Cruising the South Pacific with Tackless II
Tackless II, along with her two captains, Don and Gwen, cruise from Fiji to Australia
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
27 October 2008 - Day 7 on the Road to Oz
Our last night the wind went aft meaning that for the first time on a voyage on which we expected to sail downwind most of the way, we were sailing down wind for the FIRST TIME! It became rolly and obnoxious and made us really appreciate the several exceptionally nice days of sailing we did have...even with the spate of bad weather. In the morning, we encountered east Australia's southbound current, which, like America's Gulf Stream, can stir up quite a nasty sea in any southerly wind. Actually, it was for this reason we'd picked the weather window we did, since the winds were relatively light as we crossed. Still we were glad to push out the other side and get smoother sailing as we approached and rounded Break Sea Spit into Hervey Bay.

Actually, except for calmer seas, bottom soundings, and a few more seabirds, there was nothing to suggest we were approaching land of any size, let a lone a huge continent. Hervey Bay is a big wedge of water off the Queensland coast that is framed by Frasier Island, the worlds largest sand island. Again, no sight of it. The wind went light, and in our impatience to arrive, we fired up the engine. Night fell after another handsome sunset and still no hint of Australia. Finally about 8pm local time, we began to see some lights in the general direction of our waypoint.

The last leg of our trip, four miles up the approach channel of the Burnett River in the dark, was surreal. The channel is marked by pairs of powerful flashing green and red lights which leaves you feeling like you are landing a 747 on a runway, and because the channel extends well out into the bay, most of its length you still have water on either side! Once inside the lights were fewer and the dark darker. We actually passed the quarantine anchorage on the first go and then had to backtrack. Although the Port Bundaberg Marina just upriver was brightly lit, it actually made it harder to nose our way in to the small anchorage where three other boats already had the hook down. We shut down, toasted our arrival with a celebratory cocktail, and put our heads down, Don grousing that he would have to keep some kind of watch during the night in such close quarters. The next thing we knew, it was daylight!

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Monday, October 27, 2008
26 October 2008 - Day 6 on the Road to Oz
Quite simply a grand day of sailing. Blue sky, sparkling waves, and a gentle rolling sea action. The wind stayed a steady 10-12 knots and we have consistently soared along on a beam reach at 6.5-7.5 knots. In a burst of enthusiasm, we actually got out the hose and washed the worst of the salt accumulations off the windows, stainless and solar panels, while below decks we cleaned cupboards, defrosted the fridge, and generally tidied up for our arrival. With the extra day the bad weather added to the passage, we have managed to do better eating down the larder. Today's lunch was a very French picnic of dry sausage and the remains of about five different bits of French cheeses.

Tomorrow mid-afternoon, if the wind holds, we should round the light at Break Sea Spit and enter Hervey Bay. It is another 40 miles from there to the channel entry to Bundaberg. It looks like we will arrive just after dark. Fortunately, Bundaberg is an easy, well-lighted approached and we will be able to motor right in to the quarantine anchorage when we arrive. And you know what that means? We will be able to get a good night's sleep in before facing customs and quarantine.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008
25 October 2008 - Day 5 on the Road to Oz
Today was a good day. The wind last night continued to back right when we needed it to, and we were able to clear the shallower peaks of the mid ocean ridge that runs south of Chesterfield Reef. You might wonder what the big deal is about crossing these submarine mountain ranges. Well, sometimes, all that ocean, suddenly encountering uw obstacles can mound up worsening surface conditions, which you may remember were bad enough on their own. Our experience, however, was that the time we were actually over the ridge (via one of the deeper "passes") was the calmest sea of the day! Once we were clear of that area, we shut the engine down, relieved to poke along at 3-4 knots and try to catch up on our sleep.

The next morning -- this morning -- the wind speeds were down and the seas were down quite a bit as well. Refreshed by some sleep yet faced with 400 miles still to travel without our big headsail, Don came up with a plan to replace the furling line with an old one and rehoist the sail. The first tricky part involved perching on the bow and winding the furling line back into the drum. The second tricky part was getting the many folds of the sail sorted out on a moving deck filled with dinghy and fuel jugs. In getting the sail down the day before in the big winds and seas, things had gotten a bit twisted up! The third tricky part was getting the sail rehoisted. The hero in this whole endeavor was the team of Otto and Perky who between them kept the boat steadily into the wind while the two of us were out wrestling things on the foredeck. Probably the biggest pain was trying to keep our harnesses clipped in while we needed to be first here and then there on the deck. We kept reminding ourselves that sailors used to change sails this way all the time in the days before roller furling! All went according to plan...well, the second time... and you never saw such pleased campers as these two Captains to have our sail back. We promptly shook out the reefs in the main and set the genoa and were off like a proper sailboat.

