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It’s fantastic discovering new beautiful things when on a cruising adventure and it’s also wonderful meeting new like-minded friends. Showing these friends the places you have discovered and enjoying them all over again through their eyes is one of the nicest things you can do, so when our friends Lanie and Warwick from the beautiful Elliot 46 “Fusio” decided to join us on a final adventure trip before their departure home we knew it would be a lot of fun.
Where are you mantas?
By Wednesday the 2nd November the trade winds had died, predicted to be light wind for some time, so we headed out to the Amedee Island pass area for another manta ray search. We anchored at a lovely sandy spot inside the reef and went for a paddle over the reef on the SUPs.
“Fusio” joined us with their new crew member Grant Hugget (Hug) and we all set off for a snorkel to see if we could find Manta Rays. No such luck, but we did see a few sharks, turtles and some beautiful eagle rays.
Hug was stoked as it was his first time snorkelling off a boat in such a remote location: “how lucky you are to be able to do this kind of thing!” With a forecast of light winds, after a typically fun sun-downer drinks session on Fusio, we decided to remain anchored there for the night, rather than going to the better shelter of the Amedee moorings.
It was beautiful to wake up in the morning at this stunning place out at the reef. I noticed a couple of little boats across the pass at a right-hander called “Corvettes” and we took the dinghy across to check it out. I went for a surf whilst Lyn took photos from the dinghy. It was beautiful conditions with a 3 to 4 foot wave size. The break has a pitchy hollow take-off and my little 5’4” “baked potato” board was not appropriate, so I entertained Lyn and the Fusio crew with plenty of spectacular nose-dives and wipe-outs.
With the wind building from the West, we sailed to Ua Island along the inside of the outer reef, checking surf spots on the way. With “Fusio” in close company it soon became a race. In the light downwind conditions Jolifou had a slight speed advantage with board up, bigger mainsail and long spinnaker pole. Fusio took advantage of JoliFou being distracted by a surf break to take the lead, and it was a very close decision at the finish.
As we arrived the wind switched to the South East as forecast, which was great timing as the anchorage is well protected from this direction. We all enjoyed watching the flocking sea birds whilst drinking sundowners on JoliFou.
Next day Fusio was clearly the faster at the tight angles of the 15 Knots East/South East wind as we sailed towards Gadji on the Isle of Pines. Being unfamiliar with this route through the Southern lagoon reefs, Fusio was forced to throttle back the sail plan in order to stay behind the relatively pedestrian JoliFou.
On arrival we lead Fusio in through the tricky shallow reef entry to Gadji outer anchorage, and both anchored there. On snorkelling to check anchor it was holding on firmly but only by the tip in a tiny hole in the coral slate (we would move to the secure inner anchorage the next day). Drinks and cards on Fusio was a hilarious affair as usual.
Garden of Eden
We were stoked to have scuba diving friends with us in this place with some amazing dive spots, so next day the JoliFou dive tour began. We set off in both dinghies for a site called the “Garden of Eden” which we have dived many times before. Huggie was our willing and most able support boat boy, a pleasure having the security of this when diving a current affected reef pass. We saw quite a few reef sharks including a group of 5 grey reef sharks, a big moray eel, and stunning schools of fish in a very pretty shallower end section that we had missed on previous dives.
Caves of Gadji?
Ever since our trip here last year, we have wanted to check out a dive site called the “Caves of Gadji”. This year we were determined to find it, but our information on the location basically consisted of a dot on a rough mud-map of the area, a confusing old French dive guide description, and a conflicting more recent report from a cruising friend of ours. On Sunday morning after filling the tanks we started a dive near the dive guide location and looked for the caves entrance. It was nowhere to be found and it didn’t appear to be cave-like terrain, not very interesting except for seeing a couple of beautiful eagle rays. It got much prettier and more cave-like further along as we swam northward. We found and explored some cool tunnels but they didn’t open up to caves.
After re-filling the tanks during lunch back at the anchorage we set off again in the early afternoon to try further north at the location our friend had told us of. Huggie had to placate an angry local fisherman on a speedboat, buzzing around above us and yelling: “no fish no touch”! We moved southward along the dropoff and discovered awesome swim-throughs and caves. We are still not sure it’s the official “Caves” dive but it is one of the best dive sites we have discovered to date.
