I have the morning to myself, despite the ship being anchored offshore and tenders running to the little village of Easo. I take a 2.5 hour tour called “Luecila Beach & Scenic Drive” leaving at 12:15PM. We are taken to a beautiful white sand beach near the main town of We on Baie de Chateaubriand. Richard is our tour guide, and does a good job describing their local customs as we drive for the half hour it takes to get across the bushy central part of the island to our destination on the other side.
The fine white sand beach has to be at least 3-4 kms long, and has some very nice coral and fishes, which I snorkel out to see. The water is a bit cloudy because of the swell coming into the bay, but in spite of this, I enjoy the hour swimming in the tropical waters. I see a few fish, and some live coral, and briefly spot a small shark swimming below me. There are only about a dozen people on the beach, other than our group of about 30, along with a few beach dogs.
Richard tells us there are only about 10,000 people living on the island, despite it being geographically quite big. Tourism is their only industry, so the economy is not great, since they only see about two cruise ships per week on average. There is one 4 star hotel located in We.
I don’t have anything planned for today’s port of call, however the daily program says there is a free activity where everyone will be driven by bus to Wabao village. The Captain of the Paul Gauguin and the village chief will exchange gifts at a welcome ceremony. So a hundred or so of my fellow passengers (and me) pile into buses and make the 20-minute journey down the road. We encounter cute children dressed for the occasion, who sing us a few songs. The captain and the chief make brief speeches, and then there is some food for those who decide to stay. The rest of us return to the ship, or are dropped off at a snorkel area called Yenjele Beach. The beach looked divine, but I stayed on the bus and returned to the ship for lunch, and have a snooze in a sofa in a shady spot on the pool deck.
I meet some interesting people at dinner in L’Etoile this evening. Two couples are dedicated eclipse chasers, and are from the same university town in New Hampshire. One elderly couple are SCUBA divers, with the wife having done over 1,000 dives, and her husband having done over 1,500 dives! She no longer dives, but her husband continues. The husband of the other couple was an engineer with AT&T before it was broken up, after which he retired and went into the telephone standards industry. I also meet a Brit living on the Isle of Man who arrives at the table a bit late. He is a live wire, and apparently spends his retirement kite surfing at various locales around the world. He really likes going to South America, where he asserts the best kite surfing in the world can be found.
I depart on an all-day tour to Amédée Lighthouse, which is located on an island by the same name offshore from Noumea. This was not the tour I wanted, but it was the only one available which offered some snorkelling, after I boarded the ship a few days ago. We are taken to the boat basin, where we are joined by passengers from the P&O Pacific Jewel. Needless to say, there are lots of people on this large excursion boat, the Mary-D. The passengers from the P&O ship are mainly Australians, and many are families with young children. This is not my ideal tour, since it is quite noisy!
Despite that, the tour was well done. The lighthouse on the island is made of metal, and was shipped prefabricated from France in 1862. We had a superb lunch with wine and punch included, and with entertainment from a singing and dancing troupe. I enjoyed the lovely (alcoholic) fruit punch, along with the BBQ pork and seafood, and lots of salads and pasta dishes.
The only real disappointment is the snorkelling in the lagoon on one side of the island. I snorkel after lunch and find the reef is totally dead, although there are a few fish swimming around, and the Striped Sea Snake (poisonous) also makes an appearance! They also offer glass-bottomed boat rides and rides out to the edge of the reef, but I don’t bother with those excursions. After snorkelling, I prefer to just sit under a shade tree.
I learn from the Pacific Jewel passengers that on eclipse day their ship missed being on position on the Line of Totality. Apparently about 600 passengers had booked their cruise predicated on that happening, although there was also a large group of passengers who didn’t care one way or the other. That would be totally devastating for those who expected to observe Totality, but didn’t get the chance. Apparently the ship left port a bit late, and encountered strong headwinds, and couldn’t get to the position in time.
I am up at 5:30AM, beating my alarm by a few minutes. Skipping breakfast, I gather my eclipse gear and setup on the Pool Deck. I mount my Kestrel 4500 portable weather station on a nearby towel deposit box, and also mount my little Fuji point-and-shoot camera on the same box to take some HD video during Totality (and a minute before and after).
My observing log entry for the eclipse:
Date/Time – local ship’s time Start: Nov 14, 2012 6:49AM Finish: Nov 14, 2012 8:12AM
Location: On the totality track 200km south of New Caledonia in the Coral sea, South Pacific. Position: 26° 40′ 0″ S 166° 46′ 54″ E
Observers: 320 passengers (plus crew) on board the Paul Gauguin cruise ship
I observe a total solar eclipse from the pool deck of the cruise ship Paul Gauguin, as part of a TravelQuest tour group. Rick Fienberg and Bill Kramer, in cooperation with Captain Ante-Toni Mirkovic decide to turn the ship 180° just before 1st Contact in order to avoid a large cloud which is starting to obscure the view of the Sun. This proves to be a good move, since we are now slowly sailing away from the clouds in the area, and yet continue to stay within the maximum totality centreline track.
1st Contact 6:57:20AM Alt=26º
2nd Contact 8:01:20AM Alt=40º
Totality lasts 3 minutes, 1 second
3rd Contact 8:04:21AM Alt=40º
4th Contact 9:16:47AM Alt=57º
A few minutes before 2nd Contact, my portable weather station records the expected sharp drop in temperature (see graph below), and the light levels are greatly reduced. About 10 minutes before 2nd Contact, Venus is visible to the left of the Sun, and then as darkening continues, Saturn also appears equidistant between Venus and the Sun.
A dramatic darkening occurs during totality (2nd Contact to 3rd Contact). During totality, I visually observe spectacular coronal streamers. Although I do not find that Bailey’s Beads are easily observed during this eclipse, I observe a red glow around parts of the perimeter of the Sun and some solar prominences are visible.
There is lots of hooting and hollering as the (second) spectacular diamond ring appears at 3rd Contact. I capture these human reactions to experiencing a total solar eclipse using a point-and-shoot camera in HD video mode.
I stop observing and photographing the eclipse shortly after 3rd Contact, although I continue to take temperature readings to the end.
Everyone has a smile on his or her face after the event is over, and there are lots of stories told afterward at lunch and dinner. Despite it only being 9:30 in the morning, Corona beer and cocktails are served to celebrate our success. I have a celebratory cappuccino, and finally have my breakfast mid-morning at La Palette.
2012 Total Solar Eclipse – Bill Kramer’s Eclipse Chasers website, including his personal report and links to other reports
I take temperature measurements from my position on the Pool Deck before, during and after totality. My readings are measured with a Kestrel 4500 personal weather station, which is mounted about one metre above the ship’s deck.
The temperature drop is 3.5ºC, which is much lower than expected. Obviously the mild climate near the ocean’s surface results in less daytime heating, and therefore less temperature range is covered for this eclipse at this location.
I dedicate the temperature measurements I took during this eclipse to the memory of Jim Low, a long time member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre. If Jim had survived, I’m sure he would have traveled with his fellow Toronto Centre members to Australia, and would have recorded the temperature drop, as he did when I traveled with this group to observe the Total Solar Eclipse (my first) from the Libyan Sahara Desert in 2006.
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We pick up the pilot at 3AM this morning, and arrive a few minutes early at at 8AM, anchoring in Kuto Bay. This place hasn’t changed at all from the last time I was here aboard the Volendam two years ago Vanuatu & New Caledonia. It is cool but comfortable today, with lots of clouds around, and it even sprinkles rain for a few minutes this morning.
I leave early on the second available tender, which is not full for some strange reason. We only have a few hours here, since the ship has to leave at Noon to keep our appointment with the Sun and Moon for tomorrow’s Total Solar Eclipse. People who snorkelled in the bay today report the water felt cold, but the reef fish were enjoyable.
We depart Kuto Bay on time at Noon, and by mid-afternoon we are underway in a southerly direction, with the wind running to 31km/h and the temperature at only 21ºC. It is a fairly rough ocean, with heavy cloud cover – it almost looks like the North Pacific instead of the South Pacific. The ship is lurching and crashing into the large waves, and the passengers are also lurching around a bit more than usual!
I attend the 4PM lecture – Last Chance Eclipse Update – Rick Fienberg, Holly Gilbert & Bill Kramer give us some good last minute advice about the eclipse event coming up tomorrow morning. The weather forecast from Jay Anderson looks very promising…the chance of cloud cover is now running only 20% where we will be located.
I skip the Port Talk at 5:30PM about the islands of Mare, Lifou & Port Vila by the Travel Concierge Manager. I need some time to update my travel journal, and hopefully create another blog entry to cover the first few days aboard the Paul Gauguin. Later, I go to dinner at L’Etoille and sit at a large table where I have lots of stimulating conversation to participate in. After returning to my cabin, I check over my equipment to ensure I’m ready for tomorrow’s Total Solar Eclipse, which will be all over by 9:16AM local time.
Oct 17, 2010 – Sunday – Noumea, Grand Terre, New Caledonia
We arrive in port on time this morning at 8am and are serenaded by a local dance troupe performing Polynesian dances on the dock. Noumea is a large, and well developed city, however since it is Sunday, most stores are closed. “Casino”, the supermarket across the street from where we are docked is open until noon, which according to my friends who lived in France is “very French”, since Sunday afternoon is reserved for time with family. The prices in the supermarket are as I expected: about three times higher than anywhere else for foreign imported goods, and reasonable prices for local goods and those items imported from France. New Caledonia is a French colony.
I quickly decide during our little excursion to the market this morning that it is too hot to bother with any tours. I return to the ship and have a swim in the Sea View pool. There is lemonade being served poolside, so I soon cool down. I go out on the Promenade deck and sit in a lounge chair in the shade and work on my journal and photos – watching the world go by. There are huge numbers of sailboats moored in the harbour…almost to the point of it being crowded. People in power boats scoot alongside our ship, waving hello before taking off again
A local dance troupe Temonoroa Dance Group put on a terrific show of Polynesian dancing in the show lounge aboard ship this evening. They get some audience participation going, with both the men and women in the audience appearing on stage. The Volendam departs right after the show, once the troupe goes ashore with all their costumes and gear. She creeps out of the harbour dead slow past all the sailboats that are moored for the night.
Please note, the photos below are from two cruises, this one in 2010 aboard the Volendam, and a followup Solar Eclipse cruise in 2012 aboard the Paul Gauguin.
Oct 16, 2010 – Saturday – Kotu, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia
We cruise by the southern tip of La Grande Terre, the largest island in New Caledonia this morning on our way to Ile des Pins. Volendam anchors in the bay by the little town of Kotu at noon. The scenery is strikingly beautiful, with the Araucaria pine trees this island is known for visible all around the bay. The water is a beautiful tropical blue colour; the weather is warm without being too hot – there are a few clouds in the otherwise sunny sky. We are at anchor from noon to 8pm this evening, so we have lots of time to go ashore.
My friends and I choose to stay onboard until later in the day when it is cooler and the crowds have dissipated somewhat. It’s nice to just sit up on the Lido deck, have some lunch while sipping on a Beck’s beer, and watch the beautiful scenery all around us. We take a tender ashore around 4pm and explore the two gorgeous white sand beaches that are on Baie de Kuto and Baie de Kanamera. It is an easy five minute walk between the two beaches under the shade of some lovely trees. Kids and tourists play in the water, and people tell me there is some good snorkelling out by the rocks in Baie de Kanamera.
I’m not swimming today, since I did so much swimming and snorkelling yesterday. I just sit in the shade of the trees drinking in the magic of this beautiful island. Its idyllic reputation is well deserved. We wait on the beach at Baie de Kuto to watch the sun set over the Volendam before taking a late tender back to the ship. We set sail on schedule at 8pm, and slowly cruise until our morning arrival in Noumea.