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Into Vanuatu

Into Vanuatu

Port Vila, June 1, 2017

Arriving Port Vila at sunrise.

Patience has its rewards.  For five weeks, we waited for a weather window to leave New Zealand, and suddenly it was there.  On the tail of a low, we rode the southerlies for 1,100 NM.  Fair winds and following seas for 4 days!

Running away from the storms

We hadn’t made a passage in so long I had forgotten the drills.  I have found that my focus has changed over the years.

Are we getting old or just simplifying our life?  Provisioning is not so important anymore: we find our staples of rice, beans, pasta and flour anywhere.  Fresh produce can be found anywhere, especially since we insist on eating locally-grown foods.  As for meat, we don’t really eat any (unless it’s fresh and locally-grown).  Eggs and fish are plentiful anywhere we cruise.  So, unlike our previous passages when all the lockers were overfilled with stuff: crackers, snacks, staples, this time the lockers are almost empty.  It’s weird how, over 7 years of cruising, we have down-sized our pantry and gone almost vegan.  As for booze, since we now drink only occasionally, the wine cellar is virtually empty.  Life is simpler that way.

Fishing is a main activity on board.  This short bill spearfish is an exception… released

Rather, JP has concentrated on making the boat ever simpler to run,  more efficient, and asking less of me.

Anchoring – JP had wanted to modify the anchoring system for years.  Finally, he did it.  With the  previous configuration, the bow rollers being way inside the bows and high on the foredeck, dropping anchor in any kind of strong wind was a challenge.  By the time JP would let out enough chain, the cat would be across the wind and I would have to race in order to clip the bridle before the chain would graze against the bow… scraped the paint many times that way.

Fabricating 2 steel extensions – Lower launching point, more forward, and a smooth-grooved acetal roller.

The modification consists in a massive extension of the bow roller, bringing the launching  point lower and more forward, with an acetal roller lathed in a smooth depression rather than a chain-gripping groove.  The chain no longer grazes the bow as the cat turns across the wind, giving me more time to clip the bridle on.  Also, the smooth groove of the acetal roller allows the anchor shaft to roll itself in the right position for storage, instead of the chain being stuck in the groove.  Makes sense?  My life has suddenly improved, and the anchoring can now be single-handled.

Nasty, nasty exhaust stains… and hard to clean
Exhaust –  If you buy a motor boat, make sure that the exhaust is below water.  Sure, it’s a bit noisier, but no soot or smoke.  I was so tired of having to clean the hulls aft of the exhaust every time we used the boat that I had mutinied.  JP had mercy on me and built an extension to the exhaust, directing the fumes outward.  There is still some black smoke stain after we run, but not nearly as much as before.  And, to minimize my cleaning duty around the exhaust, JP painted a big black teardrop.  

Not sure what to make of the tear drop, but definitely less smoke to clean

These are little things that make my life easier, which means it makes JP happier too!

Another big deal during this haul-out season was servicing our John Deere 6081 engines, including doing a valve adjustment.  We just found out during this last passage that this adjustment gave us a 20% increase in performance.  Now, at 1025 RPM, running at 10 Kts, we burn 4 GPH instead of 5.  A significant savings!

Some people look for the pot of gold… rainbow was chasing us and we didn’t want to be anywhere
close to the wind and rain at the end of that rainbow!
It only took us 4 days and 13 hours to run from Opua (NZ) to Port Vila (Vanuatu), an 1,112 NM trip.  After a bit of a rough start in cross seas (2m from the east, 1m from the west) that lasted almost 24 hours, the following 3 days were just a dream, following seas all the way.

Sunset off Tanna Island.  Perhaps the volcano smoke gave the sun this hazy red tinge?

We fished, ran before storm clouds and rainbows, drank blood-orange sunset and were surprised by glorious sunrises.

The market:  peanuts!
We are spending the season in Vanuatu, JP resting his brain and hands…. except for trying to catch more fish!

Baskets of yams and sweet potatoes

As for me, I spent the day lazing around the local market.  It runs 24/7, amazingly.

The fridge is stocked up, and we’re ready for some new adventures.

Even in the rain….

We’re off to Pentecost Island…

Till then.


Leaving New Zealand

Leaving New Zealand

Russell, May 25, 2017

It seems that leaving New Zealand is never easy.  It’s not just the great boating and fishing that hold us back; it’s not just the friendly Kiwis that tug at our friendship heartstrings;  it’s the weather, always the weather, that bars us from moving straight north to Vanuatu.

Under leaden skies and another gale warning, JP finds the way to catch dinner.
A year ago, we left NZ in the first half of May to hang out at Minerva Reef for a week.  This year, it’s been much harder to find a window, even a short 4-day window.  
Trying to dodge weather… not today!
The Kiwis say you should leave for the tropics before well into May, and it certainly is true this year.

In Whangarei, extra-tropical cyclone COOK brought us beautiful skies
For the last five weeks we’ve been waiting for a weather window.  Leaving New Zealand at this time of year is tricky.  The waters north of Fiji are still very warm (30c till last week) and are a caldron for spinning cyclones.  In five weeks, we’ve seen extra-tropical cyclone COOK, then DONNA (cat. 4) and ELLA (cat. 2).  These barrel down from the north and the space between NZ and the Tropics is no place to be.  

Cyclone from the north, ridges and troughs and all sorts of nasty things.
As if the end-of-summer cyclones are not enough to deal with, a train of early winter storms roll in from the Tasman sea and Australia.  The last two weeks have seen almost daily gale warnings for our area.  Again, not a time to be at sea.

