Waiting in the wings
03 November 2010 | Noumea, New Caledonia
So here we now sit, so tantalisingly close to home. Many emotions from both of us; at first we were both really looking forward to being back amongst family and friends (our time with Gav and Linda made us remember how much fun we used to have hanging out with mates), then Kat just wanted to get there, worried about the future and the weather on this infamous last passage where 9 times out of 10 you get an arse kicking, and me, I'd rather avoid the inevitable and keep going with the journey living by the notion that it is better to travel than to arrive, at least that way you don't have to get a job, buy a car and grow up!! Now I think we, like every other cruiser stuck here in Noumea, just want it over with.
Days are long and hot with only variable breeze so it is hard to believe that the sea between here and Australia could be so unwelcoming. Every morning it's tea/coffee and weather reports. New Zealand guru Bob McDavitt sends reports to those that have subscribed and the daily review is generally the main topic of discussion up and down the dock. Some have made a run for it, but most, not wanting to fall at the last hurdle, just wait. Bob's last free-to-all Sunday report for the week ahead started off with "Welcome to the official start of the South pacific Cyclone Season", not an encouraging thought. While there are still no named cyclones in the south Pacific, the date on the calendar suggests that the prevailing weather systems will conspire to present us with less obvious weather windows in which to set sail. So we wait. At the moment there is some low pressure activity forming off the Queensland coast that would likely bring moderately strong winds and uncomfortable seas. We'll wait for this to pass but the problem is that every day a new low forms somewhere and threatens strong winds for some time during the passage. But every day the previous day's "second" low disappears and a new one pops up somewhere else. Bottom line, the forecasting models are having a hard time making sense of the instability, not great for us sailors whowith every day are suffering more and more from "marina-itis"!
So after a few boat jobs in the morning we have been making the most of the afternoons with our mates Ross and Jo off Sojourn. First we had the Noumea aquarium, a really well put together display of South Pacific marina life and also air conditioned!! Particularly interested in the emblem of Noumea, the Nautilus, and also leopard sharks. Then yesterday we had the Tjibaou Cultural centre (named after the pro-independence Kanak leader assassinated in 1989), not bad but perhaps the building's architecture and the life story of its namesake were more interesting than the exhibits.
Last weekend we hired the world's smallest 4WD with Mike and Sammy from Quartermoon, and journeyed north for a 3 day/2 night marathon of driving. We estimate some 1,200kms were covered in an apparent attempt to spend a couple of nights in some back country local village. Day one saw us fall short and land in a little road side "gite" with only one room left for the four of us, so we allocated beds using a card game called shithead (one double, one single and one mattress on the floor) with the loser, me, in the worst bed of the lot! "Fresh" from a night on the floor Mike and I were not to keen on visiting some cannibals in the jungle so in desperation we started knocking on every door in the small town of Hiengheme (pronounced yen-gen). Fortune favours the brave, or was that the persistent, cause our prays where answered when we found a great little campground with it's own private beach and 2 tents plus matresses for rent. They also had their own onsite dive shop, covered picnic tables and places for campfires, plus we could use the kayaks for an afternoon sortie around the coastal waters and up the river next to massive razorback cliffs. This part of New Cal was a complete surprise, great coastal driving with crystalline waters protected by outer islands and reefs on one side and majestic mountain vistas on the other, some what reminiscent of parts of northern Scotland and Wales, hence the name New Caledonia.
We made the effort a week or so ago to head out of the marina for an afternoon anchored in front of Ilot Maitre with Quartermoon when their mates Gav and Akio visited, and also managed a couple of dives on the Amedee reef. For so long we've been hearing stories of giant Manta rays, we missed them in Bora Bora as the recent explosion in resort construction has scared them off. Delos had swam with them off Mexico and while we have seen some amazing sights in the water these majestic creatures have proven illusive and hence were at the top of my must-see list. The first dive started with little promise of seeing them. The dive guide said they don't see them that often so we just figured we'd have a relaxed dive checking out the coral reefs but when another dive boat said they had seen some that morning, we still held out hope. When the dodgy French guide had us finning into current over barren nothingness for almost all the dive memories of our failed drift dive in Rangiroa quickly gave rise to many questioning looks and hand signals, but then with only about 10mins of air left we found them cruising and feeding in the current. At first it was just one big male and we quickly dropped to the bottom and hung on to old coral and just sat there in awe of these massive creatures. About 5m from tip to tip the male effortlessly ferry-glided in the current a few metres in front of us and occasionally drifted right overhead. Then came the female partner out of the gloomy vis...just awesome. With a few of the group now low on air and buddy breathing, the guide signalled for us to surface....stuff that, we hung on for a couple more minutes as the guide and the rest of the group went up into the current and drifted backwards nearly out of sight. TICK... manta rays...DONE, now we just need to see some whale sharks!!
So that's been New Cal so far, boozy catch-ups with fellow cruisers that we haven't seen in a while, much talk about the impending end to the journey and what to do next, but above all - that damn weather forecast.
For more pics see:
For Quartermoon's blog on losing their mast see:
And for time in New Cal see: