Monday, November 30, 2015

The Most Beautiful and Healthy Coral Yet!

After a few days of absolute comfort in Baie du Carenage, which is one of the most northern bays in Baie de Prony, we moved over to the eastern shore and a little south. We wanted to get a little closer to the Havannah Passage so our sail down to Ile des Pins would be shorter. We knew there was some good snorkeling at Anse Majic just on through Bonne Anse (Baie Est).

A sure sign of healthy coral is notice of no anchoring and the presence of mooring balls that must be used as they are in a nature reserve area. That means we cannot take anything from the area and must protect it in all ways while we are there. We make a habit of not discarding anything other than organic food scraps into the ocean. Too many people toss aluminum cans, tin cans and a lot of paper products into the sea. None of them are good for the ocean even if they are 1000 feet or more below the surface. Of course, plastic NEVER goes overboard!

Before snorkeling, we hiked up to the top of the Pointe Mere about 85 meters to the lookout point at the lighthouse. What a view! This is the place where whales are often sighted as you can see for miles. Even though it was a perfect clear and sunny day, no whales were spotted, but the view was worth the trek. We had packed a lunch and trekked with Brian and Sue on S/Y Darrramy.

Upon return to the boat, we went off to see the coral. It was warm in the sun, but the wind was chilly so it would be a short snorkel.

Unfortunately, my mask and goggles managed to stay behind in the saloon so I did not go in the water. And I was not responsible for their missing in action moment! My view of the coral from the surface was great.

Dennis snorkeled all around the area and took photos. He had been disappointed in the coral we have seen so far, but this was the most beautiful healthy coral he has seen anywhere. And there were numerous types and colors. It is wonderful that mooring balls have been put in place to preserve it. Unfortunately, one boat – French, of course – anchored, then their anchor was fouled on the coral. Obviously, they did some damage as they freed it. With 10-12 mooring balls and no one in the anchorage but them when we arrived, we don’t understand why they anchored. The mooring balls are free to use! Duh!!!

This was a peaceful anchorage so we had a couple of good nights of sleep there before heading south to Ile des Pins. The sail is about 40 nm, but the wind will be on the nose so we will have to motor-sail part of the way. We did not get down there last year so we are looking forward to exploring. It is supposed to be beautiful, but it will be hard to top Atol d’ Ouvea! And there are a number of place that are perfect for catamarans, but not deep drafted monohulls. We will find some lovely places for sure. And maybe some baguettes!
Which way is up?
The vista was amazing!
A look back at where we had spent the past week.
Only the French ...
It is amazing how some things of beauty can survive.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Exploring the Baie du Prony

The incoming tide and currents took the boat off course.
So it is onward we go! After visiting the waterfall, we quickly stowed the dinghy and the galley and headed south again. This time we were going against the tide on our way out of the anchorage. There are a number of shallow areas to avoid on the way out so I needed to stay on my track. But you can see in the photo that it looks like a drunken sailor at the helm!

This was a picture-perfect anchorage!
The tide would grab the bow of the boat and move it 450s to port or starboard depending on where I was in the passage. I would struggle to get it back on the track only to have it happen again. We could feel the boat being moved each time it happened. And our speed was reduced by the incoming tidal flow of one knot. That is a lot when you are  going at a slow speed while steering through reefs!
I was relieved to finally get past the lighthouse and out into Havannah Passage. Then the tidal flow was to our advantage. One does not ever want to go through Havannah Passage against the tide as it is very strong and fast in some areas. It can be 4-5 knots for or against you. One should plan to go on a flow and not an ebb.
It looked like this every morning.
The weather forecast was predicting a big change with high winds clocking from northeast to southwest. With this information, our little flotilla headed into the Baie de Prony to seek shelter on the western side.
Since it is a huge bay, we first went as far as Baie de La Maine aux Anglais, but decided there was not good holding for the three of us with the other boats already at anchor. So we went as far up north into the river as we could to the anchorage in Baie du Carenage.  

The red mud bottom in the bay.
There were five boats tucked in there, a couple from the ICA Pacific Cruising Rally. A couple more boats joined us before sunset so it was getting tight there. Everyone was seeking protection from the wind and this seemed to be the place. By morning, there were 14 yachts here. We planned to stay here for a day or two and even explore the rivers, falls and hot baths that are located up the river.
The predicted high winds never came and we really did not have a weather issue up in the top of the bay. Every morning the water was like a mirror until the midday winds caused ripples followed by small waves. Nothing serious!

We took the dinghies over to the other upper branch to see a waterfall. It turned out to be a minor cascade and not worth landing the dinghies. Then we went to see the hot baths that were touted in one of the cruising guides. What a joke! Old, not maintained and cold.
Donna was so ready for a nice natural hot spring bath! Not to be! Dennis found a place in the lagoon where warm water was bubbling up, but not enough to make it worth getting wet! The sun is warm, but the air is still cool. When I checked one of our cruising guides printed in 2002, it stated that the baths were in disrepair. That is an understatement. We told other cruisers not to bother going there. What a disappointment - especially after the hot spring baths in New Zealand!

Brian spotted a place to unload trash in one of the nearby smaller bays. He and Dennis took all of the trash there. At first they didn't see where to leave it. Dennis thought about putting it in one of the pickup trucks! Of course, the guy who owned it would have been furious when he came in from the long New Caledonia Day extended weekend and found everyone's trash in his truck. It provided a good laugh for all of us. Of course, they found the bins and took care of it properly.
At least, we are all hunkered down waiting for the forecasted trough to pass, the winds to shift and the sky to clear. Then we will move to an anchorage within the bay where one can hike up the mountain to an observation area to see the whales in the bay.
From there, the plan is to go to Ile des Pins for a few days. Bread, anyone? The French boulangeries and patisseries in Noumea are sounding wonderful right about now!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Time for a Change of Scenery: Grande Terre

Sometimes he makes me nervous! I wonder if I could
actually get him back on the boat if he fell off?

After a relaxing time in the Loyalty Islands, especially Atol d’Ouvea, we all decided it was time to explore the eastern coast of Grande Terre. We had been advised that this probably would not be a pleasant way to go south due to the southeasterly winds, swells and current up the side of the main island.
However, the consensus was that the winds had shifted to the east and north east and it was a perfect time to head across to Passe De Toupeti and enter the barrier reef. We were sailing with S/V Chez Nous and S/Y Darramy again.

We would then day hop down inside the reef, exploring as we went. This turned out to be the right decision as the wind was supportive of our plan. It is so nice when Mother Nature agrees with us! It was a most enjoyable crossing over to the mainland and through the barrier reef pass.

This is quite a change from the Loyalty Islands.
Where's the beach!
We found a lovely anchorage at Ile Nemou (210 40.442’S, 1660 22.937’E). Obviously from the photo at the left, you can see that the terrain here is very different from the Loyalty Islands. We are on the east side of Grande Terre; in other words, on the windward side.

The earth on the mainland here is a rusty red and is mined for nickel. Unfortunately, it sticks to our shoes and makes a mess of the dinghy if we don't wash them off first. For now, it is okay because we are staying on a small islet with white sandy beaches.
The view of the landing from the boat.
This is a nature reserve area so you cannot fish or disturb anything, but you can go ashore to the beach. At first we thought it was someone’s private property. Eventually, we all decided to venture ashore to check it out as we had not seen any activity around the buildings or area. Once on shore, we read the signage about the reserve – in French, of course, but I could make out the meaning of most of it.

It was fine for us to be there. However, the surroundings looked like something else goes on here. I am not sure what it all means or if it is just a hoax to keep people away!
At first, we thought it was private and stayed off.
It looked like a place where black magic is alive and well. We were not sure about the “d├ęcor” of the area. The photos will tell the story and your imagination is free to enhance! We couldn’t figure it out.
Then we saw the sign!



A view of the beach. Since this is a ilot, there is no red dirt.
It is a lovely little sanctuary where everything is protected. However, I am not sure what goes on with the bonfire and the creatures hanging around it!

