10 August 2012 | Port Moselle, Noumea, NC
It's a funny thing but a two-and-a-bit day voyage can often be more tiring than a week or ten days at sea - you get keyed up to leave so don't sleep well the night before, and two days isn't enough to get into a real sleep pattern overnight. So you often arrive feeling disproportionately tired - as did we - but the night we spent in Anse du Pilote coming up the lagoon was a real restorer, and we hit the ground running.
Sodemo, who run the marina here, have spent a bit on the infrastructure recently, with the new and very quick internet, and some improvements in the bathing and bathroom facilities. Shauna went to the Municipal Market this morning and picked up some lovely produce, including some nice local avocados and some very fresh herbs. But wow, the prices here are pretty hot - about the only good value in the market would be the tomatoes which are perfect at present.
You may remember we put up a photo of the Polynesian vaka next to us on the seawall in Port Vila. Well, this vessel ("Hine Moana") was the flagship of a fleet of seven identical vakas that are sailing the Pacific as a loose flotilla this year and last. They were commissioned by a wealthy German businessman who spends a lot of time in the Pacific. He had them designed after the style and construction of traditional Polynesian vakas, and selected a Swedish professional skipper to head the fleet as "admiral" and then had the admiral pick crews of young Polynesian and Melanesian youth to sail them around the Pacific. They were constructed in New Zealand and then sailed to San Francisco, from where they slowly toured the various island nations and colonies and dependencies of this part of the world. He wants to do a few things: to perpetuate the traditional Polynesian methods of navigation using stars, weather patterns and swell characteristics in place of modern satellite technology and the like; he wants to educate young Pacific youth in their past and heritage; and he wants to try to promote carbon-neutral voyaging, especially as a method of inter-island transport. The vakas are incredibly strong, very heavily constructed, and are technologically simple and robust.
Each vaka is manned by youth from a particular island or country, such as Cook Islands, except the admiral's vaka which has crew from many nations. Each of the boats has a backup laptop and electronic navigational system, which is prudent (and required by law in New Zealand) and also provides a way of demonstrating the accuracy of the traditional methods. Magnus, the Swedish skipper, tells us that the old hands who are doing the traditional navigating, are what he calls "incredibly accurate" - almost sextant-accurate in most cases!
The vakas have no fossil fuels and just two small electric engines for manoeuvring in close quarters (charged by four solar panels mounted on the stern of the boat). But they don't really even need those as the crew are very adept at using the steering oar (the Oe) as a sculling oar in harbour. We got to know the kids on "Hine Moana" well while we were in Port Vila, as we had internet and they all wanted to catch up on their Facebook and emails. They were incredibly courteous and respectful, and very thankful for our allowing them to use the laptop freely. We shared a few beers with them at the Waterfront and they joined the select group of people we meet who Shauna asks to put an entry in our Guest Book. We will remember our time with them very fondly for a long time to come.
Two of the other vakas were here in Noumea when we arrived and we got to know them a little, but they were off the day after we came in, to rendevous in New Zealand with the others for haulout and maintenance.
It's great to be back in the land of cheap-as-chips, top quality French wine and hundreds of varieties of lait cru and pasteurised European cheeses, with local specialities such as Cerf (local venison) sausages and cheap duck and other French delights. But it is again sad to see the contrast between the cheerful, uncomplicated optimism, sobriety, and contentment of the Ni Van people in Vanuatu on one hand, and the edgy, resentful, barely-civil attitude of a lot of the urban youth here in Noumea on the other hand. There is obviously not a lot of work for them and it is discouraging to see them sucking on Jack Daniels and cheap vodka straight from the bottle at 10 in the morning. Whatever happens with the referendum on independence in 2014, whoever runs the place after that is going to have their hands full with some very deeply-ingrained problems.