Saturday, May 31, 2008


After the simplicity of Port Resolution in Tanna, I wasn't sure what to expect of Port-Vila - Vanuatu's capital. In the event it turned out tobe a modern bustling city, albeit in a tropical setting with awonderful 24hour fruit and veg market. In both Noumea and Port-Vila it felt as though time spent in the capitals equated to less time in beautiful anchorages. Consequently I set an exhausting schedule; rushing around trying to locate spares, complete Internet tasks before our one day Internet access card expired, and deal with the official formalities of entering a new country.

Those of you reading about Internet access and wondering why their email reply has been lost in the ether - apologies, though I have a new excuse. Foolishly I've introduced Charlotta to the joy of Skype and now, regardless of the quality of the connection, she seems to have suddenly realised she's lots of urgent calls to make... helpful to have a new excuse though.

Port-Vila proved surprisingly handy for spares. I finally found a replacement rowlock for the dinghy - could become more essential as the outboard needs some attention. Currently it runs well at idle or full throttle, but stalls at any intermediate speed. Secretly I quite like the additional operating challenge, but think I'll soon have to delve into the dark recesses of the carburetor before things deteriorate further.

Our salvaged folding bicycle was a great help in Port-Vila, despite being afflicted by frequent punctures and becoming a little self-serving when you need the bike to search for puncture repair patches.

Port-Vila's bike shop was shut with an informative notice:
Dear Customer
Bicycle centre close from 04/04/08
to 21/06/08. If you want buy the
bicycle and some spare parts or want
repair the bicycle must wait master
back. Thinks
Bicycle Centre

Tempted as I was to wait the return of the "master", I flagged down a bicycle somehow operating in absence of the shop and eventually found some patches in a well stocked hardware store.

We bought a guide to Vanuatu Pidgin English titled "Evri samting yu wantem save long Bislama be yu fraet tumas blong askem" which translates as "Everything you wanted to know about Bislama but were afraid to ask", looking forward to using some of the useful phrases such as:
"Sista blong mi emi punum grasket blong em" - "My sister is wearing her grass skirt"
"Pol i fasemgud wan krab kokonas" - "Paul ties up the coconut crab"
"Emi wan basket blong titi" - "It is a bra"

We left Port-Vila around midday to head for some anchorages further north in an area know as Havannah Harbour. A new lure on our fishing line caught a barracuda soon after we left Vila - not as big as the giant one we had living under the boat in Ouvea, but unfortunately large enough to maul the new lure and make us very cautious when we removed the hook from it's mouth. Unfortunately barracuda’s are renowned for high ciguatoxin levels - they are high up the food chain - so we returned it to
the sea.

Currently we're anchored in Mallao Bay, off the NW of Lelepa Island about 20 nmiles from Port-Vila. Beautiful coral enclosed bay with a sandy beach ashore, with what initially appeared to be abandoned buildings, until we found the smouldering remains of a recent fire. Where had everyone gone? After consulting some tourist brochures, it transpires that the Havannah Harbour area is a Port-Vila day-trip hotspot. We plan is to leave at first light while we still have the bay to ourselves and head for an island further north.
Mallao Bay: S17°34.66' E168°12.44'

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Port Resolution

We had a great passage from Ovea to Tanna; full sail on a beam-reach, making 7-9 knots in surprising comfort. So much so that our passage was much faster than anticipated and we hove-to for 4 hours in the early morning off the south coast of Tanna. My just-in-time navigation nearly failed us when I discovered our electronic charts covered Tanna at a useless 1:1 million resolution and the only paper chart we had of the area showed the island at a similarly unhelpful scale. The chart was based on an Admiralty survey of 1853-1894 and it was unclear which if any datum was used, making GPS position plots relatively useless. It all made for an exciting slow search round the coast of the actively volcanic island, imagining we were chartless Captain Cook. The illusion was shattered when we recognized Port Resolution by the yacht masts already at anchor.I'd anticipated our arrival at Tanna for weeks; not only as it's the first of the islands of Vanuatu we plan to visit, but also as we had a letter and gifts to deliver, which Nuance, our Whangarei neighbours, had entrusted to us, with an intriguing address; Lea mother of Josephine and Charles, Port Resolution, Tanna. What a great place to be an apprentice postman; lots of willing helpers to point the way, accompany, then introduce us in person. Lea seemed delighted with the letter and gifts and showered us with fruit and veg in appreciation.Before meeting Lea, we were introduced to the chief, his son and various other family members, organized a trip to Mount Yasur - the very active volcano, but declined the trip to the Lenakel, the main town to officially check-into Vanuatu. The charge to cross the island seemed a little expensive at 7500 Vatu ~ $75USD each. As we'd arrived on Saturday it didn't make sense to head over there until Monday and when we suggested that we'd sail to Port-Vila on Efate on Monday and check-in there instead, Stanley the chief's son, didn't seem too upset at missing out on our custom.One of the intriguing legacies of the joint English-French colonial past is the split schooling; there are French and English schools. Children either go to a French or English school. Lea went to a French school and preferred speaking French, although her English was better than our French, whereas the opposite was the case of Stanley the chief's son.