It's been grand sailing again today, the wind at a nice moderate 9-14 knots off the beam, while the large southern ocean swell runs by with a long period beneath us, lifting us smoothly from our port side and passing on away under us to starboard. This running swell is what I imagined we'd see all across the Pacific, but in fact it's the first one like this I remember.

By the way, we are not actually in the Pacific anymore. We are officially transiting the Coral Sea! So exotic!

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Saturday, October 25, 2008
24 October- Day 4 on the BUMPY road to Oz
Today will not be our favorite day of the trip. At about 0330 this morning our genoa furling line chafed through releasing the whole genoa. You are not supposed to sail with the tension on the furling line for this reason. You are supposed to walk forward and put a pin in a little hole in the drum to hold it. Then of course, you would have to walk forward again to take the pin out should conditions worsen and you want to furl the whole sail. This is not exactly what you want to be doing when conditions warrant furling the darn thing in the first place!

Of course, you also don't want to have to deal with getting a flogging sail down in 20 knots and rough seas. And dark. Our soloution was to harden up the genoa (sheet it in for saiing) and then heave to and wait for daylight. Even in daylight, it wasn't a fun job, but we got the sail down and tied off on the starboard deck and soldiered on with reefed main, staysail, and old Perky. we needed the engine's help to point up sufficiently to get across a mid-ocean ridge we wanted to take at a certain place.

We should cross the ridge later this evening. the winds are backing into the south and are forecast to go southeast and the seas are already easing off a bit. That should make the last of our trip a little easier, letting us shake a reef or two out of the main and reach off the wind into Bundaberg. Right now, it looks like we might arrive sometime monday, but if not, it will be Tuesday morning. At this point I need to shift to using my computer for navigation (don't have a chip for Australia for the plotter), so once I do that, I MAY not be able to switch between the sat phone and the computer GPS. So if you don't hear from us, don't worry!

Really looking forward to Bundaberg!

The 2 Cs
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Friday, October 24, 2008
23 October 2008 - Day 3 on the Road to Oz
0731 UTC/1831AEST: S 23*05'; E161*12'. Last night was one of those absolute gifts Mother nature sends along now and then. We managed to sail along at 5-6 knots in 7-8 knots of wind! Definitely one of the miracles of sailing. With the breeze out of the N-NW, we were actually close hauled, but with no sea to speak of, we had T2s full main and genoa out all night. Bioluminescence sparked in our wake, and here and there were the occasional explosions of phosphoresence that I haven't seen since the Virgins. Overhead, the stars glittered clear and bright with only an occasional incursion of cloud, and a yellow planet in the western sky -- I am guessing Saturn-- set around one a.m stealing a tremendous amount of ambient light. But by three the waning moon was up lighting the cockpit for Don's watch. I write all this tonight in an effort to remember how grand it can be.

Because it isn't now. We drove through the frontal barrier about 8am this morning. It was a relatively non-event, just a long line of clouds and rain, that was surprisingly narrow. On the back side the wind began to build out of the west, right on the nose as predicted. We motorsailed awhile and then finally fell off in hopes of sailing. The good news is the engine has been off all afternoon. The bad news is that it has been a bumpy ride in thewrong direction. However, as the sun sets, the wind is inching toward the south, and we are eeking our way back around on course.

Tomorrow the wind should be out of the south, a better direction, but we are forecast to get the big swells. Oh, joy!

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Thursday, October 23, 2008
22 October 2008 - Day 2 on the road to Oz
0912 UTC/2012AEST: S 22*57'; E162*54'. Today was another fine day, if one of a different sort. The wind died out in the wee hours last night, and Perky was called in. We motored in gradually lessening seas which made it possible for each of us to get some good sleep. Midday we were able to set the sails again and achieve some decent motorsailing, and by 5pm, we had shut down and were managing to sail five knots in 6-9 knots apparent. I know no self-respecting sailor likes to motor, but it is very hard to begrudge a decent motorsail, especially in easy seas. Our friends Randy and Sheri on Procyon, with a deeper sail inventory, managed to keep sailing, crisscrossing back and forth across the rhumb line. Last night they ranged far enough away that we couldn't keep up our VHF radio rendezvous, so I was pretty surprised when I looked up from my bookthis morning to see their blue and white Code Zero headsail coming back at us from the south! A retired Coast Guard Captain, Randy has been talking me through me some functions on my radar I never knew existed! This evening we had a fabulous sunset with a great green flash followed by a nice supper of Indian lentil dal I managed to whip up under way. Australia will most likely relieve of us of alot of our food stores upon arrival, so we are eating all sorts of things that have been hidden away in the larder.

