New Caledonia - French and Cockroaches, Kanaks and Nickel, and ARRIVAL BRISBANE!

 We have done it - crossed the Pacific all 8000 miles +/-a few. The Pacific
was challenging to the last, and we arrived in Brisbane in a storm, more
salt spray drenched than sunburnt, but we are here.

But first, the trip from Tanna to New Caledonia, and New Caledonia itself:

We bombed along at 6.5 knots in bright sunshine, heading south west for
Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia which is the big, narrow island (about
360 miles long, 50 wide) 800 miles NE of Australia's great barrier reef, and
site of the 2nd biggest nickel mine in the world  - its a French colony. We
still have 5 Kg of Wahoo, so no fishing until its finished,

But the best laid plans..............we were going too fast - Noumea is on
the south west side of New Caledonia, and to get there we have to go round
the south of the island through Havanah Pass.  New Caledonia is
surrounded by the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world, and when the tide
exits from the lagoon formed inside the reef - it REALLY exits. So although
the tidal height is small (0.5metres) when a hundred square miles of lagoon
tries to get out through a pass only 3/4 mile wide, it reaches 3-4 knots,
AND when this meets the usual SE wind going at 25 knots in the opposite
direction, you get WAVES - big ones.

So you can only go through Havanah Pass when the tide is going in, and in
daylight (because there are lots of isolated reefs) so we had to slow down
to 2 knots. Instead, we diverted illegally to Mare island, the southern most
of the Loyalty islands, part of New Caledonia, but about 60 miles
north-east of it. You can clear in at Lifou, the middle Loyalty, but not
Mare. So we just anchored in Pede Bay and snorkelled, and just before night
fell, went out of the bay avoiding the really nasty coral heads (although
they were lovely to snorkel around, but if boats hit them it is bad news for
both the coral head and the boat). Then we anchored again safely in 20
metres, and set off for Noumea 100 miles away at 9pm.

Next morning we came as close to hitting a reef as I care to get. We had a
waypoint just before the entrance to Havanah Pass, and aimed for this, but
at 8.30am when we were within 1/2 mile of the waypoint, we noticed ship
wrecks ahead, large breaking waves and green water, sure signs of reef just
a hundred metres away. Something was seriously wrong -  we swung Intrepid due north
away from this, rechecked everything: for some reason the waypoint, although
correct on our paper chart did not correspond to where it should be. We
continued north taking bearings and checking GPS positions every minute,
until we found the real Havanah Pass, turned left, and found that we still had the last of the ebb (outgoing)
tide. Even though we were only 30 minutes early, this was still sufficient to produce 2
knots against us, and some VERY turbulent water, about 3 metres high, but
steep and often breaking waves.

But Intrepid did beautifully, and within 1 hour we were through,, and then
wiggled our way past abandoned nickel mines and starkly striking countryside
of orange/red earth and pine forests, to Noumea, the capital. Noumea is on
the most convoluted headland I have known - we sailed west then north then
east admiring from all angles bay after crowded bay of the city and
windsurfers buzzing us at 15 knots,until we finally zigzagged through the
crowded anchorage, and onto the visitors dock of the marina. It was a
Sunday, but Frank the harbourmaster phoned the officials and within 15
minutes immigration had cleared us in, so had customs (by default), but then
the quarantine official asked Nicky to give him all our fruit and vegetables
and eggs and honey (all of which are banned for importation).

Weeeeeell, we did actually have a huge bunch of bananas hanging from our
rigging, a present from Tanna, loaded vegetable shelves and a hammock of
vegetables, and more in the fridge,  dozens of eggs and jars of honey. In
such circumstances I look to see how serious the official is. Usually he is
just reciting the law because he has to, but expects you to make only a
token gesture towards it, just as he will make only a token gesture to
enforce it. Its a bit of a game.

But Nicky was too honest, jumps to conclusions quickly, and doesnt like
garlic, so within a minute the poor official was being deluged with vegetables and fruit, with
Nicky muttering only just under her breath about stupid regulations and
officials. He allowed us to peel some bananas and sweet potatoes for dinner,
and I  was eventually able to intervene with about 3/4 of our fruit and veg and all our eggs and honey
intact, and assure him that we had given him all (which was sufficiently ambiguous, while blocking the entrance so he
couldn't see anything more). That was what he wanted to hear, and with a nice smile
he went away, slightly embarrassed carrying his briefcase, a bunch of
bananas, about 5Kg of Taro and potatoes  and all our ginger and garlic.

But we were in, so we went to the Bout de Monde Bar to celebrate, but the
rat sized cockroaches crawling over our feet put us off somewhat, although
the few other people ignored them as if they were a regular feature of the
place, apart from one French group who were clearly drunk. I complained to
the barman about these French and other cockroaches, but it was too
complicated, and we passed the time developing ideas to minimise stowaways
of the cockroach variety.