Cool Runnings reunion
On the way back to the boat in the dinghy we saw our friends Dave and Gudrun Hibberd (and Ben and Gabby) arriving on their Lagoon 400 catamaran “Cool Runnings”. Dave and I were fierce competitors in the Laser dinghy in South Africa over 20 years ago, and we later became good friends and were teammates in the South African Olympic Sailing Team at the ’96 Olympics (Dave in Laser, me in the Soling class). We all emigrated over the next few years, Dave and Gudrun to the US and us to Aus. We got in touch recently when we heard they were planning on doing a circumnavigation and as fate would have it they arrived in New Caledonia whilst we were there. We shot out to meet them on the dinghy and I got aboard and piloted them our preferred way into the inner anchorage. After filling tanks and sorting out dive gear we headed over for drinks, along with the Fusio crew.
Lovely to catch up with good friends after such a long absence, it always amazes me how quickly one re-acquaints, and it feels like you were never apart.
Next morning, Monday 7th November we left Gadji for Oro, leading Fusio through the reef passes. Cool Runnings decided to remain at Gadji for a while and we would catch up again down the line. It was an interesting sail with the Westerly wind changing to a moderate Easterly half way. Our main goal was to show Warwick and Lanie the beautiful dive site we had discovered here previously, so we headed out on the two dinghies, surviving a bit of an iffy moment getting through the breaking waves on the barrier reef. It was an excellent dive with two fantastic swim throughs, a few good sized sharks, turtles and large fish including a Maori Wrasse. The highlight was a nose to nose encounter with a biggish shark as we exited one of the swim-throughs. The bar opened early on the aft deck of Fusio and the shark’s size grew proportionally to the number of beers as we relived this great dive.
Fusio had already cleared out of the country a few days previously in Noumea and it was time for them to leave for NZ. On Tuesday morning we joined them for coffee and a sad farewell. Our adventures in New Caledonia had been so much the sweeter this year with such great friends as Warwick and Lanie. Sharing our passion for kiting, surfing and scuba diving, positive, funny and easy-going we can’t imagine a nicer crew to share the cruising lifestyle with. The only thing we don’t like about them is that their boat seems to have the legs on us in most wind conditions. We already have plans to meet up again next season with them in Fiji, along with our other Kiwi friends Rob and Carolyn (Shenanigans) and John and Pip (Sharpe Focus).
“Manta Rays!!” shouted Lyn, “manta rays, manta rays, manta rays!” Those who know her well will probably know that Lyn is obsessed with these beautiful creatures and that swimming with them has always been her dream. Our lucky charm, my mom Joliette was with us and it was fitting that we have this rare and amazing encounter with her aboard. Grabbing her snorkelling gear, Lyn dived straight off the boat and when she came across these 6 mantas, lazily milling about her in circles, we could hear the squeals of excitement all the way through her snorkel. I hurriedly explained to my mom how to put the boat into gear and steer towards us if JoliFou drifted too far away (the wind was very light) before abandoning her alone and adrift on the boat and also diving in.
On Wednesday the 5th of October we motored from Isle of Pines to the Noumea area in flat calm and very light wind.
Kiwi kiters and drinkers
After stocking up in Noumea and seeing another Allures 44 (“Finistere”) we arrived at Maitre, hooked up with our Kiwi kiting friends and began a prolonged period of over 3 weeks of repetitive fun behaviour.
Most days went something like this: Lazy morning waiting for the wind to increase, over to the island with kiting gear and kite for most of the day (with the odd rest break of course),
sundowners on one of the boats usually carried on way past dinner time.
A particularly tough routine, hard on the body and hard on the liver too (these Kiwis can drink)! The main culprits operating under the black flag were: “Fusio” (Warwick and Lanie), “Shenanigans” (Rob and Carolyn), “Moonfish” (Mike and Sasha), “Sharpe Focus” (John and Pip) and “Bravado” (Al and Shirl). Representing the UK were “the kids”, Charlie and Zoe from “Velindra”.
A new kiter is born
The repeated days of good kiting conditions and an abundance of advice and coaching saw Lyn make huge jumps up the learning curve.
She progressed to being totally confident with the kite, getting up and going on the board and staying upwind. Each day was a massive improvement matching the huge grin on her face as she gained confidence in her new favourite sport. I crashed and burned many times before finally managing to pull off the elusive “back roll”, a trick where you jump and rotate backward through upside-down before landing and continuing on.
