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It’s fantastic discovering new beautiful things when on a cruising adventure and it’s also wonderful meeting new like-minded friends. Showing these friends the places you have discovered and enjoying them all over again through their eyes is one of the nicest things you can do, so when our friends Lanie and Warwick from the beautiful Elliot 46 “Fusio” decided to join us on a final adventure trip before their departure home we knew it would be a lot of fun.
Where are you mantas?
By Wednesday the 2nd November the trade winds had died, predicted to be light wind for some time, so we headed out to the Amedee Island pass area for another manta ray search. We anchored at a lovely sandy spot inside the reef and went for a paddle over the reef on the SUPs.
“Fusio” joined us with their new crew member Grant Hugget (Hug) and we all set off for a snorkel to see if we could find Manta Rays. No such luck, but we did see a few sharks, turtles and some beautiful eagle rays.
Hug was stoked as it was his first time snorkelling off a boat in such a remote location: “how lucky you are to be able to do this kind of thing!” With a forecast of light winds, after a typically fun sun-downer drinks session on Fusio, we decided to remain anchored there for the night, rather than going to the better shelter of the Amedee moorings.
It was beautiful to wake up in the morning at this stunning place out at the reef. I noticed a couple of little boats across the pass at a right-hander called “Corvettes” and we took the dinghy across to check it out. I went for a surf whilst Lyn took photos from the dinghy. It was beautiful conditions with a 3 to 4 foot wave size. The break has a pitchy hollow take-off and my little 5’4” “baked potato” board was not appropriate, so I entertained Lyn and the Fusio crew with plenty of spectacular nose-dives and wipe-outs.
With the wind building from the West, we sailed to Ua Island along the inside of the outer reef, checking surf spots on the way. With “Fusio” in close company it soon became a race. In the light downwind conditions Jolifou had a slight speed advantage with board up, bigger mainsail and long spinnaker pole. Fusio took advantage of JoliFou being distracted by a surf break to take the lead, and it was a very close decision at the finish.
As we arrived the wind switched to the South East as forecast, which was great timing as the anchorage is well protected from this direction. We all enjoyed watching the flocking sea birds whilst drinking sundowners on JoliFou.
Next day Fusio was clearly the faster at the tight angles of the 15 Knots East/South East wind as we sailed towards Gadji on the Isle of Pines. Being unfamiliar with this route through the Southern lagoon reefs, Fusio was forced to throttle back the sail plan in order to stay behind the relatively pedestrian JoliFou.
On arrival we lead Fusio in through the tricky shallow reef entry to Gadji outer anchorage, and both anchored there. On snorkelling to check anchor it was holding on firmly but only by the tip in a tiny hole in the coral slate (we would move to the secure inner anchorage the next day). Drinks and cards on Fusio was a hilarious affair as usual.
Garden of Eden
We were stoked to have scuba diving friends with us in this place with some amazing dive spots, so next day the JoliFou dive tour began. We set off in both dinghies for a site called the “Garden of Eden” which we have dived many times before. Huggie was our willing and most able support boat boy, a pleasure having the security of this when diving a current affected reef pass. We saw quite a few reef sharks including a group of 5 grey reef sharks, a big moray eel, and stunning schools of fish in a very pretty shallower end section that we had missed on previous dives.
Caves of Gadji?
Ever since our trip here last year, we have wanted to check out a dive site called the “Caves of Gadji”. This year we were determined to find it, but our information on the location basically consisted of a dot on a rough mud-map of the area, a confusing old French dive guide description, and a conflicting more recent report from a cruising friend of ours. On Sunday morning after filling the tanks we started a dive near the dive guide location and looked for the caves entrance. It was nowhere to be found and it didn’t appear to be cave-like terrain, not very interesting except for seeing a couple of beautiful eagle rays. It got much prettier and more cave-like further along as we swam northward. We found and explored some cool tunnels but they didn’t open up to caves.
