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The Rose
The Rose--A Bit of Solitude
Patricia Gans
09/17/2013, Ilot Gi, New Caledonia

Dear Family and Friends, This morning we left the Isle of Pines early-- simply seeking a bit of solitude. I felt a little sad leaving my seven remoras on their own since I had acquired the habit of tossing them a handful of dry dog kibble morning and night of which they were delightfully appreciative making big slurpy gulping sounds and splashing about. I knew they would do fine by just moving over to another boat. They are survivors and interesting fish with their flattened sucker top heads made for attaching to sharks, mantas, dolphins and the like and catching a free ride mouth open ready to scoop up stray crumbs. I don't know what the host gets from the relationship other than company. I wonder if they enjoy these little companions. Manta Rays almost always seem to have two Remoras in tow. I like them hanging around under the boat because they eat any kitchen scraps I toss out and I love the sense of nothing going to waste. I don't enjoy them however if I'm diving without a wetsuit and they crowd round me trying to latch on. That can be creepy and more than slightly annoying. But I notice when they swim with the Mantas often they are not actually attached but they swim easily along under the Manta's belly swishing their long soft tails back and forth and it looks like it might be a pleasant little tummy rub. I also don't really know how Remora benefit from hanging around the Mantas since the Mantas are filter feeders so they aren't really producing any big juicy "crumbs" for the Remoras to enjoy like there might be with a shark or dolphin host. Anyway, the remoras all had to wake up early today and find a new site of attachment because The Rose was on her way to parts unknown.

We headed west into an area boldly marked "Inadequately Surveyed" on the chart and well protected by coral reefs and foul ground hoping nobody else would be there. Before we were half an hour out of the anchorage we saw our first whales. An enormous mother and her calf surfaced a couple hundred yards from us. The mother was waving her huge pectoral fin and slapping the water. The fin looked as long as our boat but standing straight up on end like a sky scraper. Next she made several leaps all the way out of the water creating a splash which would empty a swimming pool. We had been under power gliding over a mirror like glassy sea so we came to a halt and just hovered watching them. What a show they treated us to. Finally we had to tear ourselves away in order to be sure of our arrival in the reef region during good light. Within an hour another more distant whale repeated the behavior, slapping the water loudly with a huge pectoral fin and throughout the rest of the morning the horizon was dotted intermittently with fountain like gushes of spray as whales performed aerial acrobatics. Finally we had found the whales. They seem to like this corridor which is west of most of the traffic inside the southern lagoon. The sound of their hollow breaths was like music to me and their antics made me smile and laugh out loud. What glorious creatures they are.

We approached the Ilot of N'Do with its long hook of coral reef which produces an atoll like lagoon of lovely placid pastel turquoise water surrounded by gently lapping waves and bordered on one side by the tiny low flat topped island and white sand beaches. We anchored in the center of the mini lagoon and lowered the dinghy for a bit of exploring. That's when we noticed two massive, heavy bodied fish lazily investigating our boat. They were at least three feet long and very stout. They might have been Napolean Wrasse which are often described as being "as big as a small car door" but from above I couldn't make out the classic bulge on the forehead for a positive I.D.

As we were staring down at our huge visitors, we suddenly became aware of a rapidly increasing lub-lub-lub sound and on searching the sky noticed a tiny but rapidly growing black speck making a bee line for us. Within minutes from out of the clear blue an unmarked jet black helicopter buzzed right over the tip of our mast making a banking turn to circle the island and land on the pristine white sand beach. Our bit of paradise suddenly felt like downtown central and concerned that more tourists from Noumea might be zipping out for a walk on the uninhabited beach which apparently was actually a heliport, we packed back up, lifted the anchor and sailed away again in search of our bit of solitude.

We picked our way through the reefs and pinnacles with waves breaking dramatically to all sides on reef exposed by the low tide. As we turned on the final leg of our approach to Ilot Kouare I noticed in my binoculars two masts anchored at our intended destination. In dismay we opted for an immediate right turn to a tiny islet named Ilot Gi. Its white sand beaches were surrounded by turquoise water suggesting a white sand bottom suitable for anchoring. Slowly we approached scanning the water from the bow and watching the depth sounder closely. The tiny bay formed by the coral shoreline was deep but the weather was very calm with only light variable winds in the forecast and we carry enough chain for average wind in sixty foot depths. I dropped the anchor in a large white patch and watched it all the way to the bottom in 50 feet of clear water. Slowly I fed out chain as the boat moved downwind with the gentle breeze. We let out plenty of scope all of it on sand, avoiding coral patches and backing gently against the chain to be sure she was securely set. After a bit of lunch, again we lowered the dinghy ready for a bit of exploring and I took my snorkeling gear to have a look at the anchor. Much to my surprise the anchor was lying on its side on the bottom. I didn't see any furrowed drag mark and the realization set in that the bottom which I had thought to be soft white sand might very well be hard smooth coral with just a sprinkling of white sand in a thin layer over the top. The picture didn't quite make sense though since we had backed on the anchor and it had felt solid and it wasn't wrapped around anything else en route. Luckily the weather was very mild so we decided to set our anchor alarms and let the weight of the chain and whatever else was holding us previously continue to hold us especially since there is only deeper water where we would blow.

