Grand Terre – The Adventure Begins

May 31, 2019| 2 Comments

After 4 days sitting in the Port Moselle marina, we are ready to leave. We enjoyed meeting other cruisers along the dock and were amazed at the number of really young families around us. Their number, now out full time cruising, seems to be increasing. Across from us is a delightful German couple with 3 little ones ranging in age from 7 on down to a toddler in diapers. Two days after arrival, another couple with a crew of youngsters arrived adding 2 more little ones racing up and down the dock in life jackets with their scooters and trikes. There was hardly ever a tear. The air was filled with their laughter and banter. Cruiser kids are resilient, but then so must their parents be!

S/v Wayfinder with cruising friend Hugh Howie tied up on the end of our dock having just arrived from Australia. We and he and cruising friends Chuck and Annie on s/v Exit Strategy waited out some nasty winds in a bay off the Astrolabe Reef in Fiji last season. What fun we had over sundowners and dinners! We re-connect and spend another few evenings together. Hugh is a Science Fiction author whose novels and short stories are mostly apocalyptic. We enjoyed our conversations across a wide range of topics. Hugh proffered an interesting opinion that we are now in the Golden Age of Cruising, for with the oceans warming and rising, islands sinking and increasing world discord, our type of cruising will either be extremely limited or gone. Though The First Mate would not exactly call it the “Golden Age”, his thoughts mirror hers. She does worry that the places one can safely cruise as we have been doing will continue to decrease in number. Such negative thinking does no one good in these troubled times!

Another comment he made on our last evening together before he took off for Fiji brought her up short with its honest simplicity. He said that he “viewed all strangers with love”. He leaves it up to them to knock themselves off that perch, and if they do, rung by rung, that love diminishes. First, though, is to view the ‘”other” as friend, not as enemy, alien or foe. The First Mate would dare to say that that is not the approach of most of this world or even of herself. What a game-changer that mindset would be! She vows that she is going to push herself to change her mental perception of a stranger. Approach a stranger as potential friend not as a possible threat, someone deserving to be known not as alien, someone who could enrich one’s life rather than take from it — do that until that person proves himself otherwise. Stop with all this prejudging based mostly on stereotypes rather than facts. Watching Hugh making friends so easily and how people readily gravitate towards him, it’s that philosophy of his that is the key.

Our 4 days in the marina are filled with more than just relaxing. We stock up on the very French items we love here: baguettes, croissants, cured sausages of duck and goose, Magret de Canard (a super favorite of ours), pâtés of all kinds, cheeses and wines. In the marina area, there is a fabulous fish and fresh produce market. What a joy that is! Coming back from the market in the morning before leaving, The First Mate is loaded down, but then she is shopping for 6 weeks of cruising!

What a bonanza! Everything is so fresh! Located further south than many of the other South Pacific Islands, New Caledonia’s climate allows for a greater variety of produce to be grown, and what they can’t grow, daily flights from France see that the many ex-pats and government workers living here do not live in want. Happily, we are abundantly provisioned with lettuces, tomatoes, avocados, string beans, spinach, mushrooms, squashes of all kinds, corn, peppers, endive, oranges, apples, pineapple, papaya, mangoes, extra large, sweet pamplemoose — ah, the list goes on and on ……

….. and look at all these fresh herbs! Basil, thyme, rosemary, mint, cilantro, and parsley. She is in her culinary vision of 7th Heaven! Yes, she is waxing on, over the top for sure, but such healthy abundance is not readily available in places like Tonga, Vanuatu and Fiji.


Six weeks of cruising she said earlier? This is our fourth visit to New Caledonia, and this time we are going to circumnavigate their big island, Grand Terre. with a side trip out to the Loyalty Islands off its east coast. Prior to this, we had never been here long enough to undertake this venture. The island itself is 300 miles from bottom to top, and we also plan to sail out to the Loyalty Islands off its east coast. In total, we estimate this will be a 1,000-mile trip of adventure.


The French colonized New Caledonia and still maintain a controlling presence, though there has been and continues to be strong feelings toward independence by the native population, the Kanaky. In a microcosm, the French treatment mirrors that of the good ole USA and its treatment of the native Indians. Treaties made. Treaties broken. Forcible removal from home territories with land given and then taken. The sad story goes on, but the difference here is that the Kanaky have held onto their customs. They want their land. They want equality, money and resources, and they have been willing to fight for it. An election for independence was held last year. Independence lost, but the opposition continues. The French have worked to appease the agitating Kanaks. Over the years, actions have been taken to improve living standards with better schools, health care, participation in government and greater acknowledgement of their rights, but there is a long way to go. As The First Mate reads the history of this place, she feels that despite a very strong French military presence, the conflict here is far from finished.

Growing out of their push for independence, the Kanak people created their own flag. In 2010, in a compromise over French rule, the Kanaky flag was adopted as the second flag of New Caledonia and is now flown with the French flag.

On Avante,  The First Mate makes pillows out of the small courtesy flags that visiting yacht should fly. On the starboard side of the salon is the American flag. On the port side is the flag of the country we are visiting. This practice has proved a welcoming conversation starter when Customs officials visit the boat. Here in New Caledonia, both flags are displayed.


The central design in the yellow circle begs to be explained, for it is not the usual figure or symbol one sees on international flags. The structure itself is called a flèche faîtière. In French, that means “carved roof top spear”. (Just an aside: The First Mate finds it interesting that this architectural structure of Kanak origin has been given a French name. No where in her guidebooks or on the internet can she find the Kanak name for it. Why? The next time she sees one and if there is a Kanak near by she is determined to ask its real name. Further update intended.)