After re-filling the tanks during lunch back at the anchorage we set off again in the early afternoon to try further north at the location our friend had told us of. Huggie had to placate an angry local fisherman on a speedboat, buzzing around above us and yelling: “no fish no touch”! We moved southward along the dropoff and discovered awesome swim-throughs and caves. We are still not sure it’s the official “Caves” dive but it is one of the best dive sites we have discovered to date.
Cool Runnings reunion
On the way back to the boat in the dinghy we saw our friends Dave and Gudrun Hibberd (and Ben and Gabby) arriving on their Lagoon 400 catamaran “Cool Runnings”. Dave and I were fierce competitors in the Laser dinghy in South Africa over 20 years ago, and we later became good friends and were teammates in the South African Olympic Sailing Team at the ’96 Olympics (Dave in Laser, me in the Soling class). We all emigrated over the next few years, Dave and Gudrun to the US and us to Aus. We got in touch recently when we heard they were planning on doing a circumnavigation and as fate would have it they arrived in New Caledonia whilst we were there. We shot out to meet them on the dinghy and I got aboard and piloted them our preferred way into the inner anchorage. After filling tanks and sorting out dive gear we headed over for drinks, along with the Fusio crew.
Lovely to catch up with good friends after such a long absence, it always amazes me how quickly one re-acquaints, and it feels like you were never apart.
Next morning, Monday 7th November we left Gadji for Oro, leading Fusio through the reef passes. Cool Runnings decided to remain at Gadji for a while and we would catch up again down the line. It was an interesting sail with the Westerly wind changing to a moderate Easterly half way. Our main goal was to show Warwick and Lanie the beautiful dive site we had discovered here previously, so we headed out on the two dinghies, surviving a bit of an iffy moment getting through the breaking waves on the barrier reef. It was an excellent dive with two fantastic swim throughs, a few good sized sharks, turtles and large fish including a Maori Wrasse. The highlight was a nose to nose encounter with a biggish shark as we exited one of the swim-throughs. The bar opened early on the aft deck of Fusio and the shark’s size grew proportionally to the number of beers as we relived this great dive.
Fusio had already cleared out of the country a few days previously in Noumea and it was time for them to leave for NZ. On Tuesday morning we joined them for coffee and a sad farewell. Our adventures in New Caledonia had been so much the sweeter this year with such great friends as Warwick and Lanie. Sharing our passion for kiting, surfing and scuba diving, positive, funny and easy-going we can’t imagine a nicer crew to share the cruising lifestyle with. The only thing we don’t like about them is that their boat seems to have the legs on us in most wind conditions. We already have plans to meet up again next season with them in Fiji, along with our other Kiwi friends Rob and Carolyn (Shenanigans) and John and Pip (Sharpe Focus).
“Manta Rays!!” shouted Lyn, “manta rays, manta rays, manta rays!” Those who know her well will probably know that Lyn is obsessed with these beautiful creatures and that swimming with them has always been her dream. Our lucky charm, my mom Joliette was with us and it was fitting that we have this rare and amazing encounter with her aboard. Grabbing her snorkelling gear, Lyn dived straight off the boat and when she came across these 6 mantas, lazily milling about her in circles, we could hear the squeals of excitement all the way through her snorkel. I hurriedly explained to my mom how to put the boat into gear and steer towards us if JoliFou drifted too far away (the wind was very light) before abandoning her alone and adrift on the boat and also diving in.
On Wednesday the 5th of October we motored from Isle of Pines to the Noumea area in flat calm and very light wind.
Kiwi kiters and drinkers
After stocking up in Noumea and seeing another Allures 44 (“Finistere”) we arrived at Maitre, hooked up with our Kiwi kiting friends and began a prolonged period of over 3 weeks of repetitive fun behaviour.
Most days went something like this: Lazy morning waiting for the wind to increase, over to the island with kiting gear and kite for most of the day (with the odd rest break of course),
sundowners on one of the boats usually carried on way past dinner time.