The photos don't really do justice to the beauty of the village and surrounding bush. It feels a privilege to glimpse the traditional way of life the Ni-Vanuatu people lead and yet be welcomed and able to communicate easily with locals, even though our worlds are so different.

Johann and Inga on Adriatica turned up last night, more Scandinavians friends from Whangarei - is there anyone left in Scandinavia? At times it seems as though half the population of Scandavian are at sea. Great to catch-up with them and confirm rumours that our blog entry about the confiscation of our Whangarei market garlic had been reprinted by the local paper and I hope increases market sales as well as publicise the garlic pilfering quarantine regime in Noumea.Just before leaving we swam across the anchorage for an early morning dip in the hot pools. In a couple of places around the anchorage are boiling water pools, possible to cook-in, but also great for a morning bath when mixed with the cooler surrounding water.

It's sad to leave Tanna so soon and miss out on a visit to the John Frumm cult (a cargo cult) tribe who worship the Duke of Edinburgh as a long lost son of their tribe and believe he will return one day to lead them, as well as all the helpful friendly people we've met in Port Resolution.

Sailing up the east-coast of Tanna we had a great view of Mount Yasur and could hear and as well as see the eruptions. Impressive.
The sea is alive with flying-fish and we've even seen couple of large tuna jumping out of the water, mocking my fishing efforts. Our lure, Squiddy, is becoming less squid-like each day, as he looses more of his tentacles to fish-bites, perhaps it's time to retire him - seems a shame though after the delicious mahi-mahi he hooked.

We're busy working our way through our veggies locker in preparation for the health inspectors at Port Vila - Green bean and christophine(?) curry tonight, with "king of rice" (recipe (c) Ian Aim)- in the absence of a fish, not too shabby.

Great trade-wind sailing in 15 knots of wind, full main, poled out genoa and rolling along with the wind behind us. As the sun sets we've Erromango island to the east and Efate 80 miles to the north-west.

Position @ 18.00 (GMT-11); S18°54.9' E168°51.6'

Found in Translation

We're now in Vanuatu, but I'll miss the French forecast's daily update on the battle that took place for control of the skies over New Caledonia:
  • Clouds accompanied by downpours and sun continue to argue the sky during all day.
  • The time evolves little with more frequent clouds on the lagoons West and South accompanied of some downpours.
  • A flux curbed of southwest interests the set of the lagoons.
  • The sun imposes itself on the lagoons around the Big Earth.
  • This afternoon, ... the numerous clouds give some downpours. Elsewhere the sun dominates. The next night, the clouds win the set of the lagoons.

.. then again it could be down to our poor translation software.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

It's the wrong island Grommet

By a combination of luck and some judgment we arrived at the reef break in Ouvea just after sunrise. With the wind blowing into the break, we alternately surfed the swell or lurched alarmingly from side to side, whilst I clung onto the rigging up the ratlines. In the event the break was clearly marked and there was little need for my arial gymnastics, fun though it was. Once inside we motored very cautiously a couple of miles to the anchorage trying to any spot coral heads emerging across our path in the less than ideal conditions of a low sun shining directly into our eyes.

Our cruising guide mentioned that we should "faire la coutume" - the custom of giving a small gift to the chief of the tribe in return for anchoring off their village. What would be an appropriate gift? We'd heard mention of tobacco, money or local printed fabric, of which we had none. Perhaps some of our fish? With abundant fish in the lagoon I feared this might be like offering Mother's Pride(1) to a Parisian.

