Cruising the South Pacific with Captain Bligh

Chesterfield Islets

Chessterfield Islets, New Caledonia. 600nm from Vila, 400 from Bundaberg, we are illegally in French territory. The Gendarmes of the sea may descend on us during the night, take us to Noumea to be locked away forever. It could happen. It has happened before. Worse, the freezer is full of fish caught coming over the reef, and this is a marine reserve, according to a sign on a small sand cay near our anchorage.

In the afternoon, while Neville slept, we rowed the skiff ashore. The small islet/cay was filled with pelagic birds nesting in the low scrub and on the sand. Huge holes, practice egg nest holes, dug by sea turtles were everywhere, the tracks up and down the beach looking as if made by some lost piece of earth moving equipment. We walked all around one islet, a half mile at best, watching the birds and an amazing collection of shore crabs.

The lagoon is white sand bottom, with isolated coral patches, intensely turquoise. So intense is the color of the sea that it colors turquoise the white undersides of all the flying sea birds. We thought we had discovered some new form of sea birds! We would be famous, toast of all our Audubon Society friends… Oh well, it was magic anyway.

Mingling of Waters Where our islet met another across a narrow shallow inlet, the sea washed us from two sides. We stood there, turned full circle and were awed. All this life in the middle of a very large sea, solid ground, tiny but solid, and we were there, together, looking into the amazed eyes of boobies sitting on piles of white fluff, their babies, smelling the sea and bird guano, feeling the southing sun on our shoulders, hearing the clattering pebbles, the schussing of sand around our legs, the gurgle of water.

Audio of birds on Chesterfield Islets      chesterfieldrbirds

Humans visit here in limited numbers, probably only half of the year, only from private yachts, it is too far for tourist boats to visit from anywhere. It was nice to be alone together, in such a place, to marvel at our good fortune yet, to be thankful. This would be our idea of a place to anchor for a week, or more. This would be our idea of a cruising lifestyle; not anchoring for weeks at a time with other yachties, comparing mechanical problems, and cheap duty free booze, drinking too much, eating too much, talking too much. The sound of the sea and bird calls is sweeter than all the rest.

Tuesday October 29. We got our wished for wind, 25 knots, and some moderately big seas as soon as we left the lagoon at Chesterfield. Of course it was on the nose, going to windward again. But all day and all night we ran nine to ten knots, buckets of seawater dousing the cockpit. Back to normal. Back to what we know best!

It didn’t last. Winds eased and the next two days seemed slow. We were ready to be back to Australia, ready to be land slugs again, ready to process what we learned about the sailing life, and what we didn’t. Several days of parties followed landfall in Bundaberg. Many boats come here for cyclone season each year, and many of them come in with the Port to Port rally. The local community welcomed us with traditional Aussie barbies, and of course beer and Bundaberg rum, dances, contests (Songlines won the trivia contest; (I knew that OJ Simson lived at 39 Canyon Way, don’t ask me how), boat decoration contests… We enjoyed meeting with many of the yachties we had only heard on the radio, and others we had met in Vila or elsewhere in the Pacific. We particularly enjoyed two couples who were cruising with small children, and schooling them along the way. Those children will become very self sufficient adults.

Another adventure ends: ups and downs, fear and joy, anger and laughter; life. Another adventure gone, gone but never to be forgotten. Life is good.

Fair winds and all the best,

Claire and Bob


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