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Windsurfing In The BenAnna Republic

The world of Ben-kingdom seen by Anna-rchista

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New Caledonia 2014

Our trip in the land of Kanaks.

Sailing back to Oz – Customs and dramas

We ve been back for quite a while now, but as we speak we are again on the cruising spree going down the coast of NSW, so I need to finish our NC adventures properly and make the link with our next leg….

Basically, from Koumac it was a loooong way against the wind (150 miles). By then the southeasterly trades that we were expecting for proper windsurfing earlier in our trip really kicked up. We are talking of 25-30 knts in the middle of the day gusting up to 35 knts right from the direction we wanted to aim at…

For the ones that are not familiar with sailing, let me just say that a sailboat, and especially a catamaran is not at his advantage when tacking against the wind. It’s hard on the rig, hard on the boat, hard on the crew. The chop and the load on the sails makes it quite bumpy ride, a bit like a roller coaster but a few hours at a time..

There is a trick though: take advantage of the land breeze effect that sets during the night. That means getting up at dawn (5 am) to get both the light easterly breeze and the visibility required when you are in reefed waters. Do small legs (30 to 40 miles at a time) and setting anchor at midday in waters protected from the trade wind.  For us, lazy cats (literally), we had to put a bit of commitment into it. We are more the kind of waking up at 8 am and setting sail at 11am after a long breakfast, enjoying a sail at Inara speed (fast) and be just on time at anchor to look at the sunset with nibbles and a glass of something. But along the westerly coast of NC, we had to sing another song…

Just cutting short, we did alright coming back to Noumea in 5 days (of sailing) only. Some days we were quite impressed by Inara angle, speed and stability to windward, averaging 10 knts SOG (speed over ground) and 7-8 knts COG (course over ground). She does it so easy…

Long naps in the afternoon rather than windsurfing (yes I know…shame on us); we finally came back to the big smoke.

By then it was end of October and we had to leave (we thought so) by the 11th of November (3 months).

Yes, but……

As we paid a visit to double check the formalities of departure, we learnt that Ben’s Visa was only for 90 days, expiring on the 6th of November.

It was by then the 3rd of November and the current weather windows was already half gone. We would barely make it even if we left on the same day, risking a becalmed weather when arriving in Australia. We were FAR from being ready, so we consulted a last time the forecast and decided to go the following day.

Here is the incredible rally we performed in order to leave on short notice:

– wake up at 5 am, move the boat next to the customs office on the other side of town.

– Clear the immigration at 7 am, exit the port captain office by 9 am.

– Grab a lot of shopping for the crossing while walking back to the boat. (10 am).

– Fill up 40 L of water tanks and 40 L of fuel at the port petrol station.

– Move the boat 10 miles north in a very flat anchorage.

– Winch Benny up the mast, fix the anchor light and nav lights (11 am)

– Benny scrubbed Inara hulls, I packed up everything inside neat (1 pm)

By 1.30 pm we were sailing away!!! We were literally flying! Inara between 15 to 17 knots in a 15-20 knts breeze. We sustained this rhythm until dusk where we decided to scale down (reef and high cut jib) to 8 knots. We had done 70 miles in the first 5 hours…

Amazing feeling even if the sadness of leaving such paradise was counter balanced by the excitement of going back to Australia and having the chance to spend 5 days at sea just us and Inara.

The crossing back was quite simple, mostly downwind and very slow (without a spinnaker) toward the end. We had a good breeze the 2 first days but it died off quickly to a mere 10 knots. It took us 4  and a half days of relaxed cruising, hot, sunny and eventless on a deep purpled sapphire sea.

The arrival at Burnetts Heads (Bundaberg) happened at dusk after a last stretch across the the bay at 12-14 knts (again) while we enjoyed the sunset with beers, the last of our cheese and saucisson, celebrating the flat coast line of this very old Oz continent.

One last thing, whatever you do when you plan to clear the customs when back in Australia, don’t arrive on week ends (not like us). It will cost you 600 AUD instead of the normal 300 AUD to pay for the quarantine procedure… arrrgh!!!

Also, the customs guys in Bundaberg were cool, relaxed and chilled out. They didn’t dismantle our boat, they asked their questions in a very friendly and casual way. Actually, we had the feeling they liked so much Inara (we received load of compliments) that maybe they were hoping for some tea or something: they were all around the table (2 customs officer, 1 quarantine guy) and seemed to have quite a great time, everyone chatting… weird… oust oust everyone out of our boat!

Koumac Underground – How we finally got to walk (a lot)

Alright, you might have read in the precedent chapters how we like going cave exploring. Well, we can say that after what you are about to read, we quenched that thirst once for all. Koumac caves are situated 10 km out of town, so after a charming ride, we locked our bicycles and entered what we expected to be a curiosity, no more. The visit starts with an information point which explains you that the discovery is allowed for 380 meters and then you have to turn back. “Danger de mort” (danger of death) is written in red and big with the skull and bones grinning at you.  You are also supposed to write your name in a register in case you are not coming back by dusk but since we didn’t find the register, we didn’t bother. What can happen anyway?

So here we go, proceeding to the entrance of what appear to be an underground waterway. The “ceiling”is high (7 to 10 meters) and the ground is made of rubble. The width of the cave would not be more than 5 meters. On each side the stone is pale pearl grey, the color of an early morning Parisian sky, and smooth as fossilized soap. Some shy stalactites and numerous veins of bubbly iron formations cut the monotony of this long corridor. The going is easy and the temperature soft, soon we lose the sight of the entrance and rely only on our torches, a deep feeling of peace surround us. At the end of this long but uneventful walk, we sight the pool that is supposed to end the authorized path; we are supposed to turn back on our tracks. BUT…we are way too curious for this and moreover we can hear voices ahead of us. So we climb around the pool on the very smooth rocks, deciding that a few more meters of discovery would not be amiss.

To be honest that where the fun really started because our continuation required a bit of climbing, a touch of crawling, a pinch of sliding and hanging of rocks. It was great fun and required a good physical ability for progressing through passages and rocks, sometimes wet, sometime high. It never was difficult nor dangerous but the commitment with the rock walls and obstacles had to be full, making one body with the stone. The hand holds were easy to grab and secure because the rocks was dense and smooth. I remember one passage that I really appreciated being a 3 meters long slide against the slightly overhanging wall looking at a 4 meters crevice filled with unstable boulders. The lights we got (waterproof headlamp from the brand Diamond, 500 lumens) were powerful enough to illuminate the whole cave which added to the secure feeling better than the usual flicker of supermarket torches and the painted arrows to show us the way were everywhere (5 different colors at least). There was no way we could get lost.

At some point we catch up with the others guys ahead of us, Quentin and Caro, a couple travelling/working in New Caledonia. We chat along the way and continued our deepening exploration wetter and narrower. The rubble on the floor was now covered by very fine organic material, fresh dirt and huge amount of leaf and seeds. We observed disturbing formation of white mold on rotting logs and a great number of sticks vertically planted into the mulch. They appeared to be from the seeds that would hatch, tentatively show a leaf or two and then quickly die due to the complete absence of light.  The temperature sits around 25 C with a constant humidity, it feels comfy and intimate, a very thin breeze can be perceived on your cheeks coming from the numerous chimneys where the water is trickling from.  We just don’t see why we could not go a little bit further each time, the arrows are everywhere and Quentin/Caro seems as confident as we are.

At some stage we can feel that the thin breeze has stopped and we are like in a container. We continue going down as it feel warmer and a little bit oppressing by moments. Roughly an hour of wandering underground after we were supposed to turn back we start wondering if there might be an exit or if we just have to turn back. We finally arrive to a chamber which has been almost completely closed by a collapsing amount of rubble and mulch following a steep gradient. Ben goes first crouching on his belly and then I follow. As soon as I find myself in the chamber the strong lack of oxygen is overwhelming and a faint sulfur-onion smell can be tasted. We can see a pool of clear stagnant water at the bottom; this is a dead end. Quentin is the next to come through and as I say  “something is weird, I can’t really breathe well” He almost screamed “Get out! Everyone! It’s gas!” As we all hurry back, my temples start aching and my vision gets a bit blurry. I crawl in last under the passage thinking “it’s alright, let’s not get a panic attack take over, it’s alright”. Yet my head feels like being in a vice for 50 meters as we walk back on our tracks. The uneasy feeling actually didn’t dissipate for more than an hour, what a wuss.

After coming back about 100 meters, all depressed about being forced to return the way we came, Quentin spot a fork that we missed. The arrows are neat and numerous and clearly state “Sorti” which means “EXIT” in French. Wohoo, more exploration!

That second part was nonetheless hard to follow: with the path being no higher than 50 cm for long sections we literally had to crawl in an exiguous corridor for hundreds of meters at a time, goats’ skulls and flooding traces were everywhere. Ben especially was nervous observing than leaf and branches were stuck up to 3 or 4 meters in big chambers and supposedly completely filled the narrow passages we were in.  The mulch and seeds were stuck in our hair, we were covered in dirt and a few bruises for hitting unwelcomed stalactites. But don’t get me wrong, it was good fun, even when we started to be a bit tired after spending a couple of hours underground. We had water, backpacks and I am still amazed on how Ben with its herniated disk, bringing him a hell of a pain most of the days, managed so well to bend and crouch without even a wince on this adventure.

