Île des Pins

The NC version of the banksia (10K) Face from the St. Joseph monument in Vao (25K) Face from the St. Joseph monument in Vao (6K) A cagou, the state bird of New Caledonia (5K) Face from the St. Joseph monument in Vao (14K) Face from the St. Joseph monument in Vao (22K) Face from the St. Joseph monument in Vao (10K) One of the edible snails which inhabit Île des Pins (4K)
Index of slides from this report.

We're back at Port Moselle enjoying the fruits of civilization: fresh greens, strident advertising for Mr. Boeuf ("C'est copieux!"), the glow from the CinECity marquee and the quirky FM radio station.

Nouvelles Caledoniennes

An ozzie walking down the pontoon with a hunted look on his face asks if, perchance we'd like some canned spagetti and baked beans? Evidently, an unfolding provisioning disaster.

A couple of Kiwi boats leave for Australia, right into the teeth of an approaching low. "Just a little one," they say.

Also, there's some sporting event in Greece that everyone is excited about.

As I drift off to sleep, having made only another 5 pages of headway in the agitated sea of passé simple left in the wake of l'Astrolabe and la Boussole (ie. the journal of Lapérouse) the distinctive two-tone police siren and the occasional malodorous waft from the sewer, could have had us tied up on the Seine.

While hand washing laundry in a bucket on the dock may be considered frightfully primitive, laundromats are expensive here and any sort of dockside occupation provides an opportunity to meet other people that is sadly lacking in normal urban life where one usually has to wait for some sort of disaster. "Nice thong!" is just infinitely better than "Hey, is that a compound fracture?"

We met the Cyranos, they of the Kenex 441 without bowsprit, and swapped boat tours and children. Their oldest girl, Honorine, visited us for a bit. Honorine is the same age as Nicoline and her MTV English matched Nicoline's French almost exactly. I say "almost" here because we had just seen Tais Toi in Australia and that bit of vocab seemed to put a damper on conversation. Anyway, I think Honorine enjoyed the the quiet, sophisticated, older-kid atmosphere of our boat. She had three younger siblings back on Cyrano. While conversation was pretty limited, the girls did manage to fold a lot of origami and commune silently on the universal 10-year-old girl wavelength. At the end of a one-year trip, the Cyranos were packing up to go pack to Paris and Cyrano is for sale.

Also on the pontoon was the Australian boat Namagdi that we'd seen in Prony. They'd actually made it to Île des Pins where it had indeed been rainy and miserable. And, on the way back their propeller had fallen off. Of course that happened on a windless day in close proximity to a reef. Aboard Namagdi, were two kids, Grace and Nathan, who we'd met briefly down in Prony. As the adult crew of Namagdi were rather preoccupied with the missing propellor, Grace and Nathan had plenty of time to play, even to sleep over and have a real "French Toast" brekkie. Nathan is an ace didge player and he showed Tristan a few new tricks and left us with a nice CD to boot.

Nicoline and Grace took the dingy over to see the Chilean Navy tall ship that was docked at the main warf. Evidently, the close approach of a dingy drew a fair amount of attention from the crew before it became clear that a terrorist attack or even substantial damage to the paintwork was unlikely to be carried out by two little girls in an inflatable dingy. Having thus gained the attention of the officer on watch, Grace gave a lackadaisical salute and received, to her surprise and delight, the full military version in reply. The courtesy due another vessel at sea, I suppose.

The Mariposas left for Vanuatu after a pleasant evening aboard ES, and the Teagans, diesel reassembled, had departed for points north.

Bai Uéré

This time we succeeded in actually leaving Port Moselle as planned and we tucked in to Bai Uéré after a brief sail. It is just 5 miles south of Port Moselle.

We had a good time exploring the surrounding reef, finding about a zillion shells, and a small octopus who pulled off the "disappear right in front of your eyes" trick while I was fumbling with the camera. I suppose I could have taken a picture of bare sea bottom and claimed that the octopus was there, but I satisfied myself with the attached conch photo instead.

One of the shells subsequently proved to be inhabited, a fact which came to our attention when mysterious scratching noises started to come from the shell collection. Nicoline kept the unfortunate hermit crab for a pet. She fed him a diet of frosted flakes and spagetti guaranteed to bring on a desperate search for a new and more capacious shell. He looked so dejected, all by himself in a clear bowl of tepid water, that we prevailed upon her to set him free in Kuto, augmented in avoir du poids but at liberty to work it off.

