O well, Moustiques does mean mosquitoes, I was wrrrrong. No mosquitoes there though, only flies which we’ve brought along with us and they’ve multiplied.
So we left there and went out towards the reef to Ilot Tenia. We didn’t want to go all the way around to the designated anchorage as it would add at least another hour to and fro to the trip and we needed to get away before noon to make where we wanted to get to before the winds picked up. As we approached the Ilot, the water shallowed to 1.2m so we dropped anchor there, it was dead calm. It was about 250m from shore and as we dinghied in we could see the water deepened before the coral started so we could have gone in much closer. From the shore, the boat looked like it was parked out in the middle of nowhere! It’s a small islet with a reef around 3 sides of it. There are bbqs galore and private sun chairs dotted along. Obviously they bring the tourists out here for day trips and maybe they can camp there. We walked around the point and snorkelled right off the beach. Lots of little fishies of all different colours. There wasn’t much sun so the coral only had patches of colour. It would be a fantastic place to stay for a few days and spend a heap of time snorkelling, but there would need to be no wind, and that doesn’t happen for more than a day it seems.
Then we headed south and got as far as Baie Uitoe (bashing into 20kn winds was very tiresome) where sv Squander also came in to anchor. It was nice to have sundowners with NZ couple Sally and Forfor (now Aus residents) who have their son and his girlfriend as crew. The wind picked up from the wrong direction at about 4am, blowing 25knots so we were up and engines ready in case the anchor dragged. It didn’t but as we were up anyway we waited for the dawn and headed off about 5.30 for Noumea. The regulator on the bbq gas bottle had failed the previous night so we needed to go into Noumea to see if we could get another; I’d also run out of brie!!! It was dead calm in the Noumea anchorage when we got there (about noon). Long story short, couldn’t get a regulator to fit of course. After trying 3 different places it was recommended we buy a gas bottle complete with regulator and try and put bbq fitting on the end. The closest place with gas bottles only had 24kg ones. So think about it; the ones we have at home on our bbqs are 9kg. So Ron and I carried this blessed thing between us about 1km, hoisted it up on to our friend’s boat behind which was our dinghy. We were knackered after walking around town all afternoon (I did get a giant piece of brie though), but managed to get back to the boat, unload the bottle, have a shower and go right back in for drinks and a meal at a little French restaurant. It wasn’t terrific but that didn’t matter.
Eager to get out of Noumea as quick as possible, we left early the next morning in the still very calm conditions and headed into the wind, of course, down to Baie de Prony about 30nm. Ilot Casy here is famous for its sole resident – a dog called Moose. There is an abandoned resort here and the story goes that Moose refused to leave when the caretaker did, jumping out of the boat taking him away, several times. So he was left here, several years ago. The cruisers who came here from Aus last year were unhappy with his condition so they raised some money to bring a local vet down. He came down in his little seaplane and treated Moose for a few things as well as arthritis. And apparently comes down on a regular basis (maybe monthly). As part of our rally fee we paid a small contribution to animal welfare in New Cal. I was eager to come and meet Moose. When we arrived at the moorings in front of the old wharf, there was Moose lying on the end of the wharf. He sat up and checked us out. We took a couple of hours to get ready to go ashore and by then he was howling – hurry up!!! So we kayaked in and he was wagging his tail and hobbling like an old man. I gave him a tin of Pal and he wolfed it down. We noticed however that he had a large bag of dried food that was open so he could help himself. We’ve watched him eat from it and he doesn’t overindulge! So next Moose takes us on a short tour of part of the islet, about a 30% tour! Apparently he used to walk people all the way around, about an hour and a half. But I think it’s beyond him now. He likes to go into the water and pull out what looks like a sea cucumber and break it open with his teeth til all this yucky stuff comes out, then he leaves it. It’s a sport! He hunts things in amongst the bushes. He’s not an overly affectionate dog, obviously very self-contained. But that first night at about 4am we heard him howling – at the moon? At us? Out of loneliness? Pain? Broke my heart. Next morning there he is again at the wharf waiting. There was another cat moored there and they went ashore and had a walk with him. I went ashore for a sit on the beach with another can of muck I thought he might like and waited for him to come back. I had a snorkel off the beach and saw some beautiful parrot fish and a school of transparent silvery fish. When Moose & people came back we all had a chat and when they left, Moose lay down in the wet sand under the wharf as he was exhausted. When he woke up I fed him and he seemed to enjoy it, ravioli and beef! Last night I cooked extra rice and tomorrow will give him that with some tinned tuna. He’s sitting on the end of the wharf waiting, and howling occasionally. Someone has rigged up a small water collection system so when it rains it fills and then runs down a hose into a bucket.
