In the prevailing South Easterly trade winds it is not often that one gets a chance to easily get out to the Isle of Pines. We had left there prematurely on receiving the tragic news about Bruce’s brother Tim, and we wanted to return. So on Thursday morning with light westerly winds forecast we took … Continue reading
You could hear the scream all the way along the beach! “She’s a screamer”, says Rob as we both look up just in time to see Lyn flying off her board and face-planting in-synch with her kite. It’s her first time up on the board and she comes up beaming from ear to ear, as only Lyn can.
On Monday 12th September the surf was forecast to be small and we said a sad au revoir to Ouano, departing early in the morning. We motored to Tenia in the light south-easter and anchored inside the sand spit at Tenia very close to beach, only boat there in perfect weather.
An idyllic setting soon spoiled a bit by the arrival of a water taxi with a small group of Japanese tourists. We paddled the SUPs ashore and walked around the island, re-familiarising ourselves with the natural splendour of this place.
Lyn spotted a sea hawk’s nest, a subject she has been trying to capture in her photography for some time. She managed to shoot some amazing photos of the mother returning to the nest with food.
St. Vincent’s shelter
With the wind increasing through the day we sailed on through Canal Ducos, anchoring in the perfect shelter on the North side of Moustique Bay at Ducos Island.
After an afternoon nap we awoke to find the wind had lightened and gone round to the north-east and used the opportunity to get farther South and enjoy a sun-set sail to the inner Uitoe anchorage where we had a beautiful and peaceful evening.
Next morning we departed at the crack of dawn, in order to motor to Maitre Island before the trade winds increased. It is a frequent wind pattern here on the West coast for the strong south-east trade winds to lighten to almost nothing overnight and then build through the day, probably due to the adiabatic effect of cool air flowing down from the inland mountains.
We count ourselves as very fortunate as time and again we seem to experience serendipitous moments along our travels. This was such an occasion. Our main purpose of coming to Maitre was to teach Lyn to kite surf, something she has been wanting for a long time, but very difficult on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Last year we had tried, and discovered it was just too hard with my smallest kite being too big for Lyn to learn on. This year we are prepared, with new smaller kites and a twin-tip board.
The serendipity was in us meeting Rob and Carolyn Port from the catamaran Shenanigans. They are friends of friends whom we had met briefly in passing last year. They are keen and proficient kite-surfers. “Carolyn and I love teaching friends how to kite”, says Rob shortly after we met, “we would love to help teach Lyn”. This was to be the beginning of a fun-filled few days and a new enduring friendship with these fun, funny and very sociable Kiwis. Lyn progressed rapidly under their expert tutelage, and by the time the wind died 3 day’s later Lyn was starting to be able to get up on the board, albeit briefly before crashing and burning.
Other noteable events during our time at Maitre:-
- Drinks (and drinks and drinks) on Shenanigans, Jolifou and Andromeda (Dean Cat, Michael and Iris).
- Bruce getting kite lines tangled with another French kiter, minor injuries but managed to extract himself with no gear damage.
- Bruce trying to kite when the water was too shallow, losing a fin on the reef, finding it again at low tide.
- Leaving all our kites stacked and pumped up on the beach whilst we had coffee at the café and warmed up for the afternoon session.
- Lyn wading out with her camera and taking some sensational action shots.
- Carolyn effortlessly demonstrating the back-loop to Bruce, who entertained with multiple big crashes whilst trying to learn it.
One of our main attractions to the cruising life-style is that it enables us to go to great places for the action sports that we enjoy. I am a keen surfer and Sydney is generally a poor place for surfing, with crowded and inconsistent beach breaks mainly on offer. New Caledonia has some excellent surf, but the swell is not consistent, depending on strong low pressure system South Westerlies in the Tasman Sea to push swell northward. So with quite a good swell forecast to arrive on Tuesday it was time to head up the North West coast to my favourite surf break, Ouano.
We left Port Moselle marina on Monday 5th September just after midday, after a morning largely wasted on a wild goose chase to eventually find some Sika 291 sealant which we needed to replace to our friends on Chance whom we had borrowed from over the weekend. The wind was light from the east and we were forced to motor-sail in order to reach our planned overnight anchorage inside the beautiful Ndukue Island.
Leaving quite early the next morning, we did a drive-by past the St. Vincent’s pass lefthander, which looked really good but decided to press on to Ouano for my first surf.
We arrived at Ouano at 11, anchoring off the surf break. Unfortunately the south easterly wind had picked up by then, three surfers were just leaving and I ended up being alone in the line-up, always a bit scary, especially as there was the odd bomb set coming through and I am far from at my best physically at the moment. Nevertheless it was well worthwhile with a few excellent waves ridden until the arms gave up.
Arriving in the inner Ouano Bay anchorage we were delighted to see our friends Patrice and Pierrette from the grand schooner “Bonte”, and invited them around for a drink and a catchup. Just as the sun was setting we noticed another yacht approaching and there was much speculation as to who it could be, surely not “Akimbo” as we only expected them in a couple of days’ time, but indeed it was and we soon had them over and joining the party.
On Wednesday morning at first light the calm tranquility of the anchorage was broken by the sound of anchor’s being raised as “Akimbo” and “JoliFou” began the daily surf routine which we had perfected last year. Motor out to the break, anchor off, hit the waves, eat and relax back on the boat, sail back in as the South Easterly wind picked up in the early afternoon. The waves were a bit smaller than the previous day, but it was a really fun session.
That afternoon the wind increased steadily and the Ouano anchorage, although secure does get a little choppy and wind exposed which meant not the best night’s sleep.
Come in she said I’ll give you, shelter from the storm
Thursday the 8th was forecast to be little swell and strong trade winds, so no surfing. With the wind increasing in strength in the afternoon, facing another uncomfortable night and looking for something to do, we decided to undertake a short sail down to a more sheltered anchorage at Presqu’lle Lebris. It was pretty rough out in the lagoon, but with just a half-furled jib it was a relatively cruisy sail.
After a few nervous moments negotiating the final approach in shallow and murky water we were rewarded by a lovely anchorage which was indeed a lot quieter than Ouano.
Not big Friday
Awaking early the next day we headed out for the reef with me feeling quite nervous. The surf forecast was expecting a 2.5 meter, 16 second swell, which I know translates to pretty heavy conditions. Conditions that this old and unfit body was ill-equipped for. I was fully prepared to spend the day just watching from the channel, so it was a pleasant surprise when we got out there and realized it was quite a manageable size. In fact Pete and I had an excellent session, so many good waves were ridden until the arms were nearly dropping off.
We had a really nice jib-only sail back into Ouano anchorage – all the way almost to the anchorage spot before furling the jib and starting the motor. This is something that Pete (Akimbo) and I always try to achieve, but is not always easy because the wind angle through the channel between the coral bommies is quite tight. We always have Lyn ready to start the engine if it’s turning pear-shaped.
Drinks on Akimbo that night was a rowdy affair and with small surf and weekend crowds expected the girls planned a Saturday morning of local-knowledge fishing lessons from Pierrette. Lyn got her finger bitten by a crab whilst they were digging for shell-fish on the bank and she returned with a collection of shell-fish (not sure what they are called) mostly dug up by the experienced Pierrette.
The perfect glassy calm morning gave way to a building South Easterly, and in the afternoon I decided it was time to break out the new 8m Ozone Revo kite and figure out how to ride a twin-tip (I normally kite surf on strapless surfboards and we had recently bought a twin-tip for Lyn to learn on). As fate and Sod’s law would have it, this coincided with the wind deciding to die down in a petulant gusty way. Kitemare ensued as I was forced to body drag to the downwind sandbank, self-recue (pack up on the water) the kite, and return to Jolifou with tail between legs, confidence severely dented – maybe this twin-tip thing was not so easy after all? This demonstration did not inspire confidence in my future student.
A good kiting spot
Thankfully there was no wind and small fun surf on Sunday morning and we snuck a quick session in before the local crowds arrived.
The wind increased again in the afternoon and Lyn, Ness and I took on a long walk to check out a popular kitesurfing beach just South of Ouano bay. This is a great spot for it, much better than gusty Ouano bay. There were many good kiters out, who made riding the twin-tip look easy as Lyn captured their jumps on her camera.
