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   JULY 24 , 2006
FISH HEAVEN

Monday, June 26, 2006

We left Baie St. Maurice and picked our way through the coral reefs to open water and continued our way up the east coast of Ile de Pins.  We attempted to enter a lagoon and anchor at a small island, surrounded by coral reef.  Alas, we were going in at low tide with ocean swell and scraped the bottom of Bella Via’s keels on coral.  It was a very tense time aboard the boat, with Paul up the mast and Mary at the helm, again communicating through the walkie-talkies.  Thankfully we were able to back our way out with only minimal damage to the keels (Paul dove later and discovered scraped off bottom paint) and a valuable lesson learned.  Don’t necessarily believe someone when they say “you won’t have any problem getting in”.

We continued up the coast to the next bay, Baie de Oro.  This entrance was difficult and as we were still somewhat spooked by our earlier experience we carefully picked our way in and breathed a sigh of relief once we anchored.  We had to stop at an outside anchorage due to the state of the rising tide and waited until just before high tide to move into the inside, and a more protected from swell anchorage.  Moving inside meant picking our way through several patches of coral in only just over 1.5 metres of water.  We got lucky in that we followed a charter captain as he wound his way in with his catamaran.  He had been in the area several times before and knew the way in.  We then asked Gil to come over for a drink as a thank you for his guidance.  In conversation, we learned from Gil that he had also tried to enter the other small lagoon that morning but decided against it when he saw the ocean swell.  Again, we learned a valuable lesson that day.

We spent one week in Baie de Oro and had a good time.  There is a resort in this bay and we had lunch one day at the Hotel Meridien.  We also did “faire la coutume” – the custom of giving a small gift to the headman of the tribe in return for visiting their property.  Not all yachties make an effort to faire la coutume, however, as Paul wanted to fish in these waters, we were quite willing to walk one hour to the village.  Fortunately, when we asked at the hotel for directions, the manager suggested that we should just walk up the road a short way to “Chez Regis” where we might find Chief Regis who owns this Melanesian resort and campground.  This we did and we met Estelle, wife of Bernard the son of Chief Regis.  When we asked to faire la coutume, Estelle welcomed us to the bay and accepted our small gift of homemade banana bread.  In return Estelle gave Paul permission to fish but only for food, not for resale.

Here are some of our photographic memories of our week in Baie de Oro:

 


As a surprise for Mary, Paul arranged a wonderful lobster (called crayfish in this part of the world) lunch at an outdoor restaurant on the beach.

       
Click on Pics to enlarge

While enjoying our lobster lunch, local Melanesian children and a tourist child enjoyed playing around our dinghy.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Just before high tide on this day, we carefully picked our way out of Baie de Oro and set sail for Baie de Gadji at the north end of Ile de Pins.   We had a great sail but, unfortunately, no hits on the fishing lines.

We settled into the outside anchorage, knowing that we would be able to move into a more protected inner area the next day at high tide.  This we did and thus began a 14-day stay in Baie de Gadji, the longest stay at anchor in one place since we moved aboard 17 months ago.

Three significant events contributed to the length of our stay:

The first reason is that we could not stop marveling at the colour of the water.  It was the clearest that we had seen since we moved aboard and that marine blue that you see in all of the advertisements for tropical islands.



Why would we be in any hurry to leave this picturesque setting?  This is what we enjoyed all day for two weeks.
       

Click on Pics to enlarge


The second reason was that the fishing was the best experience for Paul in a year and a half.  Here are excerpts of an email that Paul sent to his brothers who are avid fishermen:

Paul wrote – “We were recently at anchor in Baie de Gadji, on the Isle of Pines, New Caledonia, 14 days straight….This spot is pure magic. Crystal clear waters, the friendly villagers, and spectacular snorkeling, but it's the fishing that has had me going absolutely crazy.  This has undoubtedly been the most exciting two weeks of fishing in my life and it is due primarily to the presence of so many sharks. That's right, you read it correctly, more shark stories.

The Challenges of Dealing With Coral - The fishing here was quite frustrating at first because I snorkel with large schools of fish of all kinds in and among the coral, so I know where they are.  The fact that they live in and around the coral makes it a huge challenge to get a lure anywhere near them without snagging on coral and losing my hook or my lure.  Worse still, when a fish finally goes for my lure, they immediately dart into the safety of the coral jungle, immediately snagging my line and usually making it impossible to recover the fish or my lure. It's frustrating and expensive.

On my second morning here, I had a BIG hit on one of my best "Art Thibert" lures but, like I said, this fish immediately dove for the coral before I could crank it away, snagging my line and lure somewhere in the coral below.  I was frustrated and furious. The lure appeared to be lost forever.  Since I was only fishing in 10 feet of water, I cut the line and attached a small float to the cut end.  After returning with my snorkel gear I was able to recover the lure snagged in a coral cave, no longer with fish attached.

Tuna Frenzy - Things were looking pretty grim for any fishing success here until I got Mary's help, for it was she who spotted the school of tuna feeding on the surface. These schools of surface feeding fish tend to be pretty ephemeral.  Roaring in with the dinghy immediately causes the school to disperse.  The trick is to position the dinghy just upwind of the next location where the school is about to surface.  The secret to doing this is to watch the birds.  The birds use the tuna to find the baitfish and I use the birds to forecast where the tuna are next likely to surface.

It's great fun bombing around in the dinghy with one hand on the outboard and my rod in the other ready to cast as soon as I find myself anywhere near this fish frenzy.  When you can land any kind of lure in or near this frenzy, an immediate hit is guaranteed. The challenge, as I said, is to get close enough to the school without scaring them off with the outboard.

On this occasion I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time with the school of fish surfacing well within my range to cast a lure into them. The moment my lure hit the water, it was taken.  I managed to land my first catch in Baie de Gadji, a 10 pound tuna.  A very welcome delight after so many fish-less days.  This was only the beginning of my fishing successes here on Bay de Gadji.

Sweetlip Galore - I caught a fish called a Remora.  They look quite ugly to us mostly because of the giant sucker that they have at the top of their flat head.  This sucker allows them to attach themselves to other fish such as sharks and hitch a ride.  It turns out that few people will eat a Remora because they eat any bit of garbage that is thrown into the sea.  When I learned of the distaste for Remora, I decided to cut the meat up into chunks of fresh bait.  I will often dangle a line in the water while I am Bar-B-Q-ing dinner

Now this is a risky time of day to be fishing.  If I get a hit, I will have to deal with landing a fish in the middle of the 15 minutes that I am SUPPOSED to be paying attention to the steaks and garlic toast on the Bar-B-Q.  Many a steak has been overcooked and toast burnt because of an untimely hit - if such a thing is possible.

This was one of those cases where dinner plans were put on hold so that I could land a beautiful 6 pound sweetlip, one of the strongest fighting, best tasting white meat table fish in the South Pacific.  I could barely sit still during dinner, itching to get my line back in the water.  To make a long story a bit shorter, this strategy netted me 8 hits that evening.  Although I had 8 hits, I only landed 5 of the 8.  Poor handling you might think. No.  Sharks got the other three.  Yes, sharks again.

Shark Challenge - Before dinner I had filleted that first fish and thrown the carcass overboard as I always do.  By the time I went outside after dinner there were three sharks continuously circling the boat.  The blood and fish carcass had drawn them to the boat. This is the first time that we have ever had sharks anywhere near the boat.  At the time, it was a very unnerving experience to be standing at the back of the boat with these sharks so near by.

I continued to fish well into the night by the end of which the score was Paul-5, Sharks-3.  Yes, I lost three sweetlip to the sharks in one evening.

The locals say that these sharks are not dangerous and do not attack humans.  They also say that the small ones are quite good to eat if you bleed and skin them immediately. Well!!  During the evening, while catching the sweetlip, I got it in my head that I might be able to catch one of these sharks.  Crazy! I know.  Mary would have nothing to do with it.

