“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 sun was getting lower in the sky as we enjoyed the perfect weather over a couple of beers on Kanumera beach. In the distance our friend Steve was having a mellow sail around to the Kanumera anchorage, very light wind, mainsail only. We watched his slow progress, too slow?? Facing the wrong way? Oh my god, he’s on the reef!
Mato to Gadji
On Wednesday morning the 21st September a nice Southerly wind was blowing and we left Mato for Gadji on the north tip of the Isle of Pines. Just for fun we took the direct eastward route, through the incompletely charted reefs, using the good light to pick our route through the reef. We found the charted positons of the reefs actually pretty accurate.
Arriving mid-afternoon with the tide low, we anchored at the outer Gadji Anchorage.
More Kiwi Friends
Whilst exploring the mushroom islands terrain on the SUPs we met Dave and Erica from “Seacomber” who invited us for a drink along with Mike and Sasha from “Moonfish”.
Dave and Erica have a great situation, Seacomber is owned by an older wealthy South African who is apparently a lovely guy and employs them to run the boat and when he is not aboard they can do as they please. They cruise aboard the boat with their two gorgeous 4 year olds, twin daughters Zoe and Jasmine. Moonfish is a beautiful aluminium catamaran and Mike and Sasha are kiters and surfers so share our love of the action sports. Kiwis can drink!
Next morning we all went for a dive at the Garden of Eden site out at the Bumbu pass, which Lyn and I are by now very familiar with.
Drifting inwards with the incoming tide, it was a really nice dive as usual but nothing special in the fish department except a large Maori Wrasse. On getting back to the boat, we moved into the inner anchorage which is spectacularly beautiful and much better protection and holding. In the afternoon we joined Mike for a SUP paddle and drinks on Moonfish became an unexpected dinner.
What would Tim do?
Friday the 23rd of September is a special and sad day for us. This is the anniversary of my dear brother Tim’s passing. Not by conscious plan, we found ourselves in the exact same place where we had received the tragic news last year. Fitting the mood, the weather was just a bit cloudy, casting a duller and sadder filter on the spectacular colours of this place. We spent the day quietly, in mourning and remembrance including a “What Would Tim Do” whisky photo shoot on the beach and video conference calls with the family. After the photo shoot we said: “what would Tim do?” and drank the glasses of whisky.
Where are the village people?
The local dive boat had said we should get permission from the locals to dive here, so on the Saturday we paddled into the “village” area at the inner beach.
All we found was the lady running the vanilla farm tours who was lovely but didn’t really seem to get the question. “No boats allowed!” was her response. We also met a group of French from Noumea who were on a weekend clue hunt game, seemed like a lot of fun. On getting back to JoliFou a catamaran named “Phase Two” arrived in the anchorage and we met Warren and Deborah from Queensland.
On Sunday morning we went for a snorkel outside the reef drop-off left of the mushroom rock. It’s a very beautiful area with pristine coral, interesting gullies and we saw a white tip reef shark and plenty of pretty little fish.
Once the tide had come up a bit, we headed off, sailing to Oro on the north east coast of the island.
It was a really mellow sail with jib only in the offshore Westerly wind and flat water. We navigated around the left of the mushroom rock and into the inner anchorage.
Oro can be a bit exposed to the easterly winds which usually predominate here, but we were enjoying a very strange prolonged period of Westerly winds and perfect sunny weather. In these conditions Oro is close to boater’s paradise. The one blight here is the Meridian resort on one of the beaches but if one turns a blind eye and avoids this area there is plenty of remote beautiful spots. Within paddling distance from the anchorage there are three islands with channels between them, limestone sea cliff caves, secluded beaches and pine trees. Beautiful coral everywhere, fun SUP surfing on the little breaking waves on the reef, great snorkelling and diving.
We stayed there for four glorious days, exploring the area on SUPS, making new friends with the crews from catamarans “Phase Two” and “Sky Pond”, Beneteaus “Quick Star” and “Serenity 2” over sundowners. We paddled down the outside coast past the “natural aquarium” entrance and back and discovered a likely looking dive site off the point of the bay. Returning the next morning we had a surprisingly excellent dive with the terrain and fish size improving the further we went, big swim throughs and big schools of big fish.
On Friday the 30th September the wind was forecast to go around to the east and north east, not a good direction for Oro anchorage. We sailed and motored around the beautiful east coast of the island towards Kuto. Unfortunately a lot of this area is out of bounds to cruising boats without getting special permission from the chief of the island.
Ndju pass was beautiful despite a contrary current of 3 knots. There was a reasonable swell running and we had a look at what looks like a really nice left surfing break on the North West corner of Nekanmue Atoll. The strong tide in the wrong direction would have made it a really difficult paddle, even if we had anchored there despite knowing it is one of the areas forbidden by the Kanak locals. We had time for a SUP paddle around Kuto bay before chocolate cake tea (and drinks) on Quick Star for Ben’s 8th birthday.
On Saturday Lyn rode her Brompton to Vao market for stocks whilst I did a rubbish run. Later we had a walk and swim at Kanumera beach, then drinks and snacks on the beach.
Serenity on the reef
This was when we noticed that Steve had put “Serenity 2” on the reef. Not having a radio with us, by the time we realised what was going on James and Rebecca of “Quick Star” were already out there helping in their dinghy and a police launch was on the way.
Steve had apparently been cruising along really slowly at 2 knots, reading a book and not noticed that the current was sweeping him sideways onto the reef. The boat ended up wedged sideways and when it hit Steve naturally reversed, which actually exacerbated the position. Rebecca and James did a sterling job of standing on the reef and guiding the boat out between the shallow bits before the police launch pulled it off. When they arrived back at the anchorage a freezing and exhausted James and Rebecca needed to return to their kids on the boat. Lyn and I took a bottle of whisky over to Steve and consoled him with alcohol.