Our day tomorrow is not likely to be as nice. The wind we are sailing under as I type is very light fom the northwest when typical wind is the se trades. A low way to the south of us is going to bring us headwinds tomorrow from the West and eventually some big swells and brisk southerlies. But for now, we'll enjoy another night of gentle seas and stars.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008
21 October 2008 -2Cs Underway
0640 UTC/1640AEST: S 22*32'; E 165*25'. We have had a rollicking first day out. Great weather, great wind, great progress. We left with a small flotilla at 8:30 this morning and have been accounting for ourselves quite smartly, maintaining 6-7.5 knots most of the day. Wind is up a bit coming on to sunset, so we will probably take a reef in the main. Looking forward to a starry night with plenty of mastlights around us!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008
2C Update 081021
Had a very nice birthday yesterday. Lots of B-day wishes by email and in person. The Rally we are in to Australia has a radio net, and the controller startled me by wishing me a happy B-day. Actually he said, "I hope Don is taking you out to a fancy dinner tonight." and I said, What? And he said, "Well, it's your birthday isn't it?" This Rally is REALLY organized! The result is, EVERYBODY knew it was my birthday...which is kind of fun. We spent the morning with friends checking out of New Caledonia, what one of them called "The Trifecta" of paperwork. The offices for immigration, customs and the port captain were spread all over the place, so we got a good walk in in good compnay. Then, hungry, we all treated ourselves to a lunch at a nice bistro on the park in town. Four of six had steak and frites, but Paula and I had a "swordfish brick", which proved to be a small piece of fish, leeks, cheese wrapped in filo accompanied by a carrot mousse and salad! And it was cheaper than the steak! Really felt finally like we were in "France."

I'm sure you've noticed that I haven't yet done an update on our time in Noumea. didn't get done. But we had a good time, and it will get written up. However, this morning we are weighing anchor and getting underway for Australia. it is not an ideal forecast, but mostly it errs on lighter winds than heavy, but for one day with headwinds and big swell from the southern ocean. That will be obnoxious, but in trade we get nice weather for our departure and our arrival, which seems the more important. So, off we go. I will try to make daily postings of our progress.

Love to all -- Don & Gwen , the Two Captains

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Sunday, October 12, 2008
5-11 October 2008 –Baie de Prony
By the time we passed the reef off Île Ugo, the chief obstacle on the northbound leg from Île du Pins to Baie de Prony, the wind had intensified to about 20 knots. With the full main and genoa up, old T2 was honking along at 8 knots as we bore off for the marker on the end of Prony Reef. We had ventured a radio hail for our friends Randy and Sheri of Procyon on the off chance they were in the vicinity and were pleasantly surprised to learn they had just turned into Prony themselves about an hour earlier and were dropping the hook in the first anchorage to the east.

Baie de Prony is named for the vessel that first explored it in 1854. Only ten years later a "forestry industry" began here using convict labor. (New Caledonia was, like Australia, initially a penal colony.) Throughout the bay are sprinkled ruins of convict "settlements," but there are no remains of the forest. I've been told that the original forest cover was the huge, slow-growing kauri pine that was popular in shipbuilding. Not sure if this is correct. It is hard to imagine. There is none of it remaining, and no evidence of replanting. The hills as far as you can see are red earth, thinly covered by green scrub with great orange gashes of landslides and erosion. It is sad but oddly beautiful.

We were surprised that Procyon would take the very first anchorage because Baie de Prony has no fewer than 16 identified anchorages within it, six of which alone are in the large eastern interior bay called Bonne Anse. Anchorage "A", as it is dubbed in the cruising guide, is right out behind the wooded point that merges with Prony Reef and is only protected from southeasterly winds, which, granted, are the predominant winds in the region. Well, it proved to be an outstanding choice, because the wide open view to the west – over Prony Reef to Île Ouen and the Woodin Channel -- then north to the multicolored hills backing the western side of the Baie de Prony -- was simply awesome, morning, midday, evening and even by moonlight!

Randy and Sheri had, unfortunately, been forced to spend nearly a month in Noumea after Randy had a mishap learning to kite-board and rammed a piece of coral well up into his foot. This became quite infected and ended up needing surgery, and his back compounded his misery by going into spasms. He was not a happy camper for a few weeks. However, he had as good an experience with the French medical system in Noumea as we had in Raiatea, and, in the end, Noumea is not a bad place to recuperate with its delightful market right at the head of the marina. The good news for us is that the Procyons would otherwise have already been on their way to Australia, and now they will be making that trip the same time as we.

We had a lovely afternoon and evening visiting aboard Procyon, which is a custom-built Gozzard 44, a truly beautiful boat with an owner's open layout placing a spacious dining/living area in the triangular space where usually there would be a forepeak cabin. We did steaks and baked potatoes on the grill, and relished a green salad with fresh ingredients and talked boat talk around their lovely dining table. It was a fleeting reunion, though as early the following the morning, they were underway south to the Isle of Pines. We, however, were left with the gorgeous view to ourselves.

