a 40-mile trip to the island of Kouare which lies to the west of here. All other possible stops are directly north or right into the wind, so we think we have found a good
alternative. From there we will just have to make decisions day by day to coordinate our island hopping to Noumea with the weather. And hopefully we will get to do a little more snorkeling along the way.

Day 170, Year 2: Pirogue Sail Across Upi Bay

Day 170, Year 2: Pirogue Sail Across Upi Bay
Date: Thursday, October 11, 2007
Weather: New Caledonia Has Only Beautiful, Sunny Days!
Location: Kuto Bay, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

Today we played tourist. We rode the hotel van to the pirogue landing in Vao and got aboard for our sail up the shallow Bay of St. Joseph and through the narrow entry into the Bay of Upi. Sailing on a pirogue was so much fun. These outrigger canoes are basically a hollowed out log with a smaller log pontoon out to one side to steady it. There is a platform on top of the log canoe, and that is where you sit. The triangular sail is attached to a rustic mast. That is about it. We were amazed
at how smoothly they sailed in basically no wind. We didn’t move fast, but we continually moved forward to the head of Baie de Upi. Once there we were dropped off so that we could walk for about an hour through the forest to get to La Priscine Naturelle, the natural pool where we swam yesterday. We left Kuto Bay at 8 AM and landed at the head of Upi Bay at 10 AM. By 11 AM we were in the water at the natural pool, and we basically snorkeled and walked the reef for the next three hours. Our ride
back to Kuto was the hotel van that was going to pick us up at 3:00, so we spent our last hour at the homestay where we were to be picked up having a beer and talking to a couple from Paris. Donna of Scot Free and Mark were also looking through the underwater pictures they had taken during day.

When we first arrived at the pool today, there were other tourists standing on rocks in the pool feeding the fish. I got into the water and evidently got myself under one of the areas where the fish were being fed. All of a sudden, I had fish of all sorts nibbling on me! They were gentle, even though some of the fish were quite large, and it was just so much fun to be enveloped by so many fish. I swam around the natural pool a number of times and discovered creatures I had not seen before. I
loved watching the batfish swim beneath me and was thrilled that a huge school of goat fish allowed me to swim along with them for quite some time. On our walk to the pool, we saw lots of Reticulate Brittle Stars and fiesty little crabs, and in the pool I found a very long creature that looked a little like a sea snake, but it seemed to have no head. Later in the day, we found one of these in a shallow area and played with it a bit. It was probably about three feet long, but when you picked it
up with a stick, it totally collapsed and looked like loose skin. Instead of a head, it had short tentacles, and when you approached the tentacle end with a stick, it shrunk and became only a foot and a half long. We have no idea what this was, but it entertained us for some time. We then climbed up onto the coral wall that separates the pool from the ocean and had even more surprises. We were walking on a reef with lots of shallow pools containing small fish, colorful clams, urchins, and sponges.
By this time, almost all of the other tourists had left and we had the place all to ourselves to explore. After finishing our exploration of the top of the wall, Mark and I made one last underwater visit. I went back to see a family of anemonefish living in a hole in the side of a large coral rock. When I came face to face with the little guys, one of them actually attacked me. I knew I had come too close to her home, so I backed off just a bit and Mark got a video of the two anemonefish coming
toward by dive mask, backing off, and coming back again and again. La Priscine Naturelle is one of the most magical places we have visited and we enjoyed it to its fullest today.

Our ride home in a van was not nearly as beautiful as our ride up Upi Bay in a pirogue, but the driver went home via the only road we had not already traveled on the island. We cut across on the airport road and at one point we had a fantastic view of the bays on the west side of the island. Tomorrow morning we are hoping to climb Pic N’ga, the tallest mountain on the island, and from there we should be able to have a 360 degree view of the Isle of Pines and all of her bays. Here’s hoping we can
make it to the top.