I took one of my landed sweetlips, cleaned it and put the left over carcass onto a BIG hook.  The bait was then simply dangled off the back of the boat, less than two feet into the water where I would be able to get a good view of the attack.

Because I have already lost a few fish to sharks, I expected them to attack this bloody carcass instantly.  Not so.  In fact they are very cautious, circling their prey for several minutes, gradually getting closer.  At some point in time when they think it's safe enough, they will bump their nose into the prey then instantly engulf the portion of fish that they have decided to take, which is not always the whole fish.  Very often, they will leave just the head.

What a rush when they tear off, away from the boat with the line and reel screaming. That first battle lasted little more than a few minutes before one of the weak links in my fishing rig failed.  Not to be deterred, I identified the point of failure, made improvements, caught and cleaned another sweetlip, baited a new hook and watched the whole sequence happen again.  At 10 p.m. Mary declared that she had seen enough, she was going to bed and she sincerely hoped that I would work hard at not falling off the boat.

By midnight, I had hooked, battled, and lost three sharks.  Each battle lasted a little longer.  Each ended up with some piece of the fishing rig failing.  By midnight, although still possessed with the challenge of catching a shark, my arms were spent, my body exhausted.  It is then that I finally quit for the night, leaving a mess of tackle and fishing paraphernalia cluttering the cockpit to be cleaned up in the morning.

A Great Trevally - I spent the whole of the next day reading, rigging and strength testing, hook, wire, and line configurations until I felt I had produced the strongest possible configuration with the materials I had aboard.  By the end of the day, I was ready for battle even though my arms were, and still are, quite sore from the previous night's workout.

First, I needed to catch a sweetlip so that I could use its carcass as shark bait.  What a disappointment when I discovered that the sweetlip weren't biting.  Nothing before dinner and nothing after dinner, so I left a line in the water while Mary and I commenced to watch a movie.  That's what we were doing when finally we heard the zing of the fishing reel. “Fish On!” We quickly discovered this was no 5 pound sweetlip. It was a “Great Trevally” weighing in at 35 pounds. The largest fish that Mary and I have ever caught.  I say Mary and I because she is regularly needed to land these big ones.  After landing and cleaning this beauty, I was far too tired to play with the sharks that night. I didn't even try to catch a sweetlip.

The next evening was anticlimactic.  I was able to catch a sweetlip, use it's carcass as shark bait and hook a shark.  Although the rig that I was using was strong enough to land a shark of this relatively small size, the presence of so much coral makes it almost impossible.  All the shark has to do is swim across in an arc and sooner or later the wire taught line will brush up against a piece of coral and be instantly cut away.  I have given up trying to catch shark. For now!”

End of Paul’s email to his brothers.


 

The biggest fish that we have ever caught - a 35 pound Golden Trevally.




Paul’s mess of tackle and fishing paraphernalia cluttering the cockpit left out overnight to be cleaned up in the morning.




 

The third reason why we stayed so long in Baie de Gadji was because of our good fortune to meet a lovely Melanesian family.  Paul actually met the family first as he had decided to take the dinghy to shore and see if it would be possible to buy some fresh fruit and vegetables from the locals.  He met Alexandre and his family, including his sister Marie Paul who grows vegetables for the nearby resort.  Paul was able to purchase a few tomatoes and some lettuce and Alexandre offered to drive Paul to the Vao market on Saturday in his van (he is a taxi driver) as long as he arrived at Alexandre’s house by 7 a.m. 

 

Bright and early on Saturday, Paul set off in the dinghy for the Vao market.  He had already worked out in his mind where he would leave the dinghy, however, Alexandre met him on the beach and recommended that he move the dinghy as it would be high and dry at low tide when they returned from Vao and he would then not be able to leave for several hours.  He then had to walk through woods and trudge through knee-high muddy sand to get to Alexandre’s house.  Oh, the pleasures of living aboard!  Paul thoroughly enjoyed his morning with Alexandre, who speaks very little English but along with lots of hand gestures was able to make him understood in French to Paul.  Paul had a great time conversing in his minimal French with the other passengers in the taxi. 








