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.

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