Eventually we decided upon some homemade cakes/biscuits. Hence later in the morning we found ourselves outside a thatched open-sided village hall waiting for the end of a gathering, quietly satisfied with our offering of icing-sugar dusted "crispy orange cookies", presented on a silver-foil covered piece of card.

Inside the villagers appeared to have arrived with vast quantities of produce; stalks of banana, baskets of citrus, sacks of rice, flowers etc. Could they all be gifts for chief? In comparison, our dozen cookies started to look a little mean. People spoke, we tried to pick-out the chief. All of a sudden the meeting was over, people left with what appeared to be the produce with which they'd arrived - mystifying, what was purpose of the meeting? Perhaps some kind of redistribution occurred, or wrongs were righted, any thoughts?Duly we were introduced to the dentally challenged chief. Memories of childhood present giving returned; the excitement of the recipient opening my homemade gift and kindly appearing delighted. I'm not sure that "it's the thought that counts" gifts were quite what our chief had in mind, or it could have been the confusion I caused when I lapsed into Spanish as the French for "gift" eluded me, but he seemed less than impressed by our "regalo".

Previously I'd spied an overburdened lemon tree outside his hut and as Charlotta's "ripening green lemons" have unsurprisingly turned out to be limes I'd already pictured him graciously receiving our "cadeau" and inviting us to his hut for a drink, where we'd learn about village life and finally he'd offer us some of the excess fruit from his garden. Not sure how this imagined exchange was to take place with my limited French, but in the event, he accepted our gift with, what appeared, little enthusiasm, I gathered that we were welcome to stay in the anchorage, but no invite to gather fruit was forthcoming. So the great anthropologists set about exploring the village surroundings, lemon free, but hoping that the sacrifice we'd made to our butter supply would be appreciated.
By early afternoon we'd exhausted the sights in the village and beach and had to decide how to spend the afternoon. The options were to be take the folding bicycle ashore to explore further afield, take the dinghy back towards the entrance in search of some coral for snorkeling, or find another more sheltered anchorage with better snorkeling options. Our guide described an inviting anchorage across the lagoon, on an uninhabited island. It looked very appealing, but it was 18 miles away and the time was 13.30. The decision was made, we left immediately speeding across the lagoon to arrive an hour or so before sunset. Strange how the mind works - well mine at least. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary I continued believing something not supported by the image presented by my eyes. So it was with our anchorage for the night. The sketch chart of the anchorage showed an island in two parts, with a small barely navigable channel between the two and a bay offering protection from the SW wind. As we approached, we couldn't make out the break in the island, but consoled ourselves with thoughts that our approach angle probably hid the channel. We slowly motored round, eagerly searching for the hidden anchorage, until close to completing a circumnavigation with no gap emerging we admitted that something wasn't quite right. The situation wasn't promising - we'd tangled ourselves in a maze of coral in fading light, with no anchorage in sight.

A reexamination of the chart, our guide and our position, showed that in my eagerness to depart I'd set the course for the wrong island. The selected anchorage was another 6 miles east. Carefully we extracted ourselves from the coral maze and made full speed for the other anchorage, anxiously glancing at the setting sun and willing it to slow it's descent. We just made it, helped by sighting another boat in the anchorage, verifying that this time we'd found a tenable anchorage. With a couple of shouts of "full-reverse" to avoid wrapping ourselves on some coral heads which suddenly emerged from the darkening water, we dropped anchor into a beautiful sheltered bay. Unfortunately the anchor failed to set so in the final light of the day we both dived-in to see the problem. The bottom consisted of hard coral covered by a light dusting of sand - little chance for the anchor to penetrate. Again we discussed our options, but were saved when Charlotta spotted a tiny sandy hole. In the disappearing light I attempted to manoeuvre the boat and anchor over the chosen spot whilst Charlotta dived down and placed the anchor in the hole. Incredibly it worked and we barely had a chance to look around our new surrounding before the light vanished. Phew...

