Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do!

Us at the 5 Isles
Swimming flatworm

Blue Ribbon eel
White Tip reef shark cruising

Lobster hunters
Hiking Bay de Prony
Blue Rodeo with
big sister "Kailani"

Hey, where are you going?
Red coral
Cowrie Shell
Boats in the distance
Hiking to jade mine
Amadee lighthouse

After leaving the Loyalty Islands we sailed to the southeast side of Grand Terre (New Caledonia’s main island) where we hop scotched our way slowly back to the city of Noumea.  It was a bittersweet time knowing that in just a couple of weeks we’d have to part company with our wonderful friends on the yachts “Evergreen” and “Fruit de Mer”.  Soon, we would return to New Zealand and the others would head west to Australia.    We wanted to make the most of our time together but also be close enough to Noumea to be able to checkout of the country quickly if a good weather window for our passages presented itself. 

Heading southwest toward New Caledonia’s Southern Lagoon, we stopped at several interesting places along the way, one of which was a bay with a nickel mine featuring the longest conveyor belt in the world (over a mile) which is used to move ore from the mine to the shore for transport by ship.  Our next stop was picturesque Isle Nemou in Port Bouquet.  “Fruit de Mer”, who had been traveling with us, continued on toward Baie de Prony but we stopped off the uninhabited island to sample the snorkeling on the nearby reefs. The reef had really nice coral and lots of fish which was quite a pleasant surprise.  We also spotted several few large lobsters hiding in rocky crevices.  Since it had been some time since any of us had seen an abundance of large lobsters, we hatched a plan to try to catch some before continuing down the coast the next day.  So, the next morning before pulling up anchor we went lobster hunting.  Within about 30 minutes, we managed to get 5 large ones, enough for a wonderful lobster dinner aboard “Evergreen” that evening and several other lunches and diners as well. 

Next stop was in peaceful Baie de Prony where we rendezvoused with friends Sandy and Rankin on “Gypsy Heart”, who we hadn’t seen since Vanuatu and Harley, Jen and Sophia on “Kailani”, who have a beautiful 63’ version of our boat.  Mark and I hiked to a small waterfall one day.  Further south, we spent one night at Isle Ua in the 5 Isles before getting chased out by wind the following day.  This group of islands is really beautiful.  They look like the perfect, deserted islands straight out of the Corona beer commercials we see at home. There is such a contrast between Grande Terre, with it’s dark red soil and pine trees and these outlying islands in the southern lagoon inside the barrier reef. A stop at Isle Ouen, provided the opportunity for our group of 6 to hike up a mountain toward the site on an old jade mine.  Even though we didn’t find the mine, we were treated to amazing views of the lagoon and it’s widely scatted islets.

Our last stop before heading back to Noumea to prepare for our passages was Isle Amadee, famous for it’s beautiful lighthouse.  It was a really pretty spot (but very touristy) and reportedly had some great diving.  Try as we might, we couldn’t find anything to get too excited about. We dinghied around for nearly an hour peering into the water with our masks trying to find something dive-worthy and finally gave up. Eventually, we ended up back at the anchorage and decided that, after going to the trouble to gear up, we would dive anyway.  We did see some larger tame fish and a few assorted critters but, for the most part, came away disappointed that our last dive together was such a bust. 

Our time in New Caledonia was coming to an end.  Our daily analysis of weather forecasts revealed that good windows for passages to both Australia and New Zealand were opening so we all scrambled to prepare and officially clear out of the country.  Too soon, the time for goodbyes and casting-off dock lines came.  It was really hard to say goodbye to Gerrit, Annemieka, Jon and Heather.  It was especially difficult saying so long to the “Evergreen” crew because we had sailed with them for two seasons and shared some incredible diving and land adventures.  They will be sorely missed.  There wasn’t a dry eye as we parted.   

We’ll, so it goes. That is the life of a cruiser...meeting incredible people, forming strong friendships and then having to say goodbye.  We take comfort though in knowing that, with these special friends, it is not goodbye but just “see you later” until we meet again and share more wonderful times either in the US or some exotic part of the world.  Safe travels and have fun in Oz you guys.

Friday, October 10, 2014

In Search of the Illusive Nautilus - Loyalty Islands

Beehive Sleeping Hut

Bird Crossing

Mark's new doo?

Swimming ashore at a rocky beach

Anne & Heather with island dog

Boats at anchor


Live Shell

Peak a boo with Anemone fish

Scorpion Fish


Shrimp on Bubble coral

A single day’s sail took us from Isle de Pin in New Caledonia’s southern lagoon to Mare the southern most island in the Loyalty Islands.  We had sailed close to them on our way from Vanuatu but couldn’t legally stop there without first formally clearing into New Caledonia in the capital city of Noumea.  We had been told that these islands still offered glimpses of simpler and more traditional island life and opportunities for great snorkeling, scuba diving and beach combing.

Over the next two weeks we would explore Mare, the main island of Lifou and the low lying island of Ouvea to the north.  Unfortunately, the cool and rainy weather that had plagued us in the Isle of Pines seemed to follow us.  We did find some amazing places to snorkel and scuba dive and, on Ouvea, miles of white sandy beach to walk along. On  shore we found little else to recommend.  The islands are rather featureless and the locals seem somewhat aloof and less friendly than those that we encountered in Fiji and Vanautu.  In fairness, it may be due to the language barrier and the fact that they rarely encounter visiting tourists other than those that arrive for the day on the weekly cruise ships that pass through.  Even though many of the locals drive cars, and most have electricity and cell phones, some still cling to old beliefs and superstitions.  For example, we were told that one beautiful area on which we hoped to do a scuba dive was considered taboo or off limits for diving.  The information passed to us was not first hand but a resident teacher from France told us that the locals believed that scuba diving would attract sharks but that snorkeling was ok.  Go figure?  While on the island of Lifou, our group of six walked from our anchorage to a small town along the island’s main paved road. Along the way, we were joined by two playful dogs that followed us most of the way.  It was obvious that they lead a pretty boring life and the fact that we showed them a little warmth and attention made us instant friends.  While walking back from town, the most disturbing and upsetting experience of our six years of cruising occurred when a careless driver struck and killed one of the poor dogs as it walked just a few feet from us.  The driver sped on without even slowing leaving us horrified and angry.  While we realize that it could have happened anywhere, we were left with an awful impression of the mentality of the locals.  Cruising has opened our eyes to many things, most of them wonderful.  Occasionally though, like with the pig killing we saw at a ceremony in Vanuatu, we witness things that remind us of the differences in cultures that we are experiencing.  While this makes the experience richer, it is occasionally rather hard to take.