Monday, September 30, 2019

Baie des Citrons

[Kyle]From Mato, we rushed right back toward Noumea, from which we had just spent so much effort to get away. We anchored on Baie des Citrons, in the southern part of town, just over the ridge from Port Moselle. One of Maryanne’s friends, Julie, had flown in with her partner Malcolm for a quick scuba diving weekend and were hoping they could meet up with us.

Julie and Maryanne started as work colleagues way back in the nineties. Back then, the computers had a big handle on the side that you had to pull when you wanted it to calculate. Since leaving that job, Malcolm and Julie have taken short-term jobs when they could to pay for extended travel in between. They are both avid scuba divers, Malcolm is a pretty serious mountaineer and Julie has become a highly-ranked paraglider. So far, they have been to more than twice as many countries than we have.

Noumea with old friends - Do you see the size of those SHRIMP!

We only had the one day together, so we all agreed to start with a walk to the nearby aquarium so they could see a bunch of underwater stuff in tanks instead of in the wild, like we’re all used to.

The aquarium was actually pretty good. The thing that stood out for us was the Mantis Shrimps. I had known they were the world’s loudest animals, with their supersonic claw snaps that they use to stun prey, but I had no idea how big and gruesome they are. I thought they were little multicolored things, but they are the size of lobsters and nowhere near as cute.

Following that, we all had a long walk along the waterfront punctuated by a long lunch. I often find myself getting impatient with waiters in Europeanized areas because it can take ages to get the check or even get anyone’s attention to get the check after the meal is done. We usually stop at restaurants for a meal, not to hang out all day. Sometimes, we like to linger afterwards, but already having the check means we can leave at our pleasure, not the waiter’s. This time, we stayed so long talking that our waitress asked us to pay the bill because her shift was ending soon.

We all walked the long way back. By the time we made it back to our dinghy, we were right in time to row into the sunset. They were going back to Australia to earn some money for their next trip, on which they hadn’t yet decided. We would be going back east again in the lagoon past where we had come from. From Begonia, we waved goodbye to them in the orang-ey light of dusk. They waved back and headed back to their hotel.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Mato Island

[Kyle]After one last snorkel at Ua, we made our way a few miles due north to Mato Island. Mato is unusual in that it is not a tree-covered sand spit like most of the other islands in the area and is instead a cone-shaped nub that can be seen from quite far off. Also, it is surrounded by giant fields of coral. Once we wove our way into the anchorage by the island we were completely surrounded and protected from all sides.

We spent a couple of days there. The first was mostly bottom paint cleaning, which was starting to need doing. It was much calmer on the second, so we made a point of spending hours exploring the inner edge of the whole ring of coral that surrounded us. When we were done, one of the other boats in the anchorage offered to take us to the island in his dinghy, saving us a long row.

We made the short climb to the top, stepping over loads of sea snakes along the way. They are twenty times more poisonous than any land snake. They are small, with small mouths. Their venom teeth are in the back and they are also very docile, so they are only dangerous to someone who is trying really hard to see if they will attack, which in my opinion would be really asking for it. Apparently, if you do actually get bitten, you have twenty-five minutes to make your peace with the world.

None of the snakes we saw tried to do anything other than get out of our way. They did it calmly and in no way seemed about to panic. At the top, we got a three-hundred and sixty-degree view of the whole southeastern part of Basse Terre’s giant lagoon. The anchorage below was especially impressive. The boats sat in a little turquoise pool surrounded by multi-colored reefs.

It had been a pretty energetic day. By the time we were done with sundowners at one of the other boats, we were struggling to stay awake. That was fine, we had an early start planned for the next morning.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Ua Island

[Kyle]We left Port Moselle ahead of the catamaran Muse with our cruising buddies aboard. They left their dock just as we cleared the breakwater. We hoisted the main with a reef in it and unrolled the jib with one as well and we were off.

We were doing a pretty respectable job of pulling ahead (Again! The last time we had sailed in company with them was leaving Port Resolution in Vanuatu). Then they raised their sails and it was neck and neck, except it wasn’t because we had a mile head start. Then we cleared the protection of the Noumea peninsula and we both sped up. We sped up a little. They sped up a lot. They have a longer waterline and long, thin dagger boards, which allows them to sail faster AND closer to the wind than we can.

After their first and our second tack, we converged from our respective horizons on a collision course. Since Begonia was on starboard tack, Muse had to lose some ground to give way to us. That was the end of our lead, but it was a great opportunity to get pictures of each other under storm sail.

Poor Muse. The wind was way worse than forecast, occasionally nudging into the thirties. We went down to two reefs in the main and three in the jib, which is 31% of full sail. They appeared to do about the same. Even though we were in the lagoon, it is so big that the waves had built back up to two meters or so by the time they got to the two of us. We gave up and slowed down a little to go easy on the rig. They did the same, but their slow is faster than our slow, so they were still punching into waves more often than we were. For us, there was no way our small motors would be able to make headway in such conditions. Sailing was still the better way to go. It’s slow and it’s a bit of a beating, but it’s steady and it gets the job done. We know what we’re dealing with and just put our heads down and settle into our routine, adjusting our expectations to where making it twenty miles upwind in daylight is a pretty good showing. Muse, on the other hand, was out there getting beat up because we were out there getting beat up. I felt a little guilty about making the whole family put up with it because I know Muse could probably have motored the distance just fine in less time.