We spent two great days in Ilots Deguala, diving, scrubbing the hull, taking more shark photos, meeting the neighbours (Peter and Gisela on Comodo), sampling their their Chilean Pisco, spearing fish in the allegedly ciguatoxic free reef etc.
On our final morning we dived in early aiming to swim ashore and check some rudimentary traps I'd set for the local coconut crabs. The previous day, whilst scrubbing the hull we'd been in the watchful presence of a giant barracuda. With a recent warning from some fellow sailors still very current in my mind - "remember when you go into the water you're entering the food chain and you're not at the top!" - the teeth of this monster barracuda looked particularly menacing. As we swam ashore we noticed the barracuda had left it's new home under our hull and was following closely behind us. A few minutes later it was still following. Perhaps it was lonely and thought it had found some new friends, but I doubted it's intentions and started to become anxious. Sharklotta has more experience than me with close aquatic encounters and used her well practiced routine: "hey large potentially dangerous sea creature, that was too close, back-off, you've just invaded my personal space", Doctor Doolittle has nothing on her screaming and kicking - the monsters of the deep seem to understand.

Another notable event was Charlotta's first kill with the spear gun, resulting in a afternoon bbq feast on the beach for the four of us.
Will Charlotta's family and friends recognize the returning hunter? She is already talking about a potential new interest in hunting moose and wild boar on her return to Sweden.

We're currently on our way to Tanna in Vanuatu. So far the sailing has been perfect; full sails with the wind just aft of the beam on a slight sea. We should cover the 200 miles by early Saturday morning.

Position @ 10.50 (GMT - 11) S19°57.86' E169°01.06'
Wind SSW 10-15 knots

1) "Mother's Pride" = much maligned taste-free white sliced bread

Monday, May 19, 2008

Onwards to the Loyalties

We've left New Caledonia and are heading for Ouvea in the Loyalty islands on-route to Vanuatu.

We raised the anchor before breakfast, to make the most of the favourable SW wind, make the reef break with a favourable tide and to escape from the confines of the boat - cabin fever was in danger of setting in after a day of continuous rain and spending too much time cleaning and bleeding the fuel system ...again. My feeling of confinement wasn't helped when I was forced to search an inaccessible locker for a new bleed screw, having sheered-off the existing one just as I thought I'd finished the job. Fortunately I've gained a locker-full of spare engine parts from a scraped engine I scavenged in New Zealand and after much rummaging found a replacement.

The early morning weather didn't look particularly inviting - grey sky, drizzle and clouds shrouding the mountains. With the pine trees at the foot of the hills you could imagine why the early explorers were reminded of Scotland, hence the name of the territory.

We sped through the reef with a falling tide accelerating our progress into treacherous looking turbulent waters beyond the break. I can see why Amedee pass is recommended for a first visit as I could imagine the boiling waters habouring some deadly rocks or fatal whirlpools ready to overwhelm the unwary - a little off-putting after, say, a tiring passage from New Zealand - glad we picked Amedee.

Once clear, we set our course to Ouvea and we've had a great day's sailing in sight of the east coast of the main island, with wind on the beam and clearing skies. Just before the spectacular sunset, we managed to land our first Mahi-mahi since we left New Zealand (the other two got away). Finished the day feasting on fresh fish by the light of the full-moon. Doesn't get much better than this.

Position @ 20:00 (GMT - 11.00): S21°38.9' E166°46.3'
Distance to go: 60 nmile

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Role Reversal

We've been busy since the last blog update; returning to Nouméa, fixing the bow roller, catching up with old friends, stocking up for the trip to Vanuatu, scouring the town for hard to locate boat spares, procuring duty-free diesel, starting numerous other boat jobs, checking-out of New Caledonia and celebrating Charlotta's birthday. Phew... feels exhausting just writing about it.