A particularly tough routine, hard on the body and hard on the liver too (these Kiwis can drink)! The main culprits operating under the black flag were: “Fusio” (Warwick and Lanie), “Shenanigans” (Rob and Carolyn), “Moonfish” (Mike and Sasha), “Sharpe Focus” (John and Pip) and “Bravado” (Al and Shirl). Representing the UK were “the kids”, Charlie and Zoe from “Velindra”.
A new kiter is born
The repeated days of good kiting conditions and an abundance of advice and coaching saw Lyn make huge jumps up the learning curve.
She progressed to being totally confident with the kite, getting up and going on the board and staying upwind. Each day was a massive improvement matching the huge grin on her face as she gained confidence in her new favourite sport. I crashed and burned many times before finally managing to pull off the elusive “back roll”, a trick where you jump and rotate backward through upside-down before landing and continuing on.
It feels wonderful when you get it right, and painful when you don’t!
Our friends James and Flo Godfrey (and Alex and Eva) were in Noumea for a week and came out to join us on JoliFou for the weekend of the 8th and 9th of October. James is a super-keen scuba diver and we wanted to take him for a dive, so with calm conditions on Sunday morning we decided to check out a dive spot called Tepava on the outside of the Maitre island reef. Our friends from Shenanigans and Fusio joined us and we took the three dinghies out around the reef in search of the spot. As it turns out it was easy to find as there were a couple of moorings there. To be honest we had low expectations of a dive so close to Noumea in a relatively tame spot, but it was actually quite spectacular in terms of fish as we swam among huge schools of barracuda and Giant Trevally.
Later Lyn and Flo had an excellent snorkel with the tame turtles close to the beach at the kiting spot.
One morning Lyn spotted a large fish swimming close to the boat. She jumped in to have a look and it turned out to be the huge resident barracuda. He was really tame as we followed him around for ages, joined by Zane from “Libertalia” and James and Rebecca from “Quick Star”.
On Friday the 14th there was a surfing swell and we headed out to Dumbea pass where we anchored off the reef and I had an excellent surf at the 3 to 4 foot left hander.
A familiar yellow sea plane came flying over with Guy waving from the cockpit, and landed to say hi to Lyn before continuing his flight.
Afterwards we motored across to the right-hander on the other side of the pass where Lyn took some great photos of Mike and Sasha (“Moonfish”) having an epic SUP surfing session.
On a quick stock-up trip into Noumea on Tuesday the 18th we were amazed to see yet another Allures 44 “Pegasse 3” as we had now seen two in short succession after only seeing one other in the past 3 years. We met the owners, a charmingly eccentric older French couple (Dominique and Mariel) and we had a good look around each other’s boats.
On Thursday there was a good wind blowing when we had a very frightening experience. Lanie was kiting far out towards the light-house as she often did. Warwick and I were sitting on the beach having a break when Warwick said: “that doesn’t look good!” At first I didn’t know what he was talking about as I just saw Lanie standing with her kite in normal crash position in the water, but then the kite started looping in what kiters call the “death loop”. This can happen when a line gets hooked around the bar, causing the kite to continually spin in one direction, generating power as it spins in the power zone and dragging the kiter at rapid speed across the water. This was what was happening to Lanie as she was rag-dolled at incredible speed towards a sand spit and sharp dead tree at the end of the beach!
Warwick and I began sprinting down the beach, but it looked like she would beat us there. Fortunately when the kite hit the sand it paused it’s looping for a few seconds and I was able to grab it. I was hugely relieved to see Lanie moving and shakily standing up as Warwick assisted her. She is such a brave woman, not even a tear as she recounted that she had thought her time was up.
On Friday the 21st October we anchored at Citroen bay to pick up a hire car and excitedly drove to the airport to pick up my mom. So lovely to see her again and be able to show her some of the beauty of this place. We had hoped that Lyn’s parents Keith and Merle would also be joining us but in the end it proved too difficult to get them visas on their SA passports.