I had decided to leave my kiting gear behind on the boat as the walk was too far with it (or had I lost my mojo?).
On Monday the 12th we elected to head South again as the surf forecast was bad for the foreseeable future. Au revoir Ouano!
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.
Crash, burble, splash! Some water spattered through the closed coach roof hatch, rudely awaking me from my dozing as Lyn swore loudly from the cockpit. “We’re going too fast, there’s huge waves breaking over the fore-deck”! Somewhat of an exaggeration, the waves weren’t huge, but they were steep and sharp as the building northeasterly wind met a new north-bound current. Swearing under my breath, I stumbled wearily up to the cockpit and helped to furl the jib, with some difficulty as it flogged wildly in the wind.
Our final night on the trip from Newcastle to Lord Howe was proving to be a bitch, the 25 knot wind was stronger and had more northeast and less north than forecast and we were beating into it trying to fetch the island. It was the final act in a trip that was somewhat frustrating with more upwind sailing than we had ever done before and plenty of adverse current.
Friends, boat tasks and a bullet dodged
Before this our cruising plan for the year was going quite well. We had spent two weeks in Newcastle, both working remotely whilst hauling the boat out the water at our favourite boatyard Mid-coast Marine and catching up with our good friends Joe and Belinda (and Karma and Drew). The boat work went mostly really well with many ticks on The List completed including Lyn anti-fouling the boat by herself (for the first time) and me replacing the generator exhaust through-hull fitting and a bit of a Macgyver effort at stopping the lightning cable slapping in the mast. Our friends Jeremy and Mel of “Felice” were also at the Marina, starting their maiden voyage up to the Whitsundays. Jeremy is a marine diesel mechanic and we were very lucky to have him agree to give the engine an once-over whilst they were there.
Jeremy’s experienced eye revealed a few serious and unexpected issues with the engine which could well have resulted in major engine failure. A broken raw water impeller, with bits in the heat exchanger (impeller was replaced recently and I would not have checked it). Leaking oil seal on raw water pump (Jeremy re-conditioned the pump with a new seal I bought up the road – I love Newcastle). Gear lever connected incorrectly.
Most serious, whilst checking the tappet clearances we noticed that there was a cylinder block head bolt loose, which on tightening resulted in the bolt head sheering off easily. Checking the next bolt had the same result. A late Friday afternoon phone-around revealed that there appeared to be zero of these head bolts at any Volvo Penta dealers, the distributor or warehouse in Australia! I ordered the bolts online direct from a European parts dealer – cheap bolts, but about $100 shipping! In the meantime in my quest to get the bolts earlier I had two failed missions – the local high tensile bolts shop had bolts that appeared to be the right size, but turned out to be 7/8th UNF not the required M11 1.25mm. I ordered two Perkins bolts from an Australian online site that I thought were the same (our Volvo Penta is a marinised Perkins), but when they arrived I discovered they were M12, not M11. The fact that engine manufacturers purposefully use unusual sizes like M11 is infuriating! Anyway all ended well as I managed to persuade Jeremy to stay an extra day and the bolts from Europe arrived on Tuesday, earlier than expected.
We like using our mate’s skills when my own are not up to a task, but we do insist on paying them if it is their profession. In this case Jeremy’s time and mate’s rates was so worth every penny spent, heading off a future engine failure that could have spoilt our entire trip.
A frustrating crossing
A good weather window for a direct sail to New Caledonia coincided with the Saturday at the end of our remote work commitments and we were stressing out trying to get everything ready to leave as well as doing the paying work. In the end we decided to pull the pin late on Friday, we were both exhausted and the boat only half-ready – not a good state to be leaving on a long voyage. A health scare of my Dad, David was another good reason, and this gave us the opportunity to leave after he had a successful procedure (shock treatment to rectify cardio arrhythmia).
We finally set sail from Newcastle at about 2PM on Wednesday the 17th of August. The forecast wind was going northerly in the next few days so we elected to head for Lord Howe and await a new weather window there. The trip started beautifully with a mellow flat water reach out past Port Stephens in the forecast north westerly, but here it turned a bit pear-shaped as an unexpected north easterly direction greeted us accompanied by the contrary Australian east coast current. It was the start of quite a rough trip, much more upwind work than we normally choose to take on, and mostly current against us. Final approach to Lord Howe early on Saturday morning was the roughest (as forecast).
With the height of the mountains you see Lord Howe from over 40 miles away and it always looks closer than what it is – which makes for a frustrating approach for the impatient mariner. Finally we were being talked in through the North Passage by Christo, the friendly policeman/port control officer. Learning from our rough mooring experience a year previous, Lyn had requested the inner catamaran mooring off Dawson’s point. We knew it would be better protected, out of the tidal flow of the pass and with our shoal draft (center board up) there would be sufficient depth. After a bit of a struggle getting the lines through the mooring hard eye in the gusty Northerly wind, at the second attempt we were finally moored safely. An over-optimistic meeting time at the jetty for the formalities meant there was little time to relax as we frantically tidied the sails and boat, inflated and launched the dinghy from the foredeck, motor on etc. Christo and Rachel from Border Control were super-friendly and helpful and we were soon back at the boat where we enjoyed a day of rest and recuperation.
At sun-down we watched an approaching cold front of rain and lightning, which turned the wind around to the south west but did not have much in it.
Sunday dawned with perfect weather, a clear blue sky and light wind. After a lazy start we headed ashore for a much-needed shower. The island uses rain water and the lovely soft hot water reminded us of this joy that we had previously experienced when we lived on Scotland Island. We booked the guided climb of Mount Gower (not permitted to do this alone) and then decided to explore the eastern shore. Starting at Middle Beach we worked our way northward along the rocky shoreline, exploring numerous little beach coves and points.
The green lush grass fronting onto steep sea-cliffs and interesting shaped sharp rocky structures is one of the beauties of Lord Howe. It was probably the undoing of a poor dead bull that we found in one of the gullies, who had obviously slipped to his death. Many of the farmers have electric fencing along the cliff line perhaps to prevent this type of tragedy. Later when we came across some younger stronger bulls we wondered if perhaps the old stud just couldn’t bear losing the cow attentions to the newer more virile opponent. Bull suicide.
Just before Ned’s beach we were thwarted by an impassable cliff and forced to abandon the shoreline and climb up to the top. We cut through some farm land and bush, following the orange tape on the bushes, which we assumed to be marking the way. We later discovered that the tape is marking weeding areas, and the many plumbing fixtures we saw are rat poisoning stations.
On our previous visit last year we had foregone this headline experience of the island, believing we were a bit too unfit for it. It is a full day of steep walking to scale the majestic 920 meter high mountain. This visit we are probably even less in shape, having spent the past few months sitting on bums in front of computers. Nevertheless we decided that we just had to do it. We met the guide Jack Shick and the other hikers at the South gate, taking the dinghy down the lagoon to Kings beach.
From the moment friendly Jack jumped down to the beach and helped us carry the dinghy up above the high water mark, it was clear what a nice person he is. He regaled us with many interesting tales and facts as we walked up the mountain. We found we had a lot in common as he is a sailor and also a keen kite surfer and I was able to get a lot of good information on the best kiting and surfing spots on the island. Jack is a 5th generation islander, inherited the Gower guiding from his dad, has been doing it for 25 years, two times a week and is closing in on his 2000th climb! He also has a boat that he uses for fishing and sight-seeing trips out to Balls Pyramid.
The other hikers on the climb were all older than us, but much more experienced walkers. I was relieved to discover that I appeared to be stronger than most of them and in general I was amazed at how well my body coped with the climb. This was mostly due to the enforced slow pace of the lowest common denominators of the group, which meant frequent rests for us faster walkers. I think also the many rope sections on the steeper parts helped as one could use the arms to take some of the load off the knees. This was a big plus going up, but particularly going down as you can avoid the killer knee jolting. Lyn had no such concerns, clearly the strongest of the group she charged up the mountain on the tail of Jack.
The scenery on the climb was nothing short of spectacular, affording glorious views down into the Lagoon, across to Mount Lidgard and out over the ocean to Balls Pyramid. We walked under some amazing high rock cliffs, with climbing lines that would make our climbing friends’ mouths water. The flora was pretty and diverse and the summit area had an enchanting feeling with moss-covered ground and trees and unique palm tree species. The resident Petrels were away for the day, fishing for food for their chicks in their underground nests but curious Currawongs and Bush Hens provided much entertainment.