We had come back from Prony to find the Nouméa paper full of stories about how the whales had been visiting Prony. How they cavort, spout their spouts, thrash tails, etc. How cute little baby whales are. All this was going on barely a mile from where we were anchored. So we go storming back to Prony and what do we see? Nada. Zippo. Not so much as a g. d. spout on the horizon. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We got an early start next morning as the SE wind was right on the nose and we wanted to leave plenty of time for whale watching at Prony. Instead of doing just one or two big tacks, a strategy that had left us becalmed on the last trip, we decided to stay close to land and play the land/sea breeze. Aside from sailing into one hole in the wind under the lee of Mount Dore, it worked pretty well. We finally got an up-close look at "Le Porc Epic" (porcupine), a local landmark.

Karin and I swapped tacks up Canal Woodin and right into the now familiar Baie de Prony where we dropped anchor in a different branch of Bonne Anse.

Did I mention that we didn't see any whales?

Real Charter Experience

I think that the problem with chartering is that you miss all the hardships that bind the cruising community together and provide grist for discussion at sundowners. A savvy charter operator could offer cruise "extras" to make the charter experience more realistic.

One week's charter, 45-foot catamaran $ 1500.00
Provisions $ 800.00
Weevils in spagetti $ 80.00
Out of booze NC
Out of TP $ 35.00
Head clog $ 20.00
Black water leak $ 75.00
Drag anchor $ 30.00
Drag anchor at night $ 85.00
Minor mechanical problem $ 20.00
Minor mechanical problem w. easy solution (much cheaper than couples therapy) $ 120.00
Engine failure $ 125.00
Engine failure w. psuedo-knowlegable "help" from salty-looking fellow cruiser $ 225.00
Engine failure, repaired (eventually) by good natured but eccentric local mechanic $ 425.00
Opportunity to buy a jug of eccentric local mechanic's 190-proof moonshine $ 175.00
Rescue at sea by "passing" freighter $ 1800.00 pp
Dramatic video footage of rescue $ 800.00 pp

Check a few boxes and you too can casually remark: "Well, I was down trying to unclog the head when Martha started yelling that we were dragging anchor. Almost went up on the reef because the prop was fouled with fishing net. We had to kedge off and then I spent an hour clearing the prop. And, well wouldn't you know it, after all that we find out that we're out of gin! ..."

And that's just the first day.

Leaving Prony

Disgusted with the lack of whales and the generally red tone of the place, we rolled out of bed and upped anchor just after sunrise.

Things started slowly, with just 4 knots out of the NE. ES eased along at three knots following the lone monohull which had made a true crack of dawn start. A charter cat followed us out of Bonne Anse. Motorsailing at full throttle under jib, they rapidly passed us. Their dingy hadn't been hoisted all the way up on the davits and was dragging sideways behind them. The initial route for Île des Pins has a dogleg in it to get around a couple of reefs. There are bearings for the good course indicated on the chart and it was along that course that both we and the boat ahead were moving. The charter cat, still at full throttle, made a series of zig-zag course changes so violent that both Karin and I checked them out with binoculars to see if the boat was on fire or the occupants in the grips of some mortal combat. Disappointingly, they were serene, and waved happily at us as we passed them, somewhat gingerly, half an hour later after the breeze filled in.

After a slow start, we did get a perfect NE breeze which kept ES over the 10 knot mark most of the way to Isle of Pines. We started from Bonne Anse at 6:30am and finished anchoring at Kuto at 11:30. A fun and easy trip, but we had to wait nearly two weeks for it.

The mono showed up a couple of hours later, and the charter cat straggled in (still dragging the dingy, still motoring, still under jib) just as night was falling. They were, as far as I could tell after observing them discretely with binoculars, still smiling.

No sooner had we dropped the hook, than we had a visit from Claudia, the proprietor of The Floating German Bakery also known as the yacht Ganesh from Karlsruhe. I couldn't quite believe it, but next morning at 8 she came by in the dingy to deliver a perfect German rye bread and a raisin bread, still warm from the oven. Amazing luxury. From that moment, we decided to follow the Ganeshes around until we ran out of cash or they ran out of flour. We became quite friendly with them and soaked up a bunch of their wisdom. They've been cruising for 12 years. Near the end of our stay, having chook, but having drunk all our wine, whereas they had wine but no chook, we made chook au vin with their wine and our chook and we ate dinner together and I told all my old Helmut Kohl jokes and Egon complained about the current German politicians and I told him that as long as they were elected by actual majorities and weren't invading other contries on flimsy pretexts, he had nothing to complain about.