Paul returning from his trip to the Vao market, laden with fresh fruit and vegetables and baguettes.






A few days later, Paul took Mary into shore to meet Alexandre and his young family.  The children were delightful.  Oralee is about 10 years old, there is a young son (we can’t recall his name), and Cecelie is the baby – just over 1 year.  Unfortunately, Yvonne the wife was visiting a friend and was not home.

 

What a pleasure it was to watch this little one enjoy the freshly grated coconut that her father prepared for us.




Paul taught Oralee to play Mancala, an African stone game that was a favourite of his former students during his teaching career.




A challenge to get ashore but worth it when we met Alexandre and his family.

 

The very next Saturday, both of us went to the Vao market by Alexandre’s taxi and stocked up on fruits and vegetables. During this trip we discovered that Oralee was part of a children’s choir that was putting on a special performance in Vao later that evening.  Paul asked Alexandre if it was possible for us to tag along with the family so as to view this performance.  It was agreed that we were to meet Alexandre at his house at 4:00 pm.

 

Due to high winds, Mary elected to stay behind and boat sit while Paul returned to Alexandre’s at 4:00 that afternoon.  Remember, that each one of these visits to shore requires a minimum of 30 minutes of anchoring the dinghy in knee deep water, wading to shore in mucky sand and walking through the woods to Alexandre’s house.

 

Paul reported that the children’s choir performed exceptionally difficult pieces of music backed by an all white adult orchestra brought in from Noumea for this occasion.  The audience for this performance consisted of a mixture of white, French, New Caledonian’s and black Melanesians.

 

After the children’s choir was finished, Paul was surprised to find out that Alexandre and family would be staying to listen to a variety of local music groups perform.  Not having any other way to make the 30 km trip back to the dingy, Paul had little choice but to remain and enjoy the music, which he did most thoroughly.  He found it quite interesting that within an hour of the completion of the children’s performance, he was the one and only white person left amoung the 200 natives attending this music festival.

 

Much to Paul’s dismay and Mary’s worry, the music lasted until 11:00.  By the time Paul returned to the dingy, the tide had risen so high that he had to wade waist deep into the water so as to get to the dinghy and he didn’t get back to the boat until midnight.

 

Although there was a bit of worry involved with the inability to communicate with one another, Paul reported that the music, performed exclusively by local musicians was exceptionally enjoyable.  During this time Paul had an opportunity to taste some of the local foods and was warmly accepted by the native peoples.  It was a memorable evening for him.

 

Monday, July 17, 2006

 

After five much-enjoyed weeks in Ile de Pins, we left Baie de Gadji after breakfast and headed back to the New Caledonia mainland, 50 miles away.  We did not complete our planned circumnavigation of Ile de Pins, but had elected instead to stay in Baie de Gadji longer and leave from the north end of the island rather than the south end.

 

We had a great sail across and arrived back in Baie du Prony in late afternoon.  We went in to the farthest northwest end of the bay and anchored in Baie du Carenage, described as a cyclone hole as it is good in all winds and surrounded by mountains.

 

This was a very comfortable anchorage in which to spend a week and here are some photographs of our week in Baie du Carenage:

 

 

This 6-year old German girl, Lola, and her brother live on their boat with parents, Ava and Hans.  They have been in the South Pacific since 1999, with both children being born in New Zealand.  Hans and Ava and family have been in Baie du Prony for 6 months and have several vegetable gardens in the bay to assist with living their vegetarian lifestyle.  In this picture, Lola paddled over to Bella Via to give Paul a hand-drawn picture as a thank you for Paul taking she and her father fishing.



a short walk from our boat meant that we were able to enjoy this picturesque setting.




Finally, we were successful with catching mud crabs in our crab pots. We enjoyed a fresh crab or two three nights in a row.

 



A lot of work to clean and cook and open up, but the sweet crabmeat makes it all worth it.





July 24, 2006

 

We leave tomorrow morning to return to Noumea where we will spend the next week preparing to check out of the country and travel to Vanuatu.

 



 

    Journal Page 4