Noumea to Cairns
8th to 26th June
Horrid weather in Noumea doesn’t last long and soon became fine dry sunny weather. And so, with departure paperwork done and a couple of fresh baguettes, I left for Australia.
Alas! The wind quickly died away and rather than flop around almost stopped at sea or have Henrietta suffer the indignities of many hours motoring, I found a big and beautiful and empty coral lagoon 100 miles up the New Caledonia coast, and anchored there for two nights. With undisturbed solitude off Konieni island, I made myself useful and scraped yet more barnacles from the hull; fully appreciative of the grand grey mountainous terrain not far inland.
Swimming on the first morning, I saw tall shark fins too close for comfort :- three metre long adult sharks – hammerheads perhaps? Quickly stop swimming and clamber on board…Goodness me! I think it’s mating season, adult hammerheads moving sideways; technique beyond even the scope of Kama Sutra. At dusk they return the other way, still at it.
But, oh deary silly me! It isn’t shark at all. It’s manta rays flopping-flapping languorously harmlessly across the surface. I’d confused their flaps with shark fins. Delightful to come across so many of them together. (Later meet a marine biologist who reassures me by saying he’d once made the same identification mistake)
Two days later the wind piped up and I departed New Caledonia for the second time…..and stopped again some three days later at Chesterfield Reefs (nominally also part of New Caledonia).
Chesterfields were more-or-less on the route to Cairns. But it’s not on the standard tourist itinerary, about 450 miles from Noumea and 750 miles from Cairns, a coral lagoon seven miles across and 12 miles long, roughly shaped a bit like a leant-back letter ‘U’, uninhabited and uninhabitable with just a few low thin sandy islets, and lots of coral defining the shape, many uncharted coral outcrops in the generally deep lagoon; AND thousands and thousands of birds.
The islets are home to really vast numbers of boobies and frigate birds, noddies and tern. Every available bush and branch seems to be occupied. Birds sit on their eggs on the beach too.
They squark their noisy persistent calls at all hours of day and night, without ceasing, similar in sound I suspect to Wembley Stadium packed full with disgruntled and vocal fish wives. And when you draw close, the stink of guano, sour and putrid fishiness, is inescapable.
More bird pictures…
I love places like this (bar the stench!). They’re not easy to get to and few boats ever visit. But you feel it’s close to the way things have always been, quite unaffected by man, little changed over the years, only birds and fish carrying on their breeding eating living lives – and only the plastic detritus on the shoreline as a reminder of thoughtless modern plasti-dependent mankind. Birds seem not to be bothered by me; I move gently…
David in Noumea had kindly given me a local French chartlet with useful waypoints to find the way in and out of this Coral Sea backwater. Navionics, should you be inclined to sail here is not correct; and my anchorage shown as being on land was in fact about 8 metres deep; and exit pass in quite the wrong place. But don’t even try it unless you have good light to see the coral! On reaching Australia I find an email from New Caledonia authorities (from whom I’d sought permission to visit); they’ve sent a questionnaire asking what I’ve seen.
Whilst at Chesterfields, apart from the birds, I was most surprised to see another boat, Olivia (a Farr designed yacht about Henrietta’s size but faster, with a crew of four from New South Wales). They were just as surprised to see me. I anchored half a mile away (we like our privacy), and we later meet a couple of times for tea, cake and biscuits – which seems doubly enchanting in such a remote and empty space.
After two days and nights, and walks and swimming, and work on those barnacles (only non-aggressive reef shark and reef fish here!), I cautiously sailed out of the lagoon as intermittent drizzle fell and the wind gradually picked up, a final forecast radioed to me by the satellite-connected crew of Olivia, and Cairns about six days’ sailing away….. a bit rough and uncomfortable, but mostly fast with just a reefed genoa pulling us along, and big brown poopy big brown boobies for company…
Australian Border Force (an unnecessarily intimidating title for the bevvy of reasonable folk and a dog who come aboard next day) don’t want to see me late on a Sunday, so I anchor off Cairns with yellow flag and brand new Oz one too…and drink a beer …two beers even..
Cairns shoreline at dusk, with unimaginative apartment and hotel blocks and tower cranes, and sporadic heavy rain is not inspiring….but looks a lot better next morning …..more next time….