After clearing customs at Noumea, we spent a total of 3 nights gradually wending our way down the west coast of New Caledonia to the Havannah Channel, from where we could head off to the Loyalty Islands (on the eastern side of New Caledonia) and thence on to Vanuatu.
The wind was straight on the nose (what’s new!) so we had to motor sail, but is was a pleasant day trip and Frank & I both felt so much better for being free of the marina confines and self reliant again.
Just a few miles south of Noumea, we anchored behind a beautiful little island ‘ Islot Casy’ where we enjoyed relaxing on board & socializing with our friends Deb & Alan on board ‘Divine Wind II’ along with several other yachts we knew from Noumea, who were anchored there too.
We woke next morning to the wonderful sight of a magnificent rainbow spread across the sky. It seemed an appropriate touch to this special day- it was our son Paul and Jenny’s first wedding anniversary – we thought of them all day and the wonderful time we had shared in Tahiti just one year ago. I don’t think there could have been a more beautiful wedding and Frank & I felt so lucky and privileged to be the only guests to share Paul & Jenny’s special day. They had celebrated this anniversary at a rainforest retreat in the Gold Coast Hinterland at Springbrook and were heading home today.
We went for a walk ashore ( a big no no as we had cleared out!!!) and followed a path to the top of the hill where we had great views over the bay and across the island to the iron ore mining factory. The dog in the photo lives here on his own after the resort was abandoned and he was left behind. He would literally dive from the wharf into the water to chase and catch fish, and looked pretty healthy for his self sufficient lifestyle.
We were up ready for an early departure for Port Boise.
It was a pretty uneventful sail and the anchorage was through a narrow marked entry into a large wide bay, where the water wasn’t particularly inviting and clear. I did jump in briefly, but after remembering the bull shark attack near Noumea the week we had arrived, I was a little tentative! (it was actually the first ever recorded shark attack in New Caledonia).
At 2.45 am next morning, we were the first yacht to up anchor and leave the bay through the markers. It was a bit hairy in the darkness of early morning with no moon to light the way and once again we were very grateful for Paul’s gift of our Garmin GPS to show us the way north through the Havannah Passage out to sea.
7603- Dawn breaks as we leave New Caledonia
Leaving mainland New Caledonia, we had had one of our best sails in a long time for the 80 mile trip to the southernmost island of the Loyalties called Mare, in the Baie du Nord where we anchored for 2 nights- a very large bay surrounded by high cliffs, full of caves eroded into the sides both above and below sea level. The only signs of life were smoke from the local’s fires at night time in the areas back away from the cliffs. Plus the inevitable cockerel calling out at sunrise from some hidden village!
Since we were not legally able to set foot on land, we swam in the crystal clear water that would have been at least 25 metre visibility. Unfortunately though, not much fish or interesting coral, but at 28 degrees in the water, it was pleasant despite the strong winds.
We decided on a rest day, as the winds were predicted to be very strong next day.
We still woke up early and after breakfast, Frank took off the side window storm cover and cleaned up the windows, whilst I did some washing and made some bread. I found a flying fish (a minuscule one) dessicated with salt on the front hatch.
I did a lot of fiddling around with photos and my journal on my iMac and we generally relaxed.
Divine Wind II had given us a big chunk of yellow fin tuna they caught on the way to Mare yesterday, so I made some sashimi for lunch which was very tasty- Frank had been dubious he would like it but he ate a large helping and said he thoroughly enjoyed the flavors- I made a marinade with a mixture of fresh lemon juice, sashimi soy, mirin & sweet chilli sauce. The fresh bread with it certainly helped make it a memorable lunch!
The winds were supposed to be easing the next day, so we head off around 11am so that we would arrive in the light of the following morning after a proposed 120 mile sail. However, as soon as we were out of the protection of the island, we soon realized the winds were a lot stronger and impossible for heading to Aneitym, the southernmost island of Vanuatu, where we had organized to clear in to customs. We tried bashing into the strong winds for a couple of hours and then made the decision to change plans and head further north to the next island up- the volcanic island of Tanna that made the direction slightly more favorable.
I say slightly more favorable- because we still were bashing into huge seas in 25 knot winds that had us heeling at an uncomfortable angle and waves crashing over the roof of the cockpit consistently. Yet another opportunity to appreciate all our clear covers that enclose this area and provide welcome relief from the elements, most of all keeping us dry and safe.
It was a most uncomfortable trip and our friends on ‘Divine Wind II ‘ changed course too, so we lost track of them before dark. We found out later that they went to the next Loyalty Island up l’Ifou, and were waiting there till the conditions improve before sailing direct to Pt Vila.