We lingered there a day working on various projects, then the next morning raised anchor to poke around the other five anchorages in Bonne Anse. One of the reasons Randy and Sheri has stopped so quickly is that they had seen a number of boats precede them in this direction. Over the course of the following day, we'd watched most of them leave again, so when we motored east ourselves, we were pleased to see that all but one boat had departed. We chose anchorage "E" on the north side of the bay in which to put the hook down as the forecast was calling for the wind to clock around to the north. Anchorage "E" was a cove of eroded orange hills laced with green, a red sand beach backed by a grove of green trees, and a wide semi-circle of shoals completely sedimented in red silt. Grandterre's red and green color scheme, so eyecatching at a distance, is rather intense up close, and in anchorage "E" we had totally sacrificed the long view. It was, however, quite a bit warmer, a function, I think, of both the wind shift to the north and the encircling land mass. Plus, again, we were totally alone…that is, except for the flies.

We had heard mention of the fly problem on the radio but had not imagined its degree. We paid the price for being late getting our screens up as the interior of the boat was beseiged. We are talking hundreds. The flyswatter was excavated and put to constant use. There is one redeeming feature of flies; they go to sleep at night, so you can. Okay, and they don't bite. But, Jiminy Christmas they are IRRITATING!

Our second morning in Anchorage "E", we dinghied across the bay to a trailhead leading to the lighthouse atop Cap Ndoua. This is the very important leading light for the Havanna Passage, the main ship entry from the east. We secured the dinghy off a nice little red sand beach and easily found the trail. Once upon a time, this trail was a road, but erosion has carved deep gullies in the bed, and recent rains or perhaps just the morning dew made the hard-packed clay very slick. We emerged from the tunnel of trees about half-way up and climbed the rest of the way to the light flanked by hip-high brush but with awesome views in every direction. What's really amazing about this panorama is that there is hardly any sign of man in it, discounting the light itself and its associated equipment, some ruins on a lower plateau, and a couple of red earth roads winding off to the east. That the hike is a popular one is attested to by a "flagpole" where hikers have hung items of clothing (including a pair of bikini panties) as well as a curious form of natural graffiti: the entire vale just east of the light is filled with "signatures" shaped from assembled rocks and then framed in a rectangle of rocks. I suggested we put together a "Tackless II was here" or "The Two Captains were here", but Don pointed out that either would take a lot of rocks.

But here's a peculiar thing. No flies on shore!

The illusion of "little sign of man" proved to be just that: An illusion. As we motored out of Bonne Anse that afternoon to check out some of the anchorages on Prony's western side, a huge industrial complex was revealed filling up the whole eastern part of the bay! Just over the ridge from where we'd been anchored! Now we know that the great lume of light we'd been seeing in the sky since Port Boisé is not Noumea at all, but this plant! The cruising guide describes a rock crushing facility here, which it claims closed in 1968. Whatever this is, it is neither defunct nor old!

Once revealed, it tuned out to be pretty hard to shake the specter of that monstrosity. We motored behind a little resort island called Ilot Casy up into the western arm of the bay, but still bits of the factory kept sticking up above the landmasses we tried to put between us and it. We were intending to go all the way up the bay to its fjord-like end, an area known as Carenage, with two hurricane-hole anchorages and some hot springs. But Don's interest was waning fast, so we turned instead towards a cove called Anse Sebert. Imagine our surprise when we rounded the point and found not just four other boats (one of them our buddies on Avior), but moorings!

We aren't sure who put these moorings here, but there are about ten of them. The chart shows a village nearby, but Jim and Paula of Avior did a walk ashore and found only ruins amongst which there appeared to be holiday "shacks." So perhaps they are the work of a Noumea-based cruising club. However, the landing was not in the possession of vacationers today, but a squadron of military types with a small fleet of inflatables. Over the course of the afternoon, a helicopter landed, took off, circled and landed over and over, and guys with rifles hid behind trees and tried to look inconspicuous, ignoring Jim and Paula as they took their walk! Later, while the four of us relaxed and pondered the situation over some cocktails, eight inflatables with eight men in each paddled off into the night. That it was a training maneuver and not a guerrilla takeover was suggested by lead and tail-gunner dinghies sporting engines and running lights!

The big attraction in Anse Sebert for non-military types is the nearby dive site Recif de L'Aiguille (Needle Reef), a rock spire that ascends nearly to the surface from about 80 feet right in the middle of the channel. Our dive gear, all nicely serviced in Fiji, has been sitting largely unused this season, and quite honestly, if it hadn't been for Paula's determination, it might still be packed away. The hesitation (besides pure laziness) has been the water temp. Readings have hovered at about 74-75 degrees on the surface which suggests colder temps below. This is about three degrees colder than the winter temp in the Virgin Islands, and up until the last few days, air temps have been pretty chilly, too. Have I mentioned that Don and I foolishly took our heavier wetsuits back to Florida? Well, we hadn't needed them since Mexico! But, at 0830 the next morning, after seeing Avior's gear start to emerge, we decided we wouldn't be wimps and started excavating and donning every bit of gear we still have. For us that meant Lycra suits topped by Polartec suits and hoods, booties and gloves. I was lucky to also have a neoprene chicken vest to add to my get-up.

