DREAMCATCHER VOYAGE
Journal 20- Back to Baguettes: Noumea, New Caledonia
NOVEMBER 2004

BACK TO BAGUETTES: NOUMEA, NEW CALEDONIA,

LAT:: 22deg 16 min S       LONG: 166 deg 25 min E


It seems lately that each time we depart an island, Day One is turbulent.

We launched out of the Fiji fringing reef to a nasty sea, not entirely happy that we
had to leave the quiet serenity of lovely Malolo Lai Lai…..bound again for French
territories, this time, New Caledonia, our penultimate stopover on our Pacific
voyage.

Our strategy of sailing “jib & jigger” (head and mizzen sail only) with the main down
made for a more civilized start and we were able to find our sea legs again by the
next morning and set the main.   It was a great run – nearly 800 miles and we
forged a cracking pace, breaking our prior 24 hour record and turning in a 160
mile day!  What a pacy lady this old boat is !!!   In fact, the entire passage was
completed under sail and once again we found ourselves having to slow down
again for the last 12 hours to orchestrate a daylight entry into New Caledonia.  The
slowing process included reefing the main, then dropping the mizzen, then
dropping the headsail, then sailing almost head-to-wind to rein her in to a mere 2
knots!  

Bless the French again for their navigational marks : there was the entry “light”…..a
grand white tower on a rocky beach, that one could sight from 25 miles out on a
bad day.  In planning this voyage initially, we had thought to enter the Port of
Noumea  by sailing around the bottom of the island and approaching that city from
the west.  It had not occurred to us that an eastern approach was possible, but
indeed it was, with careful planning.   Being used to the narrow channel and reef
entrances of the atolls, we were surprised by the wide-open entry: in fact, it is
somewhat disconcerting to read the navigational charts which clearly showed
“solids” to our port side, only to see water.  Of course, the “solids” were large reef
areas submerged about 10’ and on our starboard side were the high red hills of
New Caledonia.  Sadly, one of the “solids” to port was a large passenger ferry that
had misfired on the approach and grounded on the reef.

Once again, the landscape was quite different:  in fact, the elongated strip which is
New Caledonia was part of Australia about a million years ago. It broke away,
drifted east, coming to rest 1,500 km’s off the Queensland coast.  GT thinks Oz
should go get it back – it would make a handsome addition to the islands of the
Great Barrier Reef!  In contrast to the black volcanic hills of many Pacific islands,
New Cal is a blend of red and rich brown soil, indicative of the mineral wealth :
nickel is it’s largest export and locals advised us they had just made another major
discovery and had intent to develop a new mine, yielding about 3,000 jobs.  As we
negotiated the reefs and islets we were quite fascinated with the vegetation - pine
trees, as opposed to palm trees!  These were not the handsome xmas-tree-like
Norfolk pines, but very tall spindly ones, clumped together to make a stark  
skyline.  In fact, one of the southern islands is christened Isle de Pine for obvious
reasons.  There were dozens of large navigational markers throughout the thirty
miles of twists and turns of reefs and islets and when at last we rounded to the
western side (Noumea), the wind had increased to 30 knots, kicking up the lagoon
into a sea of bumpy, spitting waves.  Enroute were dozens of tempting anchorages
but it was illegal to stop before official clearance procedures and well-placed
Coast Guard vessels ensured this didn’t happen.  So we soldiered on in
boisterous conditions to the Port Moselle Marina, made an ungainly entry to the
slip in 25 knots of wind (they had advised us “all lines and fenders on starboard
side” then at the last second changed it to portside).  We were happy to stay
aboard for several hours, hosting the usual parade of officials and again we lost
our onions, but they left us with a Fijian pineapple: go figure.  All the yachties
reckon the quarantine officials take what’s short in the larder at home!  We had a
beer, a shower, a nap and looked forward to our stay in New Caledonia.

New Cal’s natives, like Fiji’s, are Melanesian, dating back at least 4,000 years.    
Capt. James Cook made landfall here in 1774 and the rest is history.  Actually, as
we have been following the good Captain around the Pacific for nearly a year, we
feel that first name terms are justified…. in fact, we feel comfortable with  “Jim”!
…we hope he won’t mind.   Made a penal colony by the French in 1853, New
Caledonia homed 22,000 prisoners and after Napoleon freed the majority, the
competing (Catholic & Protestant) missionary sales teams assailed the island
during the 19th & 20th centuries.  It was the discovery of nickel 150 years ago that
changed the economic and social profile of the country.  Today, it is in “free
association” with France (as opposed to an Overseas French Territory like the
Marquesas) and will take independence in 20 years.  Interestingly, many Africans
were here as well, from Cameroon and Algeria, apparently able to immigrate
under the French laws: this was the only French colony where we met African
peoples.

