Vanuatu to Drueulu, Lifou, New Caledonia

Friday afternoon (27 September) at 4pm we headed out of Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu for the last time. As we came out into the open ocean we were met by lumpy seas and stronger winds than forecast (oh what a surprise) and, of course, they were forward of the beam. So a pretty feisty start to the trip. The sun went down and it was pitch black with no stars, no boats, just nothing. All very eerie. The wind continued to blow and we were getting thrown around a bit by breaking waves. Then rain squalls come through with 28 knot gusts. It was also a bit unpleasant as the movement of the boat was making us both feel a bit queasy. Oh well, never mind.

By noon on Saturday the winds had started to stabilise, the seas had flattened considerably, and it was pretty sunny. What a difference a day makes! The wind had gone more easterly so we were sailing nicely along on a beam reach under a reefed main and genoa.

We got ourselves settled into the routine of being at sea and, by the time the sun went down and we went into our night shifts again, we were enjoying the passage.

By 9pm we needed to boost our batteries so motor sailed for a short while. The wind then moved further forward again and by midnight was fickle and feisty again. At 3am on Sunday the wind just died so we continued under engine towards Lifou which is one of the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia. We also took the opportunity to make water at the same time. By 6am it was land ahoy and at 9.30 am we had the anchor down amongst the other Go West rally participants, having completed another 222 mile passage.

The anchorage is really pretty and the sun was out – just lovely! The water is so clear we could even watch the cuttle fish who seemed very curious in our anchor chain and snubber LOL.

Having caught up on some sleep, we were sitting in the cockpit enjoying our new surroundings when were visited by two humpback whales – a mother and a calf. OMG what a treat! The locals rushed out in their boats to take a closer look and it was almost as if they knew each other with the whales surfacing near their boat while they all admired each other. Although quarantined and forced to stay on board with treats like this who cares?!?

Monday morning and the officials had flown in from Noumea to process the fleet. First, though, was the biosecurity guy Jeanne (who lives in the bay’s village of Drueulu) to come on board. We had nothing to hand over as we had an empty freezer and our fresh fruit and vegetables were consumed en route. So we were dealt with very quickly. Then I was taken by the rally organiser, John, to his catamaran Songlines where the customs and immigration officials were waiting. I had already completed all the documents so another painless exercise. Sadly we didn’t get any stamps in our passports as we are European (currently!) and we were told we could stay as long as we liked. Lovely welcome.

In the afternoon we headed ashore to meet other rally participants. Boats had converged here from both Fiji and Vanuatu. There were people we had met before and some new faces so it was good to get together. John told us the plans for Tuesday and we then just enjoyed a social time on the beach. Back on board Morphie for dinner and, when the sun went down, it was pretty cold.

Tuesday morning we were on the second minibus taking us into We, the main town. First stop was the ATM to get local currency, followed by the OTP for SIM cards so that we could all get back online. Back in the bus to the large supermarket and we stocked up on meat and fresh produce, plus some rather nice French wine. We were particularly excited by the crusty baguettes and the cold meat and cheese cabinet, but managed to reign in our enthusiasm and didn’t over purchase LOL.

Back to the boat and we enjoyed a lovely crusty ham and tomato baguette. Absolutely fantastic – it’s funny what you crave when you can’t get it! At 2.30 pm we headed back ashore to get rid of our rubbish as the local villagers had arranged a truck to take it all from us (for a small fee of course). Then we walked to Jeanne’s house in the village and took over a large meeting area where John gave us a run through of places to go / see in New Caledonia.

John also explained about the on-going friction between the indigenous Kanak population and the French, which means that in some traditional and sacred areas we are either not allowed to visit or be welcomed. Really useful information as we would not want to face any hostility by inadvertently straying into the wrong place. After the talk we moved to the eating area – having first inspected the fish and chicken being cooked over the open fire – and sat around and socialised.

We were supposed to be meeting the chief but, for one reason or another (we think he was a bit shy about addressing such a large group) this didn’t happen. So Jeanne took us into the traditionally-built chief’s house and gave us a really interesting insight into their culture.

Afterwards it was time for the feast and the food (three courses) was really nice. It was an enjoyable evening and we were delighted that the local lads (who were security for our dinghies on the beach) were happy to wade in and help us depart. Such friendly people.

Wednesday and the wind was howling with gusts of up to 30 knots. There was an island tour available to us but we didn’t want to leave Morphie unattended on a high wind day so we stayed onboard, did some boat jobs, relaxed and had a movie night.

This morning Thursday and the wind has reduced a bit so some of the rally participants have departed and we plan to head out very early tomorrow morning. This is a ‘destination’ rally so the formal arrangements are over and we’ll all move to our own schedules going forward. If the conditions continue to ease today we plan to go and visit the local village this afternoon.

Our next destination is another Loyalty Island, Ouvea, about 50 miles from here. This island is the only true atoll in New Caledonia and the local people there are a mixture of Polynesians and Melanesians living their traditional lives. The reef, lagoon and beach look absolutely beautiful so we are very excited to be able to visit and, fingers crossed, may even be able to go diving.

Bye for now