Saturday, January 7, 2017

Exploring the West Coast of New Caledonia

On a windy New Caledonia day we left Baie de Prony and headed up the Wooden Channel back towards Noumea to prepare for our final journey up the west coast of New Caledonia.  We met up with Lyn and Bruce on "JoliFou" in the marina, and we all began final preparations for our journey up the coast, and ultimately to Australia.  It was pouring with rain when Lyn and I walked to the nearest supermarket (the "Casino"), to do some final provisioning.  The one thing we have come to love about the cruising life is that we learn to make do with what we have...in this case...our feet! We have to walk everywhere;  it is a great way to stay fit, and we enjoy it, because there are also lots of stretches when we are confined to the boat, so getting out and moving our legs always feels great.

It was still rainy and windy when we left and headed towards Isle Puen.  We had strong winds, up to 30 knots, but all from behind, making the sail fast and relatively comfortable.  I mention the sail was fast....this was important...why?  Well, what happens when you have 2 Olympic sailors at the helm of each vessel?  EVERY sail is a race!!  I will refrain from keeping score, but I believe that JoliFou won the first race.  Just for the record though, and in our defense, JoliFou is a beautiful, 44ft aluminium monohull with a carbon fiber mast, and Cool Runnings, in comparison, is a tank....just sayin'!

JoliFou...

vs.  Cool Runnings...
who would be the ultimate winner of the Japie Olympian Cruising Rally?!

We left Puen early the next morning, still in overcast, rainy weather and made our first stop at Ouana.  We anchored off the reef so that Bruce and Dave could have a surf!  Dave had not surfed for many, many years, and this surf break is a left break, which Bruce prefers, being a "goofy foot" and Dave preferring a right break, being a "natural foot".  But it was a surf break, none-the-less, and Dave was dying to get on his board again!  Lyn took the boys out in the dinghy and dropped them at the break, and then came and joined the kids and I on Cool Runnings while we watched Bruce catch wave after wave, and Dave catch just a few!  But hey...he was surfing in New Caledonia!  Nothing to complain about!  

Lyn takes Bruce and Dave out to the break

Beautiful waves to surf

Bruce catches a beauty

Dave is up and surfing!

A look back at New Cal from where we were anchored at the surf break

After a couple of hours, we upped anchor again, and continued racing towards our anchorage for the night, a place called Bourail.  We anchored in a river mouth, in very brown water.  We had had a lot of rain in New Caledonia over the last week or so, and the rivers were spilling lots of brown water into their river mouths.  We highly believe that Bruce and Lyn were nudged by a shark when they left Cool Runnings that evening to go back to JoliFou.  It was funny at the time to hear Lyn shriek "Did you feel that?!"  but would not have been so funny if the shark had taken a bite instead of just a nudge!!

Entering the anchorage at Bourail...it appears that Cool Runnings is AHEAD of JoliFou! ;-)

The weather may have been miserable, but the sunset was still spectacular
The next morning, knowing we had a long sail ahead of us, we upped anchor at about 5:30am.  This was also partly due to wanting to beat JoliFou!!  Bruce was desperate to surf the excellent break at Bourail, and even stopped to check it out, but thankfully, he decided not to risk playing with the sharks for the sake of a good surf, and soon we were racing again up the west coast of New Caledonia.  While we had had 20+ knots the day before, this day the wind was up and down, so it was a day of sailing and then motoring, and sailing and motoring.  We had to exit the reef at Bourail, and we sailed on the "outside" until we were able to enter the reef again at Baie Chasseloup, which is the start of the northern lagoon.  We found a lovely anchorage next to a beach and park with picnic tables.

Our thanks to JoliFou for the pics of Cool Runnings under sail

And one more...

Dave checking the sails so that we could win the race!

The anchorage at Baie Chasseloup - at last we see start seeing blue skies again!
Sunrise for a change
Having left at 7:30am the following morning, and after a beautiful sail in the flat water of the northern lagoon, we decided to stop at Koumac, probably the biggest town in the northern part of New Caledonia.  We arrived around 3pm, so this still gave us some time to explore.  There is a small marina here, but the town was a fair distance away.  Dave went off in search of some diesel, as we had motored a bit the day before, and we wanted to be sure that we had enough for the crossing to Australia.  The fuel dock in the marina was closed, and while Dave was looking around, looking helpless I suppose, a local offered to drive him to town to the gas station there!  So friendly were the people here.  He drove Dave to fill up our jerry cans, waited for him to finish and then took him back to the marina.  The crews of JoliFou and Cool Runnings decided to stretch their legs and did a bit of exploring.  