From our perspective, New Cal was a weather window stop.  This was the last
point before the 800 mile passage to Australia and given the closeness to the
cyclone season, was crucial from a weather standpoint.  Weather runs in
approximately 7 day cycles in this area and it was imperative we chose the right
time to depart, thus, part of each day in Noumea was taken up with studying
weather systems.  We had decided to contract a professional meteorologist/route
planner and worked with one Bob McDavitt of New Zealand’s Met Service.  
McDavitt’s a serious sailor and a more serious weather man (despite the levity in
his forecasting style).  We had just missed one weather window so knew we were
up for a least a week in Noumea and prepared to make the best of it.  Baguettes
on-guard!!

Thus commenced ten days of serious socializing!   As each day passed, yet
another of our cruising pals pulled into the Marina….. combined with the convivial
re-unions, this was also the place where boats cast a critical eye over food stocks,
with the intent of entering Australia “empty” or at least depleted of any consumable
items the Aussie authorities would confiscate under their stringent quarantine
laws.  So ships’ stores were turned upside down, sorted, swapped, marinated,
cooked, baked and generally formed the basis of an amazing whirl of culinary
gatherings.  There were chicken and crab spring rolls, marinated fish, pate’s
galore, pizzas, devilled eggs and all manner of  tasty dishes devoured in the
cocktail hours.  This of course was washed down with overflow from the liquor
lockers to reduce booze inventory to an acceptable level.   Every attempt was
made to reduce stocks and we had a great time doing it.  At the end of the first
week there were 20 foreign boats on the visitors dock, transforming it essentially
into an international yacht club.  

This feasting was expanded by the calorific coffee and pastries available from the
Noumea market, a stone’s throw from the marina.  An early morning sortie there
found many of us grasping a soup-bowl sized cup of cappuccino complete with
whipped cream and cinnamon : needless to say, this had to stop!  Combined with
all the sundowner socializing, the collective yachtie waistline was spreading!!!  The
rest of the provender from the markets was also lush – fish a-plenty along with a
wonderful array of fresh tropical fruit & veg displayed in 3 octagonal shaped
buildings with blue roofs (in fact, many of Noumea’s roofs are blue tile).  Small art,
craft and shell jewellery stalls comprised the perimeter of the market, making it a
delightful place to spend an hour or so each morning.

We wandered in and around the city, enjoying the stylish shops, gardens and
evening concerts.  The latter were held throughout a beautifully landscaped central
green area covering several blocks and were always well attended by beflowered
locals and visitors.   The dancers were elaborately costumed, mostly young people
who oozed enthusiasm.  Sophisticated craft stalls surrounded the dance stages,
making the whole scene vibrant and colourful.   As France’s Pacific “colonies” go,
Noumea certainly has more panache than it’s gaudy cousin, Papeete (Tahiti).

While we were tempted to visit many of the lovely anchorages, we were somewhat
marina-bound in our daily assessment of weather suitable for departure and the
need to be close to the Immigration office for exit papers.  Additionally, we were
enjoying ourselves so much with our cruising friends, it would have been hard to
leave.  It was here that Henry arranged a lovely on-board evening for my birthday:
about 10 friends from other boats visited with eats, drinks and a very special
birthday cake made by Laura from s/v “Emma”.  We had met Emma several
months earlier in the Marquesas, and aside from a few fun days in Bora Bora, had
either missed each other by schedule or destination.  So, we were delighted when
they pulled into Port Moselle and were put alongside us at the dock: a great family,
we became firm friends with them and would subsequently passage with them to
Australia.

Whilst we feel proud of our cross Pacific achievement, we are humbled by the
phenomenal sailing experience that surrounds us, on this dock alone:  this is Bill
and Laura’s (“Emma’s) second circumnavigation…. John & Lynnette of “King
Harald” (with whom we sailed in Fiji) were completing a 7 year
circumnavigation…..Barry and Val of “Only Tomorrow” were winding up 22 years
of continuous cruising ….. Paul & Mary of “Aventura” were bound for NZ after many
years and last but not least, Gary & Bill of “Amaden Light”…. These two deserve
special note.  They are in their 20th year of world cruising, on their fourth
circumnavigation.  They have compiled a magnificent history of their sailing
adventures in several volumes of photos, autographs, drawings, maps and other
heartfelt greetings from fellow cruisers over the years, in a myriad of cities and
remote islands.  They have made a solid contribution to the cruising community in
unfailingly providing weather information twice daily, every single day for 20 years,
via HF radio.   Their boat is beautiful testimony to these two people who truly love
the sea and everyone they meet along the way.  Whilst we on DREAMCATCHER
have a huge amount of meteorological information at our fingertips, it has been
reassuring to hear Gary’s dulcet tones across the airwaves each morning for many
months and a privilege to sail in their company.  

We are blown-away by the camaraderie, warmth and support of the cruising
community.   We’ve talked about this many times: why is this group so tightly knit?  
Why do we feel we’ve known these people all our lives when in fact it is merely
months?  Why is it we know that each and every one of them would risk their lives
for us at a moment’s notice? without even knowing our surnames?  Is it the shared
risk-taking that forges these bonds?  We don’t know.  What we do know is that
some of the finest people we have ever met are busy sailing small boats around in
big oceans.

We got our “GO” signal from McDavitt, set west into the sunset, Australia-bound.

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Location and Sail Plan