Great to arrive back in Nouméa and find old friends in the marina you didn't expect to see. Especially when they've built their own boat and dissuade you from your chosen course of dismantling half the front of the boat just to fix a bent shaft. They then lent me their tools, produced a stainless rod from their spares as well as supervising and advising on the repair in progress. So it was with Ian and Cathy from Ariel.Thanks to Ian and the wonder of epoxy resin, the repair took a less than day and the result should be an improvement over the previous arrangement.We also met-up with George and Ute on Miama, fellow Whangarei dockland 5 inmates and Claude who spent the Pacific hurricane season building a new carbon-fibre mast in Whangarei as well as Stefan and Jim, our marina neighbours from our previous visit to Nouméa. Stefan (starboard-side neighbour) on hearing of Charlotta's imminent birthday took it upon himself to organise an evening out to celebrate. So it was we found ourselves on Friday night in a Nakamal - a dimly lit kava drinking den - to sample the local dishwater and then onto a bar/club perched over the clear lagoon waters, to sample the local cocktails.We also checked-out on Friday for departure on Sunday as the French colonial authorities don't work weekends, at least not for visiting yachts. We thought we were being cunning as it gives us a couple of extra days to clear the lagoon in addition to the helpful three days allowed. The plan was in danger of back-firing when it transpired that the administration appears to treat Friday as an extension to the weekend and only after much delay and hassle opened-up for the voilier anglais.

On Saturday we started our journey towards the south of the main island bashing into a short-steep chop brought on by a strengthening east wind. As we tacked out to Amédée and back again we experienced a role reversal. I was sea-sick and incapacitated, meanwhile Charlotta ably helmed and brought us into a sheltered anchorage on the main island.

I blame the rich chocolate birthday cake which I gorged before we left, that or my body reacted to the frantic activity of the previous few days - somewhat worrying for my eventual return to work.We're slowly working our way towards the reef-break off the SE of the main-island from where we're planning to stop in the Loyalty islands before heading to Vanuatu. Currently a low over the Loyalties is bringing NE winds and rain so we're sheltering down-below, awaiting a wind shift to the south. Charlotta's enthusiasm for washing and the recent lack of good drying days means it's not as comfortable in the boat as normal - our saloon cushions and pillows remain distinctly damp. We're hoping
for more drying days in the Loyalties.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Paradise dans L'île des Pins

We've spent the last week in some wonderful anchorages off the Isles of Pines. What a place! Abundant sea life; stunning reef fish, turtles, sharks, coral and under-water caves all within or close to beautiful azure anchorages, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Beginning from the previous entry:
We had a fun, fast close-hauled sail from Ndo to Kuto and for a change under full sail. After having anchorages to ourselves, it was a bit of a shock to find that we'd have to share the anchorage in Kuto with six other boats. Happily two of the boats turned out to be yachts we'd met in Nouméa - Phoenix and Lasse.

We'd all arrived around the same time in New Caledonia and had 'enjoyed' a similarly boisterous passage from NZ. Good to catch-up with them and find out about the market in the morning in Voa, 6km south of Kuto. Cunningly, we set-off ridiculously early the next morning and actually made it to the market before it opened - this was a first for me in a French market. Normally, no matter how early I get up, I seem to arrive just as they are shutting-up for the day. Eventually a couple of stalls were setup with a limited selection of fruit and veg which were quickly purchased by us and a couple of other early arrivals.

Later we sympathised with tales from Phoenix and Lasse about their 'fruitless' trek to the market, while trying to hide the citrus stains on our clothes. From Kuto we headed north to Gadji on a coral dodging passage, inside the outer reef which circles the west and north of l'île des Pins. Our chart of the area contains numerous warnings of uncharted dangers and incomplete surveys so we abandoned the chart and slowly weaved our way north relying on Charlotta or myself up the ratlines to spot a path through the hazards.
Gadji has two main anchorages; one available at all states of the tide and another better protected anchorage, with entry only possible a few hours either side of high-water. With high-water at 9pm and 9am we planned to shift in the morning. Unfortunately as darkness fell the wind-shifted to the SW and blew strongly directly into the anchorage giving us a restless and anxious night as the boat pitched alarmingly and the anchor and chain made worrying noises. With coral all around there was little we could do but hope the anchor held.

Helpfully our guide describes the holding as "mediocre... with only a thin layer of sand over smooth coral plateau... be careful in this anchorage".... Fortunately the ground-tackle held, but as we raised the anchor the next morning, the shock-load over the bow-roller bent the roller shaft.