Our Yamaha outboard is playing up and not starting. On the principle that I
would at least learn, I changed the filter, took the carburettor apart,
checked the electrics and produced what the oil business has learned to call
a technical success - (a dry well) - the engine still didn't start. However
I learned a lot. Problems usually come in 3's, and next day Bruno the Yamaha
dealer and I tackled it again, and we proved the 3 theory - intermittently
faulty spark plug, blocked jet and gunk from the internal fuel tank. As I
had fixed 2, the 3rd still kept the engine stopped. I learned even more, cost - 1/2 hour
2,000CFP ($20), I think Bruno liked someone interested in what he was doing.

The indigenous Melanesian inhabitants of New Caledonia are the Kanaks, long
term French settlers are called Caldoshes, expatriates are Metros. All this
matters here. Jean Marie Tjibaou was a Kanak priest who became political
leader of the New Caledonia movement for independence. There were violent
confrontations in 1980's (les evenements) as Kanaks tried to reclaim their island. Jean Marie
was educated in Canada and France and was a moderate who in 1988 signed what
amounted to a power sharing regional agreement with French President
Mitterand's government, but was assassinated a year later by a Kanak who
thought he had sold out to the colonists. The French have treated Tjibaou like a martyr, and the Tjibaou
Cultural Centre is an extravagant set of pavilions designed by an Italian
that contains modern Pacific art. 3 traditional houses and a walkway with
Kanak plants which provides some local ambience.

However the whole centre, while undoubtedly striking and well meaning seemed
to almost confirm the sell out charge - this was France in the Pacific,
rather than Kanak culture. It even contains an exhibition about the Paris Commune of 1870's, (3000 ringleaders
were exiled to New Caledonia, then pardoned and returned to France in
1880).So we hired a car from Visa (20,000CFP/week $200) and set off to see
for ourselves.

From Noumea we drove north east to Thio where 13 kms of road is so vertical
and slippery (it's a graded,gravelly road surface) and narrow
that it has to be one way - in odd hours from Thio to Canala, and even hours
the reverse direction. At night, you will be pleased to know, it is 2 way so
if you meet someone, and one or both of you don't crash over the cliff, you
have to reverse about a kilometre at night to find a passing place. We went
through just after 3pm.

Thio is the start of nickel mining country - I still have to find more about
nickel mining (the Thio mining museum had decided to shut afternoons without
telling anyone) but it is essentially strip mining - the cheapest and most
polluting method available - strip off the surface of the land, take the ore
underneath and let rain carry everything you have left behind out to sea.
Nickel is needed for steel making, and China is desperate for it - a
significant part of China's foreign policy is focused on getting
bilateral treaties with nickel producing countries. New Caledonia's nickel ore is
about 2.4% pure shading to 1.5%, and it leaves hillsides ravaged with red
terraces, and mining roads. Most of the companies are French or Canadian,
and the French Government negotiates all the leases.

The east coast main road is essentially a mining road, swooping around
terraces wherever the nickel went, so it takes a long time to cover a short
distance but finally we reached Canala - and our first army road block. "Just an
exercise in...Cyclone Recovery ..or was it Eliminating Insurgents" no-one
seemed to be sure. We ascended the steep hill, and stayed at a Gite Tribu -
with a local Kanak tribe. Tania cooked mounds of superb food, she is
intelligent and has everything to gain from an increased tourist trade. I
asked her:
"Would you prefer New Caledonia to be a department of France, or
Independent?"
She lowered he voice, looked around, and murmured:
"Independent". But people are scared.

Whereas in Vanuatu, the people were far far poorer than New Caledonia, they
seemed far happier. The Caldoches (French settlers, many originally from
penal colonies) wiped many Kanak clans from the face of the earth (the words
come from the Museum at Bourail).

So we headed north along the east coast past stunning rock formations and
another road block,this time with French Policiers. I asked why there were
not Kanak policemen. They explained that French Police do 3 months of
service in the 'Outre-Mer' (French overseas territories) every 18 months,
presumably paid by the local Government, which was interesting but didn't
really answer the question.

It is about 300kms to Hienghene,which is the home town of the murdered Jean
Marie Tjiabou. His actual village is Tiendanite, and we had arranged to stay
in this village. Jean Marie and all 10 of the villagers previously
assassinated in one night in 1984 by Caldoches are buried within 20 metres of the small church. 4 Policemen
had been killed earlier. The village, like most Kanak Tribu is tiny, and the
death of those 10 must have ripped the heart from the community - it was probably all the adult males in the
village. All (25 years on) had fresh flowers on their graves, and crosses
with Kanak colours. We were looking for Bernard Malpas - a cousin of Jean
Marie, and brother of 2 of the 10 killed in the ambush.