At a time which seemed endless we suddenly saw trees roots fanning the gaps with their coffee colored hairs, the surface was close. And then, there was the light, a silvery diffuse promise of an outside world. We emerged in only a few meters under a gigantesque tree whose massive roots cuddled and compressed the stone opening the cliff as it seemed to be a giant natural vagina. The weeding of the stark colored rocks and the deep emerald shade of the leafs brought back at once a vision of an alive animated delightful world. We wooed in unison, we did it, we came out!

But wait a moment…. Where were we exactly? After this rebirth, no one had a bloody idea of where we had to go to come back to our respective vehicles. It was close from 5 pm, it started pouring down tropical rain, we were in the middle of a sub tropical forest with one cliff on one side and a river bed going straight inside the mountain from where we came. We couldn’t follow Bear Grylls advice No1: always follow the river bed – because with the amount of water that was now washing us, there was little doubt about the floodiness of the place we just left.

Then we opted for the best advice No2: find an observatory and get an idea where you bloody are. By then we also noticed the marks on the trees (plastic strips and bit of fabric) that locals use to delimitate a trekking path.  We follow them for a while but it was hard work as they always seem to vanish unexpected. Quentin and I both climbed on a steep tumulus made of sharp edgy grey granite to get our bearings. It looked like we were in a very enclosed valley, narrow and deep surrounded by steep hills, filled up with subtropical forest with no trace of habitation or human beings. We both agreed to go west on the setting sun while Ben found the next marker for the “track” going in the same direction.

We climbed a huge hill, quite steep and exhausting just to arrive at a magnificent panorama with the setting sun on the sea and some roads and houses.  We only had about an hour of light left and the problem was to get down. The rocks were all but forgiving by their very rude and dangerous aspects: as sharps and thin as knives and hard as…. rocks… (yeah ok, it’s not very original this one). A nightmare as we were getting ready to do our descent by dusk. By the time we reached the bottom it was fully dark and we were still in the forest….the “track” long gone and forgotten. Blissfully, no one was hurt.

Eventually, at some stage, we found a stream and a gravel road, which reached to another gravel road etc… We kind of knew where we were but didn’t seem to be going anywhere apart walking for hours.  We went to a first house where the guy couldn’t really help us and just told us to follow the stream to go back. He gladly gave us a couple of bottle of water telling us that we were still quite far.

We followed that river and the group was still holding but everyone was exhausted, starving and cold. Ben and I were both resigned to walk until our legs could not anymore up to the morning if needed. But Quentin and Caro had a hard agenda to follow: they were both working the following day, Caro at Noumea (300 km away) and Quentin in Kone (100km away starting at 6 am). That wasn’t a relaxed state of mind to be in that situation. Anyway they managed to reach some house on the high bank of the river and there, the lady and her husband newly installed in their parcel of land with a recycled cargo container, agreed to give us a much needed lift. It turned out that we were still a good 6 to 8 km from our departure point. For some reason we went to our left at the top of the big hill when we should have veered right….

Quentin and Caro brought us and our bicycles back to Koumac with their van where we found the pizza shop closed! It was 9 pm by then. Inara was full of food so we invited them for a big plate of pasta and steak onboard.

In overall, that was a great expedition, 3.7 km underground and about 15 km bush bashing. We finally got the walk we were expecting for days and on top of that we met quite cool persons with good conversation, travelling experience and a right state of mind, a bit of an emulation and tribe feeling to be honest. More than all, no one whimpered or complained during that whole afternoon,  that is rare, precious and unexpected.

Walking? Not possible!

Hitchhikers of all galaxies! There is this land where the simple activity of putting a foot in front of the other will invariably stop almost any 4 wheels vehicle passing close by, to offer  you a ride: New Caledonia NORTH.

We, as good yachties, spending most of our time onboard, are really fond of a little walk every 2 days or so. These incursions into the unknown have almost all the same primordial objective: identify quickly the sources of food (including good fishing spots), fuel, beer, ice cream and get a tasting of the surroundings. It also allows us to happily observe new things and little details, after all we have all the time in the world to enjoy the luxury of walk. SO, when locals want absolutely to drive us everywhere we can’t really explain them that we are following a ritual for sanity. We usually accept after they insist on a 3rd time and thank this beautiful opportunity to socialize despite having restless legs. As it follows, this is an account of an incredible series of lucky encounters rich in showing a good panel of the Caledonian population, generous and welcoming.

After our last very quick stop, we continued north on the eastern coast on a beautiful sailing day to Pouebo. However the rain didn’t last in catching us and once again everything was soaked. I nonetheless after dusk scored the best catch ever done on my light fishing rod (max 4 kg breaking strength): a 51cm spangled emperor. What a fierce fighter! (the emperor) and what a nice dinner.  On the morning we enjoy a long dinghy ride in the mangrove up to a bridge. The village was about 4 km away and we set our pace smiling to the sun. We refilled in chicken, beers and ice cream and heavily laden were ready for the way back. Until I stopped at the tourism office.  At Pouebo, meet Mireille, the tourism office lady, who is also local guide and extremely welcoming. Her warm approach and enthusiasm about her village is so contagious that you want to stay and do everything at Pouebo. She also speaks  English very well, as she explains she studied in New Zealand before coming back to take care of the development of tourism for the place she came from. When she saw us with our provisions about to walk back to the bridge, she insisted on offering us a ride in her car. We chitchat on the way back and I got some number to contact on our next place to stop and the names of the local chiefs to pay our respects as per customary laws. Unfortunately, the weather was becoming windy and Pouebo was too exposed to stay; otherwise we would probably have spent more happy days there as it also is a good spot for windsurfing. We set sail in direction of Balade, high place in the New Caledonian history, where the first catholic mission was created and where the first European was buried. But, as we were having a great glide downwind in the sun, we realized that an important mass of rain clouds was catching up with us and that (once again) it would pour down on our nice and dry bodies a mass of infamously cold water, as soon as we would drop the sails to anchor. Enough was enough, we pull our tongues to the clouds, sized our luck, trimmed our sails and continue on our way more to the north, up to Pam island. We anchored in Harcourt Bay. Ben was happy: it looked so much like… Australia! Dry, rocky, dusty and with gumtrees! Pretty wild too, that kind of place where your mind reconnects with immensity; where your view doesn’t stop before the horizon. Just a dirt road and a few fishing shacks, this extremely quiet and protected  anchorage let us sleep soundly. In the morning, in a bit of a need for a walk, we drove the dinghy up to an old abandoned mine and went once again to stretch our legs.

Past the headland we were hiding behind, it was blowing a gale! 35 knts at least and a sea dinted of white endlessly, we gratefully express our satisfaction with our choice of anchorage.  As we turn back to return to Inara, a white pick up  truck coming in the contrary way stops and the driver starts chatting with us.

Here meet Remy, a “caldoche”, fisherman/farmer/hunter/bushman from French descent showing around to his grandson in law, a young bloke very westy cowboy looking (mainly for the leather hat and his boots), as quiet as his guide was voluble.  After enquiring who we were and where we were going in a friendly way, he bellows “Hey! You can’t walk all that way back” (yes we can and we want to very dearly, thanks but no ride); “I’ll will turn around and you can jump in the back and I will give you a ride” and before we run out of arguments to explain that we are ok and we like to walk, he turns his car  and make us jump in the back. At the boat ramp, he puts a beer in our hand and although he doesn’t speaks English tries to communicate with Ben. We chat about fishing, fishing spots, ciguatera as he has been a professional fisherman in this area for 20 years or so.

At some point, he shouts “Ah! I know! You, guys surely like lemons no? jump on, we  are going at my fishing shack, I have plenty of lemons to give to you and coconuts too.” Impossible to refuse to that impressive character, we enjoyed a second 4×4 ride to his nice shack on the water hedge. We help them getting the “lemons” (hybrids of lemons and grapefruit I reckon) that were lading the tree more that it could bear. Then the green coconuts directly from the trees too were harvested into the tray of the car.

As we came back to the boat ramp, we realized that those guys meant that all the quantity was for us ! We just wanted a few lemons and a couple of coconuts, thinking that they would take home the rest with them (it seemed they have an extended family). No, no! All was to be taken back to Inara! 15 Kg of lemons and a dozen of coconuts! We thanked them a lot and looking one more time again like Thai fishermen with the dinghy barely floating, we finally made our tracks back to our den.  Where we spent the entire afternoon juicing lemons  , making lemon pies and lemons cakes (me) and opening green coconuts (Ben with Taboo the machete). Our concerns for vitamins C were behind us for the rest of the trip: 3L of pure lemon juice and 3L of fresh green coconut water (we opened the coconuts in two batches).

The next day was to be one I will never forget. The best fishing day ever.  All started by us meeting Remy once again in the morning as he brought us 2 bottles of a special brewed tea from tree bark, especially efficient against ciguatera symptoms.  We then set for lure fishing in the spots he indicated the day before. I never knew that lure fishing could be so exciting: after 5 minutes only, I get out of the water a 1m wolf herring. Then a couple of throws after,  a little barracuda. And more wolf herring. Ben played a bit with a cod lodged  under a sunken trunk without success. Basically, we had a bite every 5 minutes, mainly wolf herring and also barracuda.

