10/23/2010, New Caledonia
Ahh, calm. Quiet. A blissful lack of movement, under cool, cloudy skies. Anchor down, boat clean from numerous rainstorms, cabin clean because I got a burst of energy, wine chilled. Allan happily immersed in a book, birds chirping on the hill nearby, fish splashing, the sun setting behind the clouds.
We dropped anchor just south of Port Moselle, Noumea and will stay the night until we can check in with Customs and Quarantine tomorrow morning. The anchorages here are all full of boats, and we had to look for awhile to find a spot. But it's calm inside the large fringing reef that surrounds this island, and the air is still, and, as I mentioned, pleasantly cool. We moved farther south on this passage, from 17 46S to 22 17S, and the water temperature has dropped a full 10 degrees to a chilly 74. And though the cabin thermometer reads 83 degrees, it's cold outside and a light rain is gently falling as I enjoy the last of the sunset and the first of a nice bottle of Chardonnay.
The boat feels huge, and accommodating. It's interesting -- underway, we use less than half the boat. We only sleep in the aft cabin. Going forward is treacherous at times and you bang your shoulders here and crash your hips there, the bow bounces and lurches furiously. If we need a tool, or some string -- going into the workroom is a major expedition. We spend most of our time in the cockpit. If it's raining or the sea is splashing over the boat, there's only a 3' x 3' place to sit, big enough for one, huddled against the dodger for protection. The galley is an awful place to be, and the main cabin is somewhere we go only for Radio Net check-ins and blurb-posting. So now that we're back in the anchorage, the entire boat is open to us again, and it feels like a condo! No bathtub, though ...
Allan checked in to the Penguin Net tonight, to tell them we made it safely and thank them for being there. It's fun to hear how the boats enroute to New Zealand are doing. That's a challenging passage, I hear, and so far everyone this week has been in up to 4 meter seas (13 feet) with winds sometimes reaching 30 knots, frequent squalls, and in the case of one boat, the need to heave-to, drop a sea anchor, and hold position for over 2 days. That's not something we've had to do, although we do have a sea anchor, a drogue, and a storm sail, and we're prepared should something like that to happen. So far -- one passage to go -- we haven't needed them.
Our friends Michael and Gloria on Paikea Mist are in Tonga, and in touch with Bob McDavitt, the Kiwi weather router we've been working with who specializes in this region. Bob says there may not be another good weather window until the middle of November, so Paikea Mist is getting ready to leap now. Rod and Elisabeth on Proximity are in Fiji, anxious and chomping at the bit to get going. We listen to the Net and hear the names of boats we've been following for months and months and catch up on their progress as they make their final passage of the cruising season to wait out hurricane season here in the Southern Hemisphere. It's a small world, and the Nets make it smaller. We appreciate the opportunity to knit ourselves together, to form a group of caring people, sharing an adventure. In some cases, as this one, we only chat with these folks for a few days. We may never meet them. But should something happen and a boat not check in to the Net for a day or two, someone has our name and last known coordinates, and can put that out there to the group. And then, someone knows someone who knows someone who knows you and has your Dad's phone number, and before you know it, help is on the way. Or something like that.
But I digress, and I can only blame Passage-tigue. In fact, as I write, (thank God for laptops) I'm deleting more than half of what I write because it's drivel, I'm rambling, I have no focus and I think it's boring. So I guess the main point of this blurb is to tell you that we've arrived safely, we have lots on our plate in the coming weeks, and we're tired. Really tired. Time to cook some of that fish we finally have a yen for, and turn in for a good 12-hour night.
10/22/2010, Enroute to New Caledonia
Well, I got so into this passage thing, I guess, that I added a day to our remaining time! We have just over 24 hours to go as I write -- we should arrive Sunday evening.
Yours Truly, A
10/22/2010, Enroute to New Caledonia
Snippets: I awake at almost 5 am feeling downright rested and realize Allan has given me 7 hours to sleep! He said he felt fine -- watched some movies, ate some leftover pasta and had just begun to ponder waking me up when I came into the cockpit. As he settles into the bunk, I sit in the cool morning air with a bowl of fresh Fijian pineapple and survey the scene: the full moon is low on the western horizon, nestled amongst soft gray clouds, while the rising sun, obscured by the overcast, is softly lighting up the sky. The sea swells have moved a bit more to the stern, so Fly Aweigh is surfing down gentle waves now, much more comfortable than those wallops from the side that throw the boat into big figure 8's and wreak havoc on the inhabitants.
