Wednesday, October 30, 2013

First Cruise in New Caledonia

We sailed to Ile Bailly a few days ago to escape the busy urban existence of Noumea. This small island lies only about 8 miles as the fruit bat flies from Noumea or 12 miles' sail around reefs and across the busy local shipping channels. Ile Bailly is a popular destination for local picnickers and day trippers on the weekend. Barefoot with David and Roselyn on board is also here and we have been enjoying their company, holding pot lucks on our respective boats.

We took advantage of the quiet anchorage and relatively clean water to wipe the collected growth from Ladybug's bottom. The paint we applied in New Zealand has held up well except in a few places where I did not prepare the surface properly and it has flaked off. There was only a small amount of fouling and it was easily removed with a cloth. Our neighbors on Barefoot use a hookah - an underwater breathing device that uses a 12 volt compressor to push air down through special hoses to a regulator. This allows the bottom cleaner to stay underwater continuously, whereas I have to take repeated deep breaths and try to conserve air for as long as possible as I hold on to some part of the boat and scrub with the other hand.

We discovered that our island has a good supply of pumice stone - volcanic rock from nearby underwater eruptions, probably in the Kermadec islands. These light rocks are great for playing toss with and if you throw one in the ocean by accident it usually washes up on the beach in a few minutes. Rani and I got our exercise here with a couple of short hikes to the small hills on the island and a few sessions of catch the pumice rock.

Yesterday we sailed with Barefoot out to Ilot Amedee. This island lies about 12 miles from here and boasts the tallest lighthouse in New Caledonia. The huge iron tower was built in Paris in 1862 and assembled on the island a few years later. It is made of iron plates over an iron truss framework and one can climb the 247 stairs to the viewing platform for a nominal cost. The tower is beautifully shaped, with a curved portion at its base that must have housed the keepers prior to automation. There are also touches that you never see on modern construction - star shaped bolt heads and bronze lion head gargoyles to direct rain run-off away from the viewing platform. The view out over the island an surrounding reefs is spectacular and we spent almost an hour up there chatting with our friends and recovering from the climb up.

Unfortunately the island is near a major pass and receives a large swell that rolls around the small fringing reefs and creates a most uncomfortable anchorage. There are about a dozen mooring balls placed here, but these should not be trusted to hold larger boats as we learned when an Australian sailboat broke free and nearly drifted onto our friends' boat. The mooring line was made of rope and it had chafed through. The guide says that these moorings are for boats less than 10 meters but every boat we saw tied to them was longer than this. One of them was over 15 meters, far larger than what they were designed for, so perhaps the chafe was due to being repeatedly overloaded. We left the anchorage around 3:30p.m. and had a wet and blustery ride in 20 knots winds back to Ile Bailly, arriving just before sunset.

We plan to sail back to Noumea tomorrow to meet up with friends on Chapter 2 who will be leaving soon for New Zealand.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Museum of New Caledonia

We are still anchored in Noumea, enjoying this interesting hybrid European and South Pacific city. There are several museums in the city, some quite convenient to where we are anchored, including the excellent Museum of New Caledonia. This museum displays cultural artifacts from New Caledonia and nearby Pacific islands. Following are some pictures we took of their collection:

House posts in the first gallery. These served as entrance and center posts for the round New Caledonian houses.

Roof pole detail

Entrance post detail

Mask used in mourning ceremony

Mask with human hair

Some areas carved masks with string relief, other more flat

Ceremonial ax head of jade

Lobster trap

Medicine pots were made by the men while women made the cooking pots

Mask from Vanuatu

Pigs tucks were used as money in Vanuatu - the longer the better, The pigs teeth were removed to allow the  tusk to recurve

Bridal head dress from New Guinea

New guinea bowls

Mast displaying people whose deaths were to be avenged by head hunting - Papua New Guinea

Friday, October 18, 2013

Noumea and Some Catch Up Pics

Cathy and Dave from Light Speed

Light Speed came alongside to give us access to their personal wifi hot spot before we left Fiji

The red rocks of New Caledonia indicate mineral and metal deposits

Ore carrier passes close as we sail down the lagoon toward Noumea

Underway in a nice following 20 knot breeze

A cruise ship passes close to our stern in Noumea

Cruise ship departing for an overnight passage

Rani enjoys a birthday glass or wine with a full moon behind her.

And yet another ship passing our anchorage

Rani dances on her birthday 

Cathedral de St. Joseph

Statue of Joan of Arc

Birthday lunch of vegetable couscous for Rani and Coucous Poulet for Chris

The locals carve totems similar in some ways to those from the west coast of Canada

Pasage to New Caledonia - Day 6 and 7

Since our last post, we have arrived in Noumea, the capitol of New Caledonia. It was quite a shock to walk around a busy city with multi-lane highways and fashionably dressed people. We are anchored on the fringe of a large mooring field with our transom poking out into a channel through which run many high speed ferries, tugs, yachts, and even a cruise ship or two.

Yesterday we made landfall, anchoring in the east arm of the Baie du Prony after a 12 mile run up the Havannah channel. We stayed there overnight, flying our yellow quarantine flag and this morning we sailed the remainder of the way to Noumea.

Our last day on passage was very rough with a strong wind out of the east and many squalls with gusts between 30 and 40 knots. We ran for most of the day downwind with cross swells from the east and southeast and additional waves from the squalls making the ride very rough. I filmed a few minutes of this and will try to put it up on YouTube when we are back in a place with fast internet. At times the waves would combine to produce a foamy mountain of water that threatened to join us in the cockpit!

We will stay in New Caledonia for a month or so before making the passage back to New Zealand.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pasage to New Caledonia - Day 5

In the early afternoon we began to feel a large irregular swell setting in from the southeast. This proved to be the forerunner of some truly nasty weather. The wind filled in mid-afternoon, rising quickly to 25 to 30 knots - much higher than the automated forecast model predicted. We reefed down the main and then dropped it entirely. Soon even the full jib was too much and we were being thrown on our sides in sharp breaking 3 meter swells. In the stronger gusts Ladybug would come off the waves with a crash, so we reefed down to about a third of the small jib - an area about the size of a dinghy sail. Even then our 10 ton boat was making about 6 knots.

Because of the timing of tides in the Havannah channel, we cannot slows things down too much if we are to make landfall on Thursday, so I have been adjusting the jib and windvane steering to keep us on track and moving along around 6 knots. Comfort on board has suffered and it is very difficult to get any sleep due to the violent motion - a typical roll of 30 or more degrees in one direction and then back maybe 20 degrees in the other.

It is on days like this that we think of how lucky we are to have the technology on board to navigate and steer from the safety of the cabin. We passed four or five miles off Durand Reef in the early morning hours, where the water shoals up from more than a kilometer to a few meters. Because of our GPS and electronic charts, we were confident that we would avoid this danger. Had we been relying on sextant and deduced reckoning, this would have been a tense few hours with continuous position plotting making allowance for drift, current, and the somewhat erratic course we were steering through the squalls. The Monitor windvane has steered us without complaint, despite having to fight against the huge breaking waves and frequent gusty squalls. Without this 'third crew member' we would have to take turns in the cockpit, steering by hand - an exhausting prospect! Finally, we have a weather forecast, which while a bit inaccurate at least tells us roughly what to expect and when it will occur. On my passage to Hawaii and Canada from Mexico a few years ago I had no effective long range radio and the absence of weather forecasts was very stressful.

Our position at 6 am is 22 10 S 167 54 E. We sailed about 108 miles in 24 hours (prior to the arrival of the high winds). We both have a few bruises, but the Ibuprofen is working and this will be over by dinner time, knock on wood...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pasage to New Caledonia - Day 4

Peaceful sailing all day with light winds from the NE. The seas gradually came down to match and we celebrated by baking bread in the pressure cooker. The loaf turned out well despite the gently rolling motion of the boat. Rani cut up and preserved our eggplants, since we expect to lose all our fresh vegetables and fruit when we reach New Caledonia.

