Back in Noumea

JJMoon Diary
Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Sun 12 Oct 2008 00:45
We are back in Noumea and the gang's all here.  Many crews are girding their loins for the last big hop of the season, back to Oz or New Zealand.  The marinas have been completely full for the past two weeks so we expected to have to anchor in one of the designated areas within the harbour but outside the marina walls.  The marina has been running a waiting list and the ladies in the office are charming and totally incorruptible; the smoothest talking rich Frenchman is given no greater priority than the meanest "rosbif".  When we arrived we were told there was no room but we could call back the following day.  But we were in luck; within two hours we were called to say there was a berth available.  We have "three days certain", then we are on notice on a day to day basis.  We have done two trips to the supermarket, sunk a few beers with groups of friends who keep appearing over the horizon and eaten an expensive meal ashore.  Back into the civilised swing of things.

We had a great time in the Isle of Pines; from our viewpoint it had everything; a beautiful bay, good company, two restaurants and local shops within walking distance so that the cruising lifestyle could be sustained indefinitely.  We hired a car to see all the island's interesting spots, had a look at the grim old ruins of the penal colony and took a difficult walk round part of the coast.  We could have stayed longer.  In fact we decided to leave on the Friday but woke up at 0545 to the sound of a very heavy shower.  We took this as a "sign", stayed in bed late and enjoyed another day in Paradise.
Baie de Kuto, Ile des Pins
Baie de Kuto, where we anchored on l'Ile des Pins.

Finally we headed north-west, spent the night on the island of Ouen and then sailed past Noumea to the Baie Maa.  This is a large and attractive bay with few boats for our one night stay but we soon met up again with relatively new friends Ashley and Brenda on Ashymakaihken.  Longstanding Aussie/Canadian friends of Ross and Sue, Ashley and Brenda have been round the world two and a half times over thirty-seven years in the same boat.  They have many interesting tales to tell and useful advice to offer.  We spent the evening with them in Maa and the following morning they suggested a trip out to the tiny islet of Mbe Kouen set in a crescent shaped protective reef.  Ashley helped Mags with a few wrinkles with her scuba diving gear.  Then, another glorious evening in good company with quite different surroundings.  The following morning we made the short passage to Noumea.
Ashymakaihken, Ashley and Brenda's boat, on a tranquil morning off the islet of Mbe Kouen. 
We think we have had success at last in our battle with the beasties.  We have kept this domestic struggle out of the blog because talk of cockroaches might have spoilt your suppers.  The little creatures are quite harmless but have been numerous, they are uninvited guests and we claim that we were here first.  The mate has waged unremitting warfare for five months with all the armaments at her disposal but until recently has made little progress; as fast as the little corpses mounted up they were reproduced.  Suddenly, we think she has won.  It may be the new little white killing houses we bought the last time we were here - we don't know.  But we are relieved to be alone at last.  Except - now we have flies.  There is always something.

On the way up from L'Ile des Pins we decided to try a new anchorage on the island of Ouen.  Port Koube is a large bay affording three good sheltered anchorages.  It is surrounded by hills, there was no sign of human habitation and we were the only boat in sight.  Lonely but lovely.  The bay is approached from the south and the north by narrow channels between the reef fringing the island and the off-lying reefs.  The gap in the fringing reef is small.  It all looks a bit tight on the chart but once you get into the channels pilotage is not really difficult because the coral shows up easily at the right time of day, particularly with Polaroid glasses, as bright green and brown.  Still, the channels wind a bit and vary in width so there is enough clear and present danger to maintain a measure of tension on board.  Coral is wicked, unforgiving stuff and accidents do happen.  We were told the other day of a boat that kissed the coral at speed and lived to tell the tale.  She was up, over and across the reef into deep water before the skipper had much time to take defensive action.  Afterwards he found nothing amiss below but there had been an awful grinding noise so he asked our informant, an engineer, to dive with him to assess the damage.   The boat has a wing keel and the outboard edges ("wing tips") are finished with a steel pipe each side.  On one side the pipe had been opened  for its full length to about one third of its circumference.  Our friend said that it would have taken him hours, perhaps days with an angle grinder to get the same effect.
Chart showing our track winding through the reefs.

One set of friends has been pulled off the coral twice this season and had two further narrow escapes when at anchor in bad weather.  Other friends have been aground in Tonga.  Two years ago one of the participants in the Blue Water round the world rally was lost on a coral reef off the coast of Venezuela and in the same rally Gipsy Moth IV was stranded in the Tuomotos but successfully salvaged.  In August this year one of the ARC World Rally boats drove on to Moore Reef while on passage from Port Vila, Vanuatu to Cairns.  The skipper and crew were taken off by helicopter but the boat, a French built 54ft Supermaramu, less than a year old, was lost.  After rescue the skipper, said to have nearly fifty years' experience, made the mistake of telling the press that the reef was not marked on the chart.  It turned out later that the reef had a name so that did not really wash.  It goes without saying that in every case mistakes were made but who has never made a mistake?  It keeps you humble.  And alert.

Depending a bit on berth availability here, and a great deal more on weather forecasts, we intend to leave for New Zealand any time between the 13th and 20th of the month.