The swimming may have been fine here, but the temperature is a little too chilly. Spring is just beginning so the air has a little nip even though the sun is very warm. I stuck with wading in the water. Of course, shell collection is a no-no in a marine reserve.

A dinghy ride to Rocher Boise around the corner yielded itself to another adventure. It is a tiny island - the kind you want to see on the chart before you meet it in the dark!

We scoured the rocky and coral and shell covered land area for interesting specimen. Dennis found two dead starfish (although, I have been told that they are not fish and should be called sea stars) on the shore. They were well bleached and rigor mortise had set in so they were surely beyond saving.

After two nights here, we headed down the coast to find another interesting anchorage. We did not have any problems with the current or wind. In fact, the wind was so light that we motored and charged our batteries all the way to the next stop.
We took a pass on Baie de Kouakoue and continued on to Baie de Quinne. We were hoping to find a village and a store –for bread and more! At this point anything will do!
The beach (?) at Rocher Boise
It turned out to be a mining village and no activity. Of course, we arrived on a Saturday so it was probably closed for the weekend. That was probably a good thing since there is a huge buoy for the ore ships to come into collect their cargo. Their presence would not have been pleasant at all. Although a peaceful anchorage, it was not one worth spending another night. Other than the view of the mountains painted with red soil and green trees, it was a boring place.

Rocher Boise is not a place to stay.
Our friends on S/Y Celine from Gulf Harbour in New Zealand,  brought over some freshly caught tuna. Yachties frequently share fish since the critters are so big and yield a lot of flesh. If one has room in the freezer, some is frozen. Since it is so good fresh, it is nice to share.
At daylight, we all weighed anchor to move south again. The group plan was to go into Baie De Yate as there appears to be a village there. Although, the anchorage itself does not look keep enough for our comfort. It will be fine for the catamaran, but the monohulls need more water.
Rocher Boise looks better from afar! 
S/Y Darramy and S/V Chez Nous
Since we motor faster, we were in the lead. The wind was light and on the nose so motoring allowed us to charge the batteries at the same time. We pulled into Baie d’ Yates to check it out.

We did see the village, but there was a big swell and not much room on the leeward side so we did not want to leave the boat to go ashore. Our track shows we made a U-turn and came right back out pushing against the tide and trying to stay between the red and green markers at the edge of the narrow winding channel. Not a place for S/V Trillium!
Looking at the eastern shore of Grande Terre.
Having let the other two boats know we were moving on, we continued south to Cap Coronation and Baie de Tare. What a lovely find! It was tricky going in – another narrow and winding channel between huge reefs – but well worth it!

Most of the upper bay is uncharted so we stopped at the most interior anchorage suggested in the guide. This was a very comfortable location as the winds clocked around for a couple of days. We hardly felt the wind or the tidal flow. This was worth a couple of sleep-filled nights. Something one is always looking to have. We seem to wake up between 0530 -0630 every day and we tend to stay up relatively late. So a couple of good snoozes are wonderful!

This is the sport of fishing underway. A balancing act!
Time to move again. This time we are heading down to the southern end of Grand Terre to De Goro Port. Although not protected by any land on the east and south sides, we are inside a reef. In fact, we are several miles inside a reef that is marked by a lighthouse at the entrance. Again a narrow path between the reefs, but very comfortable once we got well in to the furthest anchorage.
A tricky passage between reefs to a good anchorage.  
You must stay right on the waypoints or be sorry!
There appears to be a village there, so Dennis took the dinghy ashore to check it out. In search of bread, of course! I think he is tired of rice cakes and crackers, tortilla wraps and wheat crackers. Toast with his eggs are probably the motivator. And he is now a fan of Vegemite! Some of you know what this is. It stinks! I think it is one of those “either you like it or you don’t” foods with no in between.

Unfortunately, there is no store there. He managed to communicate that he was looking for one and how could he get to one. But the answer was: Il n’y en a pas. And then the hand signal that it is a long way from here appeared again! No bread – again. So the search goes on… I think I am going to have to give in and learn to make bread.

