Cruising New Caledonia

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We spent 3 months in 2004 sailing around southern New Caledonia and could easily spend as much time again having the northern lagoon and the Loyalty Islands still to explore. New Caledonia is a fascinating place, particularly so if you're interested in botany or French food.

Charts, Guides and Useful Publications

Charts

The French SHOM charts are expensive (CFP 3300) and don't seem any more up to date than the equally expensive British Admiralty charts ($35) or the modestly priced DIMA charts ($18). Some of the SHOM charts, the 2000-series I believe, are ancient and are being replaced at the usual glacial bureaucratic pace by the much nicer 6000- and 7000-series.

Sadly, DIMA doesn't provide detailed coverage at the scale needed for navigating in the lagoon, so you'll need to shell out the cash for BA or SHOM charts if you're going anywhere other than Nouméa and Île des Pins. If you're just going to Nouméa and Île des Pins, you'll need at least the following:

  • SHOM: 6933, 6827, 6687 or..
  • BA: 936, 2906, 2907

Either of those alternatives is sufficient to get in to Nouméa from either direction and to get to Île des Pins.

Digital charts (the famous bootleg CMAP CDs that everyone has) seem to have roughly the same detail as paper.

If you can find a complete set of charts to borrow, you can have them photocopied (ask where at Port Moselle) for about CFP 800 per chart.

Many of the charts are not on the WGS 84 datum, and unlike the east coast of Australia, the corrections may be significant to navigation, about 2 cables.

Many areas in the lagoon are unsurveyed or poorly surveyed and require good visibility for successful navigation.

Cruising Guide

Cruising Guide to New Caledonia Joel Marc, Marc Rambeau, Ross Blackman
Graphically, the guide is a little awkward - it is sometimes hard to figure out where the anchorage you're reading about is - but the information has generally been good. Their anchorage descriptions are a bit variable, for example, I consider a "night anchorage" to be someplace where the worst thing that could happen is that it could become uncomfortable (if the wind changed). In a number of places that the guided indicated as "night anchorages" I could not see how to leave adequate swinging room for a wind shift. In another instance, they characterize the holding as "good" but go on to exhort the reader to use plenty of chain.

There is a CD version of this guide, which has exactly the same contents. The authors of the CD are working on another revision in the style of they produce for Vanuatu. I personally find it a bit heavy on useless graphical effects.

Other Publications

Agenda des Marées Marine Corail
The tide tables are free from Marine Corail. In addition to tides they contain lots of other handy information, VHF channels, weather broadcast schedules etc.

Weather

Weather Forecasts

Weather forcasts are broadcast by Nouméa Radio, at 6:30, 9:30, 15:15, 18:30. The forcast is announced on VHF 16 and then given on one of the following repeater channels:

  • 26, Nouméa area
  • 28, Southern Grand Terre
  • 25, Île des Pins, southern lagoon
  • 25, N west coast of Grand Terre
  • 24, Northern Grand Terre
  • 23, Ouvea
  • 26, Lifou
  • 87, Maré

Nouméa Radio will read ze weazer in Eenglish upon request.

Both Australian and New Zealand weather faxes cover the area, with the Kiwi faxes generally showing more detail for the weather around New Caledonia.

New Zealand Weatherfax Broadcasts

We've been having the best reception with 13550.5khz which, as everyone knows, is actually broadcast at 13548.6khz.

UTC local contents
21:30 09:30 Southwest Pacific MSL analysis
00:30 11:30 Southwest Pacific 30hr MSL prognosis
01:30 12:30 Southwest Pacific 48hr MSL prognosis

Australian Weatherfax Broadcasts

We've been having the best reception with 13920khz which is actually broadcast at 13918.1khz.

UTC local contents
20:00 07:00 South Pacific MSL analysis
21:20 08:20 500mb streamline analysis

Tides

Tides are semi-diurnal. Tidal ranges around New Caledonia are generally less than 2 metres. Tidal currents at the reef passes can be quite substantial, however. At Havanna Passage, which has a particularly bad reputation, we measured a 4-knot flood current. Particularly if the trades are strong, an ebb tide can create extremely dangerous conditions in the Havannah passage as there is a 6-metre bank right in the middle of it.

SPCZ

The South Pacific Convergence Zone is characterized by a band of clouds, clearly visible in satelite pictures or when they're right overhead. Its position varies. When a cold front collides with the SPCZ, the result can be extremely bad weather: 30 - 50-knot winds.