More nasty weather and gales
In addition to the cyclones from the North and gales from the West, systems also roll in from the East, as the trade winds try to establish themselves.  Result?  We are pinned down in the Bay of Islands.  Last week, some 50 yachts were waiting to leave for Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, or New Caledonia.  About half of them have left.  Most have made it to their destinations, some in 40 knots of winds and 5-meter seas, really horrendous conditions.  Some have had to return: one broken autopilot,  one  dismasted, yet another one with dirty fuel -hence no engine, no power.  It’s been a horrendous beginning of season.  

Cold in the morning (1.3 celsius = 34F) may be pretty but it’s too cold for us!

 The Bay of Islands has seen us switch anchorages almost every day, as the wind shifts from NE, to NW to SW…

 so many sheltered spots, but few have cell phone reception, which means no Internet!

As much as we itch to move to warmer climate to avoid getting up with 1 to 10 celsius outside, we have been patient.  We agreed with the Island Cruising Association (ICA) leader in waiting it out and not jumping into a “dirty” weather window.  We have waited, sitting at anchor for a month.

Taking advantage of a sunny morning and low tide, JP and I go clamming.
Part of our passtime: looking at boats!

We managed to keep busy.  Fishing and scavenging?  Oysters, mussels, cockles, clams, scallops, red snappers and “kingfish” (yellowtail) have been part of our daily diet for the last few months.

Hiking?  The bay of Islands has impressive scenic hikes with stunning views.  The hills twitter with birds and the smell of Manuka bush in bloom permeates the air.

Manuka bloom
Koru, or the Kiwi fern.

Boat chores?  Of course… always.  

Our wonderful ventilation hatches: never use the A/C

JP has serviced just about every piece of equipment on the boat, including our five double-door ventilation hatches.  That’s 20 pressure locks, each made up of 17 parts.  Kudos to JP!
Massive extensions for the RAYA anchor bow rollers

The major refit this year was an improvement in the anchoring system.  Each anchor launch has been lowered and brought forward in an attempt to reduce the risk of scraping the chain against the bows when dropping the hook in high winds.  So far, so good.

There is always a new quilt to work on
As for me, I took advantage of the quiet anchorages to quilt, quilt, quilt.

The lovely Bay of Islands, NE coast

Tonight, one more look at the GRIBs: we are good to go tomorrow, as soon as a small system blows through.  Then, it’s 4 days of NO WIND!  Good for us, but the sailboats aren’t too happy: motoring it is.

Of course, we’ll have weather under way.  Our new IRIDIUM Go system is up, with PREDICT WIND  offshore app for weather on the go.
HF: check – Genset: check

JP aslo fixed the HF radio so we can contact NORTHLAND RADIO (ZMH292) daily for our trip report.  Peter Mott does a fantastic job of checking on the fleet.  He currently monitors over 20 yachts underway and has another 17 on the back burner, ready to leave this weekend.  Gotta love those HAM radio guys!

So, that’s it!  We’re off to Vanuatu for the season…  

We will enjoy the new seats and cushions in the saloon.

Also will love the widened bistro table on the aft deck and the fix outdoors cushions: no more slip-sliding!

JP worked hard… time for R&R
Until then


DOMINO’s Fiji Compendium

Opua, April 3, 2017  – The Fiji cruising season is upon us and yachts are lining up in Opua, waiting for a weather window.  We’ve cruised Fiji twice and I wanted to share with you in a single document all of the waypoints and routes we g…

Gotta Love Your Boat


Enough visibility at the helm?

April 24, 2017
Pahia, New Zealand

A strange thing happened during these last few months.  As I mentioned in our last blog, we had put DOMINO on the market last July (rest assured, she is off the market now.)  In the period of just a few weeks, this fantastic boat managed to morph from the boat of our dream, to the most unique (and misunderstood) Passagemaker on the market, and back to the boat of our dreams again.  To say the least, brokers, lookee-lookers, and potential buyers had managed to make me feel terrible about our DOMINO.
Yep, only ONE head… and no glass shower door to scrub and polish!
As we were showing the boat, I was hardly prepared for the barrage of objections to what I had considered completely normal.  
– What? There is only ONE stateroom?  
– What? You don’t have a washer-dryer? No dishwasher? Only ONE head? No big screen TV?
– All that space you’re not using! You could build 2 cabins in there!
– What? You need to be two to drop anchor?

 Little by little, I sank into a depressed state, letting others measure our boat to their standards while ticking off their list of what accommodations they perceived a boat “should” have.  

Plenty of room for the 2 of us… and the occasional other diners… room for 6, if we must!
Envy is the root of all evil –  As time went by, I started to wish for 4 staterooms, forgetting how much I hated cleaning chores and making beds;  I started to wish for a washer-dryer, ready to trade the fresh smell of my 2 shorts and 2 T-shirts sun-dried on the line for an “April Fresh” dryer sheet;  I dreamt of a big screen TV, even though in all our years on land, we rarely watched TV; I started to wish for a second head, oblivious to the fact that guests regularly plug the head and that each additional loo would be more work for JP.  Little by little, I was measuring DOMINO trough other people’s perception and desires instead of my needs and lifestyle.  I was getting sucked into other people’s dreams and wishes, forgetting my own.  I was terribly unhappy and was wondering how I could ever love our DOMINO again.

Nav station and night watch bunk.

Be careful what you asked for, you might just get it!
But it dawned on me that DOMINO was conceived and built especially for the two of us.  Many years ago, when we first envisioned a boat, Malcolm Tennant asked us some very specific questions, such as:
– Where will you cruise?
– How many months a year?
– How often will you have guests, and what kind of guests?  
– Do you want to entertain?  How many people?
– Do you want to fish?
– How fast do you want to go?
– Would you rather clean or play? 

Stored on the davit or on the fly bridge, Do-mini is our play ride.  Gasoline tanks stored on the aft platform.

Malcolm designed DOMINO around our answers.
– We want to cruise the South Pacific, all year round and live on board.
– Guests would consist of family, children and grandchildren, who don’t mind sharing a head, about a week or two per year.
– We definitely want to entertain, up to 60 people for a party, 12 for a sit-down on the aft deck, 6 in the salon.
– We want to fish!  We want to fish!
– We want to cruise a 10-12 Kts, with get-away speed of 20 Kts.
– No, we don’t want to spend our time cleaning, scrubbing, and slaving!  We want to play.

Party? Start with 30 dinghies streaming off your stern and you’ll see how many we can host!
See how we kicked off the cruising season last year at Minerva Reef… 
or how we staged the Sea Mercy Recovery effort in the Lau Group
And that’s the boat we got: great fuel tanks and engines with an apartment for two on top.   A simple boat, with not much to do in ways of maintenance and a range of 6,000 NM at 10 Kts (or 2,300 NM at 20 Kts.)  Accommodations, we don’t really need much; performance, safety, toughness, that’s where it’s at for us. (DOMINO is built to commercial standards.)

The 5 vent doors give such efficient ventilation that we haven’t used the A/C since we left Paraguay, 7 years ago!
Hidden Beauty –  For all the critique about the missing washer-dryer and head, we hardly heard comments about the beauty of her engines who never quit (“Nothing Runs Like a Deere”) or her HRO system able to deliver 12,000 liters ( 3,000 gallons) in 48 hours.  

DOMINO making and delivering 6,000 liters of water in Susui

These are technical points that, unfortunately, many buyers overlook as they get sucked into the fluff of accommodations.

The view from the galley is rarely bad!

Potential cruisers often ask, “What kind of boat should I get?”  Well, look at Malcolm’s questions and your answers will dictate your boat.

And watching shooting stars at night is without compare.

As for me, I’m loving my boat again.  I love the airy feeling of the 7’6” ceiling; the light streaming from the 21 windows that wrap around the house; I love watching shooting stars from my bed at night; and I feel safe at the big helm, even if we’re submarining in 12’ seas and 35-Kt winds, nice, dry and comfy.  

New anchor launching system: lower and more forward, easier to single hand.

So, never again will I judge my boat by others’ standards.  As we grow and gain experience, as our cruising conditions evolve, we make slight modifications to the boat.  This year, JP modified the anchoring system so that anchoring can be done single-handed.  When we get to Alaska, I might get a washer-dryer after all!

Workmode, JP in his workshop while I quilt.

This is the boat that we wanted, that we built, and that we love.  I wish you all to love your boat as much as we love ours!

JP:  “Don’t worry, Dear, I won’t spill epoxy on your freshly-waxed table!”

Until next time,


Rekindling the Dream

Rekindling the Dream

Skies over  Ovea, The Loyaute Islands, New Caledonia

Pahia, New Zealand
April 21, 2017

A few months ago, on the 4th of July, I thought that the earth had caved in, that the “Sky had fallen on my head,” and I posted “When Cruising Ends,” as JP and I were sure that we had seen enough water, enough islands, enough palm trees and sand beaches and enough of each other. 

DOMINO awaiting her fate at Port Denarau, Fiji

We hauled the boat out at Norsand in New Zealand, and took a break from cruising.  JP worked on the boat for a month, then went to visit family in France.  For my part, I rushed to the US and spent 10 weeks enjoying the family in 3 States, cradling newborn Isabelle and chasing after toddlers, playing “Nini” and loving it.  Still, people kept telling me, “You’re living The Dream!” and “So lucky!”  Yes indeed, we had spent 7 years Living the Dream.  But I kept wondering, how did the DREAM die? How do we get it back?

Pacific Dolphins commonly play around us at anchor, here in Nagles Cove, Great Barrier Island, NZ

The 7-Year Itch  —  We had been cruising seven years and we were getting weary… of what? Not sure, but it all was becoming “Blah!”  A malaise was descending over us and we could not define it.  So, we looked at our lifestyle and tried to find answers.

What I love most in cruising? Diving, snorkeling, looking for species new to me
(No worries, this triton went right back where it came from – Belep Islands, New Caledonia

No Breaks– In all these years, we had taken only short breaks to visit family, always whirlwind visits, too short, too shallow, to unfrequent.  While I spent these breaks with our California family (neglecting our Arizona and S.Carolina children) JP had to split his time between his French roots and his U.S. offsprings.  We were both itching for quality time with our 13 grandchildren and could not see how this would happen while cruising full time.
      • CURE?  Take frequent and/or long breaks from cruising to get back in touch with family and friends.

Had we gotten tired of talcum-powder beaches?  Here, in Ouvea, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia
  • Cultural Aftershock – What would I give for a night at the Opera, or the Theater, or even just a movie in a comfortable seat!  Not that we are short of Cultural experiences.  From Latin America to French Polynesia to Indo-Fijian, Kanak and Maori cultures, our lives have been enriched in many ways.  Still, I felt “out of my gourd,” disconnected from my roots, be they French of American.  
      • CURE?  Take frequent and/or long breaks from cruising to get back in touch with our cultural roots.
Cruising with friends helped.  Here, in Lifou (Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia) with the CNC

  • Too Much Ocean – Did I just write this?  Could there be such a thing as Too Much Ocean?  Truth be told, we had become lazy, trying to be satisfied with our daily snorkeling sessions, fishing excursions, and walks on the beach.  We had hardly taken any hike, visited any village, walked through any town, or even sampled any restaurant.  We thought we were content to stay on the boat.  Obviously not and suddenly there was Too Much Ocean.
      • CURE? Get off the boat, one way or the other, and experience LAND.

It always comes down to just the two of us.  Would we be reduced to just one?
No worries, I fixed this silverbeet and potato salad for JP, home-baked bread, in the Bay of Islands yesterday!

The 44-Year Wall  —  As if this 7-Year Cruising Itch weren’t enough, JP and I were hitting the 44-year wall!  Oh yes, there is such a thing!  I’m convinced that, in relationships, there is the 22-year wall, the 44-year wall and (we’ll see) the 66-year wall.   I felt I couldn’t do anything well enough or fast enough for the “Kapitan” and JP was convinced that I could no longer tolerate his presence. Ouch… our relationship was headed for Davey’s Locker!   
JP had the solution, to sell the boat and go our separate ways, each one doing what we darned well pleased.  
– CURE?  Take a break from each other… easier said than done.

Hope… in Ile des Pins, New Caledonia.

CURES, SOLUTIONS, and SOUL-SEARCHING – So, we did the most drastic thing of all; towards the end of July, we put DOMINO for sale.  Soon, we realized that our powerful DOMINO is not a boat for everybody.  She is a powerful and fast Passagemaker—in the purest definition of the term— an ocean-crossing motor yacht for a couple and occasional guests.  It was clear that we were not going to get many offers.  Meanwhile, what did we do?  Go cruising, of course!  

HOME is where the boat is.
Here in the “Back of the Barrier,” Barrier Island, NZ

This logical step brought us to New Caledonia, where JP and I made a big effort to put into practice some of the “cures” we had identified, starting with getting off the boat and going to the movies.  In Noumea, we caught up with “The Calypso” and Cousteau’s life story, cruised with a flotilla of friends and made sure to go on a hike in Hiengiene.  We even went on “date” walks and restaurant lunches.  

Hiengiene, New Caledonia

This was an improvement and we started to enjoy cruising again.  To make things even better, our passage from New Caledonia to New Zealand in 3 days flat (average 11.5 Kts) made us appreciate what an ocean-crossing beast DOMINO really is, really good at dodging weather and storms.  But she was for sale and we were done with cruising, right?

Cruising with friends is fun… we meet Claude & Annie again in N.C.
Christmas at Great Barrier Island, NZ … Santa found us!

By New Years, we had shown the boat to prospective buyers who wanted to break this and rebuild that, turn her into a Gin Palace, a Bridge Club, a Charter, perhaps even a coastal cruiser or a hotel room downtown Auckland.  But none would use her as she was intended: to cross oceans.  We were tired of showing her and started to have second thoughts.
At Norsand, JP supervises the re-configuration of our anchoring system.
Brought the anchors lower and more forward

What did we really want?  We had no idea yet, still debating whether we should return to the landlubber state (but where?) or build a smaller, trailerable boat (but what? and where?) or even if we should go back to work (God forbid!)  JP left for France and I left for the US.

What we want more of?  Fun with grandchildren on board

Soul searching is hard work.  In our separate ways, in our separate countries, we searched our hearts, consulted with our families, and emails flew constantly between JP’s iPhone and my iPad.  At last, we came up with a plan, written in the sand, of course, but a plan nonetheless.  

This is what we want more of: family on board
Here it is: bring DOMINO closer to the US, possibly to the Sea of Cortez, where we might be able to leave her a few months of the year and travel by land (leaving a motorhome somewhere?) or receive our grandchildren for vacations… re-connecting with our families.  For, in the end, they matter most.
Wherever the boat is, we’ll find a way.
Did we re-kindle The Dream?  Possibly… For now, we are cruising again!  Wonderful, I admit, as we are taking advantage of a splendid Fall season in New Zealand, planning our passage to Vanuatu where we will spend the next 3-4 months.  And then?  Looping the Pacific Loop, via Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and the 3,500 NM Transpac to Alaska… July 2018!

What next?
Till next time,


DOMINO 20 2017-01-14 00:07:00


December 6, 2016 – Ile des Pins

DOMINO at anchor in Baie de l’Orphelinat, Noumea

This is our last day in New Caledonia, after 10 weeks and a fantastic circumnavigation.  Still, there is so much we haven’t seen!  But New Zealand calls and there is a small—very small— weather window… so, off we are.

NOVEMBER RAIN at anchor in Baie de l’Orphelinat, Noumea

Who showed up 3 days ago in Noumea?  None other than our Kiwi buddies Garry and Lori, the fisherman/woman extraordinaire on board their Malcolm Tennant Powercat “November Rain.”  

DOMINO and NOVEMBER RAIN side by side
We’ve been buddy-boating with these guys for over a year, off and on.  We first met them at Port Denarau in Fiji over a year ago.  We bumped into them again last year in New Zealand as we were on our way around the top to meet the Ski-NZ Rally.  We knew they were in Vanuatu all season, hooking up Marlin and big game.  But how fun it was to hear them honk at us as they idled on our stern in Port Moselle.  Yes, they were going to take advantage of the weather window; yes, we would do a bit of seaway together; yes, we were all going to Opua.