The benefit of modern weather forecasting is that you know with some certainty what to expect days ahead. The bad side of this is that you have the suspense of waiting, knowing something is coming. After incessant rain and windy south easterlies on Tuesday a secondary low had been forecast for some time to cause gale force winds and huge waves out of the west on Thursday. These conditions are notorious for causing extremely rough conditions in the lagoon, which over the years has caused many horror stories of boats breaking mooring and get damaged.
Christo had assured us that the mooring we were on was rated for a 25 ton boat at 50 knots of wind, plenty strong for JoliFou, however I was not happy with the way the mooring lines attached by passing through the hard eye of the mooring, which has a bit of a sharp edge and the mooring buoy attachment gets wrapped around everything and can also cause rope chafe. Our mooring lines were also long in the tooth and showing signs of wear.
On Wednesday my mission was to devise and create a bullet proof mooring line system. Sacrificing our 100 meter 20mm 3 strand nylon extra anchor rope, I constructed 4 new mooring lines, two of which have hard eyes spliced on one end. We removed the anchor from the bow roller and ran the two hard eye moorings over the anchor rollers and attached to the mooring hard eye using the massively strong Jordan Series Drogue shackles (7 ton working load) which only just squeezed over the eye. Then we also attached the two other mooring lines with bowlines to the mooring hard eye and direct to the bow cleats, leaving them slightly loose so they would only come tight as the boat was thrown sideways.
I then dove down and shackled our anchor chain directly to the mooring chain, keeping it slightly loose as the ultimate backup if the mooring leader line broke. All shackles were cable-tied to ensure they stayed fastened and hosing used to protect the bow lines from chafe. This all was of course hugely over-kill and would probably survive the worst cyclone conditions, but it certainly made me sleep a lot better. As an additional precaution we also unfurled the jib, dropped it and packed it away, which would reduce the windage up front and stop the bow from blowing off sideways so much.
The wind arrived as forecast, but was probably only 30 to 35 knots and an added bonus was it arrived earlier than expected and thus the main strength was during daylight hours, which is always a lot less scary. The waves were quite boisterous but again not as bad as the images conjured up by my dreadful imagination. We both remained on the boat for the day, a dinghy ride in those conditions would have been ill-advised. Needless to say, the hurricane mooring system coped very comfortably.
Office in paradise
Friday dawned sunny and blue, the wind faded to a light south westerly and the lovely relaxing feel of the calm after the storm. Lyn is continuing to do part time marketing work for IWE Group (industrial LED lighting) during this cruise and we went ashore and set up office using the wifi at the Anchorage Café. Lyn did her marketing work and I worked on this blog, choosing photos and taking a couple more of JoliFou on mooring with the big waves behind.
We invited Jack (the guide) for sun-downers on JoliFou and he brought along his friends Rex and Lisa, islanders who are also really experienced cruising sailors. The left over swell and high tide made for boisterous conditions on the boat, but all guests were seasoned sailors and we had a wonderful evening of stories and hilarity. Rex and Lisa have been cruising on a South African built Miura 38, currently left at Whangerei in New Zealand, and have done some pretty extreme voyaging, including the Patagonian canals which we aspire to in the future. We discovered that we have many friends in common, including Tim and Lisa Stranack from the Pittwater and Jim and Anne of Insatiable 2.
Waking up a bit hung-over this morning, the weather is again raining as we complete this edition of the blog. Lyn has declared that she has never slept better than our week here at Lord Howe, which is hugely ironic considering the bumpy motion and associated noise we have experienced. Her use of ear plugs probably has a lot to do with it.
The weather window appears to be lining up nicely for our departure for New Cal tomorrow morning and we are hopeful of a beautiful fast downwind sail with plenty of broad reaching angles. It will be with a large dollop of sadness that we leave this friendly jewel of an island, we are both feeling a strong affinity with the place and feel a bit half-done in terms of our experiences here. However the wonderful land of New Caledonia awaits and we are very much looking forward to that!
As I sit here at anchor off Morning Bay wharf, back home in the Pittwater, the weather has turned and grey rainy clouds further dampen my Monday mood as I search online for Job opportunities. Lyn has just returned from an interview, successful we hope. We’ve been back for less than two weeks and yet the care free tropical bliss of New Caledonia seems like a distant dream now. Those days where all that mattered was whether a new swell was coming, which way the wind would blow, and who’s turn it was to host sundowners. Reality has set in and I don’t like it, but there are debts to pay, the piper is here and it’s time to put in to save up for our next adventures.
Late on Wednesday afternoon (18th November) after a rough and wet trip we arrived in the mellow and peaceful shelter of Magic bay inside the eastern branch of Prony bay. We gratefully picked up a mooring and enjoyed a restful drink and a quiet night.
Next morning it was still raining a bit with a strong south easterly, but forecast to brighten up later. Our main plan was to end up at the waterfall near Carenage bay that we had so enjoyed on our previous visit. On the way we decided to stop in at Casy island for lunch, picking up a mooring just off the wharf on the western side. Our old canine mate Moose, the only resident, was lying curled up at the end of the wharf, oblivious to the rain. After lunch we took the dinghy across and gave him a good feast of tinned tuna and cous cous.
The poor old boy is starting to suffer with age, a bit stiff in the back legs and his sight seems to be suffering as we observed him diving into the water a couple of times targeting a stick that vaguely resembled a fish shape. Much as he is a local legend and may enjoy his island freedom, he definitely craves human company as is evidenced by his tour-guiding of every visitor, showing off and wanting to play. It is probably getting close to time that someone adopted him and took him home with them, if we lived in New Cal we would be sorely tempted.
We elected to remain at Casy for the night, giving Moose some breakfast in the morning before hopping down to Carenage bay, where we anchored really close in to the rocks and trees nearby another aluminium boat that looked a bit familiar. Only on our return later did we realise it was David Plumley’s “Pied de Lune”. We launched the paddleboards and paddled up the very pretty Carenage river until a small weir where we knew from the previous time we could pick up the track to the waterfall. The waterfall was just as special a spot as we remembered and we had a lovely swim there, basking on the warm rocks after.
Paddling back to JoliFou later, we saw the name of the other boat and realized it was David and his partner Marilise (whom we had not yet met). It was wonderful to meet Marilise and have a chat with her and David, which unfortunately had to be cut short due to us wanting to start sailing towards Noumea and catch the favourable tide in Woodin channel. It was an excellent downwind sail with poled out jib and 2 reefs, Lyn enjoying hand steering for most of the way.
We decided to overnight at Maitre Island, arriving just before sunset and picking up a mooring with some difficulty in the strong wind. Our jib had furled badly as the wind was strong and we had done it with pole out, so we had to re-furl it on the mooring which was a bit hectic. Not quite as traumatic as a small local boat that arrived after us and struggled for ages with a flogging half-furled jib. Bruce was about to launch the dinghy to go and help when the German boat next door did the good deed.
On Saturday the 21st it was very windy. We remained at Maitre and had a mellow restful day, watching the hordes of local kite surfers. Having a drink on the beach later we met an interesting American family from a gorgeous old wooden boat called “Nirvanah”. Rod had Bruce enraptured with tales of surfing the Tuamotus and Society islands – a must-do for a future trip.
On the Sunday morning we went for a snorkel off the boat. Surprisingly pretty coral and little fish and very tame turtles.
Bruce went for a kite for a while before it became too windy for his 10.5 m kite. This didn’t seem to perturb two middle-aged beginners who asked him for assistance in how to connect the strings to their 10 m kite. Eventually Bruce and another local kiter were able to convince them that it was a really bad idea! On the other end of the scale we were entertained by a muscular guy who is an excellent kiter doing huge jumps in the flat water behind the island, then kiting with a girl on his back and even doing jumps with her attached. Very impressive.
