Monday, March 13, 2023

Noumea, New Caledonia

27th August – 8th September 2022

As we had arrived into the country on a Saturday afternoon both the Customs and Immigration departments were closed. However the Biosecurity was open and we were instructed  by the marina staff  to remain onboard  with our yellow quarantine flag up until the  Bio Officer had paid us a visit and cleared us for entry. Within an hour we saw the lady officer strolling down the dock towards GWTW. She introduced herself and hopped aboard. She was most impressed that I’d already bagged and tagged what little rubbish we had.

Gwtw at Port Moselle Marina
I still had some fruit and veg left and when she checked it she let me keep the lot saying that it had originally come from NZ even though I’d bought it in Fiji as Fiji don’t grow apples or oranges or potatoes. She was really sensible about the fruit and veg. Such a refreshing attitude.

Before she left she asked us to keep our yellow flag up for about two hours in case a Customs officer decided to drop by. Her parting words on that subject was, they won’t come they never do. We were then free to do whatever we wanted until Monday when we’d need to pay Immigration a visit. Customs never did come to the boat.

The delightful cafe at the marina

Over the following two weeks comfortably  berthed at the marina  we explored Noumea and surrounds both on foot and by car. 

The supermarkets were right on our doorstep as were the fabulous fresh veggie market and the fish market and chandleries, butchers and of course patisseries. There was no excuse not to eat well.

 This city is relatively small and compact in comparison to other capital cities we've visited so it was an easy stroll around.

There was a huge variety of fish available

And the best fruit, veg and meat since leaving New Zealand

China Town but we only found two Chinese Restaurants

A very popular beach for tourists, Plage de la Baie des Citrons

Saint Joseph Cathedral
Our friend Andy from Eye Candy had met with a nasty accident en route from Vanuatu to New Cal when it was fish vs man. 

As he rushed out of their cockpit  to land the Mahi Mahi a small piece of metal attached to the aft gate tore through the flesh on his calf and into the muscle leaving a very angry gash.

They were still 24 hours away from medical assistance but with help from  both Marine Rescue Coordinators and Gulf Harbour Radio in New Zealand an appointment was set up in Nouema with a local doctor just across from Pt Moselle Marina for when they arrived.

It was a bit of a long saga to get the gash to heel with many many visits to the doctor. But slowly, and I mean very slowly, we’re talking over a month, before it finally healed and Andy and Clare could get on with their cruising life and Andy could get back in the water once more.

And on that note it was time for us to drop the dock lines and explore more of this sub tropical Island.

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Monday, November 28, 2022

Passage Fiji to New Caledonia

23rd –27th August 2022

After having breakfast ashore as it was our 37th wedding anniversary and with our customs clearance in hand we headed back to GWTW. On went the engines and we motored toward the Mololo Pass and through the reef to the open ocean.

Bye Bye Fiji

Looking back over our shoulders we bid goodbye to Fiji and the friendly people who live in this island paradise. Two hours later as Liam was pulling in the first reefing point in our mainsail the reefing point and sheave let go with a mighty crack. Luckily the sheave landed in the dinghy and we figured we could replace the broken part once we arrived in Australia. But until then it would be  sailing with the second reef or nada. Not a good start to the 800 nm passage.

Even with  just the second reef in the mainsail we were romping along with speeds of  nine + knots, a SE wind 15-20 knots and the seas were 1-2 metres. At 1800 Liam got his first strike on one of his three fishing lines. Sadly whatever it was it was big as it chomped off his best lure, possibly a marlin and we sure didn’t want that coming onboard. With a starry night above and a sliver of moon we had a very comfy first night at sea.

Day two had similar conditions to day one. We have a long range SSB radio and keep a radio schedule with boats around us when on a passage. Tonight we heard that Andy from the vessel Eye Candy had succumbed to a five inch gash in his calf as he raced to the transom to pull in a Mahi Mahi. He would more than likely require stitches once docked in Noumea.

Rather small Yellowfin Tuna
Just on dusk Liam heard the familiar ping of the fishing line and pulled in a small Yellowfin Tuna. He’d just got it on the transom when the other line pinged. 

This time it was a decent sized Wahoo which put up quite the fight.

 Once he was dispatched the Yellowfin got a second chance to grow up and was put back in the water, happily swimming away at pace.

