Originally from Phillip Island – Victoria, Peter and Val Salisbury purchased a Fountaine Pajot Lavezzi 40 “SV Duet” in 2006 which they now base in Mooloolaba when they are not happily cruising the Pacific.
Their most recent cruising has seen them sailing the Pacific for the past 18 months. Here, Val gives us an update on their latest adventures in Vanuatu & New Caledonia.
While keeping an eye on the weather to catch a suitable window to head to New Caledonia we kept busy in Port Vila. The days went by quickly; having coffee and pastries in the French café, socializing with yachties and friends who live locally. We walked and explored the town and one afternoon visited the local museum where Edgar, our guide, spent a couple of hours sharing interesting stories about the country and it’s people with us. He also did some sand drawings which traditionally gave information to other villages that spoke a different language. These patterns are done without lifting the finger from the sand.
It is interesting that in Vanuatu the national language is pigeon English or Bislama. Until Independence in 1980 Vanuatua was governed by a “two-fella” government. From 1906 both the English and French had equal rights and retained their home country’s citizenship, while the Ni-Vans were officially stateless. There were English and French courts to deal with each nationality separately. Then there was a Joint Court to decide other disputes. Even though there was Independence in 1980 the schools today are still either English or French. So children in Vanuatu are familiar with all these languages as well as the native language of the village or area that is spoken in the family home.
The route from Vanuatu passes quite close to a group of islands off the east coast of New Caledonia called the Loyalty Islands. We especially wanted to see the north most island called Ouvea. Although we passed close we were not allowed to visit there until we had officially cleared in to New Caledonia.
Although Noumea is the main port of entry for New Caledonia it is a long way south and it isn’t easy to sail back to the Loyalties from there. There are usually three components to Clearing in or entering a country which involve three different government departments; Quarantine, Customs and Immigration. We found it was possible to do a partial clearance in the small town of Hienghene on the east coast of New Cal.
The day we arrived we cleared Customs and Quarantine in Hienghene but to finalise Immigration it was necessary to visit the Immigration office in Noumea, a mere 6 ½ hour bus trip away! The benefit of doing the clearance this way meant we could look around the east coast and also head back to the Loyalties.
The alarm clock woke us the following morning and we caught the bus at 6.30am. It arrived in Noumea at 1pm. The 5.30pm bus in the afternoon would have us arriving back at Hienghene at midnight!!. Although a long trip we always find it an interesting experience to travel with locals on public transport that way you get to see the real country.
We had a good idea of where to go when we reached Noumea as we had received directions on how to find the Immigration Dept Building from Jean-Claude, the Quarantine Officer, who cleared Duet in Hienghene. English is not spoken in New Caledonia especially away from Noumea which adds a new complication to life, but Jean-Claude had made a phone call to Immigration and drew us a map. So once in Noumea we headed for the Immigration Building, a 20-minute walk away, where we found a locked gate and a note (in French) saying they were shut until 3.30pm. So we about-faced and headed back to town firstly to find an internet café to have lunch and collect our emails which we hadn’t done since Vanuatu. We then wanted to buy sim cards for our mobile phones. We learned that the Post Office in the opposite direction to the Immigration Building was where we would find them. So eventually with sim cards in hand we jogged back to Immigration completed the paperwork and finally got back to the bus terminus in time to board the 5.30 with 15 minutes to spare. We were both looking forward to relaxing on our trip back to Duet.
On boarding, however, we were told we should have a ticket. We didn’t realize this as in the morning we paid the driver! So we got off and went to the ticket office which we hadn’t noticed as it was all closed up! There was a large sign above the window “Ouvert 7.30am- 5.30pm” and it was only 5.20pm. It seems the hand written note –in French- behind a wire door was telling us it would be shut early today! Bugger! But worse we were not allowed on the bus without a ticket and the next bus was at 8am in the morning. So were stranded for the night in Noumea! By this time the sun was getting low and we didn’t have a bed for the night and we were tired from walking backwards and forwards to Customs and it was my birthday!
Anyway things did improve. We found a hotel room close by and we went out and had a celebratory birthday dinner at a nearby restaurant on the waterfront. To top of our extravagances, I had a lovely loooooong hot shower!
Being on the water we need to always keep an eye on the weather. So after arriving back on Duet the following afternoon we downloaded weather grib files from the internet using the satellite phone. The forecast for the next two days was westerlies and then the wind was turning E-SE at 20kts. The westerlies would be perfect for a sail east to Ouvea in the north Loyalties. So a quick decision was made that we leave the next evening and head to Ouvea while the westerlies blew. However before leaving, a few jobs of maintenance had to be attended to. There is a saying that on a boat everything is either broken or breaking. On returning to Duet in the dinghy we noticed the anchor light at the top of the mask was broken. So along with the general maintenance of checking oil and fuel after the passage from Port Vila, the anchor light had to be repaired. After a couple of trips to the top of the mast (easier said than done) all was finally finished and we were ready to leave late that afternoon for Ouvea. We did an overnight passage to be sure we would arrive in daylight hours to see our way through the reef pass to enter the lagoon.