It feels wonderful when you get it right, and painful when you don’t!
Our friends James and Flo Godfrey (and Alex and Eva) were in Noumea for a week and came out to join us on JoliFou for the weekend of the 8th and 9th of October. James is a super-keen scuba diver and we wanted to take him for a dive, so with calm conditions on Sunday morning we decided to check out a dive spot called Tepava on the outside of the Maitre island reef. Our friends from Shenanigans and Fusio joined us and we took the three dinghies out around the reef in search of the spot. As it turns out it was easy to find as there were a couple of moorings there. To be honest we had low expectations of a dive so close to Noumea in a relatively tame spot, but it was actually quite spectacular in terms of fish as we swam among huge schools of barracuda and Giant Trevally.
Later Lyn and Flo had an excellent snorkel with the tame turtles close to the beach at the kiting spot.
One morning Lyn spotted a large fish swimming close to the boat. She jumped in to have a look and it turned out to be the huge resident barracuda. He was really tame as we followed him around for ages, joined by Zane from “Libertalia” and James and Rebecca from “Quick Star”.
On Friday the 14th there was a surfing swell and we headed out to Dumbea pass where we anchored off the reef and I had an excellent surf at the 3 to 4 foot left hander.
A familiar yellow sea plane came flying over with Guy waving from the cockpit, and landed to say hi to Lyn before continuing his flight.
Afterwards we motored across to the right-hander on the other side of the pass where Lyn took some great photos of Mike and Sasha (“Moonfish”) having an epic SUP surfing session.
On a quick stock-up trip into Noumea on Tuesday the 18th we were amazed to see yet another Allures 44 “Pegasse 3” as we had now seen two in short succession after only seeing one other in the past 3 years. We met the owners, a charmingly eccentric older French couple (Dominique and Mariel) and we had a good look around each other’s boats.
On Thursday there was a good wind blowing when we had a very frightening experience. Lanie was kiting far out towards the light-house as she often did. Warwick and I were sitting on the beach having a break when Warwick said: “that doesn’t look good!” At first I didn’t know what he was talking about as I just saw Lanie standing with her kite in normal crash position in the water, but then the kite started looping in what kiters call the “death loop”. This can happen when a line gets hooked around the bar, causing the kite to continually spin in one direction, generating power as it spins in the power zone and dragging the kiter at rapid speed across the water. This was what was happening to Lanie as she was rag-dolled at incredible speed towards a sand spit and sharp dead tree at the end of the beach!
Warwick and I began sprinting down the beach, but it looked like she would beat us there. Fortunately when the kite hit the sand it paused it’s looping for a few seconds and I was able to grab it. I was hugely relieved to see Lanie moving and shakily standing up as Warwick assisted her. She is such a brave woman, not even a tear as she recounted that she had thought her time was up.
On Friday the 21st October we anchored at Citroen bay to pick up a hire car and excitedly drove to the airport to pick up my mom. So lovely to see her again and be able to show her some of the beauty of this place. We had hoped that Lyn’s parents Keith and Merle would also be joining us but in the end it proved too difficult to get them visas on their SA passports.
On Saturday after a great kiting session the black flaggers (and JoliFou) anchored over in Citroen Bay in order to watch the All Blacks take on the Wallabies at La Fieste restaurant. The south easterly wind was blowing 35 knots but it was very good shelter at the eastern side of the bay. In order to try to balance the overwhelming blackness of the audience, Lyn pulled out some large bright gold “Savage Bee” skiff shirts for the three of us, but besides the Wallabies playing really well the All Blacks prevailed (again). Was great to also see Pete and Ness (“Akimbo”) there as well as Santiago (“Narida”) from the Pittwater.
Manta Ray Monday
Monday the 24th October heralded a pause to the perfect kiting trade winds, so on a flat calm glassy sea we motored out to the Amedee Island area. We motored around on JoliFou exploring the Boulari pass, checking out dive and surf spots. We were motoring down the Western side of the pass when Lyn spotted the Manta rays. We swam with them for ages, as they circled lazily around, moving quite slowly so we were able to stay with them easily. They were completely unperturbed by our presence, allowing us to get really close and even touch them. Lyn swam back to the boat to fetch the camera whilst I tracked the rays and we got some excellent photos of them.