Île des Pins

We spent more than two weeks at Île des Pins and it is hard to explain what happened during that time in the usual narrative fashion.

Île des Pins was originally used as a penal colony, before the French realized that people would actually pay for incarceration and started the whole Club Med thing. Unlike Club Med, you're welcome to walk around the prison ruins.

The two principal anchorages, Kuto and Kanumera bays are separated by a narrow isthmus and the bulbous Kuto peninsula. Kuto is open to the west, Kanumera to the south. The whole fleet motors back and forth around the peninsula every couple of days as the wind veers. Timing is key, particularly as night comes on. The wrong choice will lead to a bouncy, sleepless night, and, if the wind really kicks up, to the dreaded night time move. This natural tension, perhaps exacerbated by an unfavorable 3:30 weather report and the usual herd instinct leads to regular stampedes. Naturally, the intermediate SW wind isn't particularly nice at either place so you have to wait a bit for vindication. Egon was always quick to pass along the latest weather report so we moved early and usually garnered one of the best spots.

It was the Ganeshes who explained that the barge supplying the island usually arrives every other week or so in the middle of the night. Being a barge, it does not tie up to the main warf, but instead, beaches itself on the discrete ramp in between the main warf and the small jetty. Since it arrives in the middle of the night, it only beaches itself after rousting everyone unfortunate enough to be anchored in the way with horn and searchlight. Fortunately for us, the barge had lost a propellor on the previous trip and it was replaced by a small freighter that did use the warf so we were able to anchor in the best spot, just off the ramp. The propellor was rumored to be still at large, but island life was too distracting for me to actually carry out my plan to locate it using a jury rigged metal detector consisting of my multimeter and a big coil of wire that I was going to find somewhere. Either that, or drag the kids on some sort of underwater sled...

After our time enjoying the unique red sand beaches of Prony, I was starting to wonder if "white sand beach" was really a local euphemism for "non-red sand beach." Not to worry. The sand is white, and so dense the anchor sets with a unique heavy slap. Several times it set so hard that I expected to to see it buried to the shank and was surprised to find the lobes of the plough still above the sand.

The kids amused themselves in various ways. We played quite a few games of beach cricket.

The pines at Isle of Pines are similar to the Norfolk variety but their branches instead of growing out yearly in rings like the Norfolk pines, sprout ramdomly from the tree which causes them to look as though they've been colored in by an enthusiastic 4-year old who was a little unclear on what pines supposed to look like. Relative to the puritanical North American conifer, the native "Colonial" pines don't look like they have enough branches or needles relative to the trunk. Perhaps, the additional sun at these lattitudes makes more needles superfluous.

Interestingly enough, there seem to be lots of small Norfolk Pines about but no large ones, and very few small versions of the endemic Colonial pines. Almost as though someone has been planting Norfolk pines. Or perhaps, there is just a Norfolk-like araucaria among the 15 or so endemic to New Caledonia. If you're not keen on araucarias you should be; they were providing shade to the dinosaurs when your distant ancestors were living nasty furtive lives in damp little holes.

The ool came up for a couple of days and I managed to convince the kids to ferry me to and from the nearest reef pass for a surf. I hadn't thought too much of it, but as Nicoline zoomed away, I realized that I was a mile or so from the nearest land, with an hour and a half in which to deal with currents of unknown severity, sharp coral, poisonous snakes, sharks, things like that. Then the first set showed up and I forgot all that stuff and just wished that I had somebody to share the waves with. It was just an easy right hander with a line-up right above a large white coral and sets that came through every 10 minutes or so.

Port de Vao & Baie d'Upi

Vao is the capitol of Île des Pins and the wide, shallow body of water in front of Vao is know, somewhat optimistically, as "Port de Vao." All the real port facilities are over in Kuto.

Entry into this large bay in the SE corner of the island is too shallow, even for the likes of Endless Summer so it was a long dingy trip to get there. The kids passed the time by encroaching upon each other's "side" and arguing savagely about how much faster a hypothetical 8hp outboard would be. After all, we were only going to explore a pristine bay dotted with actual overhanging isles. How sucky can life get? A few months ago, Karin actually made them sign a contract promising not to complain about going places until after we had been there and it really was a dud. Didn't take.