It was, in short, a great dive! From about 60 feet up to about eight feet below the surface, the spire is encrusted with corals, sponges and a crazy variety of shellfish. Visibility was good and the sunlight just right to highlight some unusual formations. Huge groupers, that folks in these parts call cod, poked up from the depths to check us out, a pair of huge batfish kept shyly just ahead of us, while lovely pale spotted hinds (which folks in these parts call grouper or coral trout) tried to camouflage themselves against pale coral "stalagmites." According to the cruising guide, fresh water comes out the tops of these unusual formations, which must be how these reverse concretions have accumulated! In fact, it is probably how the how structure came to be, a fresh water leak in the seafloor depositing its minerals in a climbing tower eventually aided by reef building corals. Tiny little bi-color damsels darted hither and thither, while bigger "tropicals" wove around us. Presumably because this is a preserve, the fish were not particularly fearful. (That's, of course, because they didn't know what Don was thinking; he did a lot of "finger-shooting"!) We all surfaced delighted and wondering what we'd been waiting for!

By evening the weather had turned gray and rainy, but several of us were invited aboard the catamaran Lady Nada for an impromptu cocktail party. Lady Nada and Heat Wave were the hosts, and Avior and Tackless II the guests. Lady Nada is a big catamaran single-handed by its builder David, and Heat Wave is a fast monohull skippered by an attractive German woman, Bridgit and her partner in the boat Lee. All of us had been on the ICA Rally from Vanuatu, but we'd not gotten to know the others (other than Avior) very well. It was quite the international evening with a South African (David), Englishman (Lee), German (Bridgit), Scot (Paula), Aussie, Jim and we two Americans. Sadly, no one had invited the one French boat that came in..

On Friday, the weather stayed overcast and grew blustery, evaporating any enthusiasm to revisit the dive site. Instead, the group began to disperse leaving only Tackless and the French boat in the anchorage. In the afternoon, we grew antsy enough to dinghy to shore to check out, now that the military had vacated, the walks that Jim and Paula had found. After securing the dinghy to a nice floating dock, we found a detailed map of 14 kilometers of trails through the Prony preserve area! Wow! We could have walked up to the Carenage anchorage! One sure could spend some time here! Unfortunately, we only had a few hours until sunset, but we set out to the north along the shoreline following a well marked path around the headland to Prony Village.

At an intersection in the middle of the woods we stumbling upon a display answering some of the questions we'd had about the forest industry here. According to the display, Prony village was established in 1865 to house convict labor set to the task of felling the native big kauri pines and gum oaks. Right on a section of the trail was built an example of the wooden rail system that had been used in those days to move the huge logs. Smooth log rails were laid across wooden ties on which were mounted big wooden sleds, maybe thirty feet long. On these were secured an entire tree trunk. Even with this fairly slick system, there must have been a lot of back-breaking labor for the convicts, not the least of which was getting the log onto the sled. On the hill above this display was the convict cemetery lost in second growth woods, where, if a sign didn't tell you there were graves there, nothing else would suggest it. Further along the path were stone-wall ruins of the penitentiary, now incorporated into what do appear to be weekend cottages. Around them, several freestanding stone walls, even one entire building, had been totally encapsulated by the roots of banyan trees! The cottages were planted artfully with flowering shrubs, and everything looked like a landscaped park. Whatever one may say about the French colonial system, one has to be impressed with the infrastructure. Not just the roads and utility poles that impressed us in the Loyalties, but the details of these parks, the well-groomed trails and signposts, the first class docks and wharves. It is so noticeable, of course, because we are talking first world management in a third-world situation.

On our way back to the dock, Don noticed that there was another marker on the fringing reef just like the one we had all tied to when diving on Recife de l'Aiguille. On second look we realized, it WAS the marker we had tied to! Somehow, within the preceding few hours, it had broken free and drifted to shore! This is not good, considering the reef comes to within a few feet of the surface! It also would not have been cool to have been down on the dive when it came loose! (Of course, we were diving in calm conditions, and it was currently blowing about 20 knots.) On our way back to the boat, we stopped to introduce ourselves to and chat with the French couple of Fidelio (turns out they are physicians who have lived aboard 30 years and worked in Martinique, Nuku Hiva, and Noumea.) Just as we were suggesting that they – with their better French - call Noumea Radio to report the displaced "balise", up zooms a Marine Patrol boat, and within minutes it was on the notice to mariners!

As we climbed back aboard Tackless II we were of mixed emotions about whether to go or stay longer. It would have been nice to explore more of the trails. Indeed it would have been nice to spend several more weeks checking out all the rest of Prony's anchorages. But with Noumea still waiting and the month ticking down fast, we opted in the end to move on.

By the way, I forgot to mention that when we went to shore for the hike, I sprayed the beejezus out of the interior of the boat with bug spray meant for mosquitoes that we'd filched from our Fiji hotel room. By the time we got back, the fly problem was history! Now, keep those screens closed!

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008
29 September – 5 October 2008 – The Isle of Pines
Some forty miles south of Grand Terre and anchoring the southern corner of New Caledonia's large southern lagoon is the famous Ile du Pins (Isle of Pines). Touted in travel literature as the jewel of New Caledonia, the Isle of Pines is not especially eye-catching when approaching from the sea. Its main mountain, Pic N'Ga, seemingly sort of poking up through a great flat circular drape of green, is only 262 meters high, and its shores are surrounded by a maze of reefs making it problematic to move between the southern anchorages near Kuto to the northern ones off Gadji.

It is up close that the island reveals its charms with picturesque anchorages fringed by powdery white sand beaches and whispering araucaria pines. These pines, related to Norfolk pines, grow tall and slim, usually in clumps Oddly, all the pines near where we anchored sport ten to fifteen feet of new growth at the top, making them look like Christmas trees have been grafted to their tips. Some environmental event in the recent past – drought or hurricane perhaps – must be responsible.

As we sailed south from Grand Terre, we hooked up with our friends Tricky and Jane of Lionheart, last seen over a month ago kite-surfing at Musket Cove. They had chosen to skip Vanuatu this season and hurry on to New Caledonia where there was said to be good locations for their new passion. Much of this past month, they have spent around Noumea where Maitre Island is a kiting mecca. It was our good fortune that they had decided to head south to the Isle of Pines at the same time as we, and that we had both chosen the southern anchorage group.

Upon arrival, the main anchorage of Kuto had a bunch of boats already at anchor, so we decided to try the smaller, but empty Kanumera anchorage, on the opposite side of the same "presque'ile", (a lovely French word for "almost island) for which we were lucky to have the right wind conditions for one night. Lionheart dropped anchor in the western lobe of the bay while we tucked into the eastern lobe. This was a lovely pool defined by massive limestone knobs at the entrance and a perfect curve of white sand. There was, of course, an upscale gite in the corner, with tourists taking the sun in lounge chairs and others paddling around in kayaks. So we did sort of feel like we'd anchored dead in the middle of the resort's swimming pool.

We, of course, could have sat there and enjoyed the scenery all afternoon, but Tricky and Jane saved us from such idleness by collecting us for a walk to the bakery. The walk to the bakery took us across the isthmus between Kanumera and Kuto, with a memorable grove of bugny trees (rather like live oaks with twisted trunks and an interwoven canopy), along the huge beach at Kuto, and then inland along a paved road. Our first stop was little store with basic groceries and, of all things, a Croc boutique! This in a region where Croc copies at half to a quarter the price of originals clad probably 50% of the feet! But they had every Croc style imaginable. After ice cream from the store, the boys lost interest in the walk, so Jane and I padded on another kilometer or so to eventually find the bakery, where…. there was only two baguettes left! Finding a bakery for fresh baguettes is a popular endeavor in French islands, although trying to figure out when you can actually get a loaf other than from 5-7am can be challenging.

The next morning we all went ashore early and met up with our Aussie friends Jim and Paula of Avior for a hike up Pic N'Ga. The trail up starts out shaded, but soon opens out into low scrub and red rubble so reminiscent of hiking in the Sea of Cortez it was eerie. About an hour each way, the top affords a nearly 360-degree panorama of the island and its reefs. Hot and footsore afterwards, we stopped back at the beachside "Snack" (French for affordable place to get anything to eat), for our first Number One beers and a "Sandwich Americain", which is the baguette version of a hamburger and fries rolled into one. How is it the French tend to be slim with all the bread they eat!?! Although a nap would have been my Number One choice for the afternoon, a forecast wind shift suggested we'd best move around to Kuto before nightfall, which we did. Our reward was to find that Kuto is an anchorage full of turtles, something we really haven't enjoyed since the Virgin Islands, plus it is a fine place for a green flash.

