We left Fiji in fine weather on the 750 mile passage to New Caledonia, making good way in 15-20kts aft a beam. The first 3 days were fast with daily runs of 186, 194 and 183 miles. The wind backed slowly and by day 4 was NE 5-10 kts. After some time it stopped altogether and we were resigned to motoring the remaining 50 miles to make the tidal gate through the Passe de la Havaanah in daylight, with a following tide. At this point the engines started playing up again, which I managed to sort out…water pump issues. There seemed to be a problem with the suction from the raw water pump. Relocating the strainers seemed to work and off we went at a stately 4.5 kts towards New Caledonia and our immanent rendezvous with Ben the cameraman.
Making the Passe in good time and motoring to a quiet anchorage, Anse de Pilote, we dropped the hook just after sundown. It felt good to be at anchor, and after a light dinner we went to bed excited, knowing that the following day we would be in a marina for the first time since Panama, nearly 7 months ago.
It felt like a late spring morning in England with dew on the decks and birdsong in the air, but looking around, the view was a mixture of scrub covered red earth on the hills and palm trees lining the beach. It looked somewhere between Australia and Fiji….which, funnily, is exactly what it was!
We motored up to Noumea, and after hanging around for an hour were allocated a berth. Quarantine and immigration duly arrived and without much ado left, satisfied with our credentials. Customs did not appear and we were deemed cleared after two hours, so we went ashore to look around.
Noumea was a busy cosmopolitan town but rather impersonal, so we headed back to the boat to meet Richard and his wife, the local liaison hired by the film company. Richard was a wealth of knowledge and was at our disposal to help service Pegasus prior to Bens arrival. We sorted laundry, cooking gas and stores, with the help of his car, and he gave us a cruising guide he had compiled which proved to be a great help.
The Boys were very excited at Bens arrival the following afternoon. After unpacking the magazines and various gifts he had bought out, we sat down and talked about what we had all been up to since we last saw him leaving in a taxi over the hills of Huku Niva some 4 months previously. So much had happened in both his and our lives and we all had a fun evening catching up.
Ben was moving onto the boat the following day and we planned to spend the rest of the week organising the locations, people and tools he would need to get the shots the film company wanted. It was decided we would go to the south Lagoon, some 45 miles south for the helicopter shots and then head north to Ouvea in the Loyalte islands for the boat to boat shots and some local interaction. A journey of another 120 miles. Ben would then fly out from there. After Ben left we would head off to Australia, which posed a problem, as we would have a 120 mile passage to windward back to Noumea to clear out of new Caledonia with customs.
After some thought I wrote a letter to customs and immigration asking for a dispensation to allow us 10 days grace from the date of clearance so that we could complete the filming. After some thought both Customs and immigration granted the dispensation, which was a great relief, and meant we could leave Ouvea travelling north, and pick our way through the reef, over the North, and pass out through the reef to the west of New Caledonia and thence onward to Australia.
After picking up fuel we left Noumea on Saturday 10th October bound for Islot Ua in the south lagoon. We made good progress through the reef but I was not happy. I could see a hazy cloud appearing on the horizon, and knew it meant wind. The proposed anchorage at Islot Ua was exposed with poor holding and so with reluctance, aborted, looking for the nearest protection from the coming SW winds. That just happened to be Anse de Pilote our anchorage of the very first evening.
I had been in touch with our friends Vagabond Heart and Lucy Blue who I knew were close to making the passe into New Caledonia from Fiji, but had head winds so were likely to be delayed. With genuine surprise I awoke in the morning to see both boats at anchor with us in the bay, a welcome surprise as this would be the first and last time we would see them before Australia, and provided a good opportunity to celebrate Debbie’s birthday of the previous day. We decided to delay our departure and all got together on Pegasus for a champagne breakfast and presents. We left shortly before lunch and headed back to Islot Ua arriving, by the skin of our teeth, just as the sun was dipping the horizon. We set the anchor at full dusk in calm conditions, confident we were clear of any coral and excited about the next days shoot.
Up early and ashore. The helicopter was due at 10 and we wanted to shell the beaches before it arrived. Ben stayed on board sorting his gear as we walked the beaches. We found some beautiful nautilus shells, amongst others, and saw plenty of sea snakes. There were 2 islands and after walking round the first we went over to the other one again collecting shells before returning to Pegasus. After dropping Ben on the beach we got Pegasus ready and waited for the helicopter to land on the beach.
Up anchor and away, engines on, sails up and off we went. There wasn’t much wind but enough, and after an hour of sailing with the helicopter buzzing around us we dropped the sails and anchored in a kink in the reef over turquoise water and white sand, swimming while Ben filmed us leaning out of his helicopter. It was all quite exciting and after dropping Ben back on the beach we waved goodbye as the helicopter arched over us and headed back to Noumea.
We had lunch, and Ben was delighted and somewhat relieved that he had got the shots and that part of the operation was a success. There was another island 2 miles away, so after lunch we took the dinghy over and had a lovely walk and swim off the island returning late afternoon well exercised and ready for the trip up to Ouvea the following day.
It was quite tricky getting out of the lagoon and after 4 hours picking our way through the reef and unsurveyed areas we exited the passe de la sarcelle and headed north under spinnaker, up towards Ouvea. As night fell the wind backed and we doused the kite and put up the genoa and staysail, making good way on a dark moonless night. We arrived at Ouvea on time, as we wanted to enter the passe du coetlogon no earlier than 8 so we had good light to see the reef and potential coral heads.
We anchored off a beautiful white beach, swam and all went ashore for a walk and some filming. We enjoyed the day on the beach and swimming off Pegasus and that evening lit a fire on the beach and had a few sundowners watching the sun set over the NW horizon.