Rushed for time, we realized that we could not hit all the southern anchorages we had planned on: forget the Baie du Prony (oh, supposedly fantastic diving) – Forget the Phare Amedee – Forget all the natural reserves of the Great South — we forged on and overnighted at Ile Ouen where JP started to clean the hulls and props in preparation for the crossing.

Ile des Pins
ILE DES PINS – This, according to cruisers, is a favorite destination.  Yes, the island is beautiful, dotted with columnar pines.  The sand is talcum-powder quality.  The turtles that cruise around are gigantic.  We stopped there for a few hours to finish to clean the props as “November Rain” was already on her way to NZ.

DOMINO at anchor… between stops
Just like that, it was time to go… we got slammed a bit with wind in the 20’s and beam seas as we exited New Cal, but the wind soon calmed down to 10-15 and the seas flattened out to give us another marvelous ride at 11-12 Kts all the way to New Zealand.

What next?  New Zealand for the season, haul out, a visit to the US… then… who knows?

Until next time…

Adieu, New Caledonia


NEW CALEDONIA  –   West Coast –  An Underwater Paradise
October 2106 
Oh, I suppose it could take for ever to explore the West Coast of New Caledonia and we certainly could have spent many more weeks in that area.  The snorkeling is superb, especially in the reserves that have been set up along the outer reef.  We purposely skipped all land stops, even Koumac, to concentrate on observing the reef.

Most of the west coast can be navigated inside the lagoon, except for about 90 miles between Baie de Chasseloup and Baie de St Vincent.  But the fishing outside is splendind, as we hooked up a 200-lb black marlin and lost another marlin, that one enormous, in the 400-lb range!  So, I’ll take you along our route.

1st Stop: Ilot Yande  – 20*03.639S – 163*47.354E  – This is one more day anchorage given to us by “Spirare” and we gave it a shot.  I guess Serge is a more daring sailor than we are!  JP scanned the bottom to drop anchor and all we could see was coral heads under the hull.  

The swell rolling in through the pass would have pushed DOMINO towards the reef and we felt uncomfortable dropping anchor at that point.  Off went.

2nd Stop: Neba20*09.384S – 163*54.890E –  Much better!!  Sandy bottom, protected from the roll, and nobody in sight.  We found the best snorkeling at the SW end of the island.  For hours, I let myself get lost in soft coral, gardens of anemones, and a kaleidoscope of tropical fish.  We spent 2 days, caught spiny lobsters (the locals allowed us 2 per day) and just filled our eyes and hearts with colors.
3nd Stop: Baie du Croissant – 20*16.779S – 164*01.882E –  You’re gonna ask me, how many dives does it take before you get sick of it?  Every dive is different.  Every snorkeling experience is special in its own way.  Here, the reef extension at the south end of the bay sports an amazing anemone and soft coral forest in pastel colors of mauve, pistachio, pale yellow, soft grey… colors that we’d not seen before.  
A weary octopus is eyeing me!

Juvenile yellow boxfish
Lobster time!

Snorkel around and you might find yourself in a hot pool springing from the sandy bottom, and suddenly black and rust algae are all around.  You never know what you will find: spiny lobsters love to hide under coral flowers… go find one!


4th Stop: Ile Tanle – 20*18.785S – 164*04.824E – The Poum Peninsula offers good protection from weather… and weather was upon us, so we tucked into Tanle Bay to weather a stormy night.  Don’t expect much in terms of snorkeling: we hoped to find good stuff at Little Tanle, a sand island covered with low brush, but we found it entirely surrounded with a tangle of purple staghorn coral: pretty but no fun to snorkel!  The entire bay is somewhat marred by the scars of mining, the hills dry and dusty, but it was a good stop in a blow.

5th Stop: Chasseloup –  20*57.773S – 164*39.238E – We exited Tanle in the morning and, taking advantage of a no-wind situation, exited the lagoon and went fishing… yes! Hooked up 2 black marlins, caught a wahoo, and had a load of fun!

The anchorage at Chasseloup is enormous, good holding, and again an easy stop.  The shore offered no interest to us, another mining harbor, but easy in and out.  Actually, we were in a rush to get to St. Vincent Bay as bad weather was on the horizon.

6th Stop – St. Vincent Bay – Ile de Puen – 21*57.827S – 165*57.431E – St Vincent Bay is a large complex of islands, peninsulas, bays and nooks where one can spend weeks exploring, fishing, hunting, crabbing, clamming, or just do nothing at all!

Just drop anchor in front of the old campground and horse ranch. This is another good anchorage in a blow.  We tried to snorkel the Canal de Puen: the worst ever!!  Zero visibility, totally dead coral heads, no fish.  Better to snorkel the west end: much to see there!

7th Stop – Ile Tenia – 22*00.115S – 165*56.567E – 


Juvenile Clown Coris
By far one of our favorite spots to snorkel, especially the north-east end of the island.  Home to massive spiny lobsters, this is a good anchorage by calm weather.  

“Big Ben” – The biggest ever
Lots to see… including the banded black and white snake!

On our second visit, we took the dinghy out and snorkeled the outer reef (22*00.720S – 165*55.811E) – To find the exit through the reef, find the 2 sticks/flags on the western end of the island!
How well do you know your coral?

