We now have approximately 1000 miles to go from Opua, New Zealand to New Caledonia. Going to or from New Zealand is always a passage that requires very careful planning and a bit of luck. The weather patterns move across the Tasman Sea from Australia in an easterly direction. The usual pattern is a high pressure followed by a low pressure. There is also the added danger of a tropical storm or even a cyclone forming north of you and crossing your path as you make your way toward New Caledonia. So on April 23rd, 2007 with a favorable weather window, we left Opua. We left on the westward side of a high pressure and we had beam-reaching and reaching conditions for the first 600 miles. Our passage was accompanied at times by an albatross flying overhead and dolphins crossing our bow. We even had an overnight visitor about 400 miles out of New Zealand -- a small bird landed on Elyse's head while she sat in the cockpit one evening and ended up staying the night nestled on a shelf below.
During the last 400 miles, the winds shifted northerly and we ended up close reaching the rest of the way. Fortunately, the winds were light and we took no seas on board. We approached Passe de Boulari at 0130, so had to sit off the coast until daylight. We were hit by numerous squalls all night and kept careful watch that we did not drift into the surrounding reef. Finally at 0530, we motored through the pass using radar as the rains had not let up and made visibility virtually nil. At approximately 10 am, we were tied securely to the visitors pontoon in Port Moselle, Noumea awaiting Customs, Immigration and Quarantine.
New Caledonia consists of the mainland (Grande Terre) and several surrounding islands including the Loyalty Group and Isle of Pines. Because of the orientation of the main island, and the fact that the surrounding reef is open at the south eastern end, sailing from Noumea to Prony Bay or further to the Isle of Pines is always against the prevailing winds and seas.
As New Caledonia is a French speaking country, communication was a real challenge for us. We never left the boat without our "French for Cruiser's" guide in hand. Even something as simple as ordering a beer was interesting to say the least. The Noumea markets along the waterfront, opened early every morning, providing a vast selection of fresh fruits, vegetables and local fish.
We spent the majority of our stay in Prony Bay which is a large bay along the southeast coast with numerous protected anchorages to choose from. It was here that we met Umberto, a single-hander from Spain who has been cruising since 2000 on "El Hollandes Errantes", a 27 foot sloop. Prony Bay is also the site of the biggest lateritic nickel deposit in the world and a big mining project is underway. The mountain landscape around Prony Bay is barren, with many exposed areas of red soil which is very high in nickel content and is not a good medium for the vegetation so is easily eroded. Because of this, the water in the bays are very murky. Swimming was out of the question, as we were told there were sharks in the area.
Throughout the lagoon around New Caledonia are many small islets and reefs with beautiful white sand beaches. Because of the constant winds, it is a popular area for kite surfing. Fishing is a big past time, but we stayed away from the reef fish due to the risk of ciguatera.
We especially enjoyed the "boat show" around Noumea. Throughout the yachting world, steel boats, especially in the US are a minority, however, New Caledonia was the first place where we were in the majority. In fact, there were steel and aluminum boats of every type, size and design. The French love steel boats and unpainted aluminum boats. They say it is because they are the safest boats in regards to hitting reefs, etc. That most certainly is true and one of the prime reasons we are voyaging around the world in a steel boat.