Sliding down the Tropics

Sun 8 Sep 2019 20:53

Sliding south down the Tropics

After the excitement of seeing the young humpback breach alongside us just a few metres away Zoonie settled into her groove with her full headsail a taut wind filled curve and her kerchief of mainsail supporting her from behind the mast. The wind was a generous 22 knots at first but this settled to 14 to 16 knots from an accurately predicted direction enabling Zoonie to pursue a course to the waypoint off the pass between the Lifou and Mare islands of the Loyalty Group sailing a few degrees free of being close hauled.

Gallivanta and Kia Orama were both ahead of us their longer lengths and cat configuration giving them greater speed, so we knew they would soon be out of sight and VHF range. But before they were Robert called us up from Gallivanta to check us out and confirm we’d get together in Noumea; so we had that to look forward to.

Rob had also told us about two incidents with American visiting vessels in the Ile des Pins, an exquisite island to the south of the southern lagoon of New Caledonia, that have at least affected the locals attitudes to visiting yachts if not the official welcome of yachts to the area. On one occasion participants in a traditional ceremony were killing a turtle and when the Americans saw this they reported the incident to the police, thus criminalising those involved for doing what they have always done in order to eat, survive and pay their respects to their forefathers. No doubt the Americans were flesh eaters so the old adages “He who lives in glass houses should not throw stones,” and “Make your own house perfect first” come to mind. But most importantly as visitors we must be respectful to the locals and tactful when we witness the ways of our hosts. If environmental and ecological rules are being broken then it is to those agencies that an explanatory email could be sent stating emphatically that the sender does not want to incriminate anyone but this is what has been seen. Education, education, education might have been my softer more insightful approach. However on this important occasion there is no excuse for the actions of the visitors.

The second incident involved an American vessel towing a barge full with toys of the jet-ski, board and water ski kind. Without seeking permission from the local chief either to anchor or to use their toys they started whizzing around the bay wilfully ignorant of their crass and inappropriate behaviour. The locals sank the barge, boarded the vessel and told the startled crew what for before leaving them to beat a hasty retreat.

We have been told that yachts are only now welcome in one bay, Kanumera as part of a coral regeneration scheme and swimming in water less than 2 metres deep is forbidden to protect the delicate ecosystem of the seabed and shoreline. Three once popular bays are now no go areas to yachts so our way of protecting this beautiful area is to avoid it in Zoonie, we have plenty of beautiful photos on brochures to look at and imagine the place and there is always the option of an organised tour from Noumea maybe to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary coming up soon (?!).

Zoonie bowled on southwards, in fact on a due south heading and we had two nights of starlit skies to look forward to. During my off watch rest I heard Rob call up a cruise liner to ask if they were aware of our presence. That ominous pregnant pause followed, that has deafened us before, when the on watch officer searches their plotter screen for the as yet unnoticed vessel, whose AIS signal is loud and clear, and ‘confirms’ they have us in their sights.

So they were happy passing us at 1.73 miles distance? I drifted off to sleep once more and found Rob and I were driving around an area of pleasant Victorian town houses looking to buy one when we came across a young lady sitting in her back garden with a baby crying on her lap. She looked exhausted with this little creature who would not rest. Rob went to pick up the screaming child and as he cradled it in his arms it immediately quietened down and opened its big blue eyes, “There’s no wind,” he whispered, smiling, (no wind from the baby or outside?) and I awoke to find it was Rob suggesting we take in the mainsail as it was doing little work and see what just the headsail would give us.

We passed between Lifou and Mare of the Loyalty Islands in the dark, Zoonie having sailed 240 miles when we decided that as the wind was now becoming less constant and wanting to get anchored inside a reef in daylight we would start the engine and motor the remaining distance to the Havannah channel through the second largest barrier reef outside the Great Barrier off NE Aussie in the world. We visited the third largest off the north coast of Vanua Levu, Fiji last year in our van load of eight if you remember.

The white lighthouse on the reef to the right of the entrance channel confirms a night time entry is feasible into Goro Bay but as you know we always err on the side of caution if possible. We motored on in the flat water leaving a green buoy to starboard in the middle of the lagoon to avoid a shallow area, continued on past Cannibales Point (!) and anchored on sand in 15 metres just off the old nickel ore loading wharf with its two rusty gantries still pointing upward. On the top of one of them was an osprey nest where the single fledgling was being encouraged to take to the air by the infrequent visits of its parents.

Nowadays the nickel ore is processed at the quarry on the other side of the hill and is sent by conveyor belt laid through corridors cut in the red rock to the modern wharf in Prony Bay, (a delightful place we are in right now).

It was grand to be at anchor once more, by ourselves with just the birdsong around us and the distant roar of the surf on the reef. Occasionally a vehicle would go by on the road that hugged the shoreline but by evening we were alone and it was wonderful.

The next morning we set off early for the 41 miles to Noumea passing the elegant hills denuded of kauri and other building material trees and eroding dramatically in places revealing dried blood red scars amidst the dry shoreside forest and lower shrub-land higher up their ancient sides. The conveyor belt I mentioned was clearly visible as we passed Prony Bay.

The channel markers were all in place which was just as well as the day was grey and rainy and visibility limited. A ship passed us confirming our forward course for a few miles until she disappeared through Canal Woodin. Little crests and rims of white showed us where the numerous coral reefs were to our left but most were marked anyway. We moored alongside the outer wharf of Port Sud Marina (see photo) Zoonie feeling strangely constrained being tied both ends and in the middle after months of just a bow restraint.

Anne Marie eyed the only bio product I had on board, a pathetic and doomed quarter of white cabbage I found lurking in the bottom of the fridge a couple of hours before.

“I can make a salad and eat it today,”

“I have to take it” she said with an _expression_ of reluctant duty.

“I could stir fry it tonight?” No chance

“Keep the peg” she said as I popped it into her plastic bag, a waste of food and plastic!

Carolyn had given us the name of the Sail Doctor and we called him to arrange collection of the main. My rusty French came in handy as I chatted with Yves. Early the next morning a familiar voice whispered in my ear, “There’s no wind babe” so up we got before 5.00am to lower the mainsail and bag it ready for Yves. As I made my barefooted way along the side deck the inevitable happened, “Ouch” I tried to keep my exclamation quiet, then as I returned the other way so I stubbed the toe on the other foot, thinking quickly of the stupid logic of that I found the funny side and laughed out loud, LoL! Why then when I walk the same route in shoes do I not bash them against unforgiving objects like blocks Hmmm? The Law of Barb.

The main crackled as it came down so we did the job as quickly as possible to lessen the disturbance to our sleeping neighbours. The seam thread was broken all over the upper part of the sail and down the leach, outer edge, but hopefully this repair would put it right for good. Our second French repair, the first being in Guadeloupe if you remember.

We had to visit Immigration the next morning and then went to Johnson Supermarket to stock up, our trolley bulging behind us. We detoured to Coconut Square for a coffee and French pastry on the way back and noticed the abundance of ugly Modernist 70/80s architecture. Occasionally we found some of the few remaining French Colonial style and Art Deco influences. I guess being in the cyclone belt quick cheap rebuilds are of necessity the chosen style.

(I sent all the photo files for the next blogs while we still had good internet in Noumea, so now I am sending you the written blogs to go with them. X)






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