Next morning Bruce donned the scuba gear and cleaned the bottom in preparedness for the passage. Then we sailed over to Noumea and checked in at Port Mosselle to get ready for departure. Bruce did an oil service on the engine whilst Lyn stocked up on food. On Tuesday morning Bruce did the walk to the various officials to complete clearing out for departure the next morning, a fairly painless exercise. On picking up the filled gas tank from Herve and offloading our two old European scuba tanks on him at Noumea Yacht Services we had an interesting chat about shark attacks in New Caledonia. Herve is an ex scuba diver and prolific spear fisherman. On being told about our reservations about swimming at Kouare island (scene of a bull shark attack near the boat in May this year) he explained that this was during a time when there were many sharks around that area because of a dead whale in the Kouare pass area. Also apparently the shark had been chasing a ray and the unfortunate snorkeler had been between them. Herve also recounted that most of the shark attacks had happened due to inadvisable actions by the victims, for example surfing in the river mouth at Bourail in dirty flooding river water with dead cows around. Bruce is now much happier about the shark situation here. In the afternoon we went across to the fuel dock and topped up the diesel and dinghy fuel using the duty free voucher.
On Wednesday the 25th at 9 AM we finally bid au revoir to New Cal. The forecast south easterly had filled in early and we were able to put the mainsail up, unfurl the headsail and switch the motor off whilst still inside the harbour. With 2 reefs in the main and full jib we made excellent progress reaching out to Dumbea pass. There was quite a big swell and Bruce endured a longing to be out there with the kite on the Dumbea lefts surf break – oh well, next time.
The first two days of the trip were excellent sailing with strong east/south-east winds and favourable tide, we quickly passed the 5000 mile landmark (seamark?) on our Navionics plotter but as predicted we then entered a transition zone with light winds and motoring for 2 days before the wind filled in again.
We had quite a severe thunderstorm with heavy rain squall from the wrong direction and some quite rough weather from the North with big waves in the last 2 days, the seas were big and confused enough that we took the occasional wave into the cockpit, an unusual occurrence as JoliFou has quite high freeboard. It was interesting though very annoying that we had a lot of unfavourable current in the middle of the trip, probably from the Lord Howe eddy of the Australian East Coast current. This was surprising as we had thought that the trip would have mostly favourable current, but it was only after we crossed the sea mounds closest to the coast that we enjoyed any benefit from the East Coast Current.
Just like the trip to New Cal, it was remarkable how little life and ships we saw out there. No sea life except for flying fish and birds until we were greeted by dolphins when close to the Australian coast. Again apart from at the coast we only had 2 ships on AIS and both were so far away we couldn’t see them with the naked eye. We slowed up during the last night to ensure a morning arrival at Coffs, getting there shortly after dawn on Tuesday the 1st of December and anchoring between the old wharf and the beach until the marina office opened. This actually saved us a fair bit of money as the friendly border control guys later informed us that the rates had been reduced from this day.
We were very happy to see that Pete and Ness of Akimbo were still at Coffs, being in the midst of some boat maintenance and improvement tasks, so it was great to catch up with them while we were there. On first walking into the Coffs Marina shopping area I was really struck by how rich Australia is as a country. New Caledonia is pretty advanced and you can certainly get everything you need there, but walking into this area near a small town somewhere on the Australian coast, seeing the numerous brand new cars, multiple restaurants and shops, the contrast was stark.
An unseasonably long period of Southerly breezes kept us in Coffs longer than planned. It is a great place to be stuck tho, and we enjoyed our 6 days there, filling our days with surfing (Lyn is really getting this), some kiting (a frustrating under-powered session) and exploring Coffs. Lyn delighted in finding pretty little perfect stones on the beach which sparked a new passion for creating stone necklaces, so it was off to the hardware stores in search of a diamond tip drill bit. Of course there was the social side, a lot of good times with Akimbo and some new cruising friends including Pete winning the yacht club meat raffle which resulted in a lovely barbecue in the park.
From Monday the 7th December there would be 3 days of good North Easterlies. Much as we wanted to swing by Newcastle on the way, the time of day arrival was too awkward. We also really wanted to arrive home in the Pittwater early in the day, so we decided to do a day trip to Laurieton (Campden Haven) and overnight there. It was a very quick trip with favourable current and a building North Easterly and we arrived at this lovely place in the late afternoon. After the bar entrance which was nice and tame in the small swell we motored up the very pretty river/waterway and tied up to the public jetty outside the welcoming United Servicemen’s Club. What a great place, free docking and amenities at the club. I have never seen so many pelicans as here, there are pelicans everywhere along the river banks and about ten on the small dock.
Next morning we left fairly early and headed out into a strong and building North easterly with associated rising seas.
We progressively reefed throughout the day as the wind and waves increased and by night-time we were surfing at over 11 knots under 3 reefs and a half-furled poled out headsail. Fortunately the auto pilot was handling well so we didn’t need to hand steer, but it was a pretty rough night. The wind faded in the early hours of the morning and we eventually had to resort to the motor for the last couple of hours, which was actually quite nice and relaxing.
We snuck around the inside of Barrenjoey headland, grabbed a mooring and both fell fast asleep, getting some rest before our parental welcoming committee with Prince Silus arrived.
There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
She sucks out of the ocean from nowhere and suddenly there is a wall of water surging powerfully towards me. I’m scared but I turn and paddle, feeling the surge of power pick me up and start propelling me forward. Momentarily teetering at the top, I paddle harder and manage to get the board speeding downward, what now is a vertical drop. Standing up and extending the body with straight legs and up on my toes, I teeter on the verge of balance before landing on the board and leaning into the bottom turn, shooting away from her thunderous lip. Now I am in control. I use her powerful nature as I wish, laying down tracks as I turn off the top and sight down a hollow, fast line. Respect is demanded and fear never far away, a slip will hurt badly, shallow reef is waiting to cut me to shreds, she is wanting to pound me with her force and squeeze the breath from my body. The speed is exhilarating, everything moving, feeling the power through the board as it chatters over the water and squirts from turn to turn. Shooting through the hollow sections one after the other I manage to escape time and again until I fade over the back and allow her to spend herself completely on the reef.
On Sunday the 25th October we slept in on anchor at Citroen bay after the wild night of dancing and rugby. A new swell was coming and the plan was to head north to the surf breaks along with Akimbo. We took the dinghy to the fuel dock at CNC for essential stocks of dinghy fuel, beer and toilet paper. There is a shortcut between Citroen and Orhphelinat bays, a small archway tunnel through the sea wall, and we took it despite the large no-entry sign above it (all cruisers do this). On approaching the fuel dock there was a Gendarme calling us over – damn! Fortunately he let us off with a warning but it meant we had to take the long way around the point on return. We spent most of the rest of the day motoring to the Tenia island area and decided to overnight at Puen Island as the wind had come up a bit and Tenia is not the most comfortable anchorage.
Next morning we left really early to do the remaining few hours to Ouano, we went straight to the reef pass surf break and Pete and Bruce were very happy to once again enjoy great waves at what is now a very familiar surf break. Late that afternoon, back at the Ouano Bay anchorage Lyn decided to go for a run, having endured a day sitting on the boat watching surfing. She ran along the shore road from the bay, past the stunning lookouts and the lovely picnic barbecue areas and up the hill overlooking the local favourite kite-surfing beach. Engrossed in the beautiful colours of the sunset sky, she lost track of time and ran further and longer than expected, arriving back at the dinghy dock after dark to a worried husband.
5 AM, Jethro Tull’s “Wondering Aloud” wakes me from a deep sleep. I rise gradually, my body aches all over from surf punishment, and yet I will gladly do it all again today. Lyn rolls over and drifts back into sleep as I start the engine and stumble up on deck to raise the anchor. Ouano bay is still like glass, the full moon setting in the west, the sun rising in the east, stunning beauty all around. I look across to Akimbo and see that Pete is also getting ready to leave. After negotiating the tricky but now very familiar anchorage exit I engage the auto-pilot, set course for the reef pass and pop downstairs to make a coffee. The coffee and piercing guitar riffs of Hendrix’s “All along the watchtower” begin to change my mood and invigorate me for the waves of the day. Now that the body is moving again the aches are subsiding and I do some stretching exercises as the Jolifou heads the 4 miles towards the surf break. Contact lenses in, sunnies on as I peer into the distance to see what Ouano has in store for us today. Empty perfect peeling lefts come more into focus as we arrive at the break. A slightly reluctant Lyn drags herself out of bed to help set the anchor. We have done this many times before at this location so we are no longer concerned about the holding on the coral slate bottom wide of the break. We know the drill: lots of chain and don’t back down on it too hard. The wave size is about 6 to 8 feet and I select my board for the day; the 6’3” Firewire Hell-Razor with AM2 fins. It is a bit colder this morning but I don’t want wetsuit weight added to the burden of my tired aching arms, so it’s board-shorts and short sleeve rashie. We launch the dinghy and Lyn taxis me out to the take-off zone, hooting at a perfect set thundering down the reef. Another perfect surf day begins.