Keeping the boat within sight and within reach of a quick return, we dinghied ashore to explore. To our surprise, the white sand beach was piled with pumice and twisting from sea to pumice and pumice over sand to brush were the serpentine tracks of many sea snakes. Now watching and walking more carefully, we noticed two of the bronze and white banded snakes under the brush along the sand's edge. I wondered if there is a regular schedule for the departure and return of Sea Snakes from sand to sea and back again. If at a certain hour, say sunrise, millions of snakes stretch, rub their sleepy beady lidless eyes on their armless shoulders or perhaps their flattened tail, yawn and head from their musty grassy nests in the brush across the beach sand and out to sea. The island would come alive with the wriggling mass! Strolling over to the far corner of the island we reached the end of the sand and moved onto a ragged flow of lava resembling the surface of an alligator's back. A few steps into this rocky point I froze mid hop at the sight of a sleeping sea snake curled up in one of the many nooks in the lava rock. They are good natured generally but they are also very poisonous and I certainly didn't want to surprise a sleeping sea snake from its late afternoon nap. I also thought it would be odd if only one sea snake were nestled into a nest in the rocks so betting that where there is one sea snake there are others, we turned back and continued our exploration by dinghy. Within two hours we had completed a circumferential tour of the island. Her reefs are beautiful with healthy corals in shades of pink and purple interspersed with mustard yellow and including a variety of forms from brain coral to antler and the curious "cabbage-form" we first met in Fiji. A nice diversity of depths was created by deep fissures and caverns interspersed with shallow broad sunlit prairies. Indeed altogether the island is a snorkeler's heaven.

The sun set over a clear horizon flashing gently green before leaving a lingering rainbow sky punctuated by the bright glow of an evening planet. Tonight we are sleeping in our own private paradise-solitude found. All is well. Pat and John S/V The Rose at Ilot Gi, New Caledonia 22 deg 43.555 S, 166 deg 50.914 E

The Rose--The Everyday Stuff...
Patricia Gans
09/12/2013, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