On Saturday after a great kiting session the black flaggers (and JoliFou) anchored over in Citroen Bay in order to watch the All Blacks take on the Wallabies at La Fieste restaurant. The south easterly wind was blowing 35 knots but it was very good shelter at the eastern side of the bay. In order to try to balance the overwhelming blackness of the audience, Lyn pulled out some large bright gold “Savage Bee” skiff shirts for the three of us, but besides the Wallabies playing really well the All Blacks prevailed (again). Was great to also see Pete and Ness (“Akimbo”) there as well as Santiago (“Narida”) from the Pittwater.
Manta Ray Monday
Monday the 24th October heralded a pause to the perfect kiting trade winds, so on a flat calm glassy sea we motored out to the Amedee Island area. We motored around on JoliFou exploring the Boulari pass, checking out dive and surf spots. We were motoring down the Western side of the pass when Lyn spotted the Manta rays. We swam with them for ages, as they circled lazily around, moving quite slowly so we were able to stay with them easily. They were completely unperturbed by our presence, allowing us to get really close and even touch them. Lyn swam back to the boat to fetch the camera whilst I tracked the rays and we got some excellent photos of them.
We were so engrossed in the experience with these beautiful creatures that we didn’t notice that JoliFou had drifted quite a long way away into the deep water of the pass, with only my mom on board. I started swimming toward the boat and, not fancying a swim across the deep water with possible shark attention, beckoned to my mom to come closer. Soon enough JoliFou was headed at me, weaving a drunken path as my mom, totally unfamiliar with steering a boat was trying to get to grips with it and I grew increasingly worried about my irresponsibility in putting her in this situation. As she got closer I had visions of being run over and yelled for her to put it into neutral, which she duly did, and I managed to intercept the still-moving boat and scramble onto the sugar scoop with much relief! Well done mom!
We spent the night on a mooring at Amedee Island, watching huge turtles, feeding the remora fish meatballs and being entertained by a persistent seagull whom we dubbed Jonathan Livingstone as he was happy to boldly sit on the boat when others were too scared.
Next morning we tried in vain to find the Mantas again before motoring along the inside of the reef towards Dumbea pass to check out the surf. The unusual westerly wind had made the surf messy, but I jumped off for a quick surf at the left whilst Lyn and my mom motored around on JoliFou. It was a bit scary and sharky feeling surfing on my own in those conditions, but always good to get wet and a bit of exercise. We spent the night at Legionnaire island, hooking up for drinks on Fusio who now had Rob and Carolyn aboard for a few days as their boat had left for NZ with a delivery crew.
On the morning of Wednesday 26th October the trade winds had returned, messing up the surf, so it was back to Maitre for kiting for a few days with a depleted group now, just Fusio and us. A fun farewell dinner was had at a restaurant at Citroen Bay, sadly farewelling Rob and Carolyn with the “Fusio” and “Sharpe Focus” crews.
Au revoir Mom
On Sunday we hired a car to drop Mom off at the airport. On the way we drove up the lookout hill over Anse Vata beach and enjoyed the stunning 360 degree views.
Then it was with much regret and a tear in the eye that we said goodbye to Mom at the airport, consoling ourselves with a lovely romantic dinner at La Fieste in Citroen Bay.
The Coral Sea had been in an angry mood for the past week as we set off from Lord Howe on the back of a small passing low pressure system. The sea state reflected this as we had messy swells and waves, including a nasty cross-wave which every now and then slapped JoliFou hard on her topsides, splashing water into the cockpit. The wind was however a perfect southerly direction at 25 knots and we made good progress despite contrary current and a very conservative sail plan of 2 reefs and a half-furled headsail.
Our stay at Lord Howe was much longer than anticipated as we watched a number of frontal lows come through, with the wind reverting to the north-east soon after. Finally it looked good to leave on Sunday the 28th of August on a southerly flow after a small low had passed to the north of us, so Saturday was to be our last full day at the island. There was a bit of rain around but we wanted to visit Ned’s beach and feed the fish, which we had not yet done. The honesty system down at the hut at Ned’s is really charming, help yourself to a wetsuit, face mask, snorkel and fins and leave the money in the honesty box.