We were so engrossed in the experience with these beautiful creatures that we didn’t notice that JoliFou had drifted quite a long way away into the deep water of the pass, with only my mom on board. I started swimming toward the boat and, not fancying a swim across the deep water with possible shark attention, beckoned to my mom to come closer. Soon enough JoliFou was headed at me, weaving a drunken path as my mom, totally unfamiliar with steering a boat was trying to get to grips with it and I grew increasingly worried about my irresponsibility in putting her in this situation. As she got closer I had visions of being run over and yelled for her to put it into neutral, which she duly did, and I managed to intercept the still-moving boat and scramble onto the sugar scoop with much relief! Well done mom!
We spent the night on a mooring at Amedee Island, watching huge turtles, feeding the remora fish meatballs and being entertained by a persistent seagull whom we dubbed Jonathan Livingstone as he was happy to boldly sit on the boat when others were too scared.
Next morning we tried in vain to find the Mantas again before motoring along the inside of the reef towards Dumbea pass to check out the surf. The unusual westerly wind had made the surf messy, but I jumped off for a quick surf at the left whilst Lyn and my mom motored around on JoliFou. It was a bit scary and sharky feeling surfing on my own in those conditions, but always good to get wet and a bit of exercise. We spent the night at Legionnaire island, hooking up for drinks on Fusio who now had Rob and Carolyn aboard for a few days as their boat had left for NZ with a delivery crew.
On the morning of Wednesday 26th October the trade winds had returned, messing up the surf, so it was back to Maitre for kiting for a few days with a depleted group now, just Fusio and us. A fun farewell dinner was had at a restaurant at Citroen Bay, sadly farewelling Rob and Carolyn with the “Fusio” and “Sharpe Focus” crews.
Au revoir Mom
On Sunday we hired a car to drop Mom off at the airport. On the way we drove up the lookout hill over Anse Vata beach and enjoyed the stunning 360 degree views.
Then it was with much regret and a tear in the eye that we said goodbye to Mom at the airport, consoling ourselves with a lovely romantic dinner at La Fieste in Citroen Bay.
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.
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 the opportunity to head South East. We decided to take a route through the middle of the Southern lagoon motor-sailing in beautiful perfect weather on a smooth sea. There are some stunningly beautiful islands and reefs with deep drop-offs into clear blue ocean in this lesser frequented area of the lagoon and we vowed to return and spend time here in the future. Arriving at the familiar beauty of Kuto in the late afternoon, we were pleasantly surprised to see “Bob the Cat” whom we had met briefly at Nge island. Dave and Malene are kite-surfers and Dave shares Bruce’s passion for kiting in the surf, always good to find someone to do these things with to increase the enjoyment and safety factor.
In the morning we went ashore and walked down the beautiful beach at Kanumera bay and had a look at the resort on the Eastern side. A very pretty resort which we would recommend although not really our thing. In the afternoon the wind was up a bit and Lyn dropped Dave and Bruce off at “Gaby’s” beach for a kite surf. The kite launching was hectic with many failed attempts, but eventually we had success by moving further down the beach. We kited out to the reef breaks towards Moro Island and had a lot of fun in the waves there before a long beat back into the wind.
On Saturday we headed the short distance out to Moro Island, anchoring Jolifou in a really pretty little lagoon close to the protected side of the island, the only yacht there. We went ashore and walked right around the island, negotiating the really sharp coral rock and vegetation along the unusual and scenic coast. At three separate places we saw groups of up to 10 small black-tip reef sharks really close to the shore, the most sharks we have seen in one place. We had a nice skinny-dip on the warm protected beach side of the island before returning to Jolifou for lunch. On the way back to Kuto we spotted the Manta ray that we had swum with previously in Kuto bay, in a special and surreal moment it swam right up to the boat and stuck it’s head up towards us, as though saying hello! Lyn was tempted to dive in, but thought better of it in the fading light and cold wind.
Next day Lyn tried in vain to find her manta, paddling around Kuto bay, but alas it was not to be. We sailed up to Gadji around the outside of the western reef, rather than doing the tricky, coral-dodging inner western passage which we had done previously. Arriving at about lunchtime we had a look at the beautiful Ngie island (I know they all sound the same) fringing Bumbu pass before heading toward the inner Gadji anchorage. It was only a couple of hours after low tide so we knew from previous experience it would be tight getting in, even for us, but with Lyn carefully calling the way we managed to squeeze in through the western entrance. All alone in the anchorage, until Bob the Cat arrived in the late afternoon. We invited them to join us for a fire and dinner on the nearby beach, which was a very merry affair as we became better acquainted with our new friends.
