After removing the ash from the deck as best we could (it was surprisingly sticky) , we motored against the wind to the south along the east coast of Tanna. The morning surprise was when John saw a very large dolphin that proved on closer inspection to be a breeching whale about 100meters from the boat! It breeched three times to have a look at us and we obliged by slowing down and let it swim across our bows. It was a dramatic sight but also rather alarming. We had the usual rough passage with 30 knots of wind and the accompanying increasing swell but we had Bob helping this time so the night was much easier and we reached the atoll of Ouvea in the Loyalty Islands the next morning. We entered through the Passe Coetlogon but had to wait for a cargo vessel to exit first as it is quite narrow but well-marked as is usual in the French territories. Once in the lagoon the sea was calm but the land is too flat to provide shelter from the wind which continued its 30 knot blow. The sea was a rich turquoise but we could not launch the dinghy or swim comfortably in such a strong wind. The next day was much the same although Bob swam, his outfit exactly matching the colour of the water (see photo! ). The wind continued to howl but cabin fever set in the next day and so we all swam despite the conditions and later launched the dingy and Bob Sandie and John went ashore. The search for bread was fruitless but a few tinned provisions were found.
Next day 3rd September the wind was forecast to be easterly so would allow us a better course towards the mainland of New Caledonia “ le grand Terre “ . We sailed off early to make the 60 mile passage in daylight. We had the usual 30 kts but at least we could make the course for Passe Thio on the east coast of le grand terre and fully reefed we actually had a good passage. Our first sight of le grand terre was rather exciting and it is easy to see why Captain Cook who was the first European here decided on the name New Caledonia. We had decided to anchor in Toupeti bay very close to the Passe Thio and we just dropped the anchor as dusk fell. It was a beautiful bay surrounded by mountains covered with forest, deserted and well protected.
We were now inside the lagoon so we had calm water despite the strong wind so next morning we headed south along the east coast with the red earth glowing in the sun contrasting dramatically with the green trees, a wonderful colour scheme. The next stop was Yate river estuary and again we were the only yacht which was fortunate as there was not much space between the reefs but the passage was well marked and the holding excellent in mud. It was another beautiful spot where we could swim and enjoy the stillness.
The next day the hurdle was the Canal de Havannah passing around the SE end of the island which we needed to do at slack water just before a flooding tide which the admiralty pilot said was 1 hour earlier than in the tide tables. At other times serious eddies formed. We had timed it perfectly and were surprised by the strong eddies and the confused sea which still greeted us ,the boat was thrown around as indeed we were but it was short lived and we could see the flat water ahead and we were soon through safely.
We found another beautiful anchorage in Baie de Prony en route to Noumea a very large bay with numerous well protected anchorages so we had a very quiet night there.
The next day was another early start as the pattern seemed to be emerging that the wind died during the night and gradually strengthened from about mid-morning onwards so sailing was easiest starting at first light. We transited canal Woodin just west of Baie de Prony with a rising tide and we arrived at Port Moselle marina at 12.20 on 5th September and were efficiently helped into a berth alongside. We had quite a thorough biosecurity check but luckily we had eaten almost all the fresh provisions so they only got the remains of the cabbage and some ginger .
We enjoyed the restaurants, wine, patisseries and market of Noumea and decided it was too much of a rush to go to Australia in the next few days. Luckily the marina could keep the boat while we went back to England ( we had already booked the flights thinking we would have been in Australia ) so we went cruising with Bob and Sandie instead of the ocean passage.
We left the marina again on 8th September to try and sail to Isle des Pins about 60 miles to the SE but after leaving the harbour it was clearly impossible as a 35-40 kt SE wind was blowing so we changed course for Ilot Maitre about 5 miles outside Noumea and sheltered there for the rest of the day. It was impossible to go ashore but we did manage to swim John and Bob reaching the nearby coral reef. We had to abandon the idea of Iles des Pins because the wind was too strong and on the nose so we headed north early in the morning to avoid the strongest winds and we had to find an early anchorage in the Baie St Vincente to seek shelter. We had 50 kt gusts rounding the headland into the bay ! The next day we moved a few miles further north to Baie de Moustiques on Isle Ducos to what looked like a very protected anchorage from the raging SE wind and indeed it was as three other yachts had also discovered. It was a beautiful spot quite wild and remote and there was so little activity from the other yachts we thought they had been left or even abandoned until two of them moved while we were walking on the island a couple of days later when the winds was calmer. One boat had a dog on board but it did not get much exercise at least while we were there. We climbed up the hill passing a herd of wild horses to be rewarded with a wonderful view of all the islands and bays.
On 12 th September we left to go back towards Noumea and anchored off isle Tangue the return journey. The wind continued to blow but we had a quiet night and decided to go ashore very early the next morning, when the wind was less, and explore what looked like a village. Luckily it was perfectly calm but we found a housing development with private pontoons for each house and no boulangerie for morning croissants, so rather disappointing.
Our last night was again at Ilot Maitre and this time we did get ashore and had a very nice lunch and walked around the island on the beautiful sandy beach to watch the many kite surfers on the southern side. We swam to the coral reef again with an encouraging amount of live coral and plenty of brightly coloured fish.
We went back to Port Moselle to say goodbye to Bob and Sandie who were flying to Sydney to complete their holiday. We then had to decide how to spend the next few days before our own departure. The wind would have the major decision making role in that though.
In the interim we hired a car and visited the Lagon Bleu a national park around an artificial lake created by a dam for a hydroelectric project near Yate where we had anchored earlier. It was beautiful and we saw the national bird the Cagou in the park. The colours were so vivid and everywhere so quiet with very few people.
A big international round-the- island race was coming up in New Caledonia so marina berths were in short supply so we had to leave and as the wind was now much weaker we decided to visit the renowned Isle des Pins. We had seen that Karl Kwok with Beau Geste was entering the race and also Scallywag previously Ragamuffin, both boats from Hong Kong . We were so lucky with the winds over the next few days we had an easy, albeit motor sailing trip to Isle des Pins , such a beautiful island ( sorry Bob and Sandie ) . Amazing water so clear and a spectacular piscine naturelle, a sea water pool surrounded with coral reefs completely unspoiled, no parasols ,loungers stalls etc. We travelled there in a traditional sailing pirogue across the magical Upi bay with its numerous unusually shaped coral island. Fortunately, the whole island has been protected from development by the local inhabitants and so was quite unusual and a real treat.
We motor sailed back anchoring again in Baie de Prony before arriving in Port Moselle and getting the boat ready for her lone sojourn there. We flew to Brisbane on 24th September and plan to bring Baringo to Australia in November so watch this space.