Stepping aboard the 37m Monte Fino Masteka 2 at Port du Sud Marina in Nouméa, there was a distinct sense of déjà vu. I first reviewed this vessel when she arrived at Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club in Sydney eight years ago. Later we did a helicopter photo shoot off the Gold Coast. Now she is offered at US$100,000 a week to explore the world’s largest lagoon, or the Isle of Pines, or the Loyalty Islands, in the stunning waters of nearby New Cadonia.
That’s half the rate for a larger superyacht. Bear in mind that Masteka 2 has a superb master cabin with an ensuite jacuzzi bath on the principal deck, and below, there are two VIP doubles, two twins and two Pullmans. So, the vessel can accommodate 10-12 guests, and at US$14,000 a day, that translates to only about US$1,200 per head for an extraordinary experience.
An Australian owner commissioned the original Masteka, which combines names of the children. This was a 29m Monte Fino. He sailed her far and wide across the Pacific with Captain Carl Brandes, and was so impressed he ordered a larger Monte Fino from the same yard.
When she was delivered, Brandes and an Australian overseer, Phil McIntosh, proclaimed her the best Monte Fino ever built. Elegant classic interiors are by British designer Dick Young, and naval architecture was handled by another Briton, the late great Ed Dubois.
Some years of chartering in Australia and Fiji followed, if the owner was not making private trips with family and friends. Then recently she was bought by a New Caledonian group, who wondered why Fiji was getting so much hype. Now Masteka 2 has the first foreign superyacht charter license in New Caledonia and is offered there during her May-September 2018 season.
The vessel underwent a multi-million-dollar refit in Sydney in 2017, as superyachts are wanting to do, and when we were invited to Noumea for a short cruise in late November last year, she looked in first class condition, comparable with her debut at Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club.
Chateau Royal, which has 108 spacious suites spanning seven floors at the southern end of premier Anse Vata Beach, plus a huge aquatonic indoor spa pool, is an enthusiastic promoter of watersports in New Caledonia.
Apart from its sponsorship of the Windsurfing World Cup mentioned in the previous feature, and involvement with Masteka 2 charters, a 25m Ferretti called Iroue and 11m Boston Whaler 345 Conquest named Edisse are both part of their “mix and match” charter options available at Port du Sud Marina.
The latter two are run by Frenchman Michel Bonnet, who used to drive Mangustas and Leopards on the French Riviera before discovering New Caledonia. Iroue is very nicely outfitted and equipped, and suitable for shorter voyages and smaller groups than would book Masteka 2.
Masteka 2 has her own custom Castoldi 5m tender but using the Boston Whaler to reach some snorkeling and dive spots is recommended, and for fishing. Rods and reels are only 15s-20s, thus trolling is a light tackle affair. The lagoon is so large that it has deep water and big fish, making it unnecessary to troll outside the reef, although that too can be an exciting prospect.
Southeast trade winds can set up a small swell over longer fetches inside the lagoon, but Masteka 2 has “under way” and “at anchor” stabilisers which mostly take care of the motion. Settling back with a glass of French shiraz to enjoy the passages between tiny islets and over turquoise waters, we alternated between lounges and dining tables on the principal aft deck, the well-appointed salon beyond, and a lovely lounge and bar on the upper deck behind the wheelhouse.
An eight-guest jacuzzi forward of the wheelhouse wasn’t used during our time aboard but looked inviting. Other accoutrements include water-skis, wakeboard, inflatables, towable tubes, kneeboard, snorkeling gear in all sizes, and more fishing equipment. Plus paddleboards, single and double kayaks, diving hookah, subwing and so on. Scuba diving requires making arrangements for extra gear and possibly a dive master when booking.
Itineraries in New Caledonia are likely to involve the lagoon and the Isle of Pines, a half day trip away, and custom routes can be honed with the help of Laurie, the captain, and the New Caledonia Cruising Guide discussed in this feature’s companion piece. It is installed aboard Masteka 2. Seven days for such a schedule is just sufficient, but 10-14 days would be more relaxed, and after all, that is the object of the exercise.
To explore the remoter Loyalty Islands, it is probably necessary to pre-locate the vessel there. Fly into Noumea, spend a few days in a Chateau Royal suite, sample the high-end beach and town life, and then take Air Calédonie to Ouvéa, Lifou or Maré, wherever Masteka 2 is waiting. Lifou has vanilla plantations, like Tahaa in French Polynesia’s Society Islands, a mecca for those taken with the taste. We sometimes stop off at Tahaa, in the same lagoon as Raiatea, on the way to Bora Bora, and the scent of vanilla lies heavily in the air. Plenty of interesting New Caledonians are about, including Melanesians with different perspectives on how Pacific societies will progress, and the multi-cultural melange of southern Grande Terre.
The sun was setting on a Sunday as we motored back into Port du Sud one last time, having voyaged across the lagoon to historic Amédée Lighthouse, and returned via Îlot Maître, where Bora Borastyle over-water chalets are located. Other weekend boaters converged on the same channel.
For more information, please contact Laurie, or visit www.oceanalliance.com, www.chateau-royal.nc and www.cruising-newcaledonia.com.