I miss my kitty, Max. I have a yen for Oatmeal Scones from Some Crust Bakery in Claremont, California, and a really good cup of coffee with half and half. I settle for ramen noodles.
The SSB radio is distorted by a loud hum today, some sort of electrical interference that I can't track down, so checking into the Penguin Net on 8104 this morning isn't possible. The Nets have been great on this trip across the Pacific; we're not really as involved as some people, because we have other ways of reporting our position daily (this blurb, for one; a daily position report via email to Micheal and Gloria on Paikea Mist, for another) but it's a comfort to have the Net there twice a day and hear how those headed for New Zealand are doing. We're the only boat on the Penguin Net right now that's headed west. Everyone else is southbound. It's a rather quiet Net with only about 6 boats participating right now, but we hear from Michael and Gloria, who are still in Tonga, that a pack of boats just left from Nuku'alofa, so things should get a little busier.
Lunchtime: ramen noodles. A little redundant, maybe, but good. The wind is moving behind us, the ride is getting uncomfortable again, and by 4pm we're considering sailing quite a bit father south to stay on a better angle, and then cutting up north toward the southern tip of the island. It adds a few hours, but that's life.
The day has gone by quickly, it seems. Two more days to go; at this point it looks like we'll get into Noumea after hours on Sunday and drop anchor, then move to the Visitor's Dock Monday morning for clearance. Until tomorrow ...
10/22/2010, Enroute to New Caledonia
Better today. The wind has dropped off a bit but we're splooshing along at 6-7 knots; the sea, while still an active 8-10 feet, seems a little better organized; and best of all, we're both feeling better.
Sleep and read. Eat some crackers, have some water, sip a Coke, read. Have a nap. Read. Eat a cookie. Read some more. Make some tea. Wring out the laundry that for some reason didn't spin in the washer this morning when the generator was on, so now it's wet and heavy. Then drape it about the cabin on hangers and over fishing poles, since it's too salty outside. Have some brown rice with butter and pepper. Take a nap. Write a blurb. Eat some nuts.
Waves have been occasionally breaking over the boat, we've gotten sort of used to that, it's especially dramatic when we're down below and the sounds of water crashing on the fiberglass and rolling down the windows feels completely aquatic. Last night I heard a wet splashy sound on the port side while I was finishing up my Harry Potter book. We're surrounded by wet splashy sounds, so it took me a minute to register that it was a non-normal sound, and when I went to investigate I saw a very large flying fish, flapping it's wings furiously in the scupper. I tried to grab it and flip it overboard, but it was too slippery, and the feel of my hand sent it into a renewed flapping fit causing it to slip away and scuttle farther toward the bow, into the "No Trespass Zone." (We don't go forward of the cockpit when it's night and we're alone on watch.) I tried to get him with the end of the cork-protected gaff, but it was no use. He stopped flapping after a minute, and I thought about the people I've who collect the flying fish from the deck in the morning and have them for breakfast ... probably not what we'd have for breakfast, but an interesting thought.
No, for breakfast we had crackers. And tea, and Coke. It's not a very nutritious life, but the apples, the lettuce, the carrots, even the lentil loaf just don't sound good. It's taken me almost the entire trip, since last October, to realize that I really don't have to provision before a passage; just make some brown rice and have plenty of crackers, juice and plain cookies in the snack box. It wasn't always like that; on the 22-day crossing from Mexico to the Marquesas we ate like royalty, even from the first day. But since then, we've been less and less interested in cooking and eating while underway, and I'm not sure why. I theorize that we were so emotionally wound up for that first big ocean crossing, an endeavor none of the four of us had ever tackled before, and maybe we were just spun up for it. We were also a bit overly ambitious. Now, with just the two of us, it's easier to be lazy, and it's only for a few days at a time, and we're never sure which fruits and vegetables and meats and dairy will be admitted into the next country, so it's best to be understocked. Live and learn.
In fact, as we near the end, we're astonished at the sudden compilation of things we're finally "getting." Oh, THAT'S how that works! This is the most comfy spot to read! This is how we use this thingy! Here's a better place to keep that! We've streamlined pre-passage prep, figured out where to sleep under changing conditions, have our watch schedule dialed-in, and have stuff better organized. Yep, live and learn.
10/21/2010, Enroute to New Caledonia
There's a price we pay for this fantastic life we're leading, and it's not just monetary. It's called "passages." Passages between places, transits that require we go out on the ocean -- the beautiful, stern, massive ocean that floods this Earth and separates these places. Sometimes, it's a big, flat sheet of turquoise blue, with dancing dolphin and gentle swells. And sometimes, it's angry and wet, a roller-coaster ride that goes on for days.