The Everyday StuffÂ... This morning we woke up early, jumped out of our snug little aft cabin and without even pausing for breakfast set out in the dinghy for shore. We had been told of a Farmer's Market in the nearby town of Vao beginning at 6:30 in the morning and finishing by 10. We were prepared to hike the 5k in hopes of finding some fresh Aubergine (eggplant) which makes a great main sauced all different ways for John who is a self proclaimed "vegetarian who doesn't really like vegetables". Grabbing carrying bags, camera and small change, we started out in the chilly grey pre-dawn. Quite a swell had kicked up in the process of the last three days strong winds and we watched the surf crashing on the beach with some trepidation though our seasons in Mexico left us well practiced at such maneuvers and we have some confidence in our technique. We waited patiently for the set to pass and on the back of the last swell charged full ahead to the shore landing as far up the sand as possible so the receding wave left me stepping out gracefully into only a few inches of water. We tilted the engine up, switched off the gas supply line and each to a side lifting we quickly dragged the dinghy up the sand to the tree line and wire cabled her engine and all to a nearby banyan tree. These are the times we most appreciate our choice of a light dinghy and small engine. In Mexico fuel was easy to come by and cheap so big outboards in the 6-15 hp range were popular but the dinghies then needed to be outfitted with wheels since they were too heavy to pull up onto the beach. In the Tuamotu we longed for a bigger outboard to extend our circle of exploration across the broad atolls when their shallow lagoons prohibited The Rose passage. However, the farther we travel the smaller the outboards become as fuel is more limited and expensive and though many islands have some fuel they often only stock enough for their own needs leaving it unavailable for yacht purchase. Given all this, our meager 2 hp outboard has stood us in good stead. The lighting as we strolled toward Vao central was perfect with the morning twilight lending a hush through which the trills and coos of birdsong floated as we soft shoed our way along the avenue lined with ancient wide girthed pines and the perhaps even more ancient Bugny trees. The Bugny's preposterously long and hefty horizontal branches stretched overhead interlacing from both roadsides to create a magnificent woven tree tunnel. Just past the tree tunnel much to our delight a local Kunie woman stopped to offer us a ride and we bundled ourselves gratefully into her 4 door pickup. Not only was she generous enough to give us a ride but I soon found that she was willing to make conversation in English in response to my feeble attempts at French. It is always bittersweet when my foreign language small talk is responded to in fairly adept English. I am in that moment relieved that communication will be possible while at the same time wondering if they didn't recognize my attempts in their language and therefore tried to find a common ground with English or if they recognized my English accent immediately and merely wanted to take advantage themselves of the opportunity to practice. It reminds me of a time in Mexico early on when I boldly stepped up to a ticket counter and in my fairly fluent best pidgin Spanish with cash in hand requested two round trip ferry tickets only to be immediately and brusquely informed by the ticket agent that she did not speak English. That was a kick in the teeth to my emerging self confidence but it is worthy of a laugh retrospectively. Half the battle of traveling in this way is a willingness to put oneself in harm's way when it comes to pride. It's preposterous the number of times I have told a stranger "I love you" when meaning to say "I love it". There is no interpreter or guide to intervene on our behalf or even to set the topic providing the straining listener some context for understanding. Instead we must blabber, stumble, mime and employ visual aids and facial expression as best we can or miss the experience. OH yes, we were on the way to the market. Our driver dropped us right at the Farmer's Market which turned out to be about six tables of local produce clean, fresh and neatly stacked with prices on a board at the entrance. Our initial dismay at finding a complete absence of aubergine faded as we took in with appreciation the availability of fresh young heads of green leafy lettuce, bunches of green onions, tomatoes, huge yams, pumpkins, green beans and an unknown pale green squash which looked somewhat like what we in Mexico called "Chayote". I asked about the unknown vegetable and how to prepare it and was patiently told to saute it in water and then dress it with vinegrette like a salad. At least that's what I think she said in French although if I missed a single negation or two which is easy to do she could have said cook it in no water and serve it with a salad or in place of salad. Oh well, deeming it worthy of the effort I bought two and slipped them into my bag hoping my efforts had a better result than my similar first attempt at cooking the armload sized bundles of taro leaf I bought at the market in Tonga. At that time the instructions were to boil it well and enjoy-- with the added warning that it needed to be cooked really well. I had heard that there was a somewhat toxic component in the taro so I chopped the leaves and popped them into my pressure cooker with a little water for a really good cooking. I had erroneously assumed that the toxin broke down with heat since the ladies at the market warned me to cook it well but my well cooked taro made my lips, tongue and oral mucosa tingle sharply all the way down to my adam's apple. Wondering how long this neurotoxin would last, I returned to the market for more advice explaining my initial results. With a smile they told me to change out the water and use lots of it. That worked well and knowing this tiny but crucial secret I have enjoyed wonderful tender and delicious taro at home ever since especially in the Fijian way known as palusami which is taro leaf cooked with onions and sauced with coconut cream. Yes that is a little bit of heaven to be sure. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Returning with our treasures we were again offered a ride this time by a young well fed Kunie man who bubbled with a natural social warmth making communication entirely possible despite the fact that John speaking no French was seated in front and our driver Zhouaquine spoke no English. Still he was able to good naturedly convey that he was native to the island and shared with us a bit of Kunie culture. In somewhat native accented French, he explained that the tall straight and erect narrow pines for which the island is named represent masculinity while the coconut with its swaying trunk and plump round fruit represents the feminine. I'm not sure if this topic was appropriate especially as he went on explaining in French with hand gestures and increasing details involving the erectness of the trees and the roundness of the coconuts but once we finally realized what he was saying we liked the basic premise and responded that this of course made sense and was easy to appreciate. Unsure why he chose this particular topic, we will just assume that the idea followed naturally in the wake of our spoken appreciation for the Bugny tree tunnel. I don't know where that conversation would have led but perhaps to our benefit we arrived opportunely at our dinghy and choosing naive and grateful adieus as our best defense, we parted ways. Passing a beachside hotel on the way to the dinghy we were tempted in to enjoy a moment on their deck sipping cappuccino and espresso while looking out across the very white sand beach and resultant milky turquoise water. The surf had continued to build since morning and was crashing and churning up sand while the breeze had finally lightened to pleasant. While we sipped coffee contentedly a fellow cruising couple loaded their baguettes and produce into their dinghy and started out into the surf. We watched their technique, casually assessing the current wave strength for our own impending efforts. Suddenly to our surprise the woman about knee deep in the surf jumped into the dinghy and the man just let go ceasing all assistance. The dinghy turned broadside to the oncoming wave and barely escaped capsizing. The woman jumped out and the two retreated a few feet before renewing their efforts this time more in synchrony but with dire results. The next wave caught them on the quarter sending both of them and the entire contents of the dinghy sprawling undignified into the sandy water surrounded by flip flops, a backpack and several floating baguettes. Now completely drenched they re-gathered their belongings (except for the baguettes which the sea gulls were appreciating) and their efforts and this time waded out waist deep and started their outboard before climbing into the dink. Like two drowned rats they soberly returned to their big boat. You might think we laughed or at least sniggered to ourselves at this entertainment but I will tell you that instead we just looked into each other's eyes and agreed "We hope that doesn't happen to us." One thing we've learned cruising is that no matter how careful our avoidance tactics every mistake possible to make will one day be our mistake if we continue long enough. Lucky for us we were to enjoy favor today and we made a clean getaway after first loading all our groceries into the zipper closed backpack and having oars at the ready to get ourselves quickly to water deep enough for John to start the engine while I rowed us stem onto the waves. We clapped our hands secretly in a low high five so as not to offend or tempt fate and enjoyed our arrival dry, secure and well provisioned back on board The Rose. Yesterday we hiked around the heart shaped "presqu'ile" which forms one side of our anchorage. Before our arrival I thought that "presqu'ile" might mean nearby island but now I know it must mean almost island since this heart shaped bit of ground is connected to the main island by a very narrow neck really only about two road widths across. A rustic footpath follows the circumference of the presqu'ile winding along through dense forest in parts and later clinging to precipitous cliffs of raw sharp ancient coral long ago pushed up from the sea by volcanic activity. The coral is porous enough to allow roots a wonderful foothold with growth limited only by the paucity of soil and vegetable matter which normally would retain moisture. The trail was a visual feast of uninhabited white sand beaches stretching into aqua pastels of reef protected sea so clear that like a freshly washed glass window its presence only magnified the visibility of the marine life at the bottom of the shore side shallows. As we padded along the trail we were met by a banded sea snake who ever so politely slithered just over the coral cliff edge to allow our passing before returning to the trail and continuing his own journey. The trail was littered in patches by hundreds of beautiful uninhabited turban shaped shells from a land snail variety popular here for gourmet escargot and I delighted in decorating the trees with them like Christmas ornaments. Along the windward side of the presqu'ile the wind whipped the water into an aerosolized spray which blew into us and on into the forest but this was short-lived since our trail soon cut in away from the shore and up along an old ruined coral block wall and slotted lookout post once belonging to the prison complex for which France deemed this island suitable around the turn of the last century. Originally French political prisoners were exiled to the Isle of Pines to live seven years in isolation and obscurity but free to build homes, farms and businesses on the island and it is odd to me that as soon as pardons were received every prisoner chose the option of returning to the turmoil of their homeland rather than remain in this island paradise --which is by the way the meaning of the island's native name. From here it was for us a quick trip back to the dinghy and home to The Rose for a game of cribbage before dredging out our Scuba gear in preparation for tomorrow's early departure and big dive at Les Grottes de Gadji the famous undersea caves. All is well. Much love as always, Pat and John S/V The Rose, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia, 09 September 2013

The Strangling Fig
Patricia Gans
09/09/2013, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

The Strangling Fig John and I hiked up the mountain which is called Pic N'Gau today and on the way we walked down the lane which is called Kou Bugny meaning beneath the Bugny trees because it is so wonderfully and tightly thatched overhead by two long rows of ancient Bugny trees' branches. Mesmerized by the majesty of those trees I strolled along starry eyed and mouth agape until one particular tree elicited from me an involuntary gasp. The tree was striking because it was ghostly grey in a wood otherwise composed of dark rough trunks. It was also splendidly huge and luxuriously smooth, gracefully twisting and reaching high as though just waking from a long nap and having a good slow yawn and stretch. It exuded strength and health and a vibrant life force. In awe I approached this regal being whose roots stood narrow and tall two feet above the ground at the trunk and extending more than fifteen feet radially at the base. In fact the roots themselves were so massive as to feel more like molten earth twisted up into meringue peaks which only above midway had sprouted and leafed to produce the broad canopy. In that moment I fell completely in love with that tree and I photographed her hoping to capture that impossible grandeur. Perhaps this rapture which I enjoyed is the reason I felt suddenly and violently shocked as camera in hand I rounded to the far side of the tree and found within that tree, like a hotdog wrapped in a bun, was another trunk --dark and rough of grand diameter in its own right, an ancient Bugny now quite dead. A dark branch pierced the even grey engulfing trunk reaching skyward in a desperate but unheeded cry for help clawing for light and air to no avail. It is difficult not to judge the strangling fig whose seed must land on the bark of another tree to sprout and begin life. It then extends a root blindly following along its host's trunk down to the ground while a sprout begins its path upward also groping its way along that supporting trunk to the light. For years the strangling fig continues its tenuous existence perched upon its host but over time it wraps its tendrils all the way around and as though clasping its hands in an irrevocable closure the tendrils fuse together completing the trap. Now as the tendrils grow they start to squeeze the tree beneath. Trees are interesting because they are inside out from humans. All the life of a tree is on the outside just beneath the protective bark. You may have seen giant trees which have endured fires or lightning and are completely hollow in the middle yet continue to thrive and grow even tolerating an entire house within their heart. It's easy though to kill a tree though simply by girdling it and island farms are often surrounded by tall dead trees who instead of being felled have been slashed with a machete all the way around just deep enough to stop the flow of life so the leaves will not shade the field. And so the strangling fig effectively girdles its host by squeezing it tight all the way around in a death lock. Often eventually one can no longer even discern the tree beneath which originally hosted this exuberant all consuming hitchhiker. But the strangling fig has no choice. It only does what it is made to do. It cannot walk away to find another place to grow. It need not debate the ethics of its lifestyle. A tree is not even faced with the decision to be or not to be. It doesn't ask itself if it has the right to survive at the expense of another. It doesn't try to share the space or the resources. It just does what it does and it does it wellÂ... Humans on the other hand have a choice.

The Rose New Caledonia Magic
Patricia Gans
09/03/2013, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