The following morning was calm…I mean absolutely calm, not a ripple on the water. After a swim we readied the boat as we had a RIB arriving at 10 for Ben to film Pegasus at close quarters. We spent the morning motor sailing north and were surprised to see a 7 meter hammerhead cruising past the boat. Ben filmed what he could and at lunchtime we dropped the hook off St Joseph, the town in the north of the atoll where we had a loose arrangement to meet the chief, who would introduce us to some locals so Ben could film interaction etc.
As it transpired this arrangement was so loose that nobody knew much about it and when we finally managed to find the appointed contact he had completely the wrong idea about our objectives. After much discussion that evening, we headed off the following day to some outlying islands for some filming and exploration.
Ben was due to leave the following afternoon, so we moved Pegasus to a truly beautiful and protected beach so that Ben could complete his interviews early, hoping to make the Paradise hotel for lunch, where Ben was to pick up his taxi to the airport. Needless to say, that being France (ish) and being 15 minutes late for the restaurant non was the operative word, so walked down the road to a little restaurant / shack where we all had what was rather a poor and dubious lunch.
We said our goodbyes with a little sadness. This was the last time we would see Ben and as always, we had enjoyed his company. He had been with us at various stages since the start back in Sept 09 and although we know we will see him again there is no set date. However we were back as a family, and we had a difficult passage to get through before starting off to Australia. We decided to eat at the hotel that evening as a little celebration, marking our last evening in the lagoon and turquoise waters of the true pacific.
After a beach walk and swimming we left after lunch to schedule our arrival at the passe de Balade at 8am the following morning. We had a windy night and made good progress, arriving on time. More engine trouble, but I got them started after siphoning the water to the pumps, and we entered the pass in overcast conditions with little visibility. There was a fair breeze and we picked our way through the reef and channels with care as we were navigating on instruments. This far north end of New Caledonia has few visitors, and I was acutely aware that any accident here could leave us all high and dry for quite a while. I was greatly relieved to drop anchor under the protection of a headland while it blew 30 kts overnight.
The weather didn’t look good for a few days and I wanted to let the sea ease off before we started off to Australia. It was blowing from the S and as we had to head SW for the first 15 hours to clear a reef system off shore, I knew that the longer we left it, the better ride we would have. Either way it was going to be uncomfortable. We rounded the top of New Caledonia on 20th October and anchored off Isle Yande, a very rugged island some 3 miles from the pass out into the Coral Sea. We were well sheltered from the strong southerly winds and decided to sit out another day and let the seas ease.
JJ and I took the dinghy off a explore a cave cut into the cliff face and find a suitable beach landing. We returned successful so after packing a bag, camera etc set off to the beach. This was a stone beach, with rugged cliffs, and I suspect had not been walked on for some years. Just as Amanda was saying that she would find no shells on this beach, she picked up her first beautiful Textured Cone shell. Fabulous. We walked the beach picking up shells every few meters. It would have to rank as our most productive beach ever. It was quite a haul. We lit a fire to burn our rubbish prior to our passage and the boys climbed the cliffs with the aid of a rope I attached for them. Amanda and I watched the fire burn and had a quiet moment of reflection before our last offshore passage. through the Coral Sea and on to Australia.
The Coral Sea is known as such because it is full of coral and reef systems, some uncharted. Many ships have come to grief in its waters and the reef and plateau areas cause the large swell to intensify and break up, altering the frequency and direction, making for extremely rough conditions. It was essential for us to stay well away from any reef, and to weather of any plateau areas.(some of these areas cause the seabed to rise from 2km to 50 m in a short distance creating enormous waves)
We set sail on 21st October bound for Bundaberg as part of the Port To Port Rally, a group of boats due to arrive in Bundy between 26th and 29th October. We had entered the rally because we had plenty of friends arriving with the rally and the extremely strict quarantine, customs and immigration facilities would be streamlined for the 50 odd boats taking part. There was an organised social programme and so it bode well for a straightforward entry and a good party on arrival.
Our first challenge was to get south past a large offshore plateau, which meant being close hauled in 3 meter seas for 15 hours. Poor old Louis was sick 3 times but when we finally bore away it was altogether more comfortable. Our second challenge was not to arrive on Sunday as Quarantine charged overtime and it would cost us 800AUD just to enter. We picked our way through the reef systems and after 2 days slowed down to try and arrive on Sunday after 5pm. By Saturday the wind had died so we motored the last day and arrived in Australia on Sunday 25th October at 11pm. On the last afternoon we were buzzed by a Coast watch plane, which contacted us for boat details. We knew we were logged in and everyone was expecting us but it was still reassuring to know that they knew our position.
There were 10 boats waiting for clearance and after a slow morning we were cleared into Australia with Quarantine confiscating our dairy products, fresh veggies and all meats. Luckily we were in the land of plenty, with an enormous selection of produce available at real prices. After the limited availability in the pacific it felt quite liberating to buy what you wanted rather than what was available.
We had finally made it to Australia, having sailed more than halfway round the world, and were pretty pleased to be here. Although we had crossed the Pacific, I think we both felt that we had not really scratched the surface. There are so many other less frequented islands in the Pacific, waiting to be discovered and explored. It seems adventure is just a sail away. For now, we are in Australia until the cyclone season is over, so we will enjoy it here and see what it has to offer. It seems a bit odd not having a deadline or immediate direction, as we have for the last year. There are, however, new challenges, and we must learn new skills navigating the coast and crossing the bars that cover the entrances to Australia’s rivers and anchorages. We are looking forward to exploring Australia, but I, for one, am a little sad that the Pacific is to windward and at our backs….. until another time.
See our photographs of New Caledonia at http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/103419419518034555314/NewCaledonia?authkey=Gv1sRgCLWxxdb69cP7lwE&feat=directlink