Index of slides from this report.
"Would you please give us the estimated date of depature from the pontoon."
The ever so polite request from the Port Moselle marina, jolted us out of our comfortable downward track of sloth and gourmandizing. Our planned week at the marina was stretching on towards two. It was dangerously easy to live in Port Moselle, shopping daily for groceries in the market, keeping atop the pontoon gossip: what had failed on whose boat, where adapter plugs could be found, who had managed to get a visa extended and under what pretext, and always the weather.
A stranded American with the unctuous charm of a baby seal secured a crew spot on a boat headed for Port Moresby. He'd been an east coast lawyer, he said, before giving it all up to hitch hike around the South Pacific. Several boats came in from New Zealand, all having been clawed by a passing depression. "Don't they look at the weather map before leaving?" was the sotto voce judgement of the pontoon. Possibly, the weather around NZ is always so vile that a mere depression is of no concern. "Never liked that bimini anyway."
However, the sensation of the week had been the arrival of the 20-metre, aluminium, wave piercing, wing masted, eco (it had two wind generators) catamaran. Of course, it was French. Now normally, there's a subtle dockside etiquette when one checks in. People wander past, take a circumspect look at your boat, and perhaps offer a brief welcome and some handy tidbit of information, "Quarentine is taking honey, can you believe that?" as an opening gift. This etiquette was universally scuttled in favor of simply standing and gaping, then running back to one's boat for a camera. After a full day or so of this treatment, the newspapers and television got onto the story and the pontoon nearly sank under the weight of the assembled gawkers. I'm sure it infuriated everyone who arrived that week and found no takers for their story of mistreatment by the Tasman Sea.
Evidently, the Te Maramu had set out from New Zealand with two novice crew aboard. She had run into bad weather and engine(?) problems (she has a single engine mounted in a central pod) more or less simultaneously. A mayday was broadcast, and the two crew elected to be evacuated by a passing freighter while the skipper stayed with the boat. In evacuating the crew, the wing mast had been dammaged so the skipper had more or less drifted in the general direction New Caledonia until someone had sailed out to tow him in.
There. I've told you more than I know already.
Bastille DayThe nominal excuse for hanging around in Noumea was Bastille Day which would be celebrated by a parade and fireworks. Before the parade medals were given out. I was hoping for an execution "pour encourager les autres" but we got a long speech (in French!) instead. The parade featured various divisions of the French military in their very fashionable dress uniforms, uniforms, which, while unique and expressive of zeal and panache, seemed singularly ill-suited for actual combat, or even the odd bit of heavy handed imperial menacing. Nonetheless, we revelled in this expression of French colonial might. After all, they were marching past a McDonalds.
Off to the South
It is always easier to get an early start from anchor than from a marina. In a marina, the boat is tethered to land by various ganglia which must be individually severed before departure. Some, such as dock lines are visible and some, such as the bill at the office and new friends that need to be farewelled, are not. At anchor, connection to land is a much more tenuous affair, easily severed at first light while the coffee brews. Rather than have to race daylight after unplugging from the marina and getting fuel, we decided to anchor out for a night in Anse Kuendu, a small notch in the coast just north of town with a pleasant beach and a (reputedly) good restaurant.
At 11 the next morning, all accounts settled, we eased ever so carefully out of the slip which we were sharing with Tegan I. It is such a novelty for us to share a slip. It was like sleeping over at a girlfriend's for the first time. Suddenly all these heretofore private rituals - fenders here and there, this sort of noise while brushing teeth, etc. - are exposed to someone else. I hope we didn't offend. Being Canadian, the Tegans were, of course, too polite to complain.
There were a couple of other boats ahead of us at the fuel dock so we took a turn around the harbour while waiting for them to finish up. The B&G instruments, which had been working fine since having the last few problems fixed in Sydney, froze up. Bugger! The usual fire drill of checking connections and rebooting brought no joy and in all the panic, we didn't get to the fuel dock until 12:15 and so had to wait until 2 when it re-opened. Businesses around here still close from noon until 2 so that you can sleep off the bottle of Bordeaux that you drank with lunch. I used the time to phone up the instrument dealer in Sydney but the person I needed to talk to was out of the office so I made an appointment to call back at 5. We motored up to Anse Kuendu anyway so that everyone could at least go for a swim. Both kids got to fire the new speargun to see how it felt. It certainly seemed lethal enough to deal with any instrument problems...
Since I had to make a call at 5, we motored back to Port Moselle and anchored there for the night instead of staying at Kuendu. Perhaps, having taken the, er, point of the spear gun exercise, the instruments worked flawlessly on the whole way back and the call with the B&G tech support guy didn't shed any light on anything.
Bright and early the next morning, we made a lightening dingy trip back to the market to stock up on grapefruit and oranges - in season here, and very tasty - and then made sail for the south. The instruments worked. Wind was 10 knots from the SE/ESE so our starboard tack took us almost back to the Amedee lighthouse where we first entered the lagoon. We tacked back towards the mainland and the wind died for an hour or two while a little cloud rained on us and then came back to speed us through the final few miles into Baie Uié.
Karin cooked: potato salad, green salad, and organic lamb sausages that we bought in Newcastle. Good. Very good. We have one more batch of those sausages and then we're out. As always, provisioning successes are that much sweeter because of their limited lifespan: A delicate flower that blooms from the depths of the freezer. Soon enough, we'll have to rely on the native saucisses, which, admittedly, are quite good.