At one stage we found both of us with one wolf herring at the end of our rods dangling out of the water like 2  silver ribbons, laughing endlessly at the fights. The wolf herring are fun: they leapt out of the water and dance with your lure giving a fierce and interesting fight. Their teeth are impressive too: huge canines protruding like dragons fangs give them a rebellious and dangerous look. I also missed what I guessed was a good size cod by his fighting demeanor. On the shallows I got a pink ear sweetlip which a released straight away. As I throw the lure just after I got his big brother (pink ear sweetlip again, 37 cm, almost as big as they get) which we kept for dinner.  At night we set for serious fishing: I put the biggest hook we had on the trolling rod and a nice slice of wolf herring as bait, well determined  to see what kind of monster was dwelling in the bottom  of these waters (aiming for massive cod). We got a 1m barracuda which luckily cut the line free as we pulled it out of the water. We didn’t want to mess with that!

Finally we hoist the sails to finish our ride downwind of the eastern coast. The calendar was peeling and we had about 3 weeks to make it back to Noumea against the wind before Ben’s visa run out. We sashay through turquoise passages and majestuous pink islands toward the boat pass at the top of the island. The aridity of the place contrasted so much with the landscapes only 30 miles more south. Here, eroded shaved hills were offering in display a palette of pastel yellow, orange and green in high contrast with the deep cobalt blue of the sea around and the milky sky blue in shallow spots. We could see fish jumping everywhere and the coral looked all worthy of exploration but we had to make tracks due to stupid visas constraints. The “boat pass” area especially is one of my biggest regret: a myriad of little deserted islands with clear shallow (5m) water everywhere, perfect flat water for windsurfing, heaps of wind (15-25 knts everyday!), sand beaches in every corner for barbecue/fire and no one (just some fishermen shacks).  We could stay there only one night, what a shame.

The following morning, feeling a bit frustrated by our all sudden time imperatives, we started our first sailing into the wind with a 15knts easterly breeze in flat water tacking  in the Whitsundays like décor of New Caledonia North. We snobbed Poum for being a mining town and continued up to Croissant Bay where  Ben wanted absolutely to stop as a kind of pilgrimage (Ben’s love for Croissants is well known).  But there, no boulangeries, just a coral beach and some private huts. The children playing on the beach were called inside as soon as we anchored.  Benny was up for an Inara cleaning bottom operation while I was keeping an eye out for sharks. While there, we heard  clearly gun shots coming from one of the private hut. Dissuasion for us to stay or just simple hunting? We will never know as we didn’t intent to stay in the first place, we lift our anchor and went few miles more south, the ugliest place we have ever anchored.

Close to a huge nickel conveyor coming out a mile into the sea, below a mine that munched and flatten the half top of a beautiful mountain in a similar way as leprosy would do to a limb, next to a pilot boat graveyard, we huddled up inside, grinding our teeth as the locals left loud horrible reggaeton like music playing all night.

Next step Koumac.  Welcome port and first white town we had seen since Noumea. I say “white” town because it is truly looking so very much like Australia. Big mansions on the top of the hill, no trees, a sailing club, picnic areas and barbecues every kilometers, exercise equipment new and well maintained in an outdoor park, hospital, mediatheque,  new gymnasium, restaurants, low building brick houses  painted with hazardous choice of colors and a lot of whities.  Oh yes there is the mine also not very far. The town is about 4 kilometers from the port and before setting for a long expected WALK, we went to say hello to the marina office to get the last news and good tips. Here meet Jean-Pierre, a yachtie in his 60’s that lives onboard his monomaran with his wife, likes to buy her sweet patisseries from the French bakery and runs the marina. After giving us the meteo forecast  and helping us with information for clearance, tides, book exchange,  he proposes us to give us a lift to town in his van and help us to bring back our supplies. Alright, at this point we sensed the vibe of the area and we stopped trying to refuse, too happy to be able to load Inara in food without harming  our arms and back. We chat about cruising and how he enjoyed sailing to New Zealand even it was a rough trip. In a very French fashion, he express his astonishment how he couldn’t find good cheese, nice bread, sugar in cubes for his coffee or even liquid sugar for his “Ti Punch” (rum based cocktail cherished by islanders); unbelievable! He also invited us for a coffee on the day after and helped us with another ride for the fuel this time. New Caledonia NORTH rocks! Ben and I had bet that while carrying our fuel containers we wouldn’t have walk not even 5 meters before a car would have stopped…

Anyway, after filling up our fridge, our tank, our belly with croissants and patisseries, we jumped on our bikes and set up for a another crazy BenAnna adventure: the caves of Koumac.

How Kanaky is not Caledonia

We had a great sail from Beautemps-Beaupres Island to Grande Terre. This started with a very light wind and a threatening rain that even forced us to turn on the outboards for a couple of hours. But then, the wind kicked at 15 knts to 20 knts and we were flying. Ben skippered manually under a battering rain averaging 15 knts in speed while I was warm and dry inside baking a Tarte au Pommes and Nachos. Inara is so stable and balanced, this is just unbelievable to see her going up to 19Knts in speed and hear the daggerboards humming while you think: “oh, wer’e  going a bit faster than usual, what? 19 knts? This is crazy,ok yeah it’s fast, but  it doesn’t feel scary at all”.

Anyway, we arrived soaked and with a big BenAnna smile on our face to Touho. (note that I resumed my functions of deckie as soon as possible when we had the land in sight). We quietly anchored in a beautiful panorama of extremely green hills abundant with vegetation varied in size and color. Touho is beautiful and lush, pretty as a painting and better than a picture with trees nuances  ranking from brownish red to golden yellow and spring green with hints of deep esmerald so different in shape and size. The air feels happy.

On the morning after we went for a little stroll on the foreshore. We left our dinghy at the “marina” a single derelict pontoon enclosed by a wall of rocks. The boats moored there look either local either abandoned and we learned from a liveaboard-permanently-but-doesn’t-sail-anywhere yachtie that it was actually “prohibited” to moor your boat to that jetty as all was meant to be destroyed soon. Touho might seem lovely from the shore but everything is run down once you step ashore with building abandoned in ruins, grafiti all over the place (“free Kanaky!” ) and rubbish on the shore. The marina, worse than all, looks like it might have been promising 15 years ago, but now seems uncared for.  We walked to the local shop in town, filled up in supplies at  a golden prize and savor the first ice cream we have been able to find since Noumea.

On the following morning we lift the anchor for something I really was all excited about: Hienghene.

The sailing was blissful; we were there in 2 small tacks in light winds WNW. The approach from the sea was quite impressive: Hienghene is  huddled at the bottom of huge green and lush mountains on a river with massive rock formations protecting its mouth. These natural sculptures, symbol of  the heart of the Kanak resistance, are made of dark black rocks piled to a height of 150 m, idealized in the human imagination to a hen on the left side (looking from the sea) and a sphinx (with a lot of imagination this one) on the right side. Few miles before Hienghene we were lucky to contemplate the Rock of the Linderalique from the water which are quite hidden when you come by land (therefore not very known) but extremely remarkable as you are sailing past the coast. These majestic cliffs drapes theirs grey spiky folds to the sea as a divine orgue, so straight and so brittle in front of that décor of jungle and palm tree fringed beaches to the right. Clear and deep sapphire water completed the sight; Hienghene seemed the exact right place for endless walks in the wild and bird observation.  As we decided to anchor in the river we were surprised to discover a marina where our guide had no description. We dropped our ground tackle few meters up the river just before the bridge, grinding a bit our teeth at the perspective of the continuous rumble of the road each side. As we hid inside for a bit of a rest, a bright yellow monohull moved in the middle of the river and started emitting very loud classical ballet music. At first a bit annoyed, we quickly realized that those guys were the company “La Loupiote”,  a couple of artists that developed a project in bringing their show to people …. On their boat! It happened that I read an article about them while arriving in Noumea and their exceptional adventure having left France for a worldwide tour 10 years ago and now offering their talents to the public in every port with their two girls onboard.  My eyes were shining of admiration as we planned to go to see them for their last show at Hienghene little after dusk. We were “going out” to do something “cultural” and we could do it by just rowing our dinghy! Love it.

As we reached the shore of Hienghene to do a bit of looking around before setting up for the show, a guy with a “tourism office” shirt approached us rudely asking us if we were from the catamaran and informing us that it was prohibited to anchor in the river. When I asked why, he said it was a new measure from the mayor,  that this river was seeing a lot of boat passage (bullshit) but that we could move to the public jetty for free or anchor wherever we wanted in the bay in front of the Hen. If we didn’t move he would call the mayor. Strongly annoyed we decided to move the boat to the jetty after the show. Now our first impression of Hienghene was quite confusing, I better explain some outstanding facts (and expose our conclusions at the end of this article):

– The “new” marina (10 years old), the brand new expensive jetty, the tourist shops that surrounds it and the tourism office; all looked run down and uncared for, in a sad state of uncleanliness and decay starting . However it is clear that they are a gift to the town from the P&O cruise ship company.

– The townhall is an impressive building made of an architecture which makes reference to the Djibaou Cultural Center in Noumea. Some of the material used for the townhall are also being used for the construction of the private mansion overlooking the bay next to the townhall.