Sometimes a little bit of magic finds its way into our lives-or perhaps I should say "little bits of magic" which seem to visit in clusters or perhaps there is a constant baseline of magic which exists just below my consciousness and it merely takes a certain number of occurrences in concert for me to become aware. Whatever the case, I have been lately enjoying a bit of magic in the way of nature's miracles. Last night John and I were below deck reviewing some diving video footage we want to compile for a friend when suddenly amidst the video's hollow sound of deep sea bubbling a splashing sound sputtered and pitter pattered somewhat like a fountain or garden sprinkler. Short-lived, the sound received our notice but without any reaction. We continued dreamily re-living our videoed visit to the deep blue dwellers of the Naigoro Pass on Kadavu Island. But that sound of a fountain is not a sound which means anything good on a boat and when the sound repeated, we quickly ascended the companionway to discover from whence it had come. It was pitch black outside, the moon not yet having risen, clouds obscuring most of the stars and city lights absent, so we stood in that black emptiness waiting and listening. The sound came again very lightly now sounding more like a gentle hail and the corner of my vision caught a shimmer. Turning that direction and tip toeing to the stern where the dinghy hung in the davits I recalled that I had left the light on the arch shining down behind the dinghy into the water. Sometimes the light attracts fish or other sea creatures and upon arriving in a new anchorage I often leave the light on in the evening in hopes of ascertaining the degree of life present in the area. It's my way of taking the pulse of the water. In Mexico swarms of fish of all sizes as well as seahorses and squid would swim to the light. Since leaving Mexico I have been less impressed with the bounty of visitors but tonight as I looked into the water in the field of the soft light a thousand shimmers broke the darkness like raindrops during a sun shower catching and reflecting the sun except this was the light of the torch reflected from something in a backdrop of black. The sound accompanied the shimmers which rose upward like a fountain and arched back into the black water with a multitude of tiny plops. I grabbed a flashlight and in its beam each shimmer now showed me a shining red eye. In the water, the light revealed a whorling of silver punctuated by red-whorling like the grain in a tree burl or like barley in a soup vigorously stirred at a rolling boil. Each red eye was the eye of a tiny anchovy-like fish as small as my pinky finger, slender and silver sided, a member of a school like one star in a galaxy which apparently had been drawn by my light. The whole mass seemed to swim to the edge of the light circle and upon encountering the blackness diverged folding back upon itself on both sides before splitting again now into four directions and folding back inward until tracing the paths would be like tracing a pile of tangled spaghetti. I don't know if originally the upward flights which resulted in the showers of shimmers were part of a spawning behavior or if they swim toward the light like moths fly to a flame but the next time they seemingly without reason leapt from the water I spotted a villainous white sea snake slithering in pursuit across the path of my light. Panicking in the spotlight, he quadrupled his squiggle rate disappearing as quickly as possible to the shadow of the hull. Following him with my light, I saw deep in the glow a huge orange white fish at least four feet in length and bulky and thick like a giant fancy gold fish but probably in the red snapper family. I'm always trying to get these big fish on video which made me think of my underwater camera and that led me to the idea of tying it on a string and lowering it down into the melee which I did in short order. The little camera has a red light on the front that shines when the video is recording and these little fish were insatiably frenetically attracted to that red light. The string which I held by hand felt like a popcorn popper as the fish bombarded the camera with their tiny bodies and their swimming escalated to a fury. After several minutes I hurried below to view the film. Just as expected thousands of fish swirl by the little camera shining silver in the light bumping and thumping. It's great. The next bit of magic was our sailing today to the Isle of Pines. The wind almost always blows directly from the Isle of Pines to the main island of New Caledonia making it a difficult direction to sail and making matters worse the inadequately surveyed waters of the region are foul with reefs and tiny islands making tacking back and forth not only difficult but potentially dangerous. This means waiting for very calm weather and motoring the 35 miles directly or waiting for the wind to blow from an abnormal direction which is rare but not impossible. Here comes the magic. We waited an extra day to depart since the grib files showed the wind shifting to the southwest which would give us a chance of sailing to the island. The wind was also predicted to escalate to a brisk level which made the delay a bit of a gamble but we made the wager and won. The wind angle was perfect and brisk at 18 knots and the sun was shining gloriously while we dashed and cavorted along averaging 7-9 knots over a mild swell threading our way through the reefs and as directly as is possible to the island. Perhaps it was the double rainbow gracing our departure or the huge and ancient sea turtle who heralded our arrival but Isle of Pines already has a place in my heart. That turtle, his back as wide as my arms can reach around, swam right over to the boat as we dropped anchor, lifted his head from the water blowing spray as he exhaled and looked us each right in the eye not once but three times in clear and kind greeting before going about his business. And what an incredible business that is if you think about it, a creature who takes beautiful but venomous jelly fish-the Cruella de Villes of the sea as far as I am concerned- and transforms them into the wise and beautiful face of a sea turtle. 'Looking forward to more magic exploring underwater caves of the Isle of Pines. Yes we are going to get into that cold water. It's just too good to miss. As always, Pat and John, S/V The Rose, Isle of Pines New Caledonia 03 November 2013