After 36 hours we found him, plump, slow spoken, about 50 years old. The
objective he said is independence, but not war. France still controls all
the important issues like the gendarmes and mining, French multinationals
are taking huge sums out of New Caledonia, but he thinks the nickel will
last 100 years. There was supposed to have been a referendum on independence
in 1998, but now it will be 10-15 years later.....A key problem, given that
the Caldoshes and the Kanaks each have about 80,000 voters, are the others -
especially migrants from Wallis island who now reside in Noumea and vote to
stay with France. Bernard would not think of partitioning the island, but
was very interested in our descriptions of Vanuatu people. I asked whether
the people who had killed his 10 relatives had ever been caught.

"Yes" he said "They were caught and tried with a jury of eight - 7 Caldoshes
and 1 Kanak. They were acquitted". And he sighed heavily.

He did show me a lavish coffee table style 3 volume book by French academics
written in 2000, which is an arms length study of the Kanaks as a quaint but
vanishing people. There did not seem to be one Kanak involved in the production. Captain Cook
who 'discovered' New Caledonia for the west estimated that there were at
least 200,000 Kanaks. But the academics with no evidence say that "Cook's
estimates were always fantastical" and put the original number at about
80,000, which is 4 Kanaks/100 hectares, very low. However this is
conveniently (for the authors) the same number as Kanaks and Caldoshes now,
and would partially invalidate Kanak claims to be the significant and
earliest majority, had they not been decimated by French diseases and
reprisals. Kanak families are much smaller than those in Vanuatu, for
whatever reason, so the voting pattern is unlikely to change, unless more
French settle here (which they may, given the rate of development).

We tried to drive over the mountains to the west coast, but fords and barred
gates proved too much for our valiant Twingo, so we drove round the north
coast, once rich, now exhausted ex-chromite mines, stunning reefs, to Ateou
Tribu, where Ignace greeted us. Well, actually he thought we were a party of
5 Germans, but once we showed him our reservation, his wife Eva prepared us
a traditional Bougna over a wood fire. A bougna is a stew of chicken and ignyam cooked in
banana leaves in a pot of boiling water - really excellent.

 Ignace then started to describe what it is to be a Kanak in a French
controlled land. Ignace is a hunter, 1/4 Caldoshes himself, but he sees the
pollution from the mines which makes the rivers run red, and returns no
money to the kanaks. Even the produce market in Noumea
is all white stalls, not a Kanak to be seen. To Kanaks, Kastom (La coutume
in French - it is hard to rail against the oppressor when his language is
the only one you can communicate with), is the centre of life. Ignace's
grand-daughter shyly showed us the sacred place where boys are initiated,
but refused to take us any further into the forest where wild pig and deer
are.

We drove back south through Bourail the 2nd largest town in New Caledonia,
population 5000. Noumea is a city with a population of 85,000
so the island really is 2 parts - French chic and relative
sophistication in Noumea, rough cattle ranching and mining with tiny
villages in the country, where Kanaks and Caldoshes live in uneasy
coexistence. The only Kanaks in Noumea are the beggars. Baie de Citron is a
glitzy promenade of French Restaurants etc - you could be in South of
France.

But there is room for power sharing - the mining companies are aware that
they may have to deal with a Kanak Government, the Kanaks do not want to
stop the mining, just to have it better run. The Caldoshes run much of the
cattle ranching on the eastern plains, where most of the plains tribes were
exterminated. The remaining Kanaks come from the hills and prefer to live
there. Noumea is an urban, relatively sophisticated sprawl, and both sides
have an interest in keeping prosperity flowing. And there is still plenty of
land - even today there are 10 hectares for every person in New Caledonia.
It would be a shame for violence as well as strip mining to ruin such a
beautiful country.

The cyclone 'season' starts 1st November, so we were already in it. Cyclones
hit New Caledonia every now and then, and we did not want to be caught at
sea in one - the 800 miles south west to Brisbane takes longer than there
are accurate weather forecasts. So we cleared out (Customs, Immigration and
Port Captain - all very quick) and set off at 5am to get to the Dambou Pass
before the tide started coming in.

Q: How much fuel do you need to sail 800 miles?
A: None, but you do need the wind. And after 24 hours we were becalmed. Its
not much fun sitting 6 days away from your destination, during cyclone
season, so we motored for a bit, then at night just stopped and drifted. At
times like this we set a guard zone on our radar, so that if
any vessel comes within 10 miles of Intrepid, the radar alarm goes off. At
2am it went off, a small fishing vessel came within 2 miles of us, and took
2 hours to exit our guard zone. Not good for sleep, nor was the rolling, so
were soon motoring.

