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…
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|Enough visibility at the helm?|
|Yep, only ONE head… and no glass shower door to scrub and polish!|
|Plenty of room for the 2 of us… and the occasional other diners… room for 6, if we must!|
|Nav station and night watch bunk.|
|Stored on the davit or on the fly bridge, Do-mini is our play ride. Gasoline tanks stored on the aft platform.|
|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
|The 5 vent doors give such efficient ventilation that we haven’t used the A/C since we left Paraguay, 7 years ago!|
|DOMINO making and delivering 6,000 liters of water in Susui|
|The view from the galley is rarely bad!|
|And watching shooting stars at night is without compare.|
|New anchor launching system: lower and more forward, easier to single hand.|
|Workmode, JP in his workshop while I quilt.|
|JP: “Don’t worry, Dear, I won’t spill epoxy on your freshly-waxed table!”|
|Skies over Ovea, The Loyaute Islands, New Caledonia|
|DOMINO awaiting her fate at Port Denarau, Fiji|
|Pacific Dolphins commonly play around us at anchor, here in Nagles Cove, Great Barrier Island, NZ|
|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!
|Hope… in Ile des Pins, New Caledonia.|
|HOME is where the boat is.
Here in the “Back of the Barrier,” Barrier Island, NZ
|Hiengiene, New Caledonia|
|Cruising with friends is fun… we meet Claude & Annie again in N.C.|
|Christmas at Great Barrier Island, NZ … Santa found us!|
|At Norsand, JP supervises the re-configuration of our anchoring system.
Brought the anchors lower and more forward
|What we want more of? Fun with grandchildren on board|
|This is what we want more of: family on board|
|Wherever the boat is, we’ll find a way.|
|DOMINO at anchor in Baie de l’Orphelinat, Noumea|
|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|
|NOVEMBER RAIN at Ile d’Ouen|
|Ile des Pins|
|DOMINO at anchor… between stops|
|Adieu, New Caledonia|
|A weary octopus is eyeing me!|
|Juvenile yellow boxfish|
7th Stop – Ile Tenia – 22*00.115S – 165*56.567E –
|Juvenile Clown Coris|
|“Big Ben” – The biggest ever|
|How well do you know your coral?|
|Reef is everywhere|
|Ndukue… what is there not to like?|
|So many Murex|
Found another Triton!
10th Stop: Ile Moro – 22*07.008S – 166*09.862E – Another cool little anchorage by calm weather.
|The Great North Reef at Ile Pott|
|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|
|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!|
|Waala Bay, Ile Art (Beleps) – The inner mall-boat harbor.|
|Waala Bay: red sand and gravel shore|
|Ile Art (Beleps) Waala Bay anchorage|
|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!|
|In October, the water is not too warm… and the spiny lobsters plentiful!|
|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
|The way into Pott’s anchorage|
|Striking purple coral|
|Fern seastar: this starfish sports up to 20 arms and buries its body into coral holes and between rocks|
|Our route: Kouakoue, Port Bouquet, Lifou, Ouvea,
Beautemps-Beaupre, Hienghene, Baie de Pam
Nice snapper, right? Except that we both got Ciguatera poisoning from it!
Better stay away from lagoon fish.
Port Bouquet – Before dropping anchor, scan the bottom!
Marbled grouper on the line… uhm…. not to big, will attempt eating it… Ciguatera warning!
Dog-tooth Tuna: all day long!
Hienghene River… Can you say GREEN?
“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 !!!
The green inner lagoon inside the Chester Cliffs
Baie de Pam
All I managed to catch was a Giant Estuarine Moray
|The anchorage at Mouly: sand, sand, and more sand|
|Ouvea, The Pleiades, and Beautemps-Beaupre|
|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.