Cruising Season

The cruising season is basically the southern hemisphere winter with early spring (September, October) being reputed to have the best weather.

Cyclones

The following links show cyclone occurrence probabilities for the months of November and December, the start of the Coral Sea cyclone season:

Unlike the Queensland coast which is rarely hit by cyclones, New Caledonia is hit as frequently as any place in the South Pacific.

Unlike Queensland, which abounds with deep mangove creeks, there seem to be relatively few good cyclone holes. Port Moselle, while well prepared is quite risky and many boats have been lost or damaged there. Even assuming you could find a secure mooring, you'd still have to contend with flying debris.

The river above Port Laguerre is frequently mentioned as cyclone hole.

Baie du Carenage in Prony, while it looks like a potential cyclone hole, is quite bullet-prone. There are places where one might be able to tie to mangroves.

Communications

Radio

VHF

Nouméa Radio maintains a 24-hour listening watch on VHF channel 16, as well as the usual HF frequencies: 2182 khz, 4125 khz, and 6215 khz.

HF/SSB

In addition to voice weather broadcasts and weatherfax, there is at least one HF net, Namba Net, which takes place at 8:00am (21:00 GMT) on 8161 khz.

Telephone

The pay phones all work on cards only. Cards may be purchased at vending machines (bring lots of perfect 1000 CFP notes) or at news stands.

There are no cheap long distance cards, and international rates are quite expensive.

Internet

There is no wireless service in the marina.

There are four internet cafes in Nouméa, the closest to Port Moselle being the most expensive at CFP 1000 per hour with some of the more discrete in-town locations charging as little as CFP 500 per hour. The one on Avenue du Maréchal Foch a few blocks north of the main square was the cheapest and consistently had the best performance. The most expensive one, Le Cyber Point, also on Avenue du Maréchal Foch behind the Museaum, had consistently horrible bandwidth.

Quite expensive relative to Australia.

Ports & Places

Circumnavigating Grand Terre

It was our original intention to do sail completely around Grand Terre and visit the Loyalty Islands. As usual, our plans were scaled back due to weather and enjoying the places we did get to too much.

Our thought was to circumnavigate counter-clockwise, coming SE down the west coast which one could expect to be less windy and more variable than the east coast which meets the full blast of the trade winds. In fact, this agrees with "conventional wisdom," however, there are those who point out that winds on the west coast tend to be more consistently SE (ie. on the nose) and stronger than those on the east which can be mysteriously light. In fact, we experienced exactly that (light winds) in our brief foray around to Yaté and, according to the wind measurements broadcast with the weather forecasts, places on the east coast frequently did report inexplicably light winds.

At any rate, we cancelled our run to the Loyalties because the SPCZ had been camped out over them for weeks and show no signs of easing up.

Anse Kuendu

Reasonably sheltered, particularly if there's a lot of east in the wind. Good snorkling (in the reserve) and swimming.

Nouméa

All the yachties complain that Nouméa is expensive but I think that this is only the case relative to mythical semi-impovrished backwater islands where people will happily sell you half a dozen undersized gravid lobsters for a t-shirt. Relative to San Francisco and Sydney, Nouméa is quite reasonable. Careful shopping, perhaps a trip out to the giant Carrefour, makes it about as economical as any other modern coastal city of 100,000 inhabitants. While everyone is quick to lay the blame for high prices on the import of food, certain localy made items such as coffee are inexplicably expensive. The basics, meat and veggies, can be found economically.

Nouméa is the only place in New Caledonia to have boat work done and is relatively expensive compared to Brisbane, about the same as Sydney. You'll probably need to have spare parts delivered from Australia or New Zealand. David, the proprietor of Ship Shop Service is an ex cruiser and was extremely friendly and helpful. He speaks English. I'd certainly check with him first for any boat-related repairs. If he can't handle it, he probably knows someone who can.

Rental cars are fairly economical and there are a bunch of places worth exploring by car.

Propane

There are a zillion places that sell propane but only by swapping on French-standard bottle for another. There's only one place that refills and that is Quinciallerie Caladonienne in Ducos, a northern suburb of Nouméa. You drop off the bottle one day and come back for the filled bottle the next. Given the cost of two cabs, it is probably better to rent a car for a couple of days and combine the propane refill with some sight seeing.

