When we left Fiji we were in some kind of hurry to get to Australia so we quickly decided to give Vanuatu a miss. We had already promised ourselves to come back to Fiji as soon as possible so we will have to pay Vanuatu a visit then. From all we have heard and read it seems well worthwhile.
We did not give New Caledonia a miss though because it is right in the way anyway and it splits the 1600 sm journey in two and make it easier to digest for passage haters like me. Unfortunately we did not have a lot of wind on the passage and when we hoisted our favorite downwind sail – the gennaker – we discovered a big rip and had to take it back down right away.
We actually had to motor the last 30 sm to the Havannah Pass in the south-east of New Caledonia but caught a nice breeze when closing in. The pass looked wide and straight forward on the maps so I decided to sail through it. It was an exiting ride all the same. Inside the pass, sailing nicely with 6-7 kn of speed over water we could suddenly see the waves go weird and the speed over ground went up to 11 kn. A current of 4-5 kn was pushing us in, giving us the highest speed over ground ever witnessed on Qi.
Once inside the surrounding reef it was late afternoon and we had 40 more miles to go in between reefs and islands. Being in french waters the navigational aids looked very well maintained and the maps showed well marked channels so we decided to sail through the night to Noumea, the port of entry. Again it was a unique landscape that slid past us. Steep, high cliffs and rocky beaches with huge pine trees lined the shores, sometimes with coconut palms growing in between the pines. The land itself seemed rather scarcely covered in vegetation and not overly inviting. I had an exiting sail through the night right into Port Moselle, Noumea and dropped anchor around midnight.
The next morning we were lucky to get a berth in the Port Moselle marina and waited for quarantine and customs to clear us in. I ran off to immigration while Gaylyn tried without much success to protect her fruits and veggies from the grasp of the quarantine officials.
Noumea is a typical modern french colonial town. It seems almost on European standard of living, only the indigenous people look somewhat left behind. A lot of young Melanesian people hang out on the corners and somehow do not look like the are part of the picture. Prices are ridiculous and that seems to explain why anybody who is not well educated and has a well paid job cannot cope.
Coming in we had met Byamee, an Australian vessel that we had first met in Bonnaire. We had tried to catch up with them ever since, then but they always seemed to be one step ahead and about to leave when we arrived. Again they were just about to leave but we managed to have a brief get together. There was a weather window coming up for the last passage to Australia but we
had already given our gennaker away for repairs so we decided to spend some time outside in the reefs and Islands around New Caledonia that form the worlds biggest surrounding reef.
Unfortunately the wind was predicted to blow strongly from southerly directions and which made it hard to reach the Iles des Pins that form the southern corner of the surrounding reefs. Instead we scanned the area just outside and north of Noumea finding beautiful sailing conditions and lots of tiny sandy islands and beautiful snorkeling.
After 4 days we returned to Noumea to pick up our sail and clear out. The weather was rather calm for the passage to Australia but there was no wind to come within my forecasts range. We were still thinking about going to Ile des Pins to wait for wind. Some beautiful dives were said to be waiting for us there but again Gaylyn was somewhat reluctant to waste more time away from Oz. When we sailed out of Port Moselle she remarked that she had not really provisioned for a longer stay so we spontaneously decided to set the course to 250 degrees heading for the Passe de Dumbea and off to Oz rather than south to Ile des Pins.