Sunday 27 September 2015

New Caledonia - Loyalty Islands

Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia: 6 September – 25 September


The journey from Port Vila to Lifou was only 200 miles so a day and half sail. We had very light winds for a change - we sailed for 8 hours in 12 knot winds and then motored the rest in even lighter winds which made for a restful passage. We arrived into the bay at Lifou at 7pm the following day in the dark which is always fun (depending on your definition of fun!). Lifou is one of the three Loyalty Islands to the east of Grand Terre which itself is the third largest island in the South Pacific.

Lifou: 6 September – 13 September

The first day we were confined to boat awaiting Bio-Secruity, Customs and Immigration clearance. I ran the water maker during the day and noticed after an hour that the bilge pump was also running – not good news. I found that water maker had developed a serious leak, filling up the bilge with sea water at an alarming rate. Taking the water maker apart, I found two of the bolts holding it together had the threads stripped – they had been over tightened in Fiji when we had it rebuilt and they had used PTFE tape round the threads to try to get the bolts to grip what thread was left. We are now without the water maker and with very few places to actually get water before we get to Nomea (the capital of New Caledonia) in six weeks’ time.

During the clearance procedures, Bio-Security found a jar of honey from Spain (unopened) in the search of out boat and they impounded it. It was the only thing they found – we had been scrupulous in checking we had no banned products on board (which includes all meat and vegetables) and indeed honey from Europe is allowed. Honey from Spain, we were told by Bio-Security, was not allowed although Spain was in Europe the last time I looked but clearly not so on their atlas. However, they did waive the $30US destruction fee which was something.

It was good to be off the boat and we walked along the road to see the village which has a bakers and a small shop. Lifou is very different from the small islands in Vanuatu, Tonga and Fiji.  There are proper roads and electricity to every village. New Caledonia is a still governed by the French and they provide a lot of investment which is evident.  The indigenous population are the Kanaks who live mainly on the Loyalty Islands and in the north of Grand Terre making up 45% of the total population. The other 55% of the population are mainly French nationals with a small number of Asians. There is a vote for independence in 2018 although talking to the locals they do not expect to win independence since they are in the minority.

That night the village laid on a traditional feast, mainly of yams and other root vegetables cooked in a variety of sauces. Not my favourite food and it certainly would not persuade me to become vegetarian but the evening was jolly with the locals providing music and songs.

All the boats had to throw away any meat and vegetables on the passage so the ICA organised a bus to take us across the island to the supermarket in “We”, the capital of Lifou.  There are only a few small shops, a supermarket and the administrative centre in We and these are spread out over a couple of miles so you never get the sense of a town. Most of the produce came from France including the wine although New Zealand is only 1000 miles away compared to the 15000 miles to France.

As the Post Office had closed at 3pm we missed the chance of buying a SIM card (the only place you can buy them) and so the next day organised we organised a taxi to take 12 of us to the Post Office. We tried to short cut process to get SIM cards by one person buying all 12 but they would not have that. They did agree that four of us could buy three each but we had underestimated French bureaucracy – each SIM had to have a separate contract made out, photocopies of the passport attached to the contract and each one signed. It took three hours to complete! 

I helped a few of the boats set up their SIM cards and one of them, David who was an engineer, looked at our water maker to assess the options to repair the stripped threads. He came up with a very good option which was simple (using a threaded rod the next size up and re-tapping the holes) and all we needed were the materials – 3/8” rod and a 3/8” Tap in a country where they only have metric sizes. That was going to be challenge.

Driver cum local musician
North end of the island
Weather closed in again and three days of wet and windy weather so stayed in Lifou. We organised a tour of the island for 24 of us with a picnic on route and the drivers entertaining us with songs and music during lunch.  While we were eating,  Glen from Malekite asked how I was getting on with the water maker and I explained what we needed. He sent a text to his father and a couple of hours later he received a text back to say he had bought the materials and would bring them out next Wednesday (five days time) when he was coming to Ouvea - what a result!  

Next day I organised a trip to a restaurant for lunch for 18 people. Having phoned one restaurant which said that they did not open on a Saturday, I booked the hotel in We which was the only other option for lunch. The lady I spoke to said she did not speak English so I made the booking in French, only for her to confirm all the details back in near perfect English!  Very enjoyable afternoon and we left there four hours later – that is what I call a lunch.

Weather was due to break the next day so we set off for Ouvea, 40 miles to the east.

Ouvea 13 September – 19 September

The attraction of Ouvea is that it is an Atoll – volcanic islands surrounding the sea to form a large lagoon which is about 7m deep with a beautiful white sandy beach along one side of the lagoon.
The local cafe
Waiting for the coffee with anticipation
The following morning after we arrived we met up with the six other boats at anchor near us to walk along the shore. Coming across a café, we stopped for a café au lait which was on the menu and something that made us all excited – good coffee. After 30 minutes we were presented with a cup of hot water and a jar of Nescafe (which they had to go and buy) to help ourselves – but no milk so we had to forego the “au lait”. A little disappointing.