We saw our first birds in three days - some sort of fork tailed sea birds with grey wing tops and white under bodies - possibly terns. There were 6 of these fishing near the boat and crying out to each other like terns do.

The winds were so light that we turned south of our rhumb line to keep the sails filled. Later in the day the wind rose a little and we returned to a rhumb line course for 4 or 5 hours by poling out the jib opposite the main. This made the roll worse as it reduces the steadying effects of having two sails set on one side and a steeper angle to the wind, so we reverted to our former course south of the direct one around nightfall.

Our position at 0600 on Oct 15 is 21 36 S 170 09 E We sailed about 129 miles in 24 hours yesterday of which about 120 were in the right direction.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pasage to New Caledonia - Day 3

The wind dropped below 20 knots yesterday morning around the time of our check in to the SSB radio 'Drifter's Net'. The seas evened out and began to decrease, too, and by nightfall, the wind clocked around into the northeast. We had been expecting this based on the automated weather forecast data we download via the radio. Because the wind was now behind us (we are heading southwest) and becoming light, it was no longer feasible to sail our desired course. We hoisted the main sail, and gradually shook out the reefs. Later in the day we turned to the south to keep the sails filled to steady the boat and keep her moving along.

Yesterday was the first day we have been able to cook and eat normally and we even managed to watch a movie after dinner - Key Largo - a Bogart and Becall classic. Despite the lighter winds we made 148 miles in 24 hours. We are currently about 260 miles from Havannah Channel - our entrance into the reef at Grand Terre, New Caledonia. That puts us more than half way across!

Our position at 0600 on Oct 15 is 20 39 S 171 35 E

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Passage to New Caldonia - Day 2

Yesterday was a day of strong easterly winds and rough bouncy seas. We learned from the SSB radio nets that there are a couple of other boats who left Fiji on the same day to make the same passage to New Caledonia. They departed from different places and are larger and faster than us, so it is unlikely we will see anything of them before we arrive.

Our position at 0600 Monday Oct 14 is 19 04 S 173 20 E. We are averaging around 6 knots in 20-25 knot winds with just a partly furled jib up.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

On the way to New Caledonia - Day 1

Our last few days in Fiji were spent in the typical dance of provisioning, watering, saying good-byes, and finally clearing out with customs and immigration. The sleek catamaran 'Light Speed' was in Lautoka during this period and we spent am enjoyable day with Dave and Cathy in a small harbour to the north of the port, hiding from strong southerly winds.

The customs officer fills the roll of immigration, too, when you check out of Lautoka, and he asked that I row him to our boat to make sure that it was just me and Rani on board. The young man weighed well over 100 kgs and we had a few tense moments getting into and out of our little dinghy. Fortunately we avoided a repeat of our check-in to Tonga when we dumped the health inspector into the harbour!

We are about a hundred miles offshore now running off before a strong breeze with a furled jib only. The wind and seas surprised us, as we had expected fairly light trade winds and even seas. For a while last night we were down to half the small jib and a three-reefed mainsail and were still averaging over 7 knots on a beam reach. We dropped the main altogether after an hour of this and turned off the wind to make things more comfortable so that the off=watch person could get some sleep. Things are still pretty bouncy and it took a while to tie down the spare water bottles and anchor floats and to stop the crockery and condiments from dancing their noisy little dance.

Our position at 0530 on Sunday Oct 13 is 18 03 S 175 38 E. We are running west now in anticipation of an easterly shift as a front passes below us.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Birthdays, Music, and Cocoa

We are back in Lautoka and about to check out of Fiji and sail for New Caledonia. Our remaining days in Musket Cove were spent hiking around the island and with friends. There is a common barbecue area where we would meet up on most evenings. We also celebrated our friend Bob's 65th birthday. Bob and Linda are cruising on 'Bright Angel' and made the crossing from Mexico around the same time as we did last year. Rani made a cake for the party and Bob and Linda treated us and 3 other couples to beer and pizza at the Musket Cove restaurant.