– Hienghene beneficiate of a huge cultural center, well doted in amenities, with even a big top.

– The whole foreshore of Hienghene is monopolized by either a regional boarding school or the gendarmerie (fortified), Hienghene in itself doesn’t seems to be a town where people live but more a strategic administrative center.

We didn’t see much tourists and the whole feeling of the town is uneasy and fake, it lacks the atmosphere of people living there and caring for it. There is no tribe in Hienghene but clearly a lot of scars from a difficult colon history if you spend 10 minutes to search for it in Google.

Anyway, we went to see the show and had a great time. These guys are amazing. Their performance is fluid and aerial. They use the complete space of the boat in new and magical ways from the stays to the halyard acting on a hid and seek game of an untold poetry. The choregraphy, the perfect enlightenment, the music and their prowess amazes as well as forces the admiration as she leaves herself flowing down the sheets from the top of the stay to the deck without any of the security harness usually saw in circus. Pure skill and shrill.

We had time to communicate our enthusiasm and were invited for a coffee on the morrow.  Unfortunately we missed the second show more conventional from another group as we needed to move Inara. My eyes were full of stars and I started wandering of a plot for a book where the heroes would be a company of circus artists on boats, with each boat having its specialty: a show of monkeys and parrots, a contortionists one, a boat with jongleurs (fire jongleurs better), aerial dance and prowess (like “La Loupiote”) and finally the clowns (that could be BenAnna and our legendary misshappenings).

On the morning after, we enjoyed a nice coffee learning what kind of reaction you get from  the customs in Australia when you are a Yachtie AND an artist performing on your boat: you don’t fit in any of their slot to divide the human race in categories, therefore you are not welcome. We also exchanged on sailing and general experiences.

As the day draw past, we went to the tourism office to get more information on the walking trails. As I expressed our disappointment in being prevented to anchor in the river, the lady informed me that staying on the public jetty was not free either. About 20AUD a night but they would offer us the first night as we didn’t know. Attracted by the idea of having an endless hot shower we decided to stay, but then she informed us that we needed to do all formalities required for clearance all over again? WHAT? The customs and the quarantine had to be called and visit the boat (few hours to wait), we had to fill a bunch of paperwork again. This was ridiculous, a really sorry joke for the lot of them. We were not to submit ourselves to this farce which smelled as much abuse of power in this town as well as deliberate intend to make yachties feels under control and not welcome. We left the “public” pontoon still choked by how they could try to reiterate the clearing procedure just because you pull up in Hienghene while you were still supposed to be in the same country! Another special decree from the mayor to assess his unequivalent power? Probably so.

We moved to anchor in the bay in front of the Hen and went for a walk on the surroundings of Hienghene. There again, the walking tracks advertised everywhere were a disappointment. Out of 3, 2 were closed as not accessible (not maintained and cleared) and the last third which we did appeared to have a large section in its middle barely usable with lantana growing all over it up to a height of 2 meters. Luckily, Ben found, just before this section, a machete abandoned on the side of the track (probably lost or left by the worker that decided to stop working without finishing the job). He named it “Taboo” the machete. As an answer to every question or thing we were to intend to do in Kanaky country.

Anyway, we came back on a battering rain, happy to have enjoyed a free tropical shower anyway.

We largely exchanged on how it seemed that the Kanaky independence movement, although justified in its claim for sovereignty, didn’t take in account at all, the generations of immigrants (French and Asians mainly) for a common future. The Kanaks want their land back and the respect of customary laws but don’t regard the people from other origins, installed here for more than decades, who don’t have any other country to go to, as worthy enough to be welcome in Kanaky. Kanaky is not Caledonia and the fracture is immense even for people like us that only have a light insight of the social situation as we staying far way on the water. Kanaks are not very fond of tourists either, not even of the money they could bring. Actually, they don’t seem to need much of any of the western culture: they produce their own vegetable and fish are plenty on the reef; their society is structured and orderly maintained by the tribe system. Their customary laws are benevolent and full of good sense. It’s easy to understand the clash of civilizations when you add to all of that 200 years of martyrs and unfruitful intent from French planters to develop any kind of colon cultures (coffee, cacao, sugar, cotton, bananas). They ALL failed (haha!) … due to the lack of  workers! Why would the kanaks work for someone else when they have everything they need? Why to bother really?

And something else (these are very personal hypothesis): the ciguatera physically tires anyone who subsides on fish around these islands.  We personally saw direly the impact after only a few weeks, imagine after generations : how the human body would have adapt to such environment? Also the high level of nickel in the soil can’t be ignored in the fact that a high percentage would pass on the fruits and veggies consumed by the villagers. One plus two, you have a possible explanation for what we call “island time”; no hurry; no drama. And the westerners pull out hairs of their head in distress…

At dusk we noticed a boat that passed extremely close from us as trying to intimidate. On the following morning we were awake at 7am by someone calling us on Inara. A guy in his runabout was waiting for us. He stated that we were in the middle of the passage and requested quite aggressively for us to move Inara once again! To be honest I went a bit atop of my head saying that this time that was enough, what were they trying to prove? Who was he to request us to move? While there was 100 meters each side of Inara for everyone to pass? others boat didn’t seem to bother by passing flat out at a respectable and sensible distance? Could we just have some peace? There was no markers to define a channel and we were anchored in regards of the protection of the wind. This guy just decided that we were on his way, the way he takes every morning flat out his eyes locked on his course on his GPS. When he saw my reaction to his order, he said “Oh if you don’t move, I call the police” which I answer to without hesitating “please do so, sir, I know our rights and we have nothing to  worry by being anchored here” and then the apotheosis of this shameful attitude came from him “well, if you don’t move straight away, I will COME ONBOARD AND DESTROY EVERYTHING!”.

That was too much, I went berserk: “ You are very welcome to do so,  jerk head,  and we will receive you with the MACHETES!, that’s how it rolls for us, asshole!”

He backed off  “oh you look very stubborn, can’t you just move over there?” (this was a very shallow spot he showed, too shallow even for us).

My answer came straight” you dickhead, it’s a sailing boat not a stupid car you can park wherever you want. We are off leaving, I’m sick of those morons here, you can go to hell and you will be sure I will do all my possible to inform every Australian to avoid your town of stupid corrupted idiots”.

In 5 minutes we were off sailing, happy to leave such place and disappointed by the experience. I was trembling of rage and frustration of being forced to sail so early in the morning when our bed was still warm. But at the same time we were feeling so free about to be able to sail away when obviously nothing good would come from this place. To cheer me up Ben invented a new game: we don’t play anymore at “I would build my hut here” but “I would likely burn a hut here”.

Don’t worry, our next experiences to come with human beings will completely counterbalance this very unfortunate one. Next chapter: A land of smiles and the impossibility to walk more than 100 meters.

Welcome to Paradise, Wind Sun and Salt.

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Ouvea. A quick peek at the Google Earth image can only give you a vague idea of its crystalinity. You see clearly the bottom by 10 meters of water. It’s like if Mother Nature or (whoever you believe created the world); took a huge swimming pool and fringed it with the longest white beach I’ve ever seen (8 KM long only on Mouly island which is the third bottom part of Ouvea). Absolutely exceptionally Grandiose. With that, you add the orientation of the lagoon: a perfect SW-NE half a circle which fends you from the dominant South-Easterly winds…. But not only: The island is quite flat so the wind goes over it (allowing a perfect anchorage) and then back to the level of the water allowing…. The best sport of the world to be practiced in all luxury… if you know me you already understood my point…. But I prolonged the suspense a little bit longer: …..

…. WINDSURFING….. !!!

(No… really!?)

So there we were, “Broken Back” Benny and myself Anna “Rotten Feet” (long story short, my “quidjibô “ AKA athlete foot had a terrible and disintegrating reaction to salt, water, rain, salt, water, rain leaving me barely walking for a couple of weeks); glancing merrily to the crystalline topaz water and forgetting all our little worries at once. Before we even realized, both windsurfs were happily rigged at the back calling for our dedication.

Bliss.

Stretch of miles of warm clear water on the plane with my accomplice few meters  away (always in front of me he would pretend…). The longest run I ever made without having to turn back: 8 to 10 miles in about half an hour (less than that actually, the time is hard to evaluate and slow down incredibly when you are between the sky and the sea.)

4 hours in the first day passed as a blink as well as the other 3 hours the second day (pause time and lunch discounted). On the third day however, having totalized between us approximately 15 hours of continuous glide, the morning wake up was hard…. Moaning and grumbling were our only ways of communication as well as crawling to the galley to ensure our nourishment. Should I mention that last time we had touched our boards was in March? So a barely complete 6 MONTHS without closing our hands on a windsurf boom?

Silly us.

And something else. The aches in our muscles were far too exhaustive to be due only to exercise (come on! we are young). Our tongues were tingly and cold water was developing a burning feeling in our palms and our feet. Ben had itchy burning skin, I was feeling a bit dizzy. Cold beers even made things worse.

Guess what? You remember the  big Mackerel, we got kilos of meat of in the precedent article? The fish so delicious that even with the obvious happening we very reluctantly thrown the rest away? (barely 1 Kg remaining anyway..).  We had ciguatera (“La gratte” in French). Food poisoning (mild symptoms stage) from reef fishes and occasionally found in Mackerel, especially if you eat kilos of it…. Fishing was over for us and we needed a good rest.  (and the wind went under 15knts anyway).

