Friday, October 29, 2010

We are over half way now. It has been a decent passage so far. The winds up until yesterday afternoon were from behind us. It was a bit rolly but as we were going with the wind there was no bashing into waves. Yesterday it rained from about midnight until 10:00 A.M. then the wind died off and we motored for about an hour. Then the wind came up from the south. We are still able to make our heading but now we are bashing into waves and the ride is bouncy and we are on a 20 degree angle which makes cooking hard. At the moment we are scheduled to arrive in Coffs Harbour on Monday morning but lots can change before then, all is well on board.

Monday, October 25, 2010

We have left for Australia. It should be about a 7 to 8 day passage. We had 850nm to go when we exited the pass out of New Caledonia at 1600 hours today Monday, Oct. 25. I don't think I have any Halloween treats on board, there is some chocolate but I am sure it will be long gone by then. At the moment we are screaming along at 7 knots with a triple reefed main and our staysail, wind is on the beam so we are flying. Occasionally a rogue wave comes along and smacks us and I have changed my clothes so I am now dry and I hope to stay that way. The weather looks decent for the passage so wish us fair winds.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

We have been busy making the cultural rounds in Noumea. We have been to visit the cultural museum, the city museum, the aquarium and the zoological park. I enjoyed the city museum the best because it explained the history of New Caledonia and the city of Noumea. It also had a big section on the participation of New Caledonia in the first and second world wars. New Caledonia was the French equivalent of Australia, it was the penal colony for France. Once the convicts were here and had served their penitentiary sentences, they were not allowed to leave but had to take up residence here. There are some beautiful old stone buildings including the Catholic Cathedral that were built with prison labour.
The indigenous people here the Kanaks were treated very poorly by the French, not even being classified as people until 1946. They had their land taken from them and made to live in certain areas where the land was much poorer. At one point they weren’t allowed to leave their homes after 8:00 P.M. I was appalled about how they were treated until I started thinking about how we treated the aboriginal people in Canada and I am not sure we did any better. There are quite a few homeless people in the main parks here, it reminds me of Yellowknife. There seems to be a big difference between the have and the have nots here. Friday night we were out walking around trying to find some place that was open for dinner before 7:00 P.M. and there were quite a few drunks having a good time.
The restaurants and shops operate on European time, the shops close for lunch for an hour or two and restaurants serve lunch until about 3:00 and then close until 7:00 or 8:00 for dinner. It takes a bit of getting used to. The shops seems very stylish after the Mother Hubbard dresses that are worn all over Vanuatu. The women of French descent have style, and all the women cruisers are eyeing their high heels and their stylish clothing and makeup and feeling a bit inadequate. I would love to buy a pair of heels, but can’t imagine myself tottering around in them, my feet would kill me and I would probably catch them on the toe rail as I tried to get off the boat and go headfirst into the water. I can’t imagine walking down the dock with them on.
The aquarium was great, we really enjoyed it the great variety of fish and informative exhibits. Fortunately the signage was in French, English and Japanese so we were able to learn about the aquatic life. They had a great display on mangroves and their ecosystem. The zoological gardens had lots of beautiful birds and as much as I hate seeing caged animals I know I would never have seen these birds if I did not see them in this setting. The park was huge and we could have walked around for hours. Getting a cultural fix has been a nice change from beaches and snorkeling.
I would like to leave this anchorage and visit some of the outer anchorages but I am not sure I can convince Barry that we should do that. He is really focused on watching the weather and being ready to leave for Australia when a good window becomes apparent. It should be an 8-10 day passage to Coffs Harbour our intended point of entry into Australia. I cleaned the hull yesterday so I hope we don’t stay here too much longer, I don’t want to do it again.
We are socializing with new and old friends, boats tend to go several ways from here. We have buddies that are going back to New Zealand and Fiji as well as on to Australia. We also made contact with a fellow that we met in Apia, Samoa over 2 years ago that lives here. He invited us to his home for dinner and served us venison, it was delicious. He speaks very little English so Barry and I practiced our French on him until his wife showed up. Her English was better than my French so we got along very nicely although we did continue to try and speak French to include Marcos.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I just posted a bunch more pictures in my Memories of Vanuatu story so check back to see them. We are off to the aquarium this afternoon. The sail repair should be done tomorrow, Toketie arrived today and our other friends Cop Out should arrive this evening, so we should have a good Canadian contingent in town.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ann sent this a few days ago - I apologize for the delay in posting it
We are safe and sound in Noumea, New Caledonia. New Caledonia was colonized by the French and although there was talk of independence in the later 90's I don't think they have that status yet. There is a lot of nickel on the island so there is money and the French are very good at building infrastructure so Noumea is a first world city. It has lots of new cars and three lane roadways where the French drivers roar around as is they are on a Grand Priz course. The shops are full of first world goods and there is French fashion and underwear as well as a hairdresser on every corner. I walked by a Puegot bike shop and lusted after an expensive mountain bike. The shores are full of big condo complexes and the marinas are full of lovely yachts, there is no room for us lowly cruisers. The main marina has a waiting list while all the off shore cruisers have congregated here, waiting to leave for Australia, New Zealand or Fiji for the cyclone season.
We are at anchor in a mooring field which is not a lot of fun. Mooring are usually laid out in a specified manner leaving swinging room for yachts the bigger the yachts the further the moorings are apart. Moorings have a short scope and mostly a huge weight at the bottom that secures the boat. When you are at anchor you have to let out chain, and you are supposed to maintain a scope of 5 - 1 or at the least 3-1, so for a 10 meter depth the minimum amount of chain would be 30 meters, therefore if the wind shifts and you swing when you have anchored in a mooring field you may or may not hit the boats that are around you depending on how precise you were at dropping your anchor and how much scope you have out. At the moment when the wind really blows from one direction we are about 1 boat length away from a moored trimaran and the wind has been really blowing since we got here 2 1/2 days ago. There was a huge high off of Australia and it has generated 30 knot winds, everyone is hunkered down on their boats because when you go anywhere on your dinghy you just get soaked and you daren't leave your boat because you might swing and hit someone or someone's mooring might give way and their boat might blow through the field and bash you, fun and games.
We have been doing some maintenance, Barry has checked all the hose clamps. That is why the engine wouldn't start while we tried to get into Lifou because a hose clamp had rusted out and not enough water was getting to the engine. Then he figured he may have found a small leak we had in the engine coolant system. We still have to get the sail repaired, we are waiting for the winds to abate before we try to remove it. I want to work on some hairline cracks we are have in our deck, so we have lots to do before we set off for Australia. Barry wants to leave as soon as there is a weather window, hopefully we won't be ready to leave when the first window arrives and we will have a little more time to spend exploring New Caledonia.
We are safe and sound in Noumea, we are busy fixing things, our sail is being repaired, Barry did a full day of preventative maintenance of our engine. It was a hose clamp that had failed that caused our problems so he checked all other clamps and found a couple of others that needed attention. Noumea is a first world city with all the trappings, I have heard that other areas are not the same, the French have poured money into the city and there has been lots of money made from the ore that is available in New Caledonia. The indigenous peoples, the Kanaks have been treated very poorly and you see homeless people hanging about the beautiful downtown parks, it rather reminds me of Yellowknife.
We set of to the cultural museum yesterday. It was a wonderful piece of architecture. I haven't got the pictures with me but will upload some at a later date. We bought a pass so will be seeing the botanical gardens, the aquarium and the national museum in the next little while. Barry is getting anxious about the weather so we will probably be off to Oz as soon as there is a good weather window.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Memories of Vanuatu

