Noumea

July 7, 2004,  Noumea, New Caledonia

Dear Friends and family:

We’re now at the dock in the Port Moselle Marina, adjacent to downtown Noumea. This city, which started off in the nineteenth century as a penal colony for the French, has become a very upscale French enclave in the South Pacific. It seems more French than anything we saw in Tahiti. Within a few blocks of the marina is the public market with wonderful fruits, vegetables and fish. Big shrimp are a local specialty, and we’re becoming addicted to them.

Only two or three blocks further away are two bakeries, including La Vieille France ("The Old France") which sells its nicer breads in little bentwood trays, stamped with the name of the shop. We could just sit here at the dock – going out only to the market and bakery – and eliminate all previous accomplishments of the famous sailor’s weight loss plan.

Then, of course, there are the French restaurants, with delicious high calorie meals… We try not to do too much of that.

When we arrived, there was a sort of trade fair set up in tents adjacent to the marina. Inside they were selling furniture, cookware, super vegetable cutters, foot massagers, and all the sort of thing you see at a state fair in the States. A booth advertising an internet café was set up in there, offering free internet access 15 minutes at a time. It proved to be the ONLY internet café in Noumea that was open on a Sunday. Each day, the fair got louder and louder, later into the night . There were hawkers on loudspeakers, competing with each other in volume (all in French of course). There were several different musical acts going on at once.  
 I felt sort of sorry for an unamplified group from Vanuatu (advertising several Vanuatu resorts). The group included a xylophone made of tuned bottles in a variety of colors. There was a marimba of sorts, with tuned bamboo resonant tubes, which were struck (on the top of each tube) with what appeared to be, I kid you not, the foam insoles of tennis shoes. These musicians, on these fairly bizarre instruments, and in native costume, appeared to be very talented, but it was difficult to hear them over the cacophony of the other noises.
A couple of days after we arrived here, we decided to go and check out some of the nearby islands. A liveaboard sailor on an adjacent dock in Port Moselle suggested that we anchor at a reef known as the Four Banks of the West, where the snorkeling is good, and there is some protection from waves. There is no protection from wind, because the reef sinks entirely under the water at high tide. We spent one night there, in beautiful clear water, but the skies were cloudy and the water – at only 75 degrees F. – was not inviting enough for us to swim. The next morning we went two miles further out to Amedee Island, which is located just by one of the entrance passes of the barrier reef. There is a beautifully maintained lighthouse which was built in 1862 in Paris, put on exhibit there, and then disassembled and shipped to New Caledonia, where it was reassembled and erected on Amedee Island. The lighthouse is constructed of riveted steel, and looks like it came out of the same period as Hollywood’s Nautilus submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
A big excursion boat with 50 or 75 tourists arrived at Amedee Island about the same time we did. We decided to buy the tourist lunch and watched the dance show. Most of the dancers were from Tahiti or Vanuatu, and some of them were very good. Some of the tourists were a college group from Australia (all female, traveling with their French teacher), and they were thrilled to participate in some of the dancing with the buffed up Polynesian guys.
 We climbed the lighthouse (all 247 steps) and enjoyed the superb view from the top. If you climbed that every day, you wouldn’t need the sailor’s weight loss plan – or maybe it would just offset the increased calorie count of the French foods.

Right: view down the interior stairway of the lighthouse.

Below left: Sequoia at anchor, as seen from the top of the lighthouse

Below right: Gargoyle at top of lighthouse.

"Napoleon III reigned when this lighthouse was built in Paris 1862"

You may recall that we had a rough time getting through the pass just prior to reaching Noumea. Winds peaked at 47 knots, and seas were probably 12 feet. One of the periodic tasks on the boat, after a passage (especially one like that), is to inspect all of the rigging. Craig did that while we were at Amedee Island. He found that one of our lower shrouds had 5 severed strands. (For you non-sailors, a shroud is a heavy wire cable that holds the mast up and keeps it from moving from side to side. There are three shrouds on each side, and each shroud consists of 19 strands – some in the core, and others twisted around the core.) With 5 broken strands, we’ve lost more than one quarter of the strength of that shroud.
So we cut short our trip to Amedee and adjacent islands, and returned to Noumea to begin the process of evaluating the damage, and investigating how to fix it or replace it. We found that a replacement shroud could be made more quickly in New Zealand, and then shipped here. The cost of shipping, though, is enough to make us want to buy stock in DHL –  
Although there is a large European (mostly French) population here, the majority are the native Kanaks. In the past there has been some strife between the two groups, but now they seem almost unaware of each other’s existence. The French are dressed as though they were in France, with very stylish and sometimes skimpy clothing. The Kanak women are dressed in Mother Hubbard dresses, made of Polynesian fabric and sometimes decorated with lace. The two groups don’t seem to acknowledge each other when they pass on the street, although we (who look European) are always greeted by the French people with a "bon jour" or "bon soir" as appropriate.

Nicolas, Barbara, Dominique and Craig -- Photo by Slate Wilson

The people on the visitors dock here are quite interesting. Those who speak English are for the most part from Australia and New Zealand. There are quite a few boats from France, who have sailed halfway around the world to get here. We socialized last evening with Nicolas and Dominique of S/V Chaski, who have been sailing for thirteen years since they left France. They seem in no hurry to get back, but they are thinking of buying a new (larger) boat They have rounded Cape Horn (the southern tip of South America) and spent two winters in Alaska. They say the bureaucracy here is the worst they have seen anywhere, although we have not found that to be the case.
Last Sunday, Slate Wilson arrived at the Noumea airport (45 minutes away by bus.) He’s going to be our crew on the passage from Noumea to Brisbane, and we hope to enjoy at least a little tropical cruising with him before we depart. Once we get the shipping and customs for the new shrouds figured out, we should have at least a few days to explore new bays, reefs and islets.
Best wishes to all –

Craig & Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

 

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