Happily, refilling a 9kg bottle was only about CFP 2300.

  • Port Moselle
    The only marina at Nouméa that routinely has space for transients is Port Moselle where you can stay on the visitors pontoon as long as you want or until they get busy with check-ins. When checking in, the first night on the pontoon is free.

    Port Moselle listens for "Port Moselle" on VHF 67.

    As the visitors pontoon is about 100 metres from the city market and a short walk to anything downtown this is as nice a marina as one could imagine.

    Staying at Port Moselle is very cheap, about CFP 2700 a day in Endless Summer's case. And, you can anchor out in the harbour (Petite Rade) and have access to the facilities and dingy dock for about CFP 500 a day.

  • Baie de l'Orphelinat
    Baie de l'Orphelinat is almost completely filled with moorings with only the deepest westernmost area available for anchoring. We poked around amongst the moorings at the eastern (shallow) end of the bay and found no space.

    The anchorage is absolutely vile in a westerly.

  • Petite Rade
    Anchorage in the Petite Rade is officially limited to two areas demarcated by yellow stakes or buoys. Port Moselle will give you a map with the details. As a practical matter, people seem to anchor just outside the official zones when the official zones are full. Very large ships still use the Petite Rade so you'll want to keep the way to the commercial warfs clear.

    While there a couple shallower spots, anchorages in Petite Rade are quite deep, around 10 metres. The anchorage areas also contain moorings.

    The westernmost anchorage seems to be the shallowest and best protected.

  • Baie des Citrons
    The configuration of buoys marking the swimming area has changed from what is in the guide. East of the swimming area is deeper than 10 metres and not well sheltered from the prevailing SE wind and swell. There is a little bit of room north of the swimming area and dingies can be landed on the beach there.

    Non-red-sand beach.

    In any wind with much S in it, the waves wrap right in.

Îlot Uèrè

A nice spot just out of town. Interesting tide pools to explore. Not much shelter from the prevailing wind, but the water will be flat.

Baie Uiè

Easy to enter and well sheltered in the prevailing SE wind. We anchored in mud and coral in 4 metres of water.

Île Ouen

  • Baie de la Tortue
    The buoys marking the end of the runway and the wrecked fishing boat are gone and the resort is closed. Anchorage anywhere clear of the warf seems to be OK.

    Little shelter from the wind. The entire west coast of Île Ouen seems bullet-prone.

    Good snorking around the point to the south. Pleasant swimming on the non-red-sand beach.

    The hike to the jade mine is worthwhile. The trial now follows the runway, picking up an old road just inland of the gite at the SE end of the runway.

  • Anse du Pilote
    We tried to anchor here but never found the indicated 8-metre depths other than extremely close to shore. A northerly wind would have put us aground. As the bottom dropped rapidly to 15 metres, moving further from shore didn't seem to improve the situation. While the guide characterizes it as a "night anchorage," I wouldn't stay there overnight.

Ilot Mato

We found depths of 6 metres over sand due west of the island, not 8 as the guide indicates. Possibly there are deeper holes where one could find 8 metres closer to the SE edge of the lagoon. You'd have better shelter from the chop but a longer dingy ride to the island. Spent the night with winds to 20 knots veering from W to S with exactly the sort of chop (not very bad) one would expect in those conditions. That the guide gives the anchorage protection only in S and SE winds seems nonsensical. As far as I could tell all directions are sheltered from swell, with SE being the worst protection (longest fetch) and W the best.

Baie de Prony

Baie de Prony is a large bay about 20 miles SE of Nouméa. It is the usual staging area for boats heading down to Île des Pins and an interesting place in its own right, having penal colony ruins, freshwater swimming holes, and a variety of hiking trails.

Best reception for weather forecasts seemed to be VHF 25.

  • Baie du Carenage
    In spite of the millpond appearance, it can be quite bullet prone. The guide book suggests this anchorage as a cyclone hole, but the windyness and the substantial drainage argues against it.

    Mud and coral on the bottom.

    Excellent swimming holes up the river.

  • Baie de la Somme
    We found 5 metre depths at the eastern end of the bay. Shelter from SE conditions was surprisingly good.

    Mud and coral on the bottom.

  • Anse Sebert
    Exposed to SE swell. Only worthwhile in westerly winds and perhaps not even then as you'll be beam to to any SE swell that remains.