A flèche faîtière is similar to a First Nation totem. Erected on the roof tops of their homes, especially the Grand Case (cãs) of the chief, its symbolism is complex but extremely important to the people. Foremost, it represents the presence of the ancestral spirits and gives protection to the home and the people. During tribal wars, capturing and removing this spear from the top of the chief’s ceremonial hut was mandatory to claiming victory. It is central to the culture of the people and justly should be on their flag. There is a movement to combine elements of both flags into one, and it would seem that the flèche faîtière will most certainly be part of it.

Tuesday, May 29th  – Leaving the marina, we stop at the fuel dock to fill all tanks and our auxiliary containers as well. We know there is fuel available at a few spots along the way, but they will all require us to haul it back to Avante in our heavy containers. The only fuel dock in New Caledonia that we can pull up to with Avante is in Nouméa. Knowing that we will need a lot of fuel on this trip, we fully top up everything.

The tradewinds in New Caledonia blow from the southeast. Because the orientation of the island is on a northwest-southeast axis, that means we will have the wind behind us going up one side of the island and on our nose for the return. After asking advice from several sources, we conclude that it is best to go clockwise around the island. The west coast has fewer interesting anchorages and they are further apart, so it would be best to be able to sail on that coast.

For the first two days as we head north, winds are benign and from behind as expected. In light winds, we sail slowly up the coast enjoying the tranquility and the balmy weather. It is moving into winter here. Days are pleasantly warm, and nights are cool enough to need a comforter. As neither of us are into such water activities as surfing, kite surfing and scuba diving, the cool water temperatures do not bother us. We are fine sitting on the boat looking out over the blue expanse or hopping into the dinghy to explore, and anywhere there is a hike, we take the opportunity to do so.

Thursday, May 30th – As we proceed up the coast, the lagoon area inside the reef begins to narrow and shallow and is no longer navigable for Avante. This morning we must head out through Passe d’Isie into the open ocean to continue around the island. In the distance as we approach the reef passage, we see something that looks like an island in a place we had not expected one. Looking closer, it turns out to be the rusting hulk of a freighter that must have missed the entrance on some dark and stormy night.


Judging by the advanced state of the rusting remains, this definitely occurred before the aid of satellite positioning via GPS.


Closer to the reef passage, a number of small boats anchored off the reef catches our attention. “There must be really good fishing out there,” we think, but we don’t see any fishing lines. Many of the boats actually look like no one is aboard. What is going on here?


Going through the reef passage, we have to pay attention to where we are and where we are going, but our curiosity gets the better of us, especially when we see bobbing heads in the water. Surfers! Way out here on the reef, they have found a spot where the waves are perfect allowing them to ride the crest toward the reef but curving away from it at the end so boards and bodies don’t crash on the rocks. What a great place!


The Baie de Bourail where we plan to spend tonight is huge. Our sailing guide recommends a spot to anchor, but neither The Captain nor The First Mate is comfortable with it. The path into this anchorage passes too many unmarked shallow areas with coral uprisings, and the light is not good for spotting reefs. The Captain choses a more accessible location where there is some protection from the wind and where the swell coming in from the sea is not too bad. We are anchored securely and the wind is light, but The First Mate states that in heavy winds she would rather be out to sea than anchored here. She can see waves breaking on reefs in almost every direction. It’s a beautiful setting, but it just doesn’t feel very secure.

The rolling landscape reminds them of New Zealand, but what cannot be seen are the coral mine fields in the waters around us. Launching the dingy to explore the bay and nearby Ilot Vert, we find we have to be constantly on the alert. The water is deeply dark, but without any warning, a huge coral bed will appear.


Friday, May 31st – With 40nm to go to our next anchorage, we are on the way at 0830. We head back out into the ocean, then turn and parallel the coast staying about a mile off the reef. It’s a slow sailing day under a cloudy sky. Our next anchorage is in one of the many mining areas that dot this coast. New Caledonia is rich in several minerals, though nickel is the prime one, and its many mines have been a bonanza for the French over the years. We are not enthusiastic about stopping at this anchorage, but there are no others within miles. We envision bright lights, ore freighters, noise from cranes, dust and smoke, but to our surprise, all is quiet.

Once anchored, we are across the bay from the mine and the mining town of Nepuoi located up on the hill, there are no bright lights, no ore ships, no noise and no dust. The only smoke is coming from one of the smokestacks on a power plant which supports the mine and the town. We had heard that mining activity in New Caledonia had been significantly reduced for the last few years, but it is surprising to see all this infrastructure sitting idle. In the distance, we can see the ore loading dock with not an ore freighter in sight. Unfortunately, we cannot see the town itself from our anchorage because of a hill, but a map in our guide shows us how big it is. At night, we should at least see the hazy lights of the town against the dark sky, but there is not even a glimmer indicating a town is up there. With no apparent mining going on, we wonder how the people in the town are surviving.


Ignoring the mining facilities behind us and just looking over the bow to the land in front of us, this is a very pretty spot. For The First Mate, it is a much more welcoming location and feels much less threatening than last night’s coral-strewn bay..

    Comments (2)

  1. I am surprised by the amount of mining and habitation in such remote areas.
    we would like to tour new Caledonia. will look into it.


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