Friday, 24 November 2017

Last few weeks in New Caledonia



[Part one of two from Liz's letter home on the last few weeks in New Caledonia and the first part of the passage to New Zealand].

Hello!
It has (as usual) taken a couple of days at sea to gather the courage to sit at the chart table and write to you :) It is hard to say which day of our passage this is - officially, we cleared out last Thursday, and left the following day, but in fact, we used Friday as a 'staging' day to position ourselves nearer to the pass and to do our last preparations before setting out for at least a week offshore, and actually started our voyage on Saturday morning. As I write this, it is Monday, and we are nearing out 'mythical turning point in the ocean' where we will stop going east and start sailing towards NZ. The winds are expected to fill in from the East, and without this early jog towards Fiji, we would have had trouble aiming for NZ, and would have found ourselves struggling at the end of the trip to reach Opua.
You haven't seen many emails from us this season; I always thought I would write my note "tomorrow" and it has taken being on passage for "tomorrow" to come!
After our friends on Honey left for NZ in September, we pretty much moved to Ilôt Maître for the month of October, kiting every day and returning to Noumea for a rest (and provisions) on the days when the winds dropped. Victoria and Johnathan even spent a week learning to windsurf when Greer and Russ (and kids Jaiya and Kai) on Tika arrived and offered to teach them - it was like a watersports summer camp! Kiting has a demanding learning curve, and I found it humbling to be climbing it; even with the help of various cruising friends who offered suggestions and moral support, the only way to progress was to continually return to the water and keep trying. On the one hand, it was exhausting, and on the other, it was exhilarating to experience the evolution of new skills. It strikes me that there are life lessons hidden in this experience as well... I knew I was making progress when I shifted from being relieved to be not kiting on super windy days to being disappointed. Max literally came along by leaps and bounds - one of our friends gave him a quick lesson on jumping the the kite, and he was off :)
When a week of light winds were forecast towards the end of October, we left with Tika to explore the Baie de Gadji, which is to the north of the famous Isle of Pines (Ile des Pins). We had hesitated about going, as we have admittedly become a bit jaded about travelling two days to see beautiful anchorages, when we have already seen so many. All I can say is that la Baie de Gadji was worth the effort, and I am glad we went! The shallow waters of the bay were a constant shade of turquoise, that seemed to offer a physically soothing sensation ... Gadji was a destination that was good for the soul.
There are two anchorages at Gadji, an 'inner' and an 'outer' one, with the inner being notoriously shallow, generally only recommended for swing keel monohulls and shallow draft catamarans. The outer anchorage was very crowded, with minimal swing room, when we arrived on Sunday afternoon, and after getting the soundings report from Tika, we elected to give the inner anchorage a try on Monday morning. This was admittedly the most nervous we have been traversing a channel, but we had good light, a rising spring (new moon) tide, and good waypoints, so we took it very slowly, and never saw less than 2.8 ft under the keel. We joked that we would need the spring tide to leave again, and as it turned out, we got it - we stayed two weeks and left on the high tide at the full moon :) Even within the anchorage, Max and Victoria went around in the dinghy with a portable depth sounder and GPS to select the deepest point in the basin to avoid Fluenta bottoming out with each low tide. We took photos of the kids swimming under Fluenta at low tide, and there was just room for them to squeeze under the keel; we also took a photo of Max sitting on the bottom with the keel on his shoulder.
As it turned out, we had a beautiful two weeks in an idyllic location, snorkelling, swimming, swinging from spinnaker poles and halyards, and socializing. The snorkelling was especially beautiful, and we went several times to the nearby pass where the coral was colourful and shallow. For me, the highlight was practicing yoga every day with Greer, sharing my favourite (Eoin Finn) podcasts with her, and learning Ashtanga yoga sequences in return. Victoria and Jaiya spent several days preparing treats for our Halloween party (gooey eyeballs and bloody fingers), and both kids participated in three days of 'Baie de Gadji all-comers regatta' fun: Russel set up a course between the anchored boats and a windward mark, gave a quick briefing on time keeping and rules of the road, and we had two windsurfers, Trickle, and Tika Taka (their 14-ft sailing dinghy) competing against themselves for personal best times, mixing around the teams every few rounds. Even the parents got out on the water! It was delightful to see all the kids' skills improve over the course of a few afternoons, and heartening to see 7-foot Trickle holding her own against the larger Tika Taka; Victoria and Johnathan each took their turn to single-hand Trickle, and Johnathan and Jaiya were a force to be reckoned with in Tika Taka :)