We did explore one of the larger islands. The overhang is caused by the sea eating away at the coral skeletons which comprise the "rock" out of which the islands (also Île des Pins) are made. It is so sharp and friable as to make climbing quite difficult. I imagine that the tops of some of the islands have never been visited.

Given the initially foul mood of the crew, I was relieved to be able to depart the baie without having damaged any of delicately balanced islets. Zigging and zagging through the shallow channel, we puttered back to ES at 3, and, as the 3:30 forecast was for westerly winds, we decided to follow the GPS bread crumbs (the light was bad) back to Kanumera where we were shortly joined by the rest of the fleet which, incented by the same weather report, stampeded 'round from Kuto.

A few days later, wanting to actually visit the town of Vao, we decided to walk the 5km to town for some exercise. We got no further than 100 metres before being picked up by a van full of Kunies, Kunie being the local name for Île des Pins and inhabitants thereof. We wandered around Vao for a bit, purchased some supplies at the grocery store, and were again given a ride (flat bed truck this time) before having walked more than 100 metres back towards Kuto. If you want exercise, you have to walk on a trail.

Back to Nouméa

One day turned into another, separated by handy dark intervals for sleeping, and two weeks passed. The fridge had been emptied, refilled with things like eggs and onions which usually don't get the benefit of refrigeration, and emptied again. We were sniffing the peanut butter jar and even my ability to whip up something tasty based on cans of things that we have was being challenged.

Awaking on tuesday to a find the forecast for S/SW wind at 10 - 15 knots an actuality, we farewelled the Ganeshes, who were holding out for more wind the next day, and set sail for the mainland. The wind was actually a bit W of S, a little flukey due to a nearby squall line but never stronger than 12 knots. The ool was still running pretty big, which was nice as any reef dangerous to us would have breaking surf. We made 5 or 6 miles of westing to open up some room to our lee and then hoisted the spinnaker and started chasing the boats that had gotten an actual early start.

With the ool to contend with, the driver was kept quite busy chasing the apparent wind. Instead of coming SE as forecast, wind stayed W of S (in agreement with the NZ weather charts) so we we had to sail a hot angle in order to keep clear of the reefs under our lee. We had a couple of hours with the boat speed well above 10 knots. Somewhat unnervingly, as the reefs grew thicker, the water got flatter, and we set a new flat water boat speed record with a long burst over 17 knots. At the end of the open water channel between Île des Pins and Grand Terre there was a dogleg in the course between a couple of reefs and we decided to drop the kite early rather than trying to carry it through.

Reenforcing our prudence, we flubbed the takedown, for the first time ever getting the tack line (the line which holds one corner of the spinnaker to the bow pole) stuck under the leward bow. For a few seconds, things teetered on the edge of disaster as water tugged at the luff of the spinnaker, threatening to suck the whole sail right under the boat. I let out the remainder of the tack while Tristan heaved on the sail gaining just enough ground to keep the sail clear of the water. Then it was just a matter of working the tack line up to the bow and pulling it back onto the tramp where it belonged. We'll need to find a discrete way to clean the shameful traces of blue antifoul off the spinnaker tack. It is difficult to do anything discretely with 1500 square feet of orange sail.

We threaded our way through the reefs and were off Baie de Prony at 1 o'clock. Since we had good wind for the run to Nouméa, we decided to continue on through Canal Woodin to Nouméa rather than renewing our acquaintance with Prony's red mud. Wind was flukey in Canal Woodin and we were within metres of needing to tack when it finally came back to the SW. We had an easy beam reach for most of the afternoon. The wind dropped off a bit later in the afternoon, but the spinnaker, which needed drying anyway, pulled us all the way past Île aux Canards before the wind dropped off completely. We dropped anchor at our usual spot in Port Moselle just as the sun was setting.

Yachtie Details


On the recommendation of Egon (of Ganesh) we started picking up the New Zealand weatherfaxes instead of the Australian. I had naively assumed that the Ozzie weatherfaxes would be pretty good because most of the weather comes off the Australian mainland. But my recent experience with the Ozzie charts wasn't so great. They frequently didn't indicate fronts or misplaced depressions. Based on my limited sample, the NZ charts did indeed seem to be more accurate. Schedules for both services are available on the web: