New Caledonia is French. It's not Europe but there's no doubt whilst you're there what country you're in. There might be palm trees and hibiscus flowers but there are also cars driving on the right, baguettes, cheese, wine and a slight undercurrent of cool.
Whilst there, we really went crazy with the Vin, du pan, et du fromage. Paté de Champagne has never tasted so good, we even tried a paté du cheval!
Checking in was blissfully free and just entailed trailing around a few offices. They even let us check in and check out at the same time since we'd arrived Thursday and planned to press on on Sunday.
Nouméa harbour is busy and anchoring is only permitted in small well marked areas. Sadly these areas are chock full of Moorings so anchoring on the edge or picking up a mooring are your only options. We picked one up just outside the marina expecting to have to move on later so were pleased when a Frenchman rowed over and said we were welcome to borrow it for a few days, the owner was inside the marina for cyclone season.
We'd only planned on a weekend but we ended up staying a week as our visa for Australia had the complication of requiring medical examinations and chest x rays. We weren't seeing new Caledonia at its best since we only stayed in the capital where officials, phones and Internet are, but it appeared to be a troubled place. There was a palpable animosity between the mix of cultures there. Shiny buildings and fast cars with some of the people left behind and despondent. Alcohol can only be bought at some times on some days such are the problems.
Having said this, people were nice to us and we'd like to visit again to learn more, but next time sail around the island. However we were deep into cyclone season by now so on the 22nd December visas in hand we headed out again.
Christmas at sea was a blissfully low key affair. We had a good meal, a nice bottle of wine and watched a film. The sea was kind to us that day of a generally quick and pleasant passage. We'd worried that the trade winds are lessening at this time of year but we had no such trouble.
Ravi with our Christmas roast. He had his first scrap of food on the day but it was lychee, not roast.
Eight days at sea unusually for us clock watching all the way. And we made it! We had good wind until about 30 miles out of Sydney when it died, then so did Pip. Bloody engines! So we flopped about in view of our goal for a whole day and finally picked up the quarantine buoy as light faded on the 30th Dec.
We'd been reticent about visiting Australia; until it became the obvious thing to do given the changing season; because of stories about difficult check ins. Particularly those concerning their caution over wood dwelling insects. We had visions of being impounded, fined, our woodwork being carved up and our mast being carted off by over zealous bio security officers. Perhaps it was the season or that Sydney does not see many international yacht first check ins but the guys we had couldn't have been more delightful or reasonable. Once they heard that we only spend time at anchor and wouldn't be doing any modifications whilst in Oz, their concerns were allayed and we sailed through our inspections.
Then we had to sail off their dock! It was new year's eve morning and the wind had been picking up such that one of the officers had started to go green! It was hooning into the small bay with much gusto so an elaborate plan with dinghy and long ropes was implemented. We span round within a whisker of a beautiful moored wooden ketch, quickly getting in all the lines before tacking out amongst all the moored boats. It would have been a tricky manoeuvre with the engine but without it was nail biting stuff.
Ravi is used to having us both right there to attend to his every whim but at this time he had to be left to cry lonely bolstered up in the bow safely out of the way. He only cried less than 5 minutes before giving up and going to sleep.
We sailed out into the main harbour and found ourselves a good spot and waited.
We weren't disappointed. What a welcome!