After our 'holiday' at Gadji, it was time to prepare Fluenta and start watching the weather for the passage to NZ. We spent a week in the marina in Noumea while we had an injector hose replaced in our Perkins diesel (we are all for using Rescue Tape when we are far from a marine center, but it seemed foolhardy to set off on a challenging voyage with a known leak... we have already spent one passage to NZ changing out a tin can of diesel in the engine every few hours ... and Max has already discovered another leak, since we left).
Our week on the dock also lent itself to spending a day as tourists: we passed a memorable few hours at the Noumea Aquarium, which we loved: even the kids commented that even though there weren't a lot of exhibits, the ones that they had were worth the visit. Highlights included the "FISH TV" room (ie a big tank containing sharks, rays, an enormous turquoise Napoleon wrasse, several kinds of groupers, a few sweet lips, and many other smaller fish: one wall was entirely made of glass, with a darkened sitting area and soft music playing. I could feel my heart rate and breathing slow as I entered, and all we wanted to do was stay there and watch the fish. I had a similar peaceful experience watching the Nautilus swimming. Their shells are popular beachcombing finds (in fact, we finally have some on board after Max and Johnathan found one on Victoria's birthday at Ilôt Kouaré, and Max found two large ones on a paddle boarding trip at Gadji) but they are rare to see alive, as they live several hundred meters below the surface. The Noumea Aquarium is unique in not only having developed the technology to pressurize the tank to keep the Nautilus alive, but also to have a breeding programme. I had expected them to be like oversized snails, stuck to the glass and moving along the bottom, but in fact, they swam gracefully around the circular tank, shell-first with their soft bodies trailing behind, bumping into each other (imagine aquatic bumper cars) when their paths crossed. We were even privileged to see two of them joined in the 24-hour mating embrace, shells facing each other and bodies gently entwined. It was dim in the nautilus exhibit, but it was totally dark when we went into see the fluorescent coral. There were bioluminescent and phosphorescent varieties of coral and fish, and it was quite fun to catch glimpses of them.
It may have been an unusual year, or this my be typical of departing for NZ from New Caledonia (rather than Fiji, as we have done twice before), but it seemed to take a long time for anything resembling a weather window to materialize. We even managed two more days of kiting at Maître, where we were pleasantly surprised to find that we had retained some of the muscle memory we had developed earlier in the season, but finally a Sat 18 Nov departure seemed to be opening up, and here we are - 'Tomorrow' has come, emails are somewhat caught up, and we are enroute to NZ. [Actually tomorrow came and went a couple of days ago, and I am finally dispatching my Monday morning email on Wednesday afternoon!!]
As I think back over the season, I am again amazed at the generosity of our cruising community, and a few seem to merit special mention in acknowledgement. When our friends Matt & Annie on Cavalo learned that we hadn't gotten a 3G (internet) chip for our iPad (which seemed to be more complicated than for a phone) they showed up one night to lend us one of their two smart phones, as they realized they could function with one. When our Canadian friends James and Chantal on SV Q learned that we could only get cartridges for our printer in Central Americal (where we had bought it) they brought us their printer (and cartridges!) as they had just bought a new one (oh, and they invited us for a beautiful dinner and laundry and pool facilities at their Air BnB before they flew home). Our friends on both Bleu Bie (Philip) and Shenanigans (Carolyn and Rob) were a big part of our learning to kite at Maître. They always had a supportive word or a concrete suggestion when we congregated on the beach. These particular examples don't even begin to mention the hours of hospitality sitting in various cockpits or beach locations sharing stories and wisdom and keeping each other sane. I have always been grateful for the spirit of camaraderie amongst cruisers, and I am particularly so now.
[Part two to follow shortly ]











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