The next morning we were up early and on the road by 0630 hoofing it to the village of Vao where there was said to be a Wednesday morning market. We caught a ride in the back of a pick up truck the last few kilometers to find that most everybody at the market were fellow cruisers. The market was very small, but the ladies present did have some lettuce, cabbage, green beans, christophene, carrots and papaya as well as some "market eats". This kind of grazing is one of Don's favorite activities. Here he could choose from sweet crepes to chowmein filled roll-ups, from pineapple cake to some sort of fried banana fritter. Vao is a pretty village with a beautiful church, framed by two schools on either side. The little ones about Kai's age were all assembling for the day as we walked past. It was surprising how westernized they seemed, with their cute little outfits and knapsacks. There was even one youngster peddling to school on his little bicycle with training wheels (much like Kai's Elmo bike), with Dad bringing up the rear (and providing the bulk of the propulsion.) To counter the market snacks, we walked the whole the 6K back. Somewhat pumped by the walk and wired by several cups of caffeinated coffee (we usually drink decaf), we fell to boat projects in the afternoon and got a lot done. The day actually ended with some dancing in the cockpit to our wedding CDs.

That forecast wind shift came through with a vengeance bringing brisk winds from the south. In this part of the world, southerly wind means cold, and we had trouble keeping warm the next couple of days. The plan was to rent a car with Avior on Thursday, but the morning kind of expired without managing to get the car rented. In the end, we lined it up for Friday, which meant we could start by hitting the Vao market again. This time, little lettuce but avocados and fresh herbs!

After depositing our groceries back at the boat, the four of us set off with Don at the wheel (since Jim and Paula figured he'd be better at the left hand drive/driving on the right thing!) The morning was overcast, which was disappointing, and I wondered as we set out clockwise around the island, taking all the turns for each of the bays, if a car for a full day would be a waste of money. After all, it is not so large an island. Our first couple of stops, two of which over-looked the alternative anchorages of Ouameo and Gadji, were underwhelming without sunlight. In the latter at least were several masts poking up from behind an offshore islet.

Things got better when we turned down the access road for the Grotte de La Reine Hortense (Cave of Queen Hortense.) To begin with, it was the first time we had a sense of the Kanak tribes still living here (there are eight clans dividing the island who manage to live relatively traditionally among the tourists), as we passed a field where men and women were cooperatively hoeing a potato field. At the cave itself, was a booth for collecting a 200cpf admission per person…on the honor system, although a lady magically appeared when we needed to make change. (I must make note that this nice lady was the first New Caledonian, Kanak or French, to be overtly friendly!)

What a lovely spot! This is a "don't miss" for anyone visiting Ile du Pins. Set in a cool canyon of forest, the caretakers have planted what essentially is a mini botanical garden. (Of particular interest to me were the very tall trees, which Jim identified as iliocarpus (sp), a tree species I planted in Crystal River! Mine was pruned to look like a Christmas tree. Who knew!) The cave itself is huge! A cavernous maw with a stream meandering into it, the cave penetrates back far enough for it to get quite dark until you reach the far end lit by a gap in the roof. All sorts of stalactites hang from the roof, some growing at an angle as if drawn by the light! At the end is a platform of rock said to be the Queen's bed when she reputedly hid here during tribal wars in the 1850s.

When we were finished taking pictures of ourselves standing in front of various stalactites, we drove on to the Baie d'Oro. Here, on an islet of its own, is the five-star Meridien Hotel. We got no further than the front gate which is atmospherically on the far side of a bridge over a moat-like salt water inlet beset by pine trees. We could have gone on, if we'd been of a mind to pay $60pp for lunch! Instead we found our way to the charming little Gite Chez St. Regis, which perches on the other side of the saltwater moat. Here we had a local beer and tasty omelets with fines herbes and lardons (the French's less charming word for fatty bacon). What we didn't know we could have had, had we ordered ahead, was a chicken/fish/lobster bougna, a local delicacy cooked in coconut milk in a big round packet of banana leaves. That's what most of the tourists who filled in after us had.

The big draw in this part of the island (for those not staying at the Meridien) is the "piscine naturelle", a beautiful natural swimming pool of bright shallow sand occurring between three rocky islands. We walked from Chez Regis across the "moat" and along a trail leading to the piscine with every intent (at least by Paula) to go swimming. But although the clouds had cleared during lunch and the "piscine" was every bit as inviting as advertised, it was just too cold in that southern wind for cruisers to peel off and get wet. Only the dozen or so young Asian tourists (Paula talked to a couple who were Korean) were actually getting in the water!

On our walk back occurred a small mishap. Following the path with my eyes on my feet, I managed to walk full bore into a low tree limb. I cannot even claim the excuse of wearing a ball cap. The result is a charming scabby scrape dead center between my eyes as well as, at the time, a headache. Although this somewhat dimmed my pleasure in the rest of the afternoon, it did not stop us from a 40 minute hike through the woods to see the Baie de Upi, a huge, totally enclosed lagoon filling up the whole southwest corner of the island. Reaching it, however, was anticlimactic as it smelled rather distinctly sewer-like!

Our last stop of the day was the Baie de St. Joseph, just off Vao again, where they are famous for large traditional sailing canoes on which the locals take tourists for rides. The daysails were well over for the day, but as yachties we were interested to see the huge dugouts up close.