Peter’s legs didn’t work properly for several days after climbing the mast twice! When he first used to go up the mast, he would sit in the bosun’s chair and I would winch him up using the main sail halyard. This was a long, slow process and hard work for me lifting him. We now find it quicker and easier (well for me anyway!) for him to take his own weight and climb up using the steps to the spreaders and then monkey the rest of the way, while I winch the bosuns chair to keep up with him. Normally it works well but having to climb up twice is a big ask for aging legs!
Ouvea was the paradise the brochures showed although the weather didn’t do it justice while we were there. We arrived through the pass in the reef just as the sun rose at 6.30am after leaving Hienghene at around 5pm. The sail was perfect, so good in fact we had to reef down quite a bit just to keep the speed down so we didn’t arrive in the dark. Ouveu is an atoll with a long, thin cresent shaped island on the east. There are smaller islands to the north and south encircling the lagoon of aquamarine blue water.
While anchored off the sandy beach at a small village called Fayaoue we were visited each day by children from the local school who were having sailing lessons as part of their sports program. They had a variety of windsurfers, dinghies and Hobie Cats. Duet was sometimes the marker buoy for their races but more often just a magnet to those wanting to say hello and have a closer look. There was no shortage of sailing equipment sailing past our door. The first morning there was a fleet of Optimist dinghies with fluorescent green sails. That afternoon there were a dozen wind surfers, half with large sails for the older children and half with small sails for the younger. The following day in our dinghy we passed 6 Hobie cats with the children having fun paddling with their hands as there was no wind,
After the lack of development in the previous countries we had visited it was a surprise to see the abundance of infrastructure on Ouvea. A desalination plant has even been set up although there are only 4,000 people living there. It is strange that there is so much money spent but so few people.
There is a 25km stretch of white sand beach overlooking the lagoon. A new bitumen road runs the length of the island and follows the beach. We took our bikes ashore on the second day and thought we would head off once a rain shower passed. However what we took for clearing rain was only a brief lull in the continual downpour that then continued for two days. So, in the rain, we explored some of the way along the road to the north. We stopped at a small grocery store and bought a chocolate croissant to renew our energy, We continued in the rain until we reached a memorial to 19 Kanaks who were shot in 1988 in the Ouvea Incident, not that long ago. This Incident came about after a group of pro-independence Kanaks killed 4 policemen and took others hostage in a cave further north. Reinforcements of French Police and Army were brought in from Noumea and they stormed the cave killing 21 people including the 19 Kanaks and 2 policemen.
At the memorial the rain was bucketing down and we still had a 7km ride back to Duet. We were soaked and the wind blew making for a chilly trip back. Even with the rain it was still beautiful riding beside the lagoon.
The weather cleared as we left Ouvea going through the reef pass again at sunrise. It took us most of the day to get back to the mainland. We entered through one of the many reef passes into the lagoon that fringes most of New Caledonia. On the way we caught two tuna. The first was large weighing 15kg and the second half that size. So the freezer is now stocked.
After entering the fringing reef we sailed a further hour or two south and anchored at Thio, a Nickel port as the sun was setting. The rugged hills along the east coast are brown in places and look a little like they have been burned by bushfires. But on closer inspection there are roads zig-zagging their way up the hills and it is where nickel is being mined. Occasionally the whole mountain top has been mined away but usually it only seems to be mainly on the surface.
Churches are the other thing you notice while travelling around the South Pacific. Everywhere you go Protestant and Catholic missionaries have been very busy. The churches are always very grand ostentatious buildings usually white with a steep red roof and in a very prominent position. It is quite common to see these dominant churches standing out against the green landscape while travelling along the coast.
Yesterday we left Thio at sunrise with mist still hanging over the village and continued down the east coast at a slow rate motoring straight into the wind and waves. We travelled all day like that and at sunset we anchored at another nickel port at the small town of Yate. At daybreak this morning we headed off and continued down the east coast and around the south end of the island. Here we were out of the waves and wind, a welcome change. We made our way past reefs, islands and pretty bays. This area reminded us of the Whitsundays also the cooler weather it more like the Whitsundays, not as tropical as Fiji. We reached Noumea mid afternoon.
We are in the marina in town for a few days. I have just caught up on some washing, it has accumulated since leaving Port Vila two weeks ago. We will stay around Noumea until next week when Ryan and Holly arrive. They are here for a couple of weeks and our destination will be the Isle of Pines which is a few days sailing to the south of here.
I have only just updated the Skipr website as we haven’t had internet for quite a while:
Click here to Find Duet
Bye for now, Love Val & Peter