It is a beautiful contrast of red and green everywhere you look.

There was a beautiful full rainbow. I couldn't get it all in one shot because it was so close! We have seen this a number of times. It happens on the water where no land hides one end or the other.
S/V Trillium
After we all took a dinghy ride to see the river and waterfall, we beached the dinghies and walked up someone’s driveway and across the road to take photos. It was a lovely waterfall and vantage point. 

Not the biggest we have seen, but lovely.
Another couple joined us and Brian began a conversation in French with them. Back out on the road, we continued the conversation with the man with whom they were traveling. He was delightful and had a long French conversation with Brian regarding the lack of stores anywhere near here. In fact, he told us we wouldn’t be finding any stores at the next few stops and it would be surprising if we find much in Ile des Pins! Of course, that is where we are heading and we all want some fresh fruits and vegetable – and bread!
Dennis was picking up trash at the waterfall.
No stores! Oui, Madame!
Our passage inside the barrier reef was pleasant.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Can't Get Enough of this Beautiful Place!

I have found heaven on earth!
I don't think I ever want to leave here! Atoll d'Ouvea is so beautiful and peaceful. I don't think I would get bored for a long time even though there is nothing to do but soak it all in. Walks on the beach are the best.

I can't walk without searching for seashells, always looking for a special one! I do collect them, but I doubt if I can make it through Australia and the USA with them in hand. We will see.

The burial caves are below the trees in the center of the
photo across the lagoon.
Dennis and I enjoyed several long beach walks. Our anchorage is located in an area where you cross the road behind the resort and you are at another lagoon. This one is Baie de Lekiny and it is off limits! There is a serious current flowing in and out under the bridge, but more importantly, the sacred burial grounds are located on the eastern shore. There is a guided tour available around this bay, but we did not take it.

Apparently when someone dies, they are placed in their canoe and sent into the numerous caves located across the lagoon. Many native rituals require that visitors not tread on sacred grounds. We respect that custom. 
Our view from the bridge of the boys' camera set up.
Then we walked past it and around the point.

On our walk, we came upon a woman who was screaming and rolling around on the road just before the one lane bridge. At the time, we did not know what was happening. Later, after finding out about the burial grounds, we believe she had lost someone close to her and she was mourning. Other than one woman with her, everyone else left her alone, but protected her from approaching vehicles. We then assumed this is a wailing wall of sorts. Actually, it is a view across the lagoon to the caves.

A picture is worth a thousand words ...
At the bridge, we came upon three young men having fun! They had a video camera set up on the beach and they were filming themselves jumping off the bridge. This is the same bridge where they warn about the strong current! Boys will be boys!

We walked along the Baie de Lekiny lagoon one way and back along the Muli beach. The sand is like superfine sugar - so soft. I am not even sure it would make a good drizzle sand castle. It doesn't hold together.

I just can't get enough of this beautiful sand and cerulean blue water. It truly is indescribable. You have to see it to really know what I mean. It literally overwhelms me at times with the beauty. This is my most favorite place in the world. Unfortunately, I think Dennis will get bored with it too soon. Then it will be time to move on.

Catch of the day - for me!
In the meantime, I will just keep walking the beach and collecting seashells. And dreaming of jewelry I could make with them!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

OMG! It Takes My Breath Away!