Day 169, Year 2: Road Trip Around The Isle of Pines

Day 169, Year 2: Road Trip Around The Isle of Pines
Date: Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Weather: Ditto–Another New Caledonia Beauty
Location: Kuto Bay, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

Today was another great island tour day. Every time we rent a car and travel around a new island, we are so overwhelmed with everything we see. One of the highlights for me today was seeing the gardens, newly tilled, and ready to plant. The soil here is Georgia red. It almost looks unreal, but plot after plot looked ready for planting. But the real main attraction of the day was swimming in La Priscine Naturelle. This is a clear pool cut off from the ocean by a coral wall and it is teeming
with fish that are totally oblivious to your presence. They don’t swim away, they simply continue doing what they are doing as you swim through them. It is like swimming in an aquarium, and it was great fun. We saw so many varieties of fish, and like yesterday, we saw some new players. The Great Barrier Reef anemonefish is new to us, as well as the Silver Pompano. It looks like a Pompano dolphinfish except that it is round like a saucer instead of long. We saw Sunset Wrasse and Moon Wrasse,
pencil urchins, small clams, fish grouped together in what I called a tower of fish, and on and on. In fact, we enjoyed our time in La Priscine Naturelle so much that we are returning tomorrow by pirogue. Pirogues are the sailing outrigger canoes in this part of the world and we will sail on one up through Baie de Upi and then walk about an hour across to La Priscine Naturelle. We will snorkel there, eat a picnic lunch, and return to Kuto by bus. We are really looking forward to the day.

But back to today. We drove 62.3 kilometers, or somewhere around 40 miles. We went in a car with Marie and Paul on Ranger. Galaxie and Incognita took another car, and Scot Free went in a car of their own. Our whirlwind tour took in all the sights on the island. We started by driving from Kuto to Vao, going to the Wednesday market, visiting the information center, and then driving to the shore of the Baie de St. Maurice to se the Statue du Sacre coeur. This is a fence of carved totems along
the beach and a circle of totems surrounding a statue of Jesus. This is commemorating the arrival of missionaries to the Isle of Pines. The silver-gray totems make a pretty picture set against the blues of St. Maurice Bay. From there we visited the Catholic church and photographed its red steeple. We then walked up the mountain behind the church to a chapel with a wonderful view of the area. We drove out to Baie de St. Joseph to the pirogue landing, tried to gather information about the pirogue
trips but found that difficult without being able to speak French, and then headed north to Baie de Upi. This is where we walked to the natural pool and snorkeled. As we walked to the pool, Marie and I stopped and played with the little black crabs with one very large red pincer. Strange looking little creatures. We went snorkeling in the natural pool and would have stayed much longer, but we only had the car until 1 PM, so we had to keep on truckin’. The next stop was the Grotte de La Reine
Hortense. As you walk from the road toward the cave you pass through a lush tropical forest. There were giant ferns, plants of all varieties, and very tall hardwood trees. When we reached the cave it was like a huge opening in the mountainside side. We followed the stream in and could see the other end of the cave where light was flooding in a large opening. We didn’t have flashlights so we couldn’t see the rock ledge where Queen Hortense, wife of a local chief, sought refuge for months in 1855
during a time of tribal fighting. The stalactites hanging from the ceiling were huge. It was an easy and interesting cave experience. From there we drove to the top of the island and visited Gadji Bay, drove down the west side of the island and visited Baie de Ouameo, and found our way back to Kuto to meet our 1 PM deadline. It was great to see the entire island, and tomorrow we look forward to a more leisurely day of exploration.

We spent the late afternoon and early evening hours on Ranger with Scot Free II doing a little strategic planning on where to from here. There are some wonderful islands we could visit between here and Noumea, but the weather once again is showing its supremacy. West winds are predicted and very few of the islands have protection from that direction. We will stay here at least two more days and hope the weather reports become more favorable. If not, we have the “West Wind” plan as a back-up.