For us this trip to Gadji was mostly about scuba diving, we had not dived our previous time here, which was cut short, so there was unfinished business to do. Befriending Malene and Dave and having them here at Gadji was really serendipitous because Dave is a very competent scuba diver and Malene is an ex scuba instructor, who unfortunately can no longer dive due to a lung condition – the perfect support boat! We managed to piece together a third set of scuba gear for Dave using equipment of the previous owner of the boat and we were all set. The new dive compressor really came into its own as we did a dive a day for the next 5 days in really good weather conditions, sunny and light winds.
We dived a site at the drop-off straight out from the anchorage, then the “Valley of Gorgones” and “The Garden of Eden” which are both at the Bumbu reef pass area. “The Garden of Eden” was the favourite, a beautiful deep drop-off and huge expanse of undulating pristine coral reef terrain, arches, mounds, gorges and valleys with prolific fish. The best dive was in the late afternoon on an incoming tide when there were much more fish, including a huge Napoleon wrasse, a large school of barracuda passing by us about a meter away and quite a few large sharks – feeding time I guess. This is a drift dive through the pass and the guide warns to only do with a support boat. We did have support boat on a couple of occasions, but we also perfected diving towing the dinghy on a long rope, which worked really well. With a short length of chain at the end and a rope long enough so the holder could get deep enough, it was really not a big hassle to hold the dinghy and tow it along, swapping the holder every now and again taking turns for swim-through areas. What you lose by having to tow the dinghy you gain by having the freedom to end the dive wherever you choose, and it certainly adds a lot to the safety factor.
Other Gadji highlights were:-
- Exploring Ngie island on the Monday afternoon, mostly the outside by dinghy as the interior is very difficult vegetation, then back to the anchorage by following the outer reef drop-off and by way of the East Gadji bay area.
- Sundowners on Bob the Cat on Tuesday evening and Pizza night on Jolifou on Wednesday. It was great to find out more about Dave and Malene. They are both scientists, Dave an oceanographer and Malene a marine biologist. Dave was born in Canada, grew up mostly in the UK, and in fact it turns out was a member of the youth UK Laser sailing squad at the same time that Bruce was sailing in the UK senior squad. Malene is Danish by birth. They met whilst they were both hitching rides across the ocean on yachts and now hail from Raglan in New Zealand. Their boys Matias and Luca are full of energy and the joys of life and it is a pleasure to see how well they get on, entertaining each other for hours on end with games such as swinging on the jibsheets, using the netting as trampoline and making potions (Harry Potter is big on Bob the Cat). Matias made Lyn some bravery potion which we are keeping in a special bottle for when required.
- On the Wednesday morning it was quite calm out at the dive spot and there were two French catamarans rafted up together and drifting around (not on anchor) as a few of the crew had a dive on “Garden of Eden”. There are many crazy French sailors let me tell you and these were a prime example. Later they tried to get into the inner anchorage through the wrong entrance at low tide, hitting on numerous occasions before finally getting in using the correct way, then proceeded to leave a few minutes later!
On Friday we fare welled Bob the Cat as they set off headed for Ovea in the Loyalty islands. We would love to have joined them but our time in New Cal was coming to an end. After a final dive we used the nice Easterly wind to set sail for Kuto, having a close look at Du-Ami and Du-Ana islands on the way, but neither were suitable for comfortable anchorage in the conditions. A huge cruise ship was anchored in the bay, similar to the one we will be on in April next year for Bruce’s sister Jacqui’s 50th birthday. It will be great to show the family and friends going on this trip some of what we have seen in this beautiful place. We spent a bit of time stalking a dugong mother and calf before anchoring in the familiar beauty of Kuto bay and cracking the drinks out.
On Saturday morning Lyn rode her Brompton along the beautiful coastal road to Vao market for some much needed fresh food stocks. With using the dive compressor and dinghy a lot recently, petrol stocks were also low and Bruce set off walking up the road towards the service station with the empty jerry cans. A delightful local Kanaki couple stopped and gave him a lift to the service station, waited for him to fill the tanks and then took him all the way back to the dinghy. This is an example of how friendly and helpful the locals here are. In the afternoon we used some of that fuel, taking the dinghy on an adventure through the breakers on the reef to explore Ouro bay, which was a bit disappointing. On the way back we stopped at Bayonnaise island which has a beautiful beach with sea snakes, shells and coral fragments of all shapes and sizes.