8th Stop: Baie des Moustiques – HURRICANE HOLE  –  21*59.948S – 166*03.052E – 
Another storm was upon us and we hid in that hole for 4 days… no mosquito, though!  We found an excellent harvest of cockles and rock mussels along the sandy beaches of the bay.  We tried to snorkel the wester end of the island, but the visibility was nil after 4 days of heavy winds and swell.  YES< excellent hurricane hole!

Reef is everywhere
9th Stop: Ile Ndukue – 22*.06.062S – 166.07.039E – OUR FAVORITE!!!

Ndukue… what is there not to like?
Our absolute favorite.  You can snorkel every day and never see the same thing… plenty of shells: cowries, tritons, Murex, fusiform conch, and then some!  
The outer reef of Ile Mathieu hosts all kinds of coral, while its inner reef is all about sand and seaweeds.
The shore at the anchorage is lined with mangroves, and locals line up to find mangrove crabs, those large black crabs that have such a sweet flesh (not in season while we were there…)  
So many Murex


hat same shore is home to all kinds of mud creatures, including the elusive CROCODILE fish!
The reef between Ndukue and Ile Moro is an unbroken coral garden with incursions of anemones and soft corals.  
How well do you know your coral?

Across the channel, the large reef is yet another experience in soft corals in psychedelic colors. and more Fern Starfish

And again, many cruisers drift-dive the pass (but not for us).  And so many colorful giant clams!

Found another Triton!

Oriental Sweetlips

 10th Stop: Ile Moro – 22*07.008S – 166*09.862E – Another cool little anchorage by calm weather.

11th Stop: Ile Ronhua – 22*03.963S – 166*01.841E – Yet another lovely snorkeling spot by fair weather – Two great snorkels: along the C-shaped reef, and (for a different experience with snakes) the shallow reef to the east.

So much …. so much… so lovely… 
 Even eels and snakes  and lionfish look fine!

And now, it’s time to think of our next destination: the Great South… but will we have time?

Until next time…


DOMINO 20 2017-01-13 17:44:00

NEW CALEDONIA  –  The Great North

October 2016
The Great North Reef at Ile Pott
We had been advised not to cruise the Great North, supposed to be a cradle of violent independentists.  But the lagoon looked too stunning and we just ignored that warning.  In each village, we took care of presenting the “Coutume,” ask for permission to cruise, snorkel, hunt and fish, and we took care to meet the locals.

Our Great North Circuit:  from Baie de Pam to Balabio and the Beleps (Ile Art, Ile Pott)
Balabio Reef and Island 

1st stop: BALABIO – 20*03.500S – 164*09.800E
–  The Balabio Reef is extensive.  Our friends Serge & Joann (S/V “Spirare”) had advised us to anchor west of the Ilots Saint-Phalle (20*06.632S – 164*06.239E) and walk the reef at low tide, but the tide was not with us: high at mid-day, the tide would be low by late afternoon and there was no way we were going to anchor in such an exposed area and walk the reef at night.  We had to pass on this excellent stop.

Between Balabio and the Beleps: The Daos

Instead, we proceeded directly to Fine Bay and anchored easily in 7 meters of water over sand.  SAND!  Blue water!  At last… Quick in the water!!!

The reef is quite beat-up and home to big jellyfish (rather inoffensive)
whose large white disks dot the way into Balabio

The reef on the north end of the bay was a bit beaten up, still it was lovely to snorkel amid anemones, find giant clams again, spot a few spiny lobsters and look for the little creatures between the rocky crags.  On shore, though, is where we were blown away by the geology.  Quartz in all colors, mauve, orange, purple; amorphous glass; so many pretty granites that I wanted to load and bring on board!  

Unlike the smooth giant clams we’d seen before, these have scallopped shells

In Waala, the local girls are the ones going up the coconut tree!

We didn’t see anyone on shore, no building, no village.  But the snorkeling wasn’t quite what we were looking for, so we moved north.
Waala Bay, Ile Art (Beleps) – The inner mall-boat harbor.

Waala Bay: red sand and gravel shore

Ile Art (Beleps) Waala Bay anchorage

2nd stop: ILE ART (Belep Islands)  – Waala Bay 19*42.841S – 163*38.566E – This is a MUST STOP – In Waala, you must present la “Coutume” to the Grand Chef.  He controls the Great North.  His hut is easy to find: anchor in Waala (see point above) and land your dinghy while aiming towards the mark planted on shore.  

Waala Bay… see the yello mark on shore, left of the pangas?  That’s the Chief’s compound.
Make sure to head towards the church before turning left toward the mooring balls

Make sure to favor the east end in order to avoid the reef (save your dinghy’s prop!)  The Chief is cool.  He took us to the great “Case” and accepted our gifts, chatted for a while… and off we were, OK to visit the entire Great North!

The Chief clears us in!
The conch rang: time to go for bread, hand-worked and wood-fire baked!

Waala Bay is not a good spot for snorkeling.  Again, the water is very minerally charged, visibility not so good… however, there is a small boat harbor and a regular ferry service from Koumac (main land.)  It’s a sheltered anchorage and, in a few days we would have to return to seek shelter while another front passes.

In October, the water is not too warm… and the spiny lobsters plentiful!

The town is quite lively and divided between clans.  Each clan has its own bakery and grocery store.  If you’re waiting for bread, you’ll know that it’s baked when you hear the baker sound the Triton conch!

Snorkeling the top of the reef, you can find these giant Tritons.
Take pix and put them back.  Not only are they illegal to take, but they are the only
natural predators to the reef-eating Acanthaster 

3rd stop: Ile Pott – 19*34.687S – 163*35.132E –  That’s what I’m talking about!!!!  Completely surrounded by reefs, this fantastic anchorage is a slice of Paradise. 