Nothing to stop us enjoying the sheltered anchorage though, which offered excellent protection, clear shallow water around the boat and a reef with a 30m drop-off close-by with stunning sea-life, and a maize of coral, tunnels and caves.

turtle and friend

Charlotta seems to have rapidly recovered from her close encounter with the grey reef sharks and has taken to chasing white-tip sharks with the camera for the postcard shot of "here's me with the local sharks - don't they look adorable". Our book says, "white-tip shark: ...unusually docile, but may get aggressive around speared fish". The last few days have passed quickly exploring the coral passages, cycling round the island and attempting to catch dinner with the spear-gun. We've reluctantly dragged ourselves away from paradise and are heading back to Nouméa for some stainless welding on the bow roller.... never a dull moment.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

An island to ourselves

We've been straying a little from Nuance's annotated chart depending upon light conditions (for coral navigation) or as winds permit. We're slowly making our way to Ile des Pins, SE of New Caledonia. Firstly to Baie Uie, a very sheltered anchorage where we had a bath under some waterfalls after a dinghy trip up the river, followed by a trek through the forest, making it back to the boat just before dusk. Next we stayed off-shore and anchored in the lagoon off Ilot Ndo, in a narrow channel surrounded by coral. Very snug at low tide, but somewhat roly at high-tide as the surf breaks over the coral. Still it feels snug with bow and stern anchors and a line ashore, even though there's little swinging room. In such stunning surroundings, it seems amazing that we've had both anchorages to ourselves.

Ilot Ndo is a small wooded island (takes about 20 minutes to walk around) surrounded by a white sand beach and enclosed in coral. It's an easy dinghy ride or swim ashore at high-tide but at low tide the coral is exposed making the trip impassable for the dinghy and difficult on foot. We were enjoying having the island to ourselves having taken the dinghy in at high-tide. At around low-tide I decided to try some spear-fishing. When I've spear-fished before I've always had the dinghy close-by to take the speared fish, as a flailing dying fish attracts attention from the normally passive reef-sharks (remember Bruce 'fish are friends not food' - the shark from Finding Nemo). However the dinghy was marooned on the island until at least half-tide so we settled on a compromise to put the fish box, a large white plastic box, on the now dry edge of the reef and swim close to the box. After checking the box a few times, I settled into the hunting mode, only to discover a while later that the box had vanished.

Charlotta continues:
Nick and I were caught by the low tide on this small sandy island with a great supply of washed ashore coconuts. While waiting for high-tide we decided to walk across the most narrow part of the reef to get to water deep enough for snorkeling. Nick was spear-fishing and I was supposed to assist in case of a catch. Instead I found myself forced to rescue a big plastic box that rapidly drifted off the end of the reef where we had placed it (tide coming in, remember). The wind was pretty strong and the box was a fair bit out when I noticed it so there was no time for hesitation (or telling Nick who had wandered off in the opposite direction). To start off I was quite pleased with the situation, swimming I like and even better when it could be done for something useful. The plastic box moved quickly though, sometimes I lost track of it in the waves and bright sunshine. I swam further and further away from the island, realizing that Nick probably had started to wonder by then where I had gone. Ahead of me was the very outer reef sticking up with breaking waves, and even though I had started to consider the sense in chasing the nearly empty box, I figured that this was my chance to catch up with it. Little did I think of the reef as a tricky obstacle in my course as well as the box's, and when I finally had made it across (too shallow to swim, and lots of unfriendly corals not to be touched), the box had as well, and was now drifting off onto the open ocean. So far gone I couldn't give up, so I went on swimming, knowing that Nick had a troublesome time still stuck with the dinghy on the island and not knowing where I was. I don't know for how long or for how far I swam, but when I finally got hold of the box and turned around, the island looked quite small in the distance. I realized that the achievement wasn't comparable to the effort that was put into it, and I how stupid it was to take off swimming without telling Nick, but still there was the satisfaction of having won the race against the box, and anyway I was now on my way back.

Suddenly close underneath me I saw two big sharks passing. A thrilling sight, but when I realised a third one made a quick attack for me, it was frightening. Screaming and kicking I scared them off but the situation was very unpleasant. I was far from any protection, the sharks were about half my size and there were the three of them. Holding on to the box I was now a slow swimmer. Having all these thoughts in mind I got terrified when I noticed the sharks were back. This time they seemed more confident and again one attempted an attack. A serious one. It hit me on the leg or maybe I kicked it. The sharks took off, but for how long? I was left worrying for my life. Trying to speed up my swimming the only thing I could think of was what it would be like to be eaten by sharks. I didn't see them again, I swam most of the way back, and finally got rescued by Nick close to the island.

