10,500 miles from France - or are we?

John & Susan Simpson
Sun 1 Oct 2023 05:41
Having left Vanuatu (named by Captain Cook, The New Hebrides) we came next to New Caledonia, also named by him; Captain Cook was clearly remembering Scotland when he was in this part of the world!  We hadn’t actually intended to stop in New Caledonia and had set sail from Vanuatu for Brisbane, Australia.  However, the sea state was so rough that after 300 miles (and two days) of purgatory, we decided to call in for a bit of respite rather than sail on by.  Our route would have taken us through the lagoon that surrounds New Caledonia anyway and it was a convenient place to wait for better conditions.
The landscape of New Caledonia does have a look of Scotland

New Caledonia is a French territory, having been annexed by France in 1853 to stop the British getting hold of it and with the added benefit of providing France with somewhere to send their convicts and political outcasts post-revolution.  We've experienced quite a few French island territories now, and also spent a couple of months in the French Riviera last year, so we feel we have a few benchmarks to go on.  We were expecting New Caledonia to feel mostly Polynesian mixed with a bit of French culture and probably quite a lot of Australian or New Zealand influence.  We couldn’t have been more wrong.  New Caledonia feels as French as Montpellier or Cannes and the architecture and street scenes around the marina in Noumea look much the same as those in any of the seaside towns we saw on the French Riviera.  We were excited to find boulangeries selling freshly-baked croissants and wonderful crusty French bread, and a Carrefour supermarket full of French cheeses and other delicacies.  There’s even a Decathlon store, athough we didn’t succumb to visiting it.  We’re flying the French courtesy flag on the boat and the local language is French.  The only noticeable difference is that the currency isn’t the Euro it’s the Central Pacific Franc (XPF).  There are 142 XPF to the pound - not an easy calculation when you’re shopping!  How is it possible to be so very French and be 10,500 miles from the mother country?  Mining (for nickel, magnesium, iron, cobalt, chromium and manganese) is a key part of New Caledonia’s economy so perhaps that’s why maintaining the territory is worthwhile for France.

We’ve branched off from the World ARC Pacific rally now but a number of our fellow participants have done the same and are heading towards Australia with us.  All nine boats in our current fleet decided to stop off in New Caledonia so we very soon convened a get together at the marina bar in Noumea and made plans for social events whilst we are here.  
A Noumea get together for the crews of Walkabout, Elsie I, Mary Doll, Manuia, North Star, Escapade, Solis, Che Figata and Casamara

Bocce tournament at Baie des Citrons, New Caledonia - an international event with teams representing England, Scotland, the USA, Puerto Rico and Romania.  Nobody can remember who won!

We made good use of our electric scooters zipping around Noumea

A bring and share dinner party for 26 of us on board Elsie I - the only boat in the group big enough to host us all!

John led the entertainment for the evening!

Of the nine boats in New Caledonia, three will stay on for a few weeks, either waiting for the right weather to get to New Zealand or just taking the time to explore a bit more before setting off for Australia.  Six boats will continue to Brisbane - three of us to the same marina - where no doubt there will be more socialising before we all finally go our separate ways.  

The World ARC Pacific Rally has been a fantastic experience, made all the more so due to the friends we have made.  The skipper of Elsie I wrote to us all after last night’s party to thank us all for coming.  These were his words….. “As we continue through the Pacific each of us is embarking on unique and extraordinary adventures.  Our participation in the ARC Pacific rally has been an incredible voyage, allowing us to explore the world’s wonders.  One thing I’ll never change my perspective on is the remarkable opportunity it offers to connect with incredible human beings.  We’ve cultivated a tight-knit family and a wonderful camaraderie across the fleet.  Regardless of circumstances, we always find reasons to celebrate and stay in high spirits.”  We echo his words.  It’s been an incredible experience and we’ll miss the friends we’ve sailed with for the last 8 months.