Woo Hoo a Wahoo

For the next two days there was no wind or very little so the iron sail came into play and did all the work. We saw no ships and there were no fish to be caught. Quite boring really.

At 0650 on day four we entered the Havanna Channel with a a decent ingoing tide giving us 10 kts of boat speed. 

Rough conditions as we entered the Havanna Channel

Now inside the channel proper the seas calmed down

Nickel mining has scared the landscape

Looking up the channel, Pine trees were everywhere

By 1300 we were tied up at Port Moselle Marina in Noumea with a welcoming committee of Aussies, Andy and Claire from Eye Candy and Kiwis Ted and Adrian from the sailing vessel Otama.

Having an after passage beverage with friends from Eye Candy

It felt great to be back in a French country again and were looking forward to gobbling down fresh baguette's, pate and cheeses and all the delicacies that were on offer.

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

Fiji Revisited

21st July – 22nd August 2022

When we called Port Denarau Marina the morning after we’d arrived to ask if  we could we come in for clearance we were politely told that we should stay at anchor as the marina was full at the moment and that they’d get back to us asap re clearance procedures.

It was Friday and we really wanted to clear in to avoid the weekend overtime charges. By the time we heard back from the Marina staff the wind had come up and we were instructed to bring our tender in and collect the officers and take them to our boat. We explained that we were anchored approximately two miles from the marina and that with the  current wind direction it would be a very wet ride out for all concerned.

As our friends on Pogeyan also needed to be cleared both tenders were launched and we shared the load of the officers, but they still all got wet. Our clearance went just fine so now we were free to do whatever we wanted.

Yet another perfect Fiji sunset

First up was to re - provision our fruit and veg, followed by haircuts for both of us and re connecting to the outside world again with a great Digicel phone plan for calls and data. We were back on the grid once more.

Over the next month we to and frowed between our main base in Musket Cove  and Port Denarau. We caught up with our Swedish, Ulla and Pelle and Italian friends, Max and Alex who all piled onto GWTW and  we took a Sunday trip out to the Cloud 9 floating bar. 

With GWTW in the background, it was pizza Sunday at cloud 9 with our friends

Perfect landing
Max takes flight
Looking good

Pelle goes foot first
Mid drop

Other waterborne activities included snorkeling in the gin clear waters off Musket Cove.

Wonderfully clear waters

We also chilled out most arvo's by the pool at Musket  Cove Resort and watched some spectacular sunsets. The water was clear, the sun was shinning, the temperature was in the high 20’s and the wine was cold. What more could we want while waiting for a decent weather window to hit the blue highway once again.

It doesn't get much better

The month flew by and soon it was time to visit with customs, check out of  Fiji and head to off to New Caledonia. 

A final catchup with Dave and Charmane from Rewa and Jeff the Port Denarau Marina Manager

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Thursday, October 27, 2022

North Minerva Reef  to Port Denarau Fiji.

19th - 21st July 2022

Well it was yet another rough passage for us.  We knew that it would be and sometimes you  just need to toughen up and take what mother nature throws at you one mile at a time.

The forecast was for 20 –25 kts with gusts of 30 and 2-3m seas. Not ideal in any way shape or form and usually we would have stayed put inside the reef. But this time we had no choice. And so with a double reefed main, we purposely only have two reefing points, and one third of our jib unfurled we headed out for the 389nm passage to Port Denarau Fiji.

By 1700 the same day the seas were now up at 4m and GWTW was in race mode peaking at 17.5 kts of boat speed. It was an uncomfortable night to say the least.  Next morning the seas were settling down a bit and our boat speed was hanging around in the 10-12 knot range.

The clock ticked over to 1700  again and with it came the sound of our port jib sheet snapping  which definitely did not bring music to our ears. It had chaffed through on the bottom batten of our mainsail which now had a twelve inch hole  where once their was carbon. Bugger.

We were now on the downhill run to Port Denarau. The moonless nights had rewarded us with spectacular views of the night stars and that is something we will miss dearly once we arrive back in Australia.

The seas were still 2- 3m and rough as guts as we headed for the finish line and entered the Navula Pass in Fiji at 1800, dropping the anchor some two hours later in the Quarantine anchorage area outside Port Denarau.

A lovely sunset greeted us we motored in through the pass

It had been a wild ride to get here and now it was time for that post passage beverage, dinner and some well earned sleep.