The Rose in Noumea
Patricia Gans
08/30/2013, Noumea, New Caledonia

It is already the 29th of August. September is peeking around the corner. It is certainly winter in New Caledonia and today was long pants and cozy long sleeves all day and still chilly. The water is cold too but it is mostly that it is so cold outside that one really doesn't think about swimming. It is finally time for a good book and cup of tea and mid-day relaxing. This has occurred because we slipped away from Noumea early this morning before the daytime breezes had a chance to kick up and left behind the joys of socializing with good friends and exploring this sophisticated-little-city-sprouted-up-in-the-middle-of-a-vast-sea in trade for solitude and the replenishing rhythms of nature. As I reflect on Noumea I realize already what an amazing place it is-like a little bit of Paris and a little bit of San Francisco nestled into the steep, high rising mountains of a South Pacific Island and completely interwoven with the Melanesian Islander culture which coexists in this magical place. It is a place where French is spoken almost exclusively on the streets and in the tiny specialty shops lining its tortuous and narrow avenues which make the turns and grade of Lombard St in San Francisco seem commonplace. Food is key here and I have no idea how the local population manages to stay fit and thin faced with patisseries on every corner displaying luscious croissants, pan au chocolat, artisan breads, Napoleans and cream puffs while restaurants feature raclette and fondue, fine wines and delectable sea food. Everything is perfectly timed, presented, seasoned and finished. Even the interior décor is effective in some way --elegant or clever or trendy --and almost every little niche has at least a key hole peek perhaps between coconut palms and over close set neighboring rooftops to the broad expanse of surrounding sea distantly outlined in fringing reef and dotted with tiny islands bristling like a prickle of porcupines all aquiver in tall and remarkably narrow Cooks Pines. Subtle nuances of fashion and style ooze ubiquitous in shop window manikins draped in soft fabrics tastefully tailored and understated in natural muted colors, manicured gardens combining traditional with subtropical plantings and awning covered patio seating areas serving espresso with gelato or crepes. The Municipal Marche or Farmer's Market is good sized and includes beautiful displays of local produce as well as a separate building for fresh seafood. Walking there yesterday I chanced upon a cast of unfortunate large clawed black crabs each tightly bundled in wide rubber bands preventing escape and injury to handlers as well, I suppose, as consumers. They were for the most part a motley bunch-- a bit the worse for wear missing a leg here and there but apparently fresh caught and still alive. I looked upon them sadly as I passed and was startled when the front most crab clicked his black beady eyes abruptly and audibly in my direction and fastened his steely gaze upon me. There he was all bound up in rubber bands and staring at me. I moved two steps onward and his eyes clicked in pursuit. I stopped and stared back. Before I knew it I was pointing the crab out to the vendor and pulling cash from my pocket to complete the purchase. The vendor had a job of getting the crab weighed and into a plastic bag as even in his bound state the crab managed to flip himself over repeatedly. "He's full of life", said the vendor as she twisted her hand behind the crab to get a firm grip on him from behind and push him into the plastic bag for me. I agreed and assured her that was my attraction to that particular crab. She asked if I wanted him on ice but I hastily explained I would take him straight home and needed nothing further. Verifying that the crab was an ocean crab rather than a fresh water crab, I calmly accepted the "crab in a bag" and headed back to the boat. In only a few minutes I was on board scissors in hand snipping the rubber bands to release first the legs and finally that big claw. I could feel the rush of circulation returning to his limbs. I next lowered him still in the bag down to the water's edge and gently urged him out of the plastic bag and into the sea. When he touched the water his legs spread wide as though embracing freedom and life. A few bubbles streamed up from him and he sunk slowly down to the pilings and rubbish and decaying debris which surely met him on that beloved mucky bottom. I didn't see him again between that afternoon and our early next morning departure but I felt a great sense of relief in my heart knowing that alive or dead he was at least free of those bonds --A feeling infinitely better for me than dropping him in a pot of boiling water and eating him ever could be. Some of you won't understand but I guarantee you that crab gave me a most delicious moment. Tonight we sleep in a deeply indented bay surrounded by the lights of Noumea on one side and the lights of the Nickel plant on the other and accompanied by the low rhythmic whirring of massive wind turbines which line the tops of the hills ashore. The water in the bay, like the mud bottom and the shoreline, is tinted iron red. Sailing here within the protected waters of the lagoon I noticed some distance away a puff of smoke or spray and on closer inspection through the binoculars saw to my great joy a large humpback whale. Twice he arched his back out of the water and then disappeared. Now I keep looking that direction expecting him to return and longing to hear his hollow breathing more close at hand. So far I am disappointed but I am quiet now and listening for whales and it feels as though he might still be nearby. Much love, Pat and John S/V The Rose in Baie Ouie, New Caledonia

The Big Lifou Wedding
Patricia Gans
08/24/2013, Lifou, New Caledonia

The Big Lifou Wedding Today was a step into another worldÂ...only a glimpse with flashes of historic culture overlaid and fractionating on modern culture like a time machine gone haywire so that one could straddle two dimensions at the same time. It was the wedding of the Big Chief's adopted daughter and we were invited not only to lurk in the wings and glean whatever we might but rather to sit at the Big Chief's family table and stand in the milieu of that royal family throughout the day in a place of honor. But in the end it was actually we who were honored by the Big Chief's warm and patient welcoming of us into his fold. It was we who held all of them in reverence as they continued to usher us in our understandable but surely at times annoying ignorance through the rituals of their traditions. Our introductions were arranged for the day before the wedding festivities began. Every village for the most part has a Chief but this was the Grand Chef or Big Chief who is the Chief of all the Chiefs. Just like the royal families of our history, the position passes from Chief to first born son over generations. Our escort was Kamea the fiancĂ© of our good friend Emery who John has known since highschool. Kamea is part of the royal family being the sister of the Grand Chef. I believe Kamea is earlier in birth order than the Grand Chef but women are never allowed to become Chief. Kamea brought us to the Cheferie which is the compound of the Chief's home and meeting halls. It includes a simple modern open air home for the family, two traditional fare -- round open beam buildings with high cone shaped thatched roofs, a very low doorway which by nature demands an obligatory bow to enter and floors thickly stacked with woven grass mats for sleeping. One fare is traditionally fenced off to separate it from the rest of the grounds indicating it is strictly for immediate family use and the other is always open for visitors. Inside the fare coals smoldered in the central fireplace from last night's fire and the beams and thatch smelled wonderfully of many such fires. We joined the Big Chief for lunch at his home in the outdoor eating area separate from the sleeping rooms of the house and adjacent to the kitchen facilities. Prior to lunch we offered a gift which is called "doing custom". The traditional gift is a bolt of cloth and a one thousand franc note which all in all is a modest offering and more of a symbolic gesture than anything else. Our gesture was graciously received in the company of a few others and after a short reception speech in welcome, a prayer and some social conversation lunch was served. The Big Chief was friendly and had a wonderful warm and welcoming smile. During the conversation, many people had passed by greeting us with kisses on both cheeks and introductions and going on about their way or staying at table to join for lunch. The Chief's wife came by as did the bride and the sister of our friend's fiancĂ© The Big Chief's sister Kamea who was hosting us --but once lunch was served I noticed all the women had disappeared. About 20 sat at the table but other than an older wife way down at the far end barely within my view, I was the only woman. Somewhat distraught I caught the eyes of Kamea and motioned that I would go wherever she was going but she strongly gestured that I should stay. I sat quietly wondering what the men thought of my presence. After I finished the first delicious dish of raw grated vegetables and fresh greens and prawns I was full but soon realized that had just been the salad as trays piled high with chicken, beef, pork chops, lamb chops, spiced sausages, sashimi, poisson cru, bread, rice and taro appeared, disappeared and were replenished. It was an impressive feast. After coffee, ice cream and cake Kamea strolled us around the grounds showing us the bedroom where she slept as a child, the inside of the fare and telling me about some of the beautiful plants growing in the potted garden. With our stomachs full and the sun warm, we began to realize how tired we were from our crossing and so returned to the boat and early bed in preparation for the big day of wedding festivities to follow.

