Posted by: Carol | February 2, 2011

Of Lighthouses and Scuba Diving

The hiatus on the blog is because we are finally out cruising for real! The four cyclones that kept us close to port have all gone their separate ways. The monster category 5 Yasi is punishing Australia as I write but at least it is far away from here!

So with a nice weather window we have been exploring the shores of New Caledonia. We visited a popular day destination for Noumeans – the beautiful Amédée lighthouse on Amédée Island that marks the entrance to the passage of Boulari, one of only 3 natural passages through the reef surrounding New Caledonia.

We arrived at the small island on a Sunday and it was packed with tourists who had arrived by tour boat, jet ski, or (like us) private yacht. The place was buzzing with activity, including a reggae band and 5-minute helicopter rides, so we stayed aboard AVATAR and waited until the end of the day when the hordes departed and then we had the place to ourselves. We walked the perimeter along the prescribed boardwalk through the nesting grounds of bridled terns. They raise just one chick per family in burrows in the sand. In the winter (it is summer here now, of course) they vacate their underground nests and hundreds of sea snakes move into the neighborhood in their stead! (Footnote: at Noumea’s informative public aquarium we learned that the venom of a sea snake is more toxic than a cobra’s and that they can open their mouth wide enough to bite a person anywhere on the body, not just an earlobe! Also that they can swim backwards. So hands off, but it remains true that they are mild mannered and non-aggressive).

The lighthouse caretaker gave us access to climb up the interior all the way to the observation deck at the top. I counted 231 steps but the guidebooks claim 247. I wonder if the missing 16 steps belong to one last flight to service the light itself or it I really counted that badly! My photo of the lighthouse lantern taken when it activated at dusk shows thick branches and twigs on the roof – part of an osprey’s nest, not sloppy maintenance!

We brought a bottle of wine along with us and toasted to fair weather from our spectacular vantage point overlooking the sea, the setting sun and AVATAR bobbing at anchor below. Then down again before it became too difficult to navigate the narrow spiraling staircase in the dark!

Le Phare Amédée, as it is named in French, at 56 meters tall is the second tallest lighthouse in the world. It was constructed of iron in Paris as a demonstration in 1862 and stood on display in the city as a popular landmark for a couple of years before it was dismantled and sent on its way via barge down the Seine to the port of Le Havre and then across the ocean to New Caledonia in sections, a cargo of some 1200 crates weighing a total of 388 tons. Parisians missed their icon so much the Eiffel Tower was constructed in it’s place! The lighthouse was reassembled in New Caledonia and first lit on the saint’s day of the empress Eugénie, wife of Napoléon III.

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Next morning we took the dinghy to the outer reef and Mike and I did a warm-up scuba dive just to get back in practice. Next day we located another dive site, the sunken French WWII patrol boat La Dieppoise. It was deliberately scuttled here in 1988 to create an artificial reef and dive attraction. Usually the wreck is marked by buoys but there were none in sight, possibly because of the cyclone, so we had to locate it ourselves. Rod and Mike coordinated a search pattern using a combination of the depth sounder and the Furuno “searchlight” sonar to find an aberration that indicated the location of the ship. When they were confident the Dieppoise had been pinpointed we dropped anchor in the sandy bottom nearby. Then Mike and I launched our dive directly off AVATAR, taking the “giant step” right off the side into astonishingly neon blue water, then pulling ourselves hand over hand down the anchor chain until we reached bottom at 26 meters. There we found ourselves in the midst of a big school of barracuda and a shark on the outskirts. Using Mike’s dive computer compass we set off in the preplanned direction and sure enough, in 40 yards or so, the bow of the ship loomed up out of the blue gloom.

It was an excellent dive, the sunken ship a haven for fish. Clouds of tens of thousands of small fish fry swirled in the recesses and larger fish had staked out their territory in the prolific food chain. Corals and other marine growth had gained a foothold, but the structure of the ship was still intact. Mike and I cruised slowly down one side of the wreck and back again up the other, watching our depth and bottom time, then navigated by compass again back to the anchor chain. Later when I logged the two dives in my logbook I discovered La Dieppoise had the distinction of being the 100th dive of my second diving career!



  1. You are an amazing writer and bring all this to life for us back here in COLD Tucson.
    Thanks as always

  2. So great to hear from you. You describe a lovely dive. I am so happy that the weather has passed you by!! As Larry mentioned – freezing here — pipes popping everywhere!! Good thing we are home!!

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