The weather here in New Cal has been disappointing. If it’s not windy it’s raining. Yesterday afternoon was nice and we are out of the wind here. Today it’s overcast and raining so not even nice to go for a kayak or a walk. Further upriver are some thermal springs so maybe tomorrow we can get up there. The winds are predicted to turn more northerly on Monday so we will head further south to the famous Isle of Pines and the southern reef area which is full of those little sandy islets surrounded by crystal clear water that you see in the brochures! It’s pouring now.
We’ve been told that the weather is better in Vanuatu right now and that New Cal’s best time is Aug/Sept so we are thinking maybe we will head to Vanuatu at the end of this month and come back here mid-September for 6 weeks before heading home. If we can find a safe spot to leave the boat in Vanuatu we will fly home for a quick visit early August. (Moose is howling again, so sad.)
So after I wrote that, the next day 4 cats arrived, people we know. Friends! Yay! So I decided we should stay. Leanne & Steve on Easy Tiger, Julianna & Hugh on Sans Souci, John & Leanne on Songlines (rally organisers) and Amanda and Neville on Bossa Nova. Easy Tiger and Bossa Nova had had 2 weeks down at Isle de Pins and were full of praise for the area so we got as much info from them as we could. Sans Souci is keen to go there for a couple of weeks so we will head down there with them as soon as weather permits. The others are going back to Noumea to reprovision, head out to the reef islands then come back south. As they are a lot of fun we are keen to hook up with them again but we all have to go back to Noumea to reprovision, about a 2 day trip away (depending on winds of course). Most of the time the winds are blowing from the south east so going north is easy. Getting back south is the problem.
Last night everyone had drinks on the wharf – with Moose! It was lovely to catch up on everyone’s news. This morning was beautiful – Leanne (Songlines) took a yoga class on the wharf, love, love her classes. I paddled ashore on my SUP. After that and after breakfast, I paddled around in the dead calm, took photos and looked at all the coral and fish. Neville came to our boat and gave Ron a guitar lesson. Neville can sing too so it was lovely listening to them playing and singing. We have seen two huge cod fish (maybe groupers) swimming around, HUGE! And a resident turtle. Also lots of little bright blue fish. I had a lovely chat with Leanne of Easy Tiger, she’s into kinesio and other health stuff so it was nice to talk to a like-minded person. She also has managed to get cigueterra. She eats a lot of fish normally and they are great fishers so they have been eating fresh caught fish every day. She noticed when she was filleting the fish her fingers were tingling. Didn’t put two and two together. Then she got the runs, now she has no energy. When she jumps into cold water, her hands and feet feel like she has plunged them into really hot water, and when she plunges them into hot water, they feel like ice, til they adjust. Awful. Her husband Steve looks like he’s coming down with it too.