Vanuatu was a spot where the population still lives in quite a primitive manner. Lots of people still live in thatched huts with dirt floors. The thatching varied from beautifully natural designs to dwellings that had painted thatching that emphasized the design, I preferred the natural ones. The crazy thing was that most of these folks had cell phones, but they did not have the electricity to charge them and in one anchorage we had a number of outriggers come up to us and ask us to charge their phones. One fella even told us that he thought cell phones contributed to unwanted pregnancies and crime. He spent most of the time that we had contact with him on the phone.
The locals seemed to think that because we had a big boat that they could ask us for anything and expect it in exchange for very little. For the most part we did not mind this, but at one spot we gave a fella one of our set of overalls, at first he said it was too big and refused them, but later his wife came by and said he had FORGOTTEN his coveralls and in exchange gave us 2 bananas, 1 pawpaw and another vegetable. Now we will have to buy another set of overalls if we ever want to paint the bottom again! In another spot we had a man come with his small daughter to welcome us and ask if we had anything. He said he had nothing for us but he did say that his wife was going to give birth and ask if we had any blankets, we happily gave him as spare Mexican blanket that we had, the smile on his daughter face was all the reward we wanted.
The Ni-Vans were most welcoming, they invited us to share their homes, their food and their lives. We were offered a place to live, the chief ‘s son said that his father would happily build us a home. We might have to take him up on it one of these days, it would a great spot to spend the winters and we would have a vacation get away for all our family to come and join us. We have heard that further north friends were adopted into a family and are welcomed there.
We often felt like we had stepped into a National Geographic photo shoot. The young man who took us on the tour of the hot springs by Mount Yasur in Tanna painted his face with colored mud that he dug out from around the hot steam vents. He also explained how they killed the flying foxes (or fruit bats) by throwing sticks at them while they were in the air. The primitive bows and arrows that fisherman used just emphasized the National Geographic feeling. In Erromango we watched the males of the village work together to set a huge fishing net around the entrance to an estuary, some swimming, some paddling dugout outrigger canoes. In Asunvari we woke up to a fleet of canoes being paddled in as parents brought their children to school. The fellow that was our guide to the bat caves, took his 5 year old son up and down a very steep slippery path to school every day, some days he carried him. The kustom dancing in Port Sandwich was amazing.
We are thinking of returning to Vanuatu next year to spend more time in this country that has so much to offer. There are so many places we didn’t get to experience and many other people who can show us how to happily live in a much simpler manner.

