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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Swimming with the Turtles: Glam Ilot Maitre, New Caledonia

At New Caledonia's Ilot Maitre, from your bungalow, you can gaze over the reefs or head down your stairs into them.
Or, grab a mooring ball for free, if you're a yachtie and the view and access is equally terrific!
It's easy to understand the all-around attraction to Ilot Maitre.... It houses a resort, with a restaurant and bar, a swimming pool, decent snorkeling, a long, shallow beach for kite-boarding, a bit more beach for walking or lounging.
Ilot Maitre, New Caledonia.  Kiteboarding-only area, the opposite side of the mooring balls, lee shore of the island.
Kite-boarding mom,
Ilot Maitre.
In order to protect the reef, there's a generous sprinkling of 20 or so burly mooring balls. on what's generally the lee side of the island.  Given the hordes of kite-surfers skimming the other side of the island, figuring out the leeward side  (where there's sure to be at least one boat tied off to a mooring ball) is a no-brainer.  As with all our other stops in New Caledonia outside Noumea, the mooring balls are well-maintained and free.

Given Ilot Maitre's a kite-boarding mecca, it doesn't take long to notice the wind kicks up by afternoon or earlier.  

For those of us at Ilot Maitre more for the snorkeling, you'll find mornings are better for that, as even on the lee side of the island, the water is calmer and thus also clearer earlier in the day.  Don't wait until you're toasty -- just hop on in and you'll find you'll get adjusted to the not-all-that-cold water temperature reasonable quickly -- even for cold wimps like me.  I did wear a thin shortie wetsuit with a long-sleeved liner, more as a precaution to minimize coral scrapes or mild, tiny jellyfish stings than to stay warm.
Not quite sure what this fish is, but it was at least a meter long and hung out near our sailboat at Ilot Maitre.  New Caledonia.
One of the Ilot Maitre turtles I swam with hanging out on the coral.  Handsome fellow!  New Caledonia.
Another snorkel timing factor is one more of personal preference -- whether to go at low tide where the slightly deeper bommies are easier to see, or whether to aim for high tide, where there's more room to spare around the shallower bommies.  I tend to prefer to keep a little more distance, though if low tide arrives with calm and sunny water, I'm in, just a bit more careful.
This bludger was nearly a meter across.  Looked tasty.
Looks deceive.  Ilot Maitre, New Caledonia.
Ilot Maitre offers a reasonable selection of turtles, and thanks to its marine reserve status, more tasty-looking larger fish than what I usually see snorkeling.  The info displays at Ilot Amedee helped me feel better about my inability to test tasty theory on the ample, lackidaisical bludgers, who seemed to like cruising past our boat.  Apparently they're among the tropical reef fish well-known for carrying ciguatera.  As well, wikipedia notes they're "generally regarded as poor eating due to [their] soft oily flesh."
These reds were almost a foot long.
Ilot Maitre, New Caledonia.

The smaller, bright red fish -- guessing snapper -- I also saw snorkeling at Ilot Maitre were probably better eating than a bludger, but also likely to be ciguatera carriers.  One ciguatera finding from a marine school in Eleuthera is that contrary to popular belief, what matters most regarding ciguatera carriers is less about their size, and more about whether their diet is more pelagic vs. more reef-focused.  For example, a smaller barracuda that spends its life in a small reef area, the greater its likelihood for carrying ciguatera than a larger barracuda whose diet is pelagic.  Given ciguatera's cumulative nature, our lack of medical insurance and proximity most of the time to medical assistance, we rarely eat reef fish.
This fish is one I'd not previously seen anywhere else besides Ilot Maitre, New Caledonia.
All this caution about reef fish, as well as their protected status, helps make Ilot Maitre a bit of a real, live aquarium.  I regret my slowness at capturing underwater fish or knowing more about what each one is.  However, you're getting a bit of a visual taste of Ilot Maitre's swimmers.
Fish hiding spot, Ilot Maitre, New Caledonia.

By far, the biggest highlight in snorkeling Ilot Maitre isn't the coral or the fish -- it's the turtles.  There's enough turtles about that without too much effort, both times snorkeling at Ilot Maitre I saw and was able to swim with, photograph and even cam-video two different turtles.  They were both pretty good looking fellows, content to just rest a while amidst some bommies.  The last time I was able to swim with turtle was in Hawaii - years before cruising!  And that was mostly with a 3-finned fella.



Turtle coming up for air at Ilot Maitre. New Caledonia.  Eventually will post some turtle swimming videos.
Our friends Steve and Patty of s/v Armagh declared neighboring Ilot Signal was "awesome snorkeling."  Since they didn't make it to Ilot Mato or to Ilot Maitre not sure how they compare to Signal.  Though I doubt they had a pair of huge remoras cleaning their hull, like we did in Ilot Maitre.
Ilot Maitre and Ilot Signal shown relative to Noumea.  Ilot Mato is further South, though not as far as Prony Bay.  New Caledonia.
Hmmm, guess that means we just need to go back to New Caledonia to compare and find out for ourselves.  Not sure when could happen, but, using a Wayne-ism, "It wouldn't suck!"  
If you've checked out all 3 spots yourself (Ilot Maitre, Ilot Mato and Ilot Signal), please share your take and photos!   

Shredded flag -- evidence of
the wind opposite the lee side
of Ilot Maitre.
Location Location
This is a relatively recent retrospective of our time in Ilot Maitre (S22.20.002 E166.24.385), New Caledonia, October 31- November 2, 2016.

We are currently on passage in Australia, from Coffs Harbour (S30.18.349 E153.18.857) soon to pull in drop anchor at Camden Haven.   Both stops are in New South Wales territory, tuck-ins due to stronger winds than we like sailing in on our way to Pittwater. 







Cruising By the Numbers
  • Our November 2016 sail from New Caledonia to Australia, 790 miles
  • Our September 2016 sail from Vanuatu to New Caledonia, 305 miles.
  • Our August 2016 sail from Fiji to Vanuatu, 525 miles.
  • We cruised just under 440 miles in Fiji, between late May and early August.  
  • Our May 2016 sail from New Zealand to Fiji, 1090 miles.
  • December 2015 - May 2016 if we weren't cruising New Zealand or hunkering, we were making massive road trips from New Zealand's tip to its tail.
  • From December 2014 - November 2015 we sailed from Northern Florida's Atlantic side to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles, with more than a few stops in between.
  • December 2013 - May 2014 we sailed 1792  miles from Jacksonville Florida to the Bahamas and back.
  • March 2012 we bought Journey in St. Lucia.  September 2012 we moved aboard, did some boat work, then sailed her to Jacksonville Florida by June 2013, 3762 miles.
Up Next
We’re on our way to Pittwater, near Sydney  for pre-sale boat work, ~200 nautical miles left. Weather may force us to stop along the way, though it looks like we finally got the a good weather window we were waiting for.    Still a few final posts of New Caledonia and quite a few still to catch up on since we arrived in Australia on November 13, 2016.