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The bubbling cauldron

von | Jun 29, 2023 | English, Neu Kaledonien, Pazifik

During the last three weeks Annika and I sailed around New Caledonia. We have covered over 600 nautical miles and have experienced a lot!

Annika and I know each other from our school days. After she finished her bachelor’s degree a few weeks ago, it finally worked out that she comes to visit me on the boat.

The first thing on her agenda after arriving on the boat was a diving course: As so many places in the Pacific, New Caledonia and its surrounding reefs count to the top diving spots worldwide. Already during her first dives with the diving school, she encountered reef sharks and manta rays. In later sessions she explored an old wreck and besides many different corals she even discovered her first seahorse!

The time Annika spent underwater, I wanted to use to do some boat maintenance. Annika had brought me a bunch of spare parts for the outboard, and also I wanted to finally install a new radio antenna.

With the old one, I had ever-increasing losses in sending and receiving. Probably due to some corrosion issues. I bought a new set, pulled the cable through the mast and routed it behind the linings. Then I riveted the new bracket to the mast, connected the antenna and happily put the tools away.

But already when switching on the radio and the AIS I was loaded with error messages: “ resistances too high“.

“Well done, Paul” that I did not test run the system before installing it up the mast! The subsequent troubleshooting then showed that in fact simply the newly purchased antenna was faulty. I was able to exchange it in the store and after a few more climbs up the mast, the results were better again!

The boat was ready, Annika had passed her diving exam and we were ready to explore the island. We came up with the idea of circumnavigating the whole lot and started our trip heading down to the very south.

There, where the Internet connection gets weaker and weaker and the charts show larger and larger areas as „insufficiently charted“, turquoise water, white sandy beaches and an endless amount of lobsters was waiting for us. But the weather did not really play along: The wind increased steadily and made WASA jump back and forth so strongly during the nights that we decided to escape already on the second day. Followed by dark clouds and rain showers we rushed back towards the mainland.

In small hops we sailed along the coast to the east. But after our third anchorage was abandoned and the village on land was deserted as well, we decided from now on to make some more distance, even to sail overnight, in order to be able to stay at one nice place then for a few days at a stretch: With a strong wind from behind we started in the early morning in Yate.

Our go to destination was Ouvea – the northernmost of the „Loyality Islands“. The wind was so good that we covered 110 nautical miles in 22 hours! We dropped the hook two hours before sunrise in only four meters of water.

 Despite the long night, I couldn’t sleep a wink. For some reason, I was super stressed: my thoughts were still revolving around the repairs on board. The outcome of the vhf antenna replacement did not really satisfy me and especially small hairline cracks that I had discovered in the upper forestay swivel were giving my head a hard time.

In this mood of growing discontent, I also slowly realized that I had perhaps underestimated the length of our trip: Sailing in stages, you only manage a fraction of the normal distance covered on crossings. The whole thing would be something like 500 miles and the most difficult part, the way back on the west side of the island; 200 nautical miles against the prevailing wind and wave direction were still ahead of us!

All the above were problems that could not be solved in the current situation and especially not now, being totally overtired. I knew that! But even a phone call with my parents barely managed to calm me down. The sun was already high in the sky, when my eyes finally closed.

The next few days were way better! After we made up our lack of sleep, we took long walks over the white beach and hitchhiked through the villages. Three days of sun and beach really filled up the tanks and we were ready to sail on.

First coffee and some cereal, then we set sail and departed from our anchorage just with the power of the wind in complete silence. We had set a small jib on the second forestay and tied the second reef into the main.  we were still going five knots in the begining, but then we got slower and slower as the breeze mellowed down. But that was not bad at all! It were only 80 miles to Hiengene, our next stop, and since I didn’t want to arrive at the reef before daylight anyway, it was good to bob along slowly and relaxed.

At eleven o’clock the anchor dropped, we pumped up the dinghy and went ashore. We stretched our legs and went to the tourist center where we made some inquiries to find the big waterfall of Tao.

Our anchorage in Hienghene:

„11.07.22: The market is on! We were drinking coffee and having breakfast with local specialties. Our yesterday’s research has been successful as well and freshly strengthened we walked for a while at first, then we hitchhike the remaining 20 kilometers to the waterfall. At a car ferry, which looked more like a rusty metal raft with outboard engines, we were dropped off and ask a young couple from Tahiti for a new ride. During the ride we only talked a little, then they drop us off at the foot of the falls. We trudged off, payed the 2Euro entrance fee and kept climbing uphill in the riverbed. It was beautiful! The sound of the water – it was crystal clear! We did not follow the actual path, but always walked along the stony riverbed. The last part was a bit more difficult and we actually had to climb the last bit. Then it was done and sitting by the water we were treating ourselves with the snacks we brought with us.

By hitchhiking we got back to the village quite quick afterwards.

This journey is my dream! If you want to support me and keep the journey going, please feel free to invite me for a symbolic dinner!

Thank you so much!

A few days later, our last anchorage on the east side of the island gave us an exciting story:

We were anchored in a small passage between two islands. Although it is called „Boat Pass“, it is too shallow for normal sailboats to cross in between, but according to the chart it is supposed to serve well as an anchorage. But in the strong tidal current, WASA was held perpendicular to the wind and waves.

During the night we were tossed back and forth so hard that sleep was hardly possible. „Let’s go“, we thought and with the first sign of the rising sun we lifted the anchor. – A bad decision!  With the sun low on my face, I could barely see the reefs at the exit. I thought I know the way, but the current was strong and playing tricks on me.

With a dull bang, we suddenly stood still. Immediately I threw the tiller around and banged the engine into reverse. We came free! I turned the boat and brought us back on track. This time I tried to stay further to the left. The sea was like a washing machine – again I couldn’t see anything and again we slammed into a reef. „What the hell is going on?!“ The impact was harder, but also this time we got free.

But somehow we suddenly seemed to be enclosed by reefs, everywhere the water looked brownish – the color of the reef! More or less with good luck and gut feeling I steered us past the breaking waves towards the open sea. We were free! – for now!

We had now passed the dangerous reef, but we were no longer moving from the spot! We were only 20 meters windward of the reef and the breaking waves suddenly ran 2 meters high against us. The small engine did not move us a bit „Please do not broach!“ I told the boat, before I pressed the tiller into Annis hands and yelled at her:  Hold us straight into the wind!“.

I couldn’t see what she was doing, because I already jumped onto the foredeck and hoisted the foresail. It flapped wildly, the thick metal clew just missing my head. I ducked down, fixed the halyard on the cleat and jumped back into the cockpit in two leaps. Anni had held the bow perfectly into the wind! I sheeted on and Anni beared away a tiny bit. We felt pressure coming into the ship. The sail filled, then WASA laid slightly on its side and finally picked up speed. We escaped the cauldron.

(part 1/2)

Anni and myself at the northern Cape of New Caledonia