The next few days were spent in the familiar Ouano surfing mode. Wake up really early, motor out to the break, early surf, back to boat for breakfast or lunch, another surf in the afternoon, sail back to Ouano Bay. On Tuesday we walked up the hill for the beautiful sunset full moon rising, isn’t nature awesome? On Wednesday Akimbo joined us for a fire on the beach for dinner and a stunning moon rising over the bay.
For some reason this surf trip we found there were more local surfers during the week than the previous trip where we often had the place to ourselves between weekends. It may be because there had not been a good swell in some time, or it may be that the locals get out more later in the season as the water and weather is a bit warmer. On Thursday morning it was particularly crowded with 4 surf boats and small waves as the predicted swell pulse had not arrived. Pete and Bruce had a short surf in the morning but wisely decided to save their energy for later. This payed off later in the afternoon as the boats left before the swell picked up and we had one of the best sessions ever, 4 to 6 foot with 2 or 3 guys out. So many good waves, the arms were almost falling off by the time Bruce finally called it a day and waved Lyn over for the pick-up.
By Friday we were all feeling rather surfed out and the weekend had a very windy forecast and would be crowded with locals. Akimbo headed South towards Noumea as their stocks were getting low. Jolifou went out to Ouano for one more session. It was windy and quite big making it a bit wild and Bruce was quite pleased when another boat arrived so he was not the only surfer out. The boat had 3 very cool locals, middle-aged mediocre surfers who were very friendly and full of stoke. On being asked if he had taken the day off work, the one guy answered: “I don’t usually work”. It made for a really enjoyable session despite the fact that many waves were a bit too south and fat. Bruce had quite a few big drop wipe-outs but also a few excellent waves. That was enough for the day and we set off South planning on spending some time at Tenia Island. On the way we stopped at Testard Island for lunch, a very pretty island where we went ashore and explored the pretty beaches and holiday shacks. On the beach we came across the biggest sea snake we have seen yet, really beautiful and not too perturbed by our proximity. We found a mobile phone at one of the shacks and managed to get through the French language barrier and do a good deed by contacting the owner. Then it was a short hop further South to Puen Island for the night.
Next day the south easterly was still blowing hard as we motored the short distance up to Tenia. Differing from previous visits, we decided to try to anchor to the south of the sand-spit in hopes of smoother water. We picked our way into the shallows and found a good sandy spot quite close in, which was quite a good anchorage despite a small swell bending in and the howling wind. Nevertheless we didn’t feel comfortable leaving the boat and also the cross-wind and chop would mean a very wet dinghy ride into the beach. We elected to have a lazy day on the boat and just enjoy the beautiful spectacle of Tenia Island and a lot of kiters that were out. The plan was then to get further south, hoping that we could get to Noumea in time to watch the rugby final between Australia and New Zealand. We thought the going would be easier by getting some shelter from the wind and waves inside St. Vincent’s Bay under Ducos Island. It was a rough passage through the pass sailing under half-furled jib with wind against tide, but as we rounded the corner of Ducos Island it was sheltered and we could motor very nicely down the northern coast of the island. Rounding the eastern corner of Ducos and heading into the 5 miles of open water between us and Ndukue Island it was a different story. We were slamming the huge chop and making very little headway motoring at about 2.5 knots. We could have put up the mainsail and beat into the wind or motor-sailed but it would be a rough passage with wear and tear on sails and motor. In the end we made the correct cruisers choice and turned around back to Moustique Bay for the night. The rugby would not be watched, but we had excellent shelter as the only boat in the bay and a lovely night, waking at 3AM to listen to the game on streaming voice commentary. Well done the All Blacks, certainly well-deserved winners.
Having foregone the rugby final, the pressure to get to Noumea was now off and we decided to enjoy the beautiful Tenia region for longer. We had previously noted that on a big swell there is a really good beginners surfing setup on the inside northern corner of St. Vincent’s pass. A slow little right-hander breaks here over fairly benign coral and then goes to deeper water. With the wind a bit lighter in the morning we decided to use the opportunity to give Lyn a surfing lesson. We anchored Jolifou at Tenia in the same place as the previous day and took the dinghy to “Lyn’s surf spot”. Lyn’s biggest problem in surfing has been the paddling, her arms are not fit for it. Initially she was not able to catch the waves but she worked on her paddling technique and eventually she caught a big wave, stood up and rode it all the way! She is now a super-stoked frothing grommet, I haven’t seen her so excited in a long time. In the afternoon the wind was up and Bruce launched the kite at Tenia where there were many keen kiters camped for the weekend. Venturing further out to the waves at Lyn’s surf break, he couldn’t resist the temptation and continued the 2 miles upwind to St. Vincents Left where there were 6 others kiting the waves with support boats. He had a few waves but cut it a bit short as he was concerned that Lyn may not know where he was and be worried. It was a fun down-winder back to Tenia kiting and then on Jolifou to Puen which we elected as a nice quiet anchorage for the night.
On Monday we anchored just inside Lyn’s surf spot and set off on the dinghy for lesson 2. Lyn had got it and suddenly she was catching everything she paddled for, standing up and hardly ever falling off. She couldn’t get enough as she caught wave after wave, assisted by rides back out in the coach boat. Eventually the wind started to get up and the arms could do no more, so we continued with our plan for the day and headed out to St. Vincent’s Left where we anchored just inside the reef near the surf break in quite unsettled waters. After lunch Bruce got out the 12 meter kite and it was time for our 3rd attempt at launching from the boat, nervously as our success rate at this point was just 50%. Today’s technique would be to lay out the lines from the bar in the cockpit, forward along the side deck, around the inner forestay and back on the other side, pump up the kite on the sugar-scoop half in the water, attach the lines. Then Lyn walks the bar around the boat as Bruce lets the kite out from the sugar-scoop holding the lines in his hands. The kite half took off a couple of times, lines cutting into Bruce’s hands, Lyn running around the boat with the bar and Bruce grabbing it and being launched from the boat! End result is good, but technique needs work. It was all worthwhile as Bruce had an awesome kite surf, best ever, all alone in 4 to 6 foot peeling waves with the perfect cross-offshore wind angle. It’s one of the most fun things to do, surfing across the wave face and whenever you need speed to make a section you just engage the kite for power and shoot down the line. After a long session we managed to get Bruce, board and kite back on the boat despite a 2 knot current trying to thwart our efforts. Then we had a nice downwind sail to Moustique bay for the night. The sundowners tasted extra good after such a wonderful day.
Stocks were now getting low and it was time to get to Noumea. Early in the morning there was no wind and we started motoring South, but by the time we were outside St. Vincents bay the South Easterly had already kicked in for the day, so we aborted and spent a lazy day on the boat at the nice protected anchorage between Mathieu Island and Uitoe.
On Wednesday morning we set off early to try our luck again. This time the wind stayed off long enough for us to complete the 4 hour motor to Noumea, where we anchored near Insatiable 2 in Orphelinat bay and had a quick catch-up before commencing our food and drink shopping. The stocking up exercise was a bit more tricky than usual because there was a cruise ship in town meaning we couldn’t use the dock opposite the supermarket. We used a combination of a pretty sketchy ride on the loaded Brompton fold-up bike and Lyn pushing the shopping trolly to get the food back to the dinghy at Port Moselle marina. Then it was out to Maitre Island where Bruce had a good kite, practicing jumps with his strapped board followed by drinks on the beach with Pete and Ness from Akimbo. It was a slightly sad occasion as their time was nearly up (Aussies and Kiwis are allowed 3 months in NC) and they were leaving soon so would be our last contact with them for a while. They have been such great friends for us this trip and our cruising and New Caledonia mentors. Miss them already!