The way into Pott’s anchorage

There is not a lot of room and DOMINO certainly filled a fair slice of the anchorage.  The entrance is narrow, best entered at low tide for best visibility over the reef, and better favor the southern shore: it has fewer underwater surprises!! 

Striking purple coral
We spent 4 days in Pott and would have spent more if a front and bad weather had not called us back to Waala Bay.  What can I say about this place but that it’s some of the most pristine snorkeling we’ve ever found.  I let you enjoy the pictures.

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Next?  The West Coast and its reserves and sancturaries… you ain’t seen anything yet!

Till next time…

Fern seastar: this starfish sports up to 20 arms and buries its body into coral holes and between rocks


NEW CALEDONIA – East Coast – In search of good holding.
October 2017

Hienghene – A gem not to be missed

Circumnavigating New Caledonia is typically done in a counter-clockwise fashion.  Since the prevalent trade winds are SE, it’s wiser to cruise northward along the east coast, pushed by the Trades, and travel south along the west coast, sheltered from the Trades.  Well, that’s the usual plan.  As for the Great North, just look for calm days because there is nowhere to run!

Our route:  Kouakoue, Port Bouquet, Lifou, Ouvea,
Beautemps-Beaupre, Hienghene, Baie de Pam

The East coast —referred to as “The Forgotten Coast”— is magnificent: rugged, wooded, with high peaks and rocky shores, dotted with high columnar pines firmly planted in the rich, red soil.  New Cal is a prime exporter of mineral, Nickel being the foremost, but also chromite, copper, gold, iron ore, manganese, and silver.  For once, I found that the trips ashore were as interesting as the underwater discoveries.  


STOPS TO AVOID — Kanak independentists are very active and sometimes violent.  they have been known to throw cow carcasses into the harbor in Canala to prevent access to the town.  From Canala, bands of activists regularly infiltrate and agitate the surrounding areas, particularly around Mont D’or.  During our stay, activists regularly blocked the main road and several times attacked the regular police force and even took aim at the firefighters!  Here are the stops you DON’T want to make:  Canala and Kouaoua

Ouinne and Kouakoue bays

Stop #1 – KOUAKOUE  (We bypassed Ouinne as the SE wind did not favor that anchorage)  For a first glimpse at the Easter Wilderness, this large bay filled us with peace, earthy smells, green slopes and red earth… and a choice of anchoring spots… well… kind of…

– The sandy beach on the eastern side of the bay is private: no anchoring there!

– The southern part of the bay seems to offer great protection from the Trades, but as we tried to set the anchor, we only bit into coral rubble… not good!

Nice snapper, right?  Except that we both got Ciguatera poisoning from it!
Better stay away from lagoon fish.
– The western end of the bay, then! 21*55.804S – 166*38.595E – With the wind staying below 5 Kts, there was little risk of rolling.  BAM! The anchor dropped through 8 meters of rust-color water, sunk into the earthy bottom, and just stuck there.  Lovely anchorage indeed, and not a soul around… no fish either… but a good overnight stop in Pure Nature.

Port Bouquet – Before dropping anchor, scan the bottom!
Stop #2 – PORT BOUQUET   This looked like a great stop and fishing spot, a lagoon entirely surrounded by reef, and no wind at all that day.  That looked like promising snorkeling.  Well, don’t count on snorkeling on the East coast.  The water is heavy with minerals and visibility marginal.  And the anchoring??? 

Marbled grouper on the line… uhm…. not to big, will attempt eating it… Ciguatera warning!

Armed with waypoints and directions, we proceeded to Anse Toupeti, where the depth seemed OK… 10 meters would be perfect, right?  But as JP sounded the bottom with the DFF3 Fish Finder, all he saw was peaks and valleys, bommies, coral heads, boulders and rocks, nowhere to drop the anchor.  

For hours, we toured the lagoon: Anse Lemia, the north coast of Ile Nemou: it was the same bottom relief: coral and rocks.  At least, we trolled around the reef and caught a nice sierra, but still had not found a decent spot to anchor.  It would have been great to anchor in front of St. Roch and visit the village, visit the mines… but we didn’t feel comfortable with dropping the hook in rocks and coral. 

Dog-tooth Tuna: all day long!

Toupeti: 21*41.304S – 166*25.503E -At last, JP wedged DOMINO in a small sandy spot, surrounded by big boulders, and with terrible anxiety I dropped the hook in 3 meters of water, on a short scope, hoping that we would clear the rocks all around us.  If the shore was as lush and inviting as could be, the water was not.  It was a short night, and the morning saw us escape East, to the Loyalty Islands.

Hienghene River… Can you say GREEN?
Stop #3 – Hienghene – 20*41.012S – 164*56.879E – As you know, I’m not a land person and I go to shore as little as possible.  Not for me, the trips, trecks, walks, promenades, views from the top… no sireee… I’m a water baby!  

“Tour Notre Dame”… AKA “La Poule” (The Hen)

But Hienghene got my attention, stole my heart, and I actually went on a 3-hour walk in the hills.
  It’s a MUST !!! 

Drunk with the smell of Niaouli (the local wild eucalyptus) we drunk more: the views on “La Poule,” (the hen-shaped rock that guard the bay), the green lagoon that receives the Chester Cliffs, the green river that snakes all the way into the bay.  