Steve is a very interesting man from Albany in Western Australia. His wife and cruising companion passed away 3 years ago and he was grief stricken, drinking a lot and on a path towards joining her. One night “after a few beers and a bottle of wine” he decided to sail around Australia. He literally left that same night at 10PM and that’s what he did. He says that decision saved his life, and he has been sailing his boat single handed ever since. He has an eccentric way of going about things but his great seamanship has so far saved him and “Serenity 2” from the situations he’s put himself in.
Steve doesn’t do under water, so next morning I went across and snorkelled down to assess the damage and take photos. Remarkably just cosmetic damage to the bottom areas of the keel and a bit of a chip out of the trailing edge of the rudder.
Lyn climbed up on top of the targa arch in her quest for good turtle photographs.
Later we took Jolifou around to Kanumera bay for a change of scenery and better shelter from the south westerly wind. We took the SUPs with picnic lunch to nearby Adventure Island, a good adventure and we saw plenty of beautiful sea snakes there.
That night we had drinks on “Chance” with Bob and Lucinda. They are very interesting, truly old school cruisers who lament the days where navigation was much more than reading a screen. They hand steer everywhere.
Early on Monday morning Lyn and Bob went for a bike ride around the island which Lyn had been talked into over a glass of red the previous night. Bob nearly killed her as he is a really strong bike rider.
We then motored across to Brosse Island, anchoring in the tiny inner lagoon. A sea snake swam up to the transom, trying to get on the boat.
Lyn did some work whilst I paddled around the island.
In the afternoon we went for a snorkel on the western side of the island, an area we now call “turtle reef”. Apart from the many turtles there are numerous swim-throughs, gullies, different coral and seaweeds, many fish and rays. That night we had a fire barbecue on the beach with Quick Star and some new Australian friends from a charter motor cat.
Next day we both paddled around the island, and I had a fun surf on a tiny lefthander on the outer reef. With the wind going round to the North West, we headed back over to Kanumera bay. In the afternoon we walked to the shop for a rare treat of ice-creams (2 each!).
Feeling like we had truly “done” the Isle of Pines, and with good kiting wind on its way, on Wednesday the 5th of October we set off motoring towards Maitre across a beautiful glassy sea.
“That plane looks familiar”, says Lyn as a yellow seaplane flies over our perfect lagoon island anchorage. “Maybe it’s the flying vet?” Brent from “Impi” had shown us his YouTube video where Guy the flying vet arrives at Casey Island in his yellow plane to give Moose the dog a checkover. Indeed it was the flying vet, and after we introduced ourselves we had a seaplane tied up behind JoliFou as we made new friends.
Perfect lagoon weather
From Friday the 16th September the forecasts were calling for light wind, sunny and settled weather. Perfect weather for exploring the beautiful remote Southern Lagoon. We headed into Noumea to stock up, anchoring in Orphelina Bay and taking the dinghy to drop Lyn at the cruise ship seawall opposite the Casino supermarket. We spotted “Shenanigans” in Port Mosselle marina at the charter cat area. “Impi” arrived in Orphelina and we caught up with Brent and Ana over sundowners, along with “Shenanigans”.
Next morning after a final shop at the fresh food market and dinghy fuel top-up we set off southwards, motoring over a smooth beautiful blue sea.
We spotted numerous large turtles and were delighted to have three dolphins come and play around the bow for a while, a fairly rare occurrence here.
Anchoring at the stunning Ua Island in the early afternoon, we paddled ashore on the SUPs and walked around the island.
For some unknown reason we awoke on the Sunday motivated to do some boat chores, with Lyn cleaning the oven and dive compressor locker (and I did something useful, can’t remember what). At midday the flying vet Guy and his partner Sonja arrived on his seaplane, planning to meet “Impi” for lunch. They had not yet arrived, so we invited them to have lunch with us.
They are a delightful couple and we soon made friends with them. Guy was actually born in the USA and is an interesting man, philanthropic vet, seaplane adventurer and kite-surfer on foils, amongst other things. Sonja is a super-keen horse-woman and competitive show jumper.
“Impi” arrived mid afternoon and we all went over for a coffee.
Unfortunately Guy had to fly back to Noumea before dark, despite invitation to spend the night.
Brent came over for a drink on JoliFou, regaling us with his stories of how he had come to own a diamond mine. It’s a long and interesting story which I am sure Ana has heard many times before.
Mates at Mato
Next day the wind was from the North East and we decided to sail North a bit to Mato Island. A fun sail including a close shave with the edge of a lee reef (Lyn was ready to start the engine if required).
Was great to see the “Shenanigans” there with their guests Tim and Sue. Lyn was doing some remote work as I went ashore with the “Shenanigans” crew, walking up to the top of this unusually high lagoon island. We enjoyed the stunning views of the surrounding islands and reefs and the pack of resident reef sharks.
In the afternoon we decided to snorkel the sheltered western reef drop-off area. It was pleasant, nice coral, medium fish but nothing too exciting. That night we had drinks and pot luck dinner on Shenanigans.
On Tuesday morning Lyn and I went for a snorkel at a nearby bommie, surprisingly pretty coral and small fishes. In the afternoon we went for a walk on the island, coming across a French couple from an Amel yacht who had a gorgeous little puppy with them.
Of course, Lyn was thrilled to get her doggy fix. That night we had a chicken dinner on “Shenanigans”, another fun night of hilarity.
By Wednesday the wind had come up a bit from the South West. We parted ways with “Shenanigans” as they headed off for Prony Bay and we set off eastward towards Gadji on the Isle of Pines.
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!