On the next morning's high tide, we explored what I termed the Uié (Ooey) River in the dingy before setting sail for Baie de la Tortue on Île Ouen.
Baie de la Tortue (Turtle Bay)
The guidebook indicated a small resort ashore and an airfield whose approach we would need to keep clear of. We saw the resort clearly enough, but the buoys marking the approach were long gone. We anchored in a reasonable looking place which we later discovered was right next to a sunken fishing boat whose location was supposed to be indicated by a white buoy. So much for guidebooks and navigational aides.
Tristan, dying to try out the new speargun, discovered to his chagrin that all fish species that just hang around waiting to be speared have long since gone extinct. He lurked for hours, waiting for a shot at a coral cod living, ironically enough, in the fish hold of the sunken fishing boat, but the wiley fish never showed himself for very long. Blue with cold and never having gotten off a shot, the mighty hunter flopped up the transom and accepted a plate of dinner that he hadn't killed himself.
We were planning on hanging around, hiking to an abandoned jade mine, but the mornings forcast for SW (SE? on that more later) winds decided us against leaving ES unattended in Baie de la Tortue so the kids were spared one of our little Bataan Death March outings. Instead we motored about 8 miles through Canal Woodin, the channel between Île Ouen and the mainland, to Baie de Prony. It was calm the whole way except when we turned the corner into Prony where it was blowing about 10 kts out of the south.
Baie de la Somme (in Prony)Baie de la Somme was indicated as good for SW winds, so no sooner had we dropped anchor there than it proceeded to blow briskly out of the east, and rain. Fortunately, we'd left swinging room to the shoreward and the wind soon relented.
"There are many species of poisonous fish within the bay," note the Navy sailing directions, somewhat lugubriously. What was it that happened here to cause this notice? No matter where you go, there is always something to worry about. Ignorant of their peril, the kids swam until dinner.
Anse Sebert (in Prony)
It was cold and rainy the whole day, Karin and I had a fight ("stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals" cf. signals sidebar on previous travelogue), and the wind changed such that anchorage was vile.
On the positive side, the next morning, Tristan finally speared his first fish. "It looked so much bigger," he said as the jewel-toned parrot fish lay expiring on the transom. "OOooh!" chorused the girls, immediately taking sides with the fish. As it was rather gruesomely perforated, release was out of the question. I readied the frying pan while the kids figured out how to gut and scale it. We found beautiful rainbow scales around the boat for a week. My little bite was quite tasty.
Baie du Carenage (in Prony)After bouncing around all night off Prony, millpond conditions were urgently desired. We motored all the way back into Baie du Carenage ("careening bay") which is several twists and turns removed from the entrance to Baie de Prony. While I seriously doubt that much careening ever happened here, the anchorage is perfect.
At high tide, you can dingy right up to a waterfall where what I've taken to calling Carenage Creek tumbles the last few metres into the ocean. Just below the waterfall is a hot spring which has been channeled into a man made hot tub. It sounds alluring, but the hottest water was just barely luke warm. At the springs, we met crews from a couple of boats, Cadenza from New Zealand and Namagdi from Australia. The Cadenzas later visited us for a very pleasant afternoon tea and regaled us with tales of the vile NZ weather - "forty knots isn't bad if you're just going out for the afternoon..." I don't think we could carry enough gin.
Near the springs we found trails for Abbatoir Point, the town of Prony, and something known as "lac 8" which we took to be either:
The country looks like Utah desert, but is actually quite wet. The vegetation is stunted and sparse due to the high metal content of the soil and the lack of nutrients. The land is uplifted abyssal plain (quite rare) which accounts for the huge mineral wealth.
We listened to the weather forecast from Radio Noumea, Foxtrot Juliet Papa, on VHF 25 and gleaned that the vand tomorrow she will blow sud/sud-est (or sud-ouest, we are never sure) and there will be some ool but not too much. The forcast around here always seems to make a big deal about ool even though we are in a lagoon where precious little ool ever finds its way in. Perhaps that's why they get so excited about it. And there were some other things that we could not quite make out and a couple of securités, they love those here. Like, they invented it or something.
Bonne Anse (in Prony)
Menaced briefly by wind and ool, we scootched across the main entrance to Prony and into Bonne Anse ("good harbour") where we found anchorage in a little bay below the Pic N'doua light.
We hiked up to the light atop Pic Ndoua. Whether caused by man or nature, the landscape seems prone to erosion. Somewhat like the hills around the Bay Area. Exploring one little canyon the kids stumbled across a pitcher plant. We'd only ever seen these in botanical gardens, but they seem to be quite common here. They're carnivorous, digesting insects (or small children) unfortunate enough to fall into the pitcher-shaped leaves. A handy adaptation for poor soils.
As there were several recently used firepits ashore, a bonfire seemed acceptable by local custom if not by law. Firewood was easily found and the Endless Summers enjoyed a bonfire ashore. We'd hoped to see a coconut crab but they seem to know better than to show themselves near bonfires.
It takes a measure of doing: snorkling alone with a cocked speargun, a metre and a half of cold death in one hand and the distortion playing tricks with one's peripheral vision, or marching grimly towards the bakery with only the mantra "deux bagettes à l'ancienne" spinning in your head and only the cold comfort of a fist full of 100-franc coins.
They've had to do a lot of growing in the past year and I'm proud of them. Among other things, they're both crack dingy pilots.
Back to NoumeaOut of milk and fresh veggies, with uncertain quantity and quality of both at the Île des Pins, we decided to stop back in at Noumea to reprovision before trying for Île des Pins again.