Bonjour mon requin!
The reefs have been dived, the islets explored, the cap rail varnished and the beer drank... alas it is time to go. Whereas one could spend a lifetime here exploring (ok, maybe not a lifetime but a few weeks at least) it is time for Rutea to continue West. And although I am not super stoked to be heading back out into the ocean, the idea of a new country - new people, places and (allegedly) some very good waves - I am pretty excited to get to Australia. After all, it is a mere 450 miles away.
I keep talking about how Chesterfield Reef is so remote and whatnot, but really, it's a small world after all. You see, Chesterfield Reef is part of New Caledonia, which is part of France. What, you might ask, is France doing with territories (colonies) half way around the world? Unfortunately, I do not know the answer to this question. But I do know that the French are very keen to know exactly who is visiting their colonies and where exactly they are. Hence, a visit from the French Marines yesterday.
Fortunately, they did not stop in for a cup of coffee, but yesterday morning they buzzed by in a helicopter. And when I say "buzzed by" I actually mean that they hovered a few hundred meters above our stern (and the stern of each boat here in Chesterfield) taking pictures and looking rather menacing. We waved and smiled at the pilot but did not get a wave or smile in return. This was not a good sign as it is not exactly legal for us to be here.
When you arrive by boat in a country you have to (are supposed to) go to a port of entry, even if it is a pain in the ass and out of the way. Chesterfield Reef is part of New Caledonia and, remote and far out of the way as it is, legally you are supposed to check in at Noumea - some 300 miles away - before coming here. Although we initially intended to go to New Cal, time and weather did not permit us, so we decided to go straight from Vanuatu to Australia.
Le Recief du Chesterfield - oui oui bon ami!
However, Chesterfield Reef is conveniently located half way between Vanuatu and Australia, so we thought we would pop in for a little (and awesome) visit. We sent the New Cal government an email saying we were going to stop here, so we are not exactly illegal, but you know. Bureaucratic nonsense. It seems strange that the French would care so much about who anchors off a remote reef for a few days, but they do, so we were all a little on edge for a few hours while a navy frigate loomed on the horizon.
Fortunately for us, the helicopter left us alone for the rest of the day and by evening the frigate had disappeared. It is easy to forget politics and policies out here in paradise, but even the most remote corners of the ocean are owned by somebody, as outrageous as it might seem. That helicopter was just an unfriendly reminder.
After the excitement life returned to normal. We called my brother to wish him a happy 30th birthday - Happy Birthday Ian!! - although the satellite phone cut out after a few minutes so I did not get to say hi. Then we finished varnishing the cap rails (gracias adios) and Mark and I went for our final dive at Chesterfield Reef.
Mark's compressor is not working right now - which may or may not have influenced our decision to leave tomorrow - but we both had one more tank, so we went back to Snake Charmer bommie for our last dive. It was a hot day and it felt so good to get under water. Just as I was relaxing into my last dive I noticed a snake close to Mark, which he didn't see. The sea snakes don't seem to bother you if you pretend like you don't notice them, so I just kept swimming. Then Mark saw the snake and the snake saw Mark, and went after him.
Merd! Another bloody snake.
I don't get it. What the hell would a snake want with a diver? Whatever it wanted, it wanted bad, and Mark took off at full speed to get rid of the snake. This meant that I watched Mark swim off into the blue and I was left alone watching a few curious sharks watch me. 'Buddy...?' I thought. I wanted to follow him but didn't want to follow the snake, so I hung out looking over my shoulder constantly to make sure I didn't have one of the nasty creatures after me. Fortunately, Mark came back snake-less and we continued our dive, but both of us were on edge the rest of the dive.
Last night our friends on another boat arrived here and upon their arrival promptly went lobster hunting. Mark went with them and was dive-bombed by boobies (the birds) twice. I don't know what's up with him and animals, but I try to keep my distance. They caught two lobsters but one was a pregnant female, so they let her go. Tonight we are having a lobster/hotdog/use up all your food BBQ to celebrate our last night here.
It seems like some of the best places we have been to are also the most remote - the hardest to get to. Perhaps it is because they are so hard to get to, or because so few people manage to get here... whatever it is this place rocks and if you ever happen to be sailing from Vanuatu to Australia, definitely make the stop at Chesterfield Reef.
At 11/4/2012 8:48 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°52.96'S 158°27.87'E
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