We left behind that lovely, benevolent ocean this morning, and traded it for free speed across the void and another one of those raucous rides. There's one place on this boat that seems benign and almost comfortable even when in rough seas, and it's the stern bunk, which is situated so it's occupant, if there's only one, is in the very centerline of the boat. Padded with pillows on all sides, it's amazingly comfy. So much so, that I was completely unaware that the wind and sea, which, when I handed the baton to Allan at 7:30 this morning were perky but well-behaved, had started acting up. He had to come roust me from my dreams to help him reef the sails, and I was stunned when I came out of the cave to a rollicking, wet cockpit and whitecaps covering the ocean, the wind speed a stiff 18 knots and steadily increasing.
So, we've been reefed all day, screaming along at a nice speedy clip, and are back on our Cokes and crackers diet since none of that gorgeous fish we caught yesterday sounds appetizing. Not to mention, being in the galley under these conditions is challenging; even filling a glass with ice and pouring a Coke can tax your patience and coordination. And let's not talk about going to the loo; that's a life-altering experience.
So we sit around and look at each other miserably, and have conversations like, "Who's idea was this again?" and "Do you EVER remember a GOOD sailing day on this trip?" and repeating things we've heard other sailors say about passages, "It's either all or nothing." There's either no wind and the sea is nice but the motor is running and the dollars are flowing out of your wallet, or the wind is up, and the seas as well, and being a human is less-than-fun. It's been so rare that we've had those perfect sailing days, the ones where the wind is steady from the aft beam, the sea has widely-spaced, shallow swells, the sun is shining and the boat is humming along without bone- crunching and rib-bruising twists and lurches.
But so it is, and in truth, we really are happy to pay the price -- it's all worth it to be here and to do what we're doing. The good thing is, as soon as we're safe in a harbor or an anchorage somewhere, have caught up on our sleep and had a nice dinner, we start to forget the passages, and it's not long before we start planning the next one. Go figure. It's an addiction, this life.
10/20/2010, Enroute to New Caledonia
So here we are on our second-to-the-last passage of our trip (as far as we know) enroute to Noumea, New Caledonia. The temperature is perfect, the sea is docile and kindly, and the wind is resting until tomorrow.
We spent yesterday doing passage preparation things, such as running the jack lines from bow to stern so we can hook our harnesses to the lines and not become lost at sea should we fall overboard while going forward under rough conditions. We tied the dinghy up good and snug on the stern and secured the lines and fenders. We made sure all the stuff below decks was stowed and latched and blah blah blah. Passage preparation also means another episode of Alison Attempts Making Bread, which for the last 3 passages has been a dismal failure, and this was no exception, in fact, I topped all previous efforts. There's no need for guns or knives to ward off potential hostile attackers on Fly Aweigh, we just have to throw my bread at them, if we can lift it. I think maybe the yeast has gone bad ...
The night was calm and still, affording us a good nights' sleep, always a nice way to start a 4-5 day passage. We arose early and were underway before 6:30, motoring past our favorite surfing islands and dive spot as the surfers were catching the best of the morning waves. It felt odd to pass it by and cross through the break in the reef to the other side, the outside, rather like leaving a walled city.
We were thrilled to get a good send off from a large school of dolphin, something we haven't seen in months. They danced and played in our bow wake, looking like perfect specimens of the dolphin world -- unscarred, small and quick, with soft spotted markings. We saw a few young swimming close to their mothers, but of course by the time we grabbed the camera they had moved away. One by one they peeled off until we were on our own again.
A few hours later Allan caught a fish, big enough to feed us all the way to New Caledonia and beyond. We were happy to know the lures are working and the boat isn't cursed, which, because of our abysmal record I was sure it was. I blame myself -- I'm the one with the pansy don't-kill-the-pretty-fish attitude. But I was tough this time, I reeled him in but declined to be the gaffer, and I'm willing to cook him 3 ways from Sunday but not so keen on the hacking and chopping part. We've got our duties pretty well split up in the fishing realm, I think, and are looking forward to Orange Ginger Tuna tonight, and maybe Thai Curried Tuna tomorrow night, with Greek Tuna Salad in between and maybe some Fijian Lentil Stew with Tuna.
Allan has almost finished reading his book and I'm halfway through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. All is well, more tomorrow.