By the time it was getting to late afternoon, Muse had disappeared over the horizon hours before. They dropped anchor in the big bay on the leeward side of Ile Ouen. We knew we wouldn’t make it there by nightfall, so we tucked in behind much smaller Redika Island, about ten miles behind them, but more on the direct line to Ua.

Redika for sunset

The wind died during the night and we awoke to more normal sailing conditions where we could use the whole 100%. We set off early to help make up our deficit and had a lovely sail weaving between widely spaced reefs. When Muse popped up on AIS after having a guest-friendly lie-in, they had about the same straight-line distance to go as we did, but more reefs to weave through and a worse wind angle. We just managed to get our dinghy into the water when they dropped their hook.

Ua Island

So we were all here. We had made it to Ua. It’s nice. The beach is blinding white, the snorkeling on the coral is pretty good. The best part, of course, was getting to spend the day with our good friends. They had to return to work again soon and so would be leaving for Australia before us. We knew it would likely be a few months and more than a thousand miles before we all saw each other again, so we made a point of really savoring the moment.

Ua under the water

Monday, September 23, 2019


[Kyle]After doing most of the clearance the day we arrived, the following day we took our paperwork to Immigration, who were very nice. Then it was the usual list of laundry, shopping, boat cleaning and tank filling that ate up our first two days in the city.

We went to nearly all of the museums, apart from the one that is closed for renovation. The Maritime Museum was okay, although it was conspicuously lacking any information about traditional Kanak anything, as if the islands had been uninhabited when James Cook arrived.

We went to the World War II museum, which was small, but very well done. New Caledonia was really in the thick of it during the Pacific war. Most of the Commonwealth and American troops got their tropical training here and it was a last stop for almost everyone headed to one battle zone or another. New Caledonia and especially the native Kanaks suffered terrible losses during the war.

We then hoofed it over to the Museum of Noumea. They let us in for free because they were doing some renovating of their own. The exhibits about the history of the town and pre-European history were shut. They did have a large WWII section that was open which almost entirely duplicated what we had learned already, so we feel ready for any exam that may pop up.

We then decided to make a whole day out of going to the zoo. We had seen several brochures offering the trip for 4,000 francs. No, thanks. We could get there in a cab for 2,000, but what’s the point of that when you can take the city bus for 190.

We walked to the depot, bought our tickets in advance and triple-checked the timetable. Then we waited, and waited, and waited. It was soon apparent that there was to be no bus. (It came an hour later. They had changed the time, but hadn’t published the new schedules yet). We started walking, figuring we would find one on the way that was at least going in the general direction. Nope. Well, there’s nothing like an uphill walk in the tropical sun to make you feel alive. Every patch of shade or breath of breeze feels SO much nicer than it would while sitting on a bench.

A trip up a hill for some views (on route to the Zoo)

The zoo was very nice. They called it a “Zoo and Nature Park” on the sign. It was light on the zoo and heavy on the park. We didn’t see any of the usual zoo fare like giraffes or bears or dozing lions, but they did have a few monkeys, a handful of reptiles and loads of birds. New Caledonia has a pretty interesting set of endemic birds, including pastel hawks and the world’s largest pigeon, which is the size of a goose. They also have the closest living relative to the extinct dodo. They also have Rainbow Lorikeets, which are beautiful iridescent parrots. They are sweet and curious, but they make poor apartment pets because they are pretty loud and screechy. They had one big enclosure after another filled with lots of other parrot varieties, so I spent the day trying to scratch them all without getting my fingers nipped.

The zoo was mostly birds - Kyle loved it!

After ensuring that we had walked every trail and seen every animal in the zoo, we made for home. The sign on the bus stop said the next one wasn’t due for an hour, so we decided to go for the whole set and walk back to the boat. At least it was downhill. We were pretty limpy from blisters by the time we arrived, but at least we felt like we had properly earned the free welcome drink the marina had given us a coupon for when we arrived.

As we were walking back from the bar to the boat, Hannah from Muse intercepted us. She was with Sarah. Phil and Ollie were bringing the boat from the anchorage to the end of our line of docks. They had come to town to pick up Guy, a friend of theirs who would be sailing around with them for the rest of the week. We all met on Muse to talk about our plans to see if we could arrange any overlap. We were trying to head east to a little island called Ua, which we had heard from several sources was not to be missed. They were trying to do the same. I said I didn’t think we would get there in one day because it was upwind and I am loathe to motor all day when we have perfectly good sails that will get us there eventually without polluting the air. The plan on Begonia was to leave early and tack as far as we could before stopping for the night along the way. Phil had at some point apparently deduced my purist streak and decided Muse would do the same. After all, Guy had not flown all of the way up from Australia to be driven around on a perfectly good sailboat, had he?