Bob and Linda celebrate Bob's 65th.

Rani walks the path leading to the chapel at Musket Cove

Chapel windows

Chapel angels

We also finally met Paul and Catherine from the British yacht Kahia, whose boat we had first seen in Tonga last year. Among other skills, they are musicians and we spend a fun afternoon on Kahia playing uke, guitar, and flute and singing. We exchanged song books and plan to get together in New Caledonia after we have practiced some tunes. I also played some music at the resort. On Saturday night we watched the resort band play some Fijian and western numbers. Rani told them that I played uke, so they invited me to do a number with them as well as sharing their (very strong) kava with us.

The resort has a large organic farm where they grow lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, herbs, and many other vegetables and fruit for the restaurants.

Tomato beds at the Musket Cove farm. They use mulch and seaweed to improve the soil.

We finally got around to roasting the cocoa beans we collected on Rabi and Kioa. Bob an Linda had helped us process these back in Kioa (by sucking the tasty sweet-tart fruit off the beans) and they asked us if we had finished processing the beans yet. Today we roasted the beans in the oven (about 100 deg C for 20 minutes) and removed the husks before grinding. We then made our first cup of 'from scratch' cocoa by boiling a couple of tablespoons of ground up beans in three cups of water and adding whole milk powder and sugar. The results were quite good with a lovely chocolate aroma and especially satisfying because we picked and processed the pods ourselves.

Cocoa beans roasting

Roasted and de-husked beans are ready for grinding

We use a small pestle and mortar to grind the cocoa into coarse powder

Chris enjoys a cup of steaming cocoa..

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Return to Musket Cove

We sailed back to Musket Cove a couple of days ago, departing the anchorage of Bekana Island at Lautoka under sail. The winds have been strangely at variance with the forecast southeast trades for the last few days, swinging into the northwest and sometimes the southwest. As we sailed past the city, the plume of black smoke from the sugar mill rose straight into the air. We were just able to make headway with a couple of knots of breeze from the northwest. This very light breeze proved to be only an interlude between wind shifts and the wind swung back into a nice solid southeasterly coming off the land.

We rolled in a bit of the big jib and tucked a reef in the main, setting up the wind vane to steer us on a reach down the coast. There are many reefs and sand patches on the route from Lautoka to Musket Cove (on Malolo Lailai), so we entered a couple of GPS waypoints provided by Curly, a local cruiser out of Savusavu, to keep us in deep water and pass just clear of two barely visible sand patches.

As we cleared Vuda Point, the wind and fetch began to build, rolling at us across several miles of open water. By rolling in more jib and adjusting the traveler to de-power the mainsail we balanced the boat and the wind vane steering was able to handle the odd gust with only a tweak or two to keep us running true. A big ketch under motor hoisted her sails as she saw us approach and for a few minutes we sailed together before she romped away from us.

Chris removes the shells from tamarind pods we collected in Momi Bay. We will dry the fruit and remove the seeds.

The entry to Musket Cove was very easy this time. It is amazing how much more comfortable you feel on approaching a tricky entrance the second time. We were now quite familiar with the hazards from our slow exit a week ago, tacking out through the channel and around sand bars and coral patches. The only stressful moments were when we had a 'discussion' over where we should anchor.

We share a drink with our good friends Bob and Ann from Charisma

There are quite a few cruisers here whom we either know well or have bumped into over the last two years. It was a treat to catch up with our friends, Bob and Ann, on Charisma and we managed a hike with them around a good portion of the resort island, despite their recent colds. They have a very detailed blog with great photos you can check out at

The Musket Cove resort provides wood fired barbecue facilities on a little coral spit beside the dinghy dock and we met up with friends there last night and shared a meal and drinks. Most people are starting to plan their escape from here as cyclone season approaches. The majority, like us, are heading south to New Zealand, but a few will sail north to the Marshalls (as we had originally planned) and some will leave their boats here either in an earth pit on the land or in a marina.