Nick continues:
I was focused on tracking some fishing, oblivious to Charlotta's epic quest, but was a little disconcerted when I surfaced and couldn't find the fish box. I swam back to where I thought it should be, but in vain, no box and no Charlotta. The last I'd seen of Charlotta was between me and boat and so I assumed she must have seen the box drifting off and swam with it back to boat. With just enough tide to float the dinghy across the reef I made it back to the boat, but still no sign of either. Mystified I scanned the horizon from the ratlines, and spied what I thought might be her. So set off in the dinghy, but all sightings proved to be exposed rocks, after half an hour of increasingly concerned searching I starting to think of what I'd tell her parents and how to raise the alarm with the French authorities. A final scan of the horizon revealed a rapidly moving box with a relieved Charlotta attached.

We think the sharks involved were grey reef sharks, our fish identification book states: "Grey reef shark....usually curious, but maybe aggressive and engage in threat display before attacking. Among the most likely of sharks to attack divers, but generally give a single non-fatal bite."

Friday, May 02, 2008

Vive la différence

We have inside information from some French friends who gave us an annotated chart before we left Whangarei and so far are sticking religiously to the anchorages highlighted by their chart: "Hi Nuance, we'd be lost without you - literally." So last night we anchored between some coral banks (Les Quatre Bancs De L'Ouest - 'x' marks the position on the Nuance chart), unfortunately we started later than intended from Nouméa and made slowish progress sailing against a pleasant 15 knot SE trade wind, which meant we arrived at the anchorage just before sunset, making it tricky to pick our way through the coral. We ended up anchoring further out than ideal, resulting in a roly first night at anchor. At least we'd finally escaped the marina and the engine appeared to be humming happily away again.

This morning we had the first swim since we arrived in New Caledonia, followed by a leisurely sail to Ile Amedee the island with the Lighthouse transit marking the entrance to the outer-reef. It turns out we arrived after the tourist boat from Nouméa had disgorged it's day-trippers. After a walk around the island, I was keen to head off and search for a less populated island, but first decided it would be rude to depart without a snorkel around the coral. The fish here are unlike any I've encountered so far; they seem curious - they follow you. What's that about? Don't they realise I'm a potentially fearsome predator? After an hour of feeling like an aquatic pied-piper with my following of curious fishy friends, I heard my name being called by an excited Charlotta. What could be wrong? Dinghy drifted off? Anchor dragged? Could she have been attacked by a snake or stung by a jelly fish? No, she'd managed to wangle her way into a buffet provided for the boat passengers. I apprehensively followed and filled my plate with tuna steaks and shrimps and tried to shrink into the background. It seems Charlotta's criminal mind has no such qualms and she happily helped herself to extra bread, dessert and ice-cream, washing it all down with coffee and biscuits. Still I'm happy to enjoy the spoils of her criminal activities. Enjoyable as a free-lunch is, I thought her suggestion of staying for a week's worth of free lunches, coconut tree climbing competitions and sarong tying demonstrations, would become somewhat tedious from tomorrow onwards... With lunch came free wine, I'm reasonably sure that if this was a trip in the UK, the wine would rapidly disappear; not so here. Bottles were left half empty, perhaps the quality wasn't up to the required standard for the discerning French palate or could this be the fabled continental drinking habit in action? I've heard talk that the relaxation of the English licensing laws will usher in a new age of more temperate drinking. Have things changed that much? Will I recognise my home nation on return? Worrying thoughts.

I'm enjoying the contrast with NZ, there's a different range of food in the supermarket, especially the spectacular meats and cheeses and a definite elegance in the way people dress. Could it be the warmer climate or simply French chic? The lagoon weather forecast starts on a philosophical/scientific note: "Quel rôle le sel de l'océan joue-t-il dans le climat de la Terre?" (What role does the salt of the ocean play in the climate of the Earth?). Answers on a postcard. I'm afraid my somewhat literal translation program helped me with that and provides some entertaining results for the rest of the forecast:

"After dissipation of the early clouds, the sun imposes itself again. Wind is rather weak this morning and submitted to the regime of the inshore breezes."

Or how about:

"On the lagoons, the trade wind of southeast to south south-easterly breath around 10 knots."

Is 10 knots of "breath" stronger than 10 knots of wind? We need to know.