But at 7am something woke me - not the alarm clock, but a soft buzz. Tom was
on watch, but I know the boat better than he. The Yanmar control panel has a
very soft alarm, silly design fault in a very good engine really - the
engine was starting to overheat. A quick look confirmed it - the rubber belt
which drives the pump to push cooling seawater round the heat exchanger in
the engine had broken. I had checked it just a week ago. No cooling sea
water = lots of heat with nowhere to go. I stopped the engine, fans still
on, changed the belt (I carry lots of spares now), engine on, and lots of
cooling water reduced the temperature before any harm was done. Not the
ideal way to start the day though.

But after 3 days the winds came in as forecast, and we bowled along at 6.5
knots between Kelso Reef and Capel Tablemount towards Brisbane. Apparently
Brisbane customs like to be told our eta 3 days before we arrive - bit
difficult with variable winds like this.

Q2: What colour are you in this forecast for 24 hours time when you are
sailing SW: 30 -35 knot winds from the South, waves 21 feet high, 8 seconds
between waves?
A2: Green, which is what we will be if we get caught in it. Low pressure
systems off Sydney normally move east from there, but this one is moving
north towards Brisbane, pushed by a high pressure to the south west of it.
The winds are blowing from high to low pressure, and meeting the South
Australia current.

Q3. Where have you heard of that (the South Australia Current)?
A3. Finding Nemo, (the movie) - its the current that Nemo's Dad takes with
the turtles to get to Sydney. It flows south at about 3-4 knots, and when it
meets a wind from south, this produces LARGE waves, quite probably more than
the 21 feet in the forecast which is what the waves would be even without
the effect of the current. We are 150 miles from Brisbane, so we are
creaming along at 7 knots to get into Brisbane before all this lot gets
here. We have about 3 hours in hand...........

There is a certain inevitability about storms. First forecasters confirmed
it - full storm warning in  2 hours time from the south. Storm is 48 knots,
Severe seas. We checked Intrepid - anything loose secured, lifejackets in
place, hot food cooked, then wispy warm front, and a strong wind from the north at 30 knots helped
us race along until at 3am, while Tom was on watch, the wind suddenly
shifted, Intrepid tacked and I woke to find us sailing back to New Caledonia
in the pale moonlight. Tack back in just my underpants, but by then we could
see on the radar the massed black clouds of the cold front and its squalls.
I had just time to get into full Musto storm clothing, when it hit - 40 knots
steady from the south, gusting to 55 knots, lightening, rain, spray...by
this time we had only a few square metres of sail - sufficient to do 8.5
knots and cross the South Australia current at 9am before the real waves had
built in response to the new southerly wind. Lucky we did too, just as we crossed
the current we were experiencing 4-5 metre seas and they were still growing,
huge monsters. I have a few photos, taken rather precariously balanced on a
winch, spray everywhere.

But then Moreton Island appeared on the radar, and we stormed into its
shelter, the wind dropped hardly at all, but the waves did, and we turned
left into Moreton Bay........and hit the tide coming out, so more and even
steeper waves. We were the only boat out, everyone else wisely tucked up in
marinas. We had known this was coming, but there was no other way (apart from staying out for 2.5 days
in the storm). So best speed (6.5 knots against a 3.5 knot tide and waves
=3 knots speed over ground) towards Manly East Coast Marina 30 miles away
which is the Port of Entry that we must go to if we are to be legal. I was absolutely
soaked, the photo which will go on the www.intrepidofdover.co.uk website
shows it - we had green water over the bows every minute, Nicky navigating, Tom takes his
share of watches but is feeling distinctly under the weather (and he has
been at sea in Alaskan fishing boats!)

But we finally were able to radio and get directions in from a volunteer
coastguard, and tied up at the rather unfriendly locked windy quarantine
berth in Manly just before dark at 1800, and opened the champagne because WE HAD SAILED ACROSS THE PACIFIC. 8000
miles. Its been one of the most enjoyable, instructive and challenging years
of my life. Maybe the three go together.

Quarantine came next morning and took away all our popcorn (1Kg), beans (5
Kg) and eggs, and Immigration and Customs allowed us to stay (we had
obtained visas online 2 months before and tactfully I asked about Australian
soccer - they  qualified yesterday for the World Cup for the first time
since 1974 - and with heroic self-control didn't mention the cricket or
rugby - well I think I did once but I got away with it) and we slowly eased
our way back into fast paced confident, slim, modern western society with
shops that stock things, and if they dont order them for the next day.

We arrive in UK on 15th December and would love to see everyone, and enjoy
winter.

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