Welcome to Zenitude’s blog where you can follow us while we travel slow in our Lagoon catamaran. We update this blog frequently when we are cruising to let family and friends know where we are. Check the complete story of our adventures that started in 2006 when Zenitude became our home and cruising our way of life. Graciela and Oscar

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Underway - From New Caledonia to Vanuatu

Sailing from the north tip of Ouvea to Port Vila, a 200 miles trip, should take us between 34 to 40 hours. Timing is tricky because we need to leave Ouvea with daylight to go thru the pass out to open waters. This means arriving to Port Vila at night.

After buying the last 2 baguettes before leaving French territory we left Fayaoue on Tuesday morning heading towards Ilot Deguala. While crossing the lagoon in a great sunny day we had dozen of dolphins swimming alongside and playing with Zenitude.

Watch the video:    Sailing with dolphins 

We decided not to stop at Ilot Deguala but checked the anchorage, definitely a 'must visit' when back.
Ouvea map and charts show 2 passes for getting out of the lagoon, Passe de la Baleine and Passe du Taureau. Before leaving Fayaoue we asked the local people about conditions in the passes and they said Taureau is better as the other pass has 2 dangerous rocks sometimes hard to see. Our cruising guide does not mention any of these passes but shows that is possible to pass between Ile Jumeaux and Ilots Deguala. The worry is the chart shows this area as 'unsurveyed'. What to do? Neither of the 2 passes looked very inviting and we decided to trust our cruising guide as the area between the islands is wide and the reef was very visible at 1:00 PM when we crossed. Crossing really slowly and checking the depth sounder all the time the pass was calm, clear waters showed no danger and we never saw less than 14 meters depth. Anyway, we only relaxed when we were out in chart surveyed waters.

Leaving New Caledonia behind we had good sailing most of the time, fast and bumpy during the day averaging almost 7 kn but slower at night with the wind calming down. The full moon made the night much more enjoyable. Approaching Port Vila the second night at around midnight we could see the lights showing the entrance to the port. We usually don't enter port at night but this port is easy, well marked, we've been here before, our C-Map chart is spot on, there was a full moon, clear and calm night and our cruising guide gave us all the waypoints up to the Quarantine anchor point. With all of this we decided to get in. Somehow the leading lights to the entrance are not exactly as described in the guide but are clear to understand.

Very slowly we made it to the quarantine anchorage, several boats were already there waiting for next day quarantine clearance. We dropped anchor and relaxed, the night was calm, we were quite tired but happy after a good trip.

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Friday, 26 July 2013

Ouvea - A very special place

Like Fakarava and Toau in the Tuamotus or sweet Suvarov in the Cook Islands, Ouvea is indeed a special place in New Caledonia. Unlike Tuamotus or Cook Islands, coming to Ouvea is quite easy if you are sailing around New Caledonia, but even if you are not sailing, there are daily short flights from Noumea. Cost of accommodation might be an issue if you are not on your yacht but there are options with tribal 'gites' or tribal camping grounds or the very beautiful and luxurious Paradise resort, worthwhile checking.

We arrived at the pass of Coetlogon in Ouvea's south-west coast at noon having left Baie de Santal in Lifou at 4:00 AM. The pass is narrow but it's well marked. At noon visibility was perfect and we could make out the reef on both sides of the pass. There was a small boat with divers in the reef next to Moule island and we thought for a moment to stop at the anchorage in the lagoon entrance (Ile Moule) to snorkel in the reef but at the end decided to keep going to Fayaoue as per original plan. Sailing inside the lagoon is easy with no dangers if you keep at least 1.5 miles from the beach at about 10 meters depth.

I was enjoying the scenery, the 25 km of a long beach with white sand surrounded by coconut trees and amazing turquoise waters while Oscar was busy cleaning the 2 big fishes he got underway from Lifou. The first fish was a 8.5 kg mahi-mahi enough for several dinners but then he decided to try another one 'to get a gift for the chief in Fayaoue' and this time he got a 7 kg tuna. At this point, while he is busy cleaning the fish and the mess I'm sure he is wondering why he got so enthusiastic, for sure one fish was more than enough! On top of this he realizes now that there is no chief to see where we are going. Oh well, we got fish for the next 2 weeks' dinners (and probably lunches as well).

A tuna AND a mahi-mahi!
 We finally arrived to our destination and marveled at this superb place. Next day we rented a car. We didn't know where the rental car office was and went to the 'magazine' (the grocery store) to find out, using our best broken French. The lady at the store was very nice and she called the car rental for us using her excellent French. Five minutes later the rental car was at the shop's door for us.

We drove the one and only road, north to south. The island is a narrow strip along the lagoon on one side and the open seas on the other side. Some places you can see both sides at the same time. At the north tip, in Saint Joseph, we took the Nimek tour with Mr Antoine. This was a wonderful tour, walking along the beach where few people visit. You see turtles, sharks, crabs, sea snails, a plant that releases a sun protection gel when you embed with sea water and much more. You walk crossing a pass when the tide is low and end up in a dream place where we stopped for a picnic. Antoine tells all kind of stories about Ouvea, its customs and believes from their ancestors and he even gave us a lesson on how to fish with their typical net. All registered in film, which we'll post soon. We had a fantastic day and highly recommend the tour if you come to Ouvea (Mr. Antoine 98 72 05). I should mention that Antoine's English is not so good but between our little French, his little English and the lovely couple from Tunisia that speaks both languages we actually had no linguistic issues.

We could have stayed in Ouvea for ages, but we need to keep moving and there is a good weather window coming up to make the 200 miles trip to Port Vila, so we get ready to leave Fayaoue with the idea of crossing the lagoon all the way to the North and either stop for a night at Ilots Deguala or just get out the pass between Deguala and Jumeaux and get underway to Vanuatu.

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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Exploring Lifou - Part 2

Sailing to We was painful as we faced strong head winds for most part of the trip but we couldn't find another way to refill our fresh water tanks. It took us 12 hours to make the 39 miles to get there. It was the 14 of July weekend and we got a good reception from the crowd in the marina that invited us to a BBQ.

The marina at We
Two days later we were back in Baie de Santal after a very quick run with the wind in the perfect direction. Midway we decided to stop in Baie de Doking for a couple of hours for a snorkel among the coral and caves. It was superb snorkeling, all very pretty. Unfortunately my underwater camera stopped working, no more underwater pictures for now. The anchorage there is quite deep, you anchor between the corals in 14 meters so we decided not to stay overnight.
Back in Baie de Santal we woke up the following morning to find Resolute at anchor next to us, she is another catamaran from Sydney with Ken and Janice and their three kids we met in Port Moselle.
It was about time to think on our next move to Ouvea and from there the 200 miles to Port Vila, Vanuatu. It seems the weather will be settled next week and with that in mind Oscar flew to Noumea to get all the paperwork ready for our departure. Immigrations, customs and port authority check out can only be done in Noumea. This might be one of the reasons why there is so few boats visiting these fantastic Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia. They give you 3 days after check out before leaving the country but this is hardly enough time to visit the many beautiful places along the way. If you don't want to sail all the way back to Noumea before departing to Vanuatu, one option is to take a day trip in local Air Caledonia. Having done that we can say it is possible and not very expensive but the logistics are quite complicated. As Immigrations closes at 11.30 AM you need to catch the very first flight that departs Lifou at 7.00 AM. This forced us to start the day at 4.00 AM with a dinghy ride to shore at 4.45 AM. All too early for our taste. The day after we woke up again at 4.00 AM for a quick sail to Ouvea to take advantage of the 3 days stay after check out and see if Ouvea is indeed "the island close to paradise".