The next morning we arrived at the wedding in the company of Kamea. She had begun the day by presenting me with two traditional Missionary dresses from which to choose my appropriate attire. These dresses had been generously and thoughtfully gifted to me by Lizzie with whom we had dined the night previous and who is the wife of the Big Chief's younger brother. They were beautiful and I felt instantly closer to the culture and the family. I chose a beautiful green one of light weight cloth which looked naturally dyed with warm yellow underlying tones and hand painted flowers along the trim. Upon our arrival into the general area of the ceremonies, women recognizing Kamea's stature instantly stripped off their head dresses and aromatic plant necklaces and Kamea slipped them onto us. The women were all dressed in the traditional Missionary dresses which are straight cut and roomy with simple neck lines and loose half length sleeves sometimes edged with cotton lace or a gathered ruffle at the sleeve and hem which is at the half calf or longer. The dresses of the villagers were bright colored island prints and fairly simple while the dresses of the women of the Big Chief's family remained traditional but were infused with touches of French fashion such as softer fabric or slashed sleeves or an extra lilt to the hemline. With over 500 in attendance and half of them women, the dresses formed a patchwork rainbow not designed to diminish or define the wearer but instead as a loose envelope allowing mobility and modesty while admitting breezes, protecting from sun and celebrating nature's beauty in vivid pattern and color. Accessories were created from raw nature and as individual as their wearers. Kamea had gifted me a lovely orchid to wear behind my ear and everywhere frangipani, orchid and hibiscus flashed braided into hair or neckwear. I realized all modern accessories seem to be imitating these natural wonders which adorned the women in lovely and lively beauty. Nothing synthetic even approaches the effect of a long swath of tree moss wrapped as a garland about the head or offhandedly thrown over the shoulder as a muffler. As we entered a troop of male dancers began a traditional war dance of rapid aggressive bursts of stomping footwork and postural displays of strength in bold victorious finishes. It was wonderful. Their ankles and calves were wrapped thickly with dried pandanus. Colorful fabric wrapped and tied at the waist formed a short skirt concealing their modern day shorts. Tee shirts were draped with various curly dried or fresh leafy vines while heads were topped with a dressing of tree moss or tightly bundled leaves bristling bottle brush style. Next we found ourselves witnessing a series of long orations by the many chiefs of the many villages of the island of Lifou. Each speaker brought gifts in the form of bolts of printed cloth, fancy dresses, food staples or bouquets of long intricately and ornately woven stems topped with 1000 Franc notes as flowers. The Chief of the groom's village received all this and made reception speeches. To and fro went the gestures of giving and receiving and the sun rose beating down hot and passing midday. When finished, the whole group breathed a great sigh and promenaded en masse down the road to another compound. As we exited men stood with a large bolt of green island print fabric tearing lengths for people to wear. Men tied the fabric about their waist or over their shoulders. Some wrapped it about their heads as turbans. Women bundled it into mufflers or draped head covers. Green is the color of the groom's province. Orange is the color of the bride's province. Everywhere all through the day green met orange and overlapped or exchanged. Once we arrived at the final destination, the whole entourage stopped outside the gate and began singing and swaying. A group sequestered deep within the enclosure but obscured from our view sang in reply. To and fro the singing went in a language not understood by me but seeming to request entrance on the one hand and on the other reply in welcoming but delaying tones. The requesting and waiting songs lilted on back and forth for some time until suddenly a group of sizeable and athletic men charged forth from the encampment their faces streaked with white paint, hair strewn with sticks and leaves, dancing aggressive and stomping steps. Their husky chanting demanded silence as they surged straight to where we stood waiting at the gate, lunged toward us with a fierce roaring shout and froze with axes and war clubs held high. Relaxing into smiles with our applause they parted allowing our group entrance and escorted us to the reception tents. Here the custom of giving and receiving was repeated again and songs were sung in chorus and dances danced. Sometimes people would dash forth from the milling crowd and tuck paper money into the sleeve or neck of one of the dancers who never broke concentration to acknowledge its receipt. Instead, another man with a woven purse strolling amongst the performers snatched up the bills so they were not lost with the continued rhythmic stepping and strong battle like movements of the male dancers or the more serene storytelling movements of the female dancers. On two separate occasions the bride and her female constituency or the groom and his male cohorts made a foray about the grass courtyard formed by the out buildings and Temple each individual surrounded by their entourage and that encircled by a choir weaving a protective and supportive palpable social fabric with the echoing and repeating harmony of their hymns. Bolts of cloth were strung out like long banners which village members or family members paraded to the circle center until it was stacked high as a mountain of beautiful island patterned fabric which is the traditional offering gift. Quite suddenly Kamea waved me forward and we were ushered into a long double line up of women in front and men behind stretching the length of the courtyard. The lines were counted repeatedly and more people added until the counters were satisfied. I had no idea what to expect next. A few people around me were giggling and I wondered what they anticipated. I then noticed across the grassy field from us a short distance another line was forming composed of women all in the green dresses of the groom's entourage. They started swaying and clapping to the music and shortly they were stepping toward our lineup. When they arrived where we stood, one opposite each of us, they stripped off their head garlands and placed them on us followed by their hand woven purses and finally their matching dresses which they had slipped