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Thursday, October 13, 2022

The Minerva Reefs, and a change of plans.

7th – 19th July 2022

The Minerva reefs are remote, like really remote.They lay just over 800nm from both New Zealand and New Caledonia, 416nm from Fiji and the closest neighbour is Tonga 250nm to the north east. Both the north and south reefs are uninhabited and the silence is deafening save for the odd seabird calls


Approaching the anchorage in South Minerva
Once inside the lagoon depths vary from 20-50 ft deep, however once back outside the depth range is anywhere between 4,000 to 13,000 ft. So being able to anchor in calm waters inside the reef in the middle of the ocean is an absolute treat for world cruisers like us.  

And the added bonus is that there are plenty of lobsters to be caught.

 This year was particularly bountiful as with the pandemic and most of the countries in the South Pacific closed no one was able to visit the reefs for at least two years. So the lobsters had bred like rabbits.

We had the company of three other yachts at South Minerva. Two of which we didn't know and the third, Pogeyan with Rich, Michelle and crew Levi onboard, was a dock buddy of ours from Whangarei. As we had never stopped at South Minerva before and they had been there several times on passages to and from NZ and Fiji we followed their advice on where the best snorkel spots were and where all the lobsters hung out.

The lobbies awaiting their fate
The day after we arrived, Liam and the boys from Pogeyan were on the hunt and headed over to the drying reef at low tide, the catch was pretty good with the booty being shared. Day two of hunting was extra bountiful with a head count of 14 shell food delights. 

Sadly Liam took a fall on the reef and was swept along by a wave which carried him 30ft along the jagged coral. He was pretty much a mess when he arrived back to GWTW with deep cuts on his arms and legs. 

Due to the high risk of infection and no medical clinic within cooee that was the end of his lobstering activities for the season.

So with Liam boat bound I did a couple of days of snorkeling various parts of the lagoon with the Pogeyan crew. The fish life and coral were stunning and the water so so clear. All was good until the last few minutes of our first excursion when a very territorial 6ft grey shark sent us a no nonsense message that we were in his turf, and with a hasty retreat back to the dinghy we headed his warning.

Pretty Parrot Fish
The lobster harvesting continued for a few more days and even though GWTW no longer had a horse in the race we did have a home delivery service complements of Rich and Levi, which was much appreciated.

After seven delightful days at South Minerva it was time to make the 20nm passage to North Minerva and see what was on offer there. 

We spent four days in the north. On day two a very large frontal system was destined to slam into our location from the south east, so both boats picked up our anchors and headed down to the southern end of the lagoon where the reef was higher and would afford better protection than up the north end.

Beautiful Sunset
Just as we were approaching the anchorage a cigar shaped rolling cloud appeared on the horizon. We've seen these nasty clouds before so we had a pretty good idea of what would happen next. Try as we might to get the anchor down we knew we’d run out of time. This was a very fast moving weather event.

The first wave of the front hit us like a freight train. It was a total whiteout with 30 knot winds. As the anchor was not set we pulled it back up and motored  north following our gps track until the squall had passed. Then we retraced our steps south dropped the anchor in 50ft sand, backed down with 1000 revs on each engine to set it firmly and were ready for the next onslaught from the heavens. 

In between squalls the Pogeyan lads were back doing what they do best and a few more crustaceans were transferred from the sea bed to the table. My gosh we’d eaten a lot of lobster. Our cholesterol levels must have been through the roof.

On the 18th of July Rich received a call via his satellite phone from his family in the USA. Rich’s dad had passed away. The funeral via a zoom call live feed was scheduled to be online in five days from now. The following morning a sudden decision was made that Pogeyan would lift anchor and head to Fiji to meet the funeral timeline.

The two cats alone in the lagoon

That left us in a very vulnerable position if we stayed here on our own waiting for the elusive good weather window to sail to New Caledonia. If something  else, apart from Genny our generator being in a coma, went wrong on GWTW with no other boat as backup we’d be stuffed. We were now scrapping plan C. ARRR the best laid plans of mice and men.

Another giant clam

As the designated paperwork hound on this fair vessel when it comes to departure and arrival documentation I’m  also quite good at making contingency plans which is exactly what I did before we left NZ. You see the general rule is that the border authorities of most countries don't like surprises eg vessels just showing up on their doorstep and saying “we’re here”. They like to know in well in advance so they can put out the welcome mat.