Dave and Malene had told us how much they had enjoyed the Southern lagoon islands which we had passed by previously, so with the weather forecast looking good we headed off that way on Sunday morning. An absolutely perfect broad reach in the moderate North Easterly had us arriving at Kouare island in the late afternoon. This island has the best anchorages in the southern lagoon, with 3 locations providing good shelter in all wind directions and is one of the prettiest we have come across. Unfortunately tho, there is a dark side to it. A local French sailor was attacked and killed here by a bull shark in just May this year, whilst snorkeling close to the boat. It must have been a horrific scene and is the stuff of nightmares for us cruising sailors who are often in the water and consider close to the boat as the safest place to be. Also we believe that bull sharks are territorial, so the perpetrator could still be in the area, and in fact when “Bob the Cat” was here another boat spotted a large shark in the anchorage. There was not going to be any water time here for us.
On the plus side, whilst keeping dry on the boat and enjoying drinks and a beautiful sunset, we experienced a beautiful phenomenon which we later discovered is a regular event at these outer southern lagoon islands. The brown sea-birds (sorry I don’t know the name of the species) start gathering as the sun sets and concentrating on the island, on which they sleep for the night. For some reason they don’t just fly straight to the island tho, but rather spend a long time flying beautifully back and forth, gliding close over the water before finally settling on the land. It is mesmerizing watching them as first just a few, but later literally hundreds, maybe into the thousands of birds flock across a back-drop of an orange sunset sky.
Next morning we set off for Nda island, which as far as we know has no recorded shark attacks. We were able to anchor in a beautiful spot close to the beach whilst Bruce filled the dive tanks and Lyn did the bedding laundry. In the late afternoon we did a mellow shallow water dive on one of the huge coral bommies near the island, lots of colourful fish and a sea snake that kept coming at us until finally getting a big fright and swimming away. At sunset a few birds appeared and we remarked that this island didn’t seem to have the same bird influx as Kouare. How wrong we were, as later the gathering happened and the sunset sky became filled with their graceful writhing. For a change we decided to enjoy a dinner date under the stars on the foredeck. A delicious meal serenaded by bird song and Abba, beautiful night sky with a setting moon.
On Tuesday morning we headed north to a dive site called “Ecstasy” at Uatio pass. After scoping out the exact location using the GPS on Jolifou, we anchored inside the reef at quite a boisterous location and headed off to the dive in the dinghy. Lyn was concerned about the safety with the tide starting to get stronger so elected to be support boat captain whilst Bruce did the dive solo. It is a fantastic dive site, befitting the name, with a huge deep drop-off and grand terrain similar to “Garden of Eden” and plenty of fish. Unfortunately tho it is a pretty deep site for recreational diving, even the reef before the drop-off is over 30 meters deep in places, so it is very easy to get very deep without realizing it. Diving solo, Bruce was quite conservative and didn’t go below 30 meters, with a long time at shallower depth later to ensure decompression. Nevertheless a really spectacular dive and Lyn was able too follow the bubbles the whole way for an easy pickup, just as well because the current was sweeping pretty quickly by the end. We didn’t dally at this sketchy anchorage as we set off to Ua island for the night. AFPLI Another F’n Perfect Lagoon Island. Beautiful coral, reef sharks, sea snakes on the beach, flocking bird sunset.
Next morning we sailed further northward to Mato island, which is not AFPLI as it is quite different, a high island with anchorage on the windward side protected by extensive reefs and two little spit beaches at either end. We picked the southern beach and started traversing around the island clock-wise with rock climbing moves just above the water before reaching a beach filled with beautiful stones to Lyn’s delight. From the beach we bush-bashed up to the top of the island where there is majestic aerial views of the reef (spotting groups of reef sharks), anchorage and neighbouring islands. Following the official track down to the northern beach the weather was starting to turn bad. We negotiated the rocky eastern shoreline, dodging many sea snakes and getting soaked by the rain. We would have loved to spend more time at Mato but it was not a great place to be in the building south easterly wind and rain, so we took on a rough and wet trip with the reward being excellent shelter at Magic bay, East Prony.