We relaxed in the Kuto anchorage one more day, visiting with Tricky and Jane some more, as well as meeting their friends Paul and Glor, who just bashed their way here from Australia on their brand new Fontaine Pajot catamaran. The weather stayed chilly, and clouds brought occasional showers. When we woke early Sunday morning after a night of rain, it did not look especially optimistic for our planned departure, but by golly we were underway by 0600 and by 0800 the skies had cleared and we were enjoying a fine fine reach north, bound for the Baie de Prony.

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Saturday, October 4, 2008
25-29 September 2008 – Hunkered Down in Port Boisé
The cruisers' world occasionally offers up little corners like Port Boisé where you can tuck away with little sight of civilization and stay indefinitely. In a bay already protected by reef, a dogleg to the northeast offers further protection. "Boisé means "wooded" in French, and the low hills embracing the bay are indeed thickly wooded. Above the ridge, however, poke stark mountains of red earth brushed with thin green groundcover that distinguishes at least this part of Grandterre's coastline. We cannot guess whether this is naturally so or the result of deforestation. The French reputedly have had a heavy hand in New Caledonia.

In Port Boisé there's a new-ish looking wharf of red stone and wood extending from a raw cut of red road emerging from the woods. There's also lighted nav aids and a power boat moored on the other side (which we finally figured out was a pilot boat positioned for ships transiting the Havana Passage), but otherwise there were no houses in sight. At the head of the dogleg a river empties fresh water into the cove turning the water murky, and visitors should beware of the abrupt shallows that fill the north part of the cove. For a spate of bad weather, Port Boisé was perfect.

By the time we woke from our post-passage nap, the first drizzle had started, so it was clearly perfect for a movie afternoon. After picking around through some unsatisfactory DVDs, we ended up watching "The Holiday," a limply-named but fun chick flick about two very different women - from LA and England -- who do a vacation house swap s a remedy for love lives gone sour. By the end of the movie the rain was steady and dark had fallen, but despite being twenty-six miles from Noumea the whole northwestern sky was lit with the lume of New Caledonia's big city.

It rained all night and pretty much all the next day. It has been a long time since we've had this kind of rain, and it was exactly what the boat needed since, after all the hard bashing to windward we've done this past month, Tackless II must have salt as high as the spreaders. We passed the day pretty much cocooned aboard, reading and writing, and going outside only to open up the deck fills to top off our water tanks once we were confident the decks had been well-rinsed. A third boat ducked into the anchorage to get out of the weather in the late afternoon, but our first awareness of it was when we heard the roar of its engine in reverse as it backed off that shoal behind us.

We woke the next morning to clouds, but neither rain nor wind. In a burst of energy we pumped up the kayaks and went for a paddle, exploring over the abruptly shallow shoals, along the shore to the little river. There'd been enough rain to feed several small cascades that made quite the babble as we paddled a short ways upriver as far the first rapids. This was a pretty spot, and it's a shame we couldn't get further. Instead we backtracked out and followed the shoreline around to the wharf, scaring up a pair of buff-colored herons of a sort we'd never seen before.

As we'd entered Port Boisé, we'd noticed a fancy-looking building poking up through the pines on the point that was either a very fancy private home or some sort of resort. So we beached the kayaks near the wharf and set out up the road into the woods to explore. As we reached the top of the rise, the woods thinned to low bush and the road intersected a paved lane. We took the turn to the right and walked about two kilometers following the sign to the Gite Kanua. This was a much fancier gite than Chief George's huts in Lifou, with a very fancy main restaurant building at the center. There were only four bungalows in view around the driveway, but we think there must be more down another lane. Evidently in the midst of some renovations, they were not quite open, even though a cluster of tables were set up, and in the French way, the people we spoke to were not very welcoming. Somewhat disappointed because we had thought we might splurge on a restaurant lunch, we got permission to walk down to their beach, but just as we reached it the rain returned, so we scampered back up the hill and persuaded them to sell us a beverage while we sat the shower out. Incredibly we made it all the way back to the boat dry and later enjoyed a lovely evening of wine and snacks with Jim and Paula aboard Avior. (We think we have a divided life! Jim and Paul have a house in Australia and a house they're building in Scotland!)

Although the next morning finally showed shreds of clear sky above us, the French forecast was calling for more "averses" (showers), so we stayed put doing various chores while Avior went exploring. This time it was their turn to get caught by the returning bands of rain that utterly whited out the visibility. We were very glad we hadn't second-guessed the forecast and set out for the Isle of Pines, some forty miles away through the southern lagoon.

The reward for our patience the next morning was a crystal clear sky and a glorious dawn. We and Avior were underway by 0530 to take advantage of the calm to motor southeast, a direction usually dead to windward. The coast of Grandterre was utterly gorgeous in this early light of sunrise, its bare red mountains, despite the greenery below, oddly suggestive of our favorite Sea of Cortez.

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