We put a dollar in the vending machine to get a cup of fish food and fed the fish down at the water’s edge. They obviously have been trained to expect this as there seems to be a crowd waiting on the next meal from a generous tourist. It had started raining and a very nice man gave us a lift back to the anchorage café.
Farewell Lord Howe
Next morning it was final preparations before our planned late morning departure. It was a stressful time as the wind was strong from the South and the mooring really boisterous as we struggled with removing the dinghy motor and hoisting the dinghy onto the foredeck. I had a very cold swim, unshackling our anchor chain from the mooring. Finally it was time, we hoisted a 3 reef mainsail on the mooring for stability and motor sailed out of the North passage under Christo’s guidance.
We unfurled the jib and started off towards New Cal, with beautiful views of Lord Howe and Balls Pyramid receding behind us.
The direct course from Lord Howe to Noumea is north-east and the weather routing had indicated that the wind direction would start south and back progressively further around to the east. In order to avoid a bad wind angle too much on the nose later we made easting whenever we could, particularly in the beginning and as the wind lightened off a bit over the next couple of days.
The sea state improved after the second day and we had a range of beam to just forward of the beam reaching, adjusting the main reefs and jib furling according to the wind direction and strength. For the last couple of days the wind increased to about 20 knots and was around 80 degrees true wind angle, so the staysail went up and did its job well. In stronger wind forward of the beam we find that the boat dances over the waves much better under staysail, the headsail tending to drive the bow down more. The spinnaker pole remained stowed on the mast, and the starboard runner remained tight as we kept on starboard tack for the entire trip. Not one tack or gybe the whole way.
We saw dolphins on one occasion briefly and whales twice, but quite far away. This was much better than last year on this route where we saw nothing at all. Watches were a mellow affair as we never saw another vessel the whole way. With the protection of the AIS alarm and the auto-pilot steering, most of the watch was spent relaxing on one’s back on the cockpit cushions.
New Caledonia land ahoy
At one stage we were concerned that we might not be able to arrive before closing of the immigration office at 11:30AM on Friday, hence possibly being confined to the boat for the weekend.
We need not have worried as our final half day and approach to Boulari pass at first light on Friday the 2nd of September was absolutely perfect sailing. Flat sea, the wind had freed a bit and blowing about 20 knots. We had to slow down just a little so as to arrive on sunrise and we continued sailing all the way through the pass and all the way to Noumea harbour before dropping the sails and motoring into Port Mosselle marina just after the office opened, prefect timing! The trip had taken about 4 and a half days.
What a welcoming sight, seeing Pete’s grinning face as we approached the marina. Akimbo had arrived 3 days ahead of us, having spent a long time waiting for the weather window to allow passage from the Gold Coast. From last year, we knew the formalities well and I walked over to the immigration office with the passports whilst Lyn waited on the customs officials at the boat. All done quite quickly and zero charges, Australia should learn a thing or two.
We spent the rest of the day washing down the boat, inside and out and putting mattresses and bedding out to dry as we had taken a little water through an annoying deck-coachroof seal leak. After a much-needed refreshing shower and a couple of beers it was time for an early night and a good sleep.
We stayed in the marina another two nights, leaving on Monday the 5th September. The time was mostly spent on boat tasks. I emptied, cleaned and dried the front sail locker, repairing some badly rusted hose clamps on the bilge pump. Lyn did a few loads of washing, washed the boat inside and also did some remote work for her LCD lighting company. The leak was found and fixed by cleaning out and filling with Sika 291, the outboard was serviced with new plugs. I decided we had way too many old ropes in the sail locker and hung them at the end of the dock with a “free rope” sign, soon snapped up, ironically mostly by our Kiwi neighbor on the dock.
Between boat tasks there was the obligatory sundowner drinks with Pete and Ness from “Akimbo”, Dave and Roz from “Barefoot” and meeting new friends Bob and Lucinda from “Chance”. Such is the cruising way.