“Where you from man?” asks the very cool looking French kid in the very short-sleeved tight t-shirt. His expression implies he is not expecting anywhere on earth. Perhaps it’s my wild dancing style, or Lyn’s or Pete, Ness, Warwick or Lainy, clearly we are out of place and not from this planet, this club of twenty-somethings, looking cool, buff and polished. What are these old long-haired sun-burnt creatures writhing on our dance floor? “Australia” I say and explain that we are from the mother ship lying at anchor on the mirror-like water outside, illuminated by bright white spotlights. He smiles knowingly, that makes sense ….. boat people.
Our flight back from London arrived on the night of Friday the 16th of October. We got to the boat at Port Moselle marina late at night to find that the batteries were very low due to the shore power becoming disconnected. We would have to discard some meat from the freezer, but otherwise very happy to find Jolifou in perfect order just as we had left her, a big thanks to David Plumley and Chloe Morin! Next morning we slept in and then caught up with David and Chloe. Lyn threw away the dodgy meat and cooked everything else that was salvageable.
On Sunday morning we used our jetlag wisely by waking up at 2AM and listening to a streaming voice commentary of the South Africa vs Wales quarter final of the rugby world cup. A real nail-biter until the end but with the right result. We had a brief sleep before waking at 6 and joining Pete (from Akimbo) and many other mad Kiwi and French cruisers at the marina café to watch the New Zealand vs France game, an embarrassment for France but many happy Kiwis. We were delighted to bump into our old friend from the Pittwater Matt Cudmore, who is on the final stages of his huge South Pacific cruise. We also met Warwick and Lainy from Fusio who are as mad keen Kiwi as they get!
That night we hosted a dinner on Jolifou to thank David Plumley for all his generous help in our time of need. Unfortunately his partner Marilee could not make it as she was suffering a severe bout of back ache. Jim and Ann from I2 came along too and despite a shortage of wine (Lyn could not buy because Sunday) a delicious meal of pulled pork and merry time was had by all!
Next morning we again did the jetlag wake-up and listened to Australia vs Scotland, another nail-biter with a good result. We needed to leave the marina by 9, so we anchored just off the Marina whilst Lyn did a big shop and Bruce bought and fitted a new kill switch for the outboard. Then we motored the short distance out to Maitre island where Bruce had a great kite. Maitre is an absolutely perfect flat water kite-boarding location, with a huge level and shallow sand-bottom area on the South East side so whenever the trades are blowing (most days) you will find many kiters there including the Noumea-based kite schools. It is a perfect location for beginners and on Tuesday morning we decided to take the opportunity to give Lyn her first kiting lesson, starting with her watching a good instructional dvd we have, then moving ashore for the practical side. Unfortunately our smallest kite (a BWS 8 meter) is a little too powerful for a beginner of Lyn’s size in the 20 knot winds of the day, but with Bruce holding her down Lyn was able to learn a lot about safety, rigging, launching, landing and controlling the kite in the air. We then had a heap of fun body dragging (at speed) with Bruce controlling the kite and Lyn hanging on to him! There were a few concerned looks from the nearby too-cool-for-school French kite instructors, as it may not have been clear that we knew what we were doing. Akimbo arrived in the afternoon and invited us to sundowners along with Warwick and Lainy from Fusio. Sundowners developed into a late (for cruisers) night as we had a hilarious time, drank way too much and found our way back to the boat at about 10 pm.
On Wednesday the 21st Lyn had her second kite lesson, again the wind was a bit too strong but she got much more confident controlling the kite. Bruce then had a bit of a kite and we then had more fun doing the double body drag. Thursday was like ground-hog day (in a very nice way), another lesson for Lyn and Bruce kite session. That night we had a delicious dinner on Akimbo.
Next morning Akimbo and Jolifou set off for Dumbea pass to look for surf. We went to the southern side of the pass where the left-hand surf break happens and were pleasantly surprised to see that there are two good moorings there just wide of the break, which we gratefully utilized. Not so lucky on the surf though, conditions were perfect with hardly any wind but the swell was tiny. Perfect little lefts were peeling down the shallow coral. Bruce still had to have a go of course and spent about an hour trying to get a decent ride. There was just not enough power to get the speed to make the fast sections and the incoming tide also made the paddle out a little harder than desired. It is however a beautiful spot which is sure to have excellent waves in a bigger swell. It also will be a great kiting spot because although the waves are quite hollow they open up to deep water which would help the safety aspect. We motored the short distance to Nge island where we had a good paddle around on the stand-ups, seeing a couple of reef sharks. On seeing a medium sized reef shark close to the beach near some toddlers swimming, we thought it best to warn the dad. His response (assumed translation from French): “Come on kids, look at this there is a shark!” as they all snorkel towards it. A refreshing response compared with what most Australian parents would do?
Fusio was also at Nge and they invited us and Akimbo for sundowners. Fusio is a 46 foot custom Davidson design, 20 years old but very modern looking. She is a beautiful boat, built from epoxy sheathed kauri wood. There is a deep center cockpit with low hard dodger that feels really safe and an expansive aft deck that opens to a wide sugar-scoop platform. Really nice and clean on-deck systems and the interior is a nice spacious open design with artistically curvey wood work of expert joinery. Some-one put a lot of time and effort into building this boat and it is one of the few we have seen that have made us slightly envious when compared with our Jolifou. As expected with this crowd, sundowners went on very late. On the way back to Jolifou in the dinghy there was the sound of dolphins breathing all around, but we didn’t actually see one.
Saturday morning dawned with glassy water and sunshine. We took the paddle boards and Ness joined us on her “Mellow Yellow” kayak for a paddle. Working our way around the outside of the fringing reef, enjoying the beautiful coral, baby white-tip reef sharks and turtles, we realized that the falling tide and drying reef was blocking us from re-entering the island lagoon. Ness elected to turn back but we continued and completed a long and tiring full circumnavigation of the reef. The Springboks were due to play the All Blacks in the semi-finals at 2AM the next morning and the mission of Akimbo, Fusion and Jolifou was to find somewhere we could watch the game live on TV. We made a loose arrangement to meet up in Citroen bay, Noumea later where there are many bars and restaurants. Jolifou used a light easterly wind to sail to Maitre island where we picked up a mooring for lunch and made enquiries at the resort about possible TV options, but with no joy. We sailed on to Citroen bay in a moderate south easterly and anchored in really close to the beach off a night club. Fusio and Akimbo came to Jolifou for drinks and then we all piled into Fusio’s little dinghy and went ashore to the beach. At this stage we still had not found a rugby venue despite Fusio asking at many bars along the beach front earlier, they all close at 2AM. Right opposite the dinghy was a little bar/restaurant called La Fiesta and Lyn says: “Why don’t we ask here?” The rest of us had little hope and were astounded when a beaming Lyn returns saying all we need to do is knock on the door at 2AM!
So, what to do until 2AM then? What would Tim do? We go to the nightclub and dance like crazy amongst kids half our age, surprisingly accepting of these very un-cool oldies. It was quite surreal to look out from the club to Jolifou anchored right there, illuminated by the spotlights of the club on a smooth windless sea. Arriving at La Fiesta at 2AM with trepidation, we were pleasantly surprised when the door was indeed opened and there were about 15 locals there with the rugby playing on a huge TV. Could not have imagined a better venue and atmosphere despite most of the locals supporting the All Blacks. It was a really exciting match with the wrong result, but the Bok supporters’ mood was smoothed by some huge and delicious Irish coffees.
Tim Savage 1960 – 2015
One of my earliest memories is when Tim and I ran away from home. We were 2 and 4 years old at the time. This event is a little bit of a cameo of our relationship and his influence on me in my life. We woke up early in the morning one day and Tim convinced me that we should run away from home. I don’t think he had a specific good reason why we should do this, certainly it was not due to any beef with Mom and Dad, at that time and ever since we have been blessed by the most loving and supportive parents one could hope for. It was just one of those adventurous ideas that always seemed to occur to him. At first I was unconvinced; what about Mom and Dad? Wouldn’t we get into trouble? How would we manage to get out of the house unseen? What about tidal waves? Our fear of tidal waves was a big thing with us at the time, something we often talked about as we lay in our beds at night and despite Mom’s soothing assurances, we were unconvinced.