Anyway after a beautiful morning, the expected westerlies hit, a bit stronger than predicted (of course). The gang decided to go upriver to what is widely regarded as a bolt hole for when cyclones hit. There are also some lovely walks to be had, particularly up to some thermal springs. We had been intending to do this, but it was so nice where we were, we couldn’t leave! So off we all left about 1pm. As we got about an hour upriver it started to pour. We had agreed on the left fork of the river; we’d left first and turned left, and I noticed all the other boats going straight ahead. They’d tried to radio us but our radio was having none of it. So we turned around and followed them. By now the anchorage was getting full. We dropped anchor but it wouldn’t grip and we dragged, so up anchor and trying to find a new place with 2 other boats having difficulty manouvering around us making it difficult. Gave up in the end and went back to the other side. Even there we had trouble getting water less than 15m. By this stage I am saturated (even with a raincoat on), my fingers look like I’ve been in the bath for hours! I’m also shivering. We are both getting stressed and frustrated. These are the times I hate. We finally anchored, but we’re away from our friends sadly. At least two other boats were having trouble too but they persisted and stayed that side. As it’s raining there’ll be no going ashore for drinkies but there will probably be drinkies aboard one of the boats. We’re only a dinghy ride away so if we’re happy with the anchor being dug in we may go. Although after huge stress and a couple of g&ts we may be in bed early! The walk starts from our side of the bay so we won’t miss out tomorrow. Hope to head south within a couple of days before the south-easterlies kick back in.
So the next day the others organised a dinghy ride almost back down to where we’d come from! Trouble is they all have 17hp 2 strokes and go like the clappers and we have a 5hp 4 stroke which just meanders along. Normally we only dinghy ashore so never have to go far. Well this was a half hour trip down to get rid of the rubbish then have a walk through the bush to Prony Village which is an abandoned penal settlement that now hosts tourists, maybe school camps. It was a lovely walk and the weather was kind. Dinghied back, bit of a rest then dinghy around to Sans Souci for sundowners. Next day Ron & I and Juliana of SS kayaked upriver at half tide then walked as far as we could upriver. We came upon a Restaurant that obviously hosts tourists. There was a bar set up and 2 dogs guarding the place but no people around. Couple of tents on either side of the river. Beautiful setting. I went into the river up to my knees and these little fish came to me, obviously people feed them there. When we returned to our boat, the wind was blowing from the north, but for some strange reason we seemed closer to the boat in front of us that was tied to a mooring ball. There was to be a party aboard Bossa Nova for Amanda’s birthday starting 2pm. I made a chicken curry to take but when 2pm came around the wind was blowing hard, pushing us away from boat in front but curioser and curioser they were getting closer. So we decided to up anchor and move around to the other arm where all the other boats were. I had to yell to the boat on the mooring ball to start their engine and manouver away from their mooring ball so we could get our anchor up. What we figured out later was that they were too heavy for the mooring ball and they were the ones that had dragged towards us! Anyway, around we went and found a much nicer, calmer anchorage closer to the other boats. So we were late for the party but no matter. On board were Leanne & Steve on Easy Tiger, Juliana & Hugh of Sans Souci, Brian & Eva of Zofia (the only mono owner of this group) and two of their friends, and 3 folk from a random nearby cat. Neville of Bossa Nova was a guitar teacher so he played lots of songs we all knew to which we sang along. He also played a war song that had a few of us in tears. Lots of laughs and fun. That night Easy Tiger had to move at about 1am as they’d dragged – after 3 nights! And this was a still night. Go figure. Current must have been strong.
So now it’s Thursday and the last day of the westerlies which would make it easier to head south to the Isle of Pines. Unfortunately the seas were well over 2.5m so we had a pretty uncomfortable 6 hour run to Kuto Bay. Sails up the whole way which was nice and averaging at least 6.5 knots so not too bad. The anchorage is supposed to be protected from the westerlies but here we are suffering 22 knots of wind and a really rolly anchorage. It’s now 1am and I am on anchor watch. Which means I look up at the screen of the ipad which has a picture of our boat’s arc thru the water as it swings on its chain. We have plenty of chain out and the anchor is a good heavy one. Yes we have an alarm system but we are on a lee shore which means if we drag anchor we will very quickly run back into either the beach or the rocky bottom of a tiny islet. I can hear the surf breaking against it. I think Ron fears the weakest link will give way, whether that is an actual link in the chain, or a pin holding some part on the system breaks. Why anchor here you ask? Well not much choice. There is no other permissible nearby anchorage on the island that is protected from the westerlies. There’s a nearby one but the native inhabitants have forbidden yachties from anchoring there, obviously because of past bad behaviour; shame on them. There is another right round the top of the island but that’s another 6 hour sail thru reef area, not a good idea at night. After an uncomfortable sail today and my anchor watch duty tonight, I am questioning whether this lifestyle is for me. I had a lovely week at Baie de Prony, there were those anxiety-inducing moments to do with anchoring/mooring but I’m wondering if the enjoyment of the good times outweighs the nauseating fearful times. I am seriously considering pulling the pin and coming home.
I feel like I’m on an old wooden sailing ship; there’s a creaking noise that Ron will have to investigate tomorrow; we’ll have to put up with it for tonight. I’m so tired that I don’t think it will keep me awake. The wind is howling thru the rigging, which is a worse noise. The sensation of the boat being pulled one way by the current then suddenly back the other way when there’s a wind gust, is particularly unpleasant. The winds are due to swing more southerly tomorrow so at some stage we are going to have to up anchor and move around the corner to the better anchorage for southerlies. The weather looks fairly benign for the forthcoming 4-5 days so hopefully a nice time will be on the cards. There are a few lovely things to do around here. On the east coast there is a sensational bay with interesting rock formations. Yachties are not allowed to anchor there probably because the locals run tours in their outrigger canoes for tourists so it is their income and I see the logic in preventing a good chunk of their customer base from accessing the area themselves. Shame though because it looks stunning and would be a protected anchorage.
Had Juliana and Hugh from Sans Souci to dinner tonight as I had plenty of chicken curry from what would have been our contribution at yesterday’s birthday party.
Woken at 7 by skip after a fitful few hours sleep. ‘Let’s go, the wind has turned a bit southerly, I want to get away from this big outcrop’. So up and away we went. Around the corner into 20knot souwesterlies and into the Baie de Kuto. It’s not much of a bay, quite a swell coming in but we tucked into the corner out of the wind, still in a bit of swell. Nicely anchored, then skip notices the little boat buoy that I had pointed out as we were choosing where to anchor. As this buoy is a little further out than the other little stink boats’ buoys, he was worried it might be a bigger stink boat and hey ho we have to move. So up anchor and around we go. Drop the anchor and it doesn’t grab, up it again and drop more, finally get it to hook up. There is going to be a bit of a swell in here for some time as there was a big low in the Tasman and it produces this swell which will last for quite a few days. The wind is due to die off though so it shouldn’t be too uncomfortable.
We slept most of the morning in lovely sunshine then went ashore for a walk. It’s a beautiful place. Aquamarine water, palm trees. Went for a long walk to the Convenience Store, run by a bloke who was born here then educated in Aus in Sydney, joined the Meridian group of hotels, worked in the UK for a while, then ran the one on the north-east of this island, then offered this job. He thought it was a good offer. Hopefully he’s being paid well cos it’s not my idea of salubriousness after working at the meridian! We went to the ‘Boutique’ where I bought some goodies for the dils and a shirt for Ron (thankfully not a grey t-shirt with ‘Isle de Pins’ on it which is his usual style!) Nice young French woman serving who holidays frequently in Australia, most recently to Melbourne (too cold) and Sunshine Coast (just right!). There is not much open here, nice hotel on the beach closed til July. We are hoping something will open on Monday when a cruise ship comes in! Tomorrow we are going to Vao, little town 5kms away, for a market (not holding our breath as not much grown here) and then there is some live music. We are also going to inquire about a pirogue (outrigger) tour in Baie d’Upi. (I had to ring for a taxi for tomorrow morning – ring ring; ‘hallo?’, me: ‘bonjour, est ce le taxi?’, him ‘oui’; me: parlez vous anglais?’, him ‘non’. Me: ‘o. er nous voulons un taxi pour le marche a Vao a demain; nous sommes en bateaux dans le Baie de Kuto’. Him: ‘ah oui, pret de l’hotel kou-bougny; a quelle heure?’; me: ‘oui, merci, a sept heure quinze’ (is that how you say 7.15??!!!); him: ‘bien sur’; me: ‘pour quartre personnes’; him ‘oui, c’est bien’; me: ‘a demain, au revoir’. I hope he picks us up at 7.15 in the morning, not the evening!!!! Feeling very chuffed with myself that I managed to secure a taxi. Hope I’ve got it right!!!! It’s a challenge getting ashore in the dinghy too as it’s a little wavy! There is so much to do on this little island. Hopefully we can do the pirogues on Sunday (I will ask my new taxi friend to help! Or the lady in the boutique who speaks English). There is the largest hill to climb. There is the local bougna to try (lobster dish cooked in coals). And a beautiful beach to lie on.