(A rest) which Ouvea has plenty to offer if you get a bit organized. So we exchanged our sea mounts for land ones, AKA, our faithful bicycles.  Ouvea is flat (oh delight for whining Anna in front of hills, at the bottom of hills more exactly, certainly not at the top). And full of caves (I know, it sounds surprising but it is). So we wheeled ourselves to the mysterious Hulup Cave, once used to bury the elder which deepens itself into the ground to a clear body of water hosting weird looking bright purple crabs.

We mused at the Hanawa Blue Hole: a circular natural swimming pool next to the sea so deep and clear that the color of it is petrol blue and host several colorful tropical reef fishes. Next to it was an abandoned project of traditional huts for a resort which seemed perfect for a BenAnna Republic Windsurf Camp… I asked around and got a number, maybe one day…

Near the top at St Joseph we discovered the turtle hole, a natural green swimming pool surrounded by cliffs where turtles come back at the surface to get some air. It is obviously linked to the sea and offers to the pacific reptilians a peaceful harbor. We got the unbelievable chance to get a glance at several Ouvea parakeet, both highly endangered and endemic.

In the middle of all this we punctuated by few others days of windsurfing until Ben’s back surrendered despite his new harness. I personally could spend a lifetime in Ouvea and windsurf everyday. It is always in the back of my mind from now on.

Despite its very touristic focus, I must mention the Lekine Cliffs in the middle of the island. They are beige/grey coral cliffs 30 meters high in which the sea carved caves and overhanging platforms from which falls vertiginous stalactites and pillars obstructing secrets hides. All of this in a décor of milky turquoise surroundings. We didn’t hire a guide since we flee tourists traps like the pest but it might have worth the coin. You can access to this place only with an authorization of the tribe, no time, too many things to do, so we passed.

We started making tracks to the isolated islands at the top and it only gets better! Now I need to give you an insight of a little game we play with Ben: since we arrived, we have been so mesmerized than we took the habit of choosing spots to build a hut. By now Ben and I have built approximately 20 fictive huts for which a good part is in Ouvea at the north of the island. It is hard to describe but this is really the kind of place where we can allow ourselves to dream of settlement. Soft white beach next to the sea, a beautiful spot for windsurf always windy inshore with flat water and also waves, secured anchorage for Inara, plenty of coconuts trees, a proliferation of fishes (I will describe this in detail later), far enough from any other person but close enough to the village than a 20 min dinghy ride would allow us to have fresh croissants, lots of rocks and strange cliffs to explore, plenty of trees, probably some source of fresh water and finally a constellation of coral heads  alive and colorful.

How Ben Lost His New Lure:

You see, Ben and I don’t spend much money in fishing gear because for us it is nor a luxury nor a hobbie. We need to fish as much as we love doing it. A lure that cost more than 5 bucks is way too  expensive. Nevertheless when Ben saw in the shop at Coffs Harbor a Cotton Cordel Lure, the same than the one he had as he was a kid, the EXACT lure (apart from the color) that no fish was able to resist: a wavy body and a slick finish; he put the hand in his pocket and extract a few notes to pay for it.

He resisted weeks before putting it in the rod to be sure to use it on the best spot. When he showed it to me, the lure swimming weirdly at Yate, I had the typical reaction: “pfff all that money and you never gonna catch a fish with it…”

Therefore when I heard him calling me excited “Anna!!” and I saw the dinghy and Ben fighting wildly what was obviously a very big fish, I smiled. I always get it wrong.

Unfortunately, Trevally are quite dirty fighters and this one figured out after few minutes of struggle that a coral bommie would surely save him. Ben retrieved only the line sadly cut. His lucky Lure was gone. A fish had a new trendy mouth piercing and I wasn’t that wrong after all (but I have been careful of not saying it loudly). That’s how Ben lost his New lure.

How Ben uses a crappy Lure and Get his Revenge.

The story continue.  Ben annoyed beyond limits puts then the cheapest lure we have, a basic white and red lure. I managed to get a nice blue maori cod that we kept for eating (we still had mild ciguatera symptoms but you know…) with the trolling rod (out of the dinghy).

We then moved further north for more islands discovering. We went to Degala islands: 2 stretch of wild coral island facing each other and offering an exceptionally beautiful protected lagoon/passage in their middle. Crystal clear water and more, a lot more, of delightful coral bommies striving with life.  That’s where for the first time we had the chance to observe an underwater system untouched and unspoiled by intensive fishing.  The average size of the fishes and their diversity seemed about right and very comparable to some of the remote Australian reef systems.  We had an awesome time snorkeling, sighting plenty of fishes that would have been fair spear fishing targets.

We also scout along the white sand beaches hidden away on the foreshore, and while we were having one of those delightful moments just enjoying the present moment and joking at each other a school of shadows appeared right next to us on the beach. A mixed school of Trevaliies! Ben disappeared at once running like a madman to grab his rod he left on the dinghy while I was still overlooking the fishes. 30 secondes later, I see the Lure (the white and red crappy one) splashing into the water and the rest is anthology. The fish frenzy that followed lasted 5 seconds and I see Ben holding onto his rod and being towed to the water up to half thighs. I run for the camera and got the complete sequence. Ben saying “It’s so big, but I think it will be ok” and me screaming back all excited” Yeah Benny! Get him! Tired him! Wooho it’s a Giant Trevally!”

And yes indeed it was a giant Trevally, 80 cm for 15 kilos that Ben got out onto the beach on his light gear. What a fish! What a revenge!

The rest is anecdotal.  We didn’t eat that massive Trevally on a fire even we were well tempted to do so. There is only a reasonable amount of luck we can count on and having caught this fish was lucky enough, we were not going to gamble with our ciguatera body bearing abilities. (This is not yet the account of how BenAnna got evacuated to the nearest health center, sorry)

We did do a fire though, and a great one with marinated spicy chicken cooked on sandalwood, white sand and protected coves under the lush forest. Sweet sweet time.

We moved to Beautemps-beaupres island where unfortunately due t the weather window we only stayed one night. I am running out of words to describe this island: outstanding? Enchanting? Perfect? Even better than all the other islands? It’s a bit like a fairy tale, there is always 3 princesses and one is always fairer than the one before. Beautemps-Beaupres is certainly the last one, a maiden lush as heaven and gets 5 stars rating out of 5 for hut building possibilities. One of the amusing additional features includes an external belt of coral rocks sharp and hostiles facing the sea and undermined by a legion of natural pools and burrows. This has for effect to produce the most entertaining geysers at flooding tide associated with the tpchuuu… of a whale expulsing her breath.  Put an empty plastic bottle on top of it and you have Ben occupied for a good 10 minutes.  We reluctantly abandoned that island that we would have gladly called BenAnna HQ.

Back to the main land and its rain of frustrations.

Sunshine, rainbow and lollipops

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The day I caught the biggest fish of my life. (and the biggest fish on Inara).

Last entry was done on the day before everything changed in my life. Before, when I was still a little fish catcher, a mongrel living on scraps and bones and undersized fish. Now I play with the big kids. I caught my first yellowfin tuna. It was a beautiful fair day of wind, we left Kuto bay early (11am) to head to Oro Bay (on the east side of isles of Pines). The wind beam reach was pushing us at reasonable speed and I was in bed sightly seasick (yes it happens even to the best of us, courtesy of a mild flu symptom).  All sudden, an eerily unusual sound wakes me up : a zzzzzzzzzzzz —-zzz —zzz—zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz—–zzzzzz…. The ratchet on the trolling line! God of the seven seas! We haven’t get anything biting for ages! (hardy ever actually). Instantly cured of my queasy feeling I jump on deck and drop the jib while Ben handles the boat and grab the rod. And there starts 10 min of hard labor for Benny rewinding the line against a correct size fish which finally decides to spit our lure out.. Oh well… under sail again then.

Fitfteen minutes later, as we are still excited, the same symptoms occurs, a whizzing line and the organized ballet that it triggers (sails down, heading into the wind, Ben working his arms muscles like a mad man.) A good 15 minutes later , the fish is almost here, I have the gaff in hand ready to catch it, the Katonga not far and in my mind a nice fish and chips. The fight is hard but Ben holds on and we are getting ourselves a bit overexcited, especially when the lure finally comes clean only a couple of meters from the boat…NOOOOOO!!!!!! @#$%$#@ of FISH! WHHYYYY!!!! “FAAAATHER!!!”” BOUHOUHOU” and so on…..

Well back to sailing again. Life is so unfair.

But in French we have a saying which states “never 2 without 3” and those were French fish after all:

The line flies past, Ben drops the sail and handles everything but when he is about to grab the rod, he turns toward me a says “This one is yours”.  Sure? I’m not Wolverine with his oversized chunks of muscles for forearms. “Let’s do this “ I answer.  Well the rest is quite blurry, I listened carefully to Ben’s advices, winding as much as I could and my heart thumping when we started to see the silvery shade coming from the blue depths. And Ben to announce: “It’s a Yellowfin Tuna, Anna, keep the weight on the line, bring it to the back of the boat”.

And in an instant, in an expert swift movement, Ben’s plants the gaff just behind its gills and brings it on board! Woohoo! What a team.