Typical of Tim, he talked me into it. It would be fun, we would have lots of exciting adventures together, tidal waves would be no problem because we would wear flippers, goggles and snorkels. So off we set down the street, protected by our snorkelling gear. This was the first of many, many occasions when Tim talked me into going along with one of his ill-advised ideas even when he was no longer double my age. He always had a lower threshold of what he thought was okay to do than me and yet he was always somehow able to convince me to do it.
As young boys we used to ride our bikes into the sugar cane fields, taking home-made cannons with ball-bearings and huge fireworks crackers. “Let’s shoot that sign” says Tim, and soon there were bullet holes in the steel sign.
There were the times he talked me into helping to push Moms car out the garage and driveway so baby-sitting gran wouldn’t realise he was “borrowing” it for the night. He would be off to party with his friends (I never went with) and never once got caught. The one time gran thought she had seen something and told my Mom, Mom didn’t believe her. “Not my Tim!”
The time we stood at the crack of dawn with our surfboards ready to surf the legendary Vic bay, contemplating the fearsome and violent reputation of “Mouse”, the locals-only enforcer. “Carpe Diem, seize the day” says Tim. One of my most memorable surf sessions ever, and no sign of “Mouse”.
We used to skateboard a huge hill at a new development called Sunningdale. Tim was the first to go straight right from the top and talked me into trying it. It was an exhilarating adrenaline rush, but a speed wobble soon ensued, resulting in wipe-out and serious roasties!
I know that all of his friends will have similar memories. Tim was much more often the one saying “yes we should” rather than “no we shouldn’t”, whether it was having another drink at a party or paddling out for a surf at dawn in cold sharky waters.
Tim was also a very competitive person and we certainly had the usual sibling rivalry. We used to spar with boxing gloves in the front yard until Mom hid them away one day (she never admitted doing this until we were much older). We tried to outdo each other in all sports, and in sailing we competed alongside and against each other. Tim had huge natural talent as a sailor. In the Sprog class sailing in the big waves of a Durban North-Easterly blow he was legendary. No-one else was quite as in-synch with the waves as he was, weaving his way upwind and then surfing downwind. He won multiple South African titles in the Sprog (including 2 with Pauline as crew) and would have won much more if he had continued to commit to the sport. Those of us who have played a game of pool with Tim will know full well the strength of his competitive streak, as well as his passion for his version of the rules. He even had a printed version of his rules posted at the local pub in Sunbury, the “Sunbury Rules”.
My whole life in many of the things that I do, mostly the adventurous fun things, Tim is in my mind. I always think of wanting to share the experience with him because he is such an infectious and adventurous soul. In a way I am always measuring up against him, not so much in a competitive way, but in some deep need for approval of a big brother that I have always looked up to. It will always be my great regret that we will never be able to have Tim come along and share some adventures on the Jolifou. I will however choose to believe that he is always with us in spirit, egging us on during the times that we are hesitant or cautious of doing something outside the comfort zone. During our recent time in London with the family someone coined the phrase: “What would Tim do?” and that is now our new motto.
Tim was a talented and enthusiastic musician, a born entertainer and social animal. His open mike events at various pubs in Sunbury were popular affairs and typical of Tim he was just as supportive of those having a go with little talent as he was with the more gifted musicians. He always had time for people and he would really genuinely be engaged and interested in what they had to say. At his memorial service I was touched by how many friends and work colleagues were there and were clearly deeply upset at their loss.
Talking with Pauline a few nights ago she pointed out that many people might not realise that Tim also had a very serious side. Those close to him will have seen his passion for perfection in everything that he created. This was probably most prevalent in his hobby of modifying his motor bikes. I had a look at his forum posts on one of the many mods he did on his Kawasaki, replacing the entire swing arm and rear wheel with one from a different model. He documented his work meticulously with parts list and annotated photos which other forum members were full of praise for. His carpentry work is absolutely immaculate and of course there is his sound equipment. Pauline’s brother Nick and I were having a look at his home entertainment equipment, thinking we might use some of it for the sound from the TV for his memorial ceremony. After a little while we both looked at each other and realised we were thinking the same thing. Tim would have been looking down on us and saying: “Don’t you bloody well touch my stuff! Do you know how long it took me to get that sounding just right?” At the same time we also realised how important it would be to him for the sound from the music videos to be good. If only Tim had been here to help us with that.
In the serious vein Tim also was a really responsible and devoted provider for his family. This was important to him and he has worked really hard his whole life to support his family and I know he leaves them well cared for and able to survive comfortably without him.
He was a loving and caring son, regularly phoning Mom and Dad from abroad to catch up on things. I know that his passing is the worst nightmare for my parents. Mom keeps saying to me that no parent should outlive their child and I know how awfully hard this is for them.
In some ways I think Tim was a bit of a conflicted personality. Devil on one shoulder, angel on the other. On the one shoulder he was a risk taker and adventurer, often doing stuff that many would consider a bad idea. On the other shoulder he was quite cautious, careful and meticulous about some things. We were having a glass of red with Tim’s friends John and Neil and talking about this and the term “rebel without a cause” cropped up. I think Tim was a rebel, but I know he had a cause. His cause was the great loves of his life, his wife Pauline, son Dylan and Daughter Emily. Clearly he achieved this cause, and would be so proud of the amazing legacy he is leaving behind.
Something you don’t ever want to hear on a boat is the sat phone ringing in the early hours of the morning. Only our close family have this number and it is likely to be bad news. Our minds were reeling as we missed the call and sent a message to call us on our New Cal mobile number. Our parents are getting old and have had health scares and Bruce’s brother in law Guy is fighting cancer, and this was all going through our heads as we waited. I answered the phone with trepidation and it was my sister Jacqui: “Tim is dead”. No, not Tim! My brother Tim is 55 and was in very good shape health wise, this was a total shock and we were numbed with a mix of denial and grief. Suddenly our beautiful surroundings and adventure meant nothing at all.
On Wednesday the 16th of September the forecast was for a moderate North Easterly wind which we planned on using to sail the 40 miles from Prony Bay to the Isle of Pines. We motored for a short while until the breeze filled in and we started sailing on a pleasant 60 degree wind angle. “Insatiable 2” and a catamaran named “Impi” left shortly after us. I2 was really quick on this wind angle and Jim slowly reeled us in, eventually taking a comfortable win in race 2 of our series as we enjoyed a building breeze but quite nice flat water in the lee of the lagoon reefs and islands on the way. It looked like there were many good surf-able waves breaking on the reefs, but we weren’t close enough to tell for sure. The highlight of the trip was seeing a pod of whales really close to us as we passed Du-Ami isle, which was very exciting as this was the first whales we had seen since leaving Sydney. We arrived in the stunning Kuto bay in the late afternoon and found a spot to anchor amongst about 10 other cruising yachts, the most we have seen in one place so far this trip apart from in Noumea. We took the dinghy ashore for a quick look around and a sundowner on the beach. Kuto has a magnificent white sand beach and is one of the most beautiful bays we have come across, the resort, wharf and other civilization does not detract too much from the natural beauty.
As we were drinking our sundowners on the beach we watched the catamaran “Impi” pull up their anchor and move from their spot close to the beach to far out in the anchorage. It seemed a strange thing to do as they had been securely anchored in a good spot. We later found out that there had been a Tsunami warning on the radio (earthquake in Chili) which our friends on I2 were trying to relay to us. Later that night it was downgraded, but we slept soundly, blissfully unaware of the possible danger. In the morning there was much excitement as we spotted a manta ray in the anchorage. It is Lyn’s dream to swim with a Manta so she jumped in with snorkeling gear but didn’t manage to intercept it. We went ashore for a walk to search for a man named Gaby who runs a camp ground at the adjacent bay and is touted by Lonely Planet as the man to talk to for permission to kite surf here. For some reason the local Kanaks generally don’t allow kite surfing around the Isle of Pines. A sudden downpour had us sheltering in a bus shelter for half an hour. Gaby was away but we did enjoy a walk around his beautiful camping ground and meet a litter of very cute puppies. We then hiked up Nga peak where you have stunning 360 degree views of Kuto and the whole island.