IN SEARCH OF THE RIGHT CHIEF….
|Mouly’s beach: talcum powder|
|La Cheferie de Mouly
Controls Mouly and the Western Pleiades
We only found the small Clan Chief
|Storm is passed… time to go!|
|St. Joseph… pass the church and you’ll find the Cheferie|
|Yes, it’s a tangled web!|
|Exiting through the Northern Pleiades – Ile Haute|
|DOMINO at anchor in Doueoulou (Lifou, Santal Bay)|
As luck would have it —and as it it often the case in the cruising world— we found friends in Noumea. Annie & Claude (S/V “Moemiti”) —whom we had first met in the San Blas Islands— are based out of Noumea. Claude had just completed the “Around New Caledonia” race and was itching to go sailing again. Our lucky day: the CNC (Cercle Nautique Caledonian) was organizing a rally to the Loyalty Islands and, yes, we were welcome to join them! What a treat!
Although we diverged slightly from the CNC’s itinerary, we met them in Lifou for a wild few days.
|New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands|
The Loyalty Islands consist mainly of 3 islands located some 60 miles off the east coast of New Cal: Ouvea to the North, Lifou in the middle, and Mare to the South. While many cruisers on the way from Fiji or Vanuatu stop in Mare (indeed, you can do a temporary clearance in Mare’s Gendarmerie,) we bypassed Mare and went straight to Lifou.
|Exchanging gifts is a tradition|
In the islands, the Kanac culture remains strong and must be respected. In every anchorage, a visiting yacht must present “La Coutume” to the village chief. This is a simple gesture (“Le Geste”) of respect from the visitor towards the community, and consists of a simple gift (cigarettes, money, T-shirts, or even foodstuff) wrapped in a “pareo.” The trick, though, is to find The Chief… there is the tribe chief, the little chief, and the big chief… each is eager to tell you that he is the one in charge, but we found out that each only rules on a specific (and often small) territory. When in doubt, ask for Le Grand Chef (the Big Chief) whose compound is usually recognizable by the palisade of massive tree trunks that surrounds the “Cheferie.”
Off to Lifou, then, but not without hooking up a Silky Shark, then reeling in a Black Marlin (both released) and hooking up a Mahi Mahi.
|Silky Shark on the line|
|Black Marlin on the line|
Yes, the fish is plentiful around New Caledonia.
|Baie de Santal|
1st stop: Doueoulou, Baie de Santal – 20*55.336S – 167*04.866E – Named after the sandalwood tree, the large bay is fringed by lovely white sand beaches. In the evening, as the locals light their fires, the smell of sandalwood invades the entire bay.
“Le Petit Chef” accepted our “Coutume,” a gesture we repeated a few days later with the entire CNC fleet, as we were treated to a full island meal of fish and roots.
|Meeting the legendary Ron Given.|
Our personal highlight? When a dinghy boarded us at breakfast time and a sprite octogenarian hopped on DOMINO. “Hi! I’m Ron Given and I love your Tennant Powercat. Malcolm was a friend, you know…… (and on and on, as Ron is the chattiest octogenarian I’ve ever met!)
|Our hostesses and cooks in Doueoulou|
One of the prettiest anchorages we’ve seen, though dropping anchor between reef patches is always a bit nerve-wracking.
|The anchorage and reef at Dockin|
While JP, Claude and Annie were up to scaling the cliffs to have a better view from the top, I preferred snorkeling the splendid sheet coral formations.
The high cliffs are THE attraction here, as well the large cave carved into the cliff… still, I preferred snorkeling with the Anemone fish!
This little beach is a MUST: talcum-powder-white sand, fire pit, all for a BBQ and picnic.
|Plage de Peng|
Of course, you have to find the local chief to present your “Coutume.” A Canadian yacht anchored next to us neglected this little gesture and was unceremoniously booted out of the anchorage!
|Ron’s catamaran looked like a winner!|
It was time for a picnic, singing native songs, and competing in a model sailboat design and race, with sailboats built out of beach combing material. Intimidating and tough competition, as Ron Given had drafted a full catamaran model and some engineers had come up with pendulous keels.
|Pendulous keel: creative!|
The winner? An 8-year old little girl who used a simple coconut husk for vessel!
|Sunset in Lifou with the beautiful MOEMITI|
|DOMINO and the CNC Fleet in Lifou|
Six months have past and DOMINO is still looking for a new owner. Meanwhile, what can we do? Not abandon her in a marina, that would be too sad. The only thing we can do is keep on cruising, taking more time off the boat to satisfy our family needs, and… eventually… bring the boat back to the North American continent.
As a first installment on that new plan, we spent the last few months cruising New Caledonia, then back to New Zealand for a haul-out and some small improvements (I keep some surprises under my vest!)
|The New Cal coast is dotted with Columnar Pines|
NEW CALEDONIA — Well, I didn’t expect much, really. I had heard of muddy waters, rivers, nothing very positive. But what a surprise! NEW CAL is one of the best cruising and fishing grounds we’ve experienced, pristine lagoons and an extensive and stunningly varied reef system. Yes, we did circumnavigate the “Caillou” , discovered The Loyalty Islands, and had a great time at it.
NOUMEA — We left Fiji in late September, not willing to arrive too early in New Cal: October is spring time, when the air gets warmer and the water starts feeling good. What a lovely ride we had, winds staying below 5 Kts, absolutely glassy seas until we arrived within 20 NM of the ‘Caillou.” (70 hours for 700 NM, nice and easy!)
|Noumea: No easy anchorage, packed marina,
full mooring fields.
We arrived Noumea with 15kts @WSW, smack dab amid hundreds of boats of all sizes! “Whoa! Those Caledonians really love their boats,” we thought, while hundreds of people lined the shore to watch a dozen yachts duking it out. Suddenly, the Committee boat was on us, pushing us out of the way. For sure! I turned around, and there was GROUPAMA barreling down on us! “OH! This is the “Round New Cal” race,” we realized, a race in which our friend Claude on “MOEMITI” was participating. Yup! Clumsy as we are, we had stumbled on the start of the biggest yacht race in the country. What a sight (and DEFINITELY NOT the time to snap pictures)! To appease the irate on-lookers, I innocently raised our “Q” flag and admitted to be a very “ignoRrrrant damn-ed AmeRrrrican.”
NOUMEA ANCHORAGE AND ENTRY PROCESS – The main problems for visiting yachts are the lack of berth at Port Moselle (the main marina), the non-existence of a “Q” dock, the difficulty to find any anchorage available.
|If you don’t want to pay for the dinghy dock at Port Moselle Marina, you can dock in town, in front of the market
and watch the fishermen unload their catch
The two “anchorage” areas outside of Port Moselle have been invaded by mooring balls, all private, placed haphazardly, and nobody seems to know whom to contact in order to grab a mooring. The Harbormaster continually watches the anchorage and —apologetically— asks any boat encroaching into the channel to re-anchor.
|Spiny lobster: $24/lb|
Baie de l’Orphelinat offers a bit more room and less scrutiny from the harbormaster, yet, at the height of the season, it’s a struggle to find any room.
Baie des Citrons is a large bay, and there is plenty of room. But it is rolly and is very noisy as the shore is lined with bars and night clubs and the locals anchor in that bay to party. In a pinch, though, it’s a life-saver.
|Another lovely sunset!|
The entry process is straightforward, though not as easy as in other French islands, as immigration and customs have not initiated an electronic process for all formalities. The Port Moselle Marina office staff is very helpful in directing cruisers: immigration, customs, phyto-sanitaire: if you start about 8 AM, you can be all cleared in by lunch time. Don’t try to start in the afternoon: the administrations close down at various times on different days: 1100, 1230, 1500… who knows?
Upon exiting the country, repeat the process (minus phyto-sanitaire) but don’t forget to visit the harbormaster office for final clearance… and a gorgeous view on the entire port of Noumea!
On shore, Le Bout du Monde is a must: coffee, lunch or dinner, this is THE rendez-vous for cruisers… and whom did we find there, but none other than our “Consuegro,” (our co-in-law), Michel, who is a world-traveler in his own right. His son and JP’s daughter must think that their dads are of another breed, the “Pied Leve” kind.
We caught up on a few movies (“L’ODYSSEE,” Cousteau’s story: we liked), shopped for French stuff (Croissants, cheese), splurged at the produce market (oh, those olives!) and were itching to go to sea again. Three days on shore were enough for us!
Where to now? The Loyalty Islands!
|New Caledonia + Fiji Cowries|
Until next time…