Friday, October 08, 2010

We tried to stop in at Lifou in the Loyalty Islands but I don't think it was meant to be. First of all we had no water coming out of the engine when we went to start it, it is a marina there so we needed the engine to maneuver around. Barry got that fixed and then a big squall came up so we slowed down so we would not get blown around when we got in, then we discovered a rip in our main sail so that was it, the place had three chances and it was no go, so we are continuing on to Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. Our mainsail has been developing a number of small tears lately. I told Barry before we left New Zealand that we needed to buy a new main in Australia and he was adamant that it was just new (we bought it in 2005) and it had lots of life left in it, hmmm!!
ANYWAY, we are having a great sail at the moment, double reefed main, staysail and about half a genoa and we are comfortably doing 7 knots, whoopee. The sun just came up, Barry is sleeping and life is good.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

We left Vanuatu this morning at 0600. There are 7 boats that left today so are able to talk to some on the VHF, that is nice. We are cruising along at over 6 knots with reefed main and staysail so we have good winds. We are not quite close hauled so it is not the most comfortable sail. At the moment I am bracing myself up with my feet and lower arms while I type so will keep this short. We will stop for a couple of days in the Loyalty Islands if we reach there before dark tomorrow, we should if the wind remains the same strength. Hope all is well with you as you plan for your Thanksgiving weekend. It has kind of snuck up on us, so we have no particular plans

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

We are in Port Vila again, the capital of Vanuatu. We are waiting here until the weather co-operates and we can leave for New Caledonia. We have had several great adventures since the last time I posted a blog. The first one was when we went to a blue hole upriver from an anchorage just north of Luganville on the island of Espirito Santo. The blue hole is exactly what it’s name describes, we traveled about a kilometer up the windy river, the channel kept getting narrower and narrower. At the end the channel was just wider than the dinghy and the rest of the river was covered with vine like floating vegetation. Then the river opened up into this wonderful wide circle and the bottom fell away to about 10 meters. It was crystal clear and the water was fresh. We had a great time swimming, there were quite a few young people swimming and they came over and we took pictures of all of us under the water, when we came up we laughed and laughed. We had fun experimenting with the camera as well. There was a huge tree at the edge of the water and people were swinging and diving in and having a great time. I figured they didn’t want to see a 55 year old grandma make a fool of herself so I didn’t give it a try.

We sailed off to another island, Maewo and there we headed off into the hills on a 5 hour hike to see a cave that was filled with bats. Other cruisers had told us what a great time they had there so we set off. It was a challenging hike as it had rained the day before and on the way down the ground was just goo, I would slip and slid down the hill. Our guide was excellent though and he had a hand for me whenever I needed it. The cave was huge and there were hundreds of bats flitting about inside. There were so many that their radar didn’t work in it’s usual superb manner and a few crashed into us. At the end of the cave it opened up and the sun shone in. It showed a cathedral of rock with a huge opening at the bottom. We threw rocks into the hole and they would bounce down forever, apparently there was another cave opening at the bottom. You would have needed lots of very good climbing gear to find out what was at the bottom of the cave. After we came down from the hills we had a swim in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. (If you click on the pictures they will enlarge and you can tell that the specs on this picture are bats)
The anchorage where the village was is called Asunvari and it is gorgeous spot. There was a nice curving bay with a sandy beach on one side, where the village was located and then the waterfall at the other end. The land to the back of the village was a steep rock face which is covered with lush vegetation. They had a yacht club there and we had a meal, the fellow that had prepared it had been a chef in Luganville and he knew how to cook. We had dinner with a couple from a Spanish boat. They had been in Pago Pago in American Samoa when the tsunami hit last year so we were regaled with first hand accounts of what happened when the wave hit the harbour.
When we went ashore in Asunvari the chief of the village approached us. He needed to get to Port Vila to see a doctor and asked if we would be willing to take him. We had planned to make a number of stops on our way back to Vila, but we decided this was something that we could do so we agreed to take on a passenger on our voyage back to Port Vila. We sailed for 36 hours straight experiencing quite changeable conditions but managed to get to port before dark. Jif (chief) Nelson spoke pretty good English but we struggled to come up with conversational topics that interested all of us. At one point I asked about local legends and he came up with three stories that he shared with us. He used to work as the skipper of a commercial vessel that visited the islands around his home. He also skippered a traditional sailing canoe that was sailed from his island of Maewo to Port Vila. He told about visiting a bunch of different islands and I think other crafts joined in from the other islands and they all sailed to Vila. It was a unique experience having him onboard and we appreciated the bananas and papayas that he gave to us to compensate us for the food he ate on the trip.
We are enjoying the company of cruisers we have met up and down the island here in Port Vila, but time is running out in the season and I am anxious to get to New Caledonia. We may leave on Thursday but I am not sure if the weather will co-operate.