Fiji to New Caledonia

Category: Ships Log
  Fiji2NewCal 00000 Cruiseship 150x Carnival Legend Vanuatu South Pacific  

October 17th - October 24th

Calm bay, crossing the reef, large swells, seasickness, roller furler mishap, scary night entrance, We marina.

 

Finally it was time to say goodbye to our friends and the friendly staff at Vuda Point Marina. We completed all the custom papers, paid our marina bill, and spent our last Fiji dollars on ice cream. Enjoying our frozen delight we chatted with several cruiser friends while making our way back to the boat. Quite a few cruisers will leave their boat at Vuda Point for the hurricane season, since the marina is a known hurricane hole. We were a bit jealous when Laura from Rhapsody said "This is our final destination for the season, now we can lay back and relax." Green Panther still has quite a way to go (about 1500 nm); we will sail to New Caledonia next, and then Australia. Back on the boat, we fired up the engine and there was Lulu all ready to untie our mooring lines (in Vuda Point the bow is tied to the dock and the stern to moorings anchored in the marina basin). We chatted a bit, then he waved goodbye and off we went. On our way out we crossed paths with Bika, a 26 ft boat which a Kiwi plans to sail all the way to New Zealand in a couple of weeks.


Fiji2NewCal 00a Lulu Goodbye 700x
Vuda Point Marina, time to say goodbye to Lulu


Fiji2NewCal 00 Bika 700x sailboat Bika Fiji
The small Bika (Contessa 26) on a test run, before heading for New Zealand.


Fiji2NewCal 00b AustralianSailor blueFace goodbye 700x Vuda point marina sailing cruising
An Australian character, who just bought his boat in Fiji, wishing us a safe journey. Yes, his face is painted zinc blue. :)

 

Before we headed into the open ocean we decided to get a good night's sleep, so we motored about 10 miles north and dropped anchor in the very calm Saweni Bay. As planned, the Australian sloop Capriccio with Jeff, Jackie and Guy on board joined us soon after. They invited us for a sundowner and dinner on their boat and we discussed among other things the best route to New Cal. Our plan was to sail at least part of the route together. The next morning we motored east, against the east wind, through the large lagoon surrounding Fiji's main island of Viti Levu. In the late afternoon we got a glimpse of Monoriki island were Tom Hanks talked so long to a volleyball it committed suicide by jumping into the ocean. The actual name of the movie is Castaway and the island scenes were filmed on Monoriki. Shortly after, the wind switched to the southeast and we set our sails just in time before reaching the pass in the reef. The pass is clearly marked by a large shipwreck sitting high and dry about half a mile north of the pass. Seems it will stay there as a permanent reminder of how bad navigation errors can be. Anyway, we made it safe through the pass only to be greeted by large 3 m swells rolling in from the southeast.

 

Fiji2NewCal 01 Saweni Bay 700x Fiji Vuda Point sailing
Anchored in the calm and protected Saweni Bay, Viti Levu, Fiji


Fiji2NewCal 01b sv Capriccio 700x
s/v Capriccio with Jeff, Jackie and Guy on board, motoring next to us against the east wind through the lagoon.

 

We expected those large swells and knew we had to deal with them. The motion, however, was so uncomfortable that we both had to take seasickness medicine (hanging out in a lagoon for almost a month made us lose our "sea legs"). This was the first time I had to take something since the crossing to the Marquesas. The wind picked up later that night and we decided to reef our 120% genoa to make it easier for the helmsman (to reduce the sail area of our biggest headsail, the genoa, we can roll it up using our roller furler). However we got hit by a strong wind gust while we were trying to furl it and the genoa got wrapped around the furler the wrong way. This turned out to be really bad. Now the poor genoa was flapping violently in the wind and producing a deafening noise, but we could not pull it in or let it out, because the sail and the sheets were wrapped up in a large mess around the furler. There was nothing we could do from the cockpit, but leaving the genoa up there like this would definitely lead to its self-destruction. So wearing my harness and attached to the jackline with a tether, I slowly made my way onto the foredeck while Green Panther was rolling violently in the large swells (we run a line on deck on both sides over the entire length of the boat, so we can attach our tether to it whenever we have to leave the cockpit. This line is called a jackline). Wrapping my feet around the anchor chain winch I could free both arms to work on the mess. After half an hour of untangling and back looping sheets while trying to stay on the rocking boat I could finally free the genoa. I returned to the cockpit wet but happy and Alena and I could now reef the genoa.


Fiji2NewCal 01c rollerfurler Columbia 34 MKII Green Panther
The genoa nice and content rolled up on our furler (this image was taken after we made landfall).

 

The following days were rough but we made good progress (sometimes as much as 120 nm in 24h). However, Capriccio was much faster and we soon lost radio contact with them. We were expecting they would be faster since they have a larger and heavier boat that can plough through the swells much better than Green Panther can. On the afternoon of the third day we saw land. It was Aneityum island which belonged to Vanuatu. This young country gained their independence from joint French and British rule in 1980, and now has very strict custom regulations. Cruisers who didn't send in a 48 h advanced notice or came onto land before being cleared by customs reportedly received large fines. Anyway, we didn't plan to stop on this southernmost island of Vanuatu, however the lush green mountains, dense forest in the valleys, and the white beach next to a protected anchorage behind the reef looked very inviting. Another island for our "we'll stop there next time" list. After rounding the north shore of the island we came within a mile of a large cruise ship which emerged in front of us out of a dense rain front. Alena joked, "We should ask them for ice cream," but we didn't follow through with this plan. The last two days brought some rain to make the large swells (3 m) and strong winds (20+ kts) even a bit more exciting. We were really glad when we finally came close to our destination, the town of We on Lifou island, which is part of the Loyalty island group of New Caledonia. But there was a small problem.


Fiji2NewCal 02 MysteryIsland 700x Vanuatu
Aneityum (also known as Anatom or Keamu) is the southernmost island of Vanuatu and has a population of ~900.


Fiji2NewCal 04 sunset 700x New Caledonia
Another gorgeous sunset on our way to New Caledonia.

 

Based on our speed and course we estimated that we would arrive at We sometime around midnight, which was not ideal. We try to avoid entering an unknown harbor or anchorage at night. Well, after studying the charts and google earth images it seemed the entrance was well marked by red and green lights and deep enough, so we decided to check it out and to attempt to enter if all the navigation lights were in working order. It was a bit iffy to see the lights of the town and the silhouette of the very low lying island and nothing more while sailing into the bay of We (pronounced Weh). We had to trust our charts completely. Approaching the harbor we found the navigation lights in working order plus our AIS receiver told us that there was a several hundred foot long vessel in the harbor. (AIS stands for Automatic Identification System. Every commercial vessel emits an AIS signal, so it's easy for us to get name, dimensions, speed and heading as long as the vessel is within a ten mile radius.) We thought, if such a large ship can make it in then it will be plenty deep enough for us. We left the green buoy to our right and the red one to our left (channel markers are opposite here from the U.S.) and entered the channel to the harbor. Next we could see the red blinking light on the edge of the jetty protecting the harbor. Aiming for it but trying to not get too close we made it around the jetty and found a large ferry boat tied up, but no entrance to the marina. There was a large wooden construct which looked like an old pier, or (in the middle of the night) gate, blocking our way. We first tried to peek around to its left but suddenly Alena called "There's no entrance here, and I can see the bottom." After an initial shock we double checked the depth sounder and it read 24 ft (8 m) so we were fine. We learned later the water here is crystal clear, thus we could see the bottom of the harbor which was illuminated by the lights of the ferry that night. Next we approached the right side of the "gate" very slowly and despite it being rather shallow we could see a narrow passage leading into the marina. We finally realized that the red navigation light marking the entrance to the marina was not working, which explained why we had such a hard time finding our way. We went for the passage, slowly, because it was only about 9 ft (3 m) and finally the tiny marina of We lay before us. At about midnight we tied up to what looked like, and probably was, a guest dock and fell into a very deep sleep after the exhausting passage.

 

Fiji2NewCal 06 WeMarina 700x Lifou New Caledonia sailing port of entry
The marina in We is small but beautiful and it's an official port of entry for New Caledonia. Green Panther is all
the way to the left.

 

We got up early, after only 6 hours of sleep, to clean the cabin and cockpit for the arrival of the customs officials. At about 7:30am I called the marina on VHF channel 67 (as our cruising guide specified) but got no answer, so we continued to call every half hour. We weren't sure how strict New Caledonia was about going on land before being cleared by customs and were trying to play it safe. In some countries we've visited, it is strictly forbidden to step on land before the health department and customs clear the boat. Around 10am (still no answer from the marina) we saw two zodiacs with French divers going by; we greeted them and asked if they knew how to contact the marina. One of the men spoke English and explained, he doesn't know about a VHF frequency for the marina, but we should just walk over there. He said everybody here is very relaxed and it's a small place. I decided to take my chances, grabbed the boat papers and our passports, and walked towards the marina building. Surprisingly, for a Friday morning the office was closed and the only living soul in the entire area was a maintenance guy working in the yard. Using the few words of French I know, I approached the guy and learned that the office was closed because the port captain went to town for something. Indeed an hour later the port captain, a young native man, returned and welcomed me into his office. He copied all my papers and told me that we can stay for two days, but then we have to sail for Noumea (the capitol of New Caledonia) to complete the check in. And that was it - no health department (there actually is one in We, but the office was closed the entire time we were there), no inspection of the boat, no nothing. All that worry for naught. It was sure nice to have an easy check in and we were excited to get off the boat and explore a new island!

 



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