Lunch at the resort
The walk to the resort
We all walked back along the road in blazing sunshine and it was very hot. Everyone else decided it was too hot to walk any further and went back to their boats. Catherine and I decided we would walk to the resort along the white sandy beach to have lunch. An hour and a half later we arrived at 1:30 and just managed to get lunch before they closed the kitchen.  It was a hot walk along the beach but well worth it - the setting was beautiful, overlooking the lagoon and shaded by trees outside. The food was very good albeit expensive.

The following day we decided to change anchorage to outside the resort (where we had lunch) to get out of the short chop which made our current anchorage uncomfortable. The other boats had the same idea and in all we ended up with 10 boats anchored off the resort.  A relaxing day on the boat and after a short walk to explore the area we joined some of the boats for cocktails at the resort. One of the boats had hired a scooter for the day and both Chessie and ourselves signed up for the following two days. Alas the scooter did not survive the for long the next day when Chessie took it out and they abandoned it at a restaurant and managed to hire a car.

We took the car for the following day and set off to explore. The roads were tedious, long straight
The Blue Hole
roads going through uninteresting countryside and there were few sites worth visiting. The Blue Hole was one of the main attractions in the guide book which turned out to be a big hole in the rocks filled with fresh water (which was actually blue in colour). But there is only so much time you can spend staring at a hole even if it is blue. Lunch proved to be the best part of the day, eating in a local restaurant with good fish on offer and a good view of the bay. Shame it did not open in the evening.

In the afternoon we tried five times to find the path to the Turtle lagoon after many abortive attempts along dirt tracks off the main road (no signs of course). So we gave that up and went to the supermarket to re-provision for the next week.

On the Wednesday Glen’s father duly arrived with the parts for the water maker and four hours later it was back working. It was tricky to re-cut the threads to ensure that they were absolutely straight otherwise the top part could not be bolted on. Three of the four hours was working out how to do it since I would have only one chance to get it right and then it was actually quite simple. A refreshing change to my normal approach of doing it and then spending three hours working out how to correct it!

That night we had rum punch on-board Huck along with Chessie. Both Huck and Chessie are long term live aboards – Huck have been sailing the pacific for three years and Chessie are on their second circumnavigation. They are both great fun and we had a very enjoyable evening.

The next day was just rain all day and we stayed on board.

Beautemps-Beaupre 19 September- 23 September

The atoll of Beautemps has a very small anchorage (6 boats at most) and many of the rally had already come back from there extolling its virtues. So we set off in 2 knots of wind the next morning and a glassy sea to cover the 25 miles  – for the first time we did not even bother to put up the mainsail and just motored. We saw some whales on route, one of which jumped out of the water and breached, creating a huge splash – the first whales that we have seen. Beautemps is one of the most beautiful anchorages we have visited, surrounded by bombies (Coral Heads) which makes the entry very difficult but provides excellent snorkelling.

Start of the walk was easy
Beautemps is uninhabited with a very small anchorage - enough for 6 boats only. We walked around this very beautiful island in the afternoon and came across nesting Swifts on the beach. As we approached it became like a scene from the film The Birds as they circled around us, swooping down very close and screeching to scare us away! It was quite a sight and at first very unnerving. The baby birds had hatched and were walking around the beach, unable to fly yet so we were very careful. Later on we came across a colony of Boobies who were sitting on their eggs and seemed totally unphased at us walking past. 

Walking along the rocks
As we got to the last part of the walk, we had to walk over the
volcanic rock by the edge of the sea. It was very sharp and despite being advised to wear solid shoes, Catherine and I had gone out in flip flops. These were fine for the most of the walk but not the last 400m over the very sharp rocks. We had been walking for an hour and a half round the island and decided that we would cut across the island rather than walk all the way back round. Not a good idea when the middle is jungle.

Starting to get very dense
After an hour of making slow progress through the dense bush, we were not certain that we could get through to the other side and had no visible route back with all the twists and turns we had made. So we carried on and eventually came to the beach the other side - or rather to the top of the cliffs which were covered with impenetrable vegetation down to the beach (and steep). A further half hour of scrambling through the undergrowth, following the coast line as close as we could we finally found a way through. What a relief that was - just a few scratches as a consequence.

We spent three very socialable evenings at anchor. The first night we all congregated on the beach around a fire for sundowners, about 20 people in all. The second night we went aboard Serendipity (Chris and Sharon from Australia) together with Chessie (Jutta and Jocken from Germany). It was a late night, drinking the rum punch that Jutta had made (tastes of fruit juice but absolutely lethal) and a consequently very slow next day! The last night we had drinks on our boat and, as we were all heading back to Ouvea at 6am the next morning, we had a relatively early finish (relative to the previous night that is).

One of the reasons for going back to Ouvea was that there was a supermarket there where we could stock up before going to the Isle de Pins where there are only small shops. We all met up for drinks at the resort in the evening (where we had been before) and dinner making another very sociable evening.

Next morning, we headed off the 150 miles south to the Isle of Pins with the forecast of light NW winds.

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