Fiji to New Caledonia
Ocean Child had been waiting for me in Savusavu while I was in France. On October 22 2015, Giulia Clericetti (Rome, Italy) came on board, and we left for Vuda, arriving 26 hours later. James Thorp and Liz Gifford joined at Vuda, and we set sail for New Caledonia via Anatom, the southern-most island of the Vanuatu group.
At Savusavu, the water beside the boat was like an aquarium.
Early morning light, leaving Savusavu.
Here we have just left Fiji from the Vuda Marina, which is a port of entry/exit. Days were hot, but the evenings were cooler. Just before sunset, crew prepare for the night west of Fiji.
Morning comes... the sun rises over an open ocean behind Ocean Child... Fiji is back there beyond the horizon...
We reached Vanuatu. At Anatom (Aneityum) a police officer takes over customs, immigration and biosecurity responsibilities. Here James is fooling around in an empty police cell...
The village at the south of Anatom looked much like villages we had seen in Fiji, but the people were more reserved than the outgoing Fijians, seldom making eye contact. Actually, seldom appearing even. I don't think visitors like us serve any useful purpose in these remote villages. However we did leave a pack of 200 ball-point pens for the school. As you would expect, there are no services here, other than running water to a few places in the village. No electricity, sewerage, rubbish collection, telephone or internet. A tiny school and a tiny shop.
During our trip, we saw only one vessel, a fishing boat (probably illegal) fishing the waters above the deep trench separating Vanuatu from New Caledonia (see first image above). We saw no birds, whales or dolphins over the waters between Fiji and Vanuatu. After many days of empty ocean, we were glad to see shearwaters as we approached New Caledonia.
I mistakenly believed that the port of We, Lifou Island, Loyalty Group, New Caledonia was a port of entry. We has a small marina and a dock for local ferries and cargo. All officials were friendly and welcoming. The fact that Giulia (Italian by birth) spoke fluent French helped a lot. We were allowed to stay for two days without formalities. Snorkelling at the marina wall we saw turtles, sting rays and many smaller fish.
Lifou contains many tranquil bays. Baie du Santal, at the north of Lifou.
Totem poles are used here, and the Christian cross is widely seen (eg see the photo of a fisherman below).
A local fisherman, Baie du Santal, Lifou.
Typical scenery, Lifou... lots of shallow coral, and undercut limestone cliffs.
Giulia found an easy way to enter the water.
Where there were numerous small fish.
And Banded Sea Snakes.
Lifou, like Ouvea and Mare, is an ancient limestone island, with sink holes, caves and overhanging cliffs. Spiders weave huge communal webs. This one measured about 4m in length, 2m high.
The traditional hut of the islands on the Loyalty Group is conical, thatched on a light wooden frame. It looks awfully hot and dark, but the design is still widely used.
On our approach to the main island of New Caledonia, Terre Grande, we entered through a narrow gap in the eastern outer barrier reef. The tide was flowing out at the time, with a current of about 4 knots, creating standing waves against the swell generated by the southeast tradewinds. Not understanding the tides, we pushed through under the engine... it took about an hour to pass through the gap, making less than one knot forward progress..
A wrecked ship lies close by. Our CM93 chart identified it as "Wreck of the Komekame".
In the calm water within the barrier reef, terns and shearwaters (not shown) were feeding in groups.
The hills of Southern New Caledonia are widely and deeply eroded... I have no idea of the driving force. But the colours do create a striking landscape.
Noumea is New Caledonia's only city, and is the home of most of the French population. In spite of the proximity of the Asian market, almost all the vehicles were French. By and large, the two groups (indigenous Kanaks and French) get along well together, and the shops in Noumea cater for both. The very rich congregate in conspicuous apartments southeast of the city, where there is a beautiful urban beach, and marinas housing many hundreds of small boats. Talking to a Paris-born woman on the bus, I asked her if she enjoyed living in New Caledonia. "Very much! This is a wonderful island, with amazing people."
Early in our stay I contracted a skin infection which separates skin from underlying flesh.. I was looked after well by the hospital's outpatients' section.
We left Noumea on November 17, and stayed the night at an island nature reserve, not far from the passage through the outer reef. The reserve has several moorings available for visiting yachts. It certainly looked like a marine sanctuary... there were many fish of edible size around the island's shallow coral - in marked contrast to similar areas in Fiji where all fish of this size were absent. We headed for the open sea on November 18.
The yellow "cross" markers I think signify the boundaries of small marine sanctuaries. A visit here is highly recommended. Mooring buoys are provided.
We had several days of light winds... ideal for deck sleeping...
Giulia sent a message (tri-lingual) via the traditional ocean technique...
We stopped for a day at Middleton Reef. Middleton Reef and Elizabeth Reef are Australian nature reserves.
We had a welcoming committee of small reef sharks. I had expected crystal clear water and lots of live coral, but in fact almost all the coral at our location was dead, with lots of algae, and the water visibility was only about 20 m. Water temperature was 26 degrees C.
The absence of dry land, and the many wrecks, create a lonely atmosphere.. a bit spooky...
Part of the hull of the Runic... built for the transport of refrigerated food. Wrecked 1961.
Below, the Monray Frontier, wrecked 1998.
We left Middleton Reef on November 24. Not far out of Middleton, we picked up a voice on VHF radio indicating it was Bundaberg volunteer coastguard, hundreds of kilometres away. I found this surprising, as generally VHF transmission is roughly line-of-sight. We arrived at Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, on the morning of November 27. Coffs turned on some windy weather for our arrival. The forecast 30 knot winds turned out as 40. We decided to practice deploying the drogue, and found the hard part is getting it back on board. We also discovered that the East Australia Current was running south faster than Ocean Child could sail north. Apparently the EAC speed reaches a maximum at 30deg latitude and in November/December. We measured its speed as 6 knots at the 200m contour, and 3 at the 100m contour. That's fast. Here it appears to be travelling due south. Water temperature was about 25 degrees (which by the way was maintained, as we were to see later, all the way to Eden). I wonder if the annual whale migration south, which ends at 30 degree latitude in late October, seeks out the EAC..? providing both a boost in speed as well as warm water.
Safe and sound tucked up in Coffs Harbour marina.... Meg's painting.