    Good snorkling.

    There's a public phone in the village of Prony.

  • Baie des Ruines
    The sandbank deposited by the river seems to have grown a bit from what is shown in the guide. It shoals quite rapidly and can be difficult to distinguish as there is sometimes mud in the water. For SE winds, we found the best shelter tucked into the SE corner of the bay, south of the spot indicated by the guide. There was still a fair amount of wind but the water was quite flat.

    The bottom was sand and coral.

  • Bonne Anse, Rade de l'Est "C" & "D"
    Both are bullet-prone but otherwise nice.

  • Bonne Anse, Rade de l'Est "E"
    The shoal patch with 5 - 8 metre depths is very close to the northern shore. S'ly winds would be quite awkward. I wouldn't characterize it as a night anchorage unless you could accept the 13 metre depth.

Île des Pins

Diesel and unleaded are available from gas stations in Kuto and Vao.

We had no trouble receiving weather forecasts on VHF 25.

  • Baie de Kuto
    There is a lot of sea grass and the sand is very hard. Setting the anchor can be a little tricky but it is bomb proof once set. We had good luck looking for a white patches of bare sand and dropping the anchor on those.

    At the southern end of the bay is a small public jetty with a water tap, a concrete boat ramp, and a large jetty. Everyone seems to leave dingies at the smaller jetty.

    In SW'ly conditions, it is very tempting to anchor between the two jetties right in front of the concrete ramp. However, the concrete ramp is used by the barge that supplies the island and the barge usually arrives in the middle of the night so as to leave a full day for unloading. Weekends are usually safe and the people at the Kuto gas station will know when the next barge arrives.

  • Baie de Kanumera
    Same caveats for sand and grass as Kuto. While few people do, it is possible to come quite close to the beaches in 3-5 metres of water. In the western arm, this makes the anchorage tenable for much longer as the wind veers W to S and in the eastern arm "le rocher" provides good shelter from a westerly wind.

  • Port de Vao
    Visual navigation from Kanumera is straightforward. The port is so shallow that access to Vao is still a half-mile dingy ride.

Yaté

The red stakes marking the southern side of the channel are gone, but the two green buoys remain. From just shy of the second green buoy, we aimed for a point about 50 metres seaward of the ruined jetty and never saw less than 3 metres.

I wouldn't characterize the anchorage as very good. Swell finds its way in, and chop if the wind is in the east.

We couldn't get any VHF weather broadcasts. Channel 28 did work as soon as we were out to sea.

Formalities and Officials

Nouméa is the only place where one may clear in. It is possible to arrange to clear out of We in Lifou.

Clearing in can be done 7 days a week and costs nothing. The best thing to do is to try to contact Port Moselle as soon as you're in the lagoon and then again when you're in the harbour just outside the marina. They may not respond (if they're busy, or if no one speaks English). Don't panic. Just motor over to the visitors pontoon and look for someone with a clipboard and an "Equipage" t-shirt who looks like they're directing you to a berth. On sundays and saturday afternoons the marina office is closed and and there's just one of the "equipage" around with a handheld VHF.

The visitors pontoon is at the eastern end of the marina, closest to the city and market and farthest from the fuel dock.

The marina staff will coordinate your passage through formalities.

Quarantine

A quarentine officer will visit your boat and take the usual arbitrary stuff that quarentine always takes.

Customs

Customs is notified of your arrival by fax from Port Moselle and will either come and see you in person or fax you back a cruising permit (1 year is standard) within two hours.

Immigration

Immigration (stamping of passports) is handled by some branch of Gendarmerie, a representative of which will meet you at the pontoon. To extend your visa, it is necessary to go to the immigration office in town.

Visas

Visas are not required for most nationalities. Europeans and some others get an automatic 3-month stay, and Americans get a 1-month stay. In the past, it has been impossible to extend one's visa under any pretext, however, I was able to get my stay extended to 3 months, and, I heard of a number of other people being granted extensions.

By applying for a visa in advance, it may be possible to stay longer but this is not possible everywhere. In particular, when I tried to get a 3-month visa at the French Consul in Sydney, I was told that they could not do it because my Australian visa did not have an additional 6-months of validity. Of course, the lady at the visa office in Nouméa looked at me like I was an idiot when I explained that. Many people have reported no problems obtaining visas from the French Consul in their place of residence.