From New Caledonia
Uhhh! The passage to New Caledonia is over- we arrived 3 days ago. That's a passage we hope to never have to repeat since it was upwind all the way with some high winds over one of the nights, a lot of motoring to make headway, confused seas, counter current and generally unsettled weather. Weather forecasting around here is hit or miss at best and you rarely get what the GRIBS (graphic weather chart) say you're going to get. After nearly 2 years of primarily downwind sailing, pointing the bow to the waves and then going about living inside a pitching drum takes some mental & physical strength. I had thought previously of writing something about the "art of passagemaking" for a magazine or cruising forum but have decided that calling it an art is too flowery a word. On some passages, it's all about being able to bide your time well, keep your thoughts of "what if" under control when things start to get really challenging or scary, being able to function when fatigued or jolted out of bed, being able to continue living and taking care of yourself in a state of constant motion, being able to occupy your mind during the "down time" and finally, being able to find some pleasure in there to make it all worth it! Oddly, we usually do, and if nothing else, we forget about the trip as soon as we reach the destination so it all works out. If we find a calm anchorage, like we did the first night we arrived here, the utter quiet and lack of motion is one of the best sensations there is! Plus, the Bonne Anse anchorage was abuzz with birdsong and a feeling of being anchored in a harbor in Maine, except for the tropical water color. Beautiful!
Our wrap up of Vanuatu is that it is worth going back to dive again some of the fantastic dive spots we found and to explore more of the islands- we just ran out of time. The Ni Vans are a warm, attractive people & it was interesting to get a feel for how they live. I suspect we'll head there first next season, and then come to New Caledonia to cruise it since we are really only here right now to shorten up the trip to NZ. We were joking that we never got around to having Vanuatu's national dish called laplap. All across the Pacific, each island has it's own name for essentially the same thing- fish with vegetables & coconut milk wrapped in banana leaves & cooked over hot stones in the ground. We've had this many times before and to us, it's just OK but we're all kind if burned out on it. Plus we had difficulty with the Bislama name for it! But we were delighted to see that we can still get this delicacy here in New Cal under the name of "bougna" should we change our minds!
From New Caledonia
It feels funny to have left Bislama behind and now be tossed into a French culture. Our high school french days are too remote to make speaking it very effective so we do our usual and just fumble along. Everyone has been so nice & helpful. We met up with Victory again since they waited for us to get here! So we all went around together yesterday going to immigration (they were checking out & we & Blue Rodeo were clearing in), locating vendors for welding which we needed and refrigeration repair for Mark. On the way over here, we found a cracked weld on the outhaul for the mainsail. It probably would've let go on the next passage so it was good to get it fixed. We had another goodbye dinner last night in the marina's smoky restaurant (the French do love their cigarettes!) and now Victory is departing for Australia today. We'll stick around for a few days since the weather isn't good to leave but we have plenty to do to get ready.
I really like New Cal so far. The scenery is completely different than Fiji or Vanuatu in that it's drier looking, it definitely bears the scars of mining but the red blotches on the hillsides do add something to the color of the landscape. There are more pines & the water is still tropical. The diving here is reportedly great and when you look at the fish ID guides (we've stared at these for decades), there are lots of interesting things that only occur here or are first seen here and westward of here. Something to look forward to.
From New Caledonia
We're berthed at Port Moselle Marina complex and it is a full international boating scene. Many flags, many hull colors, many accents, all tanned, weathered looking people with interesting stories to tell about how they've spent their lives. It feels really good to be right in the city for a change and to have the convenience of a hose! Everything is really showing the wear of a another season in the tropics. You can rinse the boat off and then come back later to cakes of salt weeping out of fittings. Not much to do now except try to ensure everything is in place for the next passage where it'll get a good dousing again. But then, with any luck, we'll reach NZ in time for our trip home and the boat can rest for a while, up the river in Whangarei. It will certainly deserve it!