The green inner lagoon inside the Chester Cliffs

We forgot about fishing and snorkeling again (nothing there) and enjoyed the walk, the small town, a nice meal at the “pension” and a very quiet anchorage.

Baie de Pam

Stop #4 – Baie de Pam – 20*14.190S – 164*18.234E – Woops…. the Trades are blowing hard, 20Kts and forecast to reach 30-35!  Time to seek shelter.  At the northern end of the East coast, the very deep Baie de Pam offers excellent holding and shelter.  From Hienhene to Pam, the inner reef channel offers good protection from the swells, and with the wind in our back, the passage was a cinch… and we landed some nice fish:  dog tooth tuna (plentiful in the north!) – 

All I managed to catch was a Giant Estuarine Moray

Well dug-in at the bottom of the 800-meter hill, we waited for the storm.  But we were attacked by a storm of another kind:  FIRE!  What had started as a small brush fire along the road was slowly expanding, and as the wind picked up the entire hill was on fire.  Gusts at 30+ were fanning the flames and pushing the smoke towards us.  It was an ugly 48 hours, filled with wind and smoke and nowhere to run.  That’s the way it goes… 

Brush fires are, indeed, a major problem on the islands.  “Controlled” burns too often go out of control, the vegetation is decimated, the land bare, and subsequent rain washes out the soil, creates landslides.  During our last week in NC, a major landslide occurred on the East coast, killing 8 people.  Farmers are active in educating against the slash/burn technique, but it may be too late to save the island.

The wind has died, the fire lingers… and we’re off… to the Great North!

Till next time…




IN SEARCH OF THE RIGHT CHIEF (Happened to be a woman!)

The anchorage at Mouly: sand, sand, and more sand
Weather is uncertain, an alternance of highs and lows, of calm and storm.  After a week of lovely weather in Lifou, Weather caught up with us in Ouvea.  A 2-day storm had us locked into Ouvea’s anchorage

Ouvea, The Pleiades, and Beautemps-Beaupre

But it was a good time to start on our mission: get authorization to cruise the famed Ile Beautemps-Beaupre, north of Ouvea.

Mouly & Fayaoue

 As usual, we had to find the right chief, but things are a bit more complex in Ouvea.  If the island itself consists of a crescent-shaped spit of brush, the north and south-west of the lagoon are fringed with a constellation of small islands called The Pleiades.  Each group is the property of (and controlled by) a specific clan.  Beautemps-Beaupre (BTBP) belongs yet to another clan.  We had 2 decisions to make: which islands did we really want to visit; and how many “Coutumes” did we want to present.



Mouly’s beach: talcum powder

Try #1 – MOULY – 20*43.18S – 166*25.30E – I love dropping anchor in 8 meters of water over miles of sand… so much easier that between coral heads, especially when it’s blowing 25 knots!  Off to shore promptly, looking for the chief.  

La Cheferie de Mouly
Controls Mouly and the Western Pleiades
We found the “Cheferie,” harkened by its massive tree trunk palisade, but no chief: absent until the ferry comes… who knows when.  Next!….

Fayaoue –
We only found the small Clan Chief
Try #2 – FAYAOUE – 20*39.117S – 166*31.80E – More lovely sand, anchored in front of the Gendarmerie.  Off to shore again, looking for the Chief.  We met one, who gladly took our presents and declared that we were now welcome to anchor where we were and authorized to walk to town.  Good time to provision at the local store, of course, but when we asked if we could go to Beautemps-Beaupre, we learned that we were only authorized to drop anchor at the Western Pleiades, as this chief was not the Big Chief…  Off to the next chief…

Storm is passed… time to go!
Try #3 – St. Joseph – 20*27.323S – 166*35.323E – Now that the storm has passed, we’d love to hurry up to BTBP, so we race to the Cheferie on the south end of St. Joseph whose palisade we spotted with our binoculars.  Off to shore to present our Coutume.  Yes, we’re welcome to now cruise the Northern Pleiades, but Ile Haute only.  What about BTBP?  Nope! The chief controlling these parts has recently died, but perhaps his widow would give us authorization… 

St. Joseph… pass the church and you’ll find the Cheferie
And off we were, on Try #4, found the Widow at her home behind the grocery store by the church and yes, she was glad to give us her blessing for BTBP: do not go to shore, do not scare the birds, do not light fires, do not throw garbage, do not fish inside the lagoon, do not spearfish inside the lagoon… OK, we promised!

Yes, it’s a tangled web!

At last, by 9:30 on October 18th, we were underway, threading between the glittering necklace of the Northern Pleiades, almost tempted to stop at Ile Haute, and 2 hours later we were anchored at BTBP.

Exiting through the Northern Pleiades – Ile Haute
Some charts indicate an anchorage on the western end of the island, but this was way too shallow an reefy for us.  We preferred to play it safe and anchor north of the small island.

This is a place for snorkeling.  There is no easy access to shore.  Millions of birds rook on this little island and it is best not to bother them.

Underwater, though, it’s a different story.  We had our first peek at red soft coral and the never-ending varieties of Fern Stars.  The water was so clear that I could see JP diving some 20’ below.

So many new varieties of fish and —a highlight of New Cal— a plethora of Butterflyfish and Anemonefish.

As lovely as the anchorage was, the snorkeling was limited and since there was no hunting allowed and the anchorage was quite rolly, we decided to move the next day.

Shen’s Anthias
We could have stayed a few more days, but the roll got on our nerves: there are so many more anchorages to explore!

Where to?  The East Coast of New Cal.

Till next time