Vanuatu to New Caledonia
Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Fri 12 Sep 2008 22:14
Luganville, at the southern end of Espiritu Santo, is a small town, rather scruffy, but containing all essential services. After our experiences of the simple life on some of the other islands of Vanuatu we needed food and gas and we rather welcomed a bit of quiet comfort. Our sheltered mooring, belonging to the Aore Island Resort, fitted our needs admirably. During our 10 days there we were re-acquainted with some old faces and made some new brief friendships. At a distance these very short relationships might appear frustrating but they are nevertheless enriching. A young(ish) German architect and his wife were very interesting part-time companions for a few days and we enjoyed some fascinating exchanges with a French couple with 2 small girls on a very fast and tender boat they had built themselves in New Zealand. I think the reason we can get such enjoyment so quickly is that we all share a common purpose and get off to a fast start each time.
We re-stocked with basic provisions, got our empty gas bottle filled and tried, without much success, to put a few things right. In particular, we were in trouble with a leaky boat and defective bilge pumps. I thought that at least I should be able to get the manual pump to work but to my chagrin I had to give up in the end after taking the thing off six times, replacing all the renewable bits and carefully re-making all joints. We finally set off for New Caledonia having checked on the position and condition of all the ship's buckets.
We intended to leave on the Saturday so went ashore on the resort's 0800 Friday ferry to check out with customs and immigration only to find that a public holiday had been declared that very morning! "Luganville Day". The young Germans were very put out. They were already 3 months late with their plans, were due to sail straight to Bali, three thousand miles away, the weather was propitious, their finely tuned 1976 Swan tightly stowed and they were properly psyched up. For us, it just meant a delay until the Tuesday, our initial frustration soon superseded by the pleasures of Aore. Mags used the opportunity to dive on the SS President Coolidge. I worked on the bilge pumps. We understand that the municipal authority at Luganville has been disbanded and there is a commission investigating corruption. My nice taxi driver and the very friendly gent at the Origin Gas depot reckon there might be some connection with the public holiday. Maybe the citizens want some relief from their troubles. It was good that many businesses remained open but difficult to understand why government servants should immediately down tools. On the Monday we had another go, which went more smoothly until we came to the final bureaucratic hurdle - payment of harbour dues. The relevant official was not in his office and might, or might not, "be in this afternoon". Ahead of us in the queue the German girl was magnificent. Handed the phone she spoke to the supervising officer (in English, of course), adopting just the right tone and agreed that his colleague would be with us within half an hour. He turned up in ten minutes and insisted on taking about half what we were expecting. Smiles and handshakes all round. Crisis over!
The first view of New Caledonia as we navigate the narrow passages between islands to Noumea.
On Tuesday morning we set off, an hour later than we really intended. At the end of the channel leading south-west from the town we had a close call with a reef necessitating "hard astern" and a quick roll-up of the genoa. We found our way round alright but it took a bit of time and then we discovered that the wind was quite contrary and we could not lay the course. We had to aim to traverse the pass through the reef round New Caledonia on a rising tide and in the morning because the tidal stream ebbs at up to 4 knots and the town of Noumea is still forty-five miles distant. It was clear that we should have to reconcile ourselves to four days and nights at sea instead of three - moderate gloom! We puttered on for two days, hard on the wind and expecting to tack after about forty-eight hours but then there was a favourable wind shift and I realised that we could motor-sail. If we really cracked on under sail and power we might make it in three rather than four. It was quite exciting; the wind was only force 4 to 5 and the sea moderate but we were travelling at 7 to 8 knots, the boat was well heeled and there was a good deal of spray. The mate was not entirely convinced that the heeling and discomfort was worth it for the sake of one night but agreed we should have a go. On too many occasions this season we have been battered or uncomfortable - now we were cruising gently along and the skipper wanted to up the pace. Fortunately for me the extra speed paid off and we made it in the nick of time, hared through the reef at 10 knots over the ground and had a wonderful sail round the south of the New Caledonia through narrow passages between islands along a zig-zag course between reefs until we found ourselves suddenly, at 1500, in sophisticated France among wet bikes, holiday hotels and three marinas full of locally owned boats. We just managed to complete the formalities before everything shut at 1600 and we relaxed, showered and went ashore to the marina cafe, indistinguishable by sight or sound from Mediterranean France. What a contrast! We have been round the town a few times now - we picked up our e-mails in a smoky internet cafe, ogled the shop windows and re-provisioned in Champion, just like home. Mags has been telling everyone lately that she could live the simple life among the islanders. It would do her good, she thinks, and there would be "time to stand and stare". However, she is thoroughly ashamed to find that she loved looking in the shop windows and wants to be off shopping. Fickle jade!
We have a few things to attend to. The inner forestay tensioner broke, not for the first time, but I have dealt with that on a temporary basis. We have had a first interview with "a man who does" - pumps in particular - but he is very busy and cannot attend upon us until 0730 Monday. A bit early for us!
In the meantime, once again, we are coming across old friends and making new ones. When we have got our bilges drier we plan to visit some off-lying islands and anchorages.