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Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Exploring Lifou - Les Iles Loyaute

We left Baie du Prony when the storm cleared and decided to go Lifou, part of the Loyalty Islands, skipping Isle de Pines which we may visit if we have time when back from Vanuatu. On the south of New Caledonia you get out to sea thru the Havannah Passage that needs to be negotiated at slack time due to strong currents. There is a very nice anchorage, Port du Boise, at the entrance of the passage, very convenient to wait for the right time in the pass. We came a day ahead and spent the night there. It is tricky to find the right spot to anchor but the cruising guide has excellent explanations and we found 3 meters of water to anchor at: 22.21.20S, 166.57.16E. Turned out to be a great place to rest after our ordeal at Baie de Carenage. We left the next day at about noon, crossed a rolly passage at slack time and a after an uneventful overnight trip, arrived at beautiful Baie de Santal in Lifou.

Our French friends told us not to go to We, the main town where there is a small marina but come to this bay instead. It was great advice, this place is fantastic, beautiful and quiet with lots of room to anchor in a sandy bottom. There are a couple of white sand beaches and a small village that belongs to the tribe of Drueulu. Here we met another French boat, Crisaloha, with Marcel and Carol and together we went to pay respects to the Chief of the tribe in the village, a formality that requires you to take a small present to the chief and ask his permission to stay, fish and wonder around. They are all very formal and welcoming. They took us to a kind of communal area where the people was having breakfast and quiet conversations. The chief gave a welcoming speech, offered tea and coffee, asked lots of questions, gave us permission to stay and invited us to a wedding that was taking place the next day. All of this in French and of course was very nice to have Carol and Marcel there to translate for us.
Drueulu Village

Oscar with Carol and Marcel - Crisaloha and Zenitude on the background
There are a couple of stores and if you are lucky to be there when the bread arrives it is possible to buy baguettes. There is a bus that takes you to We (main town) daily at 7.00 AM which you also have to be lucky to get. This is the only bus, otherwise you need to hijack to get there, which we did as it seems we just missed the bus. Everybody here is very nice and helpful so this is not a problem.

In We we rented a car for 3 days and went around the island. The island is so lay back that you really need to make an effort to find the people that offer services. We wanted to visit several caves but we just managed to get to one with the only guide that was willing to take us in a tour, Mr. Albert. He is a very nice guy, his family owns a big property in Tingeting and they have plans to expand their tourist business. He speaks very good English and took us to visit the Diable Grotto which is part of their property. An easy hiking to very interesting caves. We'll post the pictures when we have internet again. If you ever happen to come to Lifou you can contact Mr. Albert (telephone 45.17.93) for a visit to the caves or a water adventure in his boat.

Another highlight of our car tour was Baie de Dockin, a bay at the bottom of impressive 40 mtr high cliffs overlooking water so clear that is easy to see the many coral reefs below, big caves that are amazing to snorkel. Definitely a place to come with Zenitude. Another bay, just across Santal, is called Xepenehe and is where the big cruise ships coming from Australia or Vanuatu deposit thousands of people once or twice a week. The ship was there when we visited and lots of people were wondering around the Quay where there is a small snack bar and some huts with souvenirs, open only when the big cruise ship is there. I wonder what is it that these tourists get to see in Lifou.

Baie de Dockin

After a week in Baie de Santal we decided to sail to We to stay at the marina for a couple of days, replenish our fresh water tanks and try power washing the last remains of red mud still attached to part of our chain. Another story to be published soon.

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Saturday, 6 July 2013

A Red Nightmare in Baie de Carenage - July 03

Rain starts and it seems it will never end
 After 24 hours of non stop heavy rain pouring on top of us we started loosing our good mood. Another 24 hours of the same and the nightmare started. The first day we had kind of fun, filling up buckets of water, topping up our water tanks, showering on deck, all the dust collected in the marina gone, our deck never looked so clean with so little effort, fun. When the night came and the rain continued we started to get moody, then a festival of lightning started and we knew our 'sleep soundly' night was gone, as we started to get concerned. We've never been in so much rain for so long. When daylight came on the second day and we saw the transformation of that place from a quiet green calm waters anchorage into a red muddy disturbed waters full of debris passing by we started to get really worried. As we were pondering what to do, we heard the noise of our chain moving and next thing we know we are riding down the current dragging chain and anchor at about 2 knots. Not need to say what a nightmare it was, try to control Zenitude, stop the ride, raise the anchor, and try to figure out what the hell had just happened. At that moment the sky decided to throw also thunders to add a bit more drama to our situation. At least it was daylight. We really thought about leaving the place but instead came back to try to re-anchor, not knowing which other place would be better. And then we saw it and understood, we've been anchored exactly in the spot where the main part of the rain water was trying to leave the place while the tide was changing.

Our new friends, the 2 French boats that came together with us from Bonne Anse were absolutely fantastic helping us to choose the right place as they'd been there many times. Later they said they'd been there more than 40 times and never saw anything like it. Once we found the spot where the current was little and the depth good enough we finally re-anchor. Eventually the rain started to diminish and by sunset was over. We left the place the next day, covered in red mud that will be another nightmare to clean up. Baie de Carenage is at the heart of the nickel mining area and the bottom is a deep red mud. By bringing up and down our anchor 3 times we collected probably about 3 or 4 tons of this red mud that was evenly distributed all over the boat by the wind. A lovely place indeed but we doubt that we'll ever return.

'Absolutelly Georgeous', our new friends in the reddish waters
G & O

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Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Baie de Prony - Going South

After a quiet night in Ilot Baily we knew we had 2 more days of settled weather before of the next front which would be arriving on Monday afternoon with lots of rain and wind. We decided to go directly to Baie de Prony that has many protected anchorages including Baie du Carenage considered a 'hurricane hole'.
Our first stop was then Bonne Anse, just at the entrance of Prony. It is a beautiful spot quite popular with the locals on the weekends (we suspect that everybody in NC has a boat). One of the anchoring spots has 4 moorings and we were able to grab one after a couple of the local boats left later afternoon on Saturday.

There is plenty of fish in this bay, the Recif of Prony starts nearby just a short dinghy ride and we could see a couple of divers catching their dinner there. This is not a protected area and it is quite ok to spear fish in the coral. All of these making Oscar upset with his spider bite that it is not still 100% healed. He can't risk to go into the salty water because this water is alive with all kind of organisms that love an open wound. By sunset there were lots of fish jumping around our boat, surely bigger fish below trying to have dinner as well.
There is a little beach, the scenery is very nice with lots of very green trees on the hill and a reddish type of clay or mud that looks pretty but is not so good for the walking trail that leads to a lighthouse on the top.

As we were getting ready to leave on Monday morning, a French couple from a neighbor sailboat, 'Absolutely Gorgeous' came on their dinghy to offer us a bunch of very fresh sardines they just caught in the shallow waters off the beach with their net. We actually saw them fishing and were wondering what type of fish they might be getting, never imagining there were so many sardines around. With just two passes of the net they got a full bucket of them. As they couldn't possible eat so many, the few boats around, including us, got a share of their catch. It made a delicious lunch of fried sardines with a very cold beer we indulged for the occasion. In a mix of their poor English and our even poorer French we understood they were planning to leave for the same place we were going, the hurricane hole Baie du Carenage. He said it was an excellent place to sleep soundly in bad weather.

Actually the three boats in Bonne Anse, including us left towards the same place. It was an easy sail of about 8 miles in a kind of meandering way. At the end of a narrow channel Baie du Carenage opens in an area surrounded by hills. The wind had started to pick up on our way up reaching over 20 knots at times until we got in the bay, which was as expected very, very calm.
We found 3 other boats already here, there seems to be a lot of space but you can't anchor close to anybody as boats swing in different directions in this bay, so you need plenty of room to anchor. We might have timed our arrival well because as soon as we finished with anchoring the rain started and here we are a day later wondering if it will ever stop. It has rained non stop so far. But we did indeed slept soundly in this quiet place.
As I write this I can hear the wind starting to pick up, we expect tonight will be the worst of the storm and expect it to be over sometime during the day tomorrow. We would like to visit ashore. Nearby there are a waterfall and a hot spring small pool but no need to go there at the moment, we have plenty of water here as it is.

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