Entering Koumac...yes, JoliFou appears to be in front!

I loved the explosion of color of all the bougainvillea!

The competition doesn't end off the water...we found an exercise park in Koumac.
Dave and Bruce attempt to co-ordinate this machine

Bruce and Lyn have a go (and seem to be in sync!)

Ben and Gabs attempt to lift weights!

Calm waters in Koumac

 Sometime during the day we realized it was Thanksgiving, so we invited Bruce and Lyn over to Cool Runnings for their first Thanksgiving dinner!  We had a lovely evening.  It was by no means a traditional Thanksgiving meal, (I had a ham in the freezer that I had defrosted, mashed potatoes and some veggies), but the spirit of Thanksgiving was enjoyed by all, as we spent a lovely evening with good friends and all of us said what we were thankful for!

Getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner

Good Times with Good Friends!  Happy Thanksgiving!
The next day was our final stretch from Koumac to Tanle.  It was another great sail, and we followed JoliFou into a beautiful, secluded anchorage.  That evening, over drinks on JoliFou, we discussed weather.  Our original plan had been to stop at Chesterfield Reef on the way to Australia.  Chesterfield Reef belongs to New Caledonia, and we had secured permission to stop there.  Pictures we had seen of the reef looked gorgeous, and it is also a breeding ground for many sea birds.  But Mother Nature had other plans as a low pressure system was developing off the north of Australia, and two of the five weather models showed it moving right across our path in the Coral Sea, with winds of up to 35-40 knots.  There was no way we wanted to be anywhere near such a system, so we decided to wait another day to see what the models showed the next day.  

The beautiful mountains of New Caledonia.  Waiting at Tanle

More mountains taken from the Tanle anchorage

Our one choice was to  stay in New Caledonia, and wait it out, but we had already checked out of the country, and needed to leave.  Staying in New Cal would also potentially put us into the path of the system, but we would be at anchor.  If we left, we had to time our departure so that we would not cross paths with it at any point...a difficult thing to predict or plan.  We stayed the following day, and it poured with rain.  It was a day of watching the weather, watching movies and just waiting.  The following morning, thinking we were not going anywhere, we heard Bruce calling Dave across the water.  He had just downloaded updated grib files (weather forecast), and it looked like all the models were agreeing more on the path of the system, and if we left that day, didn't stop at Chesterfield, and just headed straight for Australia, we would be OK.

So our final departure from New Caledonia was quite sudden, and in no time we found ourselves on our journey to Australia!  By coming so far north on New Caledonia's coast, our passage to Australia was only about 600 miles (about 4 nights/5 days).  The first 2 days were a bit rough with strong winds and big seas, but by day 3 the winds became lighter and day 4 actually saw us motoring late at night.  It was a pleasure to do the crossing with JoliFou, and we stayed in visual contact almost the entire passage, as well as in radio contact.  We had never done a passage with another boat before, and it was so nice to know that there was someone else out there with you, just a stone's throw away!  (of course we also had to monitor our positions to see who was winning the race!).

Sunset on passage

Passing the time on passage and getting excited about getting to Australia!

Playing "silly buggers"

We crossed Hervey Bay and entered the river at Bunderberg in the afternoon of December 1st, 2016.  We were "leading the race" when Bruce came shooting past us and shouted "Welcome to Australia!"!  It was an awesome welcome, and we couldn't believe we had finally made it! We had crossed the entire Pacific Ocean...some 11,000 miles!  We were ready for our next adventure in the Land Down Under!

Australia, here we come!!

As the sun sets on one adventure, we are ready for the next one!



2 comments:

  1. I have loved checking in with you guys on your extraordinary journey! Thanks for being so detailed and for providing wonderful photos. It's been quite awesome to join you all (virtually) on your travels! Stay safe!

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  2. Christi so lovely to hear from you, and thanks for the kind words!!!!! Glad you have enjoyed joining us virtually ;) Hope all is well and hope to see you back in the good old US of A sometime once we are back. Kind regards Dave.

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