Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Into the calm of the lagoon

Some more photos our trip into the lagoon in the amazing calm.

and the laundry never stops

Busy anchorage ...

Our pet remoras that live under the boat

and the welcoming committee with its own remora

Critters ashore (Johnathan photo)

More snakes.  There are so many snakes on the islands.

Hermit Crab (Johnathan photo)

More Johnathan photos

Lots of turtles too (Johnathan photo)

Of course, we eat some of the creatures here too.  Johnathan filleting one of the three walu we caught that day.

Busy now as two boats in the anchorage.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Johnathan's Photo Blog

[Here is a blog post written by Johnathan with his photos from his photo shoot ashore at Isle Kouare]

 I took these on my sister's birthday while she and Mom were icing her cake. We were out there for at least 2 hours and probably shot 350 photos, using Dad's "big lens (58-300mm)". Out of those photos I have thirty that I like, my favorite being #4 on this post (It's lookin' at you). It was challenging not to focus on the sky and have a little brown blur that is supposed to be a bird.


It's lookin' at you

Although this isn't spectacular I just liked the light on the wings

This is the most well camouflaged bird I've ever seen (It also might be a stick) 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

New Caledonia - Camping, friends, snakes and kiting, and more (Part 2 of 2)

[This is part 2 of 2 of Liz's most recent letter home]

New Caledonia is well-known as a kiting destination, and we have not been disappointed.  Since Honey left for NZ, we have spent a few days at Ilot Maitre, where the government provides free moorings (to avoid yachts anchoring on the coral) and all we have to do is dinghy ashore, walk the short path to the windward side of the island, and launch from the beach.  The trade winds blow on-shore, so we don't even need a safety boat.  Our friend Philip on SV BLUE BIE had tracked down a new board for Max at one of the local kiting shops, so he was especially happy to no longer be on an undersized board, and we were able to kite together for the first time.  I was very nervous when we arrived on the long kiting beach, with the wind catching my board making it seem heavy and awkward, and expert kiters whizzing by just a few feet away off the waves lapping beside me.  I wondered how I would ever manage to operate my kite without crashing into something or someone, but somehow, by remembering to breathe and just doing 'the next thing' as it needed to be done, I soon found myself on the water.  Unlike Ailuk, where we kited downwind right from the beach, at Maitre, where we were being blown onshore, I walked out into the water  until I felt like I was far enough away to start.  Ilot Maitre is an ideal place to kite because the water is always shallow enough to stand, and at some tides it is hardly waist-high (even for me!)  Several kiting schools operate at Maitre, so it didn't take long (a couple of days) for me to realize that there were students on the water who knew even less than I did!  The 'rules of the road' apply in the same way as they do for sailboats - starboard tack has right of way, upwind kites lift their kites and downwind kites lower them when meeting, etc.  The first day I was out, it trusted my 'learner stance' (and bright yellow flotation vest) to create my cone of protection around me, and rarely had to do much about the rules of the road, but within a few sessions, I found that I had a developing instinct for making way for the other kiters (other than raising my kite to the '12 o'clock' position, cringing, and hoping they avoided me, or crashing into the water and making them turn to avoid me!) 

Photo by Johnathan

Photo by Johnathan
We have now spent a total of four days on the water, and the difference in our skills was noticeable each day.  We were adopted by the more experienced kiters in the anchorage, and they were generous with their time and suggestions.  One of them even spent some time one morning standing near me and giving specific tips and pointers to help me go upwind and to learn to turn, as well as some time with Max teaching him to jump, which he started to do with about two minutes of instruction! Shattered as I was at the end of each day (especially with spending what seemed like most of my time in 'aquafitness mode' walking through the water away from the beach, dragging my kite and my board like a dejected school child) it felt good to be stretching ourselves and learning; by the end of the last day, I had a growing sense of capability and capacity... this might even be fun!

Photo by Johnathan
The end of September brings 'birthday season' aboard Fluenta - mine is the 22nd, Victoria's is the 26th, and Johnathan's is just around the corner in mid-October.  We had an early celebration of all the kids' birthdays while Honey was still in New Cal (complete with cake, of course, decorated by Victoria and Ella, as well as a treasure hunt set up by Jude on their foredeck) but for our actual birthdays we stocked up on cheese and baguettes (but not red wine because they have certain afternoons when the grocery store cannot sell it, and this is when we did our provisioning!) and headed out to anchor.  The wind dropped for the first few days, so we felt like we were anchored in an aquarium at Ilot Mato, where we celebrated my birthday.  On the 22nd, I woke to an absolutely still lagoon, and a brunch of French toast laid out on our saloon table.  Max and the kids had been shopping in Noumea, so I opened a beautiful watch, chocholate  and a cozy 'poncho' to wear after kiting.  Philip and Maggie from Blue Bie dropped by after brunch for a visit before heading south towards Isle des Pins, and we spent the afternoon walking on the beach and walking to the top of the tiny island to take photos of the beautiful view.  The hike was a milestone for Benjamin - for the first time, he made it to the top on his own two feet :)  Max carried him down, as it was steep scrambling in places, but it is neat to see how he is growing up.  Ilot Mato in the calm was unique because Max and I actually went paddle-boarding around the reef; the water was so flat that I made it ashore for yoga without even getting wet (a relief because I was carrying a yoga mat and iPad in a hopefully-waterproof drybag).  We haven't seen many sharks recently, but Ilot Mato made up for that - three of them welcomed us as we anchored, and when we paddled to the beach, we saw 6-7 little black tips swimming in the shallows - they were funny when we startled them, because they would all scatter in a cloud of sand the moment that one of them realized that we were too close. 

Welcoming committee

A bit less crowded than Noumea

Our friend Philip on Blue Bie heading out.

Paddleboard trip to see the turtles and sharks.

The view from the top of the hill. Fluenta visible in the background.

Calm (Blue Bie photo)

Time for a swim
Benjamin practicing his Trump impression

Johnathan photo.

Because we have elected to spend our whole season in New Caledonia in the same lagoon (ie we are not headed off-shore to visit the Loyalty Islands) we have launched Trickle from her snug spot on our davits, and she is readily available for the kids to launch from the foredeck on any day that we have light winds.  The first day she was available, the five kids went for a sail at Ilot Maitre when we were there with Honey.  It was delightful for the grownups to watch the kids sailing around the anchorage and tying up to a mooring for their picnic lunch.  We found out about the funniest moment when they came back - Benjamin 'had to go' so they undid the leg snaps on his dragon suit and Johnathan held him in the air over the side to do his business.  The kids are nothing if not resourceful :)  The rest of our sailing in Trickle has been a little more mundane, and every few days, we have been able to enjoy the little sail journeying around the bay.  Victoria figured out a way to reef the sail by wrapping it around the mast before it is secured to the end of the boom, so this has increased our wind limits to about 12-13 kts.  We were having a lovely afternoon of sailing earlier this week at Ilot Kouare when Victoria and I had a bit of an adventure.  Everyone had had a turn in the dinghy, and as we were heading back to Fluenta for the final time, one of the two rudder pintles (pins) broke off, and the rudder was suddenly held on by only one.  On the helm, Victoria kept her cool, reached back and held onto the pieces, and given that we were only a short distance upwind of Fluenta, we signalled Max to come get us in the dinghy.  Even with a small boat, cruising becomes 'maintenance in exotic locations' :)  Thankfully, we are likely to be able to find the spare piece in Noumea when we return. 

Reefed mainsail

Full boat

Trickle in Noumea

Basic seamanship training.
Johnathan has come into his own on this birthday excursion behind the lens of Max's big SLR camera [photos to follow as a separate blog post Johnathan is drafting].  He especially loves taking pictures of other family members when they are not looking so he can get the most natural expressions on their faces.  On several occasions, he has taken beautiful shots, and on the afternoon of Victoria's birthday, he and Max spent a few hours ashore (on Johnathan's request) photographing the ospreys and rare noddis (audis?) that nest there, as well as the sea snakes that are ubiquitous on these islands.   

Noddi Bird

We spent Victoria's birthday at Ilot Kouare.  We had thought about stopping at a little place called Ilot Ndo, but when we arrived and saw the 'recommended' anchorage (within a channel within the reef, anchored fore and aft; we had hoped we could just hang off the side of the island itself, but it turned out to be far too deep) we headed a few miles west to a place with numerous anchorages that would be suitable every wind direction.  Victoria's preferred brunch was crepes, and thankfully she was willing to make them, as they are time-consuming on one pan.  She and I spent a lovely afternoon together decorating her cake.  She wanted to try out all the different flower-making techniques she had learned (kind of a sampler cake) and I was only too happy to stick to making icing and accepting her offer to form a few flowers.  Even though we are together 24/7, it was an all-too-rare treat for both of us to have an open-ended period of time together.  Our friends on Exodus had left us with one of their favourite games when they moved back into a house, and it has become a favourite for us as well, so Victoria's choice for the evening was a marathon session of Rummikub, during which we kept a running score separate from our usual sheet (which we keep by the season).  It was a low-key but laughter-filled evening celebrating Victoria.  Despite not having had a nap, Benjamin managed to see the evening through to its cake at completion ... but he slept in in the morning!

Work in the galley

Cake detail

We are now moored at Ilot Amadee, and will head to Noumea to restock on Sunday.  It looks like the wind-switch will turn back on next week, and with the return of the trade winds, we will head to Ilot Maitre again for kiting.

Ilot Amede

View from the lighthouse top.

Poisonous sea snake.

With love from our hearts to yours,

At 2017-09-29 10:39 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 22°28.58'S 166°27.83'E

Monday, 9 October 2017

New Caledonia - Camping, friends, snakes and kiting, and more (Part 1 of 2)

[This is part 1 of 2 of Liz's most recent letter home]


Time has flown since the kids and I returned to Fluenta from Canada, and our reunited family sailed from Port Vila to New Caledonia.  We have already posted pictures from our stop at the Tanna volcano, so I won't say any more other than to exclaim that for once, an over-priced tourist outing was worth the money :)  It was an extraordinary sensation to stand at the rim and feel the earth vibrate with the sounds of the exploding lava.  As the sun set and the sky dimmed, we were treated to an ever-increasing visual spectacle of brilliant oranges and reds contrasting against the darkened crater.

We had a fast two-night passage from Tanna to New Caledonia, timing our arrival for morning light and agreeable currents into the pass (which, we have heard, can have currents as much as 5 kts on certain tides).  As it was, we had four knots pushing us, giving us an un-heard-of speed over ground of 10 kts :)  In beautiful sunlight and flat conditions, we sailed across the lagoon with about 20 kts behind us right up to the entrance to Noumea harbour.

Approaching Woodin Canal as sail to Noumea
The most overwhelming thought as we entered the bay was, "WOW! There are a LOT of boats here!"  After the relative solitude of the Marshalls and our early-in-the-season experience in Vanuatu, we had a real sense of culture shock as we looked around at dozens of boats of all sizes in the busy harbour in Noumea: we were surrounded by fast-ferries, sailboats, power boats, pirogues (Polynesian canoes), and even the French Navy and Gendarmarie Marine zipping around the harbour; Johnathan was fascinated when we found ourselves anchored near the water-based obstacle course for the Army.  Friends on a nearby boat pointed us in the direction of the Port Moselle Marina, where we were able to get access to a dinghy dock, wifi, and the all-important hot showers.  A beer at the marina cafe and baguettes from the local bakery seemed to complete our sense of having arrived in this European enclave of the South Pacific.

A little busier here than Vanuatu.

But they do have baguettes and beer
On the more official side, our arrival on a Saturday morning meant that clearing in stretched over several days, with Quarantine meeting us at the dinghy dock that afternoon (but not coming to the boat as planned, as Max had brought our paperwork and a bag of fresh produce to the dock when he went to pick them up, and they decided that he had saved them a trip) and the walking tour of Noumea providing the opportunity to complete the process with Customs and Immigration on Monday.

and a few pastries

The highlight of our arrival in Noumea was our reunion with Jude, Tim, Ella, and Samuel on SY HONEY.  The kids had been emailing back and forth for the previous few weeks to make plans for their activities, and as usual, all the moms knew was that we would feed whomever we found at our tables for mealtimes.  Generally, this turned out to be some form of potluck, although we also progressed to mix & match as well, with 'kids on HONEY, parents on FLUENTA' or vice versa being announced by the kids sometime during the afternoon, or one of the moms suggesting the arrangement. 

Cooking contest results

Cooking contest results
We ate especially well on Monday evening: Victoria and Ella convinced Johnathan and Samuel to participate in a Girls vs Boys cooking competition.  The girls cooked aboard Fluenta, while the boys were in the Honey galley.  The rules were simple: they had a set menu to start from for the dinner, with a salad and dessert of their own inspiration being served on the side.  Each parent had a scoring sheet handed to them as a plates of double-servings of "bangers & mash" were set before us.  The overall score ended up being a tie, but the boys took the honours for fanciest sausages as they had wrapped theirs in puff pastry before baking them, the girls provided the most intricately laid out salad, and both provided a very tasty dessert: pear crumble from the boys and a decorated devil's food cake (thanks to Gigi from NIRVANA for the recipe!) with chocolate mousse frosting from the girls.  The parents were so full at the end of the evening we could hardly walk!

Chefs at work

Chefs at work
After a few days in Noumea (including visits to the Museum of New Caledonia and the Maritime Museum) the Honey kids had a long weekend from on-line school, so we all headed out to the islands for a few days.  The wind was expected to be (unusually) westerly, so we chose a little island about 10 nm away, and the kids were finally able to put their other favourite plans into action: they camped ashore for three nights.  This gave them a great chance to practice their teamwork and leadership (and eat baked beans from a can) while it gave the parents a chance to not be required to show so much leadership (and eat gourmet meals that we didn't have to share with our kids)!  At one point, a local family came ashore to camp in celebration of a birthday, and they moved into the same clearing.  They were lovely and friendly (and fascinated by our travelling lifestyle); I was glad to practice my somewhat-rusty French (happily accepting a piece of fried 'bagnet' made by one of the ladies for my troubles) but without a common language, the kids found it a bit awkward.   They preferred to move to a new site, and they were quite comfortable there for the next two days.  Even Benjamin spent the better part of one day ashore.  We took him to see the kids in the morning, and he announced that he wouldn't be returning to Fluenta: "I'm staying ashore with the kids!" :)  It was very quiet on the boat with no kids, and it was a nice chance to work on some projects.  In case you are wondering, we picked Benjamin up before supper; he's not *quite* ready to sleep away just yet (and neither is Mom *quite* ready to let him go, although we have made him his own little bunk extension in our cabin by heaping blankets on a layer of off-season clothing stored in drybags on the side bench).

Sailing in formation with Honey to the camping location


Benjamin posing by the cactus.

Fluenta and Honey at anchor.

Both Benjamin and Johnathan came home with a physical reminder of their camping trip: Benjamin scraped his bare bum when he tried to climb a tree to reach the bag of marshmallows that the kids had put out of his reach (yes, really), and Johnathan stepped on a spine from one of the cactus plants that grew on the island.  Benjamin was fine by the next day, but Johnathan had two holes in his foot - one from which he bravely removed a 1" spike from the cactus with tweezers, and the other on his instep where he had inadvertently kicked a sharp branch.  Surprisingly, the hole where the spine had been healed up right away, but the wound on the instep became infected to the point that his foot had begun to swell by the time we returned to Noumea, so for once we took advantage of the first-world medical facilities available due to the French influence, and brought him to the Emergency Room at the local private hospital.  It was very quiet when we arrived, and Johnathan was taken immediately for an ultrasound on his foot.  To take his mind off of the discomfort, I reminisced about how we had first seen his heartbeat with a similar device; Johnathan joked that he hoped the technician wouldn't see any heartbeats in his foot :)  Thankfully, despite the swelling, there was nothing (living or otherwise) in his foot, and a course of antibiotics had him back to normal within a few days. Max and Johnathan waited there while I walked to the pharmacy; as the aide was carefully bandaging his foot, the quiet room erupted into mayhem: a real (and noisy) emergency case had shown up, and Johnathan's foot was set aside while they took care of her.  It was all calm again by the time I returned :)   We have generally managed to avoid antibiotics on the boat, so this led to lots of dinner-table conversations around the importance of different flora in our guts, and how antibiotics and probiotics have their different roles in our health.  Since the four bottles of medication each came with a dosing syringe, we even topped up our painting supply cupboard once he was finished with them :)

Great service at the hospital.  Rather nicer than the one in the Marshall Islands.

Spending time with Honey reminded us just how much we enjoy our cruising friends, and how much we missed them during our season in the Marshalls.  It was delightful to see the smiles on all four kids' faces, and to see the patience with which all four of them interacted with Benjamin.  One evening, Benjamin and I had dinner at Honey while Max and the kids went to see the movie, "Dunkirk" on one of its last showings in Noumea (in French!).  When it was time to go collect them at the marina, I left Benjamin briefly at Honey while I went to Fluenta to gather some items to bring ashore.  When I returned, both he and Ella were snuggled under her duvet, and Benjamin was 'reading' her a story :)

Bedtime stories
A bit of France in the South Pacific

New Caledonia museum
Fresnel lens at the Maritime Museum

Massive wooden rudder at the Maritime Museum.

The main focus of Honey's sojourn in Noumea ended up being the repair of a daggerboard that had broken on their passage from Vanuatu.  It was finally completed about a week after our camping trip, and then the emphasis for the next few days was on fine-tuning the new daggerboard to fit the slot, before they were able to turn their attention to the weather between Noumea and NZ.  They found a non-terrible weather window just before their visas ran out, and all too soon they were on their way south, with Max texting them the weather synopsis every evening while they were at sea.  We breathed a collective sigh of relief when we found that they had arrived safe and sound in Opua!

[Part 2 of 2 to follow in the next blog post]

Tickle sailing at Islot Maitre with Honey
A full load.
Sword fights on the foredeck.

and games of Risk