over another dress and now pulled over their heads and onto our heads thereby passing the grooms tribal colors to the entourage of the bride. As they finished our transformation, we stepped back revealing the men's line behind us which was then met in similar fashion by a line of groom's men who bestowed upon them garlands and purses. By now we were all smiling. A long ceremony followed where the bride was presented to the groom's family. Again, each Chief spoke briefly or at length, response style songs were sung and the bride in the midst of her entourage promenaded through the crowd which was now seated cross legged tightly packed knee to knee on mats inside a tent. As the entourage passed the groom's family seated on chairs along one tent wall, each gave and received the traditional French kiss on each cheek of each member. A long prayer followed with heads bowed. Outside, those less involved sat patiently on mats visiting with friends in whatever shade could be found. Young men kicked a ball back and forth across a circle. Young children engaged in imaginary play. Teens used their phones to photograph each other in cool poses. At the finish the tent was quickly emptied and a short break taken for visits to the toilets or cigarettes quickly smoked while the tables and benches were moved to the tent next door for the feast. We were seated at the overflow table for the Big Chief's family. A woman who spoke English introduced herself to me saying she would sit with me and explain the events however within a few minutes she realized we were sitting at the Chief's table and offered her apologies stating that in their culture she is not allowed to sit at that table. She melted into the crowd and another family member I had met previously took her place and entertained me throughout dinner exchanging lessons in French for lessons in English. The china from which we ate, I was told, is reserved only for use by the Big Chief's entourage. The others all ate from glass plates. Food was brought to our table first and plates whisked away and refilled as quickly as they were emptied. First served was a delicious soup followed by salad of grated raw vegetables and then the main of rice, pasta and giant baked yams with a great variety of meats to which I cannot speak but they seemed to be heartily enjoyed. After dinner and before cake the Chief's spokesman made a brief statement and a man presented us (the strangers from the visiting yacht) with 2 bolts of fabric each topped with a 1000 Franc note as a gift. Last was the cake which was as big as a single bed and three layers tall of white fluffy sponge interlaced with cool delicious coconut cream. Coffee and a delightful locally grown lemon grass tasting tea washed it all down and music and singing began first by a performing group but evolving into crowd participation as the evening wore on. Finally a group of villagers were singing from lyrics printed in marker on big sheets of cardboard illuminated by flashlights. I reminisced fondly of the family campfire sing-alongs of my childhood. This felt like a great big family. In fact one local explained "The Chiefs are our fathers. We are their children." This first day was the traditional wedding ceremony which was followed the next day by the wedding itself in town hall and then in the Protestant Temple. The second day was much the same-not to diminish its impact any. We settled into it like a new but once worn garment understanding more deeply some of the complexities and resting more comfortably in the in-between spaces. Festivities started at 7 a.m. and finished just after 11 that night. The bride and groom wore their formal white gown and tuxedo throughout. That day there were two feasts rather than one with soup and salads and piles of prawns and crabs followed by meats and starches and finally ice cream and that wonderful gigantic cake but milk chocolate today rather than coconut. Thousands of dollars and heaps of gifts were collected and redistributed to families, clans or village chiefs as merited or needed. Everyone seemed to go home richer somehow and the bride and groom were sent off with an estimated nest egg of $15,000 to get things started. Though neither deserving nor in need, we were awarded all toll 3 bolts of fabric, 4 large bags of rice and two one thousand franc notes. All this because as I was informed by an English speaking local, "The Bible says we must give gifts to strangers who visit." Though still a day of celebration it was also a day of many tears and deep emotion. Embraces were long and sometimes desperate. Orations were full of heedful shouting and finger pointing. Although the bride and groom were a self determined couple living and working in modern French Noumea, the marriage defines the point at which the woman not only symbolically but physically leaves her family and village and moves into the sphere of her husband. Their union is almost without exception permanent and may not be curtailed without permission of the Grand Chef. Even given that permission the woman after divorce would be left with nothing. On this day of marriage the Grand Chef's adopted daughter is truly "given away" and in the midst of all the feasting and dancing the ancient ways of arrangements and traditions ensuring peace between kingdoms and alliance of neighbors could be felt not so very distant as joyful hearts strained under the concomitant finality of solemn commitment and burden of responsibility. As the families and the newlyweds stepped into the next phase of their lives, so we pushed away from the dock the next morning on our way to Noumea the capital of New Caledonia. After much voyaging it always feels fine to sit and take a place in. Now with our hearts and senses full to the brim after days of watching and taking in, the best feeling is pensive but purposeful movement onward giving space and pause for everything to digest and settle into its place. And so it was as the sun hissed furious defiance dragged down in fiery defeat into the molten gold of western sea and the moon rose misty silver, placid and huge opposite from an eastern sea of mottled mauve, each surface undulating smooth and soft as warm oil that we, still enraptured, are on our way seemingly gliding along a knife edge between the two. The time machine continues to throb silently in the recesses of our hearts and minds but the lines pull tight and strong, the sail fills, the sea parts at our bow and the breeze lifts my hair as we slip on into the future. And all is well. Pat and John and Emery and Del S/V The Rose en route from Lifou to Noumea

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