Thursday, July 7, 2011

Escape from New Caledonia!

The journey from Fiji took a turn for the worse as the wind on our nose ignored the forecast of a gradual increase to 17 kn and went straight to 25. Horrid conditions and even the captain had to have a sleep before he could eat his dinner! Faced with another few days of tacking into it to make Noumea, we decided to sail across to the island of Mare in the Loyalty Group and anchored in Baie du Nord. This is completely forbidden as Noumea is the only port of entry and you must clear into the country before anchoring anywhere, so I was very much hoping not to meet any French authorities. We spent a few glorious days in this wonderful bay. Crystal clear water, turtles, mantas, wonderful coral right on the shoreline. Matt was excited to see the Araucarias. These are southern hemisphere pines found only in a few countries and New Caledonia has thirteen! species. Going ashore didn't really fit with our true story of sheltering from adverse winds, but eventually we went and actually touched the Araucarias. Fished from the boat and caught a big trigger fish, which the locals assured us was a very good one to eat.
One evening we were all looking in the general direction of the set sun when a huge humpback broached and crashed back into the sea, then spent some time lolling on it's side waving it's flukes in the air. It was nice to hear the villagers up the bay yahooing and cheering as well! Just to top the evening off a large manta ray swam up to the side of the boat, turned and swam directly under us, and in so doing, snagged both our fishing lines, breaking them off! We were sad to leave, but when the wind allowed we set off on an overnight crossing to the Grand Terre of New Caledonia.
Entered the pass at a good tide, caught a couple of skipjack tuna and put one into salt and lime cure, then spent a nice day sailing through the channels past reef and islands towards the west. Forecast said wait 12 hours, so we dropped anchor illegally yet again, in Baie Ire on Ile Ouen. I'm so glad we did, another gorgeous anchorage with totally different vegetation and soil from Mare. Turtles and an Osprey diving on a fish. As we looked for a good spot to drop anchor I chose a striking Araucaria Columnaris and headed for it. Next time I glanced up there was our Osprey, perched on the highest tip.
Matt is taking over as the most enthusiastic fisher, and soon had a line on the bottom. In just a few minutes we had three lovely little snapper ready for dinner.
First light, anchor was up and we made our way across the remaining 22 miles to Amedee Island with it's famous lighthouse, and out the pass into the Pacific, without meeting any gendarmes. Now there's just eight or nine hundred miles of water and Ellida will be back in Australia, having completed her circumnavigation. Wind is a bit light tonight so motor is on, but we caught a nice fat yellow-fin tuna and all stomachs are well.

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