As we neared Tanna, Frank informed me that it would take another 6 hours of hammering against the waves to round the point into Port Resolution to clear into the oountry, and he had checked the anchorage there which would not protect us from the ocean swell.
So once again we changed plans, and decided to head for Port Vila instead. another 130 miles further north, but at least utilizing the winds to our favor. However, as we head out from the northern end of Tanna, we saw the sails of another yacht. We thought it might be ‘Amulet’- the American yacht who had also set sail from Mare at the same time as us, so we called them on the VHF radio. Another yacht ‘Infinity III’ replied and they informed us that they had cleared into Tanna 2 days ago, by anchoring at Lenakel, a township 10 miles back, and had just left as it was getting too roly for comfort.
We prefer to stay in these southern islands rather than sail all the way to Port Vila and then have to sail back again. The island of Erromanga is actually in sight – the southern tip of the island is only 29 miles away, and this is where we wanted to go to help the community and offer our donations through Stephen, our Nivan friend, who’s family all come from there.
SO- yes, we changed our minds another time!! (what did we say about retirement meaning a plan to have no set plan!!)- & sailed BACK the 10 miles against the wind to the roly anchorage of Lenakel that opens up to a small bay with rolling surf on both sides- very spooky. Add to this the fact that the wind and waves were rocking us from gunwale to gunwale, it was somewhat scary and uncomfortable. However, since we were here, we decided to give it a try, so we dropped sails, anchored and Frank tried to lower the dinghy. Tried being the operative word- as the rollers marched in, they threatened to rip the dinghy from the davits and started to jam the ropes. The thought of then having to try and mount the outboard engine from the railing where it rests securely on ocean passages, back onto the dinghy transom, all became too dangerous. There was a inter island trader boat (around 60-70 foot) anchored in the harbour too, attempting to offload supplies and watching them made us realize how foolhardy we would be to attempt a landing on the beach. Their crew were taking flying leaps from their tinny ( aluminum dinghy) onto the deck of their ship as the rise of the swell lifted them precariously into the air, before plummeting down the next swell.
So with regard for our safety, we up anchored and took a long sigh of relief as we motored quick smart out of that hairy environment. In the darkening evening sky we motored back the 10 miles north to a safer anchorage for the night, where we joined ‘Infinity III’ and yet another trader boat who had been forced to abandon offloading his cargo onto the small wharf at Lenakel until the conditions improved. We spent the night rocked in the unavoidable swells that lulled us to sleep.
The next morning we head BACK the 10 miles to Lenakel to clear into customs, and this time the swell had decreased to a more comfortable roll. After waiting for 2 hours whilst customs took their lunch break (!!) , we finally cleared in. We were informed that we have to come back the next day for immigration as the immigration officer was not available.
This involved a night of rigorously uncomfortable rock ’n rolling, to complete the procedure in the morning and be free of legal formalities. We did find out that we can later check out of the country from here, so that is a great alternative to sailing 120 miles north to Port Vila from where it will be an even harder sail across the trade winds to Fiji.
Frank & I took a stroll around the small settlement at Lenakel after clearing customs,
Almost 3 months have passed since the cyclone hit, but there are still very obvious signs of the devastation. Much of the foliage on the trees has started to grow back in these lush tropical conditions, and the entire island is covered with forests of gnarled tree trunks , with many keeled over or lying askew, ripped out of the ground by their roots.
We are told that one last supply boat is expected to the island this week and then the islanders are on their own, with no more relief expected. Charity organizations are frustrated with the logistical issues- they are saying that many families are out of food and isolated far from any help. One Nivan was paid to deliver a pile of food and building materials to a remote community a day’s ride from here, but his truck broke down on the treacherous roads and he was stuck there for 2 weeks before he could be rescued. Apparently, this is why the locals are not anxious to help more- jeopardizing their vehicles or time. There is simply not enough items to go around, and the aid workers are reluctant to give to one family and cause jealousy or accusations of favoritism.
After a horrific night during which I had to drug myself to the eyeballs with panadeine forte to try and get some relief from my neck injury with the jerky rocking and rolling, it still takes till early afternoon before the Immigration officer turns up and officially clears us in. We head straight back to the yacht as the wind was starting to pick up again and the anchoarge was fast becoming rougher and more dangerous in which to stay anchored .
We had a fast sail back to Loanatum at the top of Tanna and anchored at dusk, Even though it is still a little uncomfortable, it is NOTHING compared to last night! We did a bit of a tidy and clear up- everywhere is a bit messy after the sea passage and then roly days at Lenakel.