On Friday the 18th we decided to motor Jolifou a short distance around the corner to the town of Vao so that we could visit the market and stock up. It was a somewhat tense passage as we had the sun in our eyes and couldn’t see the shallow reef very well as we followed the waypoints provided in the cruising guide. Our efforts were rewarded by a really scenic large shallow sandy anchorage area, good for our shoal draft, and we were the only boat there. We took the dinghy to the beach at the recommended landing place, admiring the pretty gravesite carvings, and walked up the most charming street with quaint houses, puppies and children playing in the street. Vao has a lovely laid back friendly feel to it. The market was nice and although we got there a bit late and stocks were low we were able to buy some good fresh veggies, and then some baguettes from the general store down the road. On returning to Jolifou there were a couple of the beautiful Pirogue boats arounds which the locals use to take tours through the nearby Upi Bay (locals only in this bay, no yachts or dinghies). We returned to Kuto, where we found the anchorage was filling up with a few more Island Cruising Association (cruising rally) boats arriving. Bruce took the dinghy and his surfboard to see if he could find a wave to surf on the reef out towards Moro Island. There was potential, but in the end he decided not to take the chance on his own and a long way from the anchorage.
We went for a paddle board around Kuto bay and spotted the manta ray again. Bruce stayed with it while Lyn rushed back to the boat to get her face mask. Finally Lyn fulfilled her dream, swimming with this beautiful manta for ages, diving down and touching it, and even “dancing” with it as it rolled onto its back and vertical and waved its wings. A truly memorable experience! Bruce had a go too and also enjoyed its company for a while before we returned to the boat, freezing cold. To cap off a great day, Akimbo arrived as the sun was setting and we celebrated the occasion with drinks on I2.
Next day we decided to paddle the standups over to Gaby’s beach. On the way we stopped by “Impi” and said hello. As expected from the name, there was a South African connection. Brent and Anna are lovely people. Confessing to be out of alcohol (Isle of Pines is a dry island), they asked us around for a cup of coffee at sunset. At Gaby’s campsite we were delighted to meet the man himself as well as a lovely Australian lady named Lisa who entertained us with stories of her passion for the island and her “retirement project” to help with infrastructure and social problems. Gaby was most accommodating with his beach, describing the surf spot when the swell is up and absolutely happy with me kite surfing there. He has built an amazing campsite here and is clearly an energetic and fun character. We highly recommend his campsite (Camping Les Rouleaux) to any traveler to the island.
We are not the “coffee at sunset” types, so arrived at Impi with a bottle of cold bubbles and some beers to share. I think this has bought us friends for life! We had a hilarious evening exchanging life stories and it was great to enjoy the South African sense of humour which Brent abounds in. Anna is actually not South African, but is Flemish Belgian, and speaks fluent French which is a huge advantage in this part of the world. Brent got fed up with the black empowerment policies being imposed on his successful company in Cape Town and wound up the company, bought Impi (a Lagoon 45) and they have been cruising for four years. They are very keen scuba divers and have an excellent blog site and YouTube channel where Brent is constantly putting up interesting and entertaining videos. He is really clued up on the latest navigation software and safety technology and we learned a lot from him in a short space of time.
On Monday a huge cruise ship arrived, along with all the fake trappings ashore. We feel really blessed to be able to enjoy this place without the crowds that cruise ship passengers are obliged to always take with them to paradise. In the afternoon the wind was up and Lyn dropped Bruce off in the dinghy at Gaby’s beach for a kite surf. It was great fun, an excellent spot for it but the wind started to get a few holes in it so it was a bit of a curtailed session. That night our new friends Brent and Anna from Impi came to Jolifou for dinner. We discussed going diving together at Gadji on the other side of the island, but unfortunately they had to head for Noumea where they were taking delivery of a new sail and need to start looking at a weather window for departure to New Zealand. We have vowed to get together again next season.
Kuto is not a good place to be when the wind is from the South West as the swell and waves come directly into the bay. There are also not many good options for Westerly wind anchorages around the island so with a forecast of South Westerly winds for Thursday our friends on Insatiable 2 and Akimbo elected to return to Prony Bay on the main island. We chose rather to head up to Gadji on the North West tip of the Isle of Pines, where there is a shoal draft anchorage sheltered from all wind directions and some excellent dive sites. We decided to take the inner Western passage to Gadji, which is really shallow and tricky, winding between shallow reef and coral heads. Fortunately we had a detailed waypoint route to follow, but Lyn was on the bow the whole way, calling the shallow spots. We enjoyed a brief lunch anchor and rest at Ouameo Bay before tackling the most hairy section as we entered the anchorage area from the Southern approach. Our efforts were rewarded as we found ourselves alone in an absolutely idyllic setting, a cozy sand bottom anchorage of 1 to 2 meters deep surrounded by beautiful beaches and little mushroom shaped islands. We took the dinghy over to a little beach and enjoyed one of our most beautiful sunsets to date.
On Monday we paddled the standups to explore the outer reef islands north of the anchorage, investigating possible scuba spots. There is very little available in the way of scuba guides for New Cal but Bruce had photographed an old French guide book from the library and we knew the approximate location of a dive called “The Caves of Gadji”. We located what we think is the start point for this dive and then paddled along the drop-off of the reef and then back in through a very shallow reef pass, with Bruce catching a little wave, then falling off and having to dive for his sunnies! In the afternoon the wind had got up and we decided to shelve diving plans for the day.
Next morning was beautiful, sunny and still so we decided to use the opportunity to paddle and explore the little islands to the west of the anchorage. Most of the islands and rocks here are overhanging mushroom-like shapes with interesting secret little beaches, gullies and caves along their low cliff shores. It was a lot of fun paddling close along the edges and peering into the caves. In the afternoon we took our snorkel gear and the paddle boards to the outer reef and had a bit of a snorkel along the drop-off, saw a few sharks and some very pretty fish. We look forward to scuba diving here in the future.
At about 2AM on Wednesday the 23rd of September we got the phone call with the tragic news about Bruce’s brother Tim. He was a very healthy man, just 55, and yet had passed away in his home with a suspected heart attack possibly caused by a nerve disorder. This was such a shock to us all, and his poor wife Pauline was in South Africa at the time visiting her ailing parents. We needed to get back to Noumea and fly to London as soon as possible to support Bruce’s parents and Tim’s family. Unfortunately the wind was blowing quite strongly from the North West, exactly the wrong direction for sailing to Noumea. We decided to wait for better winds rather than risk damaging the boat and spent the rest of that day and the next making arrangements for the boat, flights etc., grieving and coming to terms with the shocking news.
On Friday the wind was a little lighter and had swung to the West more. Still not great conditions, but we decided to head for Noumea anyway. Departing at first light with a falling tide approaching half tide we picked our way through the western entrance to the anchorage with a few very shallow moments. The course to Woodin channel was close-hauled on port tack and we used the staysail and double-reefed mainsail. On the way Lyn was finalizing our arrangements, waiting on confirmation from Port Moselle Marina that we could leave the boat there because our flight bookings depended on this. Eventually they confirmed we could leave the boat there, BUT would need someone to move it to a different berth whilst we were away. Pete and Ness suggested we ask a good friend of theirs, David Plumley, whom we had met briefly. David was our hero, agreeing to move the boat in our absence and also arranging with the Marina, coming down to see how the boat worked etc. We didn’t want David to have to be responsible for the boat whilst we were away, so we also asked Chloe from Noumea Ocean Services who agreed to do this at a really low price. We highly recommend her to any cruisers who might be reading this.
From Woodin channel we motored and motor-sailed. The current was with us and against the wind through the channel and there was really rough waves on the exit of the channel. After a very long day of sailing and stressful organizing we arrived at Noumea just after dark, parked the boat and started the big tidy up. Exhausted but more relaxed now that we were safely docked, we noticed that our friends Brent and Anna from Impi were also on the dock and had a nice drink and catchup with them.
The airport shuttle was picking us up at 9:30 in the morning so it was a quite frenetic morning securing the boat away, meeting up with David and Chloe and packing. Then it was a very long and sad trip to London via Sydney and Dubai. I won’t write much here about our time in London. We were very glad we both went, for ourselves and to support the family. It was so good to re-inforce our bond with Tim’s family who are devastated but drawing strength from their love and closeness with each other. We had not seen them for much too long and it is such a regret that we didn’t do this whilst Tim was there. It was also good to see how loved Tim is, so many friends genuinely grieving at this loss. The memorial and funeral were truly beautiful and fitting for such a great man. I may post my eulogy to Tim on another blog post if I feel I can do him justice.