Well, unfortunately the taxi didn’t turn up! My bad French? His car wouldn’t start? Whatever. We flagged down a motorist (few and far between) and asked for his help. He gave us another number and we got another taxi guy to come and get us. He charged us over $40 for a 15 minute drive. O well. As we found out later this was a rip-off. Lovely market with lots of stuff never seen before. Managed to buy a few things to keep us going; ate banana pancakes, drank coffee and listened to local choirs. Obviously the missionaries have been here as a lot were religious songs! Just as a good band was coming on, another yachtie who had a hire car offered to drive us back to our boat, our other friends accepted so we more or less had to go. Such a shame.
So here we were expecting a lovely night’s sleep even with the fast ferry tied up at the wharf with its engines going. At midnight we’d both got up (loo stop) then at 2am I hear this really loud noise – if I’d been home I would have thought it was a car accident, as it was I thought a boat had crashed into the shore. We both raced up. There was this thing on the back deck. Finally realised it was the DanBuoy which had deployed – it’s a life saving device for man overboard, has a tall inflatable part that floats in the water so the mob can be seen from the boat. We realised this must have happened cos I hung my wet bathers top above it and it’s dripped on to it, finally setting it off. Good grief. Neither of us slept very well after that.
Up early next morning to taxi to Baie de St Joseph. This time the lovely Alex ferries us in his van. He laughs a lot! A local Kanaki, taught us to say youreday (see ya later). Where he dropped us we were waiting for Daniel to take us out in a pirogue. Daniel finally turns up on his bicycle, but it seems that someone has died and there is a funeral that afternoon and he doesn’t think he can take us. We enlist the aid of another pirogue guy who speaks English. Daniel heads off to see if he can find someone else to take us, but no, so he takes us. The bay is a no-go zone for yachties and I can see why. It’s very shallow but there are so many pirogue businesses that if the yachties brought their boats in here, it would slash the locals’ income. An incredibly beautiful bay, as it heads north there are rocky outcrops, kind of like Halong Bay in Vietnam (I’m guessing). We also had a snorkel but visibility wasn’t terrific and there wasn’t a lot to see. Lots of the coral was dead. But gee it was a nice trip. The colour of the water is amazing.
Daniel then took us back to our starting point. So we rang Alex the taxi driver and he took us north to the Baie d’Oro to walk to the natural pond we’d heard about. The sun disappeared so when we arrived those of us without a wet suit could only have a small snorkel but what we saw was amazing. Lots of colourful fish near coral, but as you tread water and let your eyes adjust there is a wall of clear fish, thousands of them, in front of you, and occasionally they all fly out of the water in concert. On the way back Ron slipped on the ground and jarred his wrist, shoulder and scratched the top of his hand. He was wearing his Qld safety boots, THONGS!! Then we walked to the Meridian hotel which according to the sign at the front was not taking in outsider bar guests. Sally and I were having none of that, so we walked to reception and asked very nicely if we could have a drink at the bar! Of course! So we all had a VERY expensive cocktail and shared some frites. Then we called Alex who came and gave us a bit of a tour on the way back. Saw the cemetery of the convicts; the women’s prison, a beautiful lookout, with Alex laughing all the way!
Quick update, today we climbed the peak of the Isle de Pins. Very steep. I’ll try and post pics. The water is the beautiful aquamarine colour you see in the brochures. Divine. This anchorage is getting a little crowded, particularly with charter boats full of young boys, don’t know why, but they are yelling, having way too much fun. So tomorrow we are going to head out to a hopefully deserted island and get a bit of snorkelling and beach time in before we have to head back to Noumea for reprovisioning.