That being said I’d filled out and sent all the relevant docs to Australia, New Caledonia and Fiji just in case. And here it was paying off.

By 2pm that same day both boats headed out the North Minerva pass. Destination : Port Denarau Fiji, 416 nm  to the north west.

Oh and our final lobster count was eleven in the freezer.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Time to Say Goodbye

29th June 2022

After the best part of three years the day finally came when it was time to bid farewell to Whangarei, the place we’d come to love and call home for such a long time. It was a very emotional time for us leaving behind the wonderful  Kiwi friendships we’d made.

It was a drizzly Wednesday afternoon when we let go our dock lines to the sounds of hooters and hollers of goodbyes from the Town Basin Marina staff and friends on our dock. Slowly we made our way downstream towards the Hatea River opening bridge and the bridge operator raised the span for GWTW as she glided through for the final time.

Fourteen kilometers further downstream we pulled into Marsden Cove Marina where NZ Customs Officers were based for departing vessels only. Our initial plan was to complete our departure forms and check out of the country the following morning. The weather gods though had other ideas. So we stayed for another day and had a lovely farewell dinner with our fellow cruisers most of whom were heading to Fiji where as we would be heading to : Plan A Bundaberg in Queensland Australia direct, or Plan B New Caledonia Direct or  Plan C New Caledonia via The Minerva Reefs, 800 miles NE of NZ. The later was our final decision.

Goodbye New Zealand
At 2pm on July 1st after topping up our fuel tanks with 437 litres of duty free diesel we dropped and lines, headed out onto the big blue highway and bid New Zealand goodbye.

With an ok weather forecast we set off with a sail configuration of full Jib and a double reefed Mainsail into a bitterly cold SW wind and a night as black as the inside of a cow. Our second  day and night at sea were again bitterly cold and we were rugged up to the hilt. The sea state was starting to change and now there was a moderate chop as the wind began to back around to the SSE.

Sunrise day two

By day three the wind was coming at us from the ENE and our fleeting moment of taking out the second reef yesterday faded from our memory. Back we went to two reefs yet again and now only one quarter of a jib was pulling us along. The sea began raring it’s ugly head as we raced forward at  boat speeds of 15kts. The motion of GWTW was now very uncomfortable to the point where we decided to make camp up in the saloon rather than take our off watch time in our comfy bed in the port hull. It seemed like a good idea but even so neither of us got any sleep as the waves battered GWTW’s hulls and she groaned and creaked in response.

Sleeping in comfort on the lounge

Day four was no better with the wind now picking up to sustained 25 kts and gusts even higher at 33kts. We didn’t sign up for mother nature to hurl this at us, we want to get off this roundabout!

Trying to stop the sea coming in through the port

As a result of the rough weather and big waves the port in our shower took a beating and came unlocked. 

The ingress of the Pacific Ocean was coming in fast. Liam tried to shut the port but to no avail, so we duct taped it shut, a temporary fix at best. 

A few hours later the tape completely failed and the port opening was swinging open with every wave.

Plan B, Liam managed to get one of the latches shut and we taped up a large Vacuum seal storage bag to the shower stall ceiling and onto the glass door of our shower and that seemed to do the trick. No more salt water flying over the shower door and landing on the bathroom floor.

During the changeover from day four to day five at zero dark hundred Genny our generator called it quits. She apparently had had enough of the rough ride too and her partner in crime, the starboard engine alternator did likewise.The sole responsibility of charging our batteries and keeping all our systems running now lay in the hands of our port side engine and alternator

Day five dawned with a beautiful red sunrise, even though the saying goes “Red sky in the morning, sailors warning” we didn’t care. With only 29 miles to run to South Minerva reef we could almost see the finish line. As we’d been motor sailing on the port engine for hours and hours our watermaker had been  busy churning out gallons of fresh water all the previous night so that we could do washing and give our girl a well earned bath once we had the anchor down.

South Minerva reef on the horizon

One of many kamakazi Flying Fish on the deck

Anchor down, we've arrived

At 11am we entered the South Minerva Reef pass after the wild ride which took us 4 days and 22 minutes.

 The wind had dropped to and easterly breeze of 12 kts and ahead of us lay the flat calm aqua waters of South Minerva.

 Pure Bliss!

The catch of the day

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