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

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