Love at first sight!
We just completed a day sail of about 60 nm from Lifou to Atoll D'Ouvea, just a little northwest. Approaching the island looks like the approach to every other island: hills or mountains covered with trees, surf breaking on the reefs and few beaches. Usually, we are approaching from the east so we are on the windward side of the island. The windward side is also usually wetter and has more vegetation as the rain falls when it approaches the island. Since the waves slap against that side as well, there is more erosion, rocky areas and places not to meet unexpectedly – like rocks awash. The windward side tends not to have nice beaches and that is also where you find a lot of trash washed ashore.
The most beautiful beach in the world! So far...
Once we entered the passage into the leeward side of the island – the west side, we saw the most beautiful long white sandy beach and the stunning cerulean blue water. It was even more beautiful than Lifou!
This island is actually an atoll with a huge lagoon. In fact, it is so big that changes in the wind necessitate relocating one’s anchorage from time to time. That is not a problem because there are miles of beach and numerous places to anchor. All beautiful!
We chose to anchor at the northern end of Ile Muli, but still south of the resort Paradis d’ Ouvea so the beach was empty. The location was 200 42.470 S / 1660 26.673 E near Cap Kekine. We have been sailing with S/V Chez Nous and S/Y Darramy, both had been working with Sea Mercy in Vanuatu.
I have never seen so many different kinds of sea shells.
Donna and Jonathan live on S/V Chez Nous, a catamaran, and are from Florida, although he is a Brit. Sue and Brian, also Brits, are on a monohull and have been cruising for 11 years! It is fun to hear the stories of those who have been out a while. S/V Chez Nous was in the World ARC with us and dropped out when we did. They are planning another year – or more – in the South Pacific before heading west. Who knows where S/Y Darramy is going and when after they land on the shores of Australia!
I think I have found paradise right here in the Loyalties. Atol d’ Ouvea is now my favorite stop! It will take a mighty special place to top it. I will have to see what the islands in the Indian Ocean bring to view, but it will be a challenge to beat this one. I couldn’t wait to get on the beach to wiggle my toes in the water and sand and walk. This is what I enjoy most for exercise.

Note the little burrow in the sand ...
We spent several days at this anchorage and walked the beach, collecting shells as we went. We enjoyed a game of boule (or is it bowl – I can’t be sure with the British accent) with the other two boats. It is like bocce ball, but it doesn’t roll in the sand so you have to toss it. The metal balls are quite heavy, too. It became a real competition between boat teams! Then we rented bicycles to ride to the nearest town to seek bread! Donna joined Dennis and me. I hadn’t ridden a bike in years – it does come back to you, thankfully.

It is a hermit crab pretending we can't see him!
After about three kilometers, we asked – at least, we tried to ask – a local where for directions to a store: marche, magazine, casino? All we got was a wave of an arm suggesting that we keep going that way – the way we were headed.

After another two kilometers, we asked another person. The answer was the same: a wave of the arm in the direction we were heading! After another kilometer or so, Donna and I decided we needed to turn back or our legs would not get us back if we continued on. Dennis was determined to find a store so he kept going!

Does anyone know where the store is? Or speak French?
Donna and I eventually made it back to the resort to turn in our bikes. The thigh-burn and rubber legs let us know we had made the right decision. We now required some painkillers – rum and coke for her and a Margarita for me! Since Dennis had the keys to the dinghy and boat, what else could we do? Girls gotta do what girls gotta do!

Dennis finally returned just before the sun was lowering in the sky. He had gone another six or seven kilometers and did not find bread. He found some chocolate filled rolls, though! Leave it to him to hone in on chocolate.

You just never know what you might see when you
go off exploring in these lovely islands.

And he found a ride back in a truck! So we all pedaled about the same distance. As we boarded the dinghy, Donna was still in agony. My neck hurt from looking ahead from the position the handlebars created. Dennis was fine – just a little weak in the legs. I guess we need to ride more often. Later when I called Donna on the VHF, Jonathan said she was in traction! Very funny! She was in pain.

How do you spell R-E-L-I-E-F?
When we stopped at S/V Chex Nous, the sun was starting to set and it looked like it may be a green flash. We all climbed up on the top of the catamaran’s roof deck to watch. Fabulous! It was like a double green flash! There was a bar of green just above the sun and then one at the water. I had never seen one like this before. Of course, you cannot capture the exact moment on film – darn! Let’s see, is that number 19 or 20? Or is it number 20 and 21?
Measurement had to be exact in this hot contest!
This beautiful place provided a much needed “vacation” from all the work we had done for two months in Vanuatu. It seems during that time that we never stopped to rest. This is our reward: Ouvea!
Note to my French speaking friends: I don’t know how to put the accents on the words with the computer. If you know, please email or message me on Facebook.