79 cm from head to tail and approximately 10 KG.  A Juvenile according to Ben’s description but a monster in my mind.

Well now we know what we gonna eat for the complete following week: Tuna steaks, fried Tuna, pastas with Tuna, Tuna cakes, tuna mad…

We arrived at Oro and cleaned our fish not without playing at shark aquarium from the back of Inara: we tied the head of the Tuna to a rope and waited. The usual reef tip sharks turned up but also things bigger: a 3 m bronze whaler. Very funny to observe them from so close, the whaler was cautious at first and tried with small bites but after 10 minutes he decided that he really wanted the Tuna head and smashed everything until he got it. Including jamming a big angry tail kick at the stern of Inara  and pulling on the rope so hard that it moved the boat…. Lesson of the day, if you are in the water with a bronze whaler, you have a good 10 minutes until he goes berserk once he gets enough confidence.

We had so much Tuna (about 5 kilos of meat) that we gladly offered 2 massive filets to the catamaran anchored a few yards away. They seemed quite happy having apparently paid 30 dollars the kilo for Yellowfin Tuna in Noumea.

We, then , headed to a very secluded beach between the pines for a BenAnna camp,  fire, Didgeridoo,  wine, aluminium potatoes and …. Grilled Tuna steak…

The end of a very entertaining day.

So now, why did you think we were at Oro bay? As it happens, we glanced quite a bit at the brochures before doing our trip to isles of Pines and 2 things seems of importance: The “Piscine Naturelle” and Upi Bay. Both accessible from Oro Bay.

First disappointment when we arrived: a resort had grew up like a mushroom  spoiling one of the most beautiful scenery in isles of Pines. A very expensive resort moreover, 1 000 dollars a night!

We, at Inara Resort, have a policy of complete seclusion which doesn’t allow any other resort in eye sight. Anyway, let’s discover this wonder which seems to be the “Piscine Naturelle”.  In the photos and on the map, it seemed to be a natural swimming pool inland, fed by sea water  through a little river of white sand. It boasted an incredible foison of corals, reef fish in an unnatural and grandiose display.  We arrived at a shallow swampy hole of water where twenty tourists were roasting in the sun with a cringing smell of sweat, suncream and oil on the water. In the middle were 3 poorly alive boomies maybe teaming with depressed fishes (who knows? ) surrounded by another team of tourists with snorkels and tubas splashing everywhere. We didn’t bother going in.  The water was blue but not turquoise (and certainly not Aqua turquoise translucido fluo impossible blue aka ATTFIB). The sandy river was clogged with green algae and swampy seaweed typical of phosphate contamination… a disappointment.

Then we realized why this place was so famous: that was the only place where tourists could go snorkeling safely without going on a boat. They couldn’t know that only a hundred meters from the beach on the other side of the bay were the bluest waters ever; with boomies 15 meters high, corals bright purple, fancy yellow , green and electric blue from all sort and forms hosting a variety of fish as colorful as varied.  Exactly where we went snorkeling the following day.

To do short, we also went to Upi Bay walking, another disappointment: this definitely scores way under Gadji bay (previous chapter) and we arrived on the leeward side of the lake; strongly smelling of sewage as the villages maybe don’t treat their grey water. Only excitement of the day: we discovered white mud: it’s like brown mud from Moreton bay, stinky and very slimy but perfectly white. At first sight, you think it is a paradisiacal beach like in a postcard until you sink to your knees…Ewwww…

Now the highlight: The caves thanks to the courtesy of our mountain bikes. The Grotte de la Reine Hortense is grandiose! No pictures can set things rights so huge and immense it is. A very nice surprise indeed.

Tuna fed and Tuna strong, we head up for Gadji bay for a few days. We are perfectly conscious that after Gadji bay, we will run the risk to be disappointed by anything we would see. It’s just paradise. We enjoy our days, sun lazing, fishing (trying), fire on the beach (grilled quails to be exact). We even rigged our windsurf gear and really expected quite a run between the islands but the wind gusty and weak sent our hopes to feathers.  After a couple of hours navigating slowly in an ATTFIB water we went back to enjoy some rhum and enchiladas.

In the middle of this we also went to the Grotte de la Troisieme (another cave):  hehehe that was great. This cave has the particularity of having a lake inside which links up with the sea a kilometer away. Apparently you can scuba dive the passage but you have to be very good (PADI experienced level at least) and it is very expensive (around 400 dollars). So we were expecting something quite touristic. No. To our great happiness we were utterly wrong. There was no one. The cave is at the end of a sinuous little track in the jungle, a kilometer from the road. A large mouth full of teeth (stalactites) comes out of the ground as a massive groper  (that’s a big fish for the ones who don’t know) trying to swallow you.  We were lucky the light of the sun was quite in line (at 3 pm) with the entry as you starts your descend to the “lake” 30 meters below. We also brought torches (which we have so many) including a diving torch… hehehe…

We strip our clothes with difficulty in the darkness but resolved to our folly (me at least) and then plunge a toe into the water. God of the many stalagmites, it’s icy! Moreover you can’t splash around to warm you up because you would stir up the deposit and not be able to see in the water which is crystal clear, (sorry I forgot to mention the obvious).  We courageously immerge ourselves  and proceed to the exploration. The “plikaploukouteryiuplouuuu” of the water going against the walls of the caves is resonating; this is one of the most strange and creepy sounds when you are carefully swimming. And it’s actually  due to our own “wave” created by our bodies in movement in a body of water not so big filling every crevice and cavities above the normal level of stillness.  Creepy….

Add to this that the water below the surface and in depth is warm! There are warms springs under our feets and the rocks feel alive with this unnatural warmness of theirs. We soon loose the faint glim of the outside and find ourselves in complete darkness feeling warm patch of water and trusting our faithful torch which light up the bottom for us. We glimpse a second chamber and go for it, this one has also an entry to the outside. We go out of the water (started to get very cold) We climb up and find easily the original entry just 10 meters away, we haven’t gone very far but we are delighted by the experience. Our cavemen genes are not so far away after all.

The rest is crayfish piss. We leave isle of Pines after a few day as the rain comes back to go to Kunebi Bay (Near Goro), we walk in the rain for hours to see a waterfall (Wadiana waterfall) and we start seriously to run out of food (my empire for a burger!). Also, we walked on a island shore where there was more cones shells (deadly ones, I remind you) than anything else.

Then Yate, where Anna hooked a mackerel and lost it only a few meters from Inara. We went fresh water swimming and got some canned raviolis at a very expensive rate. (and beers, yeaah!!).  All of this being shown around by a couple of dogs which were the perfect incarnation for excellent tourist guides.

On our way to Thio, we hooked another mackerel. The line fizzed, Ben grabbed the rod and I gaffed it. We got it onboard, 1.10m and approx 15 KG. Way bigger than my Tuna. End of the story.

Now we have 8KG of meat. We gave half of it to a couple guarding a small private village (Kouakoui Bay) and kept the other half. We had the biggest fish and chips ever and kept the 3 Kg remaining for grilled filets, CEVICHE (yum!) and other fish pies….Spanish mackerel is also way better tasting than Yellowfin tuna.

In Thio we replenished well in food and veggies, not without making laugh the locals at the sight of our dinghy with us and our 2 bicycles cramped in it in a very awkward way (Thai style).

We left Thio for  a better shelter at Islot Nani. On the morrow, we set sails on a fresh breeze (15knts-20knts) in direction of Ouvea, one of the most beautiful Pacific Atoll.  To do the ONE thing that matters: WINDSURFING…..

No matter what anna does she cannot keep up with ben while windsurfing.Ben suggests she go to a windsurf school for beginners,or perhaps buy a jetski…

Question for the googlers:  Why do people photograph a bottle of champagne in the white sand beach (and then take it away without drinking it) ? Is it a facebook thing? Because that looks seriously stupid….

Noumea and Isles of Pines – Welcome to Paradise –

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Sweet. There is no more accurate word to describe the lifestyle in New Caledonia. The French influence is omnipresent and fill the air with croissant perfumes and patisseries but they are not responsible for the relaxed and benevolent atmosphere for sure. People are over smiling even more than in Australia (which ranked second in the smiling contest, after Thailand). No honking despite the disturbingly constant traffic jam. People say “Bonjour” when they cross you in the street and the cars stop for the walkers when you have no intention to cross; you are just standing on the side of the road. In the supermarket, no rush no hush, no one is aggressive toward each other; and if you ask some information they are very helpful and welcoming.

But this feels like France, no doubt about it, the dirty and uneven foothpaths, graffitis everywhere on the walls as well as chewing gum under your soles and the dog’s presents. All of that to go to the next “patisserie” and its display of little cakes and tarts glimmering under their delicate icing syrup .

My heart  went bumping like a madman as were unveiled under my eyes the cheese section at the supermarket as well as the “saucissons” Oh my GOD, They have EVERYTHING, and I realized how much I missed it. I also realized how other countries have a such limited range of products compared to a French supermarket, this is just lavish and obnoxious. How can we have such choice when our worldwide resources are depleted and France is such a small country!

Anyway, I meditate on this important topic while stuffing myself with 5 different sort of cheese  (Roquefort, Etorki , Morbier, Comte, Beaufort) on fresh baguette and nibbling at deer saucisson stuffed with peppers.

Anyway, sorry for that, my stomach is not supposed to write.

Noumea is a striking city. Actually it’s more a big wide town than a city. Its numeral bays and its French organization (lack of organization is more appropriate) gives to Noumea an unsettling sense of chaos. The city center around “Place de Cocotiers” looks like a lot of things happened 15 years ago but it has been going downhill since then. Place des Cocotiers is nice though. A long stretch of green stuff (palm tree, coconut trees and shrubs) where youngs kids  and teens comes to gather around and have hip hop contest. Impressive.

There is nothing worthy in architecture in Noumea apart from the cathedral in wood which looks over the city center and a few building remaining from the colonial area.bthe rest of the buildings are 2 to 3 storeys maximum and eclectic in styles with a dominance of the 70’s & 80’s concrete ones. Close to the city center, there is bay Moselle with its packed marinas. Then you climb a hill toward the south and there is Baie de l’orphelinat (Orphanage Bay) . Packed with Boats.  This is the hell of the moorings and the nightmare of every skipper when the wind changes or a gale comes through. 150 boats at least, most of them close to wreck abandoned to their fate in the only free anchorage in Noumea.

Did I tell you that Inara was a twitchy little thing? Well, her well known and favorite habit is to swing happily around her chain following every little changes in the wind angle. A dancing swinging boat, delicate and shiny  in the middle of steel monomarans. Now you would imagine that Benny doesn’t sleep very well at night.

A hill later along the foreshore (still Noumea), you are in Bay des citrons. Here trendy bars and cafes lines up one after the other, this is very animated started at 5pm with a couple of very good restaurants. Baie des citrons is a beach EXCLUSIVELY reserved for swimming (you were able to anchor here few years ago but it changed and that explain what we are anchored in a hell hole). By day, its protected water unrolls a delicate blue turquoise water clear as you see in the postcard. A dream for citizen.

Next bay around is Anse Vata. The bay for sailing with your family and friends (watersport activities). You can count over 20 little sailing clubs (funboard, sailing dinghy, sabot, catamaran etc…) on the foreshore. Nice beaches, kids everywhere.

It’s also where you’ll find the big tourist industry. Huge cattling buildings, family friendly apartments, fast food chains, casinos, fried grease suncream and rock and roll.

Anyway, as soon as we arrived and after we assaulted few “boulangeries “ (bakeries), we booked Ben’s mum  (Jenny) for 2 weeks in paradise with us. Well, apparently the resort ticket aboard Inara we offered her didn’t include the sun… (and this option was unaffordable).

Direction Isles of Pines.

On the way we stopped for lunch on the islet Retika. Classic little sand clay island with its bushy top and its turquoise water. We didn’t even go to swim or ashore, too lazy. Then we headed for an anchorage in the very secluded UIE bay. The sight of the foreshore of Grande Terre (New Caledonia main island) is grandiose: high red pointy hills covered with green bushes throw themselves toward the sky as the drapes of a silky dress flowing from above. At the base, coconut trees and secluded beaches complete this sight of heaven. The aqua marine waters around are a delight for the soul and you can imagine the fishes thriving beneath. And until now we haven’t seen a single mosquito!

On the morning, we reluctantly lift the anchor without having spent time ashore (small weather window available to sail south can’t be lost in exploring) and we continued through the woodin canal. After this, there is Bay de Prony where we catch some sight of the mining industry (Modor) before being bullied by a strong south east at 20 knts at the end of the canal.

This unexpected gush of wind makes us run  (me) to put the reef in place…and … (clown music) the reef line finishes IN the wind generator causing us a lot of distress to fix this annoying situation (dropping the main sail, juggling with the windgenerator blades and so on…) Circus style; nothing and no one was broken.

Finally after few hours we sight the distinctive outline of the isle of pines and more turquoise coral water to be excited about.

Ok, now we know we got the good stuff, the thing we have been dreaming about for months, the color that makes the pictures you see in the travel agencies photoshopped; this hysterical shade of blue that you think you can find only find under acid or in the creation of some Japanese decorator………. or in the ISLE OF PINES.

You can’t paint this, you can’t take a picture of it, you can only see it and savor it. It’s like a French patisserie, you can’t export it or describe it, it heals your soul and you never get tired of it.

Aqua turquoise translucido fluo impossible blue.

Compared to THAT. The trees looks more green and the blue sky looks faded.

Oh yeah, the blue sky. Hmm hmm….

Well, we got 50 shades of grey but that wasn’t too bad, Even then, the water was fluorescent.

Then, what of the island? The Isles of Pines is nice with a homely pic N’ga at 286 m and still few Pines trees to show that you are at the right place. With a length of roughly 30 km by 15 km wide this is an island at human scale and with hundreds of things to discover as caves, waterfalls, corals, mores corals, beaches and a few villages. We stayed a few days in Kanumera Bay and went scooting around on our bicycles to Upi and St Joseph bay where the Kanaks still navigate their traditional sailing canoes and the yachties are not welcomed to stay.

The main village Vao is exceptionally beautiful and calm. There is no shops more than a couple of local stores, a church, a main  meeting hall, a beach. No hotel, no restaurant, no tourists. The houses are lovely with well kept garden filled with fruits trees. At once you can tell how much the people like their places and how they take care of it, no rubbish on the side of the road, everything is quiet, the perfect serenity.

Our next stop leads us to Moro islet. A little low  island surounded by an impressive coral ring.

I get a painted blubberlips spearfishing and get myself scratched on coral while waiting for Ben with my fish. It happened that one shark was around when I got my catch and I don’t want to have to fight for my fish with 1000 teethed animal. So I was waiting stupidly on the top of the reef….

We get to know some locals and they leave the barbecue on for us after giving us some tricks for fishing. Apparently it’s squid season.

Now I need to give you a little explanation on how most of the islands in isles of pines are formed: they are corals heads coming out of the water with a height of 2 to 3 meters. Basically, it’s still coral: hard rocky grey bommies that piles themselves on top of each other. Which also makes them very crumbly  with a thousand of crevices underneath the slight deposit on which the trees are growing. Not really the kind of island you can go exploring barefoot as the coral takes the aspect of a ragged spikey conglomerate textured like a very sharp apple crumble made out of cold lava.

But that makes very nice overhanging cliffs as the water munches at the base of the coral with its relentless movement. If you can’t still figure it out, just imagine mushroom islands made of grey rock with a very nice greeny stuff on the top and a couple of straight pines coming out of nowhere. All surrounded by the impossible alien blue (Avatar) color.  And take that model and spread it unevenly around you 20 times. You have Gadji Bay.  What a sight.

We were not anchored for less than 30 minutes than an enormous squid shows his tentacles at the bow. We run to get the squid jig and less than 2 minutes later, not only the bows of Inara were covered in ink but the bloody animal was safely in the bucket. Yoohoo!! Fried squid tonight.

Despite the threatening rain, BenAnna jumped in the dinghy for a bit of proper fishing. Two hours later, soaked to the bone, we came back with only a correct size Mosey’s perch (fingermark) to go with our squid. (courtesy of Ben, “the provider of the day”). I personally missed plenty of catch due to my lack of listening to Ben’s advices (hook too small, line to weak, shark suspected to grab my catch at some point…)

On the next morning, 3 or 4 specimens were lazing by the bow. We got a giant one but he got away so his successor was a bit smaller. We will not grow hungry in there apparently.

Nonetheless, the weather is damp, the rain never stop and everything is wet, mold starts to grow under our armpits. We manage to go exploring the islets around and that’s all.

We lifted  the anchor to go back to Noumea the day after. A quick stop at Prony Bay allows us to get familiar with a warm spring (definitely not “hot spring” as expected). And a little bit of rock climbing along a stream in the afternoon.

The following days were dedicated to bring Jenny safely to the airport and bid her farewell; feeling very sad and sorry for the weather which was absolutely a catastrophe for her dreamed holidays. We replenish Inara ready for the big “Tour”. (Tomme Noire, Beaufort, Cantal, Comte, Coeur Basque, Fourme d’Ambert).

Back to 2X2 mode again (2 hulls, 2 people). We decided to go back to isles of pines to finish all we expected to do there. The weather is soon looking better and we stop first in the canal woodin where I catch a very nice Bec de Cane  (YUM) (photos enclosed) . Then a couple of days lead us to snorkel in the Prony reef and now this is the true and not exaggerated account of what really happened:

We were quietly spearfishing in the reef, Ben and the dinghy being more than a 100 meters from me. For some reason I look behind me and I see a 2.50 meters shark following me. We know those ones, the white tip reef shark are mainly inoffensive unless you have something they like; fish.

Well, this one was following 5 meters behind me, never got that before. And not afraid at all. I stressed a bit and came back to the dinghy as fast as I could with the shark well in line with my spear.

Then I met back with Ben who tells me that he was followed by 2 of them as well. We have been advised.

15 minutes later, I heard the sound of Ben’s speargun firing and I see him with a good size Dawa (Unicorn fish) and the shark coming straight at him. I come close to him and escort him to the dinghy. The shark unafraid was coming in front of us to try to get the fish and then on our right side and behind. I was in mode “bodyguard”, fending Ben from any possible attack. I could perfectly see that the animal was unsettled by the fact we were 2 of us (and I wasn’t in the mind of letting him having a piece of my skipper). He couldn’t get in our blind spot, so we went back safely to the dinghy (Ben holding the fish out of the water). No doubt about the fact it would have take its chance if it would have been only one of us.

That how I saved Ben from a shark attack. J

The rest after that is bait piss, we changed anchorage and climbed to the light house, got soaked and caught a magnificent giantnomanosore squid (picture in the dinghy).

Now in Isles of Pines, sipping a fresh beer at the resort and using internet for free.

Ah, and everywhere we go, we have remoras as pets now.

CROSSING OVER FINALLY – 5 days at SEA

P1020056P1020055P1020053After a good 2 weeks of waiting for the right weather window, Inara is finally ready. The last minute event of the toilet tank being blocked almost threw all our hopes away at once. It had been 1 month where nothing was going in the right direction: between the autopilot being defective from the factory, the poor and almost dishonest response of the reseller that didn’t want to replace the unit. This added to the long list of mis-happenings wearing out our optimism:  the second outboard without a functioning CDI (part had to come from the US and was lost), the navigation lights working only when they wished, The satellite phone company being slacks to activate my SIM card during 3 weeks (calling them every night), the immigration service sending a last minute enquiry for my Australian permanent residency and so on…. We missed more weather windows than we could have counted, the westerly systems were all but a painful souvenir.

On the Wednesday the 06th of August, Ben was still grumbling looking at the forecast being not optimum for us. Moreover a low was forecasted on the next Monday which would have seen us forced to leave Coffs harbor for a better shelter along the coast; therefore pushing our expectation of leaving for a further 2 weeks.

I had a quick look at the forecast, it wasn’t great but it was “possible”, with a bit of head wind at the beginning, beam along the way and possibly strong headwinds on the last day. After a quick debate of how we were sick of our bad luck and if whether or not we would be lucky this time, Ben decided to go. Yeaaaah!!! I was finally going to see the big blue.

All was decided in less than 30 minutes. Inara was clean and ready in less than 1 hour and the  custom clearance done straight away.  A last Aussie meat pie in our belly to give us some courage (by the way, the best I ever had, try the bakery behind the IGA in Coffs Harbour, excellent!) and there we haul the anchor at 3 pm, ready to motor headwind for a couple of hours.

We didn’t have to.  After half an hour the wind NNE allowed us to head straight East with our sails set hard on the wind. Inara at 7 knots in a 10 knts breeze, what a cat!

As the sun set,  the fishing vessels and ships started to appear all around. Thanks to that awesome piece of equipment which is the AIS, we never went nervous. The AIS is a system of vessels identification that works through the VHF signal and displays the position of vessels, their speed, name and direction directly on our GPS/chart plotter. The anxiety of being crushed under a 200 meters ship is eased by 90%. The first night was uneventful, dolphins came to bid us farewell playing under the bows of Inara for 1 hour before they bored themselves, we weren’t that fast. We both enjoyed the smooth sailing until 11 pm where I went to bed first ready to take my shift at 2 am. I couldn’t sleep. I was so happy. At 2 am, we exchanged roles but Ben couldn’t close an eye either.

I finally managed half an hour of sleep on my second pause at 5 am. Ben’s eyes undefeated were still as big as the sun when I woke up.

The second day was a pure bliss. Smooth sailing and surfing as the wind went to NNW to W. Still not fast, an average at 10 knots on beam reach when the wind force was 10 knots. Nothing really, I remember being in the front sea sunbathing with a book in one hand and a cocktail in the other. Riding the oceans  and keeping watch as the sea unrolled in front of you with its infinity of hills and valleys; the glittering  and glamour of a day that will always last in its luxurious comfort and opulence. I miss 2 fish trolling being messy in hooking them up (and I had the Ipod on…)

Ben is still not sleeping. I barely managed to get unconscious by period of 45 min every 6 hours. I sleep 1hour and 45 min this second day: 45 min of superficial sleep and 90 min of deep sleep. Fair enough.

The second night was gorgeous, I am still the happiest woman on earth, Inara surfs at an average of 12 knts as the wind picks up, the shifts of 3 hours happen without issues and we got Roo hamburgers, the last ones for a while but what a feast. Ben is still as awake as a Orbweb spider at dawn.

The third day was without a doubt the best day of sailing in my life: the wind switch to SSW and Inara reaching 12-15 knots in 10-15 knots of wind. Youhou!!! We are still dry and happy, what a wonder of a cat! The seas unrolled while we skim along so fast that my poor intend to troll lures is bound to fail. The visit of an albatross adds to the climax of the day. Its perfect flight and huge dimensions are mesmerizing. This is the most beautiful bird in flight in the world for sure.

Everything was great on that day, managed plenty of sleep, played with the sails, got my weather forecast everyday. Looks good.  We  smoke our way between Middleton reef and Elisabeth reef. I even got a sample of water for my father, apparently he wants to taste the water of the south pacific…..what a dork.

I managed to cook 5 Liters of delicious chicken soup and have the intuition of tying the pot close to the oven. A wise decision for the day to come, believe me.

Ben is still as awake as the squid that came flying onto our deck during the night. But he finally collapse for 1 hour in the early dawn.

The fourth day started painfully, we are now on the top of the Lord Howe rise and the seas become confused and choppy. Now that is more how I figured ocean sailing: everything is bouncing around every 10 seconds including your stomach and you even have periods of  zero gravity. Ben saw his coffee forming a bubble and coming toward his face. Gratefully Inara belly splashed before he burned himself. Inara is now suffering stupor and temblor. The whole boat resonates and vibrates as she slams hard on the waves. The wind reach 20-25 knots and our cat 18 knots at times but not in the fancy way we like it. We put one reef on and then a second one. No other choice is left than changing over for our small working Jib. An effective changeover that we execute as circus artists (Ben being at the trapezes and me being the… clown; no one of us being an elephant, thanks God).

Inara finally slow down to 8 knots. What a relief. We can finally have some rest (middle of the day). And cold chicken soup.

 

PS: I can’t update the pictures yet, sorry, I will figure that out soon. Next update Noumea and isles of Pines….

The sleep deprivation starts to take its toll. I’m cold tired annoyed annoying confused and tired. Ben is anxious tired annoyed cold and tired. Inara is fine, she is Inara. We can’t eat anything else than crackers.

I collapsed in a coma for 3 hours then it’s Ben’s turn. We manage a quiet night, rolling our shifts, me snuggled in my windsurf sails bag as an outside sleeping bag. Everything is wet salty cold and aching. If you don’t maintain your core strain position, your stomach folds ups and you get sea sick. I feel like a dancer on a training: straight back, shoulder at the back, pointes pas chasses and agile and graceful!

(This is for my cousin Maria Piedad, she would probably be very eased at sea).

To lick my wounds I sing at the top of my voice, my best trick so far to stay awake; all the French songs and Mexican pop are on the playlist (Thanks to la rue ketanou, tryo, bersuit vergarabat, los autenticos decadentes, Mr odelaf, Les joyeux urbains, Brassens, Benabar, Bob Marley, Canteca de Macao, anti dopping etc…) And every half an hour a flying fish decides to commit suicide on our deck. We put back with patience the little delinquents trying to get Ben into the head almost every time.

The fourth day is still at 15-20 knot as we head more north. The wind switch to ENE but we are never on the close reach. More on the reach, beam reach. Inara still slam sometimes regularly but strong with our sleep and the hope to arrive on the following day, we don’t care anymore.

Ben finally sleeps like a baby when his turn comes. I snore. We eat warm chicken soup and that’s a privilege.

The last night, was the last night. Long, a bit cold and still wet. The moon is full. At dawn we see the moonset  at the exact same moment as the sunset. Few hours later the line of New Caledonia appears and it’s an immense  joy that submerges us. We did it. This new island smells like a cookie: a mixture of vanilla, sandalwood, banana flower and coconut. We want to eat it!

Anyway, I collect all the flying fish on deck (4 at once), and gather all the fruits and veggies left to make an massive green flying fish curry with Tofu. Delicious! Well, actually Ben couldn’t eat it, he complained of me using the poor flying fish to make a smelly looking curry….

We pass the impressive Amedee light house and open the champagne bottle of Veuve Clicquot offered by my brother last Christmas. We saved it for this very special occasion. With cookies too.

I want to stay at sea, I loved it so much but the excitement of the adventure in front of us to come is even more attractive. Our soaring of albatross slowly shrinks down as we approach the coast.

P1020057

On the beach again

Inara on the beach

Monday 21st July 2014,

Here we are. Ready on our first beaching, Canaipa point. Still some jobs to do (tight up the nettings) but globally we just wonder around waiting for the right weather window.

Nothing can make fly Anna away like an expectaction of “work”. After 30 minutes in the cold wind helping Ben with the netting, she pretext the flooding tide as an excuse. And there, she grabs, fishing rod, cast net and lures for a little session on the edge of the sandbank leaving Ben to his torment….

Not even a good catch today, a poor bream slighty undersized got lucky and put back in the water. “Anyway”…. Crepes tonight.

 

PS: Got a Taylor from the surf on tuesday though! YUM! Quite a reward for